I’m currently writing a book about the business and legal aspects of being in the comic book industry. (See Your Four Careers in Comics). Part of the research for the book involves talking to people on every level of the business: creators, editors, publishers, distributors, retailers, critics and fans. Together with my own experience and research, the insights of all these perspectives will help more people understand and thrive this creative business.
The first spotlight interview I’m going to share comes to us from Italy. Francesca Urbinati graduated from the Istituto Statale d’Arte of Urbino and specialized in 3D Animation. She has worked for RAI and Mediaset, working with 3D special effects and she was member of the Adobe Guru for the digital video. She started to freelance in 2011, publishing the comic series “Niki Batsprite” and specialized in comics and illustrations. She also teaches comics and manga with Scuola di Fumetto Marche and cooperates in various projects: from movies in Europe.
I spoke to her about life as a freelance comic artist.
Gamal: Describe your process for finding work as a freelance artist. How do you connect with potential clients and work out a deal with them?
Francesca: Clients find artists in a lot of different places, so I try to make sure people can find me whenever they are looking. You have to have an online presence, but it is just as important to make personal connections with other artists and clients. Conventions are still an important part of being a freelance artist. People want to put a face to the people they work with and see that you’re a real person.
Gamal: How do your independent projects like Niki Batsprite help you find new clients?
Francesca: A finished product is the best business card you can have. I got more attention as an artist after I created issue one with my husband. But it’s best to have an ongoing series that will show improvement in your craft from one issue to the next. If you can’t sustain an ongoing series because of time or budget, then a mini-series is a compromise to satisfy potential fans more than a single stand-alone issue without giving you too much stress.
Gamal: Are there any special things you look for when talking to a potential client to ensure you work well with them?
Francesca: The main thing I look for from a potential client is respect. As an artist, I need to work with and for people who understand that sequential art is a profession and creating artwork requires skills that take years to learn and practice. When I’m at conventions and someone comes to my booth to ask me for a quick sketch, I almost always charge them something. It will only be a small amount because the image only takes a few minutes, but clients on any level need to understand that it takes years to learn how to do a sketch in five minutes. The effort and dedication needs to be recognized.
Gamal: How is the creative process different when you’re working on another person’s book and working on your own titles?
Francesca: When I’m working on my own books, I’m the art director, penciler, inker and client all at once. I have a clear idea of what I want, so the stages of development are more streamlined. When working for a client, I always include more stages of approval. I’m looking to give the client exactly what they want and it takes more time to understand and capture their vision.
Gamal: Tell us about some of the business lessons you learned in your early days as an artist.
Francesca: First, make sure you get paid. Exposure is not enough. Second make sure you get paid according to milestones that are set out upfront so you don’t have to wait until the project is over to get paid. Third, make sure you have a contract in place, even if it’s just the terms of service and NDA attached to your estimate.
Gamal: From a business and legal standpoint, what kind of situations and issues do you avoid as a comics artist?
Francesca: The main thing is being willing to say no to a potential job. Competition is very heavy in Italy, throughout Europe and in America. But working with a client who you can’t trust, or who doesn’t want to sign a contract, or who isn’t willing to pay or who doesn’t respect the work you do isn’t worth working with. You have a limited amount of time to create. Don’t waste it on the wrong clients.
Gamal: Beyond developing the creative skill, what’s your advice for understanding the industry of comics as a whole?
Francesca: Being a good creator is just the tip of the iceberg, especially in an era when cosplayers and youtubers can grow in popularity like supernovas. I think that artists need to work on public relations, having a positive attitude and marketing as hard as they struggle on their art. It's a 360° personal evolution. It’s not just about "getting better at drawing so publishers will hire me".
Gamal: What trends are you seeing in the industry right now?
Francesca: At first, self-publishers were perceived as "junk discarded by publishing companies". Later, people realized that publishers are offering refreshed versions of their old intellectual properties over and over again, while self-publishers are good authors with new ideas and styles. The comic market is going upside-down: publishers are not investing anymore, they recycle their IPs over and over. When a self-published author hardly collects enough attention and sales on his own, publishers show up to byte a piece of his cake: this is when you lose control of your IP in exchange of scraps. This trend can't be stopped, plus I know many authors disappointed by their publishers and going self, so I see a big rise in self-publishing in the future.
Gamal: So you think there’s going to be a rise in self-published work?
Francesca: Competition is always there and of course big IPs draw most of the budget. However, new opportunities are all over: just think about Netflix producing its original series, or Don Bluth's crowdfunding a "Dragon's Lair" movie. From abroad, the US is so superhero-oriented that other kinds of stories are barely taken into consideration. But there's a lot under the surface and tons of different ways to excite the audience! I think this is the big challenge we're going to face: bring original and brilliant stuff to life opposed to old refashioned mainstream stuff.
Gamal: Do you see independent animation projects becoming more or less popular as comic based properties gain mainstream movie attention?
Francesca: Manga style is here to stay and is spreading worldwide, even in US comics and cartoons.
Find Francesca Online:
Niki Batsprite website: http://en.nikibatsprite.com
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