My good buddy and acclaimed author, Matthue Roth, wrote a small yet flattering blurb about Tails over at his blog.
Like everyone else in the comic book world, I spent this past week soaking up the awesomeness that was Wednesday Comics. I was frightened at first (since there was a rumor that stores under-ordered), and my regular shop, Roger’s Time Machine, isn’t always fully stocked (still my favorite comic shop though).Luckily, that was not the case, and even though Wednesday Comics contained merely 15 pages of actual content, it took me twice as long to absorb compared to the Batman issue I purchased.
I can’t judge the stories yet, but the art is astounding; especially the Green Lantern story illustrated by Joe Quinones.I mean, all the artists were stellar, but Quinones’s work had a certain flare and quality that reminded me of Dave Stevens’s Rocketeer stuff; an old-school craftsmanship, you could say.I’ve never heard of Quinones before this week, but was completely blown away.This one issue of Wednesday Comics reminded me why I fell in love with comics in the first place.
Which coincidentally brings to mind a certain era: the 90s.The infamous speculators’ market. (Or was it spectator’s market?)Say what you will about the comics industry in the 90s, but in my mind, that was the last time a mass audience fell in love with American comics.Without mentioning Manga, of course.I have nothing against Manga, but those are just a different set of circumstances.And I’m not counting casual readers who don’t collect comics but follow titles such as Strangers in Paradise, Y: the Last Man, etc., etc.I’m well aware of the crossover hits.
During the 90s heyday – a ton of grade schoolers, college kids and young adults were falling in love with American comics as a medium, or at least as an industry.“Hurray, we can invest in multiple copies!”
Every boy in my 3rd grade class was reading X-MEN, collecting the Marvel and DC trading cards, and watching the X-MEN cartoon.Comic shops (or at least shops that carried comics) were ubiquitous (to an 8 year old anyway).I remember this one hobby shop in Chinatown jumped on the bandwagon and decided to sell comics too.Image stuff.Valiant stuff.These old Chinese men knew NOTHING about comics, yet they were making a killing.
I’m not really trying to get at anything; just contemplating out loud.It’s just kinda sad how the American comics industry isn’t solidifying a new fan-base.Even after the speculators’ bubble burst in the mid 90s, the top selling comic was still reaching numbers as high as 300,000.What’s the highest selling monthly these days?100,000?150,000?
One can argue that it’s better now, since graphic novels are more prominent in book stores and we’re developing a casual readership versus planting the seeds to create future fanboys.I get that, I know that.But quite frankly, the romantic in me, misses the 90s.I miss the idea of sneaking your weekly purchases into school, avoiding confiscation by your teacher, trading comics & cards back and forth.
Ahh, the good ol’ days…
I know I’m just being nostalgic, and we always reconstruct memories in our head.I’m sure if you were an older reader at that time, you would’ve been horrified by the idea of Rob Liefeld starting his own studio.
Out of all the kids I knew in grade school / junior high who collected comics, I think I’m the only one still reading.That’s kinda sad, but not unexpected.You tend to outgrow things, but at least my old classmates will have American comics as a part of their childhood.“Hey, remember when we used to read Spawn?”They are the last people who will get to say that…
Anyway, that’s it for the ranting.Time for another installment of…
HOW TO MAKE A LIVING WITH YOUR ART WITHOUT BEING FAMOUS: ADVENTURES IN THE WORLD OF FREELANCING!!
If you’re an aspiring comic book artist and you’re having trouble breaking into the comics industry – try doing storyboards in the meantime.
Now, I’m not talking about storyboards for a big-budget Hollywood film.I’m talking about the countless independent filmmakers, screenwriters and producers who are in need of your artistic abilities to bring their projects to life (so they can pitch it to financiers).Think about it – storyboards and comics both utilize the art of sequential storytelling. But with storyboards, you don’t have to stress over every tiny detail (since more often than not, all that’s required are simple, loose drawings).
If you haven’t done so already, look on Craigslist, which is where I’ve found some worthwhile storyboard jobs.It should be much easier if you live in or near a metropolitan area.I find that a lot of people view Craigslist as simply a haven for spammers, scammers and crap gigs that pay you shit.Although that may be roughly accurate, there are always some hidden gems.More importantly, check job sites that cater to freelancers, such as Guru.com and iFreelance.Those two sites both costs money to join, of course.
Storyboarding will help expand your portfolio and hopefully put some cash in your pocket.Indie filmmakers are usually more willing to pay (even if it’s a little), versus most aspiring comic creators who prefer collaborations.I don’t have anything against the latter, but we’re talking about paying the bills here, right?You could make the argument that collaborations with a 50/50 split of future profits is more lucrative in the long run, and I completely respect that, but let’s not open up that can of worms tonight.
Quick update: Tails was recently reviewed over at Comics Worth Reading.
Okay, now back to the show.
When people ask about my occupation, I get a bit tongue-tied over my response.What do I say?Comic book artist?Artist?Cartoonist?Drawing Extraordinaire?To me, artist is a bit of a gift word – like the word cool.You can’t call yourself cool, because that makes you kinda uncool (and kinda lame if you think about it). And as for the term comic book artist, that would imply that I actually draw Batman or Spiderman for a living, not a self-indulgent comedy about my cat-hair-covered-love life.
I generally stick with the term illustrator.It’s such a sleek, technical term; and most appropriate for the work I normally do.Most of my clients are either advertising firms or independent entrepreneurs who need an illustrator to translate their ideas into eye-catching 2D form.
After people learn about my job, two questions will always follow:
Q: You can make a living off that, Ethan?
A: Why yes, kind sir, I can.
Q: HOW?Do you have an agent?
A: Nope… and stop looking at me like that…
Q: Then HOW???
Okay, so that was more like three questions, but you get my point.Everyone always wants to know how I do it; how I’ve transitioned from starving artist to…not-so-hungry artist?Well, since you asked – be prepared for the first installment of…
HOW TO MAKE A LIVING WITH YOUR ART WITHOUT BEING FAMOUS: ADVENTURES IN THE WORLD OF FREELANCING!!
Ok, let’s begin.The first lesson should be a fairly obvious one.If you want to be a successful freelancer, you’ll need both confidence and tough skin.I’m talking beef jerky tough!(Or soy-jerky in my case)
When I first started out, I was like any other rookie: timid and submissive.Around the summer of ’07, I had one particular client – for sake of anonymity we’ll call him Bob – who hired me to design characters for his budding comic property (release date was tentative, and I’ve yet to see it on the shelves).The pay was good (professional rates), and the work came naturally enough (big muscles, perky boobs, the usual).
However, Bob was a bully (although he’d never admit it).As a stock broker by day, Bob could afford to pay professional rates, but with his notable budget also came his Wall Street arrogance.Bob’s idea of encouragement was to break you down emotionally and intellectually, until you truly saw yourself as just another cog in his machine.He took every opportunity to remind me of my relative inexperience (he probably took a smidgen of pleasure in it, too).He’d criticize everything on the page in the most demoralizing fashion possible. (Remember those pretentious snobs in art class who passed judgment for the sake of passing judgment?) And hey, I welcome criticism from my clients, especially if it’s constructive and insightful and will help improve my work.But there’s a HUGE difference between constructive criticism and plain-old condemnation.
I eventually stopped working for Bob after a few short months.Bob was not happy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had many great working relationships over the years, but there’s always a bad apple in the bunch.Or three or six…
So, develop a tough skin so you may learn to deal with all the various Bobs in the world.But more importantly, learn to be confident so you may not have to.True, being paid professional rates is GREAT for a rookie, but it’s not worth being put in the corner wearing the proverbial dunce cap.Establish – as quickly as possible – just how good and valuable you are.Don’t let anyone ‘Alpha-Dog’ you.If you take away only ONE thing from this essay, let it be this: the client needs YOU more than you need the client.That may not seem true at first, but it is.They may have the money, but you have the talent.
Or, you know, come to think of it… you could just land yourself an agent which will make your life MUCH easier.But hey, we don’t aspire to become comic artists ‘cause it’s easy, right?
WELCOME TO TAILSCOMIC.COM! I WILL BE YOUR HOST, ETHAN YOUNG! GLAD TO MEET YA! (Shake hands)
In a nutshell, this website is devoted to the re-launch of my first comic, Tails, along with new stories for all the Tails fans out there (all 8 of you).
For those of you who haven’t heard of Tails (I won’t hold it against you), it’s the semi-autobiographical adventures of a young, quirky Asian vegan who lives with his parents while struggling to become a cartoonist.The twist: he’s an animal rescuer with a dozen cats in his bedroom.I know, sounds like a winner! Tails was originally released in late 2005 as a 3 issue mini series and then collected into a trade paperback, Tails: Life in Progress. The collected volume was awarded Best Graphic Novel during the 2007 Independent Publishers Book Awards.All in all, the book was fairly well received.There was even a sequel planned for 2007, Tails: Addicted to Sin.
So…why the new website and re-launch?Lemme explain.
Like every other deluded, quixotic creator entering the field with their head in the clouds, I was expecting immediate riches and rewards; that all the wealth, fame and glory I deserved would fall directly onto my lap (I didn’t have a dime to my name in those days, so money was a major concern).
When you’re putting out a 24 page black & white comic, you wouldn’t need to sell that many copies to break even; and not that many more to turn a small, if not miniscule, profit(of course, this is only if we’re talking about printing costs).You sell about 2500 – 3000 copies, and you’re in Breaking-Even-Land.Do enough research, and you’ll find dozens of cautionary tales about self-publishing.You read them over and over again, and you think, “Oh, please!That ain’t gonna happen to me!I’m the next Jeff Smith!”Or Dave Sim or Terry Moore or whoever else you admire.Anyway…I ultimately learned, the hard way, just how rare it was to get pass the gates at Breaking-Even-Land.
At any rate, the sequel never saw print (obviously), but not for lack of completion.I completed all 80+ pages of Addicted to Sin around the winter of 2006, way ahead of schedule.However, the self-publishing route was more than I could really handle.I decided to try my hand at indie publishers.I sent the manuscript to all the major players in the indie field and got a wealth of lukewarm response.I even pissed off an editor or two with some contemptuous replies (hey, I was younger and more arrogant, gimme a break).
Afterwards, I decided to piece together Life in Progress and Addicted to Sin along with a third act to make one larger graphic novel; hopefully making it an easier sell to the publishers.Along the way, I thought, “Would it really hurt if I touched up a few pages?”What started as a simple ‘touch up’ turned into…well, let’s just say, out of the original graphic novel, only a handful of pages remained intact and unaltered.
Most of 2007 and 2008 was spent immersed in the re-editing process; as well as completing that glorious third act.Normally, it wouldn’t have taken me as long, but something amazing happened along the way: my freelance career started to gain momentum and I was actually able to sustain myself with it!I quit my day job as a dog-walker (not that I don’t still love dogs, but picking up their shit all day isn’t as fulfilling as you’d think) and started paying the bills with my art alone.A large part of my focus shifted from completing Tails to managing a fledging art career and learning new business skills, such as how to communicate articulately with the more big-wig clients.
After Tails was completed (again), I tried re-submitting it.Still no luck.
Then it dawned on me to release the entire comic online (I dunno why it didn’t dawn on me earlier).No editorial control, no having to deal with distributors, no having to worry about sales.Truth be told, I’d be working on Tails regardless of my financial situation.For better or worse, this comic is my baby; a labor of absolute love.So now, Tails is free for everyone to read.
And as for the people who actually did BUY Tails to support me, I only have one thing to say: thank you from the bottom of my heart.The numerous fan e-mails I received along this journey kept me going.I know you probably feel a bit ripped off right now, so I owe you one.Seriously.
I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed creating it (hard to believe seeing as how I’ve just complained about the whole creative process).It wasn’t always easy, but it was always worth it.
Please read on.