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How to Break into (and Stay In) Comics

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

Finding your way into the entertainment industry is often a mix of persistence, talent and luck. Almost every successful actor, musician and writer went through a convoluted path to achieve their goals. The road they traveled had a lot of detours, failures and dead ends, but determination (or stubbornness) carried them over their obstacles, and back on their chosen path. The life of a comic artist isn’t any different. The people at the top will be the first to tell you that.

Some of the top writers and editors at Marvel recently relayed this message at their annual panel at San Diego Comic Con. (See Breaking Into Comics the Marvel Way). C.B. Cebulski, the SVP at Marvel who oversees talent acquisition and development, sat down with Marvel’s editor in chief and several of their top talents to discuss both the road to success and tips for aspiring artists.

The main thrust of the discussion was twofold:

1) There is no “right” way to get your shot at working for a company like Marvel. You can try as many methods as you can think up, as long as you keep it professional.

2) Once you get your first “big break”, your work has just begun. You have to continue to prove your value and your professionalism or you can lose your spot to the next fifty people trying to get in.

C.B. reinforces this message in a new book about writing for the comics industry. Brian Michael Bendis adds the insights from dozens of top writers, artists and editors to his own experience in Words for Pictures. Bendis, Cebulski and the other contributors do a great job of redefining success. For them, it’s not enough to break into comics. You have to keep pushing yourself to stay in the industry.

Recent history is full of examples to support this idea:

  • Joe Quesada could have been content to draw Batman and create characters like Azrael, but he went further first with Marvel Knights, then becoming EIC at Marvel and helping move the company into the golden age of comic book movies
  • Frank Miller could have been happy to redefine characters like Batman and Daredevil, but he kept pushing, creating independent properties like Sin City and 300 that made it all the way to the big screen
  • Jim Lee could have just drawn Spider-Man, but he went out on his on and built Image into one of the largest independent comics companies, before going back to DC and taking a major leadership role there.

There are a lot of other examples, but you get the idea. If you take the long view of your career, you’ll see your first deal or your first book as the stepping stone to more work and bigger things. You might not become the next Frank Miller, but your professional and creative development will extend far beyond the first big break.

Have fun.