Keeping That Comic Creator Passion Alive
Let’s face it, creating comics is a passion project. Regardless of whether you’re a writer, an artist, or a do-it-all creator, comic creation is a time-consuming task with its fair share of frustrations. You can put a lot of effort into a single panel—much less a full page of them—that the reader likely (ideally) consumes in fractions of seconds. And frankly, comics aren’t always the easiest to monetize or make a profit from. But yet, it’s a siren’s call you may find undeniably hard to resist. Despite all the effort and frustration, it’s creatively fulfilling. It’s a unique form of art and storytelling that can engage an audience like no other. And the pure act of creation—bringing to life a page or panel from nothing—is reward in its own right.
So, given comics can be all investment for very little tangible reward, how do you keep the requisite passion alive?
Remember Your Inspired Self
I recently caught a Q&A session with filmmaker Kevin Smith when his Jay & Silent Bob Reboot tour rolled through town, and he talked a good bit about his creative process. What really resonated with me as a creator was his talking about how his work today is really for his younger self. When he sits down to write a script or gets recognition for his latest release, he keeps his mid-90s self—the one who found the initiative and “uncharacteristic confidence” to create his inaugural film Clerks—front of mind. Every accomplishment and success is for his younger self, the one with the inspiration that set him on the path he’s now on.
As a cartoonist, I find I do the same. When I complete an editorial cartoon every week or see someone at a diner reading a Charleston City Paper with my cover illustration, I feel a moment of accomplishment and pride for both my current self and my inner child who first sat down to create comic characters so many years ago. It was that child who first had the dream of becoming a cartoonist, and it’s often that inner child that feels the biggest sense of accomplishment and pride when I sit down and put pencil to artboard every week.
Tell Stories You Want to Read
Along those same lines, you have to inspire your current self, not just the version of you from days-gone-by. The best way to do that is to work on projects that resonate with you. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always good to challenge yourself with new genres and themes. For example, I’m best known for humor and social commentary, but I know I have a horror comic in me yet. (Likely a horror comic with a sense of humor and some social awareness, but I digress…) While it may be tempting to just take any story that comes your way as an artist or writer, don’t! If you don’t feel invested in the story, if your passion just isn’t there, it comes through in your work.
For example, I once edited an issue where the artist clearly wasn’t invested in the story they were telling. Sure, they started out passionate about the collaboration with the writer and the idea of drawing comics, but it just wasn’t the sort of story they’d want to read, much less create. As their interest dwindled, their investment shifted to just getting the pages done for the deadline and paycheck. As a result, the artwork got progressively rougher—and the storytelling less engaging—from page-to-page. You could literally see the artist’s passion for the story fizzle throughout the issue, leading to a dissatisfying reading experience.
Make Sure You Hear That Siren’s Call
While it’s likely not advice that applies to those who signed up for ShoutFyre, it’s important to remember that creating comics simply isn’t for everyone. Even those who have that inner child who wanted to be a cartoonist back in the day may have a hard time dealing with the realities of the artform. For example, if you want to be a comic book artist, make sure you want to be a storyteller; create sequential art, not just pin-ups and splash pages, as that’s where the real effort lies. And if, after getting into it, you feel like you don’t hear the siren’s call, that comic creation is more frustrating than fulfilling, it’s a good sign you don’t have that passion after all.
That disenfranchised artist I mentioned above? They’re a great designer, paid well for their artwork in other mediums. But in addition to just not feeling the story they were working on, they underestimated the sheer amount of time and effort it took to create a comic book page. They knew they could create fantastic single images, but they discovered the storytelling nature of sequential art to be a different beast altogether. As a result, they realized that they weren’t really as passionate about creating comics as they first thought.
And if you start to relate, that’s fine; you’ll find the medium and artform—your passion project—that does beckon you.
Editor, Artist, Letterer, Colorist Steve is the long-running cartoonist at the Charleston, SC alt-weekly Charleston City Paper, where he skewers politicians and criminals (and criminal politicians) alike with editorial cartoons and police blotter illustrations every issue. Steve was best known his indie comic book (and subsequent webcomic) BOONDOGGLE