Hi! I wanted to know, how did you first break into the comic book industry? I'm an aspiring comic book writer/illustrator and I love your work!
Hello. There is no one way to “break in”, so unfortunately there’s no easy answer to your question. The best I can do for hopefuls is tell you how my life went, and you can take what you will from that.
I wrote some personal history on my site. This post was originally written on a forum several years ago.
1. I always wanted to do comics. I am obsessed with comics. I was making comics at 3 years old, all through grade school, all through middle school, all through high school and into college. (I had a brief period where I wanted to be “A Writer” like around grade 12, but that passed)
2. In middle school I had a friend who was also an artist and we would make comics together constantly. Then he moved to another town and I moved to another town. In high school and college I never had any friends who drew, I was just the one weird guy drawing comics.
3. Then the Internet became a thing (circa 1996 for me). I fell in with a group of anime nerds who liked to draw. We created a thing called Impromanga where someone would start a story and then pass it on to someone else. I did a lot of chapters of different styles of comics. I went to conventions and hung out with my internerd friends. I started various webcomics and crapped out on them (this is kind of before webcomics were a thing).
4. Around 2000-2001 I was fed up with school (and my library job) and, having a standing invite from some friends, went to northern California for half a year. They had landed a book with Image and I helped them with lettering and occasional graphic design. AKA bullshit work. However, that was my first professional credit and I was able to get into conventions for free after that. And I learned a lot of photoshop tricks etc. The main deal down there was my friend Locke who was my best buddy at the time. We spent 6 months just drawing comics and talking about comics and making up ideas. I started to feel more serious about the whole thing. (These guys were affiliated with what became Udon studios, who do the street fighter stuff, and they also founded the Gaia Online website and became zillionaires right after I left)
5. I came back to Canada at the end of summer (2001) via Wizard World Chicago. At that convention I was introduced to James Lucas Jones (editor) at Oni Press, who was a friend of a friend. He looked at mine and locke’s work and I guess we hit it off or whatever.
6. When I got home I was just hanging around my parents’ house for the next few months, trying to get various stories off the ground and with pitches in to Oni through James. One of them was Lost at Sea. James let me run six color web strips on the Oni site that winter (2001-2002 i guess). Meanwhile, they asked me to ink an issue of Queen & Country because they really desperately needed a fill-in even though I sucked badly at inking. Then I was offered to draw (pencil & ink) the series “Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero”, written by Jen Van Meter.
7. Around the same time, Udon was starting up, and since I had worked with them a bit in California they asked me to draw a Spider-Man childrens’ book for an ungodly amount of money (for me, at the time) and I even finagled a free Wacom tablet out of the deal. I got my friend Chris to help with it - we were planning to move to Toronto as roommates at the end of december 2001, which we did.
8. In 2002, living in my first apartment in Toronto, I drew the Hopeless Savages series, which was a big wake-up call and a major learning experience. Drawing comics is hard, it’s really really hard. This was the longest comic I had done to that point (4 issues, about 90 pages or so). I didn’t get done until towards the end of the year. I was slow. They even had to get someone else to ink the 3rd issue both because I sucked at inking and because I was way behind schedule. But all of it was a learning experience. At the same time, I had noooo money and was lettering Blue Monday comics for Oni and taking on side jobs from Udon - mostly more inking, which, again, I sucked at. It was a slow miserable year, I was poor, but hey I was young & skinny and enjoyed eating ramen.
9. In 2003 I finally started drawing Lost at Sea, which had morphed into a graphic novel - originally it was going to be a 4-issue miniseries like Hopeless Savages, but the business was slowly changing (like, Blankets came out that spring, for example). Doing a whole graphic novel without any breaks was another new insane challenge. I was also in the middle of a long distance relationship (toronto to chicago, 10 hour drive, and it’s not like i had a car). I drew half of that book that summer in Chicago and finished it that november back in Toronto. Meanwhile, I was still lettering stuff for Oni and trying to avoid getting a real job (note: I racked up $7000 in credit card debt from 2002-2005). But I ended up working at comic shop The Beguiling for a while, where my roommate worked (I think he was the manager by that time).
10. Lost at Sea came out December 2003. i was like “yay” but the truth was that nobody really cared, it got a few reviews on comic blogs. I was immediately back to work on my next book. My publisher whom I had only met like once and who probably thought I was just a totally sensitive young man, asked if I wanted to do a series. I had this idea that I had been thinking of for a year or so and pitched it: it’s like… teen hijinx! with fighting! Blue Monday meets Dragonball! and they said that sounded great, so I sat down and did Scott Pilgrim volume 1.
11. The preorders for Scott Pilgrim v1 were worse (less) than Lost at Sea’s. I felt like crap. Hope moved in and I hurried to finish the book. I did the majority of the art for it in one month. The book came out late (August 18th 2004), it got a couple reviews on blogs, whatever. I was still poor as shit (I got $1500 up front for Scott Pilgrim which took me 6-8 months to write and draw). My friend worked at a restaurant and I begged him for a job. I worked there for the rest of the year, sketching and outlining Scott Pilgrim v2 in the kitchen.
12. We moved away to Nova Scotia because it was cheap. Scott Pilgrim v2 was really super late, like 3 months late. It came out at the end of May 2005. We traveled back to Toronto for TCAF, the independent comics show, and then it was weird because for the first time, I was popular. People lined up to buy volume 2.
13. So, during this time there was some wheeling & dealing in hollywood and I think I even talked to Edgar Wright on the phone one time, but in short I got nothing. I was still poor and thought this whole hollywood thing was a crock of shit. But at some point over that summer (2005) they actually showed me a contract, I signed it, and then it was like “any day now we’ll make a movie, and also we’ll pay you”. I finally got a check towards the end of 2005, we immediately spent the whole thing on a down payment on a really cheap house (and I paid off my $7000 debt). We went back to being poor starving comic artists, but at least we had a house. And they were going to make a movie any day now!
14. Anyway, volume 3 came out summer 06 and did ok, got a bit more press. I went back in my hole. In 2007 we moved to the US, right after i finished work on volume 4. That one came out too. Around that time the movie people finished a draft of the screenplay (the day before the big writer’s strike of 2007). I went back in my hole and did volume 5. It came out in february 2009 and was a pretty large success in indie terms.
15. In late 2008 and into 2009 I actually made money off of comics - see, each book comes out and people talk about it and some people heard about it for the first time so they go buy the first book, then if they like it they have to buy the other books. Doing a series adds up over time, if you can keep it up and stay semi-popular.
16. Then, as you know, they decided to finally make a movie.
There is no advice here, there’s no “breaking in” tips, that’s just how it happened for me. A little bit of talent, a lot of perseverance and hard work, a lot of luck.
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