Tag Archives: thoughts

On Freelancing (with a Warm Up sketch)

In that awkward land of misery known as the 8th grade, I remember a graphic artist coming to talk to us about his job. I suppose it was career day, though I can’t really remember. But, I’m pretty sure he didn’t just stumble in off the street, disheveled and desperately trying to caffeinate himself with coffee from a white Styrofoam cup.

He looked tired and beaten down. Like he’d been given one assignment too many and all pay raises had been put on an indefinite hold. The only thing I remember is him saying “If you want to become an artist when you grow up…don’t.”

I went on to not follow his advice. Though some days I look just as disheveled, longing for a coffee IV drip to get me through the last hours of a crazy deadline.  I understand what he meant. Art, especially freelance art  (or freelance anything) isn’t easy. But I think he was wrong in his plea for us impressionable youth to run away. There are those that should, of course. Not everyone can deal with the uncertainty of this career path, especially when you wonder about the “career” part and aren’t sure where the path is leading.

But if you can’t stop doodling when you’re supposed to be doing something else. And if the 8-5 routine day in and day out, with a boss looking over your shoulder, with no end in sight, makes you feel like the life is being squeezed out of you. And if you want to your failure or success to be on your shoulders alone.  Then maybe you should try it.

But there is something to be said for the advice “If you can do anything else to make a living, then do that.” I wouldn’t tell a group of middle schoolers not to try and be a freelance artist. But it’s definitely not the easiest way to go at times.

Anyway, here’s a girl holding a Mocha.

How to (not) Create a Successful Webcomic

My writing partner and I are in the middle of our second graphic novel, Deputy Witch. As with our first, Vex, we decided to post it online for free instead of seeking traditional publishing. We figured it would have the potential for a wider audience than if it were a printed book. Especially a printed book by two unknown guys. Actually, let me back up. I did talk to one of my editors at a company that accepts creator-owned material, but I was told “unless your name is Brian Michael Bendis, you don’t have a shot.”

Since I only meet 1/3 of that requirement, I figured the internet was the way to go.

Vex did fairly well. We had a decent-sized audience that interacted somewhat regularly. Deputy Witch started going up before Vex ended, so we were able to benefit from some crossover readership. So what I learn from Vex?


Daily updates of a webcomic are somewhat reminiscent of the comics page in the newspaper in that 1) they’re going to be read quickly and 2) they generally have a punchline to every strip. There are exceptions to #2 obviously. Judge Parker, Mark Trail, Apartment 3G have been going on for decades and have an over-arching story, but most people who pick up the comic page typically go for the gag strips that have a complete thought. They set up the joke and then deliver. The reader puts the paper down and then goes to work.

That rhythm of setting up the punchline, delivering, and ending gives a sense of closure that fits the medium (i.e. the paper) and translates well to webcomics. Years ago I did a comic like that and we built up a readership fairly quickly. Vex, however, was written as a graphic novel with three acts. The pages weren’t written to be read one day at a time, rather they were designed to serve the overall pacing of the book. Reading it online meant that there was a slight requirement of delaying gratification on the part of the reader. You had to stick with it for the payoff (punchline) that each page was building towards.

No one is going to spread page 25 of chapter 4 around the web (giving you free advertising) like they would with a clever PvP or Penny Arcade strip. So, there are challenges inherent in promoting a smaller, limited work online as opposed to an ongoing strip designed specifically for the web. Not that it can’t be done, but it takes time.


Unless your comic is Axe Cop (which 99.999% of all comics aren’t) you’re going to have to build up an audience slowly over time. Right about the time that Vex was starting to get a several hundred readers a day….Act III hit. And then, soon after, came a page with the words “The End.”

It took a year and a half to run through the whole story, 146 pages, and then…no more updates. I’ve heard some successful webcomic artists say to expect no one to read your comic for the first six years. That might be hyperbole, but it definitely takes more than a year and a half to build a decent audience. Again, unless you’re Axe Cop. Which all but one of us are not.

But let’s say you have a few hundred people reading your comic every time it updates. How could you whizz that extremely modest readership right down your leg?


When Deputy Witch went up we had a decent readership right off the start because of Vex. (Decent for us anyway.) In the summer of 2011, a variety of things happened and we put the book on hiatus for a couple months. Then those couple months turned into almost four.

If you learn only one thing from all I’ve said, learn this:

Never, Never, ever, ever, ever go on hiatus. Never! Do you hear me? NEVER!

Why? Because you’ll 1) make people angry 2) lose readers you probably won’t get back. I looked over our Google Analytics, comparing our readership today vs a year ago and during our hiatus we lost two thirds of our regular readers. Now it’s true, making comics is time consuming and exhausting. And it’s true that the internet in general can be a cruel, cold place where all your efforts are consumed by faceless persons who give little or no feedback. But those faceless persons are, well, persons, and they do enjoy your work or they wouldn’t keep coming back. It is hard to remember that when the comments section is quiet and it seems like there’s no organic buzz going around about your project. But everytime you have a regular reader, that’s a postive thing. Don’t lose them.

And the quickest and surest way to lose them is to stop posting. I know, life happens, and if this isn’t your job (which, it’s probably not) there will be times when you’ll have to put things off a day or two. Maybe a week. But for crying out loud, four months? I have no idea what we were thinking. Live, learn, and don’t make the same mistake twice.

If you want to build a successful webcomic… well I don’t really know what to tell you. Go ask Scott Kurtz or Ethan Nicolle. But I know a few ways how not to make a successful one, and like they say: “Write what you know.”

Thoughts and Tips for Sketch Card Artists

After working for several years doing sketch card sets, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to talk about some of the things I’ve learned through experience and observation.  If you’re wanting to get into doing sketch card sets, keep these in mind.

Don’t miss your deadline.

If it looks like you’re going to blow the deadline, tell your art director.   Give him/her a chance to make other arrangements.  They won’t kill you.  But if you just sit on the cards and don’t say anything, they might not be so ready to give you work the next time.

Remember that the crappiest cards you do will be the first to pop up on Ebay.

Believe me, I drew some poor cards starting out, so I know what I’m talking about here.  The cards that you draw really fast right up at the end of deadline that aren’t as good as you could have made them will end up on the internet first.  For sale.  With your name on them.  That’s bad press.  For actors any press may be good press.  For artists, bad press can mean less work.

I’m sure every artist at one time or another has procrastinated to the point that they’ve had to pull the all-nighter to get things done and their work suffers as a result.  Take your time.  Do good work even if it means taking on less cards.  It’ll help in the long run.

The more cards you do, the better you get.

I was at a party once with a bunch of fellow artists and the subject of pay rates came up.  After listening to one of the guests rant about how low rates were for a certain job, he turned to me and asked how much time I would put into a card for that amount of money.  I can’t remember exactly what I said, but thinking about it afterward  I think what I should have said was “enough time to not look stupid.” (see the previous point)

In addition to each peice of work being advertising for more work, doing sketch cards has forced me to get better at anatomy, color, rendering, marker technique, and composition.  I look at it as an opportunity to get paid while studying the craft.

Take your time.  Do something you haven’t tried before.  Push yourself.  Try a new technique or color scheme.  And think “wow, AND I’m getting paid.”

Remember your audience…and the license.

Who is the target audience for the cards?  What age?  Even though the big two comic companies have books replete with violence and sex (and increasingly graphic dipictions of each) that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for the cards you’re working on.  Stay away from nudity (unless you’re working on a set for playboy, I guess), and graphic gore.  When a few don’t play by the rules, everyone feels it.  The art director gets the heat.  They have to impose more control to make sure everything is appropriate for the consumer.  If you want to draw more graphic things, save it for the commissions you’ll get later.

There’s four things to think about.  Can any of you sketch card artists think of any more?