The Business of Comics

The Writer's Guide to the Business of Comics

If you’re only going to read one book about how to break into the comic industry, it should be one by Lurene Haines.

They were written in the late 1990s, so the specifics about particular companies and publications are no longer valid, but the advice in general is still solid. These books aren’t about how to make comics — they’re about how to be a professional, how to have a career in comics. Business, not art. Hard work, not waiting for inspiration to strike. Since the first major piece of advice is “do your research”, the savvy reader will soon figure out how to bring the specifics up-to-date.

The Business of Comics

In the introduction to The Business of Comics, Haines points out the problem with any entertainment industry: “Much of what I’ll discuss will be basic common-sense information. You may find yourself thinking, ‘Hey! Everybody knows that!’ But trust me, they don’t.” Because so many people want to be in comics, they concentrate on the wrong things and let desperation overcome them. They don’t think of their dream as a job that they need to keep once they win their opportunity. And because you have to be young to go for the idea of “breaking in”, many don’t have the business experience they need to succeed at freelancing.

Other chapters cover how to handle

  • creating a portfolio
  • attending a convention and meeting people
  • submitting by mail
  • interviewing
  • receiving feedback
  • doing the work

Also considered are legal and financial business concerns, as well as interpersonal advice like “don’t be egotistical” or “keep other people’s needs in mind” or “take criticism well” or very important, “don’t be a geek”. Record-keeping is emphasized to keep track of who you’re targeting, why, and when. Suggestions are punctuated with short “ProFiles”, where a working comics pro answers a question related to the topic under discussion, such as “how do you conduct a critique?” or “do you recommend attending conventions?” or “how do you get the second job?” Communications are covered, including how to interact with fans.

Haines’ followup, The Writer’s Guide to the Business of Comics, is as the title suggests, a similar volume geared more towards writers. They often have a harder go of it than artists do, because the quality of their work can’t be seen instantly (and because there are always people who think being a comic writer is just having the right ideas).

The Writer's Guide to the Business of Comics

The sections are similar in this book, although it is perhaps a little more outdated when it comes to discussing online technology. At the time of writing, going online meant visiting one of a few areas on AOL or CompuServe, so such areas as discussed as though they were perpetual conventions. Now, an internet presence is essential and familiarity with such is widespread, but areas are more fragmented, and you’re less likely to interact directly with professionals.

Also, while it’s mentioned several times that your submissions will be more likely to be reviewed if you create your own comics, I think that’s even more true these days. If you say you want to be a comic writer and you don’t have anything published to show for it, most of the big companies won’t take you seriously. Still, much of the advice will be eye-opening and essential to the aspiring comic writer.

These books are out of print but easy to find at reasonable prices used. Seek them out if you want to be a professional professional.

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