If you’re an aspiring comic book artist, breaking into the industry can be tough; being a great artist isn’t always enough. There are a lot of other things involved with being a successful comic book artist and this January, veteran artist Tim Seeley will impart some of the lessons he learned from his time working in the industry in the one-shot, “How to Be a Comic Book Artist (Not Just How to Draw) from Devil’s Due Publishing. CBR News spoke with Seeley about the book.
“How to Be a Comic Book Artist” was born out of the successful sales of DDP’s “How to Self Publish” series. “Josh [Blaylock, DDP’s President] really wanted to do another volume in the ‘Publishing’ series since they were a big hit for us,” Seeley told CBR News. “I knew I didn’t want to do a straight ‘How to Draw’ book, since it’s been done a million times, often by guys who can draw rings around me. Josh and I talked about it and if I could use the book to talk about the job itself and address misconceptions, while getting to bitch at people who can’t make deadlines, I said I’d do it.”
Seeley’s artistic background includes work both inside and outside of the comic book industry. “I have a degree in Illustration from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. But like most drawing types, my background comes from many hours of trial and error. Mostly error,” he said. “After I got out of college I started working for a children’s book publisher as a staff artist, which meant drawing everything form diagrams of penguins to maps of Uzbekistan. At the same time I started doing a little comic freelancing for Dead Dog Comics and Avatar Press, mostly drawing horror stuff and girls with big boobies, which was a drastic shift form drawing children’s book all day. I also worked at Marvel as an intern in college. But other than that, I’ve mostly drawn for Image, DDP and little companies. One of the first things I addressed in the book is that I’m not some guy with tons of experience working at Marvel and DC, which will probably make me seem inconsequential to some people. On the other hand, some may be impressed I’ve survived this long not working for the corporate giants.”
Unlike other popular texts on comic books, “How to Be a Comic Book Artist” is not published in a comic book format. “I didn’t want to nick McCloud’s [Scott McCloud of ‘Understanding Comics’] format, so it’s text with lots of Illos,” Seeley explained. “The intent of the book is to give people who want to be a comic artist a realistic approach to the industry and what the job actually entails along with the really useful things that people always ask. ‘What pencils and paper do I use?’ ‘What’s that blue pencil for?’ ‘Why are you naked from the waste down?'”
Many of the lessons contained in “How to Be a Comic Book Artist” are ones that Seeley learned the hard way. “A lot of it I learned from artists I’ve worked with at DDP — seeing them just fail miserably at maintaining deadlines because they don’t treat this as the job that it is. A lot of it also comes from seeing so many portfolios at conventions or at schools. It’s always pretty shocking to see what people consider ‘professional.’ If that’s one thing a state school education will drill into your head, it’s the importance of a portfolio that doesn’t consist of spaghetti-sauce stained pages drawn on notebook paper.”
Perhaps the most important lesson Seeley hopes to impart in “How to be a Comic Book Artist” is the importance of deadlines. “The biggest pitfalls facing any comic book artist are video games and pornography,” Seeley said. “Seriously, most artists work from their homes and they can’t structure their day without the atmosphere of an office. Video games are pretty much responsible for about 85% of late comics. I think ‘Grand Theft Auto’ alone nearly destroyed the industry. The other major stepping stone is artistic ego, which comes from a genuine desire to do really good work, but often becomes a selfish act of derailing the comic for the sake of the artist. A real comic artist in the US market should be producing a page a day. If you can’t do that, you have to move to Europe.”
With “How to Be a Comic Book Artist (Not Just How to Draw)” Seeley hopes to provide aspiring artists with many helpful hints on how to make it in the business. Seeley learned these hints and lessons from many different teachers. “Early on, I learned a lot from a guy named John Mundt, who self-published a comic called ‘The Adventures of Monkey.’ He was the first real artist I’d met and he showed me all the really important basics from what pencils to use to how to show a portfolio. My professors in college were pretty incredible — I also learned a lot from Mike Norton, who I worked with at DDP. Mike is a work horse. Just seeing his approach and work ethic is an education in itself. Mike can draw more pages, better, than most of the ‘hot’ artists put together. Overall though, I think I learn from artists everyday — hanging out with Skottie Young and Greg Titus always teaches me a thing or two about style and energy. I think there’s things to be learned from everyone, whether it’s how to do it, or how not to do it.”