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?