I was always told that getting your second comic job is far more difficult than getting the first. That wasn’t really true for me. (Yes, I realize I am blessed. Feel free to hate me.) Writing my second damn column, however, has been a bit of a struggle. But it looks like I have a subject now, so allow me to riff.
In my own experience, the single greatest tool at any budding comic creator’s disposal is the internet. If you don’t have a website, I suggest you get one. Right now. It doesn’t have to be pretty; it just has to have some samples, a resume and perhaps a picture of your smiling face. This comes in handy, especially if you have the social skills and/or overall demeanor of a Neanderthal (like me). I have gotten 90% of my work from either people stumbling onto my website or from me sending out links to potential collaborators/whipmasters.
Surprisingly, they occasionally respond. Enthusiastically even. The first sequential job I got came from an editor who was very enthusiastic about the range of my work. That kind of enthusiasm doesn’t come along very often. The vast majority of editors you will encounter know what they like as far as art goes, and that usually consists of the status quo. I can’t blame them really, being that said editors have a job to do, namely making comics that sell. And, generally speaking, experimentation doesn’t make as much profit as convention.
I know that sounds very cynical, but I’m a cynical person so allow me to clarify. Mainstream comics are a very specific product designed for a very specific audience. When you couple that with the fact that the vast majority of mainstream work is controlled by public corporations (and public corporations loooove to streamline workflow and maximize profits, while cutting costs and minimizing risk) experimentation becomes too much of a risk. It’s a sound business decision, really.
And yet, occasionally some really great work slips through, but that’s getting rarer and rarer nowadays. Many of today’s artists would rather do something more immediately artistically satisfying than spend years getting doors slammed in their faces, doing a ton of work for little or no pay, building a career just so that they may someday be able to do something they really hold close to their hearts. I myself am a pretty active member of the indie comics brigade, regularly contributing to anthology books, and self-publishing work by myself and with collaborators. I don’t rake in the dough hand over fist, but at least it’s satisfying.
I still deal with a lot of people in the mainstream world too and try to “ride the fence” artistically in that respect. I also constantly experiment with new styles and drawing tools; this is the “range” that the editor I mentioned before my diatribe liked so much. I don’t recommend going this route if you want to find a lot of work, because editors generally like rigid consistency. It just assures them that they will be getting the same quality of work month after month, and again, it is a sound business practice. Some editors love experimentation, though, and will give you carte blanche and a signed check, to boot. (NOTE: the number of zeroes on the check is almost always inversely proportional to the level of creative freedom. This is true in life, as well.)
Back to getting the second job. I actually got my second job before my first one. No, I have not lost my mind. Here’s how it went down: I actually had a verbal contract on my first job when I got the second, but received the script for, completed and was paid for my second job before I received the first. Like I said, mine was an exceptional case.
Finding offers of work since then hasn’t been too hard. I email someone a link, they look, they like, they offer. Finding PAYING work, on the other hand, ain’t so easy. The internet is full of writers looking for artist collaborators, many of whom are talented and great to work with, few of whom have any money. Who can blame them? The last time I checked, average mainstream comic page rates were in the two hundred dollar range for pencils (which I’m sure has gone up by now.) I can’t even afford to pay MYSELF a grand for some pitch pages, let alone pay someone else.
But nowadays that’s the nature of the business. It’s tougher than it’s ever been, and with Hollywood scratching at the door for any and all viable properties, the comic industry is morphing into a very similar model to the film industry. This means that it is becoming harder and harder, as the minutes tick by, for the creative people to get their collective foot in the door. (Aha! We have a column title!)
There are fewer and fewer living-wage jobs available as a comic creator these days; this is no doubt residue left over from the bubble explosion of the mid-nineties. Hell, in the late eighties/early nineties, you could get a comic drawing gig if you could hold a pencil. Now, you need to be able to lick your elbow while stepping on your own head just to stand a chance. And that has a lot to do with the fact that the market is still very depressed.
Here’s a suggestion: maybe we need to start thinking of ourselves as independent movie producers. If we’re going to invest time and money into doing sample work on spec (read: no money) anyway, why not create something new that we care about and that readers may care about, too? There’s much more of a payoff nowadays for a copyright owner if a project goes big. There are plenty of great small-press shows to meet and greet and buy great books. There are plenty of people hungry for new ideas.
Either way you cut it, the key to getting hired is persistence. Talking to as many people as possible, meeting as many new faces as possible, doing as much work on spec as you can stand to, and getting any work you do into a prospective client’s hands are the only ways to ensure that you can actually get a job. It works for me on a daily basis.
On that note, and before I let you back to your real lives, I’ll be doing a little bit of schmoozing soon myself. If you’re going to be at the New York Comic Con the weekend of February 24-26, I will be there as well, behind my tiny artist’s alley table with my huge friggin glasses as well as ton of books and original art to sell. I will also, no doubt, be harassing Mike and Julian, who will be manning the Sequart.com table nearby, so you can catch me there too. Come by and taunt me or buy something. Cheers.