B&N Week 132: Being A Newbie

| July 2, 2013


It’s another wonderful Tuesday here! We’ve got summer finally in full swing, we’re into July, and we’ve got the annual celebration of our nation’s birthday this week. It will be a national holiday, although I’m going to be at work. That’s not a complaint, mind you. Just a statement of fact. I’ve started a new job, and I’ll tell you something: being new sucks.

That’s what I want to talk about this week. Being new, and what comes along with it. The pitfalls, the perils, and the unabashed joys. Strap yourselves in. It should be a fun ride.

I remember being in Marine Corp Boot Camp. I was stationed at Parris Island. For the Marine Corps, the nation is split along the Mississippi River, which denotes who goes where for training. East of the Mississippi, and you go to Parris Island. West of it, and you go to San Diego. Before we went out to the rifle range, the drill instructor asked who had ever fired a gun before. He didn’t care what type of gun it was. Lots of people raised their hands. I didn’t. I had never fired a gun before in my life. Some of those guys had been shooting their entire lives, hunting or whatever. I never had the chance nor the opportunity.

The Drill Instructor told us that those who hadn’t raised their hands would do better on the rifle range, because they were new. They had no bad habits. He was going to make sure to teach us the proper way to hold a rifle, to aim, to fire, breath control, how to squeeze instead of jerk the trigger, and always get into the black. Now, I wear glasses because I’m near-sighted. I followed the directions given, and not only did I get into the black every time, I shot expert. There are three types of shooters in the Corps: Marksman, which is the lowest; Sharpshooter, which is in the middle; and Expert, which is the highest. I couldn’t see the target well enough to join a shooting team, but I got my third award at shooting expert. Those who had been shooting their entire lives shot lower than I did, because they had a hard time un-learning bad habits.

This is one of the joys of being a new creator. As long as you have a competent teacher as well as some aptitude for your chosen skill, you don’t get to learn any bad habits. You get to learn to do things, and then adapt them as necessary to your current project. Being new is a great thing.

However, it doesn’t always feel so great. Believe me, I know. Being the new kid on the block, you often feel like you have something to prove. You want to show that you’re just as good as the next guy. Your mother said so. So did your uncle, and your significant other. Your teachers told you that you had the talent to do anything you wanted to. And then you come to a forum to show your skills, and you’re met with one of three things: apathetic silence, a scathing critique, or what basically boils down to a like.

Apathetic silence doesn’t do you any good. Neither does a like. [Caveat: if that like is quantified with the poster telling what it was that they liked and why they liked it—basically, giving a pithy answer—then you can use that as information to keep doing what you’re doing.]

This means that the scathing critique is the newbie’s best bet of getting information to become a better creator.

Now, that scathing critique may not be that scathing. It could be as nice as possible. However, what’s going to happen is that it will point out the not good elements of your work. Most newbies aren’t prepared to hear the not good. Most, but definitely not all. But it is in hearing the not good that we learn. As soon as we stop learning, we stop growing. As creators, we should always be stretching our wings.

New writers are easy to spot. As are new artists. For writers, many times, the story is unpolished, either in reach, nuance, or dialogue. For artists, the art is just poor. [Never try to hide behind style. Style is what you get after you’ve learned, honed, and perfected the basics.]

New inkers are a bit harder to spot. If the pencils are ultra-tight, then they could just be tracing. With inkers, you have to look for differences in surfaces, fore-, middle-, and backgrounds, and consistent light sources. Some try to hide deficiencies with cross-hatching. New inkers are not so easy to spot.

New colorists? They also have to deal with light sources. They like to put in lens flares and blurs and other tricks. I’ll tell you this right now: I hate lens flares. They draw the eye in a terrible, gaudy way. They should be used with extreme care and caution. Any book that I’m editing will have very few lens flares in them.

New letterers are a bit easy to spot. They tell on themselves by using fonts that aren’t appropriate for the book, crossbar I’s for anything except the personal pronoun, blunted balloon tails, and balloon tails that fly out all across the panel/page, or balloons that are overly-shaped. Instead of an oval, they make eggs or other, vaguely oval shapes.

All of these disciplines are relatively easy. There are books out there that can be used as resources to learn from. There are a ton of websites where you can learn and hone your skills. That’s what I mean by easy. If you do the work, you can learn and grow. Being a newbie in one of the above disciplines is seen as being okay. You’re learning the ropes.

Being a new editor, though, is damned hard. There are no books that teach how to edit comics. There’s nothing out there that has a best practices for comic book editors. Yet, editors need to know something about all the jobs of the creative team and express themselves clearly on how to correct mistakes; they need to know how to manage projects and personalities; they need to know how to bring the best out of the team, as well as when to get out of the way and let them do their jobs.

And creators generally do not want a newbie editor. They want an editor with experience in order to guide their project to the Promised Land [wherever that is]. In the indies, newbie editors are seen with disdain, for whatever reason, until they prove their worth to the creators. It’s a Catch-22: they need to gain experience in order to get experience, but they won’t be hired to gain the experience because they don’t have experience.

Newbie editors have to show their skills in other ways, usually starting with the writer. New editors will make posts on the scripts of new writers, and hope to gain experience that way. That can be parlayed into getting an editing gig, and that can be parlayed into a project management gig. Then things can spread through word of mouth.

There’s only one place I know of that teaches comic book editing is Andy Schmidt’s website Comics Experience. I don’t know of any other place that does it.

As a newbie, you have but one goal: to learn as much about your job as you can, not just from one source, but from as many credible sources as possible. In doing this, you will arm yourself with a lot of knowledge, and with that knowledge, you’ll be able to develop your own unique style and way of doing things. A way that will suit you and the projects that will come your way.

Being new is a boon. A gift. It doesn’t happen very often. Any and all information that comes your way should be checked for accuracy. Then remember who gave you that info. If the information is good, then that person should be listened to in the future. If the information is bad, then they should be listened to with less attention in the future. Notice, I didn’t say ignored or discounted, I said with less attention. Remember: even a broken clock is right at least twice a day.

Now, there is a distinct downside to being a newbie. A couple of them, actually.

The first is paying your dues. This is different for every creator. Basically, it boils down to this: free work that is done for exposure but that will never go anywhere. It goes like this: a writer puts together a team to do a submission proposal to Image, promising fame and fortune for all. If Image doesn’t pick it up, the writer will send the proposal to multiple publishers, and if no one picks it up, then the writer will self-publish. Lots of work gets done, but then the writer either doesn’t follow through, or the book gets no traction. Free work that will never be seen. Some variation of that will be the lot of every newbie that decides to work in comics.

The second downfall of being a newbie is the fact that sometimes, creators want to take advantage of your ignorance. Despicable, but it does happen. However, if you’re armed with knowledge about your job, you won’t be ignorant and thus, will be less likely to be taken advantage of.

A lot of this happens when creators want to throw around big names, titles, or positions. Do this work well, because it’s going to be seen by the Head Science Fiction Officer at Bum’s Gate Films. He’s already waiting to see it, and ready to greenlight it as a movie if he likes what he sees. This happens. Don’t let it happen to you. The sooner you’re over being starstruck [either by star power or by dint of position], the less likely you’re going to be taken advantage of. My comic book heroes are, in order: Stan Lee, Jim Shooter, and Mark Waid. These are the people I’d stammer around. To me, everyone else is just a person. The likelihood of me working with them? Stan: nil. Jim: small. Mark: medium-ish when compared to the other two, but still kinda small.

Just know that these people cannot make or break your career. Only you can do that. Sure, they can help or hinder, but they cannot make or break. You’re the one doing the work, so you’re the one who will be ultimately responsible for the work you put out into the world.

Enjoy being new for as long as possible. Develop the habit of learning. Be a perpetual student. Watch out for the pitfalls. You’ll be fine.

Homework: hire a newbie! [Then treat them right.]

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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