Pro Advice

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with what I like to call pro advice and I have already written about some of my more hated examples of it. On one hand I respect that it’s about and for people who no longer have to worry about building an audience and need to know where to go next. On the other hand, much of it is given out to creators at all levels, even ones who are nowhere near the sorts of problems pros run into.

To explain what I’m talking about, let’s look at the webcomic reality show Strip Search. I’m not bashing the show, it wasn’t bad. However at first I had a hard time seeing what the point of it was. All the artists were already good at what they did, many of them already had a following, and the challenges had nothing to do with creating comics, it was all about the outside stuff. However, this advice was still important because in webcomics, you usually have to do it all by yourself.

stripsearch_logo

But most of the challenges had no relevance to people just starting out.

Companies won’t offer contracts to people with only a hundred readers. Interviewers won’t bother with someone who only has five or so pages to their name. There’s no point in making merchandise when you don’t have an audience to buy it. Nor would you need to go to a con if you don’t have anything to sell.

Now, I did find a few of these useful, but remember I have been doing this for a few years now. I have books for sale and I do have a dedicated fan base that has followed me through months of down time and in Living with Insanity’s case, the whole site being wiped. But back in 2006 when I was just another sprite comic author? It’s unlikely I would have used much of it.

That’s what I mean by pro advice. It’s only useful to the pros

I routinely see this crop up from pros. Back in 2012, Scott Kurtz of PVP wrote a blog that was laughably titled “Reality Check.” The blog was a response to the news that Ghost Rider creator, Gary Friedrich, was being sued over selling pictures of the character at cons and other creators being worried they would be sued for selling Batman and the like. As someone who has been at Artist’s Alley, I can tell you that this is usually the life blood that keeps the con from being a loss.

Kurtz, however, mocked artists who drew established characters, both in the blog and on the podcast Comic Dorks. He also proposed that maybe they shouldn’t draw established characters and instead draw their own comics, making the blanket assumption that none of these people have ever tried original properties. He even ends it with the phrase “If I can do it” like Will Smith’s kids in South Park asking why other parents don’t just act in movies to become rich.

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Everyone’s successful enough to quit Image and do all the business on their own, right?

All right, let’s take a look at my reality.

At every convention I attended in 2011 and 2012, I only sold my own original creations at conventions. These included single issues and trade paperbacks of the comics you can purchase here. I also sold a few Domain Tnemrot and Gemini Storm posters. I met many people, managed to sell a few comics, but was usually in the red by the end of the weekend once I factored in the table, printing and shipping. Last year, I decided to bring a few original pieces of established characters.

It was the first year I ever broke even.

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Basically every con I’ve ever been to.

I don’t even want to go into how much I’ve spent on advertising, paying artists, the money that’s gone into the websites, and a few projects where the artist bailed after a few pages, but needless to say that unless I hit a lucky break by the end of the year, I’m going to be too far in the red to ever catch up again. It’s too expensive for me to go to a convention in the US where I could do more networking in the community. I don’t have friends with large followings who could link to me if things were getting hard. I’m too small to be acknowledged if I try to get into a pissing contest with Penny Arcade or Ctrl+Alt+Delete.

And most importantly, I was nine years old when many comics had the opportunity to get in on the ground floor.

That, my friends, is reality.

It’s why I keep having motivation issues when I need to write more scripts because there’s that doubt it may be a waste of time. But every time I see a pro talk about motivation, they only talk about overcoming laziness and procrastination. They don’t talk about how to get over feeling like a failure because after five years of time and money you have little to show for it because your websites keep going down.

money-matters

The problem with the advice is that the person giving it always assumes you are just like them. You struggled for a while and now you’re making money off your work. They think it’s okay to tell you not to update on time because they can get away with it. If they lose a hundred readers, who cares? They still have eighty thousand left, it’s barely a dent. And they’ll say to ignore your readers’ opinions because they think you’re talking about 80k people, all who think differently.

I don’t need advice for these people. I need it from them. I would love to be able to have to worry about getting merch to thousands of people or wondering if my ad revenue will bring in enough for groceries this week. I would love to be able to reject companies who want to buy all my ideas to own them exclusively with the safe knowledge I can live without their help.

Instead I live in the real world, where David Herbert is not super successful over night because he still needs to do more work to reach that brighter future where he quits his day job and makes a living writing stories for everyone to enjoy. And who knows, maybe one day he’ll be a decent enough artist to draw those stories properly.

But it won’t happen today. And it won’t happen tomorrow. So unless you’re going to put a link on your site telling your readers to check out my work, don’t act like it will.

Posted on January 26, 2014, in webcomics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. This has largely been my experience as well. I keep working at it and trying to improve after more than decade of it because I love doing and I think it’s worthwhile, but after more than a decade, it’s hard to see any scenario where I “succeed” at this stuff. I spend almost all my free time and a lot of my money on this, knowing it’s not going anywhere. Remembering back to when I first started, so much of it was just trial and error. There wasn’t much in the way of resources to help those just starting out or had things they needed to improve. (Even trying to find good places to advertise or just how to advertise seemed like pulling teeth.)

    Just…frustrating all around.

  2. Well, I guess to be fair, there is a lot of advice out there for beginners, amateurs, hobbyists, and everything up to and beyond semi-pros.

    I think it would be nice if some of the ‘pros’ did more to advise people how they got over the upper level hurdles, but I think it really depends on their personality. We know from reading this and other blogs that webcomic creators aren’t always the nicest. There’s no correlation between lovely personality and success, unfortunately.

    I suppose I would say hang in there. And maybe just keep trying new things. I really like writing, drawing, creating, talking about and reading about webcomics. But I know from my side I have another career path which I don’t really intend to quit. I want to do them simultaneously, so I know I’m not in the position of one who is suffering at not being able to live their dream (I have two careers/dreams basically lol), but that being said, I do run into a lot of different creators. Some I honestly feel badly for and wish for their success, and others seem to think they are ENTITLED to success and become embittered when it doesn’t happen after X years.

    You seem to fall into the former, but just make sure you don’t slip into the latter.

  3. I’m reminded of a story I heard once, where a successful webcomic author was asked for advice on how to create a successful webcomic. The author replied, “build a time machine and travel back to the year 2000.”

    And that, I think, gets to the heart of the difference between folks like Kurtz and the struggling webcomic authors of today. Back when Kurtz was just starting out, there were, like, 6 webcomics on the entire Internet. These days, the web is saturated with literally thousands of comics, and it’s much more difficult for an aspiring webcomic author to break through. Would a comic like PvP or Sluggy Freelance or Megatokyo be nearly as successful if it started today? I strongly doubt it.

    That said, there are some comics out there that have managed to achieve some success in recent years, and I think it’s useful to take a look at them and see what they’ve done right. For instance, Ava’s Demon is widely praised for its distinctive, professional art style, and has managed to gain a sizable fanbase via social networking on sites like Tumblr. Paranatural is known for its unique voice and Morrison’s flair for clever dialogue. And Homestuck… well, El Santo has already written quite extensively on that particular subject.

    In any case, David, I wish you the best of luck in your efforts to break through as a webcomic artist.

  4. Personally I don’t see a problem with the advice of “overcoming laziness and procrastination.” Because thats quite literally the only advice one can give that universally applies to everyone, with few lazy and incredibly lucky exceptions of course. Comics and animation aren’t the sort of occupation you start doing for the money, its the drive to create stories and comics, doing the kind of job you love doing 8 hours a day that is and should be the main drive behind everything.

    And if one does not have that drive, one will surrender and start doing something else, and IMO thats the only real way to really fail as a comic creator. for every Tim Buckley, Penny Arcade and Megatokyo theres tens and hundreds of success stories which didn’t come overnight, but after years upon years of hard work. One good example of this would be the indie-scene boom in game developing. Indie Game: The Movie makes it look very easy but the fact is the creators of Super Meat Boy had done smaller games and projects for 10 years before that success finally hit.

    Success is dependent on so many outside factors out of the authors control that the only way to work towards it is to simply not give up and always strive to do better with each new project. Odds are if that is your primary drive and goal in life, that eventually at least some manner of success hits. And one can look success from other perspectives as well. If the success hits immediatly, the author might get confused and not be sure what exactly made him successful, what he should do better and what he should do more to make sure he stays successful. Whereas a person who has struggled to attain brilliance through his work for much longer until he finally becomes successful-, might be more assured that he isn’t successful only because of luck or some ongoing fad.

    Personally my goal is to do the kind of job I love doing (comics, animation) without having to worry about how to get the daily bread to the table, or money in general. And to produce the kind of stories that I can feel proud about, hoping that they would inspire other people to do stories of their own. Everything else from fame to becoming rich is irrelevant.

  5. I think the point of not listening to what your readers want, or to break yourself on a deadline has to do with making the comic you want to make. Because no matter how much you want to break into professionalism, until you do that making comics is still a hobby. And it mgiht be a hobby for the rest of your life. So it’d better be something you enjoy doing for its own sake, and not for the dream of being published, or being able to do it for a living, etc.

    The author and artist of one of my favorite comics is a terribly talented man, and he used to be a representative for a glass company. He’d draw his little skeletons during his breaks, with the steering wheel of his car for a drawing table. Now he’s part of one of the big French publishing houses. And also, sadly, no longer writing his own material, but functioning as an artist for someone who, quite frankly, can’t write.

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