THE SECRET SURE-FIRE FORMULA FOR NOT FINDING WORK IN COMICS
Sorry to disappoint you, but there’s no such thing as a secret sure-fire formula for actually finding work in comics. I’m afraid, though, there most definitely is for the opposite. For not finding work. For not building a career. For propelling yourself in the wrong direction on the ladder.
The easiest way is to just not be very good.
“But wait,” you might say. “What about such-and-such creator on such-and-such book? They suck. I know I’m better than them! If they’re getting work, then I should be able to get some too.”
You may not like a specific creator’s work, but if they’re continuing to get assignments when you’re not, then the question becomes, “What are they doing better than you?”
It’s easy to be cynical and just assume that they’ve got friends in high places. That the editor who keeps feeding them work is a dear old family friend of theirs. But there are very few if any people in comics who build entire careers from having just one single editor who continues to give them work simply because they’re buddies.
Does it help to know people? Of course. But every good editor in comics wants good creators working for them, not simply good drinking buddies.
Editors are always looking for new talent. I was discovered by three different editors in the beginning days of my career. Mike Marts, then at Marvel, plucked me from obscurity for my very first job. A few years later, Will Dennis at Vertigo pulled my submission from his slush file and gave me my first two big gigs. Not long after that, Axel Alonso started offering me work for Marvel.
Editors, even the busy ones, all want to find new creators. So if you feel you’re just as good if not better than another creator who’s getting loads of work thrown their way when you’re not getting any, then the question becomes, why?
Maybe they’re faster. Or a bit nicer. More charismatic. Maybe they’re better at pitching.
Or maybe the problem is you.
You can’t give an editor reasons not to hire you.
You can’t be your own worst enemy.
You know how when you first start a new job or first start dating someone, you tend to be on your best behavior. At least for that first little trial period. As Chris Rock says, “When you meet somebody for the first time, you’re not meeting them. You’re meeting their representative.” Make sure you have a good representative, especially when you’re first starting out.
If Grant Morrison started randomly beating editors with a baseball bat tomorrow, he would still be able to find work come Monday. Because he’s Grant fucking Morrison. But alas, you and I are not Grant Morrison and never will be.
Don’t assume you’re good enough to get by with being a jerk. Because I can assure you, you are not.
One of the worst things you can do when first starting out is to build yourself the wrong sort of reputation. You don’t want to be known right off the bat as someone who’s difficult to work with or impossible to edit or someone who can’t hit a single one of their deadlines. That doesn’t mean you have to roll over and do whatever your editor says. No good editor should ever fault you for being honest and upfront with them. If you’re not feeling something, by all means tell them that. If you’re vehemently opposed to something they’re proposing, don’t bite your tongue. The only thing is, you can’t be vehemently opposed to every single thing they’re suggesting. If you are, then you should just politely bow out.
Simply saying “No, thank you” and moving on will not burn a bridge.
If an editor invites you to pitch for a project and it’s something you’re not interested in, don’t send them back a four page email telling them all the reasons you think this project is a piece of shit. A simple “No, thank you” will suffice.
You can’t ever afford to burn bridges in this business. The industry is too small. If you make an enemy, you will likely have to see them for many years to come, maybe at the same company, maybe at a different one.
Resist the urge to give in to jealousy and bitterness if you watch other creators pass you by on the ladder of success. Don’t let yourself think, “Why them and not me? I’m so much better than them.” If you really are better than them, then ask yourself, “What’s really holding you back?”
Have you lost your joy? Please don’t lose your joy. Presumably it was that joy, that love of comics, that got you chasing this dream in the first place. Don’t ever lose that. We need more of that. Don’t let it be eaten up by negativity. What we don’t need is more people standing in front of the new release rack on Wednesdays, complaining about every other new book that’s coming out. We’ve got that job pretty well covered. I used to write film reviews, so I know, it’s always easier to write a review of something you hate than something you like. Don’t fall into that trap. Don’t let your passion for your chosen profession be defined solely by the negative. At least pretend like you still take some sort of joy from this industry. If you don’t, then ask yourself, “Why am I still here?”
Don’t allow your personality to overshadow your work.
You don’t want to be someone who’s more known for being mentioned in Bleeding Cool articles than they are for their actual work.
That doesn’t mean you won’t still make mistakes. Everyone does. I have. Nobody expects you to be perfect.
Professional, yes. Perfect, no.
It’s okay to be a work in progress and still be out there, looking for work.
Just remember, at the end of the day, no matter who you are, there’s no grand conspiracy in comics to keep you outside the velvet rope. The people in the halls of power are not scheming against you. If you’re not making headway, the fault doesn’t lie with everyone else.
It’s you. It’s always been you.
Jason Aaron is an Eisner and Harvey Award nominated comic book writer whose current work includes the critically-acclaimed crime series “Scalped” for DC/Vertigo and “Wolverine,” “Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine” and “PunisherMAX” for Marvel. He was born in Alabama but currently resides in Kansas City. You can follow him on Twitter (@jasonaaron) or his blog. His beard is bigger than yours.