My Patreon is a catch basin for all the things that I’ve learned in a career spanning some 30+ years. From working on Flash Gordon & Sally Forth to lettering Manga & coloring comic strips. It will include art from the vault along with previews of new projects I’m working on. The Patreons I subscribe to are ones from Cartoonists working in the trenches who give real world advice on how to survive in this industry. It’s the model I’ll be following as well.
Deep dives will include…
• Interviews and correspondence with colleagues in the business, past and present. • Spotlights on Cartoonists. • A myriad of tips and tools of the trade. • And last but not least, the business of cartooning. contracts, conventions, commissions, and much more…
Membership is free with deeper dives available for paid subscribers.
Heads up that a 7-day free trial is available at the Basic Level to test the waters before committing.
Comic strips reigned supreme back in the 1930s. The Sunday sections were printed much larger than they are today and were a thing of beauty to behold.
Adventure strips thrived during these years as there was room to tell a story. To see how much things have changed, just compare these two Sunday pages below from 1934 and 2002.
Jump ahead from 2002 to now and the comic strip Sunday pages have regrettably shrunken even smaller.
Here’s an example of my hometown paper the Star Tribune (my hand shown on the bottom left for scale). Unless you have a jewelers loupe you’re at a loss to see – much less read – what’s going on.
Here’s a comic page artist Terry Beatty (Ms. Tree, Rex Morgan M.D.) wrote and drew for Big Funny back in 2009 that really drives the point home.
Granted all is not doom and gloom – whereas comic strips in the newspaper may be on life support, we’re in a golden age as far as comic strip collections that are being published. Check out the Library of American Comics and Fantagraphics to name just a few.
I also feel like comic strips are being given a renewed life and readership online as fans of the medium now have the ability to binge weeks worth at a time. The big two comic strip sites being King Feature’s Comics Kingdom and AMU’s GoComics.
As times changes, so does the comics biz. Another example of this is that even though comic book sales have shrunk over the years, graphic novels have increased in popularity.
From an article in Publishers Weekly; “Over the past five years, the North American graphic novel market has welcomed a wave of new readers and grown from about $805 million in sales in 2012 to more than $1 billion in 2017.”
From the Comics Beat; “Overall, graphic novel sales in 2021 were up 65% from 2020…The growth was led by adult graphic novels, up 107%, but it’s important to note that this category includes manga which led the charge, up 17 million units.”
To sum up…
In the early 1900s onwards comic strips reigned supreme. By the 1940s comic books had taken off. In the 1960s indie comics/undergrounds entered the fray. In the 1980s self-published/alternative comics joined in at the same time graphic novels were just getting their sea legs. In the 1990s online content joined the mix. And now in the 21st century graphic novels and manga have taken flight.
And that’s not to say comic strips and comic books have been replaced and have gone away, it’s just that they aren’t the only game in town anymore.
Cartoons, comics, graphic novels – whatever you want to call it – the packaging keeps changing, but sequential art is just as popular now as it’s ever been. And as long as the stories are strong and the artwork delivers, the art form will continue to have an audience.
And that’s my two cents. See you in the funny papers…
I love Terry Moore’s drawing style and he gives great pointers here culled from his personal experience working in the field.
The book shown above is out of print, but the chapters are available digitally as five separate how-to books available on Kindle and Comixology through Amazon.
From Amazon; “Written for pros and amateurs alike, Terry Moore addresses the questions and challenges artists find after their art school education… Moore details his step-by-step process making a comic book from drawing board to pdfs. This book is loaded with timely material geared toward the world of comics as it is today.”
How to draw comics with an eye on the academic. Scott McCloud first put comics under the microscope with his 1993 book, Understanding Comics. Here he expands on it.
“Only Scott McCloud could organize his thoughts on comics like this. Scott’s talent as a cartoonist not only makes him intimate to insights no outsider can see but also gives him the power to show it to the world. Will it be controversal? Does it live up to the promise of Understanding Comics? Happily, the answer to both questions is yes!” — Jeff Smith (Bone)
Recipient of a Reuben Award for “Cartoonist of the Year” from the National Cartoonist Society, Tom Richmond is probably best know for his work for Mad magazine. Here he lays out what goes into drawing a great caricature.
From Amazon… “In this comprehensive title, famed animator Preston Blair shares his expertise on how to develop a cartoon character, create dynamic movement, and coordinate dialogue with action. Topics include character development, line of action, dialogue, timing, and, of course, animation! This valuable resource provides all the inspiration and information you need to begin drawing your own animated characters.”
First published in the 1960s, the following Jack Hamm books are a mainstay on my bookshelf. Highly recommended!
It’s been my experience that networking is the key in getting work in the art field. I know it seems basic but it bears repeating that if an employer is not familiar with you and your work then they won’t hire you. And this is not a matter of “it’s not what you know but who you know.”
“The most delusional graphic design belief system is this: becoming a successful graphic designer is all about being an extraordinarily talented designer. It is not. Talent is only one part of the equation for a successful career in graphic design. In fact, in the field of professional graphic design, talent is simply what is considered “operational excellence” in business school. Talent is essentially a given, a point of entry. A career in graphic design brings with it the assumption that you have talent, and in isolation, talent will not guarantee success for any designer or design program.”
One great way to network is comic conventions – but it can get costly. I was a guest at Dragon Con awhile back and had a complimentary table that otherwise would have cost $500 (at that time). I sold more stuff than at any other convention I’ve been at – but still couldn’t break-even after I added up the cost of airfare, hotel and meals.
What balanced it out for me and made it worthwhile was the networking. Along with the standard touching base with fans and other professionals in the business, I was interviewed for two podcasts – Sidebar and Comics Coast-to-Coast– which was great publicity.
The following is some hands-on experience from artists/cartoonists from the trenches.
Tyler Page back in 2010 did a great post where he broke down the cost of self-publishing and promotion for his book Stylish Vittles. In part 2 of the post he cited convention costs over a seven year span.
“…the grand total of all my business expenses from 2002 through the printing of Nothing Better Vol 2 in late 2009 is $46,918.60. Yes, that is a lot of money. It is. But it’s important to realize that was spent over the course of 7 years – it’s not like I dropped it all at once. I also tried to be as thrifty as possible in my spending when I could, especially when traveling.”
“In the end it wasn’t the cost of printing books that really rang up the bills – it was the traveling and conventions.”
Daniel Davis of Steam Crow LLC had an informative blog post where he related his experience exhibiting at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con in regards to what works and what doesn’t. In summation he noted;
“It’s getting more difficult to profit at comic conventions, but I’ve seen it done, and know that it’s possible. It’s no longer a space where one can simply show up, and expect to profit. But, with ample year-long preparation, and strategy, it is doable.”
Steve Bissette (Swamp Thing, Tyrant, Taboo) has years of experience as an artist and publisher.
The following is an excerpt from a Facebook post of his where he did a comic con post-mortem.
“Professionally, it ratified all the reasons I stopped investing in conventions…
In short, while I met some great people, signed a ton of SWAMP THINGs, and had fun with my cronies, I didn’t get to see/shop/experience the con outside of my table space; my being there didn’t sell even ONE World of Strange Bissette t-shirt (and we were just an aisle apart, right NEXT to each other!); I didn’t make a dime on sales (lost $$ after shipping costs); and my add’t commitment to a three-lecture/workshop day following was a wash, at best (again, personally, great to do; didn’t earn me a dime).
Had I paid for travel/table, I’d have busted my entire fall budget at home to do the one convention. Whatever I made at the table, I spent eating during my stay (and spent more). If I’m going to travel, it’s going to be TRAVEL, with Marge, to see friends/family, not to do cons.
Just being pragmatic. I mean, look. I’m thankful I went, and thankful Rick, Tom, John, and I have so many folks who came out to see us! Folks & our fans are great—kind, generous in their comments, and all want their SWAMP THINGs signed, but most of ’em sample nothing else, by and large. Money’s tight everywhere, particularly these days, and SWAMP THING is still all folks want from us, and those they’ve got. Whatever else I have, I’m better off selling via online sales. In fact, only ONE person bought one of everything new from the table.”
I’m often asked from readers/fans which upcoming comic conventions I’ll be at. In general, not too many, as I’ve cut down on going to cons. If I do attend a con it’s likely because it’s close to home (because of cost), and if I do a show out of town it’s usually because I have family living in the area that I can visit and save money on hotels by crashing at their homes.
Another big deterrent is the time involved, which if it coincides with a tight deadline can be MURDER. I’ve tabled at way too many cons where I’ve had to bring work, which just ends up being a disservice to fans looking to say hello and should be avoided at all cost. Add to that the time it takes to recover from that kind of scheduling and it’s lose-lose situation all the way around.
Is tabling at a convention worth the time and effort? If you go in ill-prepared you’ll probably just end up pissing money down the drain, with no benefit other than the same enjoyment any random attendee walking through the door could have had.
If you attack a convention in a business sense where you’re budgeting cost and working your butt off (commission sketches/networking/research trends) then yes they are. If you want to work in this business, I’d advise treating it as such.
I’ll end with some stellar advice from Colleen Doran (A Distant Soil, Amazing Fantastic Incredible Stan Lee, Troll Bridge). This is related to networking and making the effort to get your work out there…
“Lots of people assume that the reason they can’t get hired is because publishing is some kind of closed circle. It’s really not. Clients are always looking for new talent. REALLY. They are DYING to hire the next JK Rowling, the next Jim Lee, the next James Patterson. Who doesn’t want another money-maker?
The truth is, almost everything that comes over the transom is not very good. When I write this, aspiring creators cringe thinking “Oh, she means me.” No, I don’t. If you have any idea of the level of just how bad submissions are, you would be appalled. It is rare to see anything of quality. I don’t know anyone in publishing who enjoys going over submissions, because it’s depressing. If you are good and if you’ve got something to show, DON’T GIVE UP. Trust me, clients are DYING to find you.
SECOND THING: a major reason clients don’t like to hire new people is they have a tendency to screw the pooch at an alarmingly high rate. The joy of creating for fun evaporates when you HAVE to create. Creating all the time: not so simple. And, especially in comics, the workload is awesome. Almost everyone in graphic arts will try to steer you away from comics and toward advertising because comics pay is usually terrible and advertising is less work. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve tried to hire up from fandom who have completely vapor-locked, including people I’ve tried to hire from other areas of publishing…
Everything in comics is labor intensive and often techy and boring these days, since artists have to do their own production work. You have to really know what you are doing. So, next time you think that publisher isn’t going to give you a chance, think of it from the publisher’s point of view. If your portfolio is good, and you show a real, steely willingness to produce there’s a publisher looking for you.