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B&N Week 88: Become A Better Creator–Professionalism

| August 28, 2012

By now, it should be no surprise that as Tuesday draws ever closer, I get ever more excited. Getting to spend time with you like this is and always shall be the highlight of my week.

This week, I want to speak about something that should not only be near and dear to your heart, but that should always be in the uppermost thoughts in your every dealing with every person you ever run across, regardless as to whether or not they’re connected to your comic book career. You want to be a better creator? Then you have to act as a professional at all times.

Now, there are lots of different ideas of what a “professional” is, and what acting like one should consist of. I’m going to talk a lot about what a professional is, and how acting like one should be done, and what the consequences of not acting like one will be.

Simply put, with long, complicated explanations aside, a professional is someone who gets pad for providing a service. Usually, this person is trained, but not always. A great example of that? Rachel Ray. This is a woman who has no formal training in cooking, yet she has a cooking show [30 Minute Meals], a talk show in which she cooks, and travels around the world telling people how they can eat for $40 A Day. Totally untrained, but she was partnered with a chef and competed on Iron Chef America…and won. She’s looked at as a professional. And she carries herself as one.

Now, with that established, as soon as you accept and are paid for your first assignment, you are a professional. Very simple, no? Trained or not, as soon as you accept and are paid for an assignment, you are a professional. That means you have certain responsibilities.

Being a professional is seen as being elevated. Being a professional, funny things start to happen to you. (Funny good, or funny strange?) The answer to that is simple: yes. (Yes?) Yes.

Those that are still looking for their first job, or those who have been looking for years and still haven’t broken through…those creators will start to look at you funny. A lot of them are looking to tear you down, for no other reason than they’re jealous. (Hey! That’s a pretty large claim to lay on people.) I know. And I stand by it. Why? Because I’ve seen it time and again. It’s terrible, and it does nothing but bring us down as a community.

Face it, folks: there are a LOT of people looking to make it in comics. However, we all need one another to lift each other up, not tear one another down. It doesn’t do anything besides make us look bad, and we do enough of that all by ourselves, without trying hard. [Don’t believe me? Mark your calendars: next year, when con season starts up again, see how many articles you’ll read that will mention some sort of odor control. If we have to be reminded about controlling our odor, there’s a problem.]

There are a LOT of professionals out there, and they are all espousing their opinions on various topics. Very few of them are rude when they do it. They may be extremely honest, not sugarcoating things, but they aren’t rude about it. And the problem in America today is that there are too many people whose feelings are easily hurt. Know what I say to those people?

Fuck you. Get out. You don’t deserve to be in comics. The first time you get an unfavorable review or unkind words said about your book, you’re going to want to lash out and show your ass, bringing attention to yourself in the worst of ways, and making the rest of the community look bad as a result.

(Really, Steven? Pretty strong language there. Doesn’t that make us look bad, too?)

Mmm…no. I’m going to say no. Because the use of language was deliberate. (Isn’t everything with you?) You can’t say I don’t try.

You’ve been reading these for a while now. By now, you know that I’m a straight-shooter. I don’t have the time, nor do I have the energy, to be any other way. And I’m passionate. Comics are my passion. Anyone talking to me knows that. And therein lies the secret.

I’m a tennis fan. I love tennis. I love tennis more than I love football, even though I’ve played football in high school. I’ve never played tennis. As a tennis fan, I absolutely LOVE Roger Federer. He’s good, not only for the sport of tennis, but for sports, period. There was a time, before he started reigning over all, where he was a spoiled brat. He’d get angry and start breaking racquets. Lose his focus, and then the match. And then, it was like a lightbulb went off. He got himself under control, and then started winning, rising through the rankings, eventually separating himself from his peers by a very large margin, until he was peerless for a few years. His change of attitude was total, because the spotlight was on him. He became a statesman of tennis, and has remained that way.

(Where’s the secret, Steven?)

The secret is that there are two paths. The first path is you can stay your course, being unchanging as you go along with your career. My caveat to this path is this: you’re good at what you do, and you aren’t rude to either your fellow creators or to your readers when you deal with them. Your mindset is “elevated.”

The second path is that you grow into an elevated mindset. You see someone’s actions, their point of view, their mindset, and if you admire it, then you emulate it. This isn’t something that happens overnight, and you can be seen as having measurable growth.

There are certain things that professionals don’t do. Generally, professionals don’t bite the hand that feeds them, they don’t talk bad about other creators, and they don’t speak sideways out of their necks about subjects. They don’t air their dirty laundry in public. There are exceptions that prove the rule, though, the biggest example being Alan Moore, and the most recent example being Robert Liefeld.

Why don’t you do certain things, especially as a new creator? Because you want to get work. And if you cultivate an “elevated” mindset now, you won’t be seen as hard to work with later. You’ll be seen as having a professional’s attitude. You’d just need the paying gig to go with it, so that you can then call yourself a pro.

Being a professional is a challenge. In some ways, it’s more of a challenge than putting a comic book together and getting it on the shelves. Being a professional is something you have to be every day. You’ll have to NOT say things more often than you think, because one slip of the “new you” is all it takes for your hard work to come a’tumbling down.

Today’s comic world is interconnected. A letters page is for dinosaurs. [We may love it, but it is of the past, not the present, where everything is immediate.] Print magazines are dead, too. Everything is on the web, everything is RIGHT NOW, and everything is on some form of social media. Lashing out over trivial matters, a bad review, or bad treatment by a company…The list of possibilities for you to say stupid things over is near infinite. And because of the internet, it will stick around forever.

As for those exceptions I spoke of earlier? There are some creators who seem to transcend their profession. [I’m basically speaking of Alan Moore here.] Alan Moore can decide tomorrow that he’d like to work for Marvel and DC again, and both companies would welcome him with open arms. Why? Because he’s a genius. If Grant Morrison were to lose his mind, grow a beard, and start saying disparaging things about American comics, that still wouldn’t stop him from getting a job at either company. Why? Because he’s Grant Morrison, and is a genius.

You want to be a better creator? You have to be a professional. You have to leave certain responses unsaid, no matter how much you want to say them. You have to take the high road. You have to think about the larger community around you.

You want to be read, and thought of with esteem by companies, creators, and fans alike? Then you have to do the work, and be respectful of everyone else and their work. Going old-school for a moment, I have yet to hear a bad word about Jack Kirby. There was a man that was truly loved by all. We can’t all be The King, but we can strive to emulate his work ethic, as well as the professionalism the man exuded.

And that’s really all I have for this week. See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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