I recently had a bit of an awakening of sorts as it pertains to how I make comics. Or try to make. Call it a rude awakening, call it necessary, call it pretentious wankery, call it whatever; it had to happen before I spent hours and hours and dollars and dollars going in circles instead of trying to carve steps. Basically I realized I was trying too hard. Maybe not trying too hard in the literal sense - always try your hardest - but just in the wrong way.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the pitch-machine mentality in comics. It’s a mad dash to establish yourself, get published work out there, network, and forge a name for yourself with publishers, editors, peers, and readers. And let me preface this by acknowledging full well that really, I’m nobody. I’ve made the smallest of visible scratches on the surface, even after 130 pages of an online comic, the start of a little mini-series, and two self-published funny books about a talking jungle cat. I get this. Basically this blog is to outline where I’ve been steering off course, and how I plan on correcting it in my attempt to reach the only job I’ve ever wanted.
Boil it all down and you get one very simple mistake: I’ve been rushing. I’ve simply created too much work for myself, with unreasonable goals and standards. I realize I’ve turned into the mad professor that has a slapped-together invention for every possible household problem. Toothpaste stains on the sink? Fear not, I’ve made a better sink! It cleans itself in six issues! It’s good to be a step ahead, as it seems that momentum is never a bad thing, but do I really need six comics on the go? At some point, some quality has got to give. I’m out of my mind for having thought at some point that six pitches in a row would be picked up. Three pitches going out between now and September? In a matter of hours I realized this was crazy, and I’ve been rushing. Not to mention spending too much money on said pitches. It’s gotta be the best, and they’ve gotta be paid. While I will never back down from an artist getting paid - or deserving to be paid - I can’t continue to live like the Jay Z of indie-indie comics. I’m straying from the point, I know. It’s just so easy to get caught up in the hubbub of making comics.
You’re not going to learn that way.
You’re not going to produce quality.
It’s not about the pitch. It’s about telling the best story you can. It’s about making every next comic the best comic you’ve ever made.
I don’t want to make a comic if it’s not better than the last. I realize that’s a tall order, and we can’t make every single comic mind-blowing-amazing. But I’m just starting at this. There’s far, far more I don’t know than there is that I do. And I’ve realized at this pace I’m just not learning. I’m putting the cart before the horse, the chicken before the egg, and the pitch before the story.
So the brakes are pumping… a little. I’ve applied a new thought as to how I’m going to go about things. If a story isn’t something I absolutely have to do, I’m just going to keep it as a little note in my moleskine. I’m not going on a mad artist hunt. I’m not going to think about the pitch, about the publishers, not yet. Think about the story. Make it better. Make it mean something. Make it something I have to do.
Take your time.
Make it perfect.
Don’t pitch until there isn’t a single thing you know you could change or do better.
Write, write, write, and write some more. And read every book you can get your hands on. Twice. Pick it apart. Ask questions.
Learn the ins and outs of making a comic. Learn color theory. Learn perspective. Learn grids. Learn anatomy. Learn design.
Don’t settle for artists. Find an artist that gets it. That gets your story, that wants to do it. Craft that book together. Talk to each other. Make it perfect. Take your time.
Try to get honest feedback on your work. Find someone that knows how to give good feedback, and that won’t hold back. And listen to it. Don’t sulk. Once you come to the realization that you have a lot to learn and a long way to go, that kind of feedback is welcome. I’m hungry for that.
Ask yourself why with your own script. Why would this character do that? Why would this happen? I’ve written so much oh this would be cool and you end up painted in a corner, stretching your story thin. Write another draft. And another. Make it make sense.
Learn the print side. Learn all about pre-press and bleed and margins and live areas and cmyk and standard comic page sizes. Make sure your artist does to.
Stop writing so much fucking dialogue. Learn to do as much as you can without two paragraphs in a panel. Stop using flashbacks within flashbacks. Stop the exposition.
Learn how to end each page with something. Make the reader have to turn the page.
Make short comics. Don’t bust your balls on that seven issue mini-series. Learn how to tell an engaging, interesting story in ten pages or less. You’d be surprised how much you can learn when you’re so limited and every page, every panel has to count.
Chill out. Calm down. Don’t panic. Think before you tweet. Don’t oversell yourself. There actually is such a thing as over self-promoting yourself.
Did I mention don’t rush?
At this point, I don’t want to just make comics; I want to make great comics. To me that’s more important than signing books at a con, or doing interviews or any of that. Don’t get me wrong, I would fucking love that, and be very grateful, but I want to earn that. I’m in this for the long haul.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely proud of the work I’ve put out, and very proud of the creators I’ve worked with. Call it a moment of clarity, an overwhelming realization that hey, did you really learn something? Are you actually making something, or just getting it done? That’s all I mean.
So I’ve essentially put a few projects on hold for now, and am focusing on the important ones. The ones that I have to do, pitch or no pitch. And I’ll take my time to do them the absolute best I can. I’m excited about personal stories I’m working on, like The Brothers James, Companion and D4VE. I’m interested to see where Gregory Rasputin could go, and it’s been fun dabbling in that world of nostalgia. I’m high just thinking about a series of western shorts Hugo Petrus and I are working on. And I’ll be cheekier than ever in the conclusion of Tiger Lawyer.
So while I’m maybe not giving my projects the axe, so to speak, I’m dialing them way down. I’ll make them better, and if they’re not the best, they’ll sink.
Over the last week and change, I realized a lot about who I want to be as a writer. What kind of stories I want to tell, and how I want to tell them. The kind of work I want to do, and the kind of voice I want to have.
That shit’s important.
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