Don't Break In, Build a Career

Last week I wrote a blog post about how new talent fits into the Image Comics model, if at all, and people responded to it well.

Despite that, or perhaps because of it, I had a tough time deciding how to follow up the article, but in the end I decided to write the post you're reading here because I wanted to elaborate on something I only touched on in that last post.

And though this week's post, like last week's, is directed towards the Comic Industry and comic creators, I think what I have to say holds true for just about any creative industry.


If you read last week's post you'll know that I challenged breaking in, and added my voice to the continuing conversation about how the landscape of comics is shifting. The gatekeepers, who once had a more visible hold over the inroads to the industry, still exist, but if you don't mind walking an alternative path you can make your way "in" without passing through the gates at all.

You can dig your way under the gate with crowdfunding, climb over with a webcomic, or, just print your own comic and attend a small press expo. You can focus on building a career as opposed to breaking in.

Don't Break In...

Don't Break In...

...Build a Career.

...Build a Career.

While this distinction may seem minimal, given how much more it's been getting discussed lately, I'd argue that the ability to make this choice, or combine both approaches, is one of the most important changes that the advent of the internet as both as an avenue for distribution and financing has brought to comics.

A career lasts, but it's been shown plenty of times that focusing entirely on breaking in can leave you struggling to stay in once you finally 'succeed.' Even those who do manage to make a dent in the industry can be cast aside when they fall out of style, if they haven't put adequate focus on growing their own platform by cultivating readership and support independent of the brand associations they may cultivate while breaking in.

Building a career is about holding your future firmly in your own hands and it puts you in a better position to do work within the industry on your own terms.

Put simply: If you allow others to define your value as opposed to defining it for yourself by building your own resilient career you're cooking with a recipe for disaster (Pardon the pun).

For example, see Atomic Robo's recent push for independence as they move away from Red5 and transition to a full-time webcomic, supported by a Patreon.

Now obviously all this theory is nice - but acting on it is no small undertaking. It's part of the reason I'm not too worried about running out of things to write about on this blog, but it's also why it's key to be a part of a strong, supportive professional network.

Really, this article should've been titled "Don't Break In Alone, Build a Career Together," but I thought it sounded better as is.


climbtogether

Don't Break in Alone, Build a Career Together

In any medium, the support of other professionals is key, both for making connections, getting your book, comic, or movie in front of readers or viewers, and getting good feedback so you can keep improving your craft. However, comics, specifically, are not an individual's medium. Even writer-artists often collaborate with editors, colorists, or letterers to create the books we enjoy.

If it's important to you to be able to create and participate in the industry on your own terms by self-publishing, utilizing crowdfunding, or generally making independent / creator-owned comics, then you need to build your network.

The key in doing so is to engage authentically and deliver value.

Engage Authentically

Now defining engagement can be tricky since the term is so broad. It really just means to involve yourself in the community by participating in conversations and connecting to your peers.

Connecting with specifically your peers is important since many of the people that are currently in a similar place to you or at a similar "level," will likely remain your fellow creators for years to come. Understanding this and recognizing that even if you don't agree on everything, you'll all get much further if you play on each other's teams, is important because support is the commodity of networks.

Support is the commodity of networks

This support can take many forms depending on what your peers are doing, but most often a signal boost is plenty to affirm that you're there for them.

If your 'teammate' is running a kickstarter: retweet. If your 'teammate' got interviewed: retweet. If your 'teammate' has a book available for pre-order: retweet. If your 'teammate' has just released a comic: retweet.

And most importantly, do not retweet, share, or otherwise support your teammates just because you expect your help will be reciprocated.

For your support to be authentic you should sincerely care about your fellow creators and the comics they create - and if you participate actively enough over a long enough period of time, it's likely that many of your 'teammates' will become your friends.

If they are your friends then it's only natural you'll want them to succeed. A rising tide lifts all boats. A key way to ensure you're doing as much as you can to further your community and help your friends succeed is to deliver value.

Deliver Value

For me, this blog is one way I'm trying to live up to this idea. While it's a helpful way for me to organize my thoughts, the real purpose is to help other comic creators who I believe should be able to sustain themselves off of the comics they create, and are creating comics that deserve to be more widely read.

A signal boost, as discussed above, is definitely one way to deliver value. Actually buying their comics is also a substantial way to bring value. But the kind of value I want to discuss is more ancillary in nature.

Is your participation in the conversations, your engagement, adding value? Are you sharing the lessons you learn as you progress in your career? Are you participating in panels to help a community beyond those you are directly connected to on social media or in person?

Sharing these lessons and helping creators where you can by sharing articles that may be of use (potentially articles like this one?) to them adds substance to your engagement so that you're not just participating in the community, but elevating it and adding to it.


So, how are you building your career as opposed to breaking in? And how are you helping others do the same?

While I'd recommend against overthinking these questions, they're still important considerations at every step of the way. They're the core of what this site is all about.

If you liked this article then be sure to let me know on Twitter @JeremyMelloul or share your appreciation for someone else in your community who's created something of value to you.


The Creator At Large Newsletter

While this site is definitely the core of how I'm working to help comic creators build independent careers, it's supplemented by the weekly newsletter filled with exclusive content and links to readings that I consider essential to being an informed creator.

If you're interested, you can sign up below, or find out more about the newsletter by clicking here