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B&N Week 144: Ask Questions, Learn, & Then Do

| September 24, 2013

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We have another Tuesday! Really, that’s all the introduction this week. I’ve got some stuff I want to talk about, and I feel it’s important. [Well, to be honest, I fell that all subjects are important. Some are more important than others, though.]

This week, I want to talk about self-help and the newbie.

Here’s how I want to start off, though: few of you are lazy. Some of you are, but the truly lazy people are few and far between. You can’t be in comics for long and remain lazy. I don’t believe it to be possible. There’s just too much work to be done for that to happen on a consistent basis. The amount of work to be done and the unique challenges that the work presents generally tend to weed out the lazy. So, few of you are lazy.

Now, with that being said, some of you aren’t doing enough for yourselves. By that, I mean you expect others to do things for you. When that happens, you’re doing yourself a disservice, because you’re robbing yourself of learning opportunities. It is those learning opportunities that will help you later in your comics career.

Over the years, I’ve collected a lot of information. As a creator, I like to be informed. When I was new, wide-eyed and hopeful of the possibilities, there weren’t a lot of places where I could go to learn my craft, hone it, and be a better creator for it. My ex-wife found Digital Webbing for me one day while I was at work, and I’ve basically been there ever since. It was an amazing resource for newbies like myself to go and learn my craft. I could also ask questions and get answers.

And therein lies the trap, folks.

Don’t get me wrong: asking questions is never, ever a bad thing. If you don’t ask the question, you’ll never know the answer, and sometimes, you’ll get a whole lot more than just the immediate answer to your question/need. However, when asking the question becomes easier than doing the work to learn things for yourself, that’s when the problems start to creep in. That’s when you’re robbing yourself of learning opportunities.

That’s when you can become lazy.

There comes a time, and the line for this is very fine, when it is no longer about self-help, but just about getting quick answers. While that line is different for everyone, what it usually boils down to is not knowing where to look. Sometimes, it’s not understanding what you’re looking at, but usually, it’s just not knowing where to look. Sometimes, information is just difficult to find.

This is part of the reason why I started writing these columns. And after nearly three years, there is a pretty hefty archive of columns that is chock full of information to be perused, and that archive grows every week. But even still, that is just one place to get information. We have another very good archive that is full of information on actually producing a book. This is information that is scattered all over the web, and we’ve done a lot of work in not just putting it in one place for you, but also making it easy to digest and being accessible for questions.

How can you help yourself? The same way we did: read, buy books, and ask questions. This is the Internet Age, the dream of the Information Superhighway of the 90s partially realized. [I say only partially because it is still an evolving work in progress. However, there is a breathtakingly vast amount of information stored right at your fingertips, all for free. The technical term for “breathtakingly vast” is “metric shit-ton.” And it’s only growing.] There are problems when it comes to information, though. The first problem is simple: what question do I ask? The next question is even more simple: whose information do I trust?

I remember reading a book where the main character was presented with a choice, but he was an expert in his field. He likened his situation to a guy who had inadvertently swallowed some poison, and he was an expert in the field of poisons. He had written a book on the subject, and according to his book, he was a dead man, but according to a book written by his rival, he had taken only half the amount that would kill him. The only thing he could do was wait.

When you’re a newbie, it isn’t just a matter of what question to ask, but also whose information to trust. Luckily, there is nothing that is life-threatening in comics. Maybe threats to your sanity, but nothing threatening to your life.

The really hard part is knowing the questions to ask. Sometimes, the questions are really simple: how do I find an artist? How much is a good price to pay for a letterer? Sometimes, the question is less simple: what is the standard comic book size? Do I need a contract for this work I want to get done?

Why is asking the right question the really challenging part? Because when you’re new, you don’t know what you don’t know. All you know is that you want to make a comic. You go to Google and ask the question: how to make a comic. You come back with a lot of hits from a lot of different sites, some YouTube videos, maybe some podcasts. You read a few, and they all start to say the same thing: script, art, words on pictures, sell the book! You start to see that that is an overview, and you start to tumble like Alice down the rabbit hole. Except this hole has lots of side passages and warrens to explore.

Here’s the thing when it comes to self-help, and it’s implicit in what it is, but I don’t believe that it is understood enough: you’re meant to do it. You don’t just consume the information and then don’t do anything with it, waiting for someone else to do it for you. You get the info, make sure you understand it, maybe ask the necessary questions [if you are able to], and then you implement the strategies. You had a problem, looked for help to solve it, and now you have to go through with it.

For the new creator, this can be daunting. The fear is of making a mistake, and with so many choices, they are afraid of making the wrong choice. In general, people don’t like making decisions. When presented with too many choices, they’ll do one of two things: go with what’s familiar, or make no decision at all and keep it moving [which is also a choice, of sorts].

What to do?

It isn’t that difficult, really. You ask questions, learn, and then do. That’s the best way to help yourself. Ask questions, learn, and then do. All three of these things are important, because without them, there is no way you’re ever going to write the book you want to, or have a comic company not just say yes to a proposal, but come seek you out because of your unique voice. Ask questions, learn, and then do.

Asking questions will teach you what you do and do not know. It should also teach you how to ask better questions. [The “standard comic book size” question is actually a multi-tiered question, because you’re not really asking about a standard print size, you’re asking about dimensions the work should be in in order to produce a standard print-sized comic.] Questions can be rabbit holes, and once you get some information under your belt, you can then start to ask other questions about what it is you really want to know.

Learning should be the natural result of asking questions. [A good tip: copy and paste into a document answers you like, that work, or that seem to make sense. Websites can go the way of the dodo, which means links can break. Copy and paste lives for as long as you back up your files.] That information you’ll find in the CT archives? A lot of it was born from questions asked and answered, and then studied. Seeing what did and did not seem to work, or was contested and then research was done.

A great way to learn? Answering someone else’s question. You go out, do the research

Doing should be the natural result of learning. You learn so that you can do. Also, the converse of that is true: you do so that you can learn. This is comics, and we make mistakes. Learning and then doing can lead to something like this, which taught its own lessons, so that something like this can then be done.

This last part is critical. If you don’t “do,” then what you’re really doing is wasting your time. (No, Steven, I’m doing research!) No, you’re wasting your time. There will come a point when you’ll either have to shit or get off the pot. There is no third option.

You ask questions, learn, and then do. Then you do it all over again, refining as you go along. But this is how you help yourself.

And that’s all for this week! Homework: Ask questions, learn, and then do. It’s a lot easier than it sounds.

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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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