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Friday, January 20, 2006

How To Get Into Comics Today


This is a message I got in my other message board, a comment that I feel deserves a much longer, much more helpful answer. I hope that this could be of assistance to the many talented artists out there that are as yet undiscovered, or have been around a while and have so far gone underappreciated. This is a relatively realistic look into your options as aspring comic book creators in the Philippines.

The original message, as posted, was in tagalog (and in textspeak). I took the liberty to translate it here as courtesy to the non-Filipino speaking readers of this site.

"Maybe those comix artists that have yet to be discovered should be given a chance.... who knows maybe they will be the ones responsible in bringing life to our comix industry.... there are many other comix artists out there who want to do their own comics, who have their own characters and stories."

Thanks to Demz for the message, and with apologies, I hope you don't mind if I take this as a jumping point for something I want to write about.

This is certainly a valid comment. And it is most definitely true that there are many as yet undiscovered artists out there who might end up to be some of the driving forces of our recovering comic book industry.

First, A Little History

One that needs to be kept in mind is that our once great komiks industry has all but collapsed during the late 90's, with many comics companies closing shop, and many industry professionals heading off into other careers from animation to showbiz. Of an industry that once released more than 30 titles, and more than 500,000 comics in a month, what's left is the weekly issue of Liwayway, the occasional (and not even weekly) release of Tagalog, Pilipino, Hiwaga, etc. from Atlas and Funny Komiks.

During the decades-long dominance of this industry, comics companies like Atlas, G. Miranda, Mass Media, Sonic, and GASI were the only places where one could get a job in comics. If you were a comic book artist, the only option you had was to apply at their offices, and if they liked your work, you got an assignment.

Nestor Redondo and Alfredo Alcala were among the brilliant few who were clever enough to discern more options for themselves than the industry would have otherwise permitted. When a strike closed down ACE Publications in the early 60's, they and some of their compatriots, did not leave comics to do other things. Instead, they did something that was probably unheard of at the time: They formed their own comics company so they could publish their own comics. This company would eventually become known as CRAF Komix. (More information about CRAF at Dennis Villegas' Philippine Comics History blog.)

The initiative of Redondo and his peers is something to keep in mind today. In the wake of the collapse of the once great industry, artists today need to open their minds and try to find opportunities for themselves. The option of going to something like Atlas still remains an option, but it is not the only option anymore. Indeed, there are options that the artist can create himself. More on those options later.

A New Comics Movement

In the early 90's a new movement in comics was born. A movement that was composed of young writers and artists looking to find a venue for their work. Lacking an industry where their work can see publication, they took it upon themselves to create their own comics and publish it themselves.

Artists like Gilbert Monsanto, Lui Antonio, Louie Salvio, Roy Allan Martinez, Jim and Jay Jimenez and others, created Exodus. David Hontiveros, Carlo Vergara and others created Flashpoint. Budjette Tan, Brandie Tan, Mark Gatela, Arnold Arre, myself and others put together Alamat 101 and Comics 101. Russel Tomas, Jos Fouts and others created Archon. Arnold Arre, Zach Yonzon, Oliver Pulumbarit, John Toledo, Ian Orendain, Chris Bernardo, Marvin Quien, Nick Manabat and myself came together to do the great unpublished (but already finished) Lakan.

We wrote and drew our own comics, and then got money from wherever we can get them, our pockets or other people's pockets, to print and distribute our comics.

It was the start of a new industry, one that continues to grow, slowly but surely, to this day. Many of those unknowns at the time have eventually became some of the most prominent and respected comics creators currently working. They never got where they are today if it wasn't for their initiative, drive and determination, and a healthy love for the art of comics.

Fifteen or so years after the first of these comics came out, several new comic book publishers are doing business today. There's Zach Yonzon's Mango Comics, Nautilus Comics, PSI-COM Publishing, Kestrel, Arnold Arre's Tala, Quest Ventures, and Budjette Tan's Alamat Comics still continues to come out with self published comics by its members.

These are people who did not wait for others to give them a chance or give them a break. Many of them didn't wonder or fretted why nobody gave them a break. They took the initiative to create their own chances, create their own breaks, and create their own opportunities.

And if you are a young artist who thinks he's got what it takes to be a comic book creator, this is something that you need to keep in mind. These artists got where they are because at some point in their lives they took a risk (and still continue to do so). You are in the same position NOW as they were in their lives 15 years ago. You cannot compare yourself to them and say they can only get their jobs today because they've got "clout". At some point in your and their lives, you started out at the same point, all nobodies, but the choices they have made, the risks and initiatives they took brought them to where they are today. You can get there too, in a few years time, if you're willing enough.

Do you complain about not being given the chance, about not being given a break... or are you going to *do* something about it?

If you still feel like fretting about how unfair the world is after everything I've said, it's probably best to just go away right now. Go HERE, maybe, and spend the rest of your life wasting your time.

But if you want to do something about it, here are some tips that might help you get an idea of how to get into comics today.

Do you love comics enough?

First of all, you've GOT to determine if you really want to do comics. That you're not doing this because you want to be famous and sign autographs like Leinil or Arnold. Believe me, I've received email from a couple of people who want to be in comics specially for that purpose.

Determine for yourself that you are not getting into comics just because of the money. Because you know, as soon as you start working in local comics and you realize how hard it is, and realize you'd make much more money in animation, or advertising, and you realize you are working far harder for money that isn't enough, then you're in trouble. Hardly anyone makes any serious money doing only local comics at this time. Decades ago, yes. In the future, possibly. But today, it's very difficult.

Then why do it at all? Well, if you have to ask, then you don't love comics enough. You'd probably be better off in a more financially rewarding career. Nothing wrong with that, all the best to you.

But if you are really good, you can find comics work for companies outside the country. Some of them pay well enough to live comfortably. And you don't even have to leave your house. (But "Getting Into Comics Abroad" is another topic altogether, although many points are similar.)

Are you really any good?

You probably really love comics if you're still here and you're still reading. Great! Carry on.

*Don't* believe it when your parents or your friends tell you that you can write good, or you can draw good. They love you and they don't want to hurt your feelings. They really can't be counted on to tell you the truth if you suck.

It's not enough that you can draw a naked girl very well, or a huge muscled guy punching a hole in the wall very well. You may well be a kick ass painter who sells landscape or abstract paintings for 100,000 pesos a piece. That does not necessarily mean you can draw COMICS. I'm not here to teach you how to draw. Get books. Study THIS BOOK IN PARTICULAR. And THIS BOOK IN PARTICULAR. And THIS BOOK IN PARTICULAR. And THIS BOOK IN PARTICULAR. Maybe then you can get an idea of how it is to really do comics.

What you need is someone who isn't your friend, someone who is actually doing comics for a living so you know he knows what he's talking about. Approach local comic book artists and ask for their critique. You can ask me, but I take a while to reply with a critique.

When asking for critique, the one thing you *shouldn't* do is give excuses for your work. Let it stand as you drew it. Don't say it's old, or it's unfinished, or it's that way because of this, because of that. Just shut up and let them tell you what they think. Most likely you will hear stuff that you won't like. Suck it up. That only means that you're not that good yet. They have no reason to lie to you. They don't know you. Just grin and bear it. Grinning and bearing it is part of the learning process. Don't forget whatever they say about your work because that's important.

Remember who you are talking to. Be respectful and don't talk to them like you're their pal. You don't know them, and they're not your best friend. Too much familiarity can make some artists very uncomfortable, and just rush through the critique, desperate to get away from you. I'm OK with it, but even I have my limits.

If David Campiti is in town, attend one of Glasshouse Graphics' comic workshop seminars and have your work critiqued by him. Generally, he gives very sound advice in terms of what you need to work on. He's very frank about it so be prepared to grin and bear it really hard.

And then say thank you. Hardly anyone says thank you. These people are very busy. They just gave you a lot of their time just to go over your work in an effort to help. The best thing you could do is thank them for it. I think those people who don't give thanks are pissed they didn't hear what they wanted to hear. Well, what did you want? Mindless praise or an honest assesment of your work?

Be nice. You never know, these same people may well be in the position of offering you a job or referring you to a company one day. You don't want them to remember you as the ungrateful egomonster do you?

You know you can do Comics. What's next?

Ok, so your work is good enough to be published. What to do you do? Post on message boards and complain about not being given a chance? You must have missed this. Go away.

Option #1

Your first option is to approach comic book companies. There's Nautilus Comics, Mango Comics and PSI-COM. They have websites. Exert a little effort to search Google for their addresses and email them. Or go to their offices and then show them your work. You can even email them your artwork. Just ask first if they accept submissions that way. Don't make the files too big.

A little note: COMPUTERS. Computers are slowly becoming essential in finding employment, and maintaining employment in comics. Learn to use them. Learn to use scanners and learn to use the Internet. Learn Photoshop. There are other programs you need to learn like Illustrator, but Photoshop is your priority. Hey, I myself can't make heads or tails of Illustrator and I'm doing fine.

If you don't have money, don't fret. You can always go to a computer shop and rent a computer for an hour or so. And don't tell me you can't afford 20-30 pesos an hour when you can afford to load your phone.

Option #2

Ok, so the companies tell you they can't hire you for whatever reason. Their roster may be full, or they just don't want you. Maybe you're still not good enough. Practice more, and then come back again in the future. Don't start fretting you're not being given a chance or given a break or it's back HERE you go.

Like I said at the beginning, you need to take your own chances, make your own breaks. They don't want you? Well, forget about them. Show them they're wrong! Make your OWN comics! Remember Redondo and Alcala's CRAF Komix? Remember Alamat? When opportunities aren't there for employment with a company, create your own company and make your own comics! You don't even need an office or a printing press.

Write and draw your comics, write somewhere in there the name of your company, whatever cool name you can think of, have your comic phototocopied, send copies off to friends, befriend a comic book store owner so that you can sell your comics there. You can even sell your comics online. (More on that later.)

That's what *I* did with Wasted. No comic book company came out of the heavens and pointed a finger at me and said "THOU SHALT CREATE WASTED!". No, I just wrote and drew it on my own, thought up "Deranged Comics", a company which constituted of nothing more than just something written on the cover, making it appear as if it was a real company. I sent it out to friends, a copy eventually found its way to Budjette Tan (who I've never met before) and included it in a comic book he was publishing.

Don't have money even for photocopying? Then you better find ways of making money. If you can read this, it means you can read (at the very least) so you're not inept. You can get a job. Sell newspapers. Clean gardens. Paint gates. Sweep floors. ANYTHING. You can work. You can earn.

Succeeding issues I sold through stores after befriending their owners, who are very cool guys if you get to know them, and you're not being an asshole when you talk to them.

I still continue to make photocopied comics to this day. My titles Dead Heart and Crest Hut Butt Shop led to jobs with bigger companies. I got a job writing Lastikman for Mango, specifically because of Crest Hut. And then that led me to doing Johnny Balbona for Mwahaha! Wasted has opened a lot of other doors for me as well.

You really just have to start somewhere. And if your work is good enough, it *will* get around no matter what.

Option #3.

The Internet. Ok, now that you know how to use computers, the Internet, Photoshop and the scanner (If you followed Option #1, then you should be able to.), you need to create a presence online. Get an account at Deviant Art (It's free!) and upload your artwork. Deviant Art, or DA for short, is your online art portfolio, and at the same time get feedback for your work from other members.

Get a blog from Blogger or LiveJournal. They're basically online diaries, but you can use them to upload and talk about your artwork. For larger images, you can use Photobucket in conjucntion with your online diaries. They're all free!

Join message boards and mailing lists that talk about comics and art and share your work. For local message boards, check out this one (which is mine. he.he.). Plenty of people there you can talk with, and give opinions on your work. Comics professionals like Edgar Tadeo, Budjette Tan, Leinil Yu, Philip Tan, Dave Yardin visit the message board from time to time.

If you have money, try to get your own domain, like I have with Komikero.com. It's hosted by Castlemelody, which has excellent online support. If you have your own domain, it looks more professional. And perception goes a long way with potential employers.

I've gotten jobs because of my online presence, both local and abroad. Specially abroad. I know of a lot of other people who found jobs because of their online presence. It's all about networking, getting in touch with people who are in the know, and those who can help you.

You can even use your site an online catalogue for your self published comics. They send you money through the bank, and you in turn mail the comics to them.

You can even create your comics completely online. A lot of creators have gotten attention and acclaim by doing comics on the web and it's something worthy of attention.

Option #4.

Ok, now that you've made your mini comics, you've made a splash with your terrific art online. If you are really really GOOD, It's simply just *impossible* that people won't be talking about you and your art. If you suck, then people won't be talking about you at all, or if they do, it's about how you much you suck. But if you are really good, you will notice that you will start to have a reputation as a really awesome artist. This is the beginning of what may be considered as "clout".

At this point, you can go back to Option #1. You may probably have been able to cultivate enough reputation and clout by this time, and hopefully a HUGE improvement in your work for the companies to give your work a second look.

One thing you can try is to create for yourself a new option. Create venues where you can do your comics with established publishers and their publications. Think out of the box. Established comic book companies are not the only places where you can do comics. It's very possible that magazines that don't normally do comics will agree to have them, if approached properly. PULP Magazine used to carry 2-page comics. Maybe you can come up with a proposal and submit it to Editor In Chief Vernon Go. He likes gritty realistic stories so keep that in mind when you submit stories there.

If Pulp is willing to put comics in their pages, you know, maybe other magazines will. PUMP is already carrying comics as well. I approached FUDGE Magazine with the idea of doing comics for them and after a couple of proposals, they said yes. So that's another job for me (and a looming deadline so I better wrap this up quick!). Take your pick of the magazines being published today and one of them just might agree to do your comics *if* they think it's good enough for them, and if it's thematically appropriate for what they publish. Do you want a hint which magazine may be open to comics? (Manual Mag)

Option #5

There are many calls for contributions for various projects. The most recent I saw were a call for contributors for Mondo Comics, an anthology written by a Filipino filmmaker, and the First Philippine 24-Hour Comic Book Challenge. If you had followed Option #3 and cultivated an online presence and joined groups and message boards, you're bound to know about these projects. These kinds of projects don't pay most of the time, but if you're interested in getting your name out there, boosting your reputation, and you have the time, then why not?

Option #6

Join competitions! These are rare, but when there's one, jump at the chance. There's a terrific contest right now sponsored by no less than Neil Gaiman himself, and Fully Booked. 100,000 pesos first prize, 12 pages black and white with a February 28 deadline. Winning entries will be published in a book. For more info, check this out. Prose writers get a separate contest.

Not only that, recognizing the fact that this competition will bring out the very best, and that losing entries will still kick ass, Elbert Or of Nautilus Comics is mulling an idea of helping non-winners get their work published. He needs SERIOUS encouragement.

Option #7

Get an agent. Glasshouse Graphics. So far, it works great for Wilson Tortosa, Carlo Pagulayan and a lot of other Filipino artists. Just don't forget to read the fine print.

There you go. Keep in mind that these options are not applicable to everybody. They're only applicable to those writers and artists who are really good. And if you are good, and you follow all of these options, there's no reason why you can't be doing comics in a year's time, be they with a company or publisher or self published.

But don't forget, no matter how exhilarating it may be to finally get to work in comics, don't let your rights as artists get compromised along the way. This is the part of your career as an artist, the very beginning, where the potential for you to get screwed is great. Be careful, and to guide you, KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!

Remember, fretting won't get you anywhere. It's the doing that does.

Good Luck!

***********************

NEW STRIP BEGINS TODAY!
I'm So Stupid Part 1 of 3