Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lessons In Four Colors, Part Two: The Care and Feeding of Editors...

Back in the day, before we all had email addresses and cell phones, I used to have an answering machine. It was a gray and black plastic thing, with a tiny cassette, a 'play' button, and a little red light that would blink when you had a message.

For most of the 1990s, I lived in fear of that light. When it was flashing, it usually meant one thing -- there was a message from an editor asking me why they hadn't gotten any pages from me yet.

I hated that light.

And then there was the phone. If it rang, it meant the same thing. There was an editor out there who was upset with me. They needed to get a book out and I was letting them down. Every time the phone rang, my heart stopped.

In the darkest times of my career, when I was barely functioning as an adult, much less as a freelance creator - an incredibly precarious career littered with traps and pitfalls that I either pretended weren't there or just couldn't bring myself to face - when I was screwing up badly, I'd turn the ringer off and leave it to the answering machine to deal with.

Like I said, barely functioning. In any way. I'm not proud of it, but it's the truth.

It took me many years and many potentially career-destroying mistakes to learn the single most important thing a freelance comic book creator needs to know...

Your editor is your best friend, your ally, your backstop. When you're having trouble, they'll move heaven and earth to help you. Yeah, sometimes they'll be angry at you, and sometimes they'll yell at you, but they've got your back.

So, rule #1 of being a professional comic book creator: When your editor calls (or these days, emails) you take the call.

Rule #2: Never lie to your editor. Ever. Not done, yet? You tell them. Falling behind schedule? You tell them. Not going to be done on time? You tell them RIGHT AWAY!

Listen, I've lied to editors, told them what they wanted to hear, promised them things I can never deliver in a million years. It has never EVER worked out well for me. Even now, I sometimes make the mistake of telling someone the best case scenario and not facing what the worst case scenario is. Being creative isn't like turning on a faucet, and sometimes things come up. Often times things come up. The sooner you recognize and find ways to address that, the better. But I'll talk about that in a later post. For now, just remember...

Never lie to your editor.

Here's the thing. After all the mistakes I've made, one of the reasons I still have a career is that there are a handful of editors who never gave up on me -- Ben Abernathy, Denton Tipton, and Kristy Quinn chief among them. And Ben in particular was there for the biggest screwup in my entire career of screwups, which led to me being fired off of my dream book before we even got started -- Hellboy.

I work because these people think of me when jobs come up. Editors are your best friend, but they're also your first, most important audience. You're working for them, they're not working for you. Don't let your ego get in the way, try not to let your personal problems interfere with your work, and if they are interfering, see the above -- if you're going to be late, tell them IMMEDIATELY.

I've often joked with Denton about how sometimes being an editor means having to be a bit of a therapist, figuring out the best way to get a writer or artist to get the job done. Carrot or stick, stroke their ego or read them the riot act, all in the name of getting them at the desk doing the work. And while I do think that's true -- creators are delicate psychological creatures, after all -- it really shouldn't be.

If editors are the creator's best friend, you as a creator have to do your best to be their best friend. Don't make problems for them. If you're difficult to work with, if you can't deliver on your promises, it gets around. FAST. You want to keep working in the business, it's in your best interest to be good to your editors. They can make or break you.

How do you care and feed an editor? Deliver the work. Be upfront and honest. Give them your BEST work. Don't be a jerk. Also, some of them like beer. If you both like beer, buy them one when you see them.

Come through for your editor and more likely than not, the next time the right project comes along, your name is going to cross their mind. When it does, you want to make sure your name isn't followed with the thought, "Oh, they're a flake, I can't give this to them."


Lessons In Four Colors, Part One: An Introduction, Of Sorts....

As of this year, I've been drawing comics professionally for 21 years. The ongoing joke around my house is that my comic book career is old enough to drink. Which for some reason amuses me, but let's be honest, probably only me.

It hasn't been a smooth road, as anyone who has followed my career knows. Lots of ups and downs. Good years, dismal years, years where I wanted to chuck it all in and get a normal job, even years where I actually did go and get a normal job. But for one reason or another, I always end up back behind an art table, or now, a Cintiq.

I've made mistakes, plenty of them. Some derailed my career a bit, some nearly destroyed it, and yet, somehow, I'm busier now than I've ever been. In fact, I seem to have stumbled on to the career I expected to have when I started out 21 years ago - with a regular gig, a sea of side gigs to fill up my spare time, and personal projects to fill any extra time I might have considered using for sleep or hanging out or any of the normal stuff of life that is rarely an option when you're freelance creative person with bills to pay and deadlines to meet.

There's no secret to my survival, at least not a simple, easy to explain one, but I have learned some things over the years, things I thought I'd share on the off chance that they might help other people looking at comics as a career or a hobby; rules you should follow, or at least some mistakes to avoid.

I've talked before about the realities of making comics in the current marketplace, and between the time I wrote about it and now, things have continued to change. It's a hard way to make a living, and while many people still think comic book creators are all rich and famous, the truth is an ever smaller group of people are making what most people would think of as 'good money' much less a stack of cash they can sleep on.

I don't say this to scare anyone. The related fact is that it's so much easier to get a comic book out now than it has ever been. If you can finish it, you can publish it, either yourself or through someone else. But as always, finding an audience for it isn't easy and making money at it is even harder still.

For a while now, I've been thinking that we're fast approaching an age where the professional creative class - people who make their living solely through making comics or writing books or making music - will be an incredibly rare species. Lots of people will still be making things, but only a few will be supporting themselves with it.

And that's okay. As we often say in my family when something we're not wild about happens, "It is what it is." Like the move to digital in most creative media, the writing is on the walls (or the iPad) and you have to adjust and plan for it as best you can or get left behind.

But say you do find yourself in the position of creating comics for a publisher - big or small, digital or print - and you'd like to keep doing it. Well, let me give you a few pointers...


Friday, February 20, 2015

The Long Road Home...

There are two questions I get asked a lot these days. The first is "When are you going to do more Doctor Who?" and the second is "Was The October Girl canceled?".

The answer to the first question is an admittedly slightly glib "When someone asks me", and the answer to the second is a simple "No".

My answer to the first question usually leads to my practiced patter about how my last WHO projects at IDW included drawing all the Doctors current at the time and most of the companions who ever appeared on the show, as well as writing a 50th anniversary story for the BBC to put in a BluRay boxset. If those are the last WHO things I ever do, I'm pretty okay with that.

It's a rehearsed answer, but it's also true. I love Doctor Who and it's a huge piece of my creative DNA, but at a certain point you have to step aside and let all the other creators who share that DNA have a turn at the TARDIS console, too.

My answer to the second question almost always leads to a third question, "Why has it been so long since you put out an issue?". And that's a question I don't have a practiced answer for.

As you may or may not know, October Girl #3 is finally available on Comixology and October Girl #4 is already in the can and will be released on 3/25/15 while October Girl #5 will be wrapped up within the next week or so. That's three issues on the (digital) shelves in three months after two and a half years since the second issue came out.

Why two and a half years? It's a little complicated...

In the lead up to to the release of October Girl #3, I've done a little bit of comic book press - an interview with Between The Panels' William Goodman and a process piece for Tim O'Shea at Robot 6 - and I touched on some of the reasons in those, but only in passing.

The only honest answer to what happened is to say, "Life happened."

Before the interview with William I sat down to get my head out of the page I was drawing long enough to talk coherently about anything other than how hard it is to draw Mulder's hair (I'm the regular artist on The X-Files: Season 10, if you didn't know) and I realized that in the time between the first issue of October Girl and now, I've moved three times, met my wife, married my wife, drawn an awful lot of non-October Girl related projects, and even written a couple of projects.

So, yeah. Life got a little crazy. The often unspoken reality of being a freelancer is that you almost always have to take the work that gets offered to you no matter what, and I was suddenly being offered more work than ever before.

Unless you're a big name, no one is getting rich from making comics and when paying work comes your way, you do it, if only to keep a roof over your head. And I've been pretty lucky. Most of the work I get offered is something I'd want to do anyways. I mean, work with my buddy Ron Marz on a Zombie Western? Come on! How do you say no to that? Or more Doctor Who issues? Or a chance to write and draw a story for a comic book based on Jim Henson's The Storyteller?

The truth is, if there's a paycheck involved, you do it. And one of the reasons I was getting more work was also a big cause of the delay between issues. Somewhere between issue 2 and issue 3, I switched to working digitally.

It was a practical decision, in that there's a whole new generation of artists coming up and the only way mid-to-low level guys like me are going to be able to compete is to kick our art up a notch and give editors something new and different that they don't expect from us. Working digitally gave me a chance to take my art to a new level, and it worked.

I sent the first few digital pieces out the day I drew them (which was the same day my Cintiq arrived) and with a couple of hours, I had three new assignments. Working on a Cintiq made me rethink everything about how I drew and what came out the other end was something different and interesting enough that a few editors took notice. Which I'm sure my various landlords for those couple of years greatly appreciated.

But I'm sure you can see the problem. I wasn't drawing the way I used to draw anymore, and that meant either I had to draw October Girl by hand or I had to figure out how to make my digital art look more like my earlier, analog work. I talk about this a bit in both interviews, and in the Robot 6 piece I specifically get into the process of figuring out how to make the digital art work for October Girl, but it was a long and weird and not as easy as I tried to make it sound.

(I did try going back and forth from digital on my other projects and analog on October Girl, but it was not what I'd call a success. The mechanics are different enough that every time I switched I had to relearn how to draw the way I used to, which is not particularly helpful when you've got editors waiting on you. I know that sounds weird, but I suspect I'm not the only artist to have that experience. The tools are different and you have to remember how to make the tool do what you want.)

But the thing is, NOT finishing The October Girl was never an option, and when I had a stretch of bad health that turned out to be nothing serious, all I could think about was how much I wanted to tell the rest of the story, along with the two stories that intersect with it -- NIGHT FOLK and the Fade short stories. There was a scary night where my active imagination got full control of my head and I seriously wondered if I'd even wake up the next morning, and my main thought was, "If I die, I'm going to be really angry at myself for not finishing any of that."

In retrospect it was self-indulgent and self-pitying, but it gave me the extra push I needed to stay a few extra hours at the table after my other work was done to do a page of October Girl or plan out the next issue. It's still keeping there, even tonight as I write this.

It's been a long road back to The October Girl for me, but I was never really off the road. Maybe stalled from time to time, but always heading in the same direction. And now that some of the kinks have been worked out of the brand new engine, I'm looking forward to telling the rest of Autumn's story, and hopefully entertaining you in the process.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sketchbook: October Girl color experiment...

Quick color experiment on the Cintiq. Still playing around with different approaches to drawing and coloring digitally.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Adventures in Time and Space and Comics...

Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time #11 hits shelves today, marking the last of my new Doctor Who work for IDW before their license expires in December.

Looking back in my files, my first WHO piece for IDW is timestamped February 11th, 2009, so it's been four years working off and on with a character that has loomed large in my life since the first time I watched Doctor Who in 1977.

Anyone who knows me knows that there's a part of my brain that is always thinking about Doctor Who. Both as a fan and as a comic book creator. The show is one of the biggest influences on my creative interests and my creative approach. It's a key piece of my creative DNA and informs everything I've done as an artist and as a writer.

I've told the story of how I squealed like a little girl who got a pony for Christmas on the phone when Denton Tipton from IDW called and asked if I'd be interested in drawing an arc in their new Doctor Who ongoing title. It was in part because of the first WHO piece I did for them, an inventory cover that led the BBC's art approval person to say, "Too bad it's just a cover."

Four years later, and I've drawn more Doctor Who than I could have imagined. More than other American. And I've even gotten to write some WHO comic book stories of my own, including a special 50th Anniversary comic that the BBC included in their big Blu Ray collection of the first seven series.

It wasn't always a smooth road, and there were times I'm sure Denton wanted to throttle me for being too precious with my work, too slow, too opinionated about WHO stories, too... well, too much of a WHO fan and not enough of a professional. There was even a time I decided to step away from WHO to focus on my own projects and develop my writing career.

That didn't last long. It was only a matter of time before Denton found the right carrot to bring me back in the IDW WHO fold, a series of covers featuring one of my favorite classic Doctors, Sylvester McCoy.

And once he had me back in the fold, Denton kept me on the hook with things like the anniversary story for the BBC boxset until handing me my last assignment, the 11th Doctor issue of their year long 50th Anniversary maxi-series, Prisoners of Time.

It's been an amazing run, and I'm sorry to see come to an end. I've always thought IDW handled WHO well. They gave it the respect and effort that few licensed comics receive from publishers. And I'm thrilled I got to be a part of it.

I don't know where the WHO license will go next. So far, all we have are rumors. But if I never get a chance to write or draw Doctor Who again, I can learn to live with the stack of work I got to do for IDW. As a little kid sitting watching Doctor Who with my older brother, I would never have believed I would grow up to draw and write the character. It's been a dream come true.

Thanks as always to Ted Adams, Chris Ryall and Denton Tipton at IDW for helping make it happen, and to my many collaborators on WHO over the years, including Tony Lee, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Len Wein, Mitch Gerads, Charlie Kirchoff, Horacio Domingues, Rubén González and Phil Elliott.

Friday, November 1, 2013

October Girl livestream pages...

Spent Halloween live streaming work on the next issue of October Girl. The first time I've tried to draw in that particular style on the Cintiq. Still a bit rough around the edges, but here are the results...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On Shelves Now: LotDK #74...

On sale now from DC Comics on Comixology! The first of my three issue Legends of the Dark Knight story, Ashes to Ashes. Script by Doug Wagner, art by me, colors by Wendy Broome, and a cover by the great Francesco Francavilla!

You can pick it up here!