This is it. What you’ve been waiting for. I will now divulge the 6 highly guarded ultimate secrets to making comics. This is all you truly ever need to know. Are you ready?
1. Just start.
So you want to make comics. Great. Write a script. Draw the comic. Fold. Staple. TA DAH! You’ve just made a comic.
No, really. That’s all there is to it. Now let’s take it a step further. Photocopy that comic 5 times. Fold. Staple. You’ve just self-published!
Take those 5 copies and show them to your mom. Show them to your best friend. Show them to strangers. Ask if anyone would be willing to give you $1 for a copy. Chances are, your mom will do it just to get you out of her hair. Guess what? You just sold a comic!
Ok, so that’s too simplified, but you get the idea. One of the greatest things about Indie Comics is that you don’t need anyone but yourself to get started. You don’t need to have a portfolio to present to a publisher. You don’t even need to be good at what you do! And that can be an amazing thing.
Fact is, you won’t be good when you start. You may even be downright awful! Just check out the first pages of some of the most popular comics right now. Questionable Content and Penny Arcade started off kinda ugly. When Adrian Tomine made his first 25 photocopies of Optic Nerve #1 in 1995, they were far from the sleek professional comics and beautiful New Yorker covers he does now. I especially love this blog post by Faith Erin Hicks where she shows original panels from her webcomic and the redrawn version
for her graphic novel with First Second.
Many of the most influential people in comics started with zines and self-published alternative indie comics. Los Bros Hernandez (Love and Rockets), Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Bryan Lee O’Malley (Scott Pilgrim), Matt Groening (yes, THAT Matt Groening) . . . I could name-drop forever!
Indie Comics gives you the absolute freedom to experiment. There are no rules, there is no audience to pander to. You can invent your own genres, write your own characters, use any art style you fancy. The only thing that matters is making your personal vision come true. This also means that you are free to mess up. You can fall flat on your face and eat dirt. You can start over, slap the words “new and improved” on your next printing. Even if your ultimate goal is to work for Marvel or DC, or get a graphic novel published; make your mistakes now while you’re a nobody. No one will care about your terrible beginnings when you’ve used it to hone your skills.
Sure there will be things to think about down the road. Things like: how to market your comic, how to make money from it, or even how long to keep doing it. But none of those questions matter if you never actually start! Future-you can worry about that. For now, just start!
2. Keep Going
The problem with this easy-entry model is that tons of artists and writers start new comics everyday. In 2007 (that’s 5 years ago!) Wikipedia estimated about 38, 000 webcomics and there are always new faces trying to break in at conventions. Some are painfully amateur and some are on the brink of professional.
I don’t know how many Indie Comics there are in existence. What I do know for sure is that there are hundreds and thousands of broken, abandoned, eternally “on hiatus” webcomics. Most Indie mini-comics and zines don’t get past a few issues with print runs of a thousand or even less.
The problem with comics is not that there are so many. “The biggest killer of web comics is the creator losing interest or deciding other things are more important than the comic.” (Julie Miyamoto) Most people start comics because they are passionate about creating something uniquely theirs. But on some level, there is the expectation of a reward. This may be internet popularity or making a living off their comic. We all know that work must be put in before we can succeed. That’s fine. Society has even glamorized this idea of a “starving artist.”
However, there will come a point when the work you put in is significantly larger than the reward. You only sell a few copies. You lose money on printing. Your webcomic gets zero views even though you advertise everywhere. This is when you ask yourself if the creative outlet is still worth your time and effort. How long will it take to reach success and are you willing to put in the effort necessary? Every creative person has hit this wall. The ones that make it are the ones that push through with no reward in sight. As Jeph Jacques says, “You have to KEEP MAKING COMICS . . .in the face of a cold, uncaring internet.” (or world.)
So you have two choices. You can end your comic and never have a chance to succeed. Or you can draw 100 more pages. And 100 more after that. And still 100 more. Truth is, there is absolutely no guarantee that you will succeed even if you drew a million and one pages. But your chances increase as long as you keep going.
Next week: Magical Secrets to Comic Fame & Fortune pt 2
Upcoming events to help you get started making comics:
1. Mini-comics Day – Write, draw & print a mini-comic in one day.
2. 24 Hour Comic Day – October 20 – Draw a 24 page comic, one hour at a time.
3. The 30 Characters Challenge – all November – Create 30 new characters in 30 days.