So You Want to Make a Comic Book?

Last night when I finally had a chance to sit at my computer and vent my frustration and festering sense of injustice, I tapped out a rant (because really, doesn’t the keystroke feel more like a tap these days?) about the possibly hypocritical expectations between amateur comic book writers and artists… and to be honest, it was cathartic to just let it all out on paper, so to speak.

It just doesn’t sound or read quite as nice if I was to say, “Let it all out on the screen.” Images of a horror scene or of a poor soul losing their lunch come to mind…

But perhaps for another day, and certainly when I’m a bit more objective on the subject.

Instead, welcome to an introduction of sorts to my experiences in creating a comic book. As a writer wanting to be a comic book professional, the route is not the same as it would be for an artist. Writers cannot show portfolios for critiques at conventions, and honestly editors just do not want to read your script when it comes in from the cold and they’ve never met you. It is not so much presumably that editors are lazy readers (because really, they are reading all the time), and much more to do with these two simple truths:

  1. Editors would never finish if they read every one of the thousands and thousands of scripts fans would bury them in. Imagine Scrooge McDuck and his vault of gold, except the gold is reams of paper.
  2. Most of what they would read would be so bad that the trauma might become irrevocable. Now we have Scrooge sitting there, surrounded by mounds of scripts, crying his bleeding eyes out and laughing maniacally like Mark Hamill’s superlative Joker, “Derivative Superhero Story #478” open in his hands.

All hope is not lost. Obviously writers are discovered every year and find their names for the first time gracing the covers of comic books on store shelves come Wednesday morning. How did they get there? They made comic books.

If you’re blessed, you have an artist’s hands as well as a writer’s mind. And we all hate you so very much for that. For the rest of us, we have to find an artist to collaborate with. I put emphasis on the word “collaborate” because my own experience thus far is that artists will want to be paid for their time, and not surprisingly there is a rising slope of how much they will want as the quality of the art also rises.  If you want free or cheap art, chances are the art will reflect that.

But maybe you’re thinking the artist will want to work with you on a story, just for the exposure?

No.

There is a valid argument that artists shouldn’t work for free, otherwise they would be taken advantage of in the name of charity or exposure. I use the word “work” because even when you approach an artist to do an 8-page story, and you’re thinking it’s a creative partnership, they will still see it as work, and most likely they will see you as an employer regardless of what words you use to describe the collaboration. There is also an argument that writers shouldn’t work for free either, and in a more perfect world an artist and a writer would mutually come together to create something they love, in their spare evening hours after working all day in a full time job, without one charging the other.

This is not that world. Artists looking to be discovered don’t need writers in that same boat. That is just the brutal, in your face truth. Artists have sample scripts a plenty to draw from to appease the editor gods.

But comic book writers do need artists. So if you want your story told, then it’s best to get your head out of the sand or out of your ass, and fork over some cash. It is not impossible to find a decent if not great artist who is willing to work for cheap, who is also very eager to collaborate and understands that such collaboration is meant to benefit you both. You will need capital though, so you best start packing lunches to work and drinking less at the bars, saving up those bills while you work on your script.

That’s right! To be a writer you must first write!

Before you approach any artist, you need to have a story. We’ll cover some thoughts on story structure and comic book script writing in the next post. But for now, let it sink in that you will need anywhere between $500 to more than $1000 to get your short 8-page comic story made, digitally. Yes, that is an insane amount of money just to get an editor to read your story! And if it’s not even a good story, then you might as well have burned your money in a barrel, in the backyard, to the horror of poor Scrooge.

So make it a great story!

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