The Hot Seat

Mon, January 7th, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
The Hot Seat, Columnist

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Welcome to another edition of The Hot Seat, the column where the writer changes each week, but they all have one thing in common - they all work in the comic industry. This week finds Eric Ko, Chief of Operations for Udon Comics in the hot seat. Udon is an artists collective currently producing some incredible work for Marvel Comics including the upcoming "Deadpool" book with writer Gail Simone. Eric approached CBR about contributing to The Hot Seat to lay out the realities of working in this hectic industry. We were happy to give him the chance to chat with all the budding creators out there.

We all start with a DREAM:

A dream to work in the comic industry, a dream to publish our own book, maybe a dream to make lots of money and have lots and lots of fans.

UDON was founded six months ago; a group of individuals came together that were determined to turn dreams into reality. We have worked hard. Today we have a few mainstream projects in development and although we have "broken in" to the industry, the dreams are not yet reality. As time goes on, these types of dreams get more and more difficult to achieve. Even if you are lucky enough to break into the industry, your sweetest dream just might become your biggest nightmare - a nightmare that comes rapping, rapping at your chamber door.

"I can draw. I can do a book!"

It is a statement that I have heard often. What most aspiring comic book artists don't realize is that producing a book is more than just having the ability to draw. Working in the comic industry is much more than that.

"Are you willing to work long hours every day?" I ask.

"Yes, I can draw Wolverine all day long! See all these Wolverine characters I am showing you?" is the reply.

"What about the other characters? The supporting cast? The bystanders? The backgrounds?"

Comics are more than just pictures - the pictures must tell a story. Not every page will give you the enjoyment of drawing your favorite character in action. You must make sure you enjoy drawing in general - not just one particular character. You must be able to draw everything from a toaster to a skyscraper to an elderly woman sitting at a bus stop.

Then the question: "How long does it take for you to do these drawings?"

In reality, unless you can turn in a minimum of one FULLY COMPLETED page each day, you are not ready to work in the industry. There is no time for you to pick on details. There is no time for you to go back and make it look better. Most monthly comics are twenty-two pages long. Each month has thirty to thirty-one days, right? Well, with four weekends (eight days) taken out, you are left with exactly twenty-two days to complete one issue. Think that your weekends are totally free? Think again. Weekends are a fail-safe that is necessary should you need to play catch up as a result of being sick or any personal emergency. Life often has its interruptions.

Think you could live with the crazy scheduling and work load? How about the creative controls? Every publisher has established rules and guidelines for characters and events, and the creators working on the projects must follow them. Are you willing to scrap what you think is a kick ass drawing and totally redraw a page when your editor tells you to do so? Will you get bored when the story dictates that your favorite hero is to spend the entire issue talking with his sick aunt rather than out in the streets fighting bad guys? Again, it is not about what you like to draw, but more so, what you have to draw in order to convey the story within the given parameters.

For those creators that do not want to be bound by these rules and for the more adventurous, the other option is to self-publish. Before you rush out to self-publish, you should know that self-publishing is a tough business. Sadly, retailers nowadays are much less adventurous than you are! With the state of the current economy, retailers do not want to take a risk with anything they are not familiar with. They would prefer to under stock a product and get sold out, than to over stock it and get stuck with extras that they couldn't even give away. With this in mind, the first thing you have to do is convince the retailers to pick up your title. Well, that's what the Internet is for, right? Create a Web site and message board - and they'll flock to the stores, right? Wrong. I am not talking just about hyping things up on the net. I mean you REALLY have to go out and make sure all 3000+ retailers know what your book is about. A lot of companies are hyping their new projects up on Web sites and message boards, and they have good responses from potential customers. However, the customer's ability to get the book from the retailers is a totally different animal. We, as comic book readers take it for granted that all books will be available in a comic store. This is not the reality of it. The availability of a book is solely at the discretion of the store owner. A fan might be eagerly waiting for an issue to come out. However, if the store does not order it, or orders too few copies to meet the demand, the customers will have a hard time finding it. If the customer does not get issue #1 the chance that he/she will want to purchase issue #2 is slim. That's why it is very rare that book sales are higher for later issues than for the first. So you can see, as a self-publisher your success rests on convincing retailers AND readers to purchase your books.

"But why wouldn't retailers order my book?" you ask. Many retailers have been burnt by numerous independent books. For different reasons, be it the creators' choice or not, many independent titles are extremely late and get discontinued without an ending. Tell me, who wants to start reading a book with the possibility that you will never read the ending? I applaud Jim Valentino for setting the rule at Image that creators must have a certain amount of work completed before they are allowed to solicit. This is a good guarantee to the readers and the retailers that the title will show up. But it's easier said than done. Creators might scream that they cannot afford to upfront the work. The sad truth is: if that is the case, you will need to maintain a secure income and create your project on the side. Publishing your own title gives you the freedom to tell your own story, but the risk of failing and having nothing to show for it comes wrapped neatly inside this package as well.

Creating a comic is not an easy job. It takes a lot of discipline and self-awareness to actually get the artwork completed on schedule while working to improve your skill and efficiency. Do not ever think that it will make you a lot of money. If your only dream is to be rolling in cash, I can pretty much guarantee you that you will starve to death before getting anything solid. Consider being a banker instead. Breaking into the industry does not automatically make you a pro. Being able to draw nice pictures doesn't immediately make you a comic artist. Every new project is a learning experience, and you will realize there is still a lot to learn, and a long way to go!

Discouraged yet? Well, many talented individuals still decide to pursue a career in the comic industry regardless of the challenge before them. Those that are successful are the ones that can separate the reality from the myth. Remember that it takes much more than talent to achieve your dreams; it also takes hard work, discipline and determination!

- Erik Ko

A big thank you goes out to all the comic book readers who make all our hard work and effort worth while. As well, I want to take this opportunity to thank the girlfriends, wives, and families of all comic creators. Thank you for tolerating us in this "unique" life style, and thank you for constantly supporting us and sticking with us on our paths to turn our dreams into reality. And special thanks to RY for always helping me out!

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