In last week’s Write or Wrong column (titled (“Defining Success”) I spoke at length about how success is a very relative term depending on what your goals are in the comicbook business.
For example, some people will never feel successful until they’ve completed a run on Amazing Spider-Man while others might not feel “successful” until they’re had a comic they’ve worked on adapted into a feature film.
Hey, to each his or her own, right?
Me… I’m the type of person who likes to set goals as a measure of success. If I meet my goal, I’ve succeeded. If not, I haven’t and need to proceed in a way that will allow me to finally meet my goal, because, hey, failure isn’t an option in life as far as I’m concerned.
While I’ve always considered myself a fairly ambitious person, the importance of “goal setting” really struck home for me when I was a music journalist in college and attended a lecture by Public Enemy frontman Chuck D. During his speech, Chuck (or would that be Mr. D?) spoke about his “Five Year Plan” mentality – how he would set a massively ambitious five year goal for himself and then dedicate everything he did in his life to meeting this major goal within that five years. At the culmination of the five years (or earlier if he had already completed the goal) he’d then set a new massive goal.
While five years is a long time, his five year goals were each built upon a number of several smaller goals. This allowed him to stay on track and keep rolling forward without feeling like he wasn’t getting anywhere when things got rough or temporarily stagnant.
Looking back the plan seems very simple… but at the time I saw it as a revolutionary and ingenious plan that – no lie – changed the course of my life.
As I said, at that point I was still a music journalist – a job I took-up to “keep my hand moving” while I studied and prepared to begin one day writing stories meant exclusively to be told in the comicbook medium.
I knew that – if I so chose – I could stay involved in music journalism for forever if I so chose – and probably even etch out a decent living at if – but it wasn’t my main goal in life.
Sure, I loved music journalism (what college student wouldn’t have a blast getting paid to hang out with guys like Kid Rock and Marilyn Manson every weekend?) my main goal was to create my own comics.
Considering this, upon following-up with Chuck D. a bit privately after his lecture (if for no other reason than to give him my heartfelt thanks) I left the venue and immediately wrote-up my own “Five Year Plan” for myself in regards to wrapping-up my music journalism career. Knowing that this wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, it was time for me to “poop or get off the toilet,” so to speak.
Yes, being a music journalist allowed me to see (and occasionally do) some cool things… when I started I had one specific goal in mind: Get “good enough” to meet and interview my musical icon, the notoriously elusive singer/musician (Mike Patton.
To me, achieving that lofty goal would make the whole “music journalism thing” a success.
Well, over the next few years I kept plugging away on music journalism, honing my skills and writing style while finishing my Bachelor’s Degree and delving into my Master’s Degree. I also decided – since I knew I was on my way out of “the scene” – to help a few “deserving” (in my opinion) local bands to get in touch with some major record labels (more on that – and how it relates to creating comics – next week) before finally scoring that face-to-face interview with Mike Patton.
Did I have to pose as a roadie for Mr. Bungle to initiate contact with the man and make my case for an interview (after continuously being told by press agents that he didn’t do interviews)?
Yes. Yes I did.
The point is, though, that I did what was necessary to make it happen without compromising my personal or professional integrity in the process.
Well, my ultimate goal met I finally decided it was time to “move on” and leave the world of music journalism behind me. After all, there were comics to be created… and I knew it was time to start positioning myself so that I could meet this next goal.
This, of course, meant I had to start a new “Five Year Plan” and set-up “steps” that would ultimately lead me to this goal.
Now, since you’ve all been so good as to indulge me by reading this far into the column, I’m going to tell you an “open secret” about the comicbook industry.
[looks around the room]
Most people who are involved in comicbook journalism also secretly – or perhaps not so secretly – want to write comics.
I know… pretty wild, eh?
It does make sense, of course. After all, what better way is there to talk to comicbook professionals and “pick their brains” (and as a result potentially learn more about the business) than by spending time talking to currently successful (or at least currently working) comicbook professionals about their own work and routes to success in creating comics, right?
Of course, there are some people who get into comicbook journalism with the intent purpose of trying to take shortcuts and rub elbows with already current creators as a way of “getting an in.”
Mind you, these are the same types of pathetic fools who think that buying a creator drinks at a bar will give them a leg-up in the business.
Then there are the guys (and gals, I suppose) who use their position as a journalist to “buy time” from creators – attempting to trading press/exposure for preferential treatment in regards to getting their submissions looked at.
In the music business it’s called “payola” – and, again, it’s a dirty unethical practice that leads nowhere.
(For the uninitiated, “payola” is the term in the music business that describes the illegal practice of record labels unofficially bribing radio DJs to play their company’s music or bands. For example, the label might give, say, a six private VIP tickets to the DJ in question as a “thank you” for “supporting” their bands… you get it? Well, considering the fact that most radio DJs make even less than your standard McDonald’s grill operator, this would serve as a nice “perk” for them in an otherwise largely unfinancially rewarding profession.)
While I’m too reclusive even among my professional peers to say how widespread these more unethical leanings/practices are (or aren’t), I will say this: If you ever, ever consider going this route know that it will only lead to you becoming known as a bottom-feeding scum-sucking wh0re.
Furthermore, if you have bigger goals in this industry than being a lap-dog to other people who are already out their pursuing and living their own dreams, don’t do it.
Now… ranting and preaching aside, my point is that most comicbook journalists are also wannabe creators – and, hey, there’s nothing wrong with that.
After all, my experience as a music journalist taught me a lot about the music industry, and it only reasoned to follow that being a comicbook journalist would help teach me a lot more about the comicbook industry…
And it did…
And now here I am, a successful comicbook creator and a journalist/columnist for the biggest comicbook website on the planet telling all of you all I know about how you, too, can be successful.
Because, remember: to achieve personal success (in my humble opinion, at least) the key is to actually create comics rather than just ending-up being one of those people that only talks about it.
After all, a lot of people want to create comics – but how many people actually, truly do it?
In previous columns I’ve talked about how to find artists and given tips on how to make the collaborative process mutually fun and beneficial, but the elephant in the room for a lot of people is time and money, because creating comics takes a lot of time and at least a little bit on money…
Well, considering this – if you TRULY want to create comics – if that’s REALLY your goal – then you’ll need to make the sacrifices necessary to make creating comics possible.
My friends, I realize that this may seem a little Buddhist of me, but I truly believe in my heart of hearts that nothing good in life is achieved without at least a little bit of sacrifice and suffering.
Yes, yes… I know the economy is bad right now. Heck, I’m one of the thousands upon thousands of Americans who has taken a second job in the last year just to “stay in place” in regards to maintaining the type of lifestyle I want for me and my family.
Them’s the breaks.
However, the necessities of food, shelter and means of transportation aside, there are plenty of ways out there in which you can save money that can then be funneled into creating comics – be them online, in print, or both.
I know I’ve said this before, but when I started my first online comic series NIGHTMARE WORLD several years ago the printing technology was not where it is today in regards to being able to get books into print – especially in color – without pouring thousands of dollars into the publication one comic issue that may or may not sell…
But that was then and this is now.
Nowadays there are several print-on-demand shops out there such as Ka-Blam! that do very nice work for very reasonable prices.
(No, me mentioning them is not “payola.” Rather, I suggest Ka-Blam! Publishing because I’ve used their services and can vouch for them both personally and professionally. Trust me, there are other people and services I’ve also mentioned in the past that I’m not mentioning as a courtesy if nothing else…)
Even if you go the Print-On-Demand route (or web-to-print, for that matter), the simple fact of the matter is that, yes, it takes time and money to create comics… and it burns my britches when I see hopeful creators saying they don’t have the time and money to do so…
You know… while they surf the Internet on their laptop in a house cluttered with thousands of comics, DVDs and video games that they use to entertain themselves when they’re not out drinking and partying with their friends.
You, uh, see the irony there, right?
My friends, you won’t find the time for anything: you have to MAKE time.
You also won’t ever find the spare money to pay artists and/or printing/online hosting costs. Rather, in this economy, you’ll most likely have to divert funds from other sources… so why not kill to birds with one stone and divert some of the money you spend on other “entertainment” pursuits into your comicbook creation fund?
Hey, don’t get me wrong – I still go to the comic shop every week – but I can also tell you that I’ve cut my purchases by over 50% in the last year largely because I’ve chosen to funnel that money into creating my own comicbooks.
After all, as I lie on my deathbed do I want to look back and see life defined by my own work rather than the works of others?
Full disclosure, folks: I have two bookshelves full of graphic novels and about twelve short boxes full of comics… so , believe me, I loves me some sequential stories by creators that aren’t me. My office is lined with books by Alan Moore, Eric Powell, David Lapham, Brian Azarello, Garth Ennis and Robert Kirkman among others – and I usually by the latest graphic novels from these guys as it’s released. After all – one of the purposes of life is living, you know?
However, if you’re a hopeful creator who wants to look back at your life in the twilight years without regrets, you better make it possible for yourself to actually create some of your own comics.
After all, do you want to define your own life by the works of others… or by the work that you’ve created (or co-created) yourself?
Sure, maybe only your family and friends will grow to appreciate your work… but then again maybe your property will be turned into a major film franchise by Sony Pictures. Who knows?
Furthermore – does it really matter?
Either way you’ll be able to look back at what you’ve done and take pride in the fact that, hey, you did it.
Where so many other people only talked about it – you did it.
I mean, geez, despite the several trials and tribulations I went through during the last six or so years, I was able to achieve my goal of creating and finishing my 52-chapter epic NIGHTMARE WORLD series… and no one will be able to ever take that away from me.
Sure, I feel successful about the creation and completion of NIGHTMARE WORLD, but it’s also important to remember that nothing breeds success like success.
NIGHTMARE WORLD lead to my frequent co-collaborator Josh Ross and I creating a compelling horror/noir protagonist and series in Tales of Mr. Rhee and Len O’Grady and I also going-on to create a wonderful sci-fi/fantasy-ish children’s series titled Farseeker.
Success begets success… and now I find myself seeking not to define myself so much through possessions as I do through my own work.
Yes… I still collect stuff signed by Alan Moore… because, hey, I’m entitled. However, through the act of creation I’ve found that I now consider myself more of a “creator” than a “collector” and I now take much more pride in my own work that I create rather than the work of others that I collect.
Now, rather than saving my money to buy high-end products by other creators, these purchases are more limited as I instead funnel my finds into creating and publishing (both online and occasionally in print) my own work… and I’m now to the point where I’m finalizing my own new “Five Year Plan” with new, even more ambitious goals than the ones that lead me to this point in my career.
Yes, I’ll still have to sacrifice. Yes, I’ll still need to muster all the talent and luck I have to meet them… but I’ll tell you right now, there’s no point is stopping just like there’s no point in “settling.”
My friends, if you want to be a comicbook creator, for the love of gravy, CREATE.
Don’t make excuses, don’t let life get in the way and never, ever settle for anything less than the success that comes with creating (or co-creating) your comics the way you’ve envisioned them.
Most importantly, though, don’t become complacent in letting the works and creations of others define you.
Instead, define yourself – and your life and legacy – through your own work and creations.
Next Week>: How to Crush the Opposition (and Make Friends in the Process)
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD, a longtime contributing writer to Newsarama and an active member of MySpace, Comicspace… and even Facebook and Twitter. Yeesh. While his activity on these various websites is based strictly on his ever-shrinking windows of opportunity to “surf the web,” he usually does pretty well at responding to everyone who takes the time to comment in the talkback sections of these columns… so subscribe to this thread it and check back often if you’re into that sort of thing, have something worthwhile (or entertaining) to say or otherwise want to keep the conversation going.
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