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.
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.
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.
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.
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.