In this weeks 1First Comics Editorial, we are talking about the Hashtag “Comics Broke Me” (#comicsbrokeme) which is trending on Twitter. It’s centers around a lot of stories about how this creator was successful but couldn’t make it in comics or how that creator wasn’t successful because A, B, or C… and all of them are true, if not in fact (we didn’t fact check everyone), at least in spirit.
Because ultimately the whole message behind #comicsbrokeme is that comics is a rough industry. Comics is to its creators what Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross was to the firm’s employees: rough, uncaring, hostile, and aggressive. You have an Eisner? Who cares?
You’re a parent? Go home and play with your kids.
You’re this, that, or the other? I’ll buy you a stick of gum and teach you how to chew it.
In short, the comics industry doesn’t care. It never has and it likely never will.
But if you haven’t run screaming for the hills just yet, you understand that comics is not about being famous. It’s not about being rich. Heck, you’re lucky if you break even. It’s about telling stories you need to tell, drawing pictures you need to draw, and maybe making a reader or two happy along the way. Yes, being rich and famous would be great… and we’re certainly not going to tell you to aim for a silver or bronze medal. Always aim for the stars, but as the old saying goes, keep your feet planted firmly on the ground.
“But why?” you ask. “Why are comics so hellbent on crushing my soul?” That’s a good question with perhaps an unfair set of answers: Production is not cheap, competition is fierce, and life is not fair. A 22-page comic book will cost about $9000 – IF YOU’RE BEING CHEAP. You can easily double that figure and that’s before printing and distribution. Now, if you don’t have $9000 to throw away, what makes you think anyone else does? Even a multimillion dollar corporation is going to want to maximize its chances of making that nine grand back, which brings us to point number two: competition is fierce.
“If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.” That’s why critics, bloggers, and Twitterati are so commonplace. It’s easy to have an opinion and it’s even easier when platforms like Facebook and Twitter are absolutely free. The corollary to that is if everyone thinks it’s easy. Everyone will try it at least once. Plus, everyone at one point or another thinks that comics is the “easy” way to break into movies or television. “I’ve got this killer idea that Adult Swim would be stupid to turn down! I just gotta make it into a comic first!”
And it really doesn’t work that way.
If it did, Andy Warhol’s prediction of everyone being famous for fifteen minutes would be more of a glowing promise of a better future for everyone and less of the crass, cynical, bitchy commentary on the nature of pop culture that it is.
Because life isn’t fair. If you were told that it was, you were lied to. If you were told you were owed success, someone was trying to sell you something. Sometimes you try your best and it amounts to nothing. Sometimes that slack jawed drag-ass meanders their way to the top prize. Then while he is soaking up the attention you’re left behind sweeping up the popcorn they dumped on the ground.
Comics can be brutal.
If there is a bright side to this, and we like to think there is, it’s that comics is no more out to get you than Martians or the Illuminati is. Comics don’t care, that is true, but that also means it doesn’t care enough to actively crush you. You’re not fighting the industry. You’re fighting a marketplace crowded with movies, streaming services, video games, board games, and yes, other comics and other creators. Throw into that mix that consumers are not made of money, and they can’t buy everything from everyone every single time.
So, concentrate on finding your niche. Success builds on success and so work at finding out what works for you and exploit that. Don’t worry about whether or not Joe Success sold fifty thousand copies of his book, worry about whether the ten you sold at this convention was more or fewer than what you sold the last time. Don’t bother yourself fretting about Jane Millionaire getting her comic a Netflix deal for a cartoon, work at putting out your own issue two, three, or four of your series. Someone else’s success is not your failure. Their achievement is not your loss.
And lastly, don’t let comics break you. Work as hard at it as you’re willing to and accept that there are only twenty-four hours in the day and you’re only one person. We have told people to only invest into comics what they are willing to throw out of the window of a moving car. If you are unwilling or unable to devote the time and resources you feel you must to comics, walk away. Reassess, regroup, or even quit if you feel you must. There is no moral failing in not “making it” in comics. Making comics is a matter of budgeting – budgeting your money, budgeting your time, and budgeting your life… it demands a lot.
But it cannot force you to do anything. Remember that ultimately you are in control and that comics will only break you if you let it.