WRITE OR WRONG #69 - When To Quit (5th Anniversary Column!)
Write or Wrong: Define Yourself
"If it's not fun, you're not doing it right." – Bob Basso
Let me get this right out of the way before I give anyone out there an anxiety attack:
I am NOT quitting this column anytime soon. If fact, this month marks the Five-Year Anniversary(!!!) of when “Write or Wrong” debuted here at the ’Rama.
For those of you who have been reading this column from the beginning, yup, it’s been five years already.
(I know, I know… I feel the same way. : “It’s been FIVE years?!? Really?!?”)
As is the case now and again, I took a little “hiatus” after my last (and now infamous) column wherein I addressed the at-the-time-just-announced DCnU “relaunch” (and ended-up being pretty-much spot-on in regards to what I was saying about what DC was aiming for in the relaunch, thank you very much!), but rest assured I haven’t been resting on my laurels since you’ve last seen me ’round here..
In fact, between then and now I’ve been devoting a good amount of time to launching a new online horror comic titled TALES OF MR. RHEE for Shadowline Comics over at the newly relaunched and polished www.ShadowlineOnline.com.
(Some of you old-school readers may remember this series from way back in 2006 when we self-published the first few chapters online… and if you’re one of them I highly encourage you to check out the series again at the new site for the remastered art by original series artist Josh Ross as well as cleaned-up dialogue and lettering as well. If you haven’t seen the TALES OF MR. RHEE yet – or ever – click HERE to check it out… but be forewarned that it’s a little bit “edgier” than the more old-school EC Comics-inspired NIGHTMARE WORLD stuff.)
Speaking of NIGHTMARE WORLD, Shadowline Comics (which, for those of you that don’t know, is Jim Valentino’s butt-kickin’ wing of Image Comics that’s responsible for such hit titles as Morning Glories, Green Wake, Bomb Queen, and the upcoming XenoHolics among several others of equal awesomeness) is releasing NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 3: “Demon Days” this October.
(Remember five years ago when I started this column and was talking about how I was self-publishing NIGHTMARE WORLD online in hopes of one day getting it to print? Heh.)
NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 3: “Demon Days” will serve as the final installment of the NIGHTMARE WORLD print trilogy… and because of this I (along with my friends who are joining me for this collection) have spent a lot of extra time prepping and tweaking the 13 stories that will appear in this volume – even redrawing two of the stories from scratch – all in order to take the series out with the biggest bang possible… and that’s the other thing that’s been keeping me away from here for a bit.
For those of you interested in helping me out by pre-ordering a copy, it’s in PREVIEWS right now (as an “Image Spotlight” selection to boot!) on p189 and you can pre-order it with the Diamond Order Code AUG110447… or from my friends over at Discount Comic Book Service, who’s offering the book for 50% off (!!!) and with an exclusive NIGHTMARE WORLD music CD to boot right HERE. The book will only be offered at this price – $8.49 for those of you keeping track at home – and the exclusive CD for the next few weeks, so if you’re interested, place your order now. They’re also offering the two previous NIGHTMARE WORLD books at a whopping 40% off this month as well... in case you’ve still been holding out on picking them up despite your love and appreciation for this column.
So… yeah… I’ve been busy. Sometimes the work is exhilarating (launching a new online series), and sometimes it’s tedious (I don’t think there’s a single page in the print edition of NIGHTMARE WORLD Volume 3: “Demon Days” that hasn’t been touched-up or tweaked since it originally appeared online)... and it’s amazing to me to look back at where I am now in my career even compared to where I was five years ago when I first started this column…
Or even about five years before that, when I was first starting NIGHTMARE WORLD as a self-published online comic and so many people were telling me to quit.
I remember the negativity – mostly from other aspiring creators – as if it was yesterday:
“Most people don’t read horror comics, Dirk.”
To which I would reply “Actually, a lot of people like horror if it’s tastefully-done… which NIGHTMARE WORLD will be. I’m not creating a comic about torturing people or blood and boobies, you know.”
“Writing the whole series as short stories will make it harder for people to take your work seriously.”
To which I would reply “It’s easier to find talented artists who will illustrate eight-page stories than 22-page ones or full-blown mini-series.”
“If you publish your work online for free no one is going to buy it if you ever take it to print.”
To which I would reply “I’m building an audience and letting people know about my work. My plan is to let them see what I’m doing for free and then give them the opportunity to buy a print version with some exclusive content if they really like it.”
”You could take all that time you’re spending online and get a second job where you could make money a lot quicker…”
To which I would reply “I’m not doing this to get rich quick, Mom...”
I could go on and on, but doing so would probably result only in giving us all one big collective headache, and we don’t need that, right?
Besides… by now we all know that they were wrong.
I mean, hey, I’m not to the point where I have Hollywood beating down my door, nor am I wiping my butt with $100 bills, but I now have two different comic series being published by Image Comics/Shadowline (not to mention a third, my all-ages series FARSEEKER that’s by ACT-I-VATE… and, most importantly, I love what I’m doing.
And that last point right there is what counts more than anything.
Money may not come to you quickly (if ever) via making comics, but if you’re having fun doing it, hey, that’s what counts, right?
As I’ve said over and over again during the course of this column, you will NOT get rich making comics.
Yes, there are some people who make a very comfortable living doing so… but the fact of the matter is that most creators spend many, many years “moonlighting” with a comic-creating career while working a day job just like you.
After all, it’s nice to have health insurance and a steady paycheck, you know?
Also, I would be negligent if I didn’t point out that most of the few comic creators who do make really good money in comics cash those big checks not by working on company-owned characters, but when their own creator-owned books “make it big.” Just some food for thought, there…
Back to the original point, though: Just why would anyone quit doing anything if they’re having fun doing it, right?
I would hope there is no good answer to that question, which instead brings us – at long last – to the REAL question:
When SHOULD you quit? Or at least quit what you’re doing and try something different?
A lot of people will say something along the lines of “When what you’re doing isn’t working anymore,” to which I reply, loudly and proudly: “NOT NECESSARILY!”
After all, whether or not something is “working” is dependant completely on how you choose to measure “success.”
For example, let’s say your goal is to create an ongoing online comic and have 5,000 readers a week within six months of its debut.
To do this you go about finding an artist who shares your vision, you get far enough ahead on creating pages that you can start posting regular updates without fail, and you then go “live.”
Once your online comic launches you promote your work online though all your social media networks. Some friends and even a few immediate fans then help spread the word, and maybe you even score a podcast interview or two. Nice!
All things considered, shortly after the launch of your new series things are going well. So well, in fact, that you and your artistic partner decide to both drive a few hours and meet-up at a con where you split a table and sell a little merchandise. By the end of the con you don’t make enough money to cover all your costs, but, again, you have fun over the course of the weekend regardless.
Time passes and your online comic is continuing to rock and roll. You and your artistic partner are continuously able to update your online comic at the pace of one page a week, as it keeps the updates consistent and gives your artistic partner time to do some other things on the side…
But, at the end of your first six months, you’re still only pulling-in 2,000 views a week… which is less than half of what your original goal was despite you doing everything you can to promote it without being annoying or “spammy.”
So… considering all of this… should you quit?
Some of you out there are saying “Heck no,” and your position probably revolves around factors such as the fact that you have an artist who’s willing to work with you(!!!), you’re not losing too much money and you’re having fun with the comic…
And that’s a very fair position to take.
Of course, some of you out there are also saying “Yeah, it’s time to move on to something else,” citing the fact that it’s a “waste of time and resources” to be working on a comic for six months straight with an obviously dedicated artist when, despite your best efforts, a lot of people aren’t looking at it, finding it, or otherwise returning back to it after they check it out for the first time…
And that’s a fair position to take, too.
So… which position is the right one to take? Should you stay on course, or quit the current comic to do something else?
Or, better yet, IS there a “right” position to take?
Obviously it’s ultimately a personal choice to make… but as someone who “knows the road,” here’s how I see it:
In my estimation there are only three conditions under which you should “quit”… or at least quit what you’re currently doing and try something different.
So, in the spirit of such previous “lists” in this column, I hereby present to you the following advice/food for thought:
DIRK MANNING’S TWO CENTS CONCERNING WHEN TO QUIT
1) You Should Quit If You’re Not Having Fun Anymore
Yes, this one is obvious, but regardless, it’s something that should be addressed. After all, if you’re not having fun creating your comic, do you really expect anyone else to have fun reading it?
Anyone who spent years toiling away in the depths of self-publishing their own comics (be it online or in print) only to “make it to the big leagues” can tell you that it’s a long and oftentimes thankless journey that will require you to sink a lot of time, money and energy into it… and after a few years if you’re EXTREMELY dedicated and EXTREMELY lucky you’ll eventually possibly start to break-even.
Honestly, it’s unlikely, though.
Instead of looking at creating comics as a vehicle to wealth or fame, you’re almost better off looking at creating comics as a fun hobby that you would like to turn into a career – and can with enough of dedication and luck.
After all, while your friends are off going to parties, playing video games, going on vacations and buying the newest and coolest toys… you’ll be sitting in front of your computer either writing, editing, publishing and/or promoting your comic.
And make no mistake, sitting in front of your computer is not a glamorous life, folks.
However, while I could surely have a lot of fun watching more TV, playing more video games or going out with my friends a bit more, I have the most “fun” spending my time creating comics and otherwise doing the work necessary to move ahead in my career as a professional comic creator.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally, I have FUN writing scripts, working with my artists, promoting my work, going to conventions… you name it. Heck, even though I lost money on my “comics career” for several years, it’s how I chose to spend my “spare” money, you know?
Some people bought all the new video games, DVDs, comics and beer they wanted… while I chose to funneled most of my “fun money” into creating and sustaining my own line of comics.
I’m a firm believer that, oftentimes, how you spend what money you have is more important than how much you make, but, that being said, we all need money to survive… and that brings us nicely to this next point of discussion:
2) You Should Quit If You’re Losing TOO MUCH Money
Robert Kirkman is a writer who rose through the self-publishing ranks to mainstream successthat I especially admire because, along with his talent, he’s one of the few creators (aside from myself) I’m aware of who has always been very open about the financial realities of self-publishing.
Creating comics costs money… and oftentimes a lot of it.
Sure, sure… self-publishing online can help you offset (or completely avoid) the cost of printing comics that may or may not sell (as can the various “Print on Demand” options that are now out there), but the fact of the matter is that creating and promoting your own comics will cost you money… and anytime you’re spending money and not getting it back over an extended period of time you’ll start feel “the burn” sooner or later.
This is a tough spot to be in because, let’s face it, it’s horrible to be in a situation where your lack of funds is stopping you from being able to create your art and follow your dreams… but there ARE ways to make and save money in order to support your art that don’t involve illegal or lewd. Honest!
I mean, hey, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I spent YEARS working two jobs just so I could afford to pay the bills and make comics… and it shocks how so often the “appetite” of so many people “hungry” to make comics dries-up when I make this suggestion.
”But Dirk, if I’m working two jobs, how will I have the time or energy to write or create comics?
Maybe I’m being a bit of a hard-ass here, but if you want to create comics bad enough – and you’re have enough fun doing it – you’ll find the time even if you do have to work two jobs to make it happen.
After all, my friend, you won’t “find” time for anything… you need to MAKE time.
And, yeah, maybe your output will suffer a bit… but think of it this way: If you REALLY want to make comics, isn’t it better to work a bit more at a paying job so you can have the financial resources to make SOME comics despite having a little less time and energy to do so than having all the time and energy in the world and NO resources at all?
That’s the mentality that separates the “doers” from the “wishers,” folks. Which side are you on… or do you WANT to be on?
Sure, you can go ahead and get a bunch of credit cards and max them out to fund your work, but if you don’t make the money back (and quickly!) you’ll be setting yourself up for all sorts of problems that could come back to bite not only you, but your future family, in the butt… which brings us to the last condition.
3) You Should Quit If Your Family Is Suffering Due To Your Pursuit Of Comic Creation
This last one can be… tricky.
Yes, your significant other (be him/her a spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or some combination thereof) has made a commitment to you and, in doing so, should love and support you and what you do.
However, that door should also swing both ways.
When you’re first starting out, it’s very, VERY easy to spend four hours a day (or night) writing, editing, publishing and promoting your comic – especially if you’re publishing online initially with hopes of later taking it to print… and this can make it very difficult to maintain a relationship with your family, significant other and/or children.
Heck… I can’t tell you the number of people I know who have had their aspirations of making comics (or music, etc) permanently sidelined because they decided to (or, to be more fair, needed to) spend more time with their families.
Heck, maybe you’re in this situation yourself right now.
If you find that you’re constantly in this “tug of war” concerning how to spend your time, I would suggest offering this compromise:
Agree to set amounts of time every day (or weekend, or whatever) that are “family time” and “comic time” (or whatever you want to call it), respectively… and make sure that they are at least even, if not skewing more towards some extra time with your family.
After all, if you’ve found someone who wants to spend their life with you, and you feel the same way about him or her, well, you’re BOTH going to have to learn to compromise a bit on things like this in order to make it work.
However, be forewarned that if you make an arrangement like this, you MUST keep it for the sake of both your relationship and your potential comic creating career.
For example, if your “comic time” is from 5:00 to 7:00 every night, and then “family time” is from 7:00 to 10:00, you better have your butt out there on the couch at 7:00 sharp, and it better be there (or going for a walk, or taking the kids out for ice cream, or whatever) until 10:00.
After all, if you expect them to “respect” your time, you need to respect theirs, too.
Not only will this help you build-up a nice “discipline” in regards to using your time well (something that will pay HUGE dividends for you for the rest of your professional life), but it also shows that you respect those people around you who are willing to support you while you toil away at making comics for a few years (AT LEAST!) before things start to really take-off for you…
Which, honestly, might be the case.
Maybe you’re just ahead of the times.
Maybe your work won’t resonate with enough readers.
Maybe you’re not promoting it well enough or in the right venues.
Maybe you’ve poured all the money you could spare into creating comics but nothing is “clicking” for you and you can’t justifying not dedicating that money to your family any longer.
If your family is suffering for your art and you can’t prevent that from happening… well… if you made the choice to have a family (or choices that lead to you having one anyway)… that needs to come first from both legal and ethical standpoints.
After all, creating comics is fun and all, but creating comics will not keep you out of jail or put you in a nice retirement home when you’re old and gray, you know?
That aside… if you’re having fun, you’re still able to pay your bills (and perhaps treat yourself and your family to a little somethin’ nice once in a while) and your family is supporting what you do… don’t quit.
After all, the one thing that every successful comic creator has in common is the fact that, even when they weren’t making a ton of money (and were most likely losing a little bit of money – at least), they didn’t quit, either.
Honestly, you may never write for Marvel or have Image publish your work… but you’ll be able to look back forever and say – to yourself if no one else – “I created something”…
And that, my friends, is all the reason in the world to stick with creating comics as long as you can and are having fun doing it.
After all, time flies when you’re having fun, and the next thing you know you might be ten years into your career and having your work published by Image Comics.
Trust me, it can happen.
NEXT TIME: “Turn the Page.” That, or the role of wellness in comics. We’ll see which one I get to first, eh?
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of the NIGHTMARE WORLD series (now in print!) and TALES OF MR. RHEE (now online!), both for Image Comics/Shadowline. He is also the writer/co-creator of the all-ages fantasy series FARSEEKER with artist Len O’Grady at www.ACT-I-VATE.com. He is also a longtime contributing columnist for Newsarama and a staunch advocate for comic creators everywhere. He lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around Facebook and Twitter on a fairly regular basis… when he’s not busy writing, of course.
Did you know that NEWSARAMA now has a page solely dedicated to archiving the previous “Write or Wrong” columns? It’s true! You can check it out (and bookmark it) HERE: http://www.newsarama.com/topic/write-or-wrong