Breaking Out!

For a while (many moons ago), I did a series of articles at the DigitalWebbing site called "Breaking Out!".  It actually started as a newsletter I put together with articles and interviews and even its own comic section.  But it wasn’t easy to print up newspapers like that (and I was very raw in the ways of the pre-press), so I went digital with it.

The  whole purpose of the Breaking Out! column was to motivate new and aspiring creators and also get them to approach finding work in the industry like a job hunt.  Oddly, there was this disconnect that some young creators didn’t think they had to treat it like a job hunt (but then I doubted most of them considered it a real job anyways), and I wanted to change some of that mentality.

My background at that point was mostly from the military, but I knew about helping people find jobs.  As people left the military, I watched many of them make mistake after mistake.  Not wanting to make those same mistakes, I learned all I could about job searching and resume writing and interviewing.  I turned out to be pretty good at it.  I volunteered a lot of time to help friends leaving the military get good jobs (or better jobs than what was being offered).  I remember helping one person get offers $15K higher just by tweaking her resume and helping her evaluate companies before interviewing with them.

When I did leave the military (medical severance, so it hit quickly), I was prepared.  Resume written (and kept updated).  I kept in the loop with various companies in the area that had Oracle shops and could use my skillset.  Plus, I had an interview lined up within 15 minutes of emailing my resume out to companies and was hired for a new job before before I even finished outprocessing from the military.

So these series of columns was my way of passing on some of that information I’d gathered over years.  A lot of creative folks pour all their time and energy into actually creating and little things like building resumes and developing interview skills and learning how to interact with businesses… well, those things escaped them sometimes.  I actually got a lot of good responses from these articles and a couple dozen success stories from readers who had applied the techniques and found opportunities.

These articles no longer appear on the DigitalWebbing website, but I have them archived here for anyone who wants a little extra motivation and some creative business sense.

Look for more archive of some of my other columns (The Art of Words and The Creative Adviser) to show up here in the coming months.

"I am going to get started on this screenplay as soon as I finish reading these books on screenwriting."

"I am going to get started on this screenplay as soon as I finish this class on screenwriting/writing/creative basket destruction."

"I am going to get started on this screenplay as soon as I finish reading all these websites on how to sell my screenplay."

"I am going to get started on this screenplay as soon as I finish researching every aspect of it to death."

"I am going to…"

Many people wind up stuck in the "I am going to…" phase when they first get started with some new endeavor.  And even though screenwriting showed up as my example, it’s not limited to there… it affects things like novel writing, comic creation, game development, website building, backup and recovery planning or monster ranching.  Sure, you need to learn things, develop skills and research items, but after learning the basics, shift out of the "I am going to…" gear and start it up.

Book learning works, but only to an extent.  You can read about building a fire, but mastering that skill requires building one with your bare hands.  Imagine how you’d feel if you actually needed this skill and never used it before.  You can research data recovery procedures all you want, but mastering this skill requires an actual recovery or two.  Again, imagine how you’d feel if you actually needed this skill and never used it before. 

And the same goes with writing, you can read about writing novels, comics or screenplays all you want, but mastering that skill requires writing one of your very own.  Places refer to it as hands-on learning or OJT (on the job training).  In historical days, it fell under the guise of "apprenticeship".  And that type of training still works to this day.

Don’t get caught up learning everything about your craft or figuring out how to make something perfect.  Perfect is NOT a reasonable goal.  Near-perfect is NOT a reasonable goal.  You know what a good goal is?  Done.  You can do more with a completed rough draft than you can with a stack of books on writing.

Think of it like swimming.  Are you going to read a bunch of books or watch a bunch of other swimmers and expect to dive into the pool swimming perfectly?  Not likely.  You learn enough to get started and dive right in to get those arms and legs flailing in some semblance of a stroke (like a nice, easy doggie paddle).  Then you swim, swim, swim until it gets easier.  Evaluate your progress.  Give yourself an honest assessment and then take time to read/research/ask questions on how to fix problems you find.  But only do enough to find a solution and hop back to it.  Swim, swim, swim some more until you master that technique and get moving to the next level.

So, cut those "I am going to…" phases short and get moving.  Whenever you catch yourself going "I am going to…" just stop and change it to "I am going to get started right now."

Being good at your craft makes for a good foundation to a career in comics. But good work doesn’t do you any good unless someone sees it. Many creators just sit around waiting for their “big” project to be picked up by Image…or wait around for their break at one of the big two. Why wait? Get some other smaller projects rolling to get your name out there or just start building up an audience for your project. Any work you get out there reveals a lot about you. It’s a little like baring yourself for the world to see, and if it’s good, the exposure will get people excited for more of your work. It’s just good business and marketing. So, why not take a look at people that are the best in the business of exposing themselves? Strippers.

You might be thinking, “What does the business of stripping have to do with comics?” Think about it for a moment…you have people that strip in the privacy of their own homes for their own enjoyment, you have people that strip for others just for the fun of it (often putting their pictures/movies up on the internet), you have people taking on lots of small stripping jobs to earn a modest living (or work their way through school), you have people working their way from smaller clubs to bigger clubs to get noticed and possibly pick up the big paycheck one day with Hollywood. You have the same patterns in comics…and music…and acting. So, let’s look at how strippers “expose” themselves at different levels.

The tease. So, do you think you can walk out on stage naked and be done with it? Well, if you have the perfect body, you might be able to get away with it…but chances are you’ll just lose your chance because they know there are others willing to put a lot more effort into it. A good stripper teases the audience showing a little skin here and a little there. They know how to build up the interest of the audience. They milk every bit of their exposure to capitalize on it. Even strippers with just fair or average (and sometimes worse) bodies can get a crowd excited if they’re exceptionally talented in the art of the tease. And if they’re good at teasing, they have a much better chance of having people toss money their way.

Sure, you could wait for your one project to finally hit the stands, but what if it flubs? What if hardly anyone notices? You’ve just walked out on the stage naked and risked your success on your project being so perfect that everyone will take notice without you putting much effort into it. But why take the chance when you can just build up their interest? Tease them with images, pages, snippets, press releases, a good website, interviews, signings, convention appearances, and more. Work on smaller projects like webcomics, articles, and anthology pieces that reveal a little bit about the quality of your work and get people interested in seeing more. Give people a reason to get excited about you and your projects.

Spice it up. It’s tough to be original in most creative businesses. How many strippers have gone before that strutted out on the stage dressed as cops, firefighters, clowns, business executives, or those friendly and adorable pussycats? If they put in the time and effort, they can still find new ways to twist up those ideas and make them different and intriguing. They might take a basic concept like the cop uniform and bring in a fellow stripper to play the criminal in a mock interrogation/strip search scene. It’s the same basic concept, but it’s a different execution that might make people take notice. They could also bring in props like a fire extinguisher that’s really a fog machine for the firefighter who steps in and out of the fog revealing more and more each time (using the prop to enhance the tease). With tons of other strippers out there, they need to do something to set themselves apart, and it doesn’t have to just be costumes or props. A stripper could go out there with a unique pole routine or an exotic dance or even strip while they sing. They take the execution of the striptease to a new level to make it more involving for the audience…to give them their money’s worth.

Take those ideas and keep twisting to produce a comic that catches people off guard. Mix vastly different ideas together or take an existing idea and execute it in an intriguing fashion. You could take a general premise and spice it up…like showing superheroes from alternative perspectives like Damage Control or Powers. You could show the different sides of superheroes like Hero Happy Hour and Common Grounds. Give the reader a little extra something to grab their attention and make them feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.

Interact. Many strippers like to work the crowd a little before they get on stage to flirt with the patrons and give them something to look forward to. Not only does it help solicit more tips for their stage performance, but they can also pull in extra work doing table dances. If they just sat backstage and waited their turn, they’d miss out on that. Plus, getting cozy helps develop regulars that will keep their act successful even during hard times. Then there’s also the fact that those regulars would talk about them to their friends. If word of mouth spreads, more and more people could start showing up for their shows. If they get a big enough following, a bigger club might make them an offer hoping to secure those crowds…or an agent might see some potential and “make some calls.”

Taking the time to talk with your potential audience can have a great impact on the outcome. Make friends and develop a network of people that like you and your work enough to champion it to the masses. Respond to letters and emails, chat with them about their favorite parts of your comics, and make them feel like a part of the experience. And remember to not just focus on bringing in new readers…you also need to work at building and keeping the interest of regulars that will check out your work time-and-again.


If you’ve worked on your skills, and you honestly feel you’re ready to take the plunge into the world of comics, then go ahead…expose yourself. You know you want to. If you know your project will take a while to get rolling, start building up an audience. Do a webcomic based on the characters or a webcomic that shows the quality you and your collaborators are capable of. Work on some articles for some websites…artists can give tips on drawing, coloring and inking…writers can give tips on writing (or tips on dealing with frustration, rejection, and feeling like you’re invisible). Build a website to promote different aspects of the project–concept artwork, short stories about the characters, news about the project and creators, and other fun stuff. Get out there and tease the world with what you have to offer and get them excited for more.

Unless you’re independently wealthy, the beneficiary of multiple high-profile gigs, or living way, way below your means, you probably have to contend with the hardship of that necessary evil…the day job. Part-time, full-time, any time…it’s a disruption to your dreams and goals. All day long you look forward to the drive home and stepping into your home so you can…go right back to work on those comics. Okay, so maybe you’ll take a moment to cook up some ramen and catch some of the news while you’re slurping down noodles. Maybe you’ll put on a good non-thinking DVD with lots of action and cool effects to help obliterate all thoughts of work from your poor frazzled mind. Wow, that hit the spot. I wonder if the sequel’s out on DVD yet. After a quick search on the internet, you’re out the door to Wal-mart to add that precious DVD to your monstrous collection.

Doesn’t take much to sidetrack you from working on that second job, does it? By the time you realize that you need to get stuff done, it could be late at night, and you’ll stay up even later to get as much done as you can. You wind up not getting much sleep, and you start that day job tomorrow a little weary. It makes the day drag on, leads to mistakes and loss of productivity that increases your workload, and puts you in a position where anything remotely resembling work is the furthest thought from your mind by the time you get home. You’re just too burnt out to “work” on your dreams. And it’s a pattern that keeps getting worse…unless you do something about it.

Break the cycle. The nasty thing about those vicious repeating cycles is that they never seem to end. They just go on and on like some kind of endless pit of frustration. And if you keep at it long enough, it’ll become habit. If this is you, stop. Immediately. Break the cycle now. Take some time off to just relax. Not just a day, or even just two. Take at least three days to just indulge yourself. Watch movies, play games, read some books, go on a nature hike. Do whatever it takes to relax and give your fried husk of a brain the chance to recover. Don’t think about any kind of work…no day job…no comics…nothing but entertainment and fun. But before you take that break, you’ll need to do one little thing.

Work out a schedule. Given: the day job’s gonna grind you down. Given: your mind will need a little time to relax from work. Given: creating comics IS work (fun work, but it does take a lot of effort). Given: you need a certain amount of sleep to be productive…in your job and in comics. Now, take all of these factors into account when you develop your comic working schedule.

How much sleep do you need at night to feel rested and ready to take on the world? If you’re not sure, use your days off to find out. What time do you need to get up in the morning to make it to work on time? Use this as your baseline and find out when you need to go to bed to get the right amount of sleep at night. But you can’t just call it quits right at bedtime and expect to fall asleep immediately. Give yourself an hour to unwind from your comic creator persona. This gives you a buffer, so if you happen to run a little long with your comic work or get hyper-focused on a particular project, you’ll be able to handle it without running into your sleep time. Continuing with this backwards-stepping approach, figure out how much time you can dedicate to comic work each night while still leaving yourself some time to cool down from regular work.

But no schedule is completely foolproof, so take an extra precautionary measure to make sure you don’t jump back into that dreadful burn-out cycle.

Schedule time off. Give yourself permission to goof off one day every week. Plan a night out with some friends, go to the movies, veg out with popcorn and movies, go shopping, or take care of any number of things to take your mind away from work and let it unwind. In a single day, you should be able fit enough recreational activities to sate your “goofing off” fix for the week. By working it into your schedule, it gives you a psychological advantage over slacking off all week long. You’ll have an easier time getting to work on comics all those other days because you know you have an entire day coming up soon where you won’t have to deal with any kind of work.

Know how to plan your projects. So, now you have a schedule you can work with to preempt the burnout phase…but you still have to integrate that with your project planning. With a set schedule, you know how much time you can put into creating comics each week. But how long will a project take you? How do you schedule your projects so you aren’t overloaded with work and wind up right back in that dreaded cycle? How much time do you need to do research on a project (gather facts/data or find reference material)? Once you’re prepared, how long does it take you to get through writing/drawing/inking/coloring/lettering an average page? What factors might cause that page to go slower or quicker? If you’re not sure, take a couple weeks to time yourself and find out. Since you have a new schedule where you work a set number of hours at a time, just keep a record of how many pages you complete each day.

After a couple weeks, calculate an average of how long it takes you to complete a page. If you have any time that took longer than your average, go through the pages from that time and find out why. Did you require extra research or references? Did it have heavy amounts of dialogue, backgrounds, or details? Do the same for any pages that finished up faster than the average and take into account these factors that can impact your schedule.


And yes, everyone’s different. Some people are workhorses that can just come home and have no problems jumping right into their comic work. A lot of people working the small press route also tend to run with really loose deadlines, and they just get projects done at whatever pace is comfortable or convenient for them. But once they get a solid deadline on a project that could be their big break, there’s a chance those lax ways could get the better of them and lead them to frustration and dwindling productivity. If you feel frustration getting to you or feel yourself struggling with stuff that came easily a few weeks ago, step back for a moment and take an honest look at yourself…are you burning out?

If so, don’t let it get worse. Do something about it. Develop a plan that works for you if you have to. The above steps work for me whenever I start collapsing into a burnout phase, and they’ve worked for some friends of mine. If all else fails, give them a shot because at least you’ll be doing something to keep those dreams alive.

I’m sure people have heard the sayings–writers write, pencilers pencil, and all that. But the same can be said about the negative aspects of the arts…quitters quit. It’s actually much easier to quit sometimes than go through all the hard work it takes to create comics. Why is that? Well, one big factor is instant gratification. When you quit, you suddenly reclaim time to play more video games, spend more time at the bar, and stuff your face with dessert sandwiches made out of chocolate bars, pudding, and whipped cream. You also have one less project to stress over, so your blood pressure goes down…your hair starts to grow back…and your hypochondria eases up a bit.

Of course, there are instances where it’s nearly impossible to quit…when you’re addicted. Giving up smoking? How about caffeine? Or sweets? Quitting isn’t always a bad thing. When you actually think about it, quitting can be a form of sacrifice to help bring your life in line with your goals. Set a goal and try not to give up anything to achieve it. Want to lose weight? You’ll probably need to give up a lot of your favorite foods and some of your time for exercise. Want to watch a weekend-long MST3K marathon? You’ll lose out on time for other projects, sleep, and you might even sacrifice a little sanity along the way.

When I decided to get serious with my writing, I gave up a lot of my late nights playing games to make time for it. I also gave up an hour of sleep each night to get up early and work on my craft. My TV watching dropped to minimal levels as well, but that’s to give myself more time with the family (so they don’t feel left out when I’m locked away in my office writing).

Unfortunately, giving up so many different things to go after a goal also helps make it easier to quit later on. Think of how much you had to quit to go after a single goal. That’s a lot of practice, isn’t it? And if you have time to work on your projects, then you’ve been practicing how to quit other things correctly. You need to put that kind of practice into your creative endeavors as well, or you’ll be tempted to fall back to something you’re good at…quitting. But you can practice all the time and still feel the urge to quit.

So, how can you increase your odds of not giving up and falling back to all that well-practiced quitting? You get yourself addicted. Give yourself time to enjoy the rush of creating something new. Reward yourself whenever you stick to your goals and when you do a good job. Take a break every now and then to do something weird with your artwork…something fun. Set yourself up, so that you always feel your creativity overwhelming you to the point where you have no choice but to follow that path. Get yourself to the point where you stop thinking about how much you’re giving up and sacrificing to be a creator and start filling your thoughts with your creations instead.

Let’s flip back to the creative side real quick. You’re now addicted to all that fun creative stuff. You write or pencil all the time. But if you don’t take the effort to tear apart and analyze your work and guide all that practicing towards improvement, you’ll just be spinning your wheels. If you write and draw all the time, but do it wrong, you’re just reinforcing all those bad habits (and making them more difficult to break later on). So, it’s not enough to just write or draw all the time unless you constantly review your work with a critical eye to push yourself to improve your craft. Get the most out of the time you’ve made for yourself. To paraphrase from George Leonard’s book, Mastery–practice perfectly.

So, be a quitter! Quit the things you can afford to sacrifice to reach your goals, quit viewing the world through a pessimistic lens, quit worrying about your big break not showing up, and quit reinforcing bad habits in your craft. Quit those things, so you can reclaim the time, develop the positive attitude and practice the skills you need to reach your goals.

One of the greatest assets of the artistic creator is…well…creativity. Whether they work in a medium of words, pencils, ink, colors, or nifty sound effects and logos, creativity is a crucial part of the process. When the creative thoughts don’t flock to them, they stumble into a block and find themselves staring at the blank page for what seems like an eternity. And many just sit there…staring…waiting for their muse to enlighten them and lead them to the promised land of creative genius. Why? You can’t just sit around waiting for inspiration–it’s too sly and evasive for that. You have to hunt it down. So, grab your orange reflective vests and your camouflage socks and get ready to track down some creativity out in the wild.

Know where to find your prey. If you’re in the middle of the wilderness starving to death, it doesn’t do any good to set a trap or spend your time hunting in an area with no animals. Is there a water hole nearby? Is there a trail leading to it with a variety of different tracks along it? Guess what you might find there? Our prey is a little different. It’s bits of fashion or culture or psychology or science or history twisted around into something fresh and exciting. It’s information and observations tossed into our brain blender and pureed into an imagination smoothie. So, where does this information come from? A blank page? Not hardly. Stop staring at it and track down the fruit you need to squeeze for those creative juices. It lurks in pictures, conversations, news articles, history, scientific advancements, nature, events, and anywhere else you can learn something or spark a response from your senses and emotions.

Follow the trail. When you find a source of information that looks promising, don’t just stop there–follow the trail. If that bit of information whets your creativity appetite, chances are good that it could lead to some bigger game. Let yourself get lost in a sea of ideas, whimsies, data, and imagery. Let yourself leap freely from one intriguing tidbit of information to the next. Explore as much of the trail as you can and gather the resources you’ll need to capture your prey.

Tag it. What about when you find something that sparks your interest or triggers some thoughts and emotions? Tag it. Write it down, clip it out, or sketch it…and then file it away. If it triggers some reaction in you now, it will do the same later on. Build a file of ideas, thoughts, and possibilities that you can snack on whenever your mind’s starving for creativity. Leave yourself a trail that allows you to wander those paths you found again…and again…and again.

Corral those ornery critters. You have all this information now that’s running around wild and free like a pack of animals. You can just browse through some of this data and try to spot the inspiring information, or you can attempt to corral those ideas and put the one you want within reach. Just take a few random bits of data from your file, and let them run wild across the plains of your mind. Now, figure out a way to logically pull them together and guide them along. Let the ideas feed off of each other until you can shape the strange or opposing ideas into a logical, cohesive pattern. Take the chaos of the world and find a way to guide it into a premise that people might think, “If things were just a tiny bit different, this could really happen.” Practice pulling these stray ideas together and train your mind to constantly look for the creative patterns in the ideas around you.


What? You thought we were going to actually hunt creativity with rifles, shoot it and drag it back to the house on the hood of our truck to carve up into creativity chops? But that only provides you with a limited amount of ideas…if you want your creativity to grow and be easily accessible, you need to have a lot of lively ideas at your disposal. Be the smart hunter…capture and secure them in a place where they’ll grow and spawn even more ideas. Ideas that are easy to get to and will last for a long while.

Fair warning here–we’re not really going to be conducting ritual acts of voodoo and black magic to charm our way into the ranks of comicdom. It’s more like an exercise to psychologically reinforce your positive “can do” attitude and exorcise the demons of negativity. Those of you that still think it would be better to just sneak your way in with the help of actual magic, just skip this article and contact me at (and wait for a response before taking any action).

Bad reviews, harsh critiques, rejection letters, overwhelming self-doubts, and obstacle after obstacle toss up the roadblocks on the road to your dreams. These things add up and can even rattle the best of us at times. To keep going, you need some thick skin, a positive attitude and enough knowledge in your craft to cull the useful commentary from the crap. The knowledge can be gained through study and training, but how can you get that thick skin and high-octane positive attitude? You could start early by writing essay papers on Norman Vincent Peale when you’re in fourth grade or you could get a job in a hostile verbal work environment…like working in customer service/tech support somewhere. That would give you a good start, but is there more you could do? Yep, you could train for it just like with your artwork.

Arts and crafts time! Here’s what you’ll need to construct your “Pessimism Voodoo Doll.”

–Cloth…two pieces cut into the same pattern (or you could just pick up a kit at a local crafts store). If you have or receive lots of negative thoughts and comments, make sure your patterns have lots of surface area. The actual pattern itself is up to you–square, skull, pyramid, teddy bear, Jigglypuff, or whatever shape makes you feel happy.
–Needle and thread
–regular paper
–a small notebook that’s easy to carry around with you

Now, sew those pieces of cloth together around the edges as if you’re turning it into a small pillow but make sure to leave an opening to add the stuffing. If you have a deadly allergy to needles, then you can take the easy route with construction paper and a stapler.

Next, get yourself a piece of paper and a comfy-grip writing implement of doom. Jot down as many negative and non-constructive comments you’ve heard (or even just thought) about yourself or your work. Fill that page up with every little negative thought that shows a glimmer of a chance of getting uppity one day and stopping your productivity in its tracks. Now, for the fun part. Take a good, long look at that sheet of paper, take a deep breath, and then tear it to shreds. Use this as your stuffing for your “doll.”

Ready for the next part? It gets a bit tricky here. Take that small notebook and write down three concise yet highly positive sentences about yourself. It could be a good quote from a review, a comment someone made about your appearance or personality, something you’re really good at, or any number of positive thoughts. As long as they instantly bring on feelings of happiness, pride, accomplishment, or hope, they’ll work. Take a deep breath, slowly release it, read those three sentences out loud, and then stab a pin into your “doll” to teach those nasty thoughts a lesson.

Keep your notebook handy, and every time you get a pessimistic thought or someone tells you something negative and non-constructive, put a mark in your notebook. Don’t write down the exact comment or action–just put a mark down, read one of your positive statements, and move on. When you get home, take a deep breath, slowly release it, read your three positive statements, and then stick another pin in the doll for each new mark in your notebook. And let all those negative thoughts go. Don’t give them a chance to hold you back from what you’re capable of.

When the path to your dreams is littered with criticisms, subjective likes and dislikes, frustrated people lashing out, and self-doubts, it can make it difficult to press on. Sometimes, it’s enough to make a person turn back and return to the easier life. The path to your dreams is definitely a tough one, so be sure to pack all the positive thinking you can carry with you…and lose all that unnecessary negative baggage.

“You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?'”
–George Bernard Shaw

The smell of beer and party sweat still lingered in the air of that old dayroom. The chill morning air and the glimmer of sunrise danced through the open window–both passing by with barely an acknowledgment from me. Focused. Determined. I poured myself into my work. Well, “play” would actually be a better term for it, and therapy would be a close second. I pressed on and didn’t even notice when the Chief entered the room.

He settled his massive frame into a chair near the television and propped his head back against the wall. A sigh spilled forth from his huge lungs. I glanced up from my work as he rolled his eyes over in my direction. A few more weeks until he retired, and you could see the change creeping into his body…and drowning his spirit.

“Son, do you have a dream?”

A simple question. I had a small window of opportunity coming up soon–a second chance at one of my dreams. A few weeks from now would be a test of strength, speed and endurance that stood between me and the career I longed for. I peeked over at the crutches propped up against the wall beside me. Then I glanced to the swollen, blue-green tinted flesh that used to be a perfectly good ankle. I could feel how trampled my hopes were deep inside. I hung my head and just let the feelings overwhelm me for a moment.

But something grabbed hold of my hope and pulled it to safety. My work…my play…my therapy. On my lap sat a notebook filled with scribbles and blurbs of text. I flipped through it to see character descriptions, story ideas, sketches, poems, song lyrics, one-liners, memorable bits of dialogue I’d heard…and more. It was all right there, and it was something I’d always gone to for fun and to escape the stress of the day. I remembered telling campfire stories to my friends as a kid. I cherished a few memories of sitting with my friends and putting together our own comic book stories. I thought back about how eager I always was to do writing assignments in school. I recalled the day I was forced into making some kind of career decision and giving up on struggling down the path of writing. But I never really gave it up, did I?

I looked over to the Chief. “Yeah, I have a dream.”

“Good. Don’t ever let it die. See it through and don’t be one of those guys looking back on their lives and wondering what the hell happened to all their dreams.”


You’re a dreamer. You know it, and I know it. You have to be…it’s part of the job. Whether you dream up stories, envision the shapes and lines of exotic locales and people, walk through all the lights and shadows of a scene, or dance through color schemes in your mind, you bring to life dreams on a regular basis. You probably also dream of making a career out of this, but that can be a struggle most of the time.

Any number of obstacles can stand in your way, but you can reach your goal…as long as you don’t let your dream die. If you dream of creating entertaining stories, it needs to consume you and be the motivating factor to carry you through the troublesome times. But some people hold back on their dreams. Maybe they’re embarrassed by what they enjoy working on–afraid of what others might think. Maybe the fear turns another way, and they constantly wonder if they’re good enough. Maybe they can’t deal with rejection or criticism or all the work involved with promoting themselves and their work. Maybe…just maybe…they don’t really want it at all, and they’re doing it just because they think it would be neat or cool. Writers, do you sit there at a restaurant having dinner with family or friends and suddenly turn a misheard phrase into some crazy story about Viking fish? And do you immediately share it with the people around it or do you hide it? Artists, do you find yourself compelled to sketch all the time? Do you find yourself filling sketchbooks, book margins, napkins, old bill envelopes, walls, and anything that could pass for a writing surface with line after line whenever you don’t have to be working on something else?

Do you hold onto your dream to create comics because you love to create comics…or do you hold onto the dream thinking you’ll get a little prestige one day if you keep at it? Search deep down inside yourself and find out what you really want to do…and then do it! The only thing stopping you is…you. If the dream consumes you, you’ll practice and train and hone your abilities. You’ll keep at it day after day no matter what…because you love to do it. Find your dream…and don’t ever let it die.

Well, we had that big article on portfolios for artists, so let’s take a moment to discuss a technique for writers. I call this my “conversational” portfolio technique because it’s designed to enhance a writer’s discussions with fans, editors, other creators, passersby, kittens, sushi, or whatever else they feel like talking to at the time. It is NOT a portfolio designed to be brought up to someone to request an analysis of your writing. It is just a sampling of your published or finished work.

If you don’t have any kind of finished work…get some! Volunteer to write some portfolio stories for some artists in exchange for copies of the artwork to letter and show off to editors (the “I’ll be a walking advertisement for you” technique), collaborate with an artist to help bring his or her stories to life (the “I’ll help you if you’ll let me ride your coattails” technique), or just hire someone to pencil some pages from your own stories (the “I’m light-headed from my ramen noodle diet and constant plasma donations” technique). There are a lot more options than that out there–you’re a writer…just be creative and have some fun.

Now, you have some artwork to put into your portfolio. What else can you add to it? Let’s see…I’m thinking of something… it’s on the tip of my tongue now… oh yeah, writing! Articles, reviews, flash fiction, tutorials, interviews, short scenes from screenplays, excerpts from a novel. The key is to make sure the writing is something simple, creative, and concise enough for them to digest in a quick glance. Or it could be something that you can just point them to for reading at a later time.

“Here’s a scene from my screenplay, I have the rest of it available at my website.”

“I wrote an article on that very subject. Here’s a sample of one of my articles from my column at the so-and-so website. I’d be happy to email you a link to the article after the convention.”

For my online articles, I like to print out a copy from the actual website to show off the site logo (which also gives the person glancing through it a feel for all the different places you’ve dealt with in the past). If you don’t have any articles or reviews or anything like that out there… just write some up! Find some place looking for some help and jump on in, or just write up some more content for your website (which makes a good marketing tool for your work anyways).

Artwork and samples of your writing… anything else? I threw in copies of letters from screenwriting contests I entered to show where my writing placed in the competitions. If you have similar writing accomplishments, throw them in the stack (we’ll sort it all out later). You can also put together a list of quotes from reviews of your work. You can write up a page with a listing of your published credits. You could toss a page in there with nothing more than “Damn you, four-layer chocolate cheesecakes! Damn you and your accursed, tasty calories!” in super-large, bold font. Well, you should find your own phrase for that… but just think of a quick attention-getter that causes them to pause and think about the portfolio for a second (and maybe get a good chuckle out of them).

We have some material and we’re ready to jam on that portfolio now. The biggest thing to remember here is that you want a single item that you can carry around easily with you and show off samples anytime anyone asks about them (or refer to at opportune moments in a conversation). For my portfolio, I use a single three-ring binder with plastic sheet protectors to hold the pages (and to ward off coke, queso, and chocolate).

As you work out the placement of your portfolio pieces, keep in mind a very basic principle used in your craft… hook them from the beginning, keep them moving forward, and then finish big. Since this is for comic book work, you should start right off with comic book work. Use some sample pages from one of your finished stories or a short story and make sure it’s something that will grab the viewers attention right away. Continue with the comic pages and throw in some of your other writing here and there. Here’s a sample of what my binder looks like:

Outside of binder: Color cover by Ryan Ottley from my Arazel & Xarenia submission
… 10 pages from Jim Valentino’s Task Force 1
… 10 pages from the Brat-halla webcomic
… a quick mock interview–the Devil interviewing me as we barter for my soul
… 5 pages from the published Dungeon Bears story
… 5 pages from the published Bob the Battleship story
… a Breaking Out! article
… 5 pages from Spook’d (webcomic and published pieces)
… letter from the Nicholl Fellowship stating that my Arazel & Xarenia screenplay placed in the top 6%
… letter from the Austin Film Festival stating my screenplay made it to the quarterfinals
… opening pages of my screenplay
… published Arazel & Xarenia comic short stories

And that’s all I take around with me. I use the binder to refer to my works during a conversation. It also helps when I’m talking with someone that’s familiar with a project I’ve contributed to, so I can easily point out what I worked on. In essence, it’s a tool to help out when you meet new people and also provides a way to promote yourself and your work. You’ll still need to be proficient in public speaking to make an impression, but you’ll at least have a visual aid to give people you meet an extra little something to remember you by. “Oh yeah, you’re that parody Care Bears guy!”

column_breakout.gifEtiquette? What is this…a Mister Manners column now? Nope…still just discussing ways to help aspiring creators get the most out of a convention. These are just some things to keep in mind at the convention. I’m not expecting anyone to dump their personalities and become all goodie-two-shoes because of these. So, let’s get to it!

Honesty. No personality change here. Especially not when I’m kicking this off by telling people to just be themselves. And when you’re out there representing yourself in public…there’s no need to be anything but yourself. When you meet new people, you want to be honest with them, so they get to know who you really are. When you learn knew things, you want to be honest with yourself and get the most out of what’s offered to you. When you’re promoting your current or upcoming work, you want to be honest with potential buyers and fans, so they get the real story to get excited over.

So, just be yourself. People constantly remind the aspiring types that this is a small industry, so it’s always good to make sure the information spreading around about you is accurate (especially if the source of that info is you). Let people know who you really are and what you’re really capable of accomplishing. Wouldn’t you want the person working with you on a project to be trustworthy and upfront about what they can do? Editors and publishers like those kinds of people as well…it makes it easier for them to manage their schedules and deadlines when they know what to expect from someone.

Treat them like people. They truly are real people. They have real needs, desires, passions, frustrations, and dreams. They have family and friends. They lead lives with bills, taxes, traffic, and health problems. Like many other people at the convention, they’ll probably get tired, bored or even hungover. And if they start showing a little attitude or grouchiness, just think about how you might feel if you had people stopping to gush about your latest work and just ramble on and on and on about the same thing that hundreds of other people talked about all day long. Think about how you might feel if people kept interrupting you while you tried to eat or what it might be like to have people trying to strike up a conversation with you while you’re using the restroom. People following you around…sharing crazy dreams that they had about you…reciting your own life story to you…reciting their life story to you. Sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? Well, creators deal with those kinds of things because there are some fanatics that treat them like objects to be idolized and praised. Be different. Be professional and treat them like real people.

…but show some respect. No need to deify them, but you do want to show them a little respect. Even if you absolutely despise their art or writing, they did make it into the comics industry, and as many of you know, that’s not an easy task. So, they might produce mediocre or fair work, but many other factors play into working in the industry. Timeliness in getting work done (good work ethics), professionalism, flexibility in dealing with editorial demands, working well with other members of the team…and they didn’t choke when they were given their big break. It’s an incredible accomplishment, so just remember that when you run into a creator that you’re not a fan of. You might be able to draw/write/ink/color/letter rings around them, but you can still learn a lot about all the other aspects of the industry from them.

Be helpful. My past catches up with me here. Early on in my life, my mom taught me about helping others. I took it to heart and tried to help everyone I knew. That didn’t work out too well though…there’s just not enough time to help everyone. But I did what I could, and I felt good about myself. Then I noticed a few occassional perks–people remembered me better after helping them, and when I needed some help with something, volunteers were usually easy to find. All for just donating some time and some hard work to give people a hand.

As with all things, there are no guarantees, so don’t count on those small benefits. People still might forget you…people might not be able to help you out in return due to busy schedules…people might get a touch paranoid and think you’re just helping them to get something from them. So, help out because you want to help out…because it makes you feel good. That alone makes it worthwhile…whatever else you get out of it is just Karma saying thanks.

But how do you help people at a convention though? People looking for directions–point them in the right direction. An artist wandering the crowd looking for another creator to review his/her portfolio–help them out with a few leads. Some aspiring artists and writers stopping by your table in Artist’s Alley–share some tips, advice and experiences with them. All little things…but a lot of times, people appreciate the little things others do to help them out.


That wasn’t so bad, was it? No discussion of what fork to use for different courses of the meal. No pinky lifts. No list of proper ways to address royalty throughout the world. Just some helpful little tidbits that can help you display a good attitude and a show of professionalism…and just might help someone remember your name after the con…or maybe make someone feel more inclined to teach you a few tricks of the trade…or possibly make some people more willing to check out your work.