The comic book business is a royal pain in the ass. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a tough row to hoe, and anyone who writes or draws comics for a living will tell you that.
That is why I’m here, folks. I am living the dream; long nights alone at the drafting table, long convention weekends packed into tiny rooms with sweaty, tired people. Yeah, I’ve been around. So why do you have no idea who the hell I am? Not for lack of trying on my part, that’s for sure. Go ahead, Google “Kevin Colden”, you know you want to. I’ll wait.
Yeah that’s me. I’m strictly small potatoes. So why do I have my own column here at Sequart.com? So that I can give you a window into what it’s like to claw your way up in this business. I’m going to write down my own experiences for your education and amusement, occasionally interview other creators whose names you may recognize, and I invite you, the readers, to share your own experiences or ask any questions that may come to mind.
All right, them’s the fine print details. I’ll start by giving you all some of my professional history to chew on. Ahem.
I was like most children, I liked to draw as a kid. I just never really stopped. I was a musician and theater geek in high-school, and took a few years off afterwards to work in a bottle factory for minimum wage before I finally got off my miserable behind and enrolled at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art when I was 20.
My reasoning for this move was sound (or so I thought at the time); I figured, if you want to work in comics, you go to the school where they teach you how to draw comics. You make contacts, you get a job. That’s the way it works for most people, right? You go to college and you get a job. Then you get a better job. And a better one. Case closed.
Not so much in the comic business. By the time I graduated, my artistic skill and business acumen had increased considerably, but I quickly learned that the comic industry (at that time as well as now) has a seriously disproportionate ratio of artists to drawing gigs. Hmmm. That’s not good for someone looking to earn a living.
At the time, I was working two jobs to support myself (barely). I worked as a framer at the local mall and as an assistant paste-up guy at a tiny local newspaper. I spent a lot of time doing sample pages for the few business contacts I got out of school (I was gonna be an inker!)
At the time, I was living in northern New Jersey, which ain’t cheap. I needed a real job if I was going to survive; so I took the first one that came along, working for a DVD production company at which a friend of mine worked.
Luckily, though, I kept drawing during the nights and on weekends. About the time I started the DVD job, I began my first collaborative work with another writer/artist whom I met by chance at a party. We spent a long time developing the project, but eventually shelved it after being rejected by just about every publisher (more on that in a later installment).
My whole world at that point was full of comic people. Professionals, wanna-be’s, has-beens and never-were’s. Through one of these friends, I got my first job drawing a piece for WeirdNJ magazine, a great publication about, well, weirdness in New Jersey.
Now, believe me when I say that living in the New York area, there is no lack of creative people. They pour out of every crack in the sidewalk like rainwater. You can’t inhale in this town without brushing against an artist, writer, actor, filmmaker, etc. I hooked myself into a still-running local comic jam (going on 5 years, which must be a record of some sort) and got my first comic story published in an anthology book after meeting the publisher there. I still do work for him to this day. I also continue to do work for others and seek out new jobs in any number of different ways. My website has been invaluable in getting me job after precious job and connecting me with writers and other creators that I would never have had the opportunity to work with otherwise. I also do as many conventions as possible each year, and I meet and re-connect with many wonderful people in the business.
It’s a small, tough business, though. Which again brings me to why I’m here, sitting at my computer, writing this for all the world to see. Between dealing with corporate business practices in other fields and plugging away on the comics circuit, I’ve seen the proverbial “man behind the curtain”, and I’m here to share what I know.
Not that there’s any real formula to success, mind you. It takes talent, practice, timing, patience, determination, and a belief in yourself that borders on delusion. And most importantly, a hell of a lot of luck. But if you know what to expect, and how things operate, it makes it easier to know when you’re lucky.
In future columns, I’ll expand on more specific areas instead of just madly ranting about myself. Again, I invite anyone and everyone to write in and ask questions, or more importantly, share your own experiences in the comic business. It doesn’t matter where you’re at professionally (or amateurishly, for that matter), we’re all in this together, and we can all learn from each other.
So with that, I bid you farewell until next we meet.