Calculated Risks: The Art of Taking Chances
I’ve talked before about the importance of networking, from local comics aficionados to active comic professionals. That networking can lead to friendships, community, and (hopefully) opportunities for published work. At the same time, sadly, there are some in the community who prey on those eager to break into comics, who may take advantage of your hard work with a promise of “exposure” and little more. As such, it’s important to network with your eyes open, to protect yourself and your work.
Check the Peephole When Opportunity Knocks
When your network does open the door to a new opportunity, it’s important to take notice… and caution. For example, over the years I’ve managed to network with a number of comics professionals on social media. Several names on my feeds are tied to people I’ve never met face-to-face; some are friends-of-friends, some have reached out after discovering my work elsewhere. As such, when opportunity knocks, I don’t often recognize the name or face on the other side of the door. Before running headlong into discussions about a potential project, I’ll do some due diligence to vet the person on the other end. More often than not, the opportunity is legit, and the relationship borne from that effort is long-lasting and leads to further projects and collaboration.
Case in point, last year I saw a call for submissions for a new anthology featuring a licensed cartoon character. I tend to prefer to focus on my own projects and IP instead of licensed properties, but doing something with this character in particular seemed a fun and intriguing exercise. While I didn’t really know the person who posted the call for submissions at the time, I recognized the name enough to know he was active in the comics community through cons and published work. We also shared enough friends in common that I was able to vet his credentials fairly easily. So, there seemed enough positives for me to entertain the knock—a character that seemed fun, with a seemingly legitimate creator and the likely potential for future opportunities.
Set Your Goal… and Your Value
Every agreement requires a bit of give-and-take. If you’re just starting out, that abstract notion of “exposure” may seem enticing. Sure, exposure means little when it comes to paying the rent, but maybe, just maybe, it could lead to more work that helps pay the bills. And sometimes there are projects that promise little in terms of pay but are still something done for fun all the same. For example, a project done with friends more for the fun of it than any real pay can still be worthwhile in its own right. As you weigh new opportunities and projects, keep your eye on that scale to maintain a balance between what you put into it and what you get out of it.
In my case, the fact that it was a licensed character meant that any work I created wouldn’t really be mine in terms of publishing rights; those would eventually go to and stay with the licensor. With the potential compensation being a “known unknown” at this point, it was all the more important to keep my eye on that scale of give-and-take. On one hand, I wasn’t going to own the work and didn’t know what to expect in terms of pay; on the other, I could scratch my creative itch to work with the character and potentially open the door for future opportunities.
Given those factors, how much was I willing to put into it? In this case, since it was for an anthology, my contribution—at least for the initial submission—could be minimal. A single page. A single page would offer a taste of my work and provide me with fun creative exercise without jeopardizing my usual deadlines or bandwidth for my own projects. Even if nothing came of it, I would at least scratch that creative itch with a glorified bit of fan art.
I came up with a one-page strip that captured my take on the character, and sent it in an inked version. The page resonated well with not just the creator but the licensor as well. Of the submissions received, mine was among those gaining the most traction, and I went ahead and submitted a colored version to clear it off my list of active projects. Of course, as things often go with licensed projects, the anthology became mired in approval cycles for every submission. Based on the minor stylizations I had to tweak in mine to better skew toward the standard model, it’s no wonder the anthology’s progress ground to a halt as the contributor list and page count grew (and that was before the COVID-19-imposed standstill on comics).
Opportunity Knocks More Than Once
While the anthology itself dealt with Too Many Cooks syndrome, my relationship with the creator who first issued the call for submissions continued to grow, thanks in part to routine check-ins on the anthology to meeting in-person at a con. But it was still a pleasant surprise when he reached out to ask “Do you have anything sci-fi?”
Turns out he was now shifting to another anthology series featuring creator-owned comics, and indeed, one of the personal projects I’ve been toying with is a sci-fi satire, Adventures of Rip Raygun. Now this time, the opportunity knocking on the door was much more worthwhile. A chance to create something wholly mine (outside of a limited window of exclusive publishing rights), with a now-known and familiar entity. All borne from a previously taken (and calculated) risk on an earlier opportunity.
Long story short, when faced with an interesting opportunity, ask yourself:
- “What’s the scope of this project? Is this worth the time it would take from my own projects or obligations?”
- “What are the potential byproducts of this project? Could it lead to greater opportunities down the road?”
- “Are there intrinsic benefits to this project that make just being involved worthwhile?”
- And, most importantly, “Is this something I really want to do?”
What’s your experience with risks and opportunities? Any lessons learned? Share them in the ShoutFyre forum!
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