Who Wants to Work in Comics?

It’s important for couples to have separate interests, and my wife and I certainly have that covered.

The missus and I are an excellent match, not only because we like each other an awful lot but also because our strengths complement one another. She’s as practical as I am distractable. I’m funnybook-reading, head-in-the-sky Writey McGee; she’s Little Miss Ledger Britches. What I know about ROM continuity, she knows about our cell phone data plan. I’m the one who makes sure the house has jokes in it; she’s the one who will keep us from dying or going to jail for tax evasion. I haven’t balanced the checkbook or looked at the gas bill in six years, and she hasn’t… actually, I have no idea what I bring to the table, but the point is neither one of us would have it any other way.

This weekend, our differences were further highlighted when my wife discovered the budgeting tools at Mint.com and acted like she had struck oil in the pantry.

“Oh my God!” she said what felt like seven thousand times. “It categorizes how much money you spend according to retailer and type of purchase! IT CATEGORIZES THAT.”

I was happy for her (between dreadful Nostradamus-like premonitions in which she was looking at Mint.com and I was struggling to explain why we spend an average of fifty dollars each Wednesday at this “Fantasy Shop”) but I was also amused by how excited she was. Sharing my amusement with the world, I tweeted,

wife got new budgeting software, is reacting like I would if Marvel called and said, "Hey, want to write Spider-Man for a couple years?"

I was just cracking wise, but immediately after posting that I pondered what it would be like to actually get that phone call. All I could think was, “Oh, Christ at a clambake, how awful.”

I sometimes think I am the only person reading comics who doesn’t secretly (or otherwise) want to work in comics. I would sooner eat my own hair.

Apparently, I’m the exception. The medium is unlike any other in this regard. Occasionally, you’ll meet a movie lover who has tried his hand at a screenplay. Every so often, you’ll run into a TV fan who has taken a shot at a spec script. There is a would-be novelist in every other café. Comics, though, are a breed apart. Something about this form of storytelling says to everyone who sees it, “Please take a crack at this. All that stands between you and Todd McFarlane is the right kind of pen.”

Maybe it’s because there is a low(ish) barrier to entry. The comics industry is somewhat smaller than Hollywood. You don’t have to move to L.A. and wait tables. You don’t have to grind away in the local theater scene for years. If you can get to a Kinko’s, build a portfolio, and perhaps hit C.B. Cebulski in the head with it at a convention this summer, you may be well on your way to published creator-hood. Stranger things have happened.

But then what?

Can you imagine doing your job in the Previews climate? Think about it. What if you had to describe all the work you planned to do three months in advance so uninvested strangers could read your plan and say “meh”? How many months of that would you tolerate before the shooting spree? No thanks.

Heaven forbid you want to work on something popular. You want to sell out and contribute to the legacy of the book you loved as a child, instead of flipping the bird at everything you enjoyed about the medium and striking out on your own? I guess you haven’t seen the latest creator-owned manifesto.

Oh, great tap-dancing Buddha, the manifestos.

If a week has passed, it’s time for another treatise from on high about how you should be making your own book instead of working for a company like everyone else on earth. Nobody can make having a job sound more despicable than a comic book creator, especially one of these indie darlings who struck it medium-sized.

I don’t know anything about publishing, but here’s some free advice for the banner-waving advice givers: maybe you should take the energy you put into your manifestos about the industry and channel it into writing a book people want to read.

Yes, you kept your idea and kept all the money. Warner Bros. got not a cent, and your kids will get their braces, and you’ll get a nice big cut when they make the movie instead of a “created by” in the credits. Huzzah. But in the meantime, as I contemplate the actual book’s indie audience that’s half the size of my high school graduating class, I can’t help wondering, “What if I was writing stuff because I wanted a lot of people to read it? Is that a crime? Do I have to hear about it again?”

No, Dan Slott's not making any movie money, but Dan Slott is happier than a pig in slop right now. Let him be.

I’m not even saying the manifestos are wrong, primarily because they’ve all faded into an indistinguishable cacophany. I’m just saying, “Hey, let’s everybody mind their own business for a while and make some books instead of ascending to the podium to tell everyone else how to live their lives again.” Could you do your job with these haranguing fussbudgets clucking in your ears? I don’t have the temperament for it.

And God forbid you should get on Alan Moore’s radar. Whoof.

I am suffering from a case of industry overload, and I’m just a reader. I can’t imagine what working in this business would be like, and I’m content never to find out. It might be fun to write Spider-Man, but I’m happier staying here on the consumer side of things. It's quieter.

 


Jim Mroczkowski is happy his job doesn’t entail commuting in this weather. You can find him under a thick sheet of ice and/or on Twitter.

Comments

  1. It’s not the low bar to entry, or even the fan/creator interaction, I don’t think. It’s the fact that comcis is perhaps the only creative medium in which fans can attach themselves to characters, to universes, over the course of decades.

    You like a movie, it strikes you, and that is that. You like a TV show, and lets say you get lucky and you like a very successful show like “Friends”, and you’ll have maybe a decade with them.

    But if you like Batman? If you like Batman, you’ll have DECADES with him. You’ll be able to follow him from childhood to adult hood. You’ll have hundreds of thousands of adventures with him, if you so desire.

    Whats more, comics are one of those few mediums where creations and characters are passed down from writer to writer. If you’re a fan of Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series…well, you can bet that no one but Stephen King is going to write those books. I don’t think many are looking at something like that, or Lord of the Rings or Wheel of Time, and thinking about what they would do with those characters. Because the option isn’t there, it isn’t tangible the way it is in comic books. It isn’t the norm. (and obviously you still DO get that kind of fandom, which is why there are a thousand Harry Potter and Twilight fan fictions out there).

    It just engenders a totally different type of loyalty, and a more serious desire to participate in the act of creation. 

    I don’t write. I’m a medical student. But I still have a great affection for, and conception of, my favorite characters. And I think we all have a bit of a creative aspect, even if it’s not the overriding desire of our lives. And if someone called me up and said “I want you to write Green Lantern” or “I want you to write the New Gods”…it’d be quite exciting, even with no training, even though I have no desire to write anything else.

    I think it speaks to the power of these characters, the pure creative force with which they were imbued and the power they have to ignite that passion in other.

    Cheers,

    Desaad

    http://heshouldreallyknowbetter.blogspot.com/

  2. Well in a few decades, batman, superman, mickey mouse, and so many other classic characters will enter the public domain…i think. (i could have completely misunderstood that day of copywrite law back in my media class). Thern  we’ll be up to our eyeballs in writers doing their own thing. 

    But Jimski, i’m with you, i prefer sticking to reading.  Id love to be able to SAY “yeah i write spider-man”, but where would i start? I mean this is decades of pressure to not only keep track of but to try to keep current and fresh.  For now writing comics isn’t my goal, i’ll just keep on reading. 

    Besides only child rapists write superhero comics.

  3. I remember back in the day reading the Wizard feature about Joe Kelly (I believe) taking over the reigns of the X-men.  He was so excited and had so many ideas.  He really wanted to do a great job on the title he had always read as a kid.  I think his crappy storyline (and I will admit it was crappy) lasted like 5 issues maybe and he was booted off the book.  A year later, there was another Wizard article talking about how much pressure is on writers when it comes to books like X-men and Spider-man. 

    With the current climate, is it any wonder that the best written books are things like “Captain Britain and MI6” or “JLA: Generation Lost” where the writers have almost no pressure and can put goofy entertaining things into the issue?? 

    I have a job, but I have been looking.  It has been suggested to me several times to “follow my passion” and find something close to or in the comics industry.  My reply has always been that it is shrinking by the second and the pay at least when starting out is ridiculously low.  Sad.

  4. Or you know, maybe people create comics because they have a real love for storytelling, and writing and drawing brings them joy. Most creators still have crappy full-time jobs to pay the bills, and it’s a labor of love to come home every night and sit at the desk for many hours. They don’t do it because the “bar is low”, and if you had ever actually pursued a career yourself, you’d know how hard it is.

    How is a community, which is fan-supportive, and writer/artist-supportive, that inspires its fans to want to go out and draw popular characters, or create their own comic, a bad thing? It’s actually a wonderful thing that a medium can inspire things like creation and excitement from its fans. You’re purposely missing the soul of comics.

    The creator-owned “movement” that you ripped on so voraciously, isn’t to tear down working for big companies, it’s meant to inspire hope and encouragement within the creator community, and to help get indie titles out there to a wider audience.

    If you hate creators, the industry, and comics so much, then why do you even bother reading them?

  5. I used to want to write comics, but lately i’ve been losing my passion for that, due to what seems like a dwindling market. and @Desaad hits the nail on the head, a lot of comic readers have a deep seeded wish to write comics. How many people would love to be a a dan slott and make a mark on a character that they absolultely love.

    @LarissaT i agree that people too write comics because they have a love for not only story telling, but using the comic medium to tell a story, which sometimes can’t be told into another medium. I don’t think that Jim would ever discount that, but i think what he is point to is that yes, do this stuff because you love it, but you must also realize the other side of the coin; he’s essentially asking us how much would we love to this, and yes as you say, there are guys who come home from there day job and do nothing but write. I wish i could, but its hard when you have a family to help take care of, which you may experience yourself. And i didn’t get  anywhere that Jim hates comics.

  6. Maybe it’s not the intention here- But this article
    would score pretty high on the “Negativity is Too Damn High” meter to me.

    Personally when someone like Kirkman or Bendis rants on – on how to make it in the industry
    even from different angles- I want to listen.  They are enormously successful and largely they are doing it exactly the way they want to be doing it.

  7. @LarissaT  your first point – thats exactly what he is saying that it’s ok to write for a major publisher cause if you enjoy it whos to stop you.  Its just so many creator owned guys publicly denounce the big 2 (see http://www.ifanboy.com/content/articles/Goon_Creator_Eric_Powell_Has_REALLY_Had_Enough_of_the_Superhero_Monopoly
    ONLY TWO POSTS AGO).  No one is saying creater owned is wrong.

  8. @ericmci  You missed the point of Josh’s negativity article which was about negatvity without thought or explanation — responding to everything with “this sucks” or “meh” — both of which Jim has a lot of here.

  9. @LarissaT: either I didn’t write what I thought I wrote, or you didn’t read what I thought I wrote, but either way I’m not sure I see where you’re coming from. If anything, my hat’s off to the folks who have a passion for this business and struggle to express themselves through it. Part of my point is that I could never do what they do. I have also sampled my share of the Larsens, Powells, Spencers, Sims, and Kirkmen from the comics buffet over the years, so I certainly have no beef with indies.

    What I am pretty tired of is the lecture circuit composed of guys who are hectoring everybody else about how they should conduct their business. It was cute the first dozen times, but I could use a respite.

    Thanks for your feedback. If I actually communicated what I was trying to say that badly, well, that’s one more good reason to keep me from working in comics.

  10. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I have manifesto fatigue too. But I still want to tell stories in this medium. Just need to be more disciplined than I have been. 

  11. @Conor
    I was politely trying to say I found the article to be a bit of rant On a rant.

    And yeah more negative than explanation of said negativity warranted.

    If this had been a user post I doubt you would jump in to defend, and honestly just let people talk
    there isn’t anything hurtful or falsely inciteful in my comment.

  12. @ericmci  There’s nothing wrong with a rant, as long as it’s intelligently written. We do that all the time here. Hell, Ron used to have a recurring column called “Ron Rant.”

  13. I found Powell’s recent rants about the “evils” (my summarizing word, not his) of mainstream comics ridiculous and offensive. I like Spider-Man and Batman…and this apparently makes me a bad reader? I get that not everyone likes the ridiculous superhero antics, but there are books for those that don’t. But complaining about your indie book not selling as well as Spider-Man is akin to complaining that your naval-gazing arthouse movie didn’t make as much money as Transformers. People like what they like. Get over it.

  14. @conor  That column could make a triumphant return, on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.  I find the quirks of Ron’s POV often entertaining.

  15. I find the navigation of what is acceptable as a rant and what isn’t here a bit tricky.

    But I too would welcome a Ron’s Rant.

  16. I wanted to work in comics because I feel I have a story to tell. The recent rash of manifestos tell me that people in the industry are finally telling us the truth rather then towing the company line.
    http://www.drunkduck.com/Auslander/index.php?p=786535

  17. i have a creative career, but i’ve been writing/drawing my own book for a while now trying to get it to place that i’m happy with so i can pitch it. Why? I have my own stories to tell in my own way. I’m creating the comic I want to see on the market. I’m doing it as a creative outlet for myself, so if it ever gets published or i earn a cent from it is gravy.

    I think its ok to aspire to be the next Bendis or Johns and have a legendary run on legacy characters, just as it is ok to aspire to be the next Mignola who creates the next legendary character. Both have their own challenges. There is no wrong or right.  

    I think the creator owned faction does come off as elitist indie rockers from time to time. As if by somehow being creator owned makes the story exponentially better quality. There is plenty of creator owned crap in the market as well. 

  18. @jimski

    I’m pretty sure I didn’t read anything incorrectly, the second, third, or fourth time.

    What I took real beef with was:

    “Something about this form of storytelling says to everyone who sees it, “Please take a crack at this. All that stands between you and Todd McFarlane is the right kind of pen.”…  Maybe it’s because there is a low(ish) barrier to entry.”

    Not only was it offensive to those of us who work really hard to improve our writing and drawing skills, but it was also an offense to people who have succeeded in the industry with hard work.  It’s not easy!

    My lesser beef was with your comments about the creator-owned hoopla, which I think everyone has an opinion on.

    Yes, there are a couple of people making loud complaints/having some fun focused more on hating the big two (I personally read several DC titles), but there is an even greater number of people – professionals that I look up to, that are specifically speaking in support of doing your own comics, finding a place to showcase these voices, and generating an interest in a variety of work. I think that’s really the main goal, people want to see diversity in the comic industry, and it can’t be there, if there aren’t the sales. Sure, some comics don’t sell because they’re crap, but some don’t sell even though they’re brilliant, because the support-base isn’t as strong as it is for the big two. Most people speaking out are trying to convey something positive, and it’s a shame a couple of voices seem to be overpowering the sentiment, or rather, the only voices people seem to choose to hear.

    I guess this is a pretty subjective topic. Maybe for someone like you, who doesn’t write comics, your twitter-feed being inundated by retweets of “support creator-owned comics” is an annoyance. But for people like me, it’s encouraging and exciting.

    I think if this article had more of an “it’s hard making money being funny” spin to it rather than what comes across as a cynical “working in comics must suck” rant, it would’ve been easier to get behind. I realize after reading your response that you may not have been trying to convey such negativity, but “the internet is tone-deaf”.

  19. @larissaT  “low barrier to entry” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t require skill to pull off successfully or that it takes work to be successful.  It means that i can find a friend who can draw moderately well and in 10 minutes have a website up and running with our work on it for the world (save Egypt) to see.

  20.   I wright and draw comics and would like to one day make a living in comics and I well say you did nothing to offend me.  The lowish bar you speak of is one of the reasons I believe I can work in comics for this media lacks the huge amount of attention and competition as, lets say making films.  Like any art form every creator has there views and ideas and like every art form there are ways to make money off it.  in comics, working for the big two is the most likely way to do this.  Is that a bad thing?  To me, not really.  There is something to be said to be true to your own work but there is something else to be said in making a living doing what you love.  If making comics is your passion then is working for the big two and making a living selling out?  Anyway, I make comic books and I am NOT offended by your article Mr Jimski, for what its worth.  

  21. I’m 16 and it is kind of my dream to be a comic writer. I would love to do creator-owned books and make them last like Kirkman, who is pretty much my comic idol, but I would love to write Marvel and DC as well. Although this sin’t an easy thing to accomplish and my parents sure as hell wouldn’t agree with this decision.

  22. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Hold fast to your dreams, my people! We will find the Rainbow Connection! 

    I want to read a Jimski scripted Amazing Spider-Man very, very badly.  

  23. @LarissaT  I don’t think that what Jim was trying to say is “working in comics must suck”. I think was more in the vein of “all you people out there who want to make comics are you so sure that you can take it? are you sure is what you want? because it doesn’t seem to be that easy or perfect from this side.

  24. This is such a hot topic right now.  Nuclear hot though.  It’s something that I am very undecided about but at least appreciate hearing creators cry out in the dark.  iFanboy gives a lot of insight to the world of creators with all the convention episodes, I only wish there were more.

  25. @conor  im confused on this whole article

  26. @rottenjorge  I’m not sure how to help you with that.

  27. great read…hell the wife even liked the first half…I think it all goes back to 
    ‘our” childhood of reading and cherishing comics, like Scrooge McDuck and his debloonies, one wanted to grow upinto their favourite thing-Comics. Not all of us left that feeling behind…

  28. I’d hate to be a comic book writer because of my complete lack of creativity. If I got that mythical random phone call regarding the reigns to Amazing Spider-Man that Jimksi mentioned, I’d immediately accept but a month later I’d get a call from Wacker asking for my first pitch and have bupkis to pitch.

    “Uh…so Spider-Man has to get this special medicine to Aunt May, see…but it turns out the Master Planner is really Dr. Octopus!…and then a lot of heavy machinery falls on Spidey, more than he’s able to lift, you see. Or so we think!  But then here comes the water! … Did I mention his best friend is a talking pie?”

  29. in a lot of ways working in comics must be a crappy job. No real job security, no benefits, low pay. Your stable of fans are so fickle and wait to tear you a new one on message boards and in person at conventions if you so much as change a characters belt buckle. 

    I don’t know how well i could do my job if i knew there were overly passionate hordes of anonymous people waiting to tell me how lazy, inept, untalented and incapable i was at my job as well as ruining their childhood heroes and bragging about how they could do my job better than me on a daily basis. On the plus side sometimes those same fans kiss your butt and stroke your ego…but still.  

  30. Nice piece, Jim. Mainly for presenting a viewpoint that is very much against the norm.

    I do find it very interesting that such a high % of readers/bloggers/critics/podcasters not only want to make comics, but go as far as considering themselves aspiring creators simply doing something else in the mean time.

    Like Jim says, it’s to a much higher degree than say movies or novels. And like Jimski hypothesized, it likely stems from the perceived “ease” of it all. For whatever reason, writing a comic book is the easiest thing for people to look at and go, “Hey, I could do that!”

    No matter what the field, everyone who is a fan of something deep down wants to be able to do that great thing. Be is playing a sport, being in a band, acting, or writing a book. All of us normal simpletons have a deep desire to be able to do what we love and appreciate. But with most of those things, there are cold, harsh realities as to why we are not able. If you aren’t big, tall, or fast, odds are you won’t be a professional athlete. If you can’t play a wicked guitar, sing like an angel, or write incredible lyrics. Guess what? Prob not going to make it in the music industry. (That is unless you are good looking and have access to an auto-tune machine.) Same goes for acting, modeling, dancing, or professional LARP’ing. If you don’t have the “you must be this tall to ride” attributes, you don’t bother with the idea of prolonging the dream.

    But for some reason, a ton of people who read and love comic books feel that they can do it. I’ve wondered before why this is? Is it simply because it’s easy to understand the inner-workings of what makes a comic book? It’s a lot easier than dissecting a novel or screenplay, that’s for sure. Or is it because for the most part, comic book creators are very much normal people. They aren’t big superstars or famous people out of our rhelm. Even a Brian Bendis isn’t someone any of us should be afraid to walk up to. It’s not like we’re dealing with hollywood elite, rock stars, or pro athletes. Comic book creators are pretty much US. Guys like us or guys like we know. There’s got to be a factor of “Hey, if he can do it, why can’t I?” going on. Also, most comic creators are very accessible. Be it Twitter, Cons, etc. There isn’t exactly a huge barrier. As well as the fact that most of their stories aren’t anything incredible that would be beyond our means. It’s not like 85% of successful comic book creators all attended the prestigious “University of Elitist Comic Book Artists.” It’s not as if you have to be incredibly good looking or wealthy. It’s just dudes who were good at something, got a break, and ran with it. That is all any of us wants, deep down, regardless what our field is. Right?

    I don’t want to belittle the people amongst us that have desires to be what they admire. Not by any means AT ALL. There’s a few people I’m aware of who fit this category who I think highly enough of, who I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if they suddenly were helming the next big book in the industry. Maybe the reason we have so many who fit the category of aspiring to make it in the field that they are a fan of, simply because comic book reading is a niche art in today’s society. It’s not sports, music, or acting. Things just about anybody with a light on in their head would love to do if they could. Comics require people with imaginations as well as a decent level of literary acumen. So maybe it is just that simple. Maybe we have a higher quotient of creative/intelligent types amongst our ranks? Who is really to say. I just find it very fascinating the different dynamic that exists between comic book readers and the industry itself. It’s very different from any other industry or artform out there. And I’m pretty sure that’s why I love it.