Saturday, June 13, 2009

Questions for Sequential Art Creators (and others)

Angel Hill's comments in the discussion box of the last post got me thinking.

(Btw, thanks to everybody for their posts. It keeps me thinking about stuff and lets me know how you guys are thinking, too.)

Here's one of the things that occurs to me all the time:
Why are you spending so much money on a degree if you're thinking so small potatoes in terms of income with the projects you take on?

I regret that the best money seems to be just in the mainstream. I wish that we had a system more like the European Market where the creators make decent money and are revered like gods. I could stand that.

That said, the realities of the system as it stands is that most of you probably won't make much money in this field UNLESS ... you help to create the change.

What is the change?

I don't know, but I see it in my head as a morphing or transformation of both the material we produce and the public's perception of it to a point that helps us earn what we really are worth for the skillset that we possess as sequential artists.

That puts the pressure on us (I know I'm not you guys' age, but I am still trying to make myself happy as a sequential arts creator, too) to create better material. Not deeper. Just better.

That's why I keep harping on how low the lowest common denominator aspect of most material that I see being created is. I had a very long discussion with a student yesterday about the validity of a zombie blood fest just for the sake of it versus a story with some characters that I give a crap about and scenarios that maybe I haven't totally seen before.

There may be a place for the zombie thrill ride of superficiality, but I think to fall to that option as your first choice (I hear all your ideas as a professor and I must say that most of you have superficial tastes at this point - as I tried to point out in my previous post, so did I at that point) is a mistake. Please shoot higher.

How do you enhance your taste and be more relevant as a creator?

Live life. Read a lot (read more than just what you're used to.) Talk to others with an open mind. Keep your options open, but give a crap about stuff. (That is - BE PASSIONATE.) Know that we all have a place here and that what we do matters - and it does influence others, so be aware of what you put out there. Study all the time. Never get lazy about your talent - it can leave you (or at the very least - deteriorate) if you let it atrophy through not pushing to get better all the time. Celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small. Read more. Think about stuff. Think about others. Watch others. Help others.

Wow. I sound really New Age here, don't I?

Look. I'm just pushing for us all to get the most out of our lives that we can. Be part of the change, please. Go out and create stuff. Be willing to change. Be willing to grow. We never have all the answers.

Well, enough of this for now. Later, folks.


(Btw, the image above is a "tight thumbnail" that I did for the Chickasaw Adventures people for a book called JUSTICE CASE FILES. I have been brought in as a storytelling specialist for their project. They were having camera angle difficulties. This art was created digitally using the Cintiq. Interesting way to work for roughs and thumbs. Try it out some time. Take note that I allowed space for the word balloons. Do you see them in the blue line art? )


Drew said...

Ah, chickasaw times...

I've been asking myself this question lately. It's not a profitable business, and honestly if I got a career in another art field that's not comics, I'd probably jump ship to it. I've been trying to find myself a way to be a steady storyboard artist...still uses the skills I learned, just a different method.

I guess in the end I do love comics, and I love seeing all the finished pages laid out. It's a good sense of accomplishment, at least to me.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of the old guard might have to pass before anything uber significant can be done. But that might just be me being really bleak about the thought. And considering how many people growing up want to "draw batman" or "draw spider-man", I dunno how many folk actually see creator-owned material as an end point.

Anonymous said...

I agree, that an artist needs to be passionate about his or her talents in order to continue in the comics/illustration field. Sure, it may not come with a huge paycheck, but there are ways around it... such as... TEACHING ART. lol
Just as you and the other professors in our department teach, I think it is a profession that not many college students at SCAD sit down and think about. Teaching Art at any age can help an artist become more passionate about his or her work and it is very nice to have students that really appreciate what you do.
I teach Sequential classes on breaks and find it so rewarding because not only are students so interested in what you do, but it really does put a spark back into my work.
It's something I think all artists need to think about because it is very difficult to make a living on drawing comics alone and it is a skill that is 1. enviable and 2. makes you a well-rounded artist.

Drew said...

This is going to sound silly probably, but I can't bring myself to teach. At least not yet. It's one of those things I ask myself "What the heck could I offer to students that other folk have a better understanding of right now?"

As you said, Tom, I don't think I've lived enough of my life yet to feel like I can contribute in any meaningful way all the concepts and techniques that were passed to me onto others.

Tom Lyle said...

I'm glad you enjoy teaching. I'm glad it works for you. This is not meant as a slam at you, but if I had needed to teach right out of college instead of having my freelance comic art career for 20 years before I taught, I'm not sure how I would have handled it.

I can't take the time to fully pencil a book in the mainstream market and teach at SCAD. Also, I used my experience as its own teacher and I was totally consumed by my work when I was a full time freelancer.

I'm actually into my third or fourth career incarnation. With teaching being the most current.
I still hope to add FILM DIRECTOR of a major motion picture to that list some day soon.

I don't know. I just hate that it feels as if some are "settling" for less. (Which is odd to criticize after my reaming of you all for your sense of "entitlement". Talk about schizo attitude - from me and by you all.) Just don't "settle" unless you have to and even then it doesn't have to be permanent.


Tom Lyle said...

With your attitude and demeanor, I think you'll be a great teacher. We do need that. Don't get me wrong.


Angel Hill said...

I definitely don't think of myself as 'settling' for anything. I think of myself as doing what I want XD haha. Doing the things I want to do instead of trying to market myself towards things I don't want to do. Life is short. I want to do the things I enjoy, and if I can make money doing it - that would be awesome too.

And actually, my family would rather see me work on my own stories and self publish rather than do freelance or pitch all my stuff to other publishers (although I still intend to pitch some of my projects to publishers, of course.) I feel very fortunate that my family is supportive of that.

But I can see where you get the impression that a lot of your students are "settling". I think a lot of that might have to do with direction, and not being sure what direction they want to head in. There are so few people who know exactly what they want to do, and when there are so many options out there it can be daunting, and confusing. I think another problem we have coming out of college is that even though SCAD teaches us a lot about art and artistic skills, we don't get a lot of information about business, and conducting ourselves as sole proprietors/freelancers. I think I learned a lot from taking the Self Publishing/Promotion class with Fish last semester, and I really believe that should be a required class. The little that we go over in senior project just isn't enough.

Angel Hill said...

Also, you do sound oh so very new-agey Tom, but the way that you're constantly seeking to keep current and discover new things to incorporate with all your past experience is what keeps you interesting! XD I always enjoyed that about you. You might not like something, but you'll look at it and try to learn from it.

Tom Lyle said...

Depends on who you have for Senior Project as to what you get. Larison and I do a lot of real life prep. I just don't get to teach it very often. I agree, though, that Anthony's class is awesome.

As for projects:
Nothing I'm saying or suggesting is in any way saying that you should be willing to or have to sell you services or project to a publisher. That said, you need to know the business and be better financed if you want to be a successful self-publisher and have a chance to make a good living.

I want to and have been happy most of the time. My main thing that got in the way of happiness has been my ego - and need for approval. I hope I'm better than I used to be, but I sometimes still see its ugly head rearing.

Nope. Not suggesting sell out at all.

I want a path that lets me pursue my dreams AND makes me money. Money doesn't make you happy. I'm well aware of that. I had tons on Spider-Man, but I wasn't happy. I just want to make money so that I don't have to "scrape by" to live. I deserve (and so do all of you) the best and most that life can offer - if I'm willing to work for it.

Good luck and God Bless!


Derik Diaz said...

I think I'm going to be bold this time and go against the common opinion. The fact I'm facing right now is, I want to work. I'll take anything. Worrying about how much it pays or how I'm going to help recreate the field of comics is in the back of my mind. My first priority is to be able to do work at all. I understand and appreciate everything that's being said here but, I just really want to be a part of it before I even start thinking about rocking the boat. This is probably also bad of me but, I don't think of myself as someone who's going to be on the forefront of any change that's going to take place. That is to say I just don't see myself as "eisner award" material. I'm just the average hard worker who right now, wants nothing more than an opportunity. So sue me if I'm not working towards a higher purpose at the moment but I really just want to get my foot in the door and see what I can do. I don't know exactly what that will turn out to be, but I can tell you that I will certainly bring all of the lessons passed on from you, Tom. So while my main focus has nothing to do with changing the face of comics I still hope that in some small way I'll still be doing my part. To me right now my biggest goal is just to get in. Those goals will be redefined as I go along for sure. Maybe I'll get there someday but, I don't feel a pressing need to be someone who is constantly at the forefront of that particular battle. Most probably because at the moment I just don't see how it can happen in such a big way as has been proposed here in our careers. It might happen, but probably not for thirty or even forty years. I would say that maybe we should take a small step back and consider that the best we can do is be true to ourselves and realize that the change will begin to take place slowly, as a process, and as we continue to breed smarter creators both through SCAD, those of us who decide to teach, (congrats Melanie!) ,and those of us who have done it all and passed it along (Tom), and even those of us who just choose to work. I'd like to close by being really pushy and saying that sometimes I feel that you have a lack of faith in us Tom, that quite honestly is very upsetting having been someone who worked as hard as possible at every given moment and who has never supported any of the crap that you claim we support. I'm tired of the blanket assumption. I hope this doesn't come off as nasty I simply want to let you know that my feelings as a budding professional are always hurt by these accusations. I'd also like to extend my apologies to anyone who's offended by my lack of interest in fighting the good fight right now. Bu seriously, one step at a time. Tom's the only one of us right now who even has an opportunity to be in a position to do anything about it. I think the rest of us would do well to keep our heads out of the clouds until we're hired before we start going crazy about these issues. Sometimes you have to play the game for a little while before you can do anything real.

Derik Diaz said...

Please feel free to get on my case. I'm calling people out a bit here so I understand it might upset some. Don't hold back. Tell me your honest thoughts.

Tom Lyle said...

Love your attitude.

Here's what I mean and it's not what you're thinking it is.

I always “push” you as students to go out into the real world and “make a difference”. That does not mean you have to go out and produce a project that changes the landscape of what we do. If you’re lucky enough to accomplish that, then you are among a select few.

No, what “make a difference” means is that, when you go out to practice your craft as a Sequential Artist, you will always strive to do your best work. By doing that and doing it consistently you will make a difference. If not in the world, you will make a difference in yourself. That counts, too.

But that means that you're striving to be the best person that you can be as well. That way, you have something to say that matters. Even if it's just something funny - like CALVIN AND HOBBES.

Go get a job - keep trying, you'll make it. And then you WILL be making a difference.

Angel - "find a job" does not always mean that you need to find a publisher, but how about a financier who's willing to bankroll a publishing venture for a small cut? You get to be your own publisher then AND have the pleasure of pursuing a goal with a bit of a comfort zone. If you want to talk about this topic more let me know and we'll go into more detail here.

Guthrie said...

I have to admit that getting a job is of utmost importance to me right now and will be my first priority. I want comics to be as fair and profitable for all involved and also be enjoyable and creative to read, and look at, but feeding my family does come first. I already feel the crunch! My wife and I have put an awful lot on the line and consistently have 5-25 dollars in our bank account anymore (and we gave up our first home to be here, my wife is very supportive) Tuition just went up again (for the second time since I've been attending scad) and when i talk to other students about it it seems no one even noticed even though it went up about 900 bucks. Also my lender (Sallie Mae) doesn't defer payment until after graduation anymore (seriously!) and I now have to start paying on it while in school. I am sorry to add to the complaining but I agree that if we are going to change the way the industry works from the inside out we first have to get "inside". I agree with much of what Tom is getting at, and would love to be involved with better treatment and payment for those that work in this field, and believe people like Neal Adam's have already made making a living in comics a lot more viable with the returning of original artwork etc., so it can be done. But I suppose right now like everyone else, I will have to work as hard as I can to even stand a shot of getting a sustainable job before I can worry about what comes next. Thanx for the blogs Tom, and I hope we can all continue to spur each other on and and inspire one another in forums like this from lucrative jobs we love someday.

Tabitha said...

I'm sort of commenting on a comment here.
The whole "play by the rules to get somewhere" thing scares me a bit. It's a little bit like giving up to me. I also don't think that Tom is the only one of us in the position to solve the problems of the comic book world.

One of my favorite quotes ever:
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." (Martin Luther King Jr.)

Okay, comics is not as drastic a thing as racism, but I still feel that it is applicable. Playing the game still gives power to the people who don't need any more power. If we continue to "play the game" nothing will ever be done. If we continue to fool ourselves into saying "Who am I to try making all these changes, I'm just a nobody," when will they ever get done? Tom certainly can't do it alone.

I do think that there will be a backlash as a result of the aforementioned crap being pumped out to us. I know I am ready for a swift comics revolution.
However to make progress, we have to be out there challenging others. If all you want to be is a successful artist, by all means do what is necessary to be one. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that. However, if change is what you want, then from the very start you have to be the change that you want to see happen.

Guthrie said...

I think talk of revolution and quoting Martin Luther Kink Jr. to apply to this topic seems a bit extreme to me. Battling oppression, equality, and inhumane conditions is somewhat different than choosing to be more creative in your field or always striving to be your best.It might also be worth noticing that Mr. king was first a very respected member of his community and a powerful motivator not just some guy spouting revolution on the street corner. I think everyone posting here is interested in doing good work. Everyone wants to produce something they can be proud of.Off topic,I just found out about Professor Mullins and am certain this will affect many people in the department. I was lucky enough to have one of his classes, and just spoke with him a little over a week ago. I'm sure he will be missed by many.

xaqBazit said...

i dont know i think the more i learn that my some of my favourite artists are struggling for jobs and doing paintings, storyboards, illustration and so on as well as comics it makes me feel better. and it makes me feel like its worth the effort, i have some influences ive only seen a comic or two from before the artist moved on or was dropped but it made an impact on me so it gives me that fire to want to be that person, even if im not drawing spider-man for decades on end, that someone who is in my shoes, now, sees ten years down the line, even if its just a small thing and has an influence on their work. i guess i keep going because its seems like everyone who makes it and even the ones who dont have a drive to put out something that's in them to do. the fact that the industry doesn't pay much pits it even stronger in my heart that it is something i have to do (not logically), like we are the underdogs and even though the monetary gain isn't much at the end of the road, that chance to influence for some other inspiring artist is everything for me. as soon as i paid to go to college for it i stopped seeing it as rockstar job and more as a testament to the human spirit and the drive for artists to produce something creative. that's why i get so mad/sad when i cant find anything unique in the stores and why im so inspired when i do.

Tabitha said...

Yes, I did say it was an extreme example, but still applicable. When I say revolution I was exaggerating and it was not meant to be taken 100% seriously, more like 50%. :P
You don't have to shout revolution on a street corner to make progress. I don't envision angry mobs of comic artists storming into the evil empires that are Marvel and DC and overthrowing/burning them all at stake. Maybe my point wasn't clear enough because of the distracting MLK quote.

I know people hate MLK quotes used for every day life too, but I think applying it only to one situation is a daaaamn shame, and even missing HIS point I think! I think there is something in it for everyone and I don't think he said it with an, "I only mean this about racial injustice."

I think it's exactly what xaqbazit said putting your work out, not work you think might be popular and get you a job with Marvel or DC. Do something you truly want to do and do it your way, and it will influence others to do the same.
I think we should stop waiting for Marvel and DC to come sweep us off our feet and sweep ourselves off our own feet. If the Marvel or DC thing is your style, that's not a bad thing. By all means, go with it! Too many comics artists, however, are convinced you need to play by the rules of those two companies and that you absolutely need them to make it.

Guthrie said...

I certainly agree with much of what you are saying about creativity and striving to be the best artist/creator you can be Tabitha. The reason I don't think the MLK thing works is it is taken horribly out of context (no injustice or inequality issue here and there really isn't any controversy in earning an honest living.) And I DO think even Dr King would recognize that. The other reason that I think this quote is taken out of context is the whole "measure of man" portion seems to suggest that some might feel they have the right to judge many great hard working artists and creators in the industry to be of less worth than independent artists. I think there are many in the business of making money that also are quite capable of doing groundbreaking work within the guidelines they are given. Most of the greats in this industry were artists and businessmen first, and didn't always love the projects they worked on. Even Most classical artists like Michelangelo and Donatello were commissioned to do some work they weren't thrilled with and many of these pieces are the very same pieces that most people remember them by. Also,this type of work often affords artist to produce more creatively satisfying work.I think it is important to love what you do, but I think you also run the risk of sounding rather elitist to demand that people jeopardize their very livelihood to ensure that everything they do is completely new, original and envelope pushing, even if no one reads it (especially when you have family/children that depend on you.) I think often its easy for those of us who aren't yet working in the industry or fanboys/girls to rain down some pretty harsh criticism on artists and creators who are working very hard to earn a living and continue to grow and learn at their own pace.

Derik Diaz said...

Tom, Guthrie I appreciate your comments and I'm glad that my points were received in the right way. Tabitha I question the intensity of your response a bit as have others. I'd also like to point out again that the bottom line of my point is that you have to have fun. You need to love what you do. There's no point it doing it otherwise. If fighting for recognition is your thing. More power to you. I'm simply saying that for me just breaking in is enough for now.

Britt Howe said...

I know this post has been up forever, but I just wanted to let you know Tom (and everyone else) that I come back and read it often. I think the questions you've raised are so important to think about, and I miss those 'shot in the arm' talks. Keep them comin' Tom, I'm listening.

Deane said...

I'm looking for the Tom Lyle who designed STARMAN for DC Comics in the late Eighties. The figure looked like this:



Tom Lyle said...

That's me.



Derik Diaz said...

Tom, where's the new post? After the quarter ends I hope.

John said...

Tom, I apologize if this isn't the appropriate place to ask this, but I couldn't find any contact info for you. I was wondering if you do commissions. can you email me? My email is . I am a big fan of your work. Thanks1