Being a comic artist in the 21st century is very different than what it was a few decades ago. The combination of advancements in technology and a shift from niche to mass market has created new ways to embrace the art industry, giving comic artists amazing opportunities to be successful. Which artist didn’t get that tricky question: “You’re an artist? That’s amazing… But what’s your real job?”. Well… Comic book artist is a REAL job. And if you get this one again, here are a few key elements to answer (and improve your self esteem in the process)…
“You’re going to starve”. “You’ll be struggling every month”. “Do you even have the talent?”. Those kind of remarks can hurt. As an artist, you probably got that a lot. And it’s one of the biggest reason comic artists fail, state of mind. The failures believe life is never going to give them a break, and they blame everyone else for their problems.
The secret to success is to turn that around, be relevant and think like a successful person! Don’t misunderstand, it’s easier said than done. And it’s not like being in denial. But it’s important to see yourself as a talented successful person on the rise.
Plus, every comic artist went through some hard moments. Comic legends such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Jim Steranko all struggled to the top. They had that little voice in their heads telling them they weren’t good enough, but their determination was fueled by their passion to create art. They broke barriers and became successful comic artists to their parents’ dismay. They proved themselves because they knew their artwork was good, they were persistent and kept working on their career, and they told themselves they would succeed.
A lot of people always forget that Jack Kirby, who experienced instant success with Captain America in 1941, had to go through 20 years of purgatory after that until he was graced with success again, in 1961, with the Fantastic Four and all the wonderful Marvel Comics he created afterwards. He was 44 years old when he and Stan Lee brought the Fantastic Four to the world.
Closer to us, Todd McFarlane often joked he got 327 rejection letters until he was hired by DC Comics. Then he sold millions of Spider-Man at Marvel. Then left to co-create Spawn and Image Comics and he became a millionaire at 30.
He never gave up. And you shouldn’t either.
There are three powerful ways to become a successful comic artist:
It’s crucial an artist develops their style and be confident about their work. Successful comic artists are good at their craft because they practice every day. Even when they don’t feel like it, they make a mark on a board every single day.Comic artists can learn new skills or improve what they already know by watching YouTube videos/podcasts, taking an online course from places such as Udemy or Lynda.com, or taking a class from a community college or local artist. It’s important to stay at the top of your game. Being around others at Drink’N’Draws or conventions helps greatly too. It’s important to seek encouragement from like-minded individuals. When artists hear other people are going through similar struggles, they realize they are not alone.
Be reliable and friendly
Whether you’re working for a publisher or self publishing, being reliable is the number one quality both other professionals and fans seek in a comic book artist. Don’t stick your head in the sand if you don’t meet deadlines. Don’t disappear or stop answering emails if you fail something. Communicate. You’re going to shine by just being professional, friendly and reliable. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Be the nicest person you can be.
Grow your fanbase
Just as important as the two previous factor, exposure is hugely important. Gone are the days when a comic artist could only get noticed from an exhibition or knowing the right person.
Comic artists now have the opportunity to publish themselves. They can have their graphic novels printed and keep all the profits instead of giving a percentage to a publishing company.
Artists are born to think creatively, so they need to keep an open mind. They should think of themselves as entrepreneurs of a comic art business. The most popular artists have examples of their artwork printed on business cards, and they pass them out to everyone they meet. How else are people going to remember their website or get in touch with them?
With the power of the internet, artists have a tremendous advantage to get their name out there. Social media is an amazing way for comic artists to be seen.
A blog can help as being a digital portfolio to display artwork and tell the artist’s story. On top of that, it can also be used to show off their writing skills and grow a following. Social Networks, especially Instagram and Facebook are now unescapable, too, to showcase talent. And Comic Cons are the place to be to add human contact, great business and bring new opportunities.
So sure, the life of a comic artist is not always an easy one. But many wouldn’t have another job. Because it’s more than just a job, comics are life.
It takes a lot of hard work, practice, and persistence to make it in the art industry. If a person is willing to focus on their craft and stick to a plan, they can make a very good living as a comic artist. And great partners, such as DPH can only make it better.