column_breakout.gifConvention season is here again. With aspiring creators out there planning to barrage busy editors with their submissions, many people start to think about how they can stand out in the crowd. They consider using “look at me” gimmicks, stalking editors to spring their work on them when no one else is around, or raining pages of script from the third floor of the hotel as the editor waits for a taxi. Those people work hard to make themselves memorable in the eyes of the editor…they’ll be remembered all right, but probably filed under the category “potentially annoying.” Not really the right impression to leave an editor with, is it?

For aspiring creators, attending conventions holds various benefits–learning new things, meeting new people, and getting word out about your work. Conventions are NOT job fairs. Can you walk away from a convention with a job? I’m sure you could…anything’s possible. But if you focus most of your energy and time at a convention trying to find work, make sure to book an extra seat on the flight home for your buddy, Disappointment. Spend your time getting the most out of the con. Learn something new, make some new friends, or get word out about your existing/upcoming work…jobs will follow. This series of convention tips focuses on ways to maximize those benefits, so let’s start with something many people dread…Speaking (in Public).

Whether going from table to table to chat with people or being behind the table addressing questions and comments from passersby, speaking becomes an important trait for the convention experience. Many people run into trouble when speaking to strangers or talking someplace where everyone can hear them…shyness, nervousness, low self-esteem, and outright fear cause people to freeze up. Some people are naturals at speaking to others, but most need to learn and practice the craft to get comfortable with it. This article will provide some basic strategies and tips on speaking, but it’s a skill where that knowledge really needs to be applied to build confidence in it. For getting that experience, I recommend joining your local Toastmasters group or signing up for a course in Public Speech or Theater at a nearby college.

What’s your name? In art and writing, many people stumble on the first page, and in speaking, worry over a good opening causes lots of problems. The easiest way to start a drawing is with a single line. For writing, it just takes a single word. When speaking and you’re worrying over how to start, there’s a simple opening that often works the best…your name. The name’s a powerful thing. When you hand it over to someone, you give him or her something that means a lot to you, and they usually respond in kind. Look at that…instant interaction. I’ve seen people talk themselves out of going up to speak to someone because they were so nervous about making a good impression with their first line. The most memorable “lines” develop naturally from the actual conversation, so stop worrying about what to say and introduce yourself.

Do a little research. Research? Blech! Kind of like studying and homework, right? Double…no, triple blech! What the heck do you need to do that for? Well, if you want to talk to people about stuff, you should probably know a little bit about…stuff. Two types of research lead the way here–general and focused studies.

General studies revolve around current events, trivia and everyday bits of knowledge. Conversations drift easily. One minute you’re discussing comic books and the next you could be talking about how Genghis Khan’s territorial conquests exceeded that of Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun and Napoleon combined…which could lead to a discussion of how Napoleon was afraid of kittens…and that might remind someone of their new kitten they just named Knickers…and so on and so forth. This doesn’t mean you need to be an expert at everything (or even try to be). You just need to have some familiarity with a variety of subjects so you can participate in the conversation…even if it’s just knowing enough to ask an intelligent question and let the other people involved run with it. So, where do you get that kind of familiarity? Reading newspapers, magazines, or books; watching the news, “do-it-yourself” shows, history shows, or documentaries; listening to lectures, speeches, panel discussions or even just people chatting it up in a bar. Some great sources of general information out there are the Sunday New York Times (which a lot of local libraries have available), Variety/Hollywood Reporter (if you like to discuss the Hollywood happenings), and bathroom books (like the Great American Bathroom Book, which has condensed summaries of some of the all-time great books, or the Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers, which have a little bit of everything…history, etymology, strange stories, quotes and a lot more).

Focused studies deal with a known factor…the convention. Each guest has likes, dislikes, family, friends, cities they grew up in, schools they attended, projects they’ve worked on, and more. Somewhere in all that you could find some common ground. Maybe you went to the same high school as one of the guests or you both enjoy volleyball or possibly even have some mutual friends. Common ground gives you a good stepping stone for a conversation that involves things both people enjoy…and knowing what that common ground is beforehand is a lot easier than trying to find it in the middle of a discussion. And you don’t have to stop with just the guests…there’s the history of the convention itself, information on the retailers and publishers that will be there, or even knowing a little bit about the convention city and the area immediately surrounding the convention. Specific research topics you can look into that are pertinent to your situation…topics that can easily be brought up when talking about the convention or the city you’re currently in.

Be observant. You’re walking over to talk to a comic professional at a convention. Freeze this moment and observe. The person sitting next to the professional has an Oakland Raiders hat on. The pro stretches and yawns as the person currently talking to him at his booth yammers on and on without even noticing. Another person anxiously waits behind the talker with a portfolio in hand. The pro’s wearing a t-shirt with one of his less popular characters on it. It’s hotter in this section of the convention than anywhere else. The booth next to the pro’s has a gimmick with two people dressed up as goldfish in boxer shorts fighting each other with nunchakus made out of bras and rolled-up newspapers. The smell of stale popcorn and old pizza carries over to here from the nearby concessions area. Got all that? Good–it could be useful information to know.

Observation ties you into the people, the surroundings, and the conversation itself. People provide body language, gestures, and facial expressions that relay feedback to the speaker about the topic discussed or the way it’s presented. The surroundings present opportunities to take the conversation in a variety of different directions. And listening carefully to the conversation gives clues to how it could evolve by linking choice words or phrases to prior observations and prior research. So, pay attention, stay alert and get as much mileage as you can out of that conversation.

But…be careful. As a writer, I developed a people-watching habit to help clue into new ideas and new dialogue. So, sometimes I’ll zone out into observer mode at malls, bars, clubs, and other places with large crowds and take in all kinds of information…sights, sounds, smells, etc. I’ve caught myself doing that during conversations in the past, and I know a couple other people that run into that problem as well. It doesn’t make for very engaging conversation…trust me. People like good listeners, but if you don’t respond and participate in the conversation, it’ll slowly die out. So, be careful about focusing on observation to the point of exclusion of actually saying something.

Nervousness is your friend. So, what happens when you get nervous? Adrenaline kicks into your system. Your heart races to speed oxygen-gorged blood to your muscles. Your respiration picks up to meet these increased oxygen demands. Perspiration forms on your skin as a means of keeping your body cool. You’re afraid, and your body is priming itself for performance. Fight or flight. But in speaking, most people can’t run from the situation (technically, they can run from any speaking opportunity–they just have to deal with the consequences afterwards), so they wind up following that fight instinct even though there really isn’t anything to fight. Except that fear. So, they gather up all that energy generated by the fear and try to suppress that same fear with it. Hands shake and teeth chatter as the struggle internalizes. An endless cycle of fear intensifying to handle the battle against itself.

How do you fight the fear then? You don’t–you make friends with it instead. Invite it on over to help out with something else and burn up a little of that anxious energy. Do a little quality pacing before you speak…use some of that energy on some gestures and body language while you’re talking…sneak off somewhere and do some pushups…focus on taking slow, deep breaths…redirect it into your motivation and determination. Just don’t focus all that energy on your fear…you’ll just give it more power. Break the cycle and get on with it.


These are just a few quick ideas to help out with speaking in public situations…a quick rundown of tips gathered from various public speaking courses, speech and debate competitions, impromptu speaking during instructor training, and more. As I mentioned before, this information really needs to be applied to get the most out of it…in other words, it takes a little practice. Practice to figure out how big of a leap you can take into a tangent without losing everyone. Practice to get a feel for reading the feedback from the listener. Practice to get comfortable with speaking and help make nervousness your friend. So, get out there and talk to someone…anyone–it’s one of the cheapest and easiest ways to practice speaking.

Yay! I can finally update my site again (minor technical issues).

This last weekend, I had a table at the Lone Star Comic Show and met a lot of great people. For Free Comic Book Day at the con, I gave out copies of Digital Webbing Presents #8 with my 5-page Dungeon Bears: An 80s Parody story inside. I spent a lot of time talking with some local creators from the Houston area, reviewing some portfolios, and chatting with the people from Half-Ass Publishing that were pushing their first book, Some Big Lumberjack. Overall, a fun little show…I’m gonna try to get to the one in September (so, WizardWorld Chicago in August, Lone Star Show in September, the Austin Film Festival in October, and WizardWorld Texas in November…looks like it’ll be a busy end of the year).

And one last note…if you notice anything odd with the web pages over the next few weeks…well, I’m trying to redo sections of the site (so it’s probably just me screwing things up). ^_^

column_breakout.gifIn recent years, Marvel succeeded with a number of moderately to wildly successful movies based on their characters. The company appeared in Entertainment Weekly, Variety, and on CNN for any number of reasons…hype, controversy, movie deals, and more. Publishing revenue rose 31 percent above 2001 numbers while licensing revenue jumped by 97 percent in that same time. In fact, licensing revenue in 2002 exceeded publishing revenue. Could that be Marvel’s primary focus–a character development house for future licensing as opposed to a publishing house. I’m sure plenty of people have thought that same thing, so I decided to look into it a little more. First, I took a look at Marvel’s recent 10-K filing with the Securities Exchange Commission and found some interesting phrasing within:

“The Company is one of the world’s most prominent character-based entertainment companies, with a proprietary library of over 4,700 characters. The Company operates in the licensing, comic book publishing and toy businesses in both domestic and international markets.”

Right out of the gates, Marvel let the investing world know that they have 4,700 characters, and then they list “licensing” as their lead business operation. This stance appeared in their 10-K reports all the way back to 1999, but that first year, I found a difference (besides 1200 less characters in their library)…a single line tacked on to that general company description:

“Management believes that the potential of the Company’s library remains largely unrealized.”

Let’s see…1999’s report covered the year 1998 where Marvel saw their Blade movie released that August. It grossed around $70 million. Since then, they tapped into licensing revenue with properties like the X-Men: Evolution cartoon, the Mutant X TV series, the X-Men movie, Spider-Man, Blade II, and Daredevil. And they still have more on the way. But with 4,700 available characters, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So, how could a publisher open the licensing doors even wider?

They could start by placing hot/high profile creators on a line of books that modernizes characters and pulls them out of standard continuity. Books that proved the core of the characters have mass appeal and can make Hollywood think, “I see movie.” This line took off with comics like Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimates, and Ultimate X-Men constantly appearing at the top of the charts. Heck, why not capitalize on this idea and release a ton of “Ultimate” characters? They could…but maybe they have another plan for what they could do with these hot properties.

They could give them away for free. That’s right…free comic books online at Marvel’s DotComics website. Well, that’s just crazy. These people must be dumber than a box of rocks if they think I’ll buy a comic I can read for free. What possible reasons made them think free comics would be a good idea? Well, it gave Marvel a system for getting people talking about their books…letting them browse through past issues and giving readers previews of things to come. This made their comics accessible to the public and even people that might be looking for new movies, TV shows, or promotions. But did Marvel truly give these comics away for free? Maybe they figured out a way to do what thousands of websites were unable to do during that whole DotCom era…generate revenue from banner ads. Some of the smartest people out there were trying to get people to click on those pesky little ads (even switching to pop-ups to force interaction with the ad and prove to advertisers that there’s some kind of response), and here came Marvel with people willingly providing click after click just to get to the next page in an online comic. How many clicks? I’m not really sure, but according to the advertising information posted at Marvel’s website, DotComics get downloaded approximately 600,000 times per month. Marvel definitely gave advertisers a lot of online bang for their advertising bucks, and probably has even more advertisers trying to get in on some of the Marvel action while they’re hot.

But that’s advertising revenue…how does it play into licensing? Well, if Marvel wanted to expand their licensing revenue, they probably need to get those characters out of the library and into print where people can see them. But how can they afford to publish these licensing opportunities without taking a loss? Not every book can sell like gangbusters or pick up a movie deal, but if they offer enough choices, they create a better chance for running into that character Hollywood might be looking for at that time. But getting all those books out there isn’t cheap, and that’s where extra advertising revenue can help offset the costs. Still, they’d need a lot of characters out there to hedge their bets…a lot more than advertising could help with. So next, they’d want to find a way to get the retailers to order enough to allow books to break even.

With a “no reprints” policy, costs associated with the printing charges, inventory storage, shipping and such would go down. This “no reprints” policy put the retailers in an “err on the side of caution” mode so they don’t get caught without enough copies of potentially hot books. But how do you know that will work? Hype some books up and see how the retailers react. Whether the hype’s for controversy, some special event, star creators or some “contest”, they’d make some noise about it and let it flourish or bomb. That helped get the retailers to the point where they have a good feel for how to order in the “no reprints” realm. But Marvel still needed a way to test if books could actually break even in this new environment. So what if they threw out some potential “bottom-feeder” books of odd concepts with new characters, different genres, or second tier and/or old characters to generate some numbers on what range of sales the these books might get if they sunk to the bottom? Books like Marville, The Hood, B-Sides, Apache Skies, Killraven, Rawhide Kid, Mangaverse and more–some were really great stories, but they hit such a wide range of ideas, genres and characters in the vast selection of comics out there that some were bound to get lost in the process. So, what might Marvel see with this kind of test? According to the Top 300 charts out at, the bottom 6 Marvel books have run between 9000 and 20,000 in initial pre-orders over the past 6 months. But will this still hold up if they introduce a lot of new books? They could always test and see…maybe rush solicit a bunch of titles with a variety of different characters and concepts as a test–a Tsunami of new books to see if they can maintain those numbers as the market gets flooded. And as a side benefit, they also get more characters “out of the library” while gathering heuristics on sales performance.

They’re getting closer, but the numbers might not be enough to break at the lower end, and a sudden downturn in the market could really cause some problems. So where else could Marvel cut some publishing costs? Let’s take a look at that 10-K report again:

“In 2001, Marvel cut back on the number of expensive, exclusive agreements with writers and artists while establishing new relationships with some of the industry’s hottest creators, as well as recruiting from outside the industry. Starting in 2001, Marvel eliminated the costly and inefficient process of hand-coloring books in favor of higher quality, less expensive, computer coloring.”

Even with the computer coloring and a slight reduction in exclusive contracts, there’s not quite enough cost reduction there to help get them to break even, but we can see another strategy in the works…recruiting from outside the industry. Why not keep it all in the industry? Well, you have talented people in film and television that have experience at telling stories. They may not know exactly how to translate that to comics, but they can be taught. Some, like Kevin Smith, can even bring a decent fan following to comics. But all of them can help the company network in the film and TV industry, which can be beneficial if your primary focus is licensing.

That doesn’t help reduce production costs though. With the normal freelancers and now professionals from other industries, rates would still be too high to get the books to break-even if they drift to the bottom. Maybe if they brought in eager up-and-coming talent on the books, they could set the costs for books down to a much-reduced rate. They’d be taking a big chance though, so they’d need to know if there was enough quality talent to support several books. Just to make sure, Marvel could spend a couple years doing talent searches, so they can see if there’s enough quality talent to run with this idea. They could also open their doors to writer submissions and see if there are enough good storytellers to handle the number of titles they want to release to the public. And they’d look good in the process. It’s always helpful when a company can spin information gathering into something that helps their image.

So, they developed hooks in the film/TV industries, proved that the core aspects of the characters can stand on their own after modernizing and revamps, increased advertising revenue possibilities, reduced some production costs, encouraged a steadier stream of orders from retailers, reviewed a lot of eager talent, and gathered numbers on lower end sales and production costs. Now they run into another problem–the potential to make lots of books but not enough editors to handle coordination of the creation process on that many projects. Well, why not develop a system to hand that off to the eager up-and-comers with “guidance” from the Marvel editors? They could even secretly approach some talent they’re already familiar with to run this process through its paces a bit before finalizing it. And it would develop into something like the new Epic guidelines that Marvel recently announced.

So, since 1999, Marvel released crazy idea after crazy idea–a lot of things people complained were just hype or short-term fixes to a comic book sales problem that would ruin the company and the industry. Whether it ruins anything remains to be seen, but if you look carefully at the various bits and pieces as a whole…it looks like they actually had a plan. A four to five year plan with a lot of different steps, but when I look at how all those different pieces could fit together, I can see how they’d set the stage to get more characters out of their proprietary library and make Marvel the premiere breeding ground for licensable characters. All with a plan that allows a comic book company to actually produce the heck out of comics while simultaneously pulling in revenue from film, TV and video games–things people tend to spend their money on instead of comics.

So, what’s your long-term plan? I know that was a long example, and it may not even be an accurate theory, but they did know exactly what they wanted to accomplish back in 1999…”Management believes that the potential of the Company’s library remains largely unrealized.” Even if it all just happened to fall into place through luck, they might never have gotten that chance if they hadn’t focused all their efforts on that goal so many years ago. A lot of aspiring creators don’t have that kind of focus. They have eagerness to break in–right this very instant and not a moment later–but they don’t always think about long-term goals. They don’t think about how much work they’d need to do to make a living at comics and about how much training and practicing they need to get to that point. Some don’t even consider what they’d do if they couldn’t break in even though each individual craft has job opportunities outside the realm of comics. They also don’t think about the steps it takes to become a great creator…they like to focus on what it takes to be better than what’s at the bottom of the barrel. They don’t even take a good look at the companies they want to work for. They tend to worry and complain more about how bad the company is or how bad the company’s stories are or how the company’s destroying the industry. And many aspiring creators don’t really think about where they could be in a few years if they just set a goal, make a plan and stick with it…maybe they could have a job where they could actually produce the heck out of comics while pulling in a good salary.

Headed up to the Dallas Comicon 2.0 this weekend just to meet people. George over at helped hook me up with a guest pass and so far the con’s been a lot of fun. I’ll work on writing up a more in-depth coverage on the con when I get home tomorrow.

Also, I’ve seen some great work from some artists that have used my 3x3x3 scripts for their portfolios. Scott Story who did a great job on the Arazel & Xarenia story in Digital Webbing Presents #6 tackled my Iron Man script…you can see the great job he did on it here under the Iron Man test plot. Also, Sengkry Chhour did some nice work on the Spider-Man script. You can see those pages here. Now I mentioned to Sengkry that I’d get some CrossGen 3x3x3 scripts up on the site, so I’m going to work on getting those updated to the site this week (along with a few others).

And tomorrow, I’ll probably catch up on getting archived articles from my Breaking Out! column loaded into the database.

column_breakout.gifSo, you really want to work in an industry where your work is time-consuming, mentally and emotionally draining, and on public display for thousands to see, ridicule, bitch about, dance on, sacrifice, and maybe provide an occasional, “Eh, it’s all right.” Everything (that’s all-inclusive there) you work on will have people that like it, people that absolutely hate it, and people that are indifferent (most likely just buying the book to add to their collection). And the people that hate it…well, they tend to be louder than most when expressing their disgust (but hey, you stirred up some strong emotions in them…way to go). These are just some of the things you’ll need to be prepared to deal with on a regular basis.

When the job takes up a lot of time, you’ll still need to make deadlines. When your Muse says she’s had it with your crap and takes off on a little sabbatical, you still need to deliver great work. And when the criticism from the readers seems overwhelming, you still need stick to your guns and believe in yourself. On top of all that, you really need to love what you’re doing…and you need to love all aspects of it (good and bad). Long hours? You could be spending just as many hours writing up reports or working graveshift in computer tech support. Creatively drained? At least all those ideas aren’t bottled up inside you and driving you crazy. Negative criticisms? Any kind of feedback is better than silence…and just think of how many of your favorite movies got bad reviews or spat on by “fans”. If you truly love the work, you’ll accept these things as part of the job and embrace them fully (ewww…not that kind of embrace).

I relate this one to “masochism” because survival in this industry often means you need to love the abuse. You’ll work hard and probably receive little positive recognition. And those awkward situations at formal social events where everyone’s talking about their “prestigious” professions aren’t going to boost your self-image much either. But if you love doing this, it won’t matter. The right attitude and some thick skin can carry you through all that easily.

And even if you learn to love the abuse, that doesn’t mean you have to just sit by and let other people slam you. Just let your actions speak for you most of the time, and if you do need to respond, pick your battles wisely. Handle the situation professionally, and you just might earn some people’s respect along the way. And if all else fails, I sometimes resort to something one of my old bosses used to tell me (even though I’m not sure where he got the line from), “Professionalism is the ability to insult someone and have them walk away feeling good about themselves.”

A great attitude helps in any creative endeavor. Learn to spin off the positives from the bad things, ignore the little things that shouldn’t concern you, and keep a great attitude about things…even through the hardships. Comic book creation can be painful at times. Don’t hate the pain…don’t give it power over you. Love the pain instead…diffuse it and just work on through it.

column_breakout.gifDo you like to inflict pain? Do you like to make people cower in fear? Do you like to torture them? Do you like it when they’re filled with tension wondering what you’re going to do to them next? Do you like to leave people in tears? Do you like to make them double over in pain? Do you like it when they laugh so hard milk sprays out of their nose? Do you like knowing they weren’t drinking milk at the time?

This probably seems like an odd topic to throw into a conversation about good qualities for comic creators, but what it breaks down to is simply…feelings. If you really want to set yourself apart from the rest of the pack, your work needs to speak to people…it needs to make them feel something. You want to tug at their feelings and emotions to provide them with a story so compelling that they won’t want to set it down. Laughter, surprise, humiliation, sadness, horror, terror, fear, trauma, peacefulness, happiness, extreme joy, love, loss…these are just some of the things that grab readers, hold them down, and steal their lunch money. These are some of the things that need to be mastered to help reach your audience.

Most emotional situations are a matter of controlling expectations. But building up those emotions and delivering on strong feelings is an art in itself. That’s why I picked “sadism” to represent this topic. In one session alone, you could let your subject see the weapon beforehand…demonstrate how much damage it can cause. As you set yourself up, they tense their muscles ready for the strike…but their anticipation is met with the weapon slowly, gently caressing their skin. They know it’s there…they know you could strike at any time, so as you pull away, they ready themselves again. But they’re met with whispers this time. You tell them what you want to do to them–just flat out tell them. You encourage them to reach out with their imagination and join you in this runaway fantasy, and they soon get swept away in it all. WHAM! You hit them with their guard down. Now, will they be taken by surprise if you hit them at the beginning next time? How many other variations could you run through to keep a tight rein on their expectations? How many different emotions could be delivered in a manner similar to this? What if that “WHAM!” were a punchline instead (some super-powered types crash through the wall in the middle of a fight and they stop the fight so one of them can snap some pics with his digital camera)? Or a potential tearjerker (pull back to see the video is being played in a courtroom in the middle of a child custody battle as the parent watches their familial hopes slip away)?

But do emotions and feelings have to be so elaborately set up? Nope…and they shouldn’t. If you drag it out every time, people will start looking for it. You need to keep it fresh and exciting, and good emotions can come from a lot of simple things as well. A choice glare here and there from a fiery character, a subtle brush of the hand against a character’s own cheek in remembrance of times long lost, a dark, moody setting to a scene, a slow shift in colors from panel to panel to enhance the shifting emotions, a change in the inflection represented in the words. They may seem like minor things, but in the right situation, they can be just as effective as an elaborate setup (in fact, they can even be part of the setup or the payoff). And these are little things you can learn easily by just watching the world around you.

If people can look at your artwork or read your writing and feel something, they’re going to remember it. Entertainment at its core is a means of escapism…people want to feel new emotions; they want to let their imagination wander through new experiences, new adventures, and new hardships. They want to feel what all of that’s like…because feeling reminds them that they’re alive.

column_breakout.gifCreating comic books is a “do-ers” job. You can talk about making comics all day long, you can even think about making comics all you want, but all that doesn’t mean a damn if you aren’t actually making comics. I’m sure many have heard this all before, but I’ll repeat it for everyone else. Writers write. Pencillers pencil. Inkers ink. Colorists color. Letterers letter…er…erer…er…visually portray the dialogue and sound effects. And comic books can’t hit the shelves until these tasks are done.

It seems like such a simple concept, but most people can’t follow through on it. Why? There could be dozens of reasons. Most people start out working on comics part-time, so they have to decide whether to spend their free time working that “second job” making comics or goofing off. Things like games, TV, movies, message boards, and home margarita machines easily distract some potential creators. Then, there are a lot of people that find themselves drawn into the frustration of the blank page. And there are also some people that plan and research their work so much they never actually get started with it. Some are just afraid to do the work–so discouraged thinking that their work isn’t good enough that they let fear control them (after all, you can’t fail if you don’t try…of course, you can’t succeed either). If you really want to make comics, you have to work through all that. That’s where discipline becomes important.

But leaping into a tough, disciplined schedule can often lead to discouraging results. We’ll use the old, reliable “exercise and get in shape” analogy here. People make that New Year’s resolution, and the next day, they completely change their diet and hit a demanding workout schedule…they pick up those body building magazines and try to emulate what those healthy people are doing. And then about two to three weeks later, their bodies hit a wall from this drastic change, and they start delaying to get a little extra rest or let other things distract them more readily. Sure, there are exceptions–people that can push through all that and keep to their schedule and diet. They already have the discipline it takes to do that. Everyone else though needs to give themselves a chance to succeed…a chance to take what levels of discipline they already have and build it up to suit their goals.

So, how do you build up discipline? Baby steps. Continuing with the working out analogy, what if those people with the resolutions started out with one change to their diet (switch to artificial sweeteners, just eat more veggies, replace beef with more chicken/turkey, or limit desserts to once a week…just one little thing to start with) and a workout routine 10 minutes long that they did three times a week. It won’t get them the quick results they’re hoping for, but it’s something they can keep up with. When it becomes habit, they can step up a little more (change one more thing in their diet and workout a little bit longer), and eventually get to where the results are noticeable. Instead of forcing a routine on themselves that they aren’t ready for, they develop their discipline to the point where that routine eventually becomes easy for them.

So, when you start off trying to make comics, don’t just gallop out of the gates at breakneck pace. You’re not a pro (yet) so don’t try to keep up with the pros. Don’t even try to keep up with the people you consider peers. Find a pace that’s comfortable for you…one that you can keep up with. When it becomes second nature to you, push yourself a little more. Set yourself an initial schedule that you think would be easy for you to accomplish (when I seriously got back into writing, I started by writing twice a week for at least an hour each time…a pace my life and schedule could easily support at that time). And if you can’t keep up with your schedule, adjust it back to a more comfortable level. The key is to do the work on a schedule you can succeed with and let it become routine for you. Then take the next step…and the next…and the one after that.

Just make sure that your schedule allows you to focus on your craft–whether it’s writing, penciling, inking, coloring, or lettering. You won’t get anywhere working out if you spend your 10 minutes staring at the ladies in the step aerobics class…the same goes here–keeping to a schedule won’t help if you don’t get something done. It doesn’t matter if what you write or draw is any good…just do your best and get it done. You can always revise/analyze it later to figure out what might be wrong with it, but to build discipline for good work habits later on, it’s important to just get the work done. And if the blank page haunts you during this time, find a program or website (or even scraps of paper in a hat) for randomly picking a person, place or thing and go from there or some other kind of warm-up exercise to “stretch” those skills out before getting started.

Yeah, so this article has a bit of that preachy rant feel to it–but discipline’s something a lot of people fail at. And it’s definitely important for anyone that wants to make a career for themselves in a creative field. So, chain yourself to the drawing table or the keyboard and get those whips out now…so you don’t have to worry about missing deadlines later on if some major publisher decides to offer you that big break.

column_breakout.gifWhat’s a column that gives out tips, information, and advice without some kind of spiffy acronym? These cute little mnemonic devices are great at giving people’s memories a little kickstart every now and then. I decided to go with an acronym that some comic book creators could easily relate to–BDSM. The following set of articles will show you how these four aspects–Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, and Masochism (yes, I purposely left out the middle “Domination & Submission” part of it just to make it easier to remember) can be tied to qualities important to making comics and breaking in. And remember, this is just an acronym to help you remember these attributes…don’t go out and take chains and whips to the editors out there (and it’s probably not a good idea to approach them at a con in one of those cute leather outfits either). So make yourself comfy (that chair with the large metal rings attached to it should work just fine), and let’s get things started with Bondage!

Bondage: 1: the tenure or service of a villein, serf, or slave 2: a state of being bound usually by compulsion (as of law or mastery)

So, what does that have to do with comics? Well, if you’re looking at “breaking in”, you probably want to work for one of the big publishers. When you work on someone else’s property, you’re bound by their whims and editorial control. Sure, they’ll allow you some creative freedom, but ultimately, the final decision on what makes it to print and what doesn’t is theirs. Sometimes, what shows up on the shelves might not even resemble what you originally intended. Its not slavery or serfdom, but if you’re not prepared for it, it might feel a lot like they’re putting some big old chains on your creativity.

Now, that doesn’t mean they need zombie workers that do whatever they say, but they will need people that can take their vision…their popular, fairly set-in-stone characters and run with them. They need people that can produce exciting work that sells with what they’re given. Some editors might not let you tell the story you really want to tell or let you draw the artwork you really want to cut loose with. But no matter what guidelines or restrictions they lay out for you, they’ll still expect greatness.

On top of all that (this affects the creator-owned/self-published projects as well), you still have to be aware of the boundaries that limit your work through copyrights, trademarks, synchronicity, and the like–the things you have to contend with when working in any artistic field. You have to be able to deal with all that and deliver quality work that has your distinctive style to it…those chains seem to just get heavier and heavier, don’t they?

Can you do the job with your hands tied? How about if you’re also blindfolded, gagged, locked in a moldy chest, and buried under a ton of pickled herring? If you’re flexible and imaginative enough to constantly deliver good work under any conditions, you’ll eventually get that big name and all the extra freedom that goes with it. Editors and publishers like people that will work with them–people that can be thrown an impossible mish-mash of ideas, thoughts, and requirements and honestly reply, “I can do that.”

column_breakout.gifSometimes, the little things you do can make all the difference when trying to break in…especially when trying to persevere through setbacks, rejections, and all the crap life throws at you. To help myself out when times get tough, I keep a small journal of quotes and phrases I’ve heard that I find motivational or provide good bits of wisdom in small manageable chunks. It doesn’t take up much of my time–I just write down quotes I like when I find them, but when things start getting bad, all I have to do is read through a page or two of these quotes and get right back to it. It’s not much, but it keeps me going…and that’s the important part. So here are some examples of the inspirational stuff I keep around.

A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him.
–David Brinkley

If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.
–Mary Pickford

…you should send out, today, the best work you are capable of doing today. Of course you’ll do better a year from now. But a year from now you should be writing the story that you care about and believe in at that time–not reworking this year’s story.
–Orson Scott Card

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.
–Will Rogers

It isn’t what happens to people on a page–it’s what happens to a reader in his heart and mind.
–Gordon Lish

There are times when silence has the loudest voice.
–Leroy Brownlow

The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.
–Winston Churchill

Determination + Goal-setting + Concentration = Success
–Harvey Mackay

Never regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.
–Victoria Holt

I can’t control the wind, but I can adjust my sails.

Dig the well before you are thirsty.
–Chinese prover

The greatest test of courage on the earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.
–R. G. Ingersoll

Don’t be afraid to make a mistake, your readers might like it.
–William Randolph Hearst

100 percent of the shots you don’t take don’t go in.
–Wayne Gretzky

You moon the wrong person at an office party and suddenly you’re not ‘professional’ any more.
–Jeff Foxworthy

Collecting little quotations like this is just one of the things I do to help me persevere. I know some people that keep folders of great artwork to scan through when they need inspiration. Some people have music and others might have books of poetry. It doesn’t have to be anything major…it doesn’t have to be something your world revolves around…it just needs to be something that helps you down the path you’re traveling when the road gets a little bumpy. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much at all–maybe just a dangling carrot…cake…with cream cheese icing…drizzled with hot fudge…and toffee sprinkles…with a side of homemade vanilla ice cream…and…

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.