As a Comic Artist you’ll commit a staggering amount of time, energy and dedication to harnessing your skills. It doesn’t matter if that means becoming a recluse, living on a below minimum wage, or being seen as downright unrealistic by our family, friends and colleagues – drawing Comics is in our blood.
Most of us have it already figured that, in the real world, there’s little chance we’ll ever be able to earn a decent living from our art work alone. Much less pay off a mortgage or raise a family. Besides, if we even managed to get to that point, we’d be stuck working our butts off for an almost insulting paycheck.
So we do it for the love don’t we? At least that’s what we’re told by the handful of potential clients who see something they like and decide to approach us with – "Yeah, we know the pay is low, but it’s about the passion not the price, right?"…
It all seems a little bleak doesn’t it? We've all asked ourselves – “If I invest all this time into learning how to draw comics, will it even be worth it in the end? Are the naysayers justified in telling me that what I’m doing is going to lead nowhere?”
This is a pessimistic and self defeating mindset to indulge in. But sometimes it’s hard not to let it creep in and play on our mind and motivation. Here you are, stepping outside the mold set by those around you, as they go about their seemingly ‘normal’ and content lives - and you feel like they see you as being absolutely nuts! It's no wonder we find it so damn hard not to let those doubts rise up and threaten our motivation to keep on going.
Here’s the truth though…
Every innovator, whether it be the likes of Todd McFarlane, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Steve Jobs, had the same foreboding fear, doubt and worry when they set out to make their vision a reality. In fact, some of the most famous success stories out there, especially those we look up to in the Comic Art world, began with nothing but an unconditional love for their craft and a stubborn determination to succeed beyond all else.
Todd McFarlane started out working at a Comic Book Store, sending hundreds of art samples to various Comic Book Companies from the little trailer he was sharing with his then girlfriend, Wanda... Todd was rejected hundreds of times, with only half of his 700 submissions actually receiving a reply. But instead of seeing it as failure, he analysed the critiques he got inside those rejection letters and applied every morsel of advice he could use to improve.
Eventually he got the call from Marvel Comics and DC…
And even after scoring his own Spider-Man title (which became an overnight success) - that still wasn’t enough for Todd. So he took one of the greatest gambles he could have, at the height of his career, and left Marvel to form his own Independent Comic book company... with no guarantees it would work. Image Comics is still the largest independent Comic Book company in existence to date… His story isn’t unique either - almost every well known Comic Book artist did their dues and worked hard to break into the industry. Having yet to learn English, a young Jim Lee grew up as an outsider in the U.S., destined for a career in medicine, as he followed in the footsteps of his father. But after completing his degree in psychology, Jim's passion for drawing Comics was reignited by an art class he'd taken. This caused Jim to postpone Medical School altogether, with his parents reluctant blessing, and allow himself a single year to break into the Comic Book Industry. Jim Lee was also rejected many times until, through his persistence, he went to a Comic convention showed his portfolio to the editors in person - later being invited to Marvel to work on his first assignment 'Alpha Flight'.
Now… this article isn’t just here to inspire you. I'm about to tell you exactly why now is the best time to dedicate every waking moment you've got to developing your skills as a Comic Artist... But we need to make a shift in our mindset first. Because mindset is ultimately the key factor in creating success.
Sometimes my students are discouraged by the assumption that there’s a lack of opportunity out there for artists. As a result, they try to practice and develop their skills for a while, but eventually lose the motivation to keep on pushing forward… Without a real reason to pursue their passion, it simply fades away.
This is often because of the social pressures put on them to take a 'realistic' career path in life. The problem with this is, society has only just begun transitioning into a culture consumed by Entertainment!
A few decades ago the Entertainment Industry was nowhere near the size it is today. Video games consisted of text and 8-bit pixels on the small screen of a giant box. The amount of 3D effects used in movies and television was bar none, simply because computers weren’t endowed with enough processing power to pull off today’s jaw dropping special effects. Mobile Phones didn't even exist yet, let alone the ability to play apps, watch film, serf the internet and read entire libraries of digital books from the palm of your hand. As for Comics? Well, they’ve evolved somewhat, but in general they’ve remained fairly consistent in terms of how they’re produced and consumed.
In fact, long before the cutting edge tech seen in today's forms of entertainment – people still entertained themselves with Comic Books! And things such as board games, card games, Dungeons and Dragons, and pillow forts.
Fast forward to 2016 and what’s changed? In short, a heck of a lot!
Now we’ve got blockbuster movies created with eye boggling 3D visuals that are so life-like, it’s hard to tell what’s real footage and what’s not half the time. Video Games now reside in the uncanny valley too, where players are able to navigate throughout immersive worlds full of life without suspending their disbelief for a moment. They’re able to have interactions within the game world that are so life like now, that building relationships and connecting emotionally with virtual characters has become a given in gaming…
And all of it can be experienced through Virtual Reality now too! You don’t even need an Oculus Rift or VIVE headset to do it anymore… The phone in your front pocket can be used to literally transport your visual perception into the set of a movie and make it feel like you’re actually there.
As for Comics?
Well some of them are actually experienced as video games now if you can believe it. On top of that, almost any title available in print is now available digitally too… And we both know it’s only a matter of time before you’re watching an interactive motion Comic unfold through the lenses of a Virtual Reality headset.
But the biggest jump we’ve made of all? The greatest opportunity you and I have right now as Comic Artists?
Did you know that you’re not only able to publish your own Comic Books, for free, online through digital platforms such as comiXology, Steam and Amazon kindle… but Amazon even allows people to order printed, paper back copies of your creator made Digital Comic Books. You’re now able to skip the middle man and physically publish your work on demand.
Of course, being an Indie creator means you’ve got to market everything yourself to see any kind of real success… but thanks to the miracle of the internet, even that is cheaper and easier to do than ever… In fact, now you can create your own exposure, fame and fortune by getting your artwork in front of audiences across the world online - and it’s all virtually free.
But… let’s take a look at the phenomenal amount of opportunities for you as an artist in general, that have sprung up as entertainment shifts onto a whole new level of experience and immersion.
Whether it be video games, movies, tv shows, or comics – they all begin with an artist who visualizes what every facet of that product is going to look, before it ever goes into production. That includes environment sets, characters, costumes, vehicles, gadgets, storyboards, overall mood, aesthetic and style...You name it! And weather you're an Illustrator, Concept Artist, Digital Artist or Comic Artist, they all require the same knowledge and skill set to conceptualize and present those visualizations.
However the dynamic skill set of a Comic Artist gives you the greatest edge of all... Out of every other art form, the Comic Art form challenges us to come up with a visual narrative purely from our imagination - and as such you have no choice but to become well versed in the core fundamentals of dynamic drawing. Having a combined knowledge of perspective, composition, proportion, form, figure drawing, anatomy and foreshortening - allows you to draw almost anything you can conceive of. That makes you an incredibly flexible and diverse artist.
Most of us think that learning how to draw Comics means that our career options are limited to just comics… What we don’t realize however is that the same skills we’ve learned to draw comics can be applied to any other kind of product that requires a visual interpretation. Now – that doesn’t mean you won’t still have grind away at developing your drawing and design skills day in and day out, taking on the low paying jobs, and hustling hard to get to where you want to be. But what I’m saying is that the opportunities are out there, and for you as a Comic Artist, they're incredibly vast. Especially now more than ever.
Okay… but lets say you don’t want to do any of that other stuff. Lets say you just want to make Comics!
It turns out that the Comic Book Industry is doing better than ever right now thanks to the flood of movie and television adaptations being created based on them. This has spiked the popularity of Comic Books themselves in turn, and brought on a whole new generation of readers.
The digital format of Comics has also hooked in a larger audience, who are now able to carry around their entire Comic Book collection via phone or tablet wherever they go. They're cheap to publish too, making them less expensive for customers to buy - which also adds to the appeal.
Comics are becoming more interactive and immersive... As I said before, you’ve now got Motion Comics and interactive Video Game Books that are only becoming more popular and easy to produce as publishers continue to figure out and establish new ways to enhance the Comic Book experience.
An example I can give you of this was when I worked on Tin Man Game's 'Appointment With F.E.A.R.' I was hired to create many of the customizable Super Hero's, Heroine's and Villians you could play as throughout the story. As the reader, you'd embark on missions, make choices and play out the entire narrative through the choices you made. Kind of like a digital 'Choose Your Own Adventure' book/Comic Book hybrid that was wholly interactive. You were even able to battle Super Villains head to head, Poke'mon style. This was a Comic Book that wasn’t just your regular page turner – but a truly captivating experience for the reader that sucked them right into the story and involved them on a whole new level. Self publishing your own Comic Book is also now a million times easier to do than it ever has been before! You've got crowd funding platforms such as Kick Starter, Patrion and Indiegogo, that give you the opportunity to generate the funding to create your Comic Book. Even renounced Comic Artist, Marc Silvestri from Top Cow used Kick Starter to relaunch his Cyber-Force series as a free comic book! You can now sell your comics online, fast and easily through platforms such as Gumroad, via your website, or as I said before Amazon... which again - allows you to physically print and send your comic to a customer as soon as they purchase it. You'll still need to create a following, gain exposure and market your Comic - which is definitely not easy - but it's totally possible. It just requires some effort.
So… to sum all of this up… there’s more than enough opportunity out there for you as a Comic Book artist. And it is well worth your time to stick at it, work hard to get good through strategic study and daily practice. Yeah, it’ll take time, patience and lots of mistakes to get your skills to the point where you’ll be able to make a decent living from drawing Comic Books. But nothing worth doing ever comes easy... The one valuable nugget of advice I’d like to leave you with is this - Have a GOAL. Because in the end, despite everything I've said in this article, you make your own opportunity. If you don’t know what your destination is, there’s no way you’ll ever reach it. People don’t accidentally become successful, or land their dream job on a whim. They figure out a way to make it work and then set out to put their game plan into action. Any successful person can tell you exactly what it took to make it all happen. Because they set a goal and made a plan to reach it. Doesn't mean they didn't fail from time to time, but that goal gave them the compass they needed to stay on track.
In order to remain motivated we need a big enough ‘why’. Why do you want to improve your drawing skills? Why do you want to become a comic artist? What is the end goal and what will it mean for you when you reach it?
If you don’t know the answer to those questions, you’re flying blind. Without purpose, your pursuits easily become susceptible to being derailed, or worse completely forgotten about.
To sum this all up into a single quote –
“Your opportunities as an artist are truly endless. That includes the opportunity to learn your craft, create exposure, connect with those who matter, and to make a living doing what you love… Any goal or dream you have can come true. All that’s left for you to do now is to decide what that goal is, and figure out what you need to do to ensure it’s success” -Clayton Thanks for reading. I really hope that if you've ever doubted your future in Comics, or if you've been unmotivated to keep pursuing a career path in doing what you love - this has inspired you to keep on going. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, so please post them below and let me know what you think. Keep on creating -Clayton