B&N Week 54: Choosing A Partner

| January 3, 2012 | 8 Comments

I’m loving the fact that Tuesday has come around once again. You know I clear my calendar for this day, right? I get to spend it with you, and nothing is going to come between us with that. And what’s best about it all? It’s been a year! Can you believe it? Time flies when you’re having fun. It seems like just last week I was talking about Story…


I thought I’d talk about choosing a partner to work with this week, and what could happen when you choose both right and wrong. We all know that comics is a collaborative medium, but much hasn’t been said about actually finding someone to work with. Let’s look at the Bolts & Nuts of it, shall we?

You’ve done the research, scraped up the money, and are about to take the plunge for your limited series. You’ve written the scripts, and you’re now ready to look for the artist of your dreams. You’ve written your ad, and the submissions are pouring in.

How do you decide whom to work with? You’ve got a lot of art to go through, and some of it is very nice, and they’re all wanting your money. Tough decisions need to be made.

Here’s how I look at the responses to ads.

The first thing I look for is if they followed instructions or not. In my ads, I state whether or not I want attachments or links. If the artist didn’t listen, I generally throw them out, unless I REALLY like their work. Why? I figure if you didn’t pay enough attention to the ad and sent me something I didn’t want, you’re not going to pay attention to the script and draw something I didn’t ask for. Basically, I’m being told that you’re going to give me problems, and I don’t want problems. I want smooth sailing.

The very next thing I look for is personality. What did your email say? How did you express yourself? Was there broken English? Were you rude? Did you come across as stiff? I’m looking to get a sense of what it would be like to work with you. The more personable you are, the more likely I am to hire you.

The very next thing I look for is whether or not you fit within my budget. This is important, and I’m going to give you some people’s thoughts on it.

Some people will start out high, thinking they’re going to be haggled down. This is their belief, and really, it may work for them. However, if I’m looking at art and the artist is quoting me $100/pg and I’m seeing $20/pg, I’m not going to hire that artist because I’m going to think they have an overinflated sense of self-worth. What I’m saying is this: watch out for how high you start. If you know you’re worth $30/pg, don’t start out at $100 and think you’re going to go down. Start more reasonable, like $50. Then you have a better shot at the job, as well as a shot at making more money. If you’re unreasonable, you’re going to be passed over for the gig, and get a nice letter saying thanks but no thanks.

Some people will give their rate, and won’t haggle. Personally, I like these people. I believe them to have a firm grasp on how much they’re worth, and won’t settle for less. Their rates are more within the realm of reason for their abilities.

No, I’ve never run across someone who lowballs themselves with the hope of going up. Show me one, and I’ll show you a unicorn.

Then there’s the ones who are going to ask you for your budget. This is so that they can price themselves accordingly. If you decide to give out a figure for your budget, GO LOW. If you’ve budgeted for $40/pg for pencils, say that you’ve got $30/pg budgeted. This gives both of you wiggle room: you to go higher, and them to go lower. See how that works? Besides, if you save the money, you can use it in other areas. (Like the forgotten costs?) [Exactly!]

Now, I’m going to let you in on a tip: don’t send out rejection letters until the artist has not only been chosen, but has accepted the offer made. Yes, I know some of the art you’ve gotten is just plainly awful and not worth paying for. Don’t do it. Wait until the chosen artist has accepted the offer made. Then, I want you to send out two different types of letters.

The first letter is going to be for the bottom of the barrel. These are the artists who should be ashamed for asking money for their talent, but do so anyway. There will be a lot of these types, and your form letter will basically say thank you, but no thank you. Then keep it moving.

The second letter is going to be those who were close to being chosen. Call it your top three or five. Tell them they made it difficult to make a decision, and that you’d like to work with them in the future, pending their availability. This letter is a template and will need to be tweaked. You’re going to personalize it, talking about what you liked in the samples. It’s going to be as good of a feel-good rejection letter as you can make it. This could be very important later. We’ll come back to them in a little bit.

So the artist has been chosen and has accepted the terms to start the work. Then things go south. The work comes in slow, lots of things are wrong with the art, you’re not getting  thumbnails, your communication is spotty. The artist has a LOT of plausible excuses, and some of them may even be true, but that has nothing to do with the work you are paying them to do.

This happens a lot. No, really. This happens a LOT. And it isn’t just in the indies. If you read Jim Shooter’s blog, you’ll see that it happens at the Big Two, as well.

People, I want you to be aware of something. People talk. Not just to friends and family, but to one another. You can get a reputation very easily, no matter your talent level. There’s one creator with amazing talent that I won’t work with again because they don’t have their shit together. Once you’ve been hired, you have accepted the responsibility of getting the work done. Don’t get the rep of not being reliable. It is very difficult to overcome.

What are you supposed to do when things go south? Well, they say that patience is a virtue, but I don’t believe that. I think that’s something said by people who have no other choice but to wait. I also don’t believe that good things come to those who wait. Just remove the word good, and I’d be okay with it. It’s a different way to say the same thing. You can be patient, and see if things will get better. See if it will work itself out. Of course, give the artist an opportunity to make it right. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t. Your mileage may vary.

Or, you can contact another artist that was one of the top three to five of your submissions for the project. And now you see the importance of writing two different letters. (Isn’t that underhanded?) Nope. Things have gone south with the first artist, and the work isn’t getting done. Time to start looking for a replacement.

If the other artist comes aboard and has accepted the terms, let the first one know their services will no longer be required. Keep it moving from there.

But let’s say things go north. The pages are coming in the way the artist said they would, and things are working smoothly. Know what’s bound to happen?

You and the artist become friends.

Of all the outcomes, this one is the most desirable. The benefits of it are obvious: you’re going to be working closely with each other for months, if not longer, depending on the length of the project and the speed in which the artist works. Just because money is exchanging hands doesn’t mean that a bond isn’t being formed, nor a friendship forged.

If you pay attention, you’ll hear a lot of stories about artists and writers working together over and over again. You could get to the point where you’re writing a type of script shorthand, because you both know what you expect from the other. Or, after you’ve worked on a project or two together, you go off on your separate ways, but want to do something together in the future.

How do you choose a partner? Very carefully. Don’t be afraid to let someone go if it isn’t working out. Both of you have to live up to your parts of the deal. Mutual respect is also key.

While the primary focus is the artist, the same can be said with any stage of comic making: colorists, editors, letterers, whatever. If you’re hosting the shindig, then the hiring and firing is your responsibility, unless you hand that to the editor [if you have one]. You’re going to choose all of these people carefully, and could end up forging friendships. It’s pretty nice when it happens. I highly recommend it.

Homework: I want you to write a couple of rejection letters as templates. The first letter will be for the bottom of the barrel artists who respond to your ad, and the second will be for your top artists who didn’t get chosen. No need to post them. Just have them handy to tweak as necessary.

And that’s all I have! See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts

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.

Comments (8)

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  1. Lisa Wilson says:

    Aha, so is here where you meant? For my devious question?

    I guess this is a pre-hiring artist vs post hiring artist question now that I look at it again…

    When, if ever, is it okay to ‘bounce’ off the artist?
    I’m speaking in terms of concepts and designs specifically in Science Fiction (because often enough you need to know how it could work so it’s not too ridiculous).
    When you have a concept but you’re not sure if visually you have the right idea should you hash this out before writing the script or is this a safe point to bring to your artist and work together on it with 99% of the script done and ready?

    I have a feeling you could answer ‘It depends’. Obviously on if you’re collaborating fully with hopes of a long standing work relationship with the artis or if you’re just commissioning. Either way, how would you then approach this issue? commission ‘designs’ and concept help prior to script or attack your artist with questions and seek help?

    • It’s ALWAYS a good idea to bounce off the artist. Generally, artists are better visual thinkers than writers. Writers are imaginative, but vague. Artists have to represent their imaginations visually. It’s ALWAYS good to bring them in on something as soon as possible.

      Now, if you don’t have an artist attached to a particular project yet, this is going to be a little difficult. Don’t rush out to find one just to bounce ideas off of one.

      If you’re talking vehicles/places/objects, then I’d say wait until you have an artist onboard before tackling this. Write the script so you know what you need, but then work with your new partner to get the visuals down.

      If you’re talking character designs, those can be done by anyone: either the artist that is coming aboard, or you can commission an artist to create the designs. Then when the permanent artist gets there, they can just plug the characters in.

      Does that make sense?

      • It does make sense! I wish I was more visually inclined but sometimes it’s handy to have someone to nail concepts down. Characters are s a bit easier to wait on as descriptions tend to be enough (and a few friends have done initial designs that are a good place to start) but for me it’s more ‘vehicles’ and ‘devices’ so I’m just going to have to wait for an artist on.

        • See? I didn’t say it!

          Why do I advocate waiting on the vehicles and devices? Because the artist may have a very good sense of what they want to draw, and it makes them feel very involved.

          • Which is the ultimate goal! An involved artist makes an involved writer very happy.

            I do feel a bit of relief that I can leave some stuff for when I have an artist on board. Not too much, but enough that it doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’ going out the door. Just nearly so.

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