Time for the Wayback Machine, Mr. Peabody, to a chilly winter’s day 34 years ago…
Back in 1978 – waaaaaaay before I had the inkling that I’d eventually have a comic strip of my own in the newspaper – the Minneapolis Tribune ran the following Spider-Man cartoon of mine.
This being my first experience with newspaper reproduction, I was amazed at how the lines I had carefully rendered on Spider-Man’s costume came out as just one big black blob. Bleaahhhh…
I had been clipping the Spider-Man newspaper religiously for two years – artwork by none other than the incredible John Romita!
Then suddenly – out of NOWHERE – the Tribune decides to drop it and replace it with…
(Wait for it.)
(I repeat) ENCYCLOPEDIA BROWN!!!
From Dick Cunningham’s editorial:
Wright (managing editor) and Wallace Allen, associate editor of the Tribune, think they have found a suitable replacement in “Encyclopedia Brown,” who appears for the first time in the Tribune today.
Brown is a boy detective confronted with a new crime each Sunday. He solves it by Saturday. Readers are given the same clues that Brown has and are invited to see if they reach the same solution.
“It’s kind of fun,” says Wright.
It’ll have to be to satisfy Keefe. “Woe be it to you,” he wrote. “May Dr. Doom trample your upholstery, may the Rattler bite your dog and may Mysterio make mincemeat of your hamburger.”
I must say, I was quite the master of hyperbole at age 13 – but to no avail. They ended up dropping Encyclopedia Brown years later as well, but Spider-Man was never to return.
The story does have a happy ending though. My Aunt Pat who lived in Boston got wind of this and sent me the Spider-Man strip out of her newspaper for the next two years (pretty much the rest of Romita’s run). My Aunt Pat was pretty great that way.
An added bonus was that the Boston paper printed their comic strips much bigger than the Tribune – so take THAT Mr. Wright and Allen!!!
And I still have those scrapbooks. 4 years of stellar Romita art and lots of fond memories.
I just got back from the opening reception of Thomas Fluharty’s gallery exhibition at the Inez Greenberg Gallery in Bloomington, Minnesota (a quick word of thanks to writer/cartoonist Craig MacIntosh for tipping me off to it).
Fluharty is a prolific artist who’s work has appeared in Mad Magazine, Der Spiegel, People Magazine, Entertainment weekly, Sports Illustrated and the New York Times among others. A cover done for Time Magazine resides in the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection.
Here’s just a few pics from the opening reception. Click on images to see larger.
Thomas Fluharty’s work is awesome, so the opportunity to see his originals shouldn’t be missed. The exhibit runs from July 20 – August 24, 2018.
There will also be an Artist Talk on Tuesday, August 14 at 7 p.m.
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.”
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.
In 1995 I was hired as the writer and artist of the Flash Gordon comic strip (my first Sunday page appeared January 21, 1996). It was my first big freelance gig, and as with all freelance work, you have whatever skills you’ve attained up to that point and then you learn on the job. My first year doing Flash Gordon it was very much about getting a feel for the characters and getting the look right.
Nightfall on Mongo was my second story that first year and I opted for werewolves as being the antagonists. I mean, who doesn’t like werewolves, right?
Flash comes upon Thorne, the wounded survivor of a downed craft.
One thing in this story that sticks out like a sore thumb to me now is the environment and wardrobe. Instead of an alien world Flash might as well be in upstate Minnesota. Also, I modified a helicopter by taking off the propellers so that it would look like a small spacecraft – instead it just ended up looking like a helicopter without propellers…
Realizing I needed some strong feedback to strengthen my work, I sent pages to a couple of syndicated artists I was corresponding with at the time – George Evans and Bud Blake. Shown below are the critiques I got.
As far as critiques go, friends and family tend to pull punches – professionals get the job done. I had the basics down storytelling-wise, but both George and Bud showed me that I needed to amp things up. I can’t stress enough how invaluable their input was.
I’d like to add that for George and Bud to take the time to sketch up short tutorials and mail them out to me was beyond generous – especially with the ever present syndicate deadlines they were under.
As far as my learning curve went, the next story I did I purposely retold Flash Gordon’s origin in order to give myself a refresher course on all things Mongo-esque.
More Flash Gordon Flashbacks to follow…
And if you’d like to see more of my work on Flash Gordon,
King Features is currently re-releasing the strips at FlashGordon.com.
Hope you check them out!
With all the cosplay in this summer’s Sally Forth storyline, I thought I’d put in an Easter Egg in reference to last year’s summer escapade.
Take note of the cosplay in the foreground of the first panel for the Sally Forth comic strip for July 14, 2018.
And here’s a strip from last year’s Kaiju theme park storyline…
They sell a LOT of Mechagodzilla wearable heads at that theme park – just saying.
And now an unabashed plug…
If Sally Forth isn’t in your local paper you can check it out online at…
A yearlong subscription to all of King Features’ comics (new and vintage) plus ten years worth of archives for every single strip is a pittance at $19.99 a year. Unsure? Try a 7 day trial subscription for free.