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B&N Week 167: How Disciplined Do You Have To Be To Create Comics?

| March 4, 2014

BoltsNutsFeatured-discipline

Hey! It’s another Tuesday! The sun is shining, we’re regularly hit the upper 70s and low 80s in Tucson (along with a full day of rain, which is unusual), and the days are getting demonstrably longer. How do I know? I have to wear shades going in to work now, and the sun is lighting my way as I open the door when I get back home. Twelve hour shifts. Not complaining, just stating a fact.

Anyway, it’s time to ask this week’s B&N question, and it’s this: how disciplined do you have to be to create comics?

I’m going to tell you a truth: most of us creating comics are doing so on the side. We all do something for money, but we’re creating comics because we have a passion for it. Only the most skilled and bravest of us are able to not only get to “live the dream” of being entirely freelance, but are able to make a good living at it as well.

Understand what “living the dream” entails, though. It means having no medical or dental insurance unless you’re married and are covered by your spouse; it means not having any guaranteed, steady income; it means always looking for work, even while you’re already working. It means all of that and more. Being a freelancer, being your own boss, means you have to be very disciplined.

So, since comics is a side venture for the bulk of us, you’ve got to be very disciplined in order to do it. Not just work, but whatever family and social life you may have has to be included in your plans as well.

While not turning this into a writer vs artist debate, understand that while both jobs are very important, the artist’s job is more labor intensive. They have to do research into a myriad of things in order to make sure they are doing proper representation of visuals. Imagination is a great thing, but it also has to be grounded in reality. Architecture, clothing, fashion, vehicles, animals, weapons, anatomy, places and things barely scratch the surface of what the artist has to know and research. All of that has to work together with perspective, planes, vanishing points, light sources, shadows, foreshortening, and more—and then all of that has to be integrated with actual storytelling. That’s a lot of stuff, and it takes a long time to learn and even longer to master. And that still doesn’t incorporate the research needed for particular projects.

All of that is a long way of saying that the artist has to be more disciplined than the rest of the creative team in order to actually create a book. A writer can research a story for years, taking notes and gathering their thoughts in order to sit down to write, but the actual act of writing doesn’t take as long to do as the actual act of drawing a panel.

These are the facts of life. No argument, just facts.

Now, if the artist is also the writer, it’s going to take even longer. This takes discipline.

Take a look at myself. I’ve been doing two columns a week for the past three years, being late only once. [Maybe twice.] That’s a hell of a record, if I say so myself. Now, add to the columns the private editing that I do, plus the editing of ComixTribe books, and the odd story that someone asks me to write, as well as the stories that I write for myself. On top of that, add my work schedule, family life, workouts, and the sleep necessary to fuel all of this. And I’ve started to learn the saxophone, which includes learning how to read music. Add to that being a moderator at Digital Webbing and various emails that come my way for projects, inquiries, some Twitter, some Facebook, and keeping abreast of comic book and technology news, and one would start to wonder where I find the time for all of this. [Sometimes I wonder myself.]

Discipline comes from within. No one can make you do anything. I learned this lesson when I was in the 4th grade. My gym teacher gave me a truth when I was young, during recess. He said, “There’s always a choice. You can either take out the garbage, or you can get your tail whipped. The choice is yours.” That stuck with me. Even when you feel like you have no choice, there’s always another option. They may not be options you like, but they’re there.

If you want to create something, you have to do the work. If you’re out of shape, you won’t get into better shape by sitting on the couch watching television. You have to get up and sweat and strain in order to get into better shape. Creating something is the same way. You have to do the work.

Once you start doing the work, it helps immensely if the discipline becomes a habit. I’m in the habit of sitting down to write two columns. I’m in the habit of editing. I’m getting into the habit of saxophone practice.

How disciplined do you have to be to create comics? It depends on you, what you want to do and accomplish. Do you want to create works of art that others will enjoy [words or pictures doesn’t matter—it’s still art], or do you want to create art that no one but yourself will enjoy? Do you want to be paid for your talent and the work you’ve put in, or do you want to just create for yourself? Do you want people to know your name and have your name be synonymous with something, or do you want to toil in obscurity?

If you want what little celebrity comics offers, then you’ll do the work necessary to gain it. (Little celebrity? Brian Bendis is famous! So is Kirkman!) [No, they’re not. Bendis has comic book fame, as does Kirkman. Kirkman has a little bit of crossover fame from The Walking Dead show, but that’s nothing compared to Jennifer Lawrence, JK Rowling, Harrison Ford, or even Jenna Jameson. The most famous person in comics is Stan Lee. Take a moment to understand what that really means. Celebrity in comics means extremely little when compared to actors, sports figures, singers, and the like. Hell, how many of you know the name of Vera Wang without looking it up?] This means you’ll have to find the discipline to get as good as possible so that others can appreciate what you create.

The question is simple, but the answer is challenging. It’s an answer that only you will truly know, and it will be different for everyone.

That’s all I have. See you in seven.

Click here to comment in the ComixTribe forum at Digital Webbing!

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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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