Starving Artists?: How to Survive on your Art
I rolled into this panel a minute or two late, and didn't catch the name of all the participants in the panel, but I know that Melanie Gillman, Lonnie M.F. Allen, and Alan Brooks were part of it. Sorry to those other artists that took time to talk about the business of art, but I didn't catch your names. Let's talk about some of the major points that the panel brought up. First, editors hire people who are good to work with. Artists who complete their work and act professionally are more marketable than artists who don't; even if that second class of artists are technically better at their craft. Gillman noted that it was very personally rewarding to them when they were able to send work on to other artists who were potentially better fits for the project. All of the panelists emphasized the importance of discussing rights and contracts upfront, prior to agreeing to do work. The contracts don't have to be formal and full of legal language, but they need to provide a statement of expectations for both parties.
Red flag warnings can be useful when you are first getting into freelance work. Gillman warned that almost anyone who comes to an artist to help with a comic project, but immediately starts talking about a "movie deal" should probably be avoided. Allen noted that he has worked on projects where the client did not understand how art production worked. When this was the case, he had to spend a lot of time developing the client's expectations. Sometimes, the sense of common goal in a collaboration can be lost. Especially among writers who view artists only as tools rather than as partners and creative people in their own right.
What about how to work? The panelists encourage you to remain active. If you are working another job to support yourself, which the panelists recommend that you do until you have established yourself, don't worry about having a huge output. But do keep working at a regular pace so that you can build a portfolio of work. They generally recommend against doing pro bono work, except for friends or relatives, or people who you have a true collaboration with. The panelists all believed that is you are not getting paid, you might as well be doing your own work and building your portfolio.
They also talked about diversifying income streams. Brooks listed off all of the projects he was currently involved with: writing comics, writing articles, rapping, podcasting, and hosting yoga. The diverse income helps protect him from any particular changes in the artistic marketplace. Allen recommended to not be afraid of failure. When discussing the transition from doing side jobs to supporting themselves on their artwork, Gillman noted that it was a slow transitions. They had been working a combination of retail/service industry jobs, as well as teaching art. As the paid art work increased, they gradually dropped the side gigs. Gillman also said to expect it to take 10 years to build up a body of work and professional connections enough to support oneself on art alone. Brooks noted that as he was building up his body of work he had to decide whether he wanted to "have what I want" or "do what I want".
The panel noted that cold calling and submitting to anthologies are good ways to start getting work, especially to get work out where others will see it. Having a finished project that you can show off for portfolio reviews or other events can also be very useful.
Lastly, the panel talked about social media. Advice: be consistent and build relationships. Don't make your feed 100% promotion. Let people get to know you to some degree.
Back to the Drawing Board: Non-Digital Mediums for Creating Comics
- Daniel Cossier
- Kevin Caron
- Dylan Edwards
- Joe Oliver
- Jamaica Dyer
This panel discussed ways to make comics the focus on traditional media. Overall, the panelists enjoyed traditional media for the tactile experience and the permanence of such methods. Several noted that when working digitally, they have a tendency to overwork the piece. Edwards noted that for him it simply wasn’t fun. Dyer spent some time trying to replicate water color effects in digital media, but ultimately found that she spent more time struggling with the technology than she would have spent to produce a traditional piece.
Although all of the artists use traditional media to produce their artwork and comics, they recognize that digital reproduction is a requirement for mass production. They all, therefore, own equipment to scan their artwork into a computer. Edwards recommended getting a large, flat bed scanner, big enough to fit your work without need to digital stich scans together. Most of the artists on the panel scan their work in, then use digital tools to provide some sort of final polish. Edwards was the exception to this. He treats his comic work as paintings, but leaves space for the speech bubbles. The only thing he does digitally is lettering.
Producing traditional artwork can lead to a problem of storage space. In order to reduce this burden, both Oliver and Dyer sell originals when they go to conventions. They noted that it is hard to find a buyer willing to pay the appropriate price for an original piece of art; but, if you can find someone willing to make the purchase, it can fund most of a convention trip.
The panel concluded with the panelists talking a bit about what genres and media that they prefer to work in, as well as a discussion of the tools that they commonly use. They also talked about work habits, how they manage projects, and how they deal with the lull after a large project is completed.
Comics as a Social Movement
- Tyler Chin-Tanner
- Geraldo Alba
- Cait Zeller
- Pranas T Naujokaitis
Another panel that I attended was about comics in social movements. During this panel, the artists talked about their work, especially how some of their work is about general subjects, while other work is more socially conscious. Naujokaitis noted that there are a lot of politically conscious comics artists, because comics have always tended to be a safe space for “weirdos”. Maus was mentioned very early in the panel, as a first exposure to politically conscious comic work. After some discussion about how the artists are socially active, the moderated asked about the role of satire in our current political climate. The first answer, from Tanner, was that it has indeed become very difficult because real headlines sound like The Onion now. He’s tried to exaggerate to make a joke only to find actual events the meet or exceed his joke. Zeller said that she only uses satire when she is talking about events from the Victorian era, since it has become a completely unsuitable way to talk about the current politics. Naujokaitis brought up the example of Star Wars. In the 1970s, the Empire were correctly read as space-facists and appropriately hated. Lately, some people have read the Empire (and the First Order) as organizations worthy of admiration and emulation. There is a complete lack of subtlety in the world now. When asked about works that influenced their view of the world the panelists listed March, Boxers and Saints, Maus, Persepolis, and Pashmina. Personally, I’ve only ready Maus and Persepolis; but March has been on my reading list for a while. I had not heard of Boxers and Saints or Pashmina prior to the panel, but will have to put them into the queue as well.
I also attended a panel about fantasy and other genre work. The panelists talked about their work and influences, including what they would like to do in the future. After that, I attended a panel all about cats in comics. We talked about why cats are fun to draw and why artist seem to have such an affinity for cats.
The last panel that I attended was about creating a comics community in Colorado (or anywhere else). The panelists were people who were or had been deeply involved in the local comic artist community in the Denver area. They talked about what their experience had been and how one can start to build these types of communities where they don’t yet exist.