How to make your mark in in­die comics

Self-help From rags to riches by draw­ing pages: artists and pub­lish­ers who have suc­ceeded in the in­die comics busi­ness ex­plain how it’s done

ImagineFX - - Contents -

Artists and pub­lish­ers share their pros and cons of go­ing it alone in the comic world.

Space Beaver is the story of a vig­i­lante ro­dent seek­ing to avenge the death of his best friend by as­sas­si­nat­ing gangs of drug deal­ers. It’s set in outer space. Its cen­tral char­ac­ter is rich, boozy and trig­ger-happy.

Dar­ick Robertson be­gan work­ing on this, his first comic, in 1985. He was 17. Ti­bor Sardy, owner of lo­cal San Ma­teo store Penin­sula Comics, agreed to pub­lish the ti­tle and pay Dar­ick for do­ing so. TenBuck Comics was Sardy’s first and last foray into pub­lish­ing. He’d hoped to cash-in on the suc­cess of Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tles and sim­i­lar black-and-white in­die books of the time.

Space Beaver ran for 11 is­sues to ad­mirable suc­cess. Dar­ick would later call the ti­tle ‘laugh­able’. But the ex­pe­ri­ence he gained from it was in­valu­able, even­tu­ally leading him to the doors of DC Comics and Marvel, and an il­lus­tri­ous 20-year ca­reer.

“The road was a tough one,” says Dar­ick, “full of dis­ap­point­ments. I made al­most no money draw­ing that comic. I knew noth­ing about the ac­count­ing or what I was owed. I was young and naive. To­day, I’ve worked with the main­stream char­ac­ters I grew up lov­ing, have col­lab­o­rated with some of the best writ­ers in the busi­ness, and have cocre­ated orig­i­nal sto­ries and char­ac­ters.”

From Space Beaver, to more re­cent col­lab­o­ra­tive projects Trans­metropoli­tan and The Boys, via Jus­tice League, Wolver­ine and Spi­der-Man, Dar­ick has seen the comic book in­dus­try from all an­gles. His ad­vice to fledg­ling artists con­sid­er­ing their own comic is sim­ple: do it. But do it for the love of it, rather than any idea of suc­cess it may bring.

“If you’re chas­ing a dol­lar, you’ll be run­ning your whole life,” he con­fides. “Comics have never been more com­pet­i­tive.

The dig­i­tal age is a mighty equaliser – the talent pool got a whole lot deeper. But when it’s my own idea, my own cre­ation, and it suc­ceeds, I know it’s the re­sult of per­sonal hard work and a val­i­da­tion of those orig­i­nal ideas. I’m not rid­ing the coat-tails of a wellestab­lished char­ac­ter or pub­lisher.”

But where to be­gin? Dar­ick says it’s as sim­ple as sit­ting down with a pen, a blank page and an idea. “Make it about the story,

The distinc­tion be­tween the main­stream and the in­de­pen­dents is per­haps not as dis­tinct as it once was

about cre­at­ing some­thing that’s per­son­ally ful­fill­ing, so your hours spent cre­at­ing are en­joy­able. A strong sense of sto­ry­telling and dra­matic light­ing will help. As will the abil­ity to draw con­sis­tently, with a good knowl­edge of anatomy, pro­por­tion and per­spec­tive, and a flair for the dra­matic. You’re ready for the main­stream once your draw­ings are on par with your favourite artist.”

The distinc­tion be­tween the main­stream and in­de­pen­dents is not as dis­tinct as it once was. “What are in­die comics, any­way?” Car­rie Cuinn re­cently asked in the Hugo Award-win­ning blog SF Sig­nal. A sim­ple an­swer is those not pub­lished by DC or Marvel. Car­rie of­fered more pre­cise def­i­ni­tions: main­stream comics are the big boys – not just Marvel and DC, but Im­age, Ver­tigo, IDW. Indies pro­duce “work based on in­di­vid­ual tastes and orig­i­nal­ity, not dic­tated by the will of fans or mar­ket­ing de­part­ments.” There are also sev­eral sub­cat­e­gories: al­ter­na­tive, small press, web comics, dig­i­tal comics, mini-comics… but these def­i­ni­tions are open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

Ger­mi­nate the con­cept

Cre­ator-owned comics are those where the artist or writer be­hind the ti­tle re­tains the rights to it. It’s these pub­li­ca­tions that Scot­land’s leading in­de­pen­dent comic book pub­lisher Black Hearted Press spe­cialises in. Art di­rec­tor and pub­lisher Sha Nazir says suc­cess hinges on sim­ple ideas. That’s what he’s look­ing for: a con­cept ex­pressed clearly and suc­cinctly. “If you can boil your core idea down to a sin­gle line,” Sha says, “then you’re do­ing well: a peas­ant farm boy jour­neys across the galaxy to res­cue a princess; a fam­ily is trapped on an is­land where cloned di­nosaurs run amok; bil­lion­aire dresses up as gi­ant bat to fight crime be­cause his par­ents got killed by a mug­ger.”

A sound un­der­stand­ing of the vis­ual lan­guage of comics is es­sen­tial. This, the art di­rec­tor adds, should come nat­u­rally… if you’re read­ing enough and ob­serv­ing how artists ar­range pages. He also rec­om­mends re­fer­ring to Scott McCloud’s book

Un­der­stand­ing Comics. If you’re not a con­fi­dent writer, col­lab­o­rate with some­one who is. But it’s dis­ci­pline that Sha val­ues above all else. “Be sure when you start a project that you’ll be able to see it through to the end. It’s easy enough to get through the first few pages on the high of start­ing a new cre­ative ven­ture, but weeks down the line when time is drag­ging and there are still pages and pages to do, it can be harder to push yourself on. For­ward plan­ning can save a lot of heartache later.”

It’s at this point where a good edi­tor who be­lieves in your work can help. When DC stopped pub­lish­ing Dar­ick’s The Boys, Dy­na­mite En­ter­tain­ment picked it up and pub­lished it for a fur­ther five years.

“While we ex­er­cise good judg­ment on con­tent,” se­nior edi­tor Joseph Ry­bandt says, “we have more free­dom to push the en­ve­lope and ex­plore the medium to its fullest po­ten­tial. But un­der­stand that you’ll be ex­pected to pro­duce on a con­sis­tent sched­ule, week in, week out.”

Joseph says start­ing from the ground up is dif­fi­cult, which is why he ad­vises gain­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on an ex­ist­ing property be­fore go­ing it alone. This pre­sents a para­dox: to have your work pub­lished, you of­ten need to have pre­vi­ously pub­lished work.

Do it yourself

Al­ter­na­tively, you could cir­cum­vent pub­lish­ers al­to­gether, re­tain to­tal cre­ative free­dom and self-pub­lish your comic. That’s what Mikael Bergkvist did. The Swede has been mak­ing comics for just four years. In that time, he’s sold the rights to his first cre­ation, earned a deal with an Amer­i­can pub­lisher and gone into busi­ness with iconic artist Neal Adams.

The for­mer web de­vel­oper came up with char­ac­ter Agent Marc Saun­ders in 2010. He wrote the story, did the pen­cil and ink work, the let­ter­ing and the lay­out for each of the 108-page is­sues he sent to the print­ers. He

If you want a reg­u­lar pay cheque, go to an es­tab­lished com­pany. Do what they tell you to do. Get paid

pub­lished four sto­ries a year, each a sin­gle con­cluded nar­ra­tive, be­fore Swedish pub­lisher Serieplan­eten snapped up the rights. He went on to work for Ard­den En­ter­tain­ment, cur­rently at con­cept pub­lish­ing house Dead­line, of which Neal Adams is co-owner.

The artist says cre­at­ing your own comic acts as a good port­fo­lio. It shows you how your art works on the page. It’ll also serve you well when meet­ing an art di­rec­tor or edi­tor in per­son. It’s some­thing phys­i­cal to take and talk over at con­ven­tions and con­fer­ences. Whether to act on their ad­vances is up to you.

“It re­ally boils down to this,” Mikael says. “If you want a reg­u­lar pay cheque, go to an es­tab­lished com­pany. Do what they tell you to do. Get paid. You will get that pay cheque, but that’s all you’ll get.”

Start­ing your own comic, he says, is like start­ing your own small busi­ness: it’s lib­er­at­ing to be your own boss, but by no means fi­nan­cially sta­ble. But it’s pos­si­ble to make a suc­cess of it, as Mikael proves.

“Re­al­ity catches up with you real quick,” he says. “Do break­downs, do cov­ers, just do. Ev­ery­thing is steps. And check your mar­ket; be a bit cyn­i­cal and crass about that. I was de­pressed and broke when I cre­ated my comic. I had noth­ing. I was as poor as one can be with­out dy­ing. I cre­ated the comic on used A4 copy paper, us­ing old mark­ers, ink­ing with worn-out Pi­lot Fine­liner pens. Things moved fast. From noth­ing – just an idea, cre­ativ­ity and some bad ma­te­ri­als – came a life. Des­per­a­tion feeds in­no­va­tion, and in­no­va­tion can cre­ate a ca­reer.”

Dar­ick Robertson cre­ated his own “laugh­able” comic, Space Beaver, at just 17, and went on to work for both DC and Marvel.

A cover from Oliver, drawn by Dar­ick Robertson and writ­ten by Gary Whitta.

Dar­ick Robertson and Garth Ennis’s cre­ator-owned comic, The Boys, pub­lished by DC and later Dy­na­mite En­ter­tain­ment. Scot­land’s leading in­die, Black Hearted Press, spe­cialises in

cre­ator-owned comics.

Dy­na­mite En­ter­tain­ment, pub­lisher of Leg­endary, has “more free­dom to push the en­ve­lope” than ei­ther DC or Marvel. Based in the US, Dy­na­mite En­ter­tain­ment pub­lishes The Boys, The Shadow and Bad Ass. Within four years of pub­lish­ing his own comic, Mikael Bergkvist was work­ing with in­dus­try leg­end Neal Adams.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.