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B&N Week 125: Making “Better” Comics

| May 14, 2013

BoltsNutsFeatured-better

It’s Tuesday yet again! And it’s hot here! The low 90s, but this is what I wanted when I moved back to Tucson. It’s only going to get hotter, and we’re only in May.

You don’t want to hear about my weather! You want some Bolts & Nuts! Let’s get into, then. Right? Right.

This week, I want to talk about part of the ComixTribe mission statement: Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. It’s those last four words that I want to talk about this week. Those last four are very important, because while we all want “better” comics, we often don’t realize or recognize what “better” is, or how to get there.

Let’s face it: as a word, “better” is extremely subjective. Some people think Marvel Comics are better than DC comics, some go the complete opposite, others think they’re both crap and that the real stuff is in the indies, and even then, there’s a vast difference between First Second to Oni to Dark Horse to Top Shelf, and even vast differences between what those companies publish within themselves. So, what constitutes “better”, and how do we achieve it?

Those last four words also cast an aspersion on the work you’re producing, like you’re producing something that is less than good. However, the truth of the matter is simply this: you are.

When we talk about “better,” we are talking about raising the bar on the quality of comics that you are creating, plain and simple. This isn’t just about art, although that plays a large part of it, and it isn’t just about the writing, although that plays a part, too. Believe it or not, those two are the least it takes to make a comic. The bare minimum are words and art. It’s everything that goes into getting the ideas from your head to the shelf, and all the stops inbetween that we’re talking about.

How do you make better comics? It starts with a simple dedication to do just that. Are you a letterer? You know that everyone not only wants your job, but they also think it’s easy, so they want to cut you out as being the least needed. “I say—I say, there, boah, anyone—I said, anyone can lettah!” [Forgive the terrible Foghorn Leghorn impression.] Know what this means for you, letterer? You should be learning other aspects of creating. Logo creation [which is as much art as it is science, and much more difficult than you would think] is one aspect, but there’s also learning how to tell your own stories, isn’t there? Sure, there’s a story you want to tell. How do you tell it? You learn, and then you propagate the cycle by not hiring a letterer to do the book, because you’re going to letter it yourself.

Inkers, you’re in the same boat as the letterer. If a penciler does things digitally, they can play with and adjust the levels of their output so that their pencils are now inks. Leaves you out in the cold, no? What do you do? Learn another job. (Lettering!) That’s an option. But why not learn how to pencil? To my mind, the best inkers are artists in their own right. Step up to the plate with something of your own. Need help bringing it out of you? That’s what your friends, family, peer groups, and editorial are for.

It is easy to raise the bar, to become “better,” once you dedicate yourself to it. “Better” is another word for “learning.” The stories about the hometown boy or girl making good? That’s because they went away to learn, got better, and then came back with their new knowledge and did something with what they learned.

This is a conversation that doesn’t happen often enough in comics. There’s often the complaint you hear about mainstream comics not getting any better, because they retread the same themes and stories over and over again. How many times does Magneto become a hero before reverting back to villainy, flip-flopping like a fish on land? Xavier can walk, wait he’s chairbound again, well look he’s up on his feet! Character deaths that don’t stick. Characters that don’t age. Universal reboots. All of that and more is all there for the complaining.

Complaining, however, can lead to “better.” If that complaining is done correctly. If it is followed through with intent and will. If you, as a creator, are willing to hold it up and say, “My comics will be better than this,” and mean it.

That starts with learning. Learn the entire process, and not just your “job.”  Your “job” doesn’t stop with the writing or the inking. Your job doesn’t stop when you’ve gotten paid. Your job doesn’t stop, period.

“Better” means learning, and that is something you should never stop doing. Learn your job, and how you can be innovative at it. How you can be more efficient at it. How does your job fit within the process, and how can you make that process more streamlined and effective? How can you communicate your needs in order to make the process run as smoothly as possible?

Raise the bar for yourself, and don’t settle for the first thing that comes your way. To settle is to admit defeat, and there is nothing “better” about being defeated. Settling in this case means having creators who aren’t the right fit for your project onboard for whatever capacity. But first, you have to learn.

You have to learn to how to look at all aspects of writing, art, inking, coloring, and lettering in order to understand what is and is not quality. Once you understand that, you can then start making decisions as to what you want. But you have to understand what is and isn’t quality. This is where a lot of creators start to trip and fall. They don’t look to learn what is quality, and then they don’t follow through in learning the business aspects.

The more you know, the “better” your comics will be. Sweet and simple.

Homework: Learn. Learn your job, learn other creator’s jobs, and learn the business of comics. Learn. Learn everything you can. I am certain that if you apply yourself diligently to learning, you will have no other choice but to make better comics.

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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