So you’re a new comic creator. Great. Welcome to the medium! As a wizen old veteran, allow me to guide you over the easy pitfalls. You have a lot of crazy ideas in your head and expectations— Most of them are probably wrong. Let me disabuse you of those romantic notions and see if I can put you a few weeks or months ahead, avoiding the biggest rookie mistakes, many of which I made myself.
20: Your vision is too ambitious:
Creators want their comics to be all things to all people. When they see a successful comic like Spiderman or Superman, they think that an all-encompassing narrative started right out of the gate. It didn’t.
Both Spiderman and Superman were niche, disposable entertainment. Superheroes were new, but heroes were not. And while they grew in leaps and bounds with their popularity, even in the early days, no one back then would’ve idolized those characters as they do today. It took time, so don’t compare yourself that way to the giants.
It’s more important your vision be coherent than all-encompassing, especially when you’re new.
19: Your creation is too derivative:
You might think all superheroes have capes. If they thought that with Spiderman, wouldn’t he have a cape since he came after Superman? You gotta mix it up. Unless you’re doing a parody or a satire like The Boys, you need to try to make your superhero comic as different as possible.
Any comic outside of that genre should be much, much more different— Whether it’s fantasy, sci-fi, or real-life — Whatever the genre, you need to know it and bring something new to the table. (See last week’s column about genres.) Know the genre, know what’s out there, and then bring something new to the medium.
18: Your comic is too long:
Launching with Part 1 of 27 might sound like a good idea initially, but you’re asking for a huge commitment of your audience to an unknown creator. Think about it. Would you make that kind of financial commitment to a comic book you never heard of?
Worse, there’s always a drop-off from issue one. Very few people pick up a comic two or three issues into the series. One good, short, self-contained story from a new creator gives the audience everything they want, and if you leave them wanting for more, you’ve done your job. You can always do a second story.
17: Bad logos:
I’ve made this mistake. Logos need to go across the top of the comic, so when it’s racked, it can clearly be seen from across the room. That title should pop. Look at the difference between the first issue of Jersey Devil and the second one with a more professional logo designed by the inker.
Insanely enough, I’ve seen some comic book companies put their logos horizontally along the side of the comic. Can’t think of a dumber move. The moment it’s racked, no one will be able to read the title of the damned thing. Unless they are already a fan of the cover artist, the chances of someone picking up a comic with a logo like that are slim, I think.
16: No Website:
If you publish anything, have a website. Even if it’s only a page with links to where you can buy it, that’s enough. Some poorer creators may opt for social media pages like Facebook. I don’t think you want to be dependent on a platform, especially these days. They sometimes change the rules of the site or suddenly start charging fees for services that used to be free. If you have your own website, you might not get a lot of traffic, but you can usually rest assured it won’t get shut down.
15: Too Tight of a Production Schedule:
The first issue is often the easiest issue to launch. That’s because you have all the time in the world to do it. Unfortunately, when you get to issue two, some people attempt to jump right into an issue-a-month commitment. That’s a big commitment, and here’s why:
Distributors offer comic books to stores in the direct market three months in advance. Making arrangements with a printer has to happen at least a month in advance, and you probably need the covers at least four or five months in advance for advertising. What that means is you might need three, four, or five issues complete if you’re going to jump right into a monthly book. That means putting out a lot of labor and printing costs before making one dime. As the Iron Man meme says, “Not a good plan.”
14: Crowdfunding Fail:
Nothing takes the wind out of the sails of you and your creative team like missing the mark on a crowdfunding site. Some creators ask for too much money, or they just don’t have the name recognition to pull it off. Keep the math tight and make your goal or use a crowdfunding site where it doesn’t matter if you make your goal if you’re okay to make up the difference with your own money. If things go well, you can always add stretch goals. In fact, it sometimes drives momentum if you’re constantly announcing new stretch goals as the month wears on to raise the money.
13: No Marketing Plan:
You have to have a plan to sell this thing. You’re the one that’s going to be stuck with all the excess copies. Yes, it might be a huge hit and sell millions, but it’s likely not going to happen. At least, you shouldn’t count on it.
If your orders come in way higher than you expected, that’s a good problem to have. You’ll deal with it and get the books out when you can. Fans will be understanding, especially if you’re a first-time creator.
But don’t anticipate a giant boom in sales unless you can absorb the cost (and have the storage) for thousands of books. Call stores personally, book comic book conventions, and reach out on social media. You can’t expect success to just magically happen; it’s work.
12: Entitled Attitude:
No one owes you a career in comic books or adoring fans; you have to earn it. Even before the Internet, I met entitled, pretentious, too-good-for-the-peasants artists who would go to comic-cons and ignore potential fans.
They would sit at their table, drawing and sometimes complaining about the sad state of mainstream comics. They considered their lack of popularity and sales a badge of honor. That kind of attitude might inflate your ego enough around your hipster friends at the coffee shop, but it has nothing to do with being a working professional in the medium.
You don’t have to be a clown at the convention (like me!), but you do have to greet potential fans and be prepared to explain your creative vision. Sitting on your high horse demanding respect is the surest way to never get it.
11: Bad Social Media:
Being an activist who lectures people regarding current social hot topics is one way to alienate fans, but there are others.
Some people like to think they’ve developed a badass persona where they can tear down anyone on the Internet and make it hilarious. This is extremely difficult to do because you have to balance the comedy by targeting the right kind of idiots on the Internet. It is also kind of exhausting, to be honest. Unless you’re a professional comedian, stay away. Stay far away. You’re much more likely just to make everyone hate you.
Bringing an entitled attitude or whining would also be a disaster. But one of the worst things you can do on the Internet is be a phony. There are countless examples of people attempting to be something they’re not and getting called out. Don’t be fake. You don’t have to spill your personal life all over online, but be genuine at all times.
10: Too Much Sex or Violence:
Fans like a sexy cover and plenty of action, especially when it comes to superheroes. However, turn up the volume too much, and you turn people off. Go further, and your comic will only be racked in comic book stories that carry adult products.
Some creators have built their brands on excessive sexual and/or violent images, and it can work. But going down that path without knowing what you’re getting into can blow up in your face. I knew a webcomic creator that started posting topless images of his female protagonist, and while it got him record clicks, his webcomic slipped into porn. He also realized his newfound fanbase didn’t care about the story. He could post any sexually suggestive image, and it got him solid clicks.
Storeowners tend to shy away from such comics. Depending on the area of the world in which you live, there may even be obscenity laws that could get you in trouble for selling your comic. Fans of this work are only adults and a limited number. Breaking through to mainstream success will be nearly impossible for this kind of work.
The problem is most rookie creators try it because it gets them instant attention, but they don’t understand that the attention probably won’t translate outside of that limited fanbase.
9: You’re Not Ready:
The biggest rookie mistake of all is just not being ready for Prime Time. Maybe your art isn’t quite there, or your story, or both. There is no rush to get out your first comic, so do some research and maybe show it to some local pros before you jump into publishing. Worst case scenario, you’ll probably get some good advice and tweak your comic’s mistakes. Best case scenario, you read an article like this and avoid a major one.
8: You Use a Title That Belongs to Someone Else:
Comic book characters, especially superheroes, tend to run into the same themes. It’s natural that rookie creators will come up with some of the same basic titles other creators tried and published in the past. For legal and ethical reasons, it’s your duty to research your title and make sure it’s unique to the best of your abilities.
The Internet makes it easy. And what’s even easier is changing the name so you can use something similar. No one has a copyright on the god Thor. It’s in the public domain. However, Marvel Comics has the copyright to the Mighty Thor and the look of their version of the character. Other comic book companies have their own version of Thor with a different look, outfit and personality. Several also have their own version of Hercules.
7: Your Comic is Too Expensive:
You’re in business, and you have to compete with other comic books out there. I’ve seen creators try to charge five, ten, and sometimes fifteen or twenty dollars for one comic— An issue, not a graphic novel— Like a standard 32-page comic with ads. It’s insane.
The only way that sale works is if you bamboozle your customer into believing the comic is going to appreciate in value. Don’t play into that Ponzi scheme. You will quickly poison whatever small fan base you were beginning to create.
You might get away with five dollars if your comic is high-end, full-color color, and all-story. And yes, there are plenty of people that will throw you a fin to support a local creator, but that reason eventually dries up, and now you’re sitting there with a pile of issues 2’s, 3’s and 4’s. Be competitive. Keep your price as low as you can, or add something else to sweeten the deal.
6: Too Many People Work On The Comic:
It’s nice to include your friends, and if you want to do an anthology comic with all of them— More power to you. Unfortunately, it usually becomes a logistical nightmare.
The problem is that some creators think that more always equals more good when that is rarely the case. More people usually mean more problems. Someone is going to blow a deadline, and then what do you do? Who controls the rights to the anthology? What if the thing explodes and becomes a massive hit? Who negotiates the movie rights? What if someone doesn’t come up with their share of the printing costs? And on and on.
This isn’t something that is easier; it’s harder. For a rookie comic creator, I’d advise staying away from this kind of thing unless someone in your group is a highly capable and professional creator who’s done it before.
5: Don’t Work With Family, Friends, or Romantic Interests:
Again, this may sound like a good idea at the time. It can be fun and rewarding to work with family, friends, and significant others. But if things go wrong and you really want to publish a comic, it’s guaranteed to put a strain on those relationships.
Initially, it will feel like it’s easier. The problems arise later when one of your associates comes up short. How do you explain to your brother that he has to make a deadline or you’ll replace him? How do you cut a friend out of a project he started but then refuses to finish? And what happens to the rights of the comic you co-created with your girlfriend if you have a bad breakup?
By starting with a professional person you don’t know, most people begin on their best behavior. (Although, don’t get me wrong, working relationships can go sour too.) The distance you have between co-workers allows you to address issues professionally that some family, friends, and romantic interests can’t or won’t. The opposite is also true…
4: Vet New Co-Workers Before You Start:
With total strangers, you need to get to know their work ethic and expectations. Some creators start out being incredibly professional, but when the pressure’s on, something goes wrong, or they have an issue in their life— You need a clause in your contract to pull out and start with someone new.
For new creators, a good test is to audition them with a hard deadline. Professionals will make that deadline without a fuss. Someone who comes back with a lot of excuses (unless it’s very unusual circumstances) probably isn’t a good fit. Just make it clear upfront and in your agreement that if the other creator drops out, you will continue the project without him/her.
The bottom line is artistic people can be volatile, crazy, and weird. In extreme cases, be prepared to jettison whatever work your former partner did and start over. I once watched a comics writer wreck his marriage, and the hit comic he was working on that was launching his career. The comic, sadly, was a casualty of the writer’s own self-destructive life.
3: Not Knowing Who Your Audience Is:
This is an unforgivable rookie mistake, and if you make it, remember you were warned. Know who your audience is for your comic and go promote it to them. If you do a Western comic, seek out events involving Western-related themes. Same thing with horror, fantasy, sci-fi. Don’t just dwell at the local comic-con.
I watched a TV wrestler with a kid’s comic show up to a super indy comic show and nearly got laughed out of the room. While the pretentious hipsters were dunking on him behind his back, he was making few sales because he was in the wrong room. (Although to be honest, the pretentious hipsters also ran the show. They might’ve told him what the room would be like.)
Comic book conventions can be lucrative but also expensive. Local art shows, fairs, libraries, and other events can provide you with a great avenue to sell your work, depending on the subject matter. People like to support local artists, the events are close by, and you probably won’t be competing with dozens of other creators for the same comic book dollar.
2: Don’t Act Unprofessional:
When you’re out there selling your work, you need to look, sound, and act like you know what you’re talking about. Know your characters and be prepared to answer the basic questions: What your comic is about, what are the origins of its creation, how much is it, when the next issue comes out, etc..
Present well, be positive, be on time, and be on your best behavior. I’ve seen creators show up late, drunk, and snarky with the fans and then leave early. You’re not a rockstar. If you want to work in comics, treat the shows like a job because, for you, they are work. It doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, but it’s work-fun, not fun-fun.
Be very aware of your surroundings and yourself and how you might come off as a total stranger. People are always recording everything these days, especially at Comic-Con. After the show is over, you can exit the convention center and go back to normal behavior. The basic rule is just to be a nice person. Creators should act like people that other people want to be around.
1: Abandon Fan Fic:
The moment you jump into the professional arena, your life as a fanfic writer and/or artist should immediately die. Fan fic is armature hour, and those who bask in the delusion of doing it professionally are kidding themselves. It’s fine for practice, but that practice is over once you enter the professional arena.
As for pin-ups of other people’s characters, you’ve never worked on— I’ve known many artists that do this for extra money. It’s a bit of a gray area that’s mostly tolerated by the bigger comic publishers. That being said, you’re trying to push your comic. Every time you draw Iron Man or Luke Skywalker or Batman— You’re not.
I saw one creator that would do these pin-ups, but only if they could include his character fighting the one you requested. I’ve seen other artists insist that only original characters be part of their commissions. I understand you have to make money at shows, but at all times, you should try to push your characters and your comics. Yes, the commission is more money, but it probably won’t build you an audience.
Yes, even the big artists will do commissions of other people’s characters. I get it, but the focus needs to be pushing your creations first. If someone is going to drop $20-$50 on a pin-up, it probably won’t be a big leap to get them to buy a comic. Even building one into the price to make sure they buy one because your readership must grow.
Be sure to check out our previous article Comic-Con 101: The Pros and Cons of Genres.
That’s all for this week, rookie fanboys. See you at the con!
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