WRITE OR WRONG #53: "Talent is Not Enough"
Write or Wrong: Define Yourself
I don’t know about you, but I always feel like I should always be working when I have free-time at home, so occasionally taking in a night on the town is exactly what I need to enjoy some guilt-free “me time.”
To this end, even though I’ve been out of music journalism for several years, every so often I leave the confines of my computer to go see some local or regional bands performing live at a nearby club or bar.
Along with occasionally running into some of my old friends and colleagues from “the band scene” days, I still like to venture out to see if certain “buzzworthy” bands I hear about from friends are truly worth the hype.
A few months back I made such an excursion to see a local band I’d been hearing about from friends for over a year. For the sake of anonymity I’ll be referring to the band in this column as “The Code.”
As I mentioned a moment ago, The Code was a band I’d been hearing good things about for quite some time – to the point seeing them perform live on my “To Do” list when the stars entered their proper alignment, so to speak.
A few months ago I found myself in a position where I had no deadlines looming and with no horrible deadlines looming, I did a little calling around only to discover that The Code was performing at last-minute gig at a nearby small club.
It was an opportunity too serendipitous to pass-up, so off to the club I went.
Upon arriving I was surprised to see that the place was relatively empty. Mind you, this was a Saturday night at a local club that’s generally pretty packed when the “right” bands are playing, yet the place was relatively empty despite the fact that The Code – a “big-name” regional band – was performing.
I was a little bummed about the low turnout at first, but my melancholy quickly disappeared when I realized this meant I was more or less going to get a private viewing of this band I had heard so much about!
As the hour of their scheduled performance approached the crowd remained little more than what it was when I arrived: A small handful of walk-in attendees grossly outnumbered by a large pack of The Code’s raucous friends and groupies.
For my part, I hunkered into a seat towards the back of the room, my anticipation growing as The Code took the stage and… started chatting and joking with their peeps who had gathered at the front of the stage.
Obviously I was expecting a little bit more of a bombastic opening from the band I’d been hearing so much about… but OK, whatever. This was a last minute gig and, hey, they were going to talk to their friends for a minute in this intimate setting before starting.
10 minutes later, though, when they were slogging back drinks and chatting with their friends on-stage the promoter finally came out and urged them to start playing. After all, a silent club doesn’t attract many walk-in customers, you know?
The musicians acquiesced, donned their instruments, did a quick final sound-check and began to play...
Apparently the band had decided to start with a new song that they hadn’t quite perfected yet, and as a result they had to stop-and-restart it no less than three times before they finally were able to finish it properly.
Self-depreciating jokes to their friends and fans at the front of the stage ensued with the band’s front-man, ignoring me and the few other casual observers who had wandered into the bar, throwing back yet another shot and saying “So… there’s nothing like getting paid to practice, huh?”
It was at that moment that I knew despite their talent – which they did eventually go on to intermittently display in-between their drunken on-stage antics – that The Code, professionally speaking, will never be anything more than a big fish in a small pond.
Because, despite what so many of us would like to believe (or even fool ourselves into believing) talent alone is not enough to make anyone successful.
In fact, the false sense of entitlement that springs from the misguided notion that “Talent = Success” is what stops so many genuinely talented people from actually getting out there and doing the legwork necessary to be successful… and oftentimes even productive, for that matter.
In fact, something I saw over and over again throughout the years I was a music journalist was how it was not the most talented bands that became the biggest regional sensations and went on to land major label record deals, but rather the most productive ones.
After all, keep in mind that ANY artist impress people with a great debut piece of work if for no other reason that he or she has had his or her whole life to work on it.
However, both fandom and the respect of your professional peers (including, for out purposes, comic editors and publishers) comes not so much from creating one great comic or character as much as it does from showing that you can create a series of great comics…
And this is where that whole “DIY/Do-It-Yourself” work ethic comes into play.
While there are occasionally those artists and writers out there who blindly pitch something to a major publisher and get picked-up the first time as a result (and make no mistake, that’s a VERY, VERY RARE phenomenon), it’s usually those guys and gals who are consistently plugging away at their craft through a series of creator-owned and self-published comics (either online and/or in print) that will get the attention of casual readers and professionals alike.
Make no mistake, folks – most people who read comics like the serial nature of the storytelling it involves, and as a result most readers will not look twice at a creator who has only produced a one-shot book.
If you want to succeed in getting noticed – by anyone – you’re going to have to keep putting product out there on a regular basis – be it all based on one character or via a series of one-shots, because, again, talent alone is not enough.
Yes, there are artists out there who are so talented that tens of thousands of readers will wait months (or occasionally even years) between projects from them… but in each and every one of these cases you’ll also find that these creators have a lot of “money in the bank” in regards to earning that patience from their readers… something you, as an un-established up-and-coming professional will not have the opportunity to start building-up towards for many, many years.
This is also why it’s so important to come out of the gate strong and – as an up-and-coming aspiring professional – that you set-out to completely dazzle every single person who happens across your work with every single piece of work you publish.
Heck, let me say that again with a little more power:
It’s important to come out of the gate strong and – as an up-and-coming aspiring professional – that you set-out to completely dazzle every single person who happens across your work with every single piece of work you publish.
Thanks to the glory of the Interweb it’s very easy for anyone who reads something they enjoy to “Google” the title or creator, find their website and/or social networking profile(s) to see what else they’ve done… and that means that you, as an up-and-coming professional, can’t afford to have any sub-par work out there.
Granted, “sub-par” is a very subjective term and of course no one sets-out to create “sub-par” work… so, considering this, I recommend the following guideline:
Set out to create work that is BETTER than that of your contemporary peers (and competition) in the market.
I know a lot of people out there who will complain about the fact that they can create comics “just as good as anything else on the shelves right now.”
My knee-jerk response to this is always “Talk is cheap,” but past that, even the sentiment itself in such statements is an exercise in failure.
After all, even if you can write a superhero yarn as good as, say, Dan Slott or Geoff Johns, why would they hire you – an unproven and un-established creator – over someone who’s name carries as much clout as even a “minor league” established creator?
In other words, to earn readers/fans and lasting professional contacts that could help you advance in this industry, you need to set-out not to be as good as the people you look up to, but rather to crush the competition.
It’s a cruel irony, isn’t it?
Coming around full-circle to the example I used at the beginning of this latest column, after watching The Code perform I was reminded – by contrast – of one of my favorite local bands from my musical journalism days: A heavy, swampy, metal power trio named (for the sake of this column) The Revenge.
The Revenge played music that could, looking back, best be compared to a blend of Black Sabbath, System of a Down, Sepultra and The Cure and would nowadays probably fit in the more-modern genres known as “stoner rock” or perhaps even “doom menal”… but back in the late 1990’s when The Revenge was performing their sound was without peer in the region – something that was both a blessing and a curse.
The Revenge certainly weren’t the type of band that was for everybody (unlike the more commercially palatable heavy alternative rock of The Code), and because of this (or perhaps in spite of this) they had a very simple mantra they were eventually able to follow to a noteworthy amount of success:
“We need to be the best band of the night every time we play.”
Again, being “the best” is of course based on a very subjective set of standards, but the underlying doctrine has never left my mind since it’s perfect for any creator serious about their craft.
In the case of The Revenge, their goal was to be play so tight – and with such passion – that even people who didn’t necessarily like their music, would at least respect what they were doing and recognize them as being good at what they did.
That, my friends, is exactly what each and every one of you aspiring comic writers/creators out there reading this should be striving to do.
I mean, hey, my most recognizable comic property to date is a horror comic called NIGHTMARE WORLD, and I know that no matter how “good” (there’s that subjective term again) of a comic my team and I continue to produce and publish online every Monday through Thursday without fail, there will be some people who will never, ever read – let alone buy our first TPB collection recently released by Image Comics – just because it’s a horror book and horror “ain’t their thing”…
But that’s fine, because I know in my heart of hearts that NIGHTMARE WORLD is without peer when compared to modern horror comic of its kind either online or in-print.
I realize that this may sound a bit arrogant on my behalf, but, hey, doing just this was my mission when I started the series, and this “crush the competition” approach is what has brought me all of the success with the series I’ve had to date.
Well, to be fair, that combined with the thousands upon thousands of hours and dollars I’ve poured into creating and then promoting the series, as well, of course.
Some of you just bristled out there as you read that last line – I could feel it from here.
“Thousands of hours?”
“Thousands of dollars?”
Abso-freakin’-lutely, my friends.
As I said earlier in this column, talent is not enough to be successful in this industry… but neither is hard work alone, either. These are but two of the three aspects of the “Holy Trinity” of success in comics:
“Talent” is one, “Hard Work” (something I’ve talked about at length throughout this series) is the second… and “Sacrifice” is the third.
Take those three words and tape them to your refrigerator… and your TV… and your Blackberry… and your computer… and your Xbox.
(To be fair, a lot of people also add “A Little Bit of Luck” as a fourth and final part of that formula… and while I don’t like to stress that one as much, I can’t necessarily discredit it, either.)
When you set upon the path to creating your own comics – be them so you can hopefully one day profit from your own creator-owned properties or by creating work-for-hire comics for a major publisher – please at least remember this one thing:
TALENT IS NOT ENOUGH.
Talent, like potential, won’t pay the bills or your dues.
However, if you’ve got some talent…
And you’re willing to settle for nothing less than being, as cliché as it sounds, the very best at what you do…
And you’re willing to bust your butt promoting your work for the rest of your career…
And you’re willing to sacrifice a lot of your time and money (not to mention your social life and a good amount of time with your loved ones)…
And perhaps if you’re a little bit lucky…
Then – and only then – are you truly in a position to have a chance to succeed.
If I’ve said it here once I’ve said it a hundred times by now, folks: Creating comics is NOT an easy task… but it’s a worthwhile adventure that can bring you the greatest sense of accomplishment you’re likely to have as a creator (be you a writer or illustrator) when you see it published online and then in print.
If you feel you have the talent – for the love of gravy – use it to help you get to where you want to be… but remember that talent alone will never, ever be enough in and of itself.
Next Time: Love For the Shorties
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD a web-to-print comic now being loudly and proudly published by Image Comics/Shadowline. He is also a longtime contributing writer for Newsarama and a staunch advocate for comic creators everywhere. He lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and SoulGeek in that order. If you dig this column, check out the comic online and consider picking-up a copy of NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume One: “13 Tales of Terror” from your local comic shop or Amazon.com, ya’ hear? Thanks everyone! As you’ll someday learn yourself, every single sale helps!
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