SDCC: Breaking Into Comics -- and Staying In

Andy Schmidt confidently adjusted his microphone as he addresses a room full of aspiring comic creators during Comic-Con International in San Diego. "This is Comic-Con's 'Breaking into Comics' panel, so if this isn't where you want to be, then you can leave now and I won't be upset." While the remark was played for laugh, it served as a fitting way to introduce those in attendance to the straightforward business world of the comic book industry.

In 2007 Schmidt founded Comics Experience, an online series of workshops and classes designed to give emerging writers and artists resources they need to pursue a career in comics. The panel's host welcomed writers Joshua Williamson ("Nailbiter") and Joshua Hale Fialkov ("The Bunker"), IDW Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall and Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie to the panel whose goal was to give a quick dirty breakdown of how to break into the comic industry and put the right foot forward to sustain that career for many years. Between Schmidt's guests and his own resume that spans editorial experience at both Marvel and IDW, the audience was in very good hands. An ideal moderator for this informative panel.

"There are three fundamentals for breaking into comics," Schmidt said as many ears in the audience perked up. "The first is talent, the second is persistence and the third is luck. I believe everyone has talent, but what I believe people struggle with is getting that final polished piece onto the page," and the editor and instructor admitted there is a considerable amount of work between inception and the final page of any comic venture.

Continuing on to the next step, Schmidt said persistence is one quality that is most often glossed over. From following up on submissions with editors to sending out updates about your latest work, it takes both initiative and drive to get your name out there and in the minds of the industry's gatekeepers. He then asked the panel what they would say to the fledgling creator who keeps the cold shoulder or blown off by editors.

According to Ryall, the ability to fight through rejection is exactly what it takes to be taken seriously. "Drive is just as important as persistence and sacrifice must happen," Ryall said.

Several panelists described how truly committing to your career means making sacrifices. Not seeing family and friends for days or weeks is a common occurrence as every second spent not honing your craft means a second not pushing you closer to the goal -- and those seconds add up. "Anyone that succeeds probably doesn't have hobbies," Fialkov said with a smile. "I didn't find my hobbies until about two years ago." Williamson agreed that success often comes with a price, and talked about not being able to see his girlfriend when he was starting out. All of his time was spent working one of his two jobs or concentrating on his first love, comic books.

Moving on to luck, presumably the most elusive element for an aspiring creator, Schmidt said it's all about timing and opportunity. "Being in the right place at the right time or even the having the right mindset is considered luck," he explained. "But all of that 'luck' really is a combination of talent and persistence combined, so it's not completely random. it's all up to you."

The rest of the discussion centered on what to do after you get a taste of success. No one wants to realize their dream and have it be over just as quickly, and it takes just as much work -- if not more -- to stay in the industry as it does to get a foot in the door. For those already in this enviable position, Schmidt offered three more principles: Talent, professionalism, and being nice. Each is an essential part of the recipe for a lengthy career. The first step is very similar to breaking in, only now creators will have to make sure they have the talent to deliver more than just the one story or tone they first showed they could handle. "The second and third steps, although very easy to understand, become very vital to your long term success," said Allie. "Working with someone who is easy to get along with and is very professional will probably be my first choice when hiring for new projects."

The panelists all stressed that working in comics does not mean competing with fellow creators for gigs. In fact, they encouraged creators of all levels to help their friends any way they could, suggesting them for assignments and to editors who might be looking for new talent. "That strengthens your network," Allie said.

Schmidt briefly left craft and professionalism behind to talk about the importance of taking care of your health and wellness, suggesting that while working hard is essential, exercise can be just as important to keeping your mind and body sharp for those long nights of work. "Working out at least 30 minutes a day can go a long way," Schmidt suggested.

Ryall provided the panel's final piece of sage advice: "Write every day, seek constructive criticism with active ears, exercise and cut back on those hobbies," Ryall said, prompting chuckles from the audience as the session drew to a close.

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