Probably the most pervasive cliché in the creation of comics is the writer who cannot draw (WWCD) flailing about, looking for an artist. Some writers have been known to snark that most writers think they can’t draw and most artists think they can write – this is both inaccurate and impolite. Everyone can write and everyone can draw. However, it is easier to spot that you can’t draw than it is to spot that you can’t write. It would be more truthful to say that most writers cannot draw well and most artists cannot write well.
Unbending the cliché in this manner does not actually help WWCD, however. Especially since they are stuck behind a massive economic reality – the demand for artists far exceeds their supply and the exact opposite is true of writers. If you are a writer that cannot draw, the faster that you can get past this problem, the better off you will be.
There are three strategies for doing this:
1. Find a comic book artist
2. Identify a different artistic approach to making comics
3. Learn to draw
I’m only going to address the first strategy in this essay, leaving the other two for future essays. The vast majority of WWCD are going to follow this strategy to the exclusion of all else, if only because it’s the most obvious. Never mind that 90% of WWCD do exactly the same thing, which only means that it is the most well-travelled path into comics, not necessarily the easiest.
If you are bound and determined to get an artist to work on your script, you are setting yourself up for a massive challenge. If you have no published or completed comics to your credit, the challenge is even greater. The only thing that you have going for you is your credibility and it is extremely easy to blow that without even trying. Here are some common sensical best practices and practical advice:
- Expect rejection (and lots of it). If an artist is actually making comics, they aren’t looking for a writer. Some will be polite and straightforward in their response. Some will be terribly unprofessional in their response. Some will never respond. It happens. In every case, the best thing you can do is put on your big boy pants and keep moving forward. In the event that you actually get an artist interested in your work, you will discover that more than half of them will flake out for one reason or another – this usually takes the form of never contacting you again and mysteriously vanishing off the face of the earth. Again, it happens. These responses speak more to the personalities and insecurities of the artist than it does of you – don’t take it personally.
- Start small. Don’t come at the prospective artist with a pitch for a multi-volume graphic novel series that will take years to complete. That demonstrates a complete disconnect from reality on your part. A short, four page story is a good size to start with. It gives you a chance to see if you will work well with each other before either of you get ambitious.
- It takes longer to draw a page than it does the write the script for it. This is one of the main things that WWCD do not understand. A good rule of thumb is that a full page (pencils, inks, colors and letters) can take between 12 and 16 hours to complete. If your artist has a day job, this work is being done in the spare time between meals, sleep, day job and family.
- Have an opportunity in hand (and I don’t mean “I’m going to pitch this series…”). There are so many anthologies for up-and-coming comic creators that it almost beggars belief. Many of these have open submissions and are looking for new blood. Contacting an artist and saying “I have an idea for this anthology that you would be good for” isn’t always guaranteed to get you the reaction you’re looking for, but it shows that you’ve done some research.
- Don’t expect to pitch a series to a publisher if you have no track record. If you were a musician, you would not expect to play Carnegie Hall on your first time out – why would you expect a publisher to pay you good money for a series if you haven’t actually demonstrated your ability to produce something on your own? Get some experience first.
- Don’t expect to pitch a successful artist in an attempt to create a successful career of your own. This is both unrealistic and just plain bad form. It’s been known to happen, but usually by accident. Most artists with any level of professional success can spot this kind of thing a mile away and the polite ones won’t even bother to respond.
- Finding artists is actually ridiculously easy (if you know where to look). For example: go to DeviantArt. In the forums, there is an entire sub-board full of artists who are looking for paid work. Another example: here in the DC area, there is a semi-regular event called Artomatic – an entire building full of artists showing off their work. I like to think of this as a good place to shop for artists. A good rule of thumb is “If an artist is showing work in a gallery or other related venue, they are probably looking for exposure and work.”
- Expect to pay your artist. Remember that whole supply and demand thing I wrote about above? Artists are in demand. The smart and/or good ones know this and will expect to be compensated for their work. Yes, this will be a work for hire situation. The majority of them don’t care. It is very likely that your little four page story will not actually break even, much less create a massive multimedia empire, no matter how much you wish it would.
- Look for good page rates. Artists who are just starting out don’t have a lot of experience and probably don’t know how much their work is worth. I’m not saying that you should offer to pay someone less than what they are asking for – but it is smart to shop around and find a page rate you can afford. Just remember that you will be getting what you pay for. Inexperienced artists may not have a good grasp on how to create sequential art or have a distinctive style of their own. A strong script may or may not help, but it cannot hurt.
- Build relationships with your artists. If you have worked successfully with an artist in the past, keep in touch with them (Twitter is excellent way to do this). If you know that an artist that you’ve worked with is going to be at a show or convention that you are planning to attend, make an effort to meet up with them in person. Eye contact goes a long way towards establishing and maintaining long-term relationships. In the business world, this is called networking.
- Get over your social anxiety. Most writers (and artists) think that they are introverts. Many are. Sitting in your room waiting for someone to find you and give you what you want is not a good recipe for success. Learning how to have a conversation with someone in person in a crowded room will drastically increase your odds of success. Because most writers seem to have this issue, getting over it can potentially give you an edge. And every little bit counts.
- Do not ever tell an artist that they are a bad writer. Not only is this rude, but it is not a good strategy for convincing them that they should work with or for you. Nobody likes to be insulted (and yes, this will be interpreted as an insult, especially if you’ve never met them before) and people tend to gossip about that kind of interaction, which does not make you look good to people you’ve never met.
- Do not ever send a script with an introductory inquiry. This is actually considered pretty rude. Make sure the artist specifically asks before sending the script. It’s not an intellectual property thing – more of a politeness thing. Many people automatically trash any email from someone they don’t know that contains an attachment because it could be construed as spam. Don’t be mistaken for spam.
As I mentioned at the top of the post, most of these are common sense. If you sit down and think through the implications of what you are going to do before you do it, you will start to avoid certain behaviors that will impede your success. A sign of a good writer is the ability to put himself in the shoes of other people. Think of this as a writing exercise – if you were an artist, how would you like to be addressed and/or approached?
One of the things that I have cultivated over the years is a group of advisors that I trust to tell me when I have a bad idea. After all, it’s easier to have someone tell you why it’s a bad idea to do something then it is to do it and find out why it was a bad idea. If you honestly believe that you have no one in your life that is qualified to do this for you, find new friends. If that doesn’t work for you, feel free to drop me a line and ask before you execute. I’ll be more than happy to tell you if you have a bad idea and why. Just don’t get angry at me if you don’t get the answer you’re looking for.