F.A.Q. for Y.O.U.

Here’s a question for whoever is out there this morning:

I get a lot of emails and questions on the road from aspiring writers who want to write for comics, but don’t think they have any drawing ability and want to find someone to collaborate with. I could tell them to draw it themselves anyway (and suggest hunting down some Matt Feazell or John Porcellino comix as inspiration). I could be obnoxious and tell ’em to stick to prose. But I want to at least give them some useful answers in case they have their heart set on Plan A.

The problem is, I don’t really know how aspiring writers find aspiring artists to collaborate with these days. I know there have to be online resources, listings, message boards, etc. for “writer seeking artist.” Anybody know what those are?

Oh! And speaking of Matt Feazell:

Best shirt ever.

Discussion (39)¬

  1. Matthew Marcus says:

    I’ve been sending out e-mails to my artist friends with coy little phrases like, “I’d be honored if you’d give me some feedback…”
    then it’s a, “maybe you could just throw together some character designs for me, no pressure, and I’d really appreciate it” and before they know it I’ve tricked them into drawing my comic. That’s the plan anyway.

    P.S. There’s a good natured mini debate back in the epic kindle thread that we may need your 2 cents on…

  2. Looking around at all of the collaborations I’ve seen, writers mostly tend to do the following to get an artist:

    Ask someone they know. Comics people tend to travel in the same social circles. I’d be shocked if aspiring comics writers didn’t know any artists.

  3. Saoki says:

    Aspiring writers usually knwo a lot of artists. Not that they have the time, inclination, interest or are actually the right guy for the project. I have used social networking sites for this, but they’re not that helpful.

    I have tried to convince a web-programmer friend of mine to set up a networking website for writers and artists for a while now, but it’s hard to get something like taht going on your free time (since it’s a pro-bono effort, it has to be in his very rare free time).
    So, really, I think technology can help a lot in this case.

  4. Mike L says:

    You know where I’ve seen a good number of ‘writer seeking artist’ bits? Craigslist. Other than that, the local comic store for anyone probably has a bulletin board of some kind and past that, online art galleries, such as deviantart have forums where just such things are started. One could always contact a favorite web comic artist directly and see if they’re looking for other projects. I’ve actually been in the opposite field, an artist looking for a writer and, having asked my friends and received no nibbles went and did that myself, too. So your initial instinct for ‘do it yourself’ would likely yield the best results, I’d think, especially for a personal, more biographical project.

  5. Kyle Latino says:

    If I were looking for an artist, I would check DeviantArt, comic publisher forums, or Jinxworld forums.

    I guess the most important thing is, no matter where you find an artist, the cold email is a tricky thing. As an artist, I know nothing about the guy on the other end, so establishing trust is essential. Include a FULL NAME, AGE, and a GENERAL CITY OF RESIDENCE! Show that you are a real person, and if you are a high-schooler, just say so. And, with script samples (which should be linked to in the first email OR attached in the second), make sure it’s fun to read! If you can’t get someone jazzed to join your project because your script reads like TV listings, you’ll never get any help.

  6. Matthew Johnson says:

    As Willie Sutton would say, go where the artists are. Get a job (or talk to someone with a job) where artistically-minded people send their portfolios — web design, publishing, etc. Community colleges with design programs are another good source (or even an arts high school, if you’re young enough to do that without looking skeevy.) Or you can try posting a notice at your local comic shop and wading through your own personal slushpile.

  7. patric says:

    Having collaborated with a couple of artists on comics, this was my experience:

    1.) The first person i collaborated with was a friend of mine from art school. Obviously, my style is not super-hero / action-based at all. It’s just not what I’m good at. But, he was and it was fun.

    Second time around, I went back to MCAD and said, “hey, is there any comic student who’d want intern credit for doing 50 pages of a comic for graphicsmash?”

    3rd time was another friend.

    in all three instances, the biggest hurdle was getting people with day jobs to finish pages. eventually, all had to quit because of the time commitment. because of this, Aces High looks very disjointed and the story never flowed too well. A shame.

    My advice is to not go to an artist with a property you’ve already created, but create with an artist everything from the ground up. The emotional investment they make will translate to a time commitment.

  8. Andrew says:

    I was going to suggest forums like DeviantArt, Criaglist or Jinxworld, but since I’ve been beaten to the punch on those why not conventions? I think Kyle made a good point about the “cold email” being a tricky thing. The face-to-face networking you can do at a con helps establish trust.

    I was at TCAF and oddly enough overheard a couple people discussing this very issue.

  9. patric says:

    the elephant in the room that i just realized none of us has touched yet is money.

    i’ve found that the biggest obstacle is that a.) writers looking artists often can’t pay the artists. the artists put far more time in to the comic than the writer. they have to. drawing just takes more time. i always tried to also color and letter when i collaborated because then i felt like at least i was making more of a time commitment.

    if you can pay the artist, do. a page rate is best, not just a “share” of any ads or anything. a share of something that may never come is not much of an incentive.

    when an artist gets money, they feel they need to provide work.

    • Dean says:

      Fine. Assuming that you can pay an artist, what is a decent page rate. Do you pay more for pencil art than inking? What about coloring?

  10. Shawn says:

    I don’t know how successful they are, but there are at least two web places specifically set up for comics writers and artists to find each other.
    http://www.panelandpixel.com (Look for the meat market thread)

  11. Ed says:

    I have to agree with Patric. If you want to set up a solid working relationship with an artist, raise some money so that you can pay them. Use the time you have to spend raising the money to work and rework your story. Show it around and get feedback.

    Also, some advice that I can’t stress enough: START SMALL. Don’t contact an artist for a 300 page graphic novel that you want to create when you haven’t successfully completed anything in the past. Start with smaller stories (less than 20 pages). This helps you work out your story telling muscles.

    Starting with smaller stories that you either self-publish or submit to anthologies not only helps you gain experience as a comics story-teller, it also helps you gain cred. The more that your name is out there and the more (solid) work that you produce, the more likely an artist will want to work with you on future projects. You’re showing artists that you’ve got what it takes to finish a project and get it out there.

  12. patric says:

    i think one of the biggest issues here is one of trust. as a writer, it’s hard to find an artist you can trust to finish the comic. as an artist, it’s hard to find a writer you can trust to pay you.

    finding an artist is more like finding a friend or a significant other.

  13. mrtomsmith says:

    But,but… Matt Feazell is an awesome artist. He can do things with stick figures that most people can’t do with full figured drawings. If you told me to go look at that, I’d be totally intimidated and scared. Cut and paste from public domain art, or Dinosaur Comics, maybe http://www.qwantz.com/. Or there was someone I can’t remember who did great things where all the characters were just a dot surrounded by dense text. That I could draw.

  14. Nick says:

    To me, the problem was always what to do with the finished project AFTER it was completed. Consider also that a lot of amateur stuff may look on the poorer end of the scale now compared to the high quality prints on our newstands. Would something that is perhaps a little basic hurt our chances when we come to show it to anyone significant?

    • patric says:

      always do your best work. if you don’t think it’s good enough, why would anyone else?

      everyone you show it to is significant simply because they are now your audience.

      if it’s amateur, then don’t try to pass it off as professional. it’s okay if you’re not a pro and you just make comics for fun and a hobby. but, if you want to be a pro, then you need to up your game and be critical and work. and that never stops.

  15. Jim HIggins says:

    I find it odd that when two people are trying to get into the business together, both being either unpublished or beginners, that one would pay the other just because the other’s work takes more time. It doesn’t seem fair for a person who is writing on spec to put up money for someone who is *also* working on spec. If you direct a short film that you then submit to festivals, it’s not unusual for everyone to work on it for free. Sometimes a director might pay the cinematographer to ensure that they get quality work. In the same way, if a writer really wants to pay an artist, that’s his or her choice. But when I’ve pitched a project on spec, I never even considered paying someone and would frankly be insulted that an artist thought their art deserved payment but my writing didn’t solely because the art takes more time.

    I think you have to approach a situation like this as a team. It’s a joint venture, a “we’re all in this together!” scenario. You establish a partnership with an artist and put together the best work you can so you can go slay the dragon of getting it over the transom and into an editor’s hands.

    The problem of dealing with someone who is working full time and trying to draw a comic, as some people have mentioned, is a very real one. Ed’s point of starting small is a good one. I teach comics writing and drawing and often tell my students that you should think about publishing a graphic novel as separate issues when you’re starting out for this very reason. Also, you can usually sell a publisher on an idea for a short series if you have a good proposal and a first issue done.

  16. Steve Mackin says:

    Hey Scott…are there any instances you know of in which a writer and artist paired up at one of your workshops?

  17. vinegartom says:

    I’ve seen some pretty demanding writers in those free for all styled sites. I think Scott’s idea of turning them into artists helps in two ways. 1) They can function on their own (independence is a wonderful thing). 2) They gain a greater appreciation for the amount of work an artist does (I have seen more writers make ridiculous demands of artists in the Digital Webbing forums. It’s like an inside joke amongst the artists at this point– you’d think writers would know a cliche when they saw one).

  18. It’s been a while since I’ve called myself aspiring with a straight face (though I probably should still do it), but for my first book I did three things that I think helped me succeed.

    First, I wrote complete scripts — I never approached an artist with this really great idea, you know, that if you’ll like, commit to drawing it, I’ll finish it up right away. Short version: write the story first, so you have something to show the artists you approach.

    Second, I approached artists whose work I admired — often without having ever met them, so don’t let lack of contacts slow you down — and offered them something different from what they were working on. Bring a new idea in a fresh story or genre and you’re more likely to generate interest.

    Third, I had a contract, a schedule, and paid the artists upon completion. I didn’t ask for spec-work, in other words, regardless of the artist’s experience or publication history. Upstream, Jim H. expressed bemusement about an unpublished writer paying an unpublished artist. While the imbalance might seem…well, imbalanced…the labor that goes into writing “Panel 1: Interior shot of a 747 cockpit” is substantially less than the labor that goes into drawing it. And the ability to sell the story, either to a publisher or to the audience, will hinge on what the reader sees on the page. And they won’t see your script. So accept it, and if you’re serious about the story you want to tell, put some money behind that passion.

    I’ve done all those things with every subsequent book as well, and I think they’ve helped me find the right artists for the job every time.

    • Toddson says:

      While I do think putting money behind your work can help, as a writer I have problems with your claim that all a writer does is “Panel 1: Interior shot of a 747 cockpit”. Plotting, pacing, filling in plot holes, multiple edits and character arcs take time. Moreso when one has a day job. I am by no means saying artists don’t have a lot of work on their plates coming into a project, I just don’t want you guys selling writers short.

      • I’m not selling them/us/me short — a lot of work goes into creating a script! I’ve been at this for over 10 years now, and between the research, the actual writing and editing, and the intrusion of that day job thing you mentioned it usually takes me upwards of a couple of years to write a story.

        But…comics need art, and that art needs to be professional or the writer will have trouble moving past that aspiring stage. So iif we hark back to the original question, I think aspiring writers should be ready, willing, and able to pay artists to illustrate their scripts. If they can get professional work for free, on a schedule that suits them, that’s great. It’s more likely, though, that the artists they consider good enough will look at doing a job for an aspiring writer (meaning, not Neil Gaiman or Gail Simone or Jeff Parker or…) and choose to either illustrate their own scripts, or the scripts of those who can pay for their time.

        • Toddson says:

          Fair enough. As I said I agree with that side. I guess I was just being pedantic/arguing for argument’s sake. Or maybe it’s the fact that I just finished a script, have no artist and little money. 🙂

  19. I have a friend who wants to write a comic. I told him he should draw it himself, and he replied (Insisted, fervently) that he had no drawing ability, and that I should be the one to draw it.
    He talked to me about his ideas (Which could easily be described as a loose mesh of disconnected jokes with no plot that he wants to build into one), and told me I should draw the first page.

    I asked him if he had the script for, at least, a couple of pages. He had NOTHING. No script, no sketches, not even a good main character.

    I told him to make an effort, make some layouts to start things up, plan a bit, and that I’d meet him for that specific purpose in two weeks.

    I have no idea why he wants to make comics. Like I said, he has next-to-nothing to work with. But I ain’t telling him to stop. Quite the opposite, actually:

    I lent him a couple of books (“Understanding” and “Making”), so he’d read them and study them.

    What I noticed is that he lacks passion, drive, and love for comics. He just got the idea from who-knows-where to turn his ideas into comics, but I ain’t losing this chance to see if he can find a way to turn his ideas into something cool.

    In other instances, instead of me being the artist, people have contacted me about writing. What comics I’ve drawn, have convinced at least some people that I am a bit competent in writing comics, which, I guess, is not bad.

    What I’ve learned from this is that the most important part of writing comics and finding an artist to draw them is to prove that you’re committed to writing comics, and that you’re looking for someone who is committed too.

  20. […] F.A.Q. for Y.O.U. Scott asks a great question that allows others to share their POV on “how aspiring writers find aspiring artists to collaborate with these days.” […]

  21. […] Connecting artists with writers at Scott Mcloud (words) link […]

  22. patric says:

    if anyone’s still reading this– new question:

    what is fair for a writer to expect from an artist if they can’t pay them? what kind of quality of work? what kind of time frame?

    • MK Reed says:

      Oh dude, expect EXACTLY what you pay for.

      Now, if you come at this with a friend who joins you and you make a commitment to each other to do things, you can reasonably expect to get something done, if you don’t burn out at some point in the process.

      But if you’re going to solicit work from an artist, and they agree to do a few sample pages or something, and you’re not paying them, they basically have free reign to sit on their ass for as long as possible to not do it. Because, what, if you get tired of waiting, do you have to bargain with, if not money? You have no chips. And anyone with serious talent probably knows a better way to make a buck with their art. You probably can’t afford to pay much, but you should at least try to pay for something. Even a hundred bucks will at least start to cover the raw materials, if not the time and effort, and even as the beginning of a gesture.

      But you need to have all your ducks in a row before you get an artist. Outline of the whole project, script for the first few chapters if not the whole thing, plans for where you’re going to take the project.

      Seriously though, you’ll find that even a token amount of money will make the both of you work harder. Not even just for the artist, but yourself because you’ve just invested something corporeal in this.

  23. MK Reed says:

    Scott, I could write a dissertation on this.

    Actually, maybe I should…

  24. Scott says:

    One more: MK Reed has some thoughts here as well: