In as many years I’ve been trying to “break-into” the comic book industry, I’ve heard as many stories of how creators actually did it. The avenues of entry have changed over the decades and some stories are definitely more colorful than others but when you distill these methods down to their essence, there seems to be a few prevalent ways that one makes it in this industry if at all. Here’s an analysis:
Getting hired by the big two. Often this is through hard work, working for smaller publishers, networking and generally submitting, submitting and submitting professional quality work. This also involves years of honing one’s skills and building relationships with more established creators, editors and publishers. Once you ARE in, one of the benefits of having worked for the big two, is that it makes it easier to strike out on your own and sell your creator-owned work to publishers, shops and readers assuming you’ve made a name for yourself. The disadvantage is that fame is not a guarantee and getting in is no guarantee of staying in. Plus, competition is fierce for those few coveted spots at Marvel and DC.
They say that nowadays, you need to be able to show that you can produce work in order to get work. If you can prove that you can create a comic book of professional quality and sell it, then theoretically, you’ve got what it takes to be hired by the big guys. However, that’s not a given. I know lots of awesome self-publishers who have yet to get some love from the industry giants. There are also many who are simply happy self-publishing their own work for the fun of it. They love doing it, they have complete creative control, and they can do it on their own schedule. Some even try to make some money off of it. The drawback is that it can get pretty expensive printing color comic books (but there is KickStarter) not to mention renting table space at Comic Cons to sell them. But we all hope for the chance that a big publisher will notice and pick-up our work, but like the traditional method, competition is fierce.
If you don’t need to make money off your comic work and are perfectly okay with giving it away for free, then publishing a web comic is the way to go. There are no printing or distribution costs and you can promote it online and on social media at little to no cost. Amazingly enough, this is the most accessible path towards a comic book income as it’s much easier to build a fan-base with a free webcomic than with something that’s not free. With a big enough audience, you can sell related merchandise like trade-paperbacks, prints, t-shirts and more! If you can build up a boat load of fans, publishers will not only notice you, but will come knocking at your door!
Though not a common path, it is a path none-the-less. Being famous or accomplished already for something else entirely and leveraging that into getting a publisher to let you create comics. Unfortunately, 99.99% of us are not Kevin Smith. I almost didn’t want to mention this option, but it might be worth a shot for some people.
I’ve also heard a lot of stories from people who manage to get work at the big companies as editors, designers, production artists, sales reps and such. This is a great way to make those contacts and let the publishers get to know you. But I’ve also heard that you can sometimes end up with a non-compete situation where you’re not allowed to freelance at all and I’ve also heard of former employees being pigeon holed and not able to get creative work. But your mileage may vary.
After a two years of comic conning, promoting, selling as well as creating, I’ve been seriously trying to figure out what method works best for me. And the truth of the matter is, most of us aren’t doing just one of them but more of a combination. Another sobering fact is that comic books don’t pay very well even when you do make it into the big two. So I’ve come to the decision that I will make free webcomics the primary focus of my efforts. I realize that the stories I like telling best are my own and it’s more important for me to share them than to make money off of them for now (I’m lucky in that I have a good day job).