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B&N Week 97: Become A Better Creator–Creative Compromise

| October 30, 2012

Another Tuesday is upon us! Lots of things have been happening for me lately, so let’s just wade right in, shall we?

We’re still talking about being a better creator, and this time around, I wanted to discuss creative compromise. Ready? Let’s go!

I’ll tell you something, I’ve met a lot of creators, and even though they think they’re ready for the big leagues, the word “compromise” is anathema to them. They don’t want to change, they don’t want anyone else to “cloud their vision.” They want to go through the editorial process, just as long as the book or story turns out exactly the way they want it. These creators, despite whatever they may think, are not yet ready to work with others.

Comics is a strange, fickle beast. There are extremely few creators out there who can tell a story, and it turns out exactly the way they wanted it. Those creators are generally doing all the work: writing, drawing, coloring, lettering…and even then, they probably have someone else in editorial to help shape the story into something salable. Again, these creators are few and far between.

Most creators, be they writers or artists or otherwise, fall into the category of needing someone else to complete their vision. Most competent artists cannot tell a story with words well, and most competent writers cannot draw. So we end up needing one or the other in order to get the story told.

If this is the case, why are there so many creators out there who are unwilling to see things as they truly are? They think that just because they can see, they have a vision. When you’re just starting out, this is not always the case. It’s hardly ever the case, to be honest. What creators need to do is learn to compromise on their creativity, otherwise, their story will not get told.

Here is a truth: no one else is ever going to be as excited about your story as you are. Ever.

Let’s see if this sounds familiar:

You have an idea for a story you want to tell. It’s about hamburgers and fries fighting, and you call it The Ketchup Wars. You’ve got these great ideas for armor for the burgers, and lots of jokes about lettuce, cheese, bacon, and onions. You’ve got secret plans about making sweet potato fries being the generals, with steak fries being part of the infantry, and waffle fries being shields and such. You go very, very elaborate, and you think it’ll make a good comic. It’ll be fun and funny, right?

So you’ve got the story all plotted out, you’ve written a couple of issues, and you know you can get a whole six issue arc out of it. But you’re broke. You can barely pay for your internet connection, let alone pay for an artist to get the work done. You have to go back-end.

What you have to do now is convince an artist that this idea is damned good and worth their while.

Going to be difficult, isn’t it?

What happens if you get an artist interested, but then they say that they’d rather see Ketchup Wars as a webcomic than as a print series? They want you to change the format to a strip, no more than five panels, and they can work it so that it comes out three days a week. What do you do?

Let’s say you pitch the idea to a publisher, and they like it, but they want to change it to a webcomic and put it on their site. What do you do?

This is where creative compromise comes in the most. You see your comic one way, you bring someone aboard to help, and then they see it another. You then have a choice: compromise, or not.

The very first thing that you need to do when faced with creative compromise is to give the project an honest look. That means asking the hard questions of yourself and your baby: did you create something that didn’t resonate as is, but could do so in another format? does the other person have an idea that will make the project stronger? does the other person have a record of success? does the other person know what they’re talking about? do you think the project will succeed with or without the changes?

A few years ago, I wrote a story that I knew would be extremely tough to sell. Extremely tough. Very cerebral. Kinda dry, even though the subject matter was pretty exciting to me. Three issues, and though I’ve had some artists interested in drawing it, I knew that it would be tough to sell on the market. A good friend of mine looked at what I wanted to do, and made some suggestions as to how to make it better and to stand out among the crowd. Now, I hate rewrites. Absolutely hate ‘em. I’m an editor, and I hate the editorial process, because I’m perfect! I don’t want others impugning the integrity of my vision!

So, the story still sat on my virtual shelf, and what my friend said ticked over in my head, and I saw that they were right. I plan on rewriting this story soon, making the necessary changes in order to make it more exciting, and adding another element to make it stand out in the crowd. Creative compromise? I’d say so.

I had a client bring me onto their book, and after the first round of edits, they completely rejected almost every single thing I said. I stated my reasons in the notes for why I wanted the changes, but the creator thought they were perfect as is. I’m no longer working with this client. Creative compromise? I’d say not.

I’ve had a client that I had to struggle and fight with in order to see my point of view for their stories. [Remember, I’m never about being “right,” I’m always going to strive to do what is best for the story.] Lots of padding, lots of jumping around, lots of not-much happening for any foreseeable reason. I said to condense and give reasons, they’re asking why. Once they came around, they saw how much tighter and more interesting the story was. Creative compromise? I’d say so.

Here is an important distinction that every single one of you are going to have to know and make with every project you do: do you want to tell stories, or do you want to sell comics? In order to continue to do the one, you have to do the other. That means you’re going to have to do some creative compromising.

Remember that compromise means that there are at least two parties involved, and both parties want something in order for them to be happy. If you have an artist that likes to draw cheesecake, your ninja story may have to take place in a brothel. If you have a writer that likes to do character studies, then your shoot-‘em-up has to change to allow for some depth.

Want to be a better creator? Learn to ask the hard questions about your stories when it comes time to compromise. You’re all going to go through it, either in the indies or when you get good enough to make it to The Show. Rejecting a compromise out of hand won’t get you very far. It’s really a great way to have others not want to work with you.

And that’s all I’ve got. 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 [email protected] for rate inquiries.

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