Thursday, November 18, 2010

A scene that celebrates itself has nothing to celebrate

I've been in apartments overseas where there were four times as many people resident and making a living off their own comics than manage to do it in the UK. Over the 12 years I've been active in UK indie comics, I've been constantly impressed by the standard of skill within our comics community, and horrified by the way people eventually disappear, unable to sustain themselves or their work.

The points below are what I've learned doing indie comics as a career. There's always room for art for art's sake, for hobbyism, but these are the lessons I've learned for those who want to escape that prevailing mood. I've turned off comments because, while you're welcome to disagree, I don't really want to argue about it.


1. Maybe living in the most expensive place in the country is not the best idea anyone ever had

If you want to do comics for a living, here's an idea: don't live in the capital. London may be the thriving, beating heart of UK culture, but if you want to stop working in a shop and doing your comics in the evening, try living somewhere cheaper. Which is to say, anywhere.

2. Small press: it is not 1994 any more

There are comics on the internet now. If you're good enough, have a decent website, and keep a reliable schedule, you can have a whole career there. The notion of the primacy of a photocopied quasi-zine "small press scene" in the UK is ludicrous. 1 in 4 people in the world can speak English. Questionable Content has half a million readers. It is not rocket science.

3. Make comics for people who don't make comics

Why is anyone other than your comic making friends and a few select interested parties going to read an art-damaged visual tone-poem about the inside of your psyche? Learn how to engage and entertain people. It's a profoundly useful skill.

4. Forget what you learned at art school and read some business books

You need entrepreurial chops to make a living from your art, or the help of someone who has them. It's not that hard. You copy someone who has already succeeded. It usually works.

5. Making money from art is not vulgar

Art is a commodity. It makes people feel something. It raises the greater sum of human happiness. It increases the gaiety of the nation. It has a value.

6. Making pamphlets is ridiculous

Comic book pamphlets are largely read by ageing comic book fans looking for a monthly fix. Generating two such booklets a year is not medicine enough for anyone. Don't fetishize the object, it is part of another era. There are now many better ways to reach an audience.

7. Diary comics: stop it

If your only comics outlet is a diary comic on the internet, you are wasting your time and your energy. The success stories in this field are the product of people with strong, often eccentric personalities and a robust visual vocabulary, capable of turning their lives into a compelling narrative. The 200 people who read your diary comic, on the other hand, all make their own dull diary comics. Or are about to start.

8. Read some actual books

If you want to learn how to construct proper narratives and tell good stories, stop reading comics. All you'll ever do is produce watered down versions of the things you like. Read actual books, the hard ones without pictures in them. Comics are baby school, reading prose is hard graft.

9. A scene that celebrates itself has nothing to celebrate

The affirmation of your work by your friends in a small scene means nothing. No one is going to tell you that your work is bad to your face and risk being ostracised. Seek the widest audience for your work, if that's what you want, then ask yourself why things are or aren't working.

10. Being ambitious doesn't equate to being unpleasant

Being ambitious doesn't mean destroying the opposition. There is plenty of air to go round. It means doing your best work without simultaneously apologising for it.