One of my goals for this blog, is to use it to inspire other people to do what they love. I believe that we are created to be happy. Not to work a job, or make a mark, or impress other people. But to do what we love and love what we’re doing – every day! Whatever that may be. For the purposes of this blog, I’m writing about doing comic books.
“How to become a comic book artist”
In the last week, the subject of making a living with art has come up several times. Enough to warrant some thoughts here. And I can, for the first time, honestly answer this question with some real perspective.
“Doing what you love”
There is a difference between doing what you love and making a living. It’s possible to do both. But one must come before the other. Not because of the other. Doing what you love means doing it because it’s fun. Not for any other reason. I’m making a small living now with drawing comics. But I’m not doing it to make a living. I quit working a job, and quit doing caricatures for money, because I’m making a living. But I’m doing it because it’s fun. It wasn’t always that way. And for a time I resented and hated drawing because I made it more than it’s meant to be. Once you do that you’re screwed. Once you make it more than it is, and forget why it was important to you to begin with, you’re in big, big trouble. Every artist has to learn to not make it more than it is. You have to draw because you want to draw– first and foremost. And once you get used to doing it every night, your drawings will tell you what to do with them. Not the other way around.
Just remember, there’s no finish line with art (so to speak). Finishing one drawing, one painting, or even one book isn’t going to make you successful. Needing to draw every night because you love it– that will make you successful. Being productive, with anything is hard. But it’s not about wanting to do it, or thinking about doing it… it’s about doing it. Slowly making it part of your life until it IS your life. And doing it because it’s fun. Doing it like you’re a kid. Not because it will get you somewhere, or pay your bills, or make you better than other artists. Don’t make it more than it is. That sucks all the fun out of it. Till there’s nothing left but resentment and bitterness. Nothing left but the end. We kill the things we love that way.
“Ego and Insecurity.”
Every artist walks a fine line between being confident and being arrogant. No matter how good you get you will never be better than some people and always be better than the rest. It’s essential to understand and accept that. The better you get, the more you realize there is to learn. It’s a never ending process. As it should be. Use that to your advantage. What you do with what you have is up to you though. Don’t compare yourself to other artists. It’s easy to get lost in “I can do it better than them.” or “I’ll never be as good as them.” Those are only excuses to not try. Just learn to work with what you already have, and continue to grow as much as you can throughout your career. You can make a living doing comics in any style if you market it the right way. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is to realize that you are not better than anyone and no one is better than you. It’s all perception. All that matters is what YOU do. What YOU put in people’s hands and how often you do it.
“Learning to do it right means learning to do it wrong.”
Robert F. Kennedy once said “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Failure is the key ingredient to learning – Just like walking is controlled falling – Art is learning to manipulate mistakes. I guarantee that the best artists you’ll ever meet have drawn 1000 times more than you’ll ever see from them. Because only the best work is seen by the public. The rest are the mistakes they made, to learn to get to where they are. It’s all a numbers game. You have to draw to learn. You have to put stories out to learn what sells. You have to pay your dues.
That said, you don’t have to do it all the hard way. The right teachers can help you along. Saving you years and years of teaching yourself. Find mentors, teachers, role-models, wherever you can. You want to be the best, learn from the best. And diversify, learn from as many people as you possibly can. And never stop learning from other people. There was a time when I felt I’d let down my earliest students. But I’ve come to realize, that teaching is simply demonstrating that something is possible. Learning, is making something possible for yourself. Take what you can from wherever you can, and learn to make it possible for yourself.
“Leap of faith”
You only have a safety net if you plan to use it. I’ve always believed that. There’s a point in every artist’s career when they need to make the leap. And I’ll tell you… it’s not easy, and it sure as hell is not comfortable. There’s no clear sign to let you know when it’s time. And there is no guarantee that it will work. But that’s how the universe works. There are two reasons for this. First reason is physics, you have to do something before you can get the result you want. There must be action before there can be a reaction. The second reason is, well… accountability. You have to put yourself on the line. I won’t eat this month if I don’t draw comics. I won’t pay my bills if I don’t draw comics. If it’s my only option I will find a way to make it happen. Fear is your friend. Fear is the doorway to freedom. Use it to your advantage.
Keep in mind that I’m speaking to all levels of talent here. You can take the leap at any level of your career. I’ve seen all levels of talent make it work. I will say, the more you know the easier it is to make it happen. Like GIJoe says… “knowing is half the battle.” My rule of thumb is this… “You have to know where you want to go before you can figure out how to get there.” You can start off making $10 – $20 a page pretty easily. But unless you invest more into it, that’s all you will be making 3 or 4 years down the road. It becomes nothing but a paycheck then. A small one at that. Just like you can put out cute little books and get them published. But if you don’t have goals for yourself you are doomed forever to work to achieve the goals of others. Have a destination for yourself and work at least a little every day to get there.
I know the reality of it all. We all have our reasons why it’s just not “that” easy to make this happen. I had my excuses. And my excuses were harder to accept than just being married and having kids (the more realistic excuses). But that’s where the first lesson here comes in. Doing what you love. Make it fun again, make the time to make it fun again. And make that time every single night. And one day it will grow into something bigger. And eventually, you’ll be ready to take that leap. There’s a lot to learn… whatever you want to do with your life. But the sooner you start, the quicker you’ll get there. But it’s definitely worth the journey. Your worst day doing what you love will be a thousand times better than your best day doing anything else. Just remember to never lose sight of why you’re doing this. Because it’s fun.
“What we have is based upon moment-to-moment choices of what we do. In each of those moments, we choose. We either take a risk and move toward what we want, or we play it safe and choose comfort. Most of the people, most of the time, choose comfort. In the end, people either have excuses or experiences; reasons or results; buts or brilliance. They either have what they wanted or they have a detailed list of all the rational reasons why not.”