#45: Cart-Before-the-Horse Syndrome
This week, I want to talk about a common malady that often plagues young comic creators. I call it Cart-Before-the-Horse Syndrome.
The idiom has been around for centuries and refers to the simple truth that sometimes things need to be done in a certain order for them to succeed.
If you're a new comic creator, here are some potential CBTH Syndrome symptoms to look out for:
Looking for an artist before you've ever tried writing a comic script...
...Which happens to be for a sprawling 60 issue maxi-series or 300 page graphic novel...
...Which you're going to start looking for a publisher for once you get five pages done...
...and if that doesn't work, you'll try to raise money for distribution through Kickstarter or some other means...
...all before EVER FINISHING A SINGLE COMIC BOOK.
Believe me, I get it. We live in a culture obsessed with instant gratification. On the whole, we're a buy now pay later, who do I need to know/bribe/screw, short-cut seeking lot. Unfortunately, comics isn't a medium that lends itself to a lot of shortcuts. It's far too labor intensive. Case in point, I just finished the first draft script to EPIC #1. If Matt Zolman, Ty Tyner and I REALLY hustle, then MAYBE we'll have it done in time to debut at next year's Boston Comic Con. That's April, 2011...six months from now. Creating comics is a marathon. You gotta have patience, or you're not long for this medium.
One of the things young creators hate to hear (don't blame them) is that "You need to get plenty of bad scripts/pages/books out of the way before you can start making decent ones." But it's true. Creating good comics takes an ENORMOUS level of skill. The only way to build skills is to practice. And that means creating comics. A lot of them.
But don't get hung up on the term "bad." Hell, I've been creating comics since I was 13 years old, with dozens of completed stories under my belt. Honestly, there are things I absolutely love about every comic I've ever done. I can look back at work I did in middle school, and smile at a well drawn panel or a clever bit of dialogue. So when I say "bad" I don't mean God-awful, horrible, or completely without merit. There was certainly plenty of good in every comic I ever made.
However, that doesn't mean those first comics were publishable.
(A panel from UPSET #2, a comic I did in high school. Do I still love it? Sure. Was it publishable? Hell no!)
Problems in my comics included inconsistent art, weak layouts, poor lettering, underdeveloped characters, jilted pacing, derivative storylines, and over-writing. Over time I've gotten better in some of those areas, but I'll be the first to admit I still need work in others. As a creator, I am still a work in progress. (And always will be.) But the only way to get better at this is to do it.
(A few panels from Super Seed. A comic I made TEN YEARS LATER.)
Improvement is gradual, but work hard and it happens. Super Seed was much better than the work I did in high school. Tears of the Dragon is better than Super Seed. My next book, EPIC, will raise the quality bar up another notch. One project builds on another.
That's why you just have to start creating.
So if you're working on your first few books, just focus on the books! Tell the absolute best story you can. Put it out there. Ask a few people you respect who know about comics for their honest critique. Listen to that critique, decide what you want to act on and what you're going to ignore, and make the next comic a little better. This isn't to say your first comic can't possibly be great, or that it's impossible for it to actually be publishable. But it certainly won't be nearly as good as your tenth.
What about me? Sure, I've suffered from Cart-Before-The-Horse Syndrome before. I still do. Some examples:
- Four years ago...I put together a submissions package for Super Seed to Image. Though I'm proud of that work, in my heart of hearts, I knew it wasn't ready for national distribution. But I sent it anyway. The two sentence rejection email from Erik Larsen was exactly what it deserved.
- Two years ago...I considering getting professional screenwriting coverage for OVER, thinking it might lead to getting a movie made. Every year, 100,000 screenplays are written. I'd have a better shot of winning the lottery than selling my first feature length screenplay.
- Last week...I almost dropped $675 on a booth for myself at next year's Emerald City Comic Con. Having shared a booth at Baltimore this summer and done well with it, I've had my eyes set on other conventions. However, I still have to temper my appetite with reality. While I'd love to fly out to Emerald City and get a booth (artist alley is already sold out), I simply don't have enough product at high enough price points to have any hope of making that show profitable. And since I've decided conventions need to be profitable for me to do them, I had to tell myself no. (But damn, I really want to go!)
No matter where you are in your comic creating career, it's hard not to focus on being just a little further along. I think the ability to enjoy where you are, while keeping an eye toward where you want to be, is crucial to ever actually getting there.
So what about you? Have you suffered from Cart-Before-The-Horse Syndrome?
Tyler James is a comics creator residing in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He writes and draws Over, a romantic comedy online graphic novel updating every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He also writes Tears of the Dragon, an epic fantasy webcomic, and EPIC, a new superteen comic. His work has been featured at Zuda Comics, and includes Interrogation Control Element, a political action thriller, and Super Seed, the story of the world's first super powered fertility clinic. When not making comics, Tyler works as a game designer and content producer for a software company.
1: Big Goals
3: The Great Idea
4: Research Part I
5: Research Part II
6: The Killer Pitch Part I - The High Concept
7: The Killer Pitch Part II - The Synopsis
8: Pay Your Artists
9: Zuda Comics- A Tale of Five Submissions
10: Creating Great Characters Part I (Or Why Wolverine is Everywhere)
11: Creating Great Characters Part II (Or Why Wolverine is Everywhere)
12: Structurally Sound- The Beginning
13: Your Reputation
14: Structurally Sound- The Middle
15: Structurally Sound - The End
16: Your First Con
17: Beat It
18: Memorable Scenes
20: Comics Dialogue - Part I
21: Comics Dialogue - Part II
22: Baltimore Comic Con - Part I
23: Baltimore Comic Con - Part II
24: Is It Worth It?
25: The Re-Write Part I
26: The Re-Write Part II
27: The Re-Write Part III
28: Taking Initiative
29: Setting the Table for a New Year of Creating Comics
30: Ready to Script
31: An Artist Ready Script
32: Going All In
33: The Dip and Being the Best in the World
34: Patience Pep Talk
35: Tools You Should Be Using: Viddler
36: Zuda Says No More Competitions
37: Business Mailbag
38: 30 Characters Challenge Post-Script
39: Google Wave - 5 Uses for Comic Creators
40: What May Be Holding You Back, and What Definitely Isn't
41: The Danger of the New Idea
42: When Collaborations Go Sour
43: The Lagniappe
44: Sharing Space at Conventions
blog comments powered by Disqus