Like it or not, being an artist today also means being an entrepreneur.
It means understanding how business works - both how it can work against you and how you can work with it.
You need to understand how to set your page rates, work with publishers, or take advantage of funding sources like Kickstarter. How to do taxes, how to read contracts, and how to track your expenses.
Well, you don’t have to. But you should. Especially if you want to give yourself the best chance of building a career in comics - whether as an independent creator or while working with publishers.
Those of you who think you can ignore the business side of your work will find yourselves sorely mistaken. You’ll be taken advantage of or, at best, fail to make the most of your successes. Maybe you’ll still manage to build a career. But probably not. If anything, it’ll be a lot harder.
But if you take business seriously. If you realize that you should learn about the other half of your industry (the non-creative side), you’re going to stand a much better chance of succeeding.
And if you do make that decision you won’t be taken by surprise. You’ll understand when you’re presented with a bad offer - or a great one. And you’ll be able to make informed decisions about your career. Informed decisions that will help you avoid the pitfalls many artists - both in comics and beyond - typically fall into.
When creators talk about business, they tend to focus on the limits business realities impose upon them. How much it costs to produce a comic, the difficulties of starting new series, etc. These are all reasonable concerns.
But they’re based off an incorrect assumption. Business isn’t the foil to your creativity. It’s not an imposition or a limit. It doesn’t have to be the devil on your shoulder trying to get you to shy away from your ambitions “non-marketable” project.
Instead, it can - and should - be the foundation for making that crazy, creative passion project a reality.
You don’t learn about marketing to decide whether the project you're considering is “marketable enough” to deserve your time. You learn about marketing to find the marketable elements in whatever you decide to work on.
You don’t learn about finances to be discouraged when you want to make something that’s beyond your capabilities. You learn about finances so you can create a plan to get to the point you need to get to, and fund that dream project.
Business isn't about keeping you from being creative, it's about making your most creative ambitions a reality.
That's why I like it so much. That's why I think it's so important for you to understand. I realize it’s a lot to ask. That it’s a whole other discipline. But even if you don’t master it, you need to at least become literate enough to share the burden - whether with a partner or a publisher.
If you take this “slow and steady” approach you won’t be overwhelmed and you won’t have to fear taking the art out of your craft. I’ve always lived at the intersection of business & art and the perspective I have on each of those has helped me in the other in ways I could never imagine.
I’m a more confident creator because of my understanding of the business side. I’m a more effective entrepreneur, because I don’t undervalue the art that goes into creative work.
The comic book industry is, ultimately, a business. If you create a great comic, but don’t have a great way to sell it, you have a bad busines - no matter how good the comic. And bad businesses fail. Constantly.
But you don’t have to.
Lasting success requires excellence both on the business side and the creative. Brilliant work with no business plan can take off on its own, but more often fades away. Bad work with a great business plan can mimic success, but will never endure and drumming up a lot of support for a project that fails to deliver can cost you the trust of your audience.
Work on improving your approaches to both the business and creative - or work with people who can complement your skills in one, with aptitude for the other.
Fight both sides of the battle. Not just half of it.