column_breakout.gifSo, there you are. Sitting on the porch with some hastily packed bags. The house behind you echoes with the celebratory moans of parental joy. You’re on your own now, and you need a job. You spent your college years chasing the classes with the highest levels of scenery and found yourself meeting the requirements for a degree in Ornamental Horticulture. That’s not what I want to do for a living. A fierce determination suddenly hits you. I want to build roller coasters!

You head straight for the best in the business to get that job. You’ve got a degree, you’ve mastered both Roller Coaster Tycoon and Roller Coaster Tycoon 2, and you’re ready for the big leagues. Then they ask you all those silly questions. Have you worked on a roller coaster before? Yes, that’s nice, but have you even done any kind of work on a real roller coaster before? So, not even work for a local fair or a small circus? Okay, it says on your application you have a college degree…is it in Physics? Engineering? Computers? Well then, do you have a number we can reach you at? Later. Much, much later. Never’s actually a good possibility.

Chances are, that person would have never even been called in for an interview. Jobs that require specific, high-level skills tend to be like that. Most of the time, you can’t just walk in and get hired for a skill position without the right experience. They’ll want to see something that shows them you can do the work and get it done consistently. Why? Well, hiring employees involves risk control. Most companies put in a lot of time, effort, and money into hiring people. If they get a bad hire, they’ve wasted all that, and they’ll have to deal with any problems that person might have caused while employed there (work delays, friction among other employees, communication breakdowns, damage to systems/product/processes, etc). That’s a lot for a company to put at risk. Not every position will have that impact on a company or its product, but well, you want to make comics, right? If you want a position as a creator, you are inherently a risky proposition for them.

A company can’t completely remove risk from the equation of hiring though. If they want to leap forward or take things in a new direction, they’ll need to take risks and bring in new blood with new perspectives on things, but they can take measures to reduce their chances of getting burned. They often look at specific things…experience working in the field, references, personality, and whether the person actually knows how to do the job. Well, personality is all you…but the rest can be proven to them. In many career fields, they have entry-level positions. You still need a certain amount of skill in a related position or a college degree to qualify for them, but you don’t need tons of experience in that particular job. They basically pay you horrible salaries to do lots of work, but as a benefit, you get training and lots of valuable experience that can be put on your resume. And if you keep working at it, you can slowly build yourself up to be pretty competitive in the job market. In comics, they don’t quite have entry-level positions (although I see at least one company trying), but there is the small press. It’s a good place to start…a good place to learn, practice and gain valuable experience that can be put on your list of credentials.

Sometimes though, picking up work in the small press arena can even be tough. This is when you want to remember that comics deal with art. Artistic credentials can be built up outside of the comics realm. A college degree related to the work your looking for can help spice up those credentials a little. Plus, the artist types can do work for magazines, children’s books, book covers, role-playing games, advertising companies, toy companies, video game concept art, film storyboards, animation, etc. The writers can work on articles for magazines and newspapers, ad copy, short stories for anthologies and magazines, enter screenwriting contests, or even write a novel. These are also good ways to pick up extra income or have a job to provide food and housing while working towards your dream job in comics.

Besides picking up experience, there’s another benefit to doing small press work…getting to work with people. Creating comics is a team effort, so unless you can do it all on your own, you’ll need to learn how to interact and properly communicate your thoughts/ideas/opinions with others. You’ll be working with others that are also trying to break in (or sometimes, you might even be lucky enough to find yourself working with someone who already has a decent name in the comics industry), and if they like your work or think you’re great to work with, who knows where they might mention your name. And as you work on a wide variety of projects, you might find yourself on a comic about oh, let’s say, hummingbird-people. Well, you now have the opportunity to ask some people that have done stories on hummingbird-people in the past and see if they have some tips, pointers or gotchas they could share with you. Finding a common thread to open a discussion on can sometimes get you in touch with someone you might have thought was unreachable. And once you start talking with people, you never know what else you might have in common or where any decent conversation might take you.

So…take college classes, finish off that degree, submit to small press publishers, hook up with other creators to self-publish, put together ashcans for conventions, or work in related jobs outside the comics industry…just do stuff to build up your credentials and give yourself a chance to sharpen your skills. Get your name out there on as much high quality work as you can, so the editors can’t avoid it. Then if you get a chance to meet with an editor, and they ask if you’ve ever worked on a comic before…you can give that sly little grin and say, “A few” just before you hand them a stack of published comics and a list of other projects two pages long.