This should really be X-Friday, but since I haven’t posted since, you know, ever, it’s not going to be X-Friday, just a random update.
I’m feeling dog-tired this week, got a permanent twitch in my eye, and all because of one thing: self-promotion. Working in indie comics isn’t easy generally, but hard pages, looming deadlines and recurring IT problems that only emerge in the run up to said deadlines are all fine. I dig it, I really do. I quite like the stress of trying to get a project finished.
It’s what you do with the fucker afterwards that always knackers me out.
I’m Glaswegian – we’re not brought up to market ourselves, or to self promote. You show me a Glaswegian go-getter and I’ll find you five people who think they’re “up their own arse” – a lovely term that usually means arrogant as fuck.
So when it comes to finding ways of pimping out the latest little product, I always find myself walking a weird tight-rope between being really proud of it and wanting to get it out there, and trying not to appear big-headed and so doing it by kind of whispering…
I’m better than I used to be: after three previous comics, I’ve had to be. And we seem to get a little bit further every time. I just don’t have that knack for effortless promotion that some of my peers in Glasgow have. I envy that: the ability to find the right pitch, and to shout it from the rooftops. I’d love to be able to do that.
But either way, the sheer amount of work that goes into it – time that has a value all of its own, a value that will never be recouped in sales – is mind-boggling. Setting up websites, posting and commenting and tweeting and RT’ing, never mind crafting press releases and sending them out to a carefully cultivated list of potential news-harbingers and reviewers who you hope after all that work will actually like the goddamn thing… Phew…
No-one out there should ever get into indie publishing for the money, or the glory.
It’s tough, and it’s brutal, and the amount you speculate you will never accumulate.
Thank heaven it’s not about that. Here’s what it’s about. If you really want a career in something, you should want it so bad that you’re already *doing* the work required to break in, right? You shouldn’t be sitting around waiting to be discovered so that you can then craft your first 22-page comic, or 60-page graphic novel. That’s not how it works. By the time someone offers you a gig, you should be fully experienced and conversant with the process involved, as well as know how much of a workload it is. That’s my feeling anyway.
Spending time putting together 5-page showcases of Batman doing his thing (making sure you’re alternating between nice, quiet moments and big bombastic action sequences of course) seems like such a recipe for mediocrity to me. If you WANT a career in something, you should want to be as good as you can be, and that’s not just surface stuff.
You should be learning how to read other creators scripts; what it means to collaborate: how do you tell a writer that something in the script isn’t working? Do you tell them at all? How about storytelling? It’s up to you as the artist to communicate the story the writer hands you. Sometimes that means taking a back seat. Sometimes your art has to be so in service to the story that it’s (metaphorically) invisible. All that bombastic practice for nothing, in this case.
And picking up habits from other artists is a shortcut to becoming better, but you better damn well be willing to shed those habits if you want to have a career with integrity, and a style of your own.
I make no bones about the Frank Quitely influences in my work. He’s one of my favourite artists, and he’s a fellow Glaswegian, and a great guy who’s always willing to take some time to offer his thoughts on the work us newbies are producing. And while I’ve spent a lot of time trying to crack the code, to decode the secrets in his work, I never want to be known as a copycat. The time will come when my style is significantly my own that those comparison become a little more distant.
But the only way I can be sure of that is because even though I’m not yet a professional artist, I’m producing a lot of work. It’s the only way to learn. Every time I start a new piece of indie work, I tell myself that it’ll be the best thing that I’ve ever done. I’ll pick one part of my own technique that sucks, say, my reticence over backgrounds and environmental context, or perspective, and I’ll say right, this is the one where I crack that.
That way, each writer gets something slightly different from me, and we go on a unique journey together. And I get to push and challenge myself, and learn from my past mistakes and happy accidents and points where I’ve really cracked it, and I get to hopefully improve.
So no, there’s no money in this game, not yet. But the thing is, I love it. I love getting a new script (or better, reading a script I’m not supposed to be working on, and sending begging emails to the writer because it’s so good), and sitting down and thinking how I’ll tackle it. Working out what it needs in terms of mood, and pace, and characterisation. Thumbnailing out those first pages to get a feel for it.
I love completing my first page, and sometimes, often I hate completing my third or fourth. But then I love getting my wind back and moving on and enjoying the rest of it.
I think it’s true that whatever your specialism, whether writer or artist or colourist or letterer, you have to get something back out of it. And the pressures and stresses of indie publication, the balancing the books with a part time job, and crossing your fingers that the rent’s paid and your partner will continue to put up with this “just a while longer” (my words, not his!), well that only really prepares us for potential work in an industry that is nothing if not fickle and impermanent.
Learning to promote yourself well is a skill I suppose all the major companies are looking for now. And learning to cope during lean times means that working from one freelance contract to another will be easier. Hopefully.
So I’m sending out those emails, updating the website, posting updates and tweeting, because I want people to see ‘Taking Flight’ and the other books we’ve done. I want them to be interested in the future books we’ve got lined up. And I want eventually to be good enough and experienced enough to get paid a semi-regular wage for this stuff.
Because seriously, after years of working for banks and call centres, for social care and welfare-to-work, who wouldn’t want these kind of stresses? It’s fucking paradise by comparison…
Our latest book, ‘Taking Flight’, which really is gorgeous in the writing, colouring and yes, even occasionally the art, is out on April 9th, but you can pre-order it from the website above. And if you’re in Glasgow on Saturday 7th, come along to the Comic Mart at the QMU (the Glasgow Uni Student Union) where you be able to get your hands on it early.
And feel free to engage. Let me know what you think of the book. Or of this post. Or just tell me what you’re working on. Or how the weather is. Or how much you hate a particular politician or whatever. It’s up to you.