Stuff People Don't Get About This Gig
All the love in the world cannot safely navigate the rough waters of contracts, and lawyers, and agents, and money management, and time management, and bankrupt clients, and sleazy con men.
The above art was originally drawn for a project entitled “Meanwhile” a semi-autobiographical dramedy about my early years in comics, co-created by me and my old bud Keith Giffen. However, Tokyopop wanted me off the book so they could hire a Japanese artist to draw it.
As if that isn’t the most comics industry thing ever.
#1: Working for a big company does not mean "You made it". It doesn't mean anything except that you got to work for a big company. A lot of people slog the small handful of credits from their brief stints at Marvel or DC for decades, and that may get them table space at small regional shows until they die, but it is not a guarantee of future work or riches or acclaim or anything else.
Don't take a job for granted.
#2: Never having gotten a break at a big company hurts. Many, many people would kill even to get one crack at Batman or Wonder Woman, and they would be grateful forever for it.
But it hurts even more to get the chance and then to see the opportunity amount to...nothing. Or very little. As painful as it is to never get a chance, it is nothing compared to the pain of getting the chance and then not getting payoff later.
I honestly think this drives some people over the brink.
#3: No matter how much #2 hurts, if you spend a lot of time ranting about it on social media, this will not improve matters. I know a couple of people who did manage to get big time attention by making an issue of how they never got payoff from their big chance in the mainstream, but if you manage to make that work once, you can bet it won't work twice.
A certain person who got attention by criticizing DC's position on a public issue did get hired shortly after. And then after a modest run on a popular mainstream comic (less than one year's work,) they got exactly nothing. Not a single follow up job at the company. And then they ranted at DC some more. And then they got more nothing.
Making a point about a public issue might get you in the door, but you know what keeps you there? Being able to sell books and not being a kooz.
They were unable to stick the landing on the latter. I don't think they've had a single mainstream comics job - or any meaningful comics work - in at least five years.
Yelling at people on social media about how they should hire you might work for awhile...it also might get old for the people you are yelling at sooner than you would like.
If your books aren't selling because of you (and just because you worked on a well-known title, don't mistake the sales on the title to your influence,) remember: you are just a cog in the wheel who can be replaced, just like the other person who didn't get hired because you took the spot.
Think about that last for a moment: what makes you think you were better than everyone else who ever lived who wanted that job?
What do you think they think of you?
Just chew on that.
It is really, really hard for people to realize just how replaceable they are.
#4: No matter how badly you get treated, how much someone gossips about you or stabs you in the back, or puts you down, ultimately, the responsibility for everything that happens after is on you. There will probably never be a reckoning for the person who did you dirt, you won't get reparations, and the time and energy you will pour into trying will do you more harm than just working the problem. Everything about the arts is subjective, and the worst thing that ever happened to you will never be more than an anecdote to almost everyone who isn't you.
People are still taking sides in the Lee vs Kirby debate, and they were two of the most powerful and iconic people in comics, ever. How do you think it's going to go for you?
I never even signed away my rights to A Distant Soil, and people still go on and on about how I must have been silly to have signed away my rights to A Distant Soil. Which I didn't do. They were stolen. I have them now, but whatever.
No one is ever going to care about it as much as I did, and that being the case, and since I have the book and am long away from the people who tried to hijack it, I could sink more of my life into trying to convince people their comic book idols have feet of clay, or I could just keep drawing better and winning more awards than those people in the rear view mirror do.
This works for me.
Responsibility means the ability to respond.
Pick up the power.
#5: All advice - including mine - should be taken with a grain of salt, especially when it comes from industry gurus. Industry gurus told me I should be put out to pasture, and one gave me that speech at a breakfast I was paying for, patting my hand and saying, "You just need to move on." That was over ten years ago.
One guy told me I was over the hill when I was twenty-nine-years old, and another told me the industry was dying, I was too old for it anyway, and I should just face facts and get out. That was in 2002.
A lot of their arguments centered around how the only reason I was tolerated was because I had been thin and young and blond and when I no longer had that asset class, I was through.
I'm sure they'll deny it now, but it's what they said. To me and to third parties.
Now I don't write this to bust their chops, or cancel them, or anything else. I write this because all advice comes through a bias lens, such as when people resent you for what they perceive to be unearned advantage, like not looking like Quasimodo when you first get up in the morning. Clearly, I sailed to glory on a wave of blond hair, even though it took me decades to get past a poverty/lower middle class income average as an artist.
My fat load of credits and Art Monster work ethic could not possibly have had anything to do with it.
Now we live in an age when even work ethic is denounced as unfair privilege. It's not; it's the default. Most people in the world can't even get by without hard core work ethic. Only privileged people of the comfortable classes think work ethic is unfair, and I come from poverty.
When I see what people who come from comfort often behave like, I am no longer sorry I came from poverty.
I'm glad I know how to work and that I enjoy it.
Some of the worst mistakes I ever made over the course of my career came from trusting the advice of gurus more than my own judgment. That is not their fault, I'm sure they believed what they said. But what other people say is often in their interest, not in yours.
#6: Just as creating for a big company on a popular book will not guarantee you a red carpet of a future, ditto that for getting a TV show or movie. Especially true if you were a creator on a project after the year 2000, because those juicy creator incentive contracts were being phased out, and the big paydays everyone from George Perez to Marv Wolfman enjoyed were a thing of the past. This goes double for those of you whose books were digital first, because those digital first books don't even pay a royalty.
So, if you worked in Sandman - contracted in 1990 - you are seeing a nice royalty check on the book sales, even if you don't get paid for the show. But if you worked on a digital-first comic, you get no royalty, and the creator incentives on new character creations are not nearly as lucrative as they were in 1985. They were generous in 1985, because they had no idea that pop culture and streaming and gaming would be like it is now.
And now that it is what it is, they closed the purse strings.
#7: Everyone I know who says they are in it for the love and then gets into rage fests about how they didn't get rich and famous, is not in it just for the love no matter how much they delude themselves.
If you are the kind of person who gets that shot at a Wonder Woman or Batman gig and then doesn't get another, and walks away content, you are a lucky person. If you are the kind of person who got a shot, then rages about not getting another shot, and then rages about not getting rich, you are in it for a lot more than the love.
And there's nothing wrong with that. This is a job.
And one of the most important things about this gig is realizing that it is not privileged class, but working class work.
This is work.
All the love in the world cannot safely navigate the rough waters of contracts, and lawyers, and agents, and money management, and time management, and bankrupt clients, and sleazy con men, and stalkers, and obsessed rivals.
It just won't.
You need nerves of steel, a hide like a rhino, and focus. So much focus I can't even.
If I had as much focus now as I had when I was 19, I would rule the industry. Seriously, my mind was like a laser.
If you manage to be one of those people who write a fic in your spare time and then you publish it and it becomes a wild bestseller and you make more money than Stephenie Meyer, my hat is off to you. I hope that happens for you, and I hope you give me a nice check for my birthday.
But the vast majority of people never get that. They slog for years and get very little. Or they are industry worker bees, they jump in and then out and don't get gigs for years at a time. They have day jobs and they grab publishing gigs when they can.
This is the reality.
The vast majority of people are doing it for love and for hope. And there will never, ever be a payday for them.
#8: If you compare yourself to other creators, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of misery, because there is always someone better than you.
If you compare yourself to other creators, going on about how they don't deserve what they have either due to the poor quality of their work or the quality of their person, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of misery because there is always someone worse than you who has more than you have.
Take joy in the success of others and stop looking at people you think are unworthy.
Put that energy into your art. Every minute you focus on negatives you can't control is a minute stolen from your art.
#9: Every -ism you ever heard of is a thing in comics, and that is not going away, including from all the people who complain about -isms.
If you last long enough - and I did - you will have the satisfaction of seeing people who were ten years younger than you who were sneering to everyone how you were over the hill at age 38 - now they are in their 40's, they are having trouble getting work, looking vaguely haunted, and regretting they ever put their birth date on their bio.
When that happens, don't gloat, it's unbecoming.
That last was a note to myself.
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