Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Voices from Artists Alley: TYLER JAMES part 2

We wrap up our week of conversations with the self-publishing set with the second half of our talk with writer and artist Tyler James. In case you missed yesterday's segment, where Tyler talked about his own projects, now is the time to read it. DO IT. Okay, back? Good, then let'stake a look at the second half of our interview, where Tyler discusses a topic near and dear to my heart: how to break into comics. But while I've been talking to you guys about how to submit within the system, Tyler focuses more on how to create your own system to get your ideas seen.

Let's go to the tape!

Scott Harris: I’m not too familiar yet with web comics, but I’m curious just what the business model is. You publish your stories and you’re building your readership, but just how do you make this financially viable? Do you have sponsors that advertise on your site? Or is there some other way?

Tyler: You know, there are a number of different business models. I’m also a two time competitor on Zuda Comics, Super Seed was a competitor on Zuda. There, it’s owned by DC Comics, their business model is they’re looking for comics properties. They post them online for free and then they’ll eventually collect them in a trade and sell those, and also look to exploit them into other media. So that’s what the big DC/Warner Brother model is, that’s their apparatus.

A different business model, and really the self-publishing model, is something that’s been around for the last ten years or so, and that’s comics like PVP. The web comic world is huge. Basically what you do is, you put your comic up for free and support yourself by posting ads for other sites, by selling things like collections of your book at shows or online; and then other merchandise, T-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, prints, and that’s the business model. And, you know, it’s tough because there’s a lot of stuff out there but on the flip side, some of my comics had more eyeballs on them than some of the lower selling Image titles in the last month. Simply because it’s online, free – it’s exposure.

And I really think, to work for Marvel and DC, the way to do that is not to just submit story after story of your take on Superman because if you look at everybody that’s working on big name comics, they’re bringing an audience with them when they get there. If you don’t have a web presence you’re shooting yourself in the foot nowadays. That’s just what I’ve been seeing. And as I’ve been putting up content on a regular basis, using social media, you find that you can really start to build a name for yourself.

I also teach a class. I’m from Newburyport on the North Shore and I teach a class on creating comics and writing for comics and graphic novels. And I write a column every Monday on the Comic Related website, it’s called Creating Comics: the Art and Craft.

This is something I'm personally interested in: how do you contact and form relationships with artists? Do you meet them at conventions, or do you usually contact artists online?

Sometimes. Chris Gibbs is around the corner; I started chatting with him at a show and he did a pin-up for CounterTERROR for me, which is cool. But there are a couple sites online – Digital Webbing is probably the most popular one, if you just post an ad and they have a section for collaborations and a section for paid work.

A project I’m working on is going to be trying to improve on that process, make it easier to match up artists with writers and writers with artists online. But for now, [it's] posting stuff on forums going on sites like Digital Webbing or Comics Space and just find an artist you like and contact him directly.

I teach a course on writing, and one of the things we do is we look at solicitations for artists. And there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it, and you do see a lot of the wrong stuff out there.

I don’t know if you saw the announcement that Marvel did; in their open submissions for artists, they hadn’t actually picked anyone for five years. Very, very rare is the publisher that will see a script, love it so much that they say we got to get this guy and find an artist for it. The business just doesn’t support that.

So if you really want to write comics, you’ve gotta write comics and get them in comics form. I’d suggest starting with just short stories, five pages, eight pages, learn how to work with artists because that’s a big process. For me, I’m lucky that I have a modicum of artistic talent that I don’t necessarily need anyone to tell stories. Like [Super Seed], I did everything on that one, I did lettering, I did coloring, I did the production, I did everything.

But to do things at a higher level, I can’t do everything. So on Tears of the Dragon, this is gorgeous stuff, I have a colorist in Canada and the artist that I’m working with [in Indonesia]. And this is better than the last thing I did working with an artist.

I think it’s really frustrating to send stuff out and not hear anything back. [But] it’s well within your power to make books happen. And rather than sitting on the sidelines and hoping that someone else is going to make it happen, I’d just encourage you to take a shot at it. Do something small, especially since I assume you don’t have a huge war chest ready to throw at the top caliber artists. But there are people that are out there that will work for art supplies, that will work for credits as long as they know you’re going to be pushing forward with it.

Nobody’s going to sign up sight unseen for the deals of “you’ll get paid on the back end of it so draw my 70 page graphic novel”, because it just takes too long. You’re asking too much of someone’s time for that. But can you get someone to do a five page or eight page story for some art supplies and a little bit of beer money? Yeah. And if you’re willing to put in a little bit more, you can get guys that are really goo. I mean, this artist that I worked with here, he’s doing work for Boom! Studios now. He’s a year or two away from Marvel. He’s that good. And because I’ve had other work out there before, and I’ve worked with other artists, he was willing to give me a pretty good deal on a page rate. A lot less than he should be charging. But that’s because I have work out there.

Now, if you don’t have any work out there, an artist is going to give you, you know, 80 hours or 100 hours of work, so you just gotta think of it from that perspective.

But make it happen. Take control.

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