This was going to be an eventual column for WORDFISTS! but as the other columnist there just did one along the same lines as this I figured I’d just write this entry here instead.
I have had a few people ask me about how you become a writer or start working in comics and all that jazz so I thought I would address the issue.
If you want to be a writer – write. Now you may have zero talent for it. I won’t lie, it is possible. Maybe you have some talent but not enough for whatever goal you have. Who knows. what I do know is that if you don’t exercise that muscle then it won’t get any stronger. If you don’t learn discipline and work yourself, you won’t have a shot.
But it is more than just writing, these days. A writer has to also be a businessperson. No one will sell you as hard as you sell yourself. No one will make your reputation, pimp your stuff and get your words out to folk more than you yourself will. So if you aren’t willing to do all that work on top of writing all the time – go home now and save yourself the frustration. Because having the best book in the world doesn’t help if no one reads it. Not career-wise. Sorry.
And sure, that sucks and who wants that and we all want to just create and hide in our caves and not have to worry about PR and ad targeting and how we can get more copies out there and … sure. It just isn’t reality. You can hate it all you want but reality has a way of demanding your attention. Sorry about that.
As for comics, well this holds true no matter what really but it is extra-true somehow in comics. If you want to get into comics you must create comics. This is simple. It is like “If you want to write, you have to write.” But business-wise I will give you the big secret, if such a thing exists, about how to break in. Joe Keatinge mentions this one all the time, too. Do any work you can. Color flats, if you can learn how, and you can. Offer to work at a company during a convention. Help out on your own time at the office, intern-like. Whatever shit and scut work you can find, you do it. You do it well. You do it professionally and with a smile.
The world of comics, in America, is tiny. Everyone knows everyone else. And showing that you are willing, capable and able to get things done is golden. Let me give you a real example of this. I ended up working for Popgun as the assistant editor because I knew the guy who had the job before. How? Because I hustle all the time and years back when I was working on Too Much Coffee Magazine I met this guy and we ended up friends. How did that happen? A site I ran interviewed Shannon Wheeler and I kept in touch and offered, once a month, politely, that if he had any work or needed a gap closed I was his guy. Eventually he did. See how that works?
So anyway, I was working for Popgun. Which is how I met Joe. Joe works for Image. NYCC was coming up and I asked Joe, since I live in NY, if he needed help running the booth at all. He said sure and put me in rotation. I was Image’s intern for a weekend, selling books, helping run the table, generally being a guy who was there to help and do whatever he could.
Along the way I met a lot of people. A lot of them. Some big names, some not at all. But I shook all their hands (I didn’t realize I had the con flu by then, so to any of you who ended up half-dead because of me, I meant it in a good way, not as an Outbreak Monkey!) and I helped them when they needed it and I worked my ass off for three days.
I made friends. I busted ass. I left it at that. Because that was my entire goal. It wasn’t “go to this show and do this work and magically get handed stuff,” no, I was laying bricks. I was also having a great time, but I was laying bricks. And those bricks have been useful.
Some of the people I met I have gotten to work with since. Some are just good names to have. I can check in with them, brush up on the “Hey, we met at, how’s your new dog doing?” conversations and actually connect with people.
Suddenly it is easier to find an artist for a project. Suddenly I don’t feel as if the industry is over there and I am over here. Now we’re both here and though I am way down on the totem pole I am still there and climbing. Realistically.
Meanwhile I am doing all the work I can. I am saying yes and stretching myself and working harder and harder all the time, because I want to build a reputation as someone who can turn in damned good work on a decent time frame and who doesn’t miss deadlines and can take care of that problem for you. It isn’t something you prove sometimes. It is something you prove every day.
Same with your ability to write, or draw, or edit or whatever. You don’t get to do one story and say “See! That!” you have to repeat it the next time, and the time after that. You prove yourself every day, and work on your connections, and think like it’s a business and dear lord it can be exhausting.
But that’s what you want. The scary part isn’t when you are so busy your eyeballs hurt. The scary part is silence. Silence means no calls, no emails, no new gigs on the horizon. It means that you aren’t getting work.
It honestly is that simple, and that hard. And doing it doesn’t mean KA-BLAMMO! you will be swimming in high-paying work. No this is years of commitment and driving yourself as hard as possible. And then it might pay off. Might not, too. Sadly it is a risk. But if you want to do it, if you need to, then do it. And take your shot. Worst case you will make some great friends. Best case you’ll also make yourself a career.
So that’s about it:
- Do the work.
- Write every day, even just a bit.
- Deconstruct stories you love and learn from them.
- Read every type of book, comic and non-fiction you can, see movies and listen to music. Don’t ignore any source of story.
- Act like a professional.
- Don’t demand things.
- Be prompt.
- Hit deadlines.
- Don’t start fights for no reason.
- Think like a businessperson.
- Advertise yourself.
- Take chances.
- Don’t push without thinking, push with aim and timing.
- Help everyone as you would like to be helped.
- Be kind.
- Offer your help, with no catches.
- Follow through.
- Do whatever work you can.
- There is no work beneath you.
- Do whatever it is you are doing to the best of your ability.
- Use every job as a way to show your strength.
- And to work on a weakness.