Archive for the ‘Comics Industry’ Category

Staying In

I’ve been told that breaking into the comics industry is easy, it’s the staying in that’s hard..

I’ve been working in comics since 1989, so I thought I would share what I’ve learned over those years that helped me keep working. Some seem obvious and others outright stupid, but some people don’t seem to know them.

This advice applies to not just pencilers, writers and other credited comics-makers, but all freelancers and staff people. In fact, it’s pretty good advice for anyone in business.

•Be good at your job. Now, that sounds like a “duh” moment, but some people starting out think the lower-level positions aren’t worth their time. Wrong. If you are sitting in the production department dreaming of being a professional penciler and slag off on your current job, people notice. If someone sees you putting pride into all that you do, they will believe you’d do the same in the job you really want.

•Don’t be a jerk. Obvious, yes. But in the stressful environment of periodical publishing, things can get tense. Don’t take out your frustration on others. People talk and if you become known as a jerk to one person, expect everyone to hear it.

•Don’t lie. Again, obvious, but hear me out. You’re a colorist and you have a crushing deadline. Do you tell your editor that you’ll have it done in time when you damn well know you won’t, or do you tell them honestly that it’s not going to happen? Editors are jugglers. They have a lot going on at once and if you screw them over, they drop the balls. They’d much rather you be honest and work with them. More than likely they can give you more time, but more importantly, they know that you’ll be honest with them in the future. I’ve seen too many people no longer in the business over-promise.

•Answer questions, don’t ask them. What? What I mean by that is be a problem-solver. Be helpful, take charge of a problem. Do your best and then take it to an editor. Even if it’s not exactly what they want, they will appreciate the effort and it may help them solve the problem.

•You’re a pro, not a fan anymore. Don’t geek out on your childhood idol. Within professional circles, the fan geek stands out. You are their equal, act like it. Don’t ask for a sketch, don’t try to be their friend, don’t ask them to critique your work. There may come a time when a fellow pro will ask to check out your work, but remember don’t take advantage of their courtesy. And don’t start sending out samples to everyone you work with. It makes them feel uncomfortable to work with you if they feel your stuff is not up to snuff.

•Keep your mouth shut. Don’t gossip, don’t listen to gossip, don’t assume anything to be true. Freelancers are old washer women. We like to talk. I’m guilty of it. I try not to, but it happens. For your sake, just keep out of it. No one likes a busy-body. Don’t go on Twitter or Facebook and talk about other creators in a negative way. Remember, bad talk about someone could influence people into not hiring them or you.

•Get better. Don’t rest on your laurels. Always try to improve or try new things. Even in the most mundane jobs. When I was on-staff at Marvel, I went from letterer to senior letterer in a year because I always tried to get better and people noticed. I came in early, I worked through lunch, I stayed late. Editors began noticing I’d come in early and they wanted me to do their corrections, so they began coming in early to ensure I did their work. Even now, I try new things and push to improve.

•If you’re good enough, you’re not good enough. I hear so many people wanting to be writers or pencilers. And usually, their first remark is, “Well, if that guy can get work, I should. My work is better than theirs.” Wrong. You don’t know why they get work and comparing yourself to the “least talented” person is not where you should be going. You, as a penciler, need to be better than Jim Lee or Greg Capullo or the Kuberts. As a writer, work to achieve to be better than Bendis or Miller or Moore. Strive for that. Make publishers need to have you. Why work to be just good enough?

Be friendly even when you don’t want to. Be nice to people. Be cheerful and upbeat. No one wants to work with a person who complains all the time (like me), when the next guy over who does the same job equally well is pleasant and a joy to work with. I know it’s hard sometimes to feel that way, but a quick call or an e-mail that is nice is much better than having the person on the other end want to work with anyone but you.

Promote your work. This one I’ve always had trouble with. It’s okay to get online and promote your work. It’s your work, not you. If someone doesn’t like your work, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. And, even if they don’t, who cares? You can’t make everyone happy. And don’t be shy. Go on Twitter and Facebook and promote. I’ve found that the people who self-promote most, tend to do better and get more work over time. Perception is reality. You tell enough people that the work is good and exciting and it will be those things.

•Don’t procrastinate. Get things done because who knows if someone will come along with another assignment. Maybe even that dream assignment, but you insisted on playing X-Box and still have to finish that first job.

•You can say no. This is another one I’ve had trouble with. Be honest with people. If you can’t or don’t want to do a job (freelance, I mean. Staff, you do what you’re asked to do)say no to it. The fear as a freelancer is once you say no, that editor or publisher will never ask you again. And that may happen, but at a later date send the editor a friendly note saying that you’re looking for work. People appreciate when you don’t waste their time. Don’t say yes, then bail on a job halfway through because you had no time or interest.

Respect your elders. I see so many newcomers in the business for five minutes telling everyone the way things should be done. They rip people who have been in the business much longer but have no clue what they’re talking about. Instead of bashing, how about contacting them and telling them how much you like their work? There are so many tips and tricks that people in the industry have gained over their years. Show them the respect they’ve earned.

Okay. There are plenty more, but I have a deadline to make. If you have any other tips, be sure to share them. After you get your work done!

Remembering Gene

How do you write about someone you barely knew, but had a greater impact on you than people you’ve known your whole life?

Most people came to know Gene Colan on the vibrant four-color comics of their youth. I met Gene in a dingy, dimly-lit classroom on 28th and 7th in Manhattan. It was the Fall of 1988 and I was studying graphic design with a minor in illustration. Secretly, I was hoping to be a cartoonist. I had a choice whether to take a fashion illustration course or another one called, “Graphic Storytelling.” I chose the latter.

I had not grown up reading comic books as so many of my peers have. I was into Peanuts and Bloom County, not Spider-Man and Daredevil, so this was a bit of a departure for me, but one that seemed closer to my passion than drawing fashion. He normally taught at the School of Visual Arts, but was now also teaching at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Unfortunately, the students he had that semester where not the future comic legends a teacher would hope for.

The fact that combined, the entire class had less talent than Gene had, didn’t matter to him. He loved story and loved showing others his passion. I will always remember that passion based on one event that I still think about to this day. In order to teach us visual storytelling, one class he brought in To Kill A Mockingbird on videocassette. He prefaced the viewing by informing us that it was his favorite movie and he watched it once a week and had been for a very long time. Towards the end of the movie, Gene was so moved by the film that he started to cry. He left the classroom and returned a few minutes later. That story that he watched every week still moved him to tears. I was amazed. Gene was passionate…especially about story.

As most people now know, my art is very cartoony. I would draw pages in that cartoony style and he would just shake his head. “No one buys that style of cartooning these days, you know.”, he’d say to me. I’m sure I was another lost cause to him, but he still was passionate about teaching story—even to me.

One day during that semester, I was informed that I needed to get an internship somewhere as a requirement of my college workload for my final semester. That night, Gene told us that he was taking us on a field trip to Marvel Comics. A couple days later, we went and it looked like a fun place to work…and maybe intern at. So, I sent in an application and was accepted. That began my long career at Marvel.

A few years later I was offered a job lettering a Dracula mini-series that Gene was penciling. I jumped at the chance. I got to work on pages that Gene drew and Al Williamson inked. Somewhere out there are original pages where I got to share my time with greatness. It was that book that I got introduced to Al. I would always letter with a paper towel under my arm, so as to not smudge the pencils. Al appreciated that, especially with Gene’s soft pencil lines which easily smudged.He thanked me.

A few years ago, while I was working on Franklin Richards, I ran into Gene at the New York Comic Con. I reminded him of the class, the field trip, the Dracula story and the fact that I would “never get work drawing cartoony.” I then handed him a copy of Marvel Comics’ Franklin Richards and he burst out laughing. I told him I took to heart his lessons from all those years ago. I thanked him for my career and wished him the best. I hope I made him proud.

I didn’t know Gene that well, but without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Rest in Peace, Gene and thank you for teaching me to love story like you.

The Kids are All Right

(This is a post originally posted at

Working in the comics industry for 20 years, I’ve learned that the creators and fans tend to be some of the most open, progressive and inviting people on the planet. They are not quick to judge people and always seem open to new ideas…except when it comes to their comics.

For some reason, when it comes to their comics, most of today’s readers, and frankly creators, want to keep the status quo. Anything new is viewed with caution or, sometimes, outright dismissal. Anything that is not directed at their particular tastes is derided and summarily dismissed. Not always, mind you, but I’ve noticed a very conservative tilt when it comes to people’s comics. I’ve read super hero comics, I like them and think they should always be around, but comics can’t make that the end-all/be-all.

As an industry, we’ve been forced to steer most of our product to the same demographic. Comic books in the direct market are non-returnable, so that puts the retailer in the position of taking the chance in ordering comics. If they order incorrectly, they end up with product they can’t sell and have to eat that cost, so they usually play it safe and order the top-sellers for the most part. I don’t blame them.  If I was given the choice of selling X-Men, which I know will sell through, or another less known commodity, I’d chooseX-Men. So, then the publishers see that and provide more of what the retailers want. It’s a vicious circle and diversity is lost.

You may say to me that there is a ton of diversity out there, but I mostly see an appeal to the same type of reader. Why else would it be news when comics geared at women are released? We have shrunk our medium to a very small group. In a world of billions, it’s telling that the top-selling book sits at around 100,000 copies sold. And those numbers are dwindling. Why? When a survey comes out saying that 25% of comic readers are over 65, don’t we see the answer?

As Whitney Houston once sang, I believe the children are the future. (Yeah, I’m old.) We need to get more children into reading comics. Now, I’ve heard it said that there are plenty of comics out there for kids, and there are. A lot of them happen to be super-hero comics cleaned up, but I think we need to radically change the kinds of comics we do for kids as well as where they are distributed.

First up: the type of comics. I know that there are plenty of all-ages comics out there at the smaller comics companies, but as I said, they’re not being ordered by shops.  I’m looking at the big comics publishers who must lead the charge moving forward. They have the resources and giant multi-media parent companies. So, while super hero comics are well and good, we need to expand that. We need to do comics that, like a Pixar movies, can be about lots of other things and other subjects and other genres. We can have adventure stories, fantasy stories, or anything else we want. But, and this is key, these books need to break from the monthly format. Marvel and DC need to offer up 120 page graphic novels that can be read in one sitting or with their parents a little at a time at night before bed or whenever. I look at the passion my kids had when Diary of a Wimpy Kidcame out—they gobbled the books up. We need to make comics for them fun, exciting and something they want to read, just like movies. The movies that seem to consistently do well are those aimed at all-ages audiences in whatever genre they may be.

The next important thing is getting those books into their hands or, more likely, into the parents’ hands. They are not coming to us. Parents don’t head out to comic book stores because there either aren’t any, they don’t know of any, or their dreaded preconceived notions of comic shops. We need to get these books into the major bookstores, right next to other children’s books. We need to run a pilot program that offers these books to schools where children, teachers and parents can read them firsthand.

I have experience with this. I started Franklin Richards, a comic I wrote and drew with Marc Sumerak, when my kids were in second grade. I offered copies to the teachers, which they seemed to like. The children loved them and then the parents started approaching me asking where to get the books, because the kids loved them. I always cringed at the responses when I told them they could get them at comic book stores. They usually didn’t even know there was such a thing. Then when the trades came out, I told them that they could get them at bookstores, but the bookstores didn’t stock them. I think there was a fear of the unknown in both the parents and booksellers. They didn’t know what this book was. But, I think when there are enough of these type of comics out there, they become the norm and accepted. Eventually, the teachers told me that the Franklin books became a great motivator. The children all wanted to read the comics, so the teachers would let them read them after they completed an assignment or read a prose book. It was a treat to them. We need to make comics a treat for kids again.

I recently read a study that children prefer reading books digitally rather than dead tree versions. I’ve seen it first hand. My kids have read more comics on my iPad than they ever read before. They aren’t giant comic book readers, but they seem more intrigued. I would love to do a digital comic along the lines of the Alice in Wonderland app when things happened as you read—things moved, popped out, etc. Another idea was a flash comic I saw once where the page stayed static and each time you touched the screen, it flipped to the next panel or completed an action in the panel. Whatever type of digital distribution is utilized, it can only help.  However we do it, we need to get these new type of books into their hands. We need to go out and get them, because they aren’t coming to us.

I know a lot of people who look down their noses at all-ages comics and they have the right to their opinion, but I think to dismiss the idea or to think they aren’t real comics should really look at the bigger picture. Numbers are dwindling. The amount of devoted comics readers is going down and if it continues, the books that you love may disappear with the readers. So, we need to build back readership and that means getting them when they’re young and maybe the next survey will say that 25% of comics readers are under 10 and we’re growing the industry.

Like I said, we need to turn comics into a treat for kids, but also let the parents know it’s a treat for their kids, but maybe also for themselves. Don’t look down on kids comics.  Make them, distribute them, celebrate them and maybe, just maybe, they’ll pick up a copy of X-Men when they get older and see what it is about comics that you love so much.

Special thanks to Josh Flanagan over at iFanboy for the edit

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