Advice for up and coming creators
Reading a lot of fellow pros go off on social media lately about the state of comics and/or their careers. Complaints about compensation, fans, and treatment by companies. It’s disheartening and completely avoidable in my opinion. So for those hoping to break in one day, here’s a bit of advice. I don’t pretend to be the authority on any of this, just some things that have been working for me for years and I don’t see any reason why they can’t work for you. And while this focuses heavily on comics, I think a lot of it can apply to other creative fields.
1) Be nice! It’s simple really but I’m shocked by the amount of people that don’t follow this. It takes so little effort to be kind and I’ve found that 99.9% of fans and editors will return the kindness in full. This isn’t to say you should be a push over but please, thank you,and I’m sorry go a long way.
2) Be honest! Don’t lie about how much work you’ve completed for the deadline and don’t make bologna excuses why you were late. And don’t make promises you can’t keep. Any editor or fan will tell you that complete honesty is always appreciated over excuses no matter how good. I have never had an editor or fan get angry at me for being honest but I have gotten myself in trouble for making excuses or avoiding calls. You’d be shocked how far “I screwed up, I’m sorry” goes. Editors want to help, they’re on your side but they can’t help you if you’re being dishonest.
3.1) be positive! This is the one that gets people in trouble because it’s easy to fall into negative emotions when things don’t go your way. As a creative person, we often wear our emotions on our sleeve and it can be tough to fight the negative feelings when things aren’t working out the way you planned. Don’t like the project you’re assigned but took it because you need the money? Fake it. Fake it until you make it. I’ve been amazing with how many times I’ve found faking a positive attitude has turned into a real one. And trust me, your editors and fans notice. Having a positive attitude has done nothing but gotten me bigger and better things. And share your positivity! Comment on and encourage other creators and fans. I promise you that it will be returned 10 fold.
3.2) Don’t be our own worst enemy! On the flip side to 3.1, if you’re having one of those days where you just can’t be positive? Shut up. Vent to your best friend or your minister or your spouse but don’t go blasting your negative attitude into the universe. the universe has a nasty habit of giving it right back. Besides, most people don’t mind someone who has a complaint every once in a while but I think you’ll agree that those people who are constant complainers aren’t much fun to be around and are usually avoided. I’ve seen so many artists that let jealousy or contempt take over their career and, in the same breath, they don’t understand why they’re not getting more/better work. it’s all about the attitude. Don’t worry about what’s on someone else’s plate, worry about your own. The only reason you should be looking at someone else’s plate is to make sure they have enough.
4) don’t avoid confrontation! You have a problem with an editor, fellow pro or a fan? March right up to them(or email/PM them) and talk it out. But remember points 1,2, and 3!). Be kind, honest, and firm and always go in with a notion that you might be wrong no matter how right you think you are. Confrontation is about getting someone to see your point of view. I don’t know about you but I’ve never wanted to see the POV of someone who’s yelling and cursing at me. Everything you say should be from a position of wanting the other person to hear and understand you. Which also means you have to shut up and listen as well. But whatever you do, DO NOT take your grievance to a third party whether it’s another editor, pro, or fan or the entire universe(i.e.- social media). It does you absolutely no good and in the end and will only end up being self destructive.
5) Save your money! No gig lasts forever and there will be down times in your career where you’re waiting for that next paycheck. Live below your means as much as possible and plan on the dry spells. it’s very difficult to become wealthy in comics but you can be very comfortable if you keep a good head on your shoulders. Don’t work for the times you have work, work for the times you won’t. And as soon as your able, get a financial planner. They know things you would never think of and can make your money work for you. Have fun but be smart.
6) Grow a thick skin! You’re going to hear all kinds of things about your work or even you personally. You have to work on not letting it bother you. If more people like you or your work than dislike you, you’re winning. Focus on the positive and let the negative roll off your back. And if you have to respond, do it kindly-“I’m sorry you feel that way. Hopefully I’ll produce something in the future that’s more to your liking!.” It’s not as fulfilling as telling someone to $%&@-off but in customer service we call this “disarming”. When you meet anger or negativity with kind positivity you often take all the power away from the aggressor. Most times they will completely back down and in a lot of cases even apologize. It’s literally like magic.
7) be good to your fans! They are your biggest ambassadors and your fan base will grow on the good words of the fans you already have. These are the folks that talk openly in the comic shop about you and your work. They’re the folks that will flood your latest posted piece with likes and positive comments. They’re the folks that can make you want to draw that next page when all you want to do is crawl back in bed.Talk to them and and for god sake, smile! You can’t control how people see your work but you can control how people see you. That 10 seconds you take to say hello or thank you may mean little to you but it could mean the world to someone else. And let’s face it, your attitude and personality can color how your work appears to someone. How many times have you heard “I loved his stuff until I met him at a con and he was a dick.”? Or “He was a real jerk to me online”. Don’t let that be you.
8) Be open to criticism and learning! You are never as good as you can be and there will always be someone better. Put your ego aside and realize it as fast as you can. And if someone is better than you? Shut up and learn. Listen to and seek advice from them. You are never above criticism and often times it will only help you get better. No, not all criticism is valid and you will learn to separate the wheat from the chaff soon enough but writing off any criticism or advice because “They don’t understand my artistic process” is foolhardy and you are only hurting yourself. And if you’ve asked for criticism from a professional more skilled than you, be thankful and never defensive. They’re taking time out of their day to give you a gift. Be appreciative. And when in doubt, see numbers 1 and 3!
9) Lastly, You are not a special snowflake! I don’t care how good you are. This is COMMERCIAL art, not FINE art. You, at the end of the day, are a cog in the wheel in order to produce a product. Yes, you should take pride in what you do and push yourself artistically to new and better things but being a dick because of “artistic integrity” will get you nowhere. You know what the gig is before you get into it and if you don’t, you figure it out pretty quickly. If it’s not for you then step away and find something that is but don’t hang around punching at the sky trying to change things. You are no better or worse than any other artist working in the industry. Yes, some artists can be a bit more demanding because of their skill, experience, and the large demand for their work but at the end of the day, they are a cog just like you or me. Be a team player and if you can’t, try to work it out and if you can’t work it out, walk away.
So that’s it. I know I have a ton of fellow pros on my friend’s list so, if they read this, I hope they’ll chime in with their own lessons they’ve learned along the way. I’m sure there’s things I’ve forgotten to mention and I would love to hear them. I’m positive I still have a lot to learn.
Sorry this is so long and, if you’ve gotten this far, thank you so much for reading along!