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B&N Week 165: How Many People Do You Know That Can Further Your Career?

| February 18, 2014

BoltsNutsFeatured-who do you know

We’ve got another Tuesday upon us, and you know what that means, right? It’s time to ask another question in the new Bolts & Nuts tradition!

This week’s question is relatively simple, but carries some things with it that could be unpleasant.

How many people do you know that can further your career?

I’m going to tell you the best-kept open secret in comics: making it as a newbie is a combination of money, drive, luck, a small smattering of talent, and who you know.

Ever look at some creators work and wonder how they got their job? I remember looking at an issue of Spider-Man that Pat Lee did and was instantly turned off. This was when he had the Transformers franchise, and because there were no robots in the comic, it looked like he not only phoned it in, it was phoned in over a garbled line while he was drunk. [It reminds me of a great bad movie, Night of the Demons. Roger, the token black guy, is looking at a map, and says, “It looks like whoever drew this was half blind and half retarded.” Makes me laugh every time, and makes me think of that Pat Lee issue.]

Anyway, let’s look at these pieces one at a time.

Money is the obvious thing, because without it, you’re generally not going to get a comic made. Most creators want to be paid for their work, especially when they’ve been doing it for a while. Few people want to read scripts anymore. Editors [you know, the people who actually do the hiring at companies] want to read the comic. We can tell a lot from that.

Drive is also obvious. You can’t create a comic without it. I know a company that’s been trying for ten years to put out a single issue of a comic book. Actually, longer than that. That’s a long time to try to put out a single issue of a comic. A good friend of mine, Cary Kelley, put out a single comic book within six months of the formation of his first company. Ten years versus six months. Which one has more drive?

Luck is another obvious one. Luck is the wild card. You can prepare to take advantage of opportunities when they come your way, but they aren’t always there. Luck is not something you can count on.

Talent is something else altogether. Everyone has talent. Everyone. Yes, even you. The one mentally shaking their head. Yes, you have talent. Talent needs honing, though, and that’s where years of practice comes in. When you pay a creator, you’re paying them not for their talent, but for the years of effort they put into honing that talent. Few people know how to just do something without practice, and without constant practice, skills can and do diminish.

You need all of those things, however, in order to fuel the making of a comic book, and then getting that to someone who’s in a position to get you to where you want to be.

Today’s model is that you create a comic in order to show it to people in order to get work as a comic creator. Money, talent, drive get you so far, luck takes you to that next step, but who you know is what puts you over the top.

Who can put you  over the top?

Editors know a lot of people. They’re on everyone’s Christmas list, they get stuff sent to them all the time. That book you’ve just created? You’ve sent it to a lot of people to get feedback, didn’t you? I’m willing to bet that some of those people were editors. Why? Because editors can make your career.

What about other creators? Those with a bigger name or more cachet than you. You send them things or hit them up as you can, because they’re making comics and are making a name for themselves. They’re out there, working with editors, and are where you think you’d like to be. The thought is that if you can catch their attention, they’ll send you up the food chain. It all depends on who you approach and how you approach them.

Then there are news outlets. Everyone wants to be interviewed, don’t they? Not only do they want to be interviewed, they want their own personal site covered, or their comic book talked up. The thought here is that the news outlet will give you exposure, and that exposure will translate into sales and jobs down the line.

So, who do you know that can help you further your career?

I know a creator who was able to parlay acquiring a high profile creator’s lawyer into getting their book looked at by a company that generally doesn’t look at submissions, and that book was published.

I know another creator that had their story published by one of the Big Two, has worked with some great editors, but now can’t get an editor to look at their stuff.

Now, to answer the question that’s on people’s minds: how can this get unpleasant?

When you start thinking of who you know to further your career, two things pop into mind immediately: usury, and ranking.

While everyone uses someone [your job uses you to get work done, and you use your job in order to earn money so you can pay your bills and entertain yourself], the game of “who you know” can make that usury all the more unpleasant. People’s feelings can get involved, and that’s never fun.

Then, there are the rankings. Who’s “higher”: an associate editor at Marvel/DC, or an editor at ONI? Did I just make you think? Is this a level playing field? Are their goals even the same?

This is not a zero-sum game. There is no clear-cut winner. If you go into this with the mindset of using people to get to the top [whatever your “top” is], then you’ve already lost. If they’ve been around long enough, editors and creators both will have developed a bullshit detector. They can be leery of meeting new people in certain settings, anyway. I remember reading an interview with Peter Tomasi who was then an editor at DC, saying while at a convention, there was a guy hanging around a bunch of editors and creators who were talking, and the conversation was somewhat stilted until one of the creators vouched for the guy saying he was okay. The conversation immediately got more relaxed.

Why did this happen? Because of bad experiences. Outsiders trying to work their way in by lying, stealing, or other unsavory means. People using others as stepping stones to get to where they want to be, no matter the cost. Those people don’t stick around long.

Comics is a great community to be a part of. We are capable of outstanding acts of kindness when we want to. We rally when we need to. Users are eventually found and if not called out, they are definitely not supported by getting more work. Again, look at Pat Lee. [And if you don’t know who he is, then this is a perfect opportunity to learn something.]

Who do you know that can further your career? Makes you look at the question in a different light, doesn’t it? It makes you look not only at the people you know or want to know, but it makes you look at yourself as well.

One day, it could be you that someone wants to know. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

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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