Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Up and Running Part 1

Quinn and I have been putting the art for RuneStone together for nearly a year now. When working on a creator owned series, and getting it off the ground there is a lot of preparatory work that needs to be done. A lot of fans of comics enjoy the medium without knowing the amount of work that it takes to bring them their latest issue.

In a few installments I wanted to take the average Joe through the process of making a comic book, and more specifically creating and publishing your own work.

As we move further along in the process of getting RuneStone published we will take you along with us for the ride, and let you all in on the ups and downs of self-publishing.

To begin, when you have an idea that you think would make a rockin' comic book (i.e. RuneStone) there are certainly a few things you need in place before anything else can happen. I have worked on quite a few small-press projects. And through my career have seen a pattern of what makes a project work and what are the pitt-falls of the project that could have been.

First you need the "idea". At the very least you should have an outline of your story plotted out. You need to have direction and a good idea of where your story will end up. How it will evolve and finish. Now that doesn't mean you need to know how your epic ends in all its glory, but at least the first story arc. How do your characters change or develop? What is accomplished by your story arc? Why would anyone care about your story or the characters in it? These questions should have a clear answer in your mind, and show through the outline or the story you have before you even begin. The more writing you have done before a project begins the more confidence your artists and publishers will have in the project.

I've worked on projects where the writer was breathing down my neck to finish the first issue, when he hadn't even written the second issue yet. It left me with a lack of confidence. I felt the writer wasn't as invested in his own story. It is hard for an artist to spend so much time on a project and commit to that much time, when they don't have confidence in the story or the writer.

I've also worked on a project where I was came into the first story arc with issue #3 and the writer had no idea how the story arc was going to end. ???? He said, and I quote "if I don't know how it ends, then the reader is definitely going to be surprised!"......umm, I quite the project not too long after that. For multiple reasons, but again, it is hard to gain the trust of an artist when you don't know where the story is going.

So, now you have the story written out and paced into issues, or at least the first issue scripted and a solid outline for the first story arc. I would also suggest at this point to let as many people read that as possible. Get feedback and make sure that your story is compelling and makes sense outside of your little creative bubble.

Now you are on the look out for a penciler for your story. This is it's own beast. And you might be in for the long haul. There are many ways to find an artist, but keeping an artist is another matter entirely. To find an artist, there are many websites that aspiring comic artists congregate to show their work and get feedback. Here are a few.


Some of these are general forums of artists, others are art studios where artists have grouped together and have their own website. Check out the art, and when you find an artist you like, send an email or pm to see if they are interested in working with you. Don't be too discouraged if the first artist doesn't jump at the chance. We often have multiple projects going on at the same time just to pay the bills. It is a lot to ask to begin a new project, and a huge time commitment from the artist.

Before you send that email, realize it will make or break that first impression with the artist. You need to have a plan to present to the artist and in a very quick sentence or paragraph synopsis of the story. You need to know how you are willing to compensate the artist for their time (either and upfront page rate or a % of creative rights and profits). I will say upfront that you have a much, MUCH better chance of getting the artist you want on your project if you are willing to pay them an upfront page rate. Even if it isn't much, that will go a very long way in letting the artist know you're serious and KEEPING that artist on the project.

Now, not many people have the financial capital to pay an artist out of pocket. If that is the case, you need to be willing to sacrifice creative ownership as collateral. As an artist, I can say that it is really quite insulting to have a writer approach me and say " Ive got this great story I want to do, all I need is for you to draw it up! It will be a hit, I swear...I don't have the money to pay you anything, but this could be your big break!" The artist doesn't need your help or your story for their big break. That will come by that artist being persistant and choosing the right project for them. More importantly, they need to pay their bills and possibly help support their family. Will your project be an end to those means? That is for them to decide.

....seriously.....That has happened more than I would like to count. I think as a general rule I hae found that writers underestimate the tremendous amount of work and time it takes to draw a comic book. I respect the time and effort that writers put into their work. It is no easy task.
But quite honestly, it takes 8-10 hours to pencil ONE comic book page. How long did it take you to write that one page? IF you expect a person to commit a full-time work day to your project, and you have no way to compensate that artist for their time... do not expect to keep them long.

For most small press projects I have found, unless the artist is a co-creator in the series, they will not stay on a new project long. There are many reasons. They are offered a better, more financially stable project (i.e. work for Marvel, DC or other page rate company), they feel underappreciated by lack of compensation for the time they are committing, the story itself turns out to not be a good fit for their art or interests, lack of communication with the writer, or other paying work taking precidence. These are all reasons I have left a project or seen other artists leave a creator owned series. Even with a publishing deal, any of these problems can arise.

Landing that publishing deal is really only the begining.

So you have finally found your artist. They are on board with you, and excited about the project. Next step, proposal pages and sending in a proposal to publishers. Choosing publishers and where to go next.

Check it all out in Up and Running part 2