Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Advantages and Pitfalls: The Ups and Downs of Collaboration on a Comic

I've only mentioned this in passing so far, but I am an aspiring comic book creator.  I write stories in my occasional free time, and, enjoying the medium of comics as much as I do, am intensely interested in seeing them in sequential art format.  I admire comics as a legitimate form of entertainment, expression, literature, and even education and literacy.

I'm not a coffee drinker, but the rest
of this photo is a fairly accurate
representation of my desk.
I think comics can reach reluctant readers where prose works may fail, and I feel a debt of gratitude to the medium for keeping me as entertained over the years as it has.  That it's come into its own form of acceptance by the mainstream as movies is no surprise.  In fact, it's about damn time.

Over the years, I've taken the occasional crack at creating my own comic out of the scripts and ideas that I have, and I've learned a lot along the way.  Most of these lessons stem from failure, my biggest being that I still have yet to create a work worthy of being published.  It isn't due to lack of effort--I can produce plenty of short scripts at a moment's notice these days--but a lack of illustrating ability.  My biggest Achilles heel here is that I can't, in my opinion, draw anything good enough for publication as a comic.

It isn't that I can't draw.  I can draw, marginally better than most people will admit of their own abilities, anyway.  But I'm not good.  I'm not professional-level, and I don't think I have the patience to develop my abilities that far.  So, like every good writer who can't draw and wants to make a comic of his very own, I've tried working with artists on several occasions.

Character design of Marissa, one of
the main characters in my comic.
Artwork by Charlotte Tarlitz.
There are plenty of advantages and potential pitfalls when it comes to collaborating with other creative types.  Let's start with the good.  For one, it spreads the workload around.  In my case, I just worry about writing duties and leave the illustration to the experts.  I can offer insight into the visual presentations, and with the artist's intuition and skill, help them bring to life what I'm seeing in my head and on the script.

I get to ooh and aah when I see others' renditions of the characters, settings, and situations I've penned; there really is nothing quite like it.  Even the unfinished interim designs are beautiful and feel like Christmas presents when I see them for the first time.  A good artist will not only see and intuit what you're trying to express in writing, but they will find a way to make it look gorgeous, striking, and exciting, be it finished pages, character designs, storyboards, or concept art.

Finally, there's the feeling of accomplishment when you finish a project with an artist.  Together, you've both created something that neither of you likely would have done without the other.  It leaves you both giddy and exhausted, and says a lot for the power of collaboration.

But there are plenty of potential drawbacks to collaborating as well.  For one, you split the credit, and by and large, the court of public opinion tends to favor those who craft the look of the work.  It's not always the case, but it tends to be the norm from what I know of the comics industry.  The artists, it is felt, do the bulk of the work, and it's very difficult to argue otherwise.  The writer, by and large, is simply not as appreciated as the artist.

Second, it can be expensive.  If you aren't doing a back-end split for publication (which I typically don't--I prefer work-for-hire projects I can pay for up front), you have to be willing to pony up cash at the beginning of a project, and that can be a significant chunk of your discretionary income.  Depending on your budget, you have to be careful how much you spend, so that getting your comic project off the ground doesn't sink you financially.

Finally, there is the potential difficulty of working with the artists themselves.  They are individuals, with their own lives, loves, problems, and approaches to their art.  There are legions of talented artists out there in the world, but finding one that is reliable, easy to work with, flexible, and timely is not easy.  You have to be careful about who you choose to work with you on your project, or you could end up wasting time, money, talent, and paper and ink.  I've started projects with several artists that have ended up going nowhere, and the sense of frustration at that point is an effective teacher in picking your collaborators wisely.

I've been lucky enough to work with incredibly talented artists, some of whom are also an absolute dream to team up with.  But I've also had a few failures, unfortunately.  Discouraging as those can be, you can never let those failures define your project.  Embrace them.  Learn from them.  And move on.  The show must go on, as they say.  And grateful as I am to the medium of comics, my journey continues onward.  Hopefully I'll get there in the relatively near future.

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