HOW I BECAME A SUCCESSFUL COMIC WRITER…
AND HOW YOU CAN, TOO.
Confession: Comics are not my favourite story medium.
I love them (now) but, growing up, I rarely read them. People reel off creator’s names and the books they have done, and I sit there blank-faced. I knew who Stan Lee was, sort of. I now know who Grant Morrison, Tom Taylor, Colin Wilson and Alan Moore are, but only since I fell into the comic scene (and then only because I personally know a couple of those mentioned).
Fell? Well, yes. I never envisioned that I would write a comic, or especially become a successful comic writer. Instead, I study the form and structure of them. The reason I do that is because, while they may not be my favourite vessel through which to enjoy story, they are certainly my favourite medium to write. No, I don’t get it either. Let me elucidate (ooh, impressive word, writer-boy. Did you use a thesaurus for that one?) …
Many years ago I thought of a story. I called it The List. So I wrote it as a film script. I had no training as a writer, connections or any damn idea where to take the script. That was the early 2000’s. Around 2005, I thought I could rewrite it as a comic. Same dead end: I knew even less about the comic industry (I base this only on having seen loads of films and not having read many comics. What a strong foundation to build upon, hey?). So yeah, I didn’t even know how to format a comic script.
Next hurdle: what the hell do I with this big lump of paper I had written lots of words on? The only idea I had: I went to a comic store and got the addresses of all the Aussie comic publishers… not realising 99% of them were people who had a printer, stapler and made copies on the work photocopier while their boss wasn’t looking.
Anyway – and I’ll speed through this – a mad gent called Avi Bernshaw (who was publishing the manga anthology “Oztaku” at the time) wrote back to me, then introduced me to the man who would become the penciller of The List, Henry Pop. Soon after we recruited Tom Bonin and he jumped on inking duties. Then, over the next 5 years we produced The List (for those of you who haven’t heard of it, it’s a 200 page psych-horror graphic novel).
Be realistic about how big you think your story can go. It will save you a lot of pain if you can do this.
From the get-go, I was starkly aware of The List’s limited potential: Horror is by no means the biggest genre in comics; it’s an Australian work; it’s self-published and no one knows who the hell I am. Knowing the limitations of your work is a must. Be realistic about how big you think your story can go. It will save you a lot of pain if you can do this and give you a lot of pleasure if it exceeds it. In my time since producing The List I have seen so many faces come and go in just the Australian scene that it’s ridiculous. Many thought they had the next big thing… many of those didn’t even finish their first bloody issue. Why? They were delusional. If they did get it finished and sold far less copies than they for some reason thought they were going to, they got discouraged. Comics are hard work from the get go, so a little discouragement can go a long way. By not being truthful to themselves about the potential of their work, they gave up and faded away.
So, how could they have succeeded? Well, the thing is, they did… they just didn’t realise it.
Again, by knowing the limitations of the reach of your work, you set yourself up for success, because the work will achieve what you expected it to achieve (and if it does better, that’s bloody magnificent!). But, if you think you have the next big thing and attach a definition of success to it… and then it doesn’t achieve that success, well, you have put a whole lot of work and hope and time into something that left you feeling crap, when the whole time you could have been enjoying yourself.
When I attend cons I see so many disheartened artists with their faces in their laps. They didn’t sell well so they become downhearted and the con feels like a chore to them. Why? Because the outcome of the day didn’t meet some fanciful picture of how the day should have gone. Should have?! Who says? I’ll tell you who: delusion. Instead of letting how many copies you didn’t sell, how much money you didn’t make leaving you feeling embittered, depressed, or a failure (which is by no means a bad thing… unless you let it stop you!), try flipping your perspective. So, finally, here’s how to be a successful comic writer…
Once again, I knew the limitations of The List. I knew it wouldn’t be the next Star Wars. I knew it would be outsold by myriad other titles. I knew it would never be a world dominating work. Thus, by being honest with myself about my work, I could enjoy what it did achieve instead of what it didn’t. And enjoy it I did! The moments that stand out for me were: when a teenage girl had her mother drive her to a convention so I could sign the copy she had bought at a store: success. The time a mother of two stopped at my stall to say she hadn’t slept properly in a year since reading The List (I didn’t know whether to say sorry or thank her! Ha!): success. The guy who was ill and sent his father in from a far off country town to pick up a copy for him: success. The deeply personal letters I have received from readers who said The List helped them through a dark time: success. The feedback I see on the net written by readers from all over the world: success. Any interview: success. Any review: success. Anyone who has been good enough spend their money on my work: success. Moments like these will stay with me forever. They make all the hard work worthwhile. They make me a successful comic writer.
Be honest with yourself about your work; celebrate every good thing that comes your way when you get your work out. Don’t attach yourself to an ideal of success, but instead, take every event single sale, kind word, or even the bloody fact you had the grit produce a finished comic as amazing… and you will be a success, too.