When I founded The Comic Academy over a year ago, my initial focus was comic creators wanting to break into the industry. In the first market research survey I ran, which I advertised on comic-related forums, most people who responded wanted to work for the likes of Marvel and DC. And for many that’s still the dream.
But there came the news this week that Marvel has made a number of key production and editorial staff redundant as part of a ‘cost cutting exercise’. Named ‘Marvelcution 2011’, after the original cull of Marvel staff in 1995 shortly before the company declared bankruptcy, one wonders what’s next on the horizon for the industry’s flagship company.
It’s been said that the workload will be shared amongst the remaining staff, and also that creators rates on lower-selling books are being cut.
But I’m not here to just tell you the news. It’s being done much better on the likes of Bleeding Cool’s site, with an overview here, and a summary of the various problems at Marvel here, and at The Beat, whose great, in-depth version of events is here. Here’s hoping that those who have been cut find a brighter light at the end of the tunnel.
A Bright Future For Comic Creators
What I’d like to do in this article is explore the various options that comic creators have in these challenging but promising (yes, promising) times.
I’ve been particularly inspired by the moving retrospective that classic Hulk and FF artist Herb Trimpe wrote about his 5-year journey after being sacked by Marvel in 1995 (link here). In it he states:
“June 10: It hits me today about this being the first weekday of no official job. It is the first time since before the Air Force 34 years ago. An interesting sensation. Like hanging over the edge of a cliff. But maybe I can fly.”
Unfortunately, back then the internet was in its infancy, so Trimpe struggled to find his niche all over again. But had he been part of the latest Marvelcution event instead, I’d bet that he wouldn’t have had to wait so long for even greater success.
Twenty years ago, if you wanted to be a successful comic creator, you had to get hired, or rely on freelance work, whether that was with a comic publisher, a book publisher, or at a newspaper. Self-published comics, and even comic-related magazines and fanzines, were mainly underground works created more for love of the medium than large profits.
But now the world has changed beyond recognition. All of the following have become mainstream since the 1995 Marvelcution:
The internet, broadband, wi-fi, email, Computer Aided Design, webcomics, online forums, smartphones, tablet computers, online shopping, Google Adwords, inexpensive quality-driven self-publishing (e.g. Ka-Blam), banner ads, print-on-demand merchandise (e.g. Spreadshirt), Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, You Tube, hand-held video cameras, simple movie creation software, quality home printing, affiliate programs (e.g. Clickbank), worldwide outsourcing (e.g. Elance) and mobile phone apps.
That’s a whole new infrastructure of hardware, software and services which come together to help us create great comics in multiple formats, backed up with a variety of merchandise, make them visible to a larger audience than ever before, and make it much easier for them to part with their cash.
To put it simply, the power to take valuable market share is no longer just with the publishers and distributers. It’s with the individuals – the creators and the entrepreneurs.
Do you know what you really want?
But a large problem is that comic creators are unaware of the massive potential out there for getting their creator-owned material in front of a major audience without having to work for someone else.
When one of my mentoring clients tells me that their ultimate goal is to work for Marvel or DC, I have the responsibility to question their reasons behind that goal, to ensure that it is what they truly want. Their strongest desire may be to make history by writing or drawing seminal characters that they loved as a kid. I’m fine with that. I understand why that is so important to a lot of people.
But here’s the thing – that desire needs to be weighed against the alternate future that they could build for themselves as a self-employed comic creator. Taking full responsibility for making their own characters come to life and inspiring a legion of fans from the ground up is arguably more satisfying in the long-term than writing a few issues of Ghost Rider, and it’s a damn-sight bigger achievement.
If you thought that working for a publisher was your only road to success in comics, I hope this article has helped you consider alternate options.
But if your goal is still to work for the likes of Marvel or DC, I salute you as you’ve chosen the more difficult and uncertain path to success.
Whichever ideal future you choose, or if you’re still undecided, my Comic Creator Success Secrets product, and the other articles on my blog, should help.
Or if you’d like to ask me a question or know more about my 1:1 mentoring services, please get in touch via the Contact Me page.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this article, so please feel free to leave a comment below, or tell your friends.
To your success,
Founder – The Comic Academy