by Gary Scott Beatty
Gary Scott Beatty runs Aazurn Publishing, is publisher of “Indie Comics Magazine” and recently wrote the comic book retailer story “Number One.” The first alternative comic he produced (They were called “underground” then) was on his high school’s ditto machine, after hours, without permission. His Xeric Grant Winner “Jazz: Cool Birth,” a jazz club murder mystery, was inspired by ‘50s album cover design. He also colors and letters for the industry. Find out more at Gary Scott Beatty.com.
Quite amazed that someone actually read through the articles presented here first, before asking questions (and impressed that he knew to heap on the praise for a prompt reply), Norris had several specific questions about submitting artwork to companies. "First, how do I find out who and where to send submittals to? Is it as simple as writing to the editor? Also, when sending in artwork do companies expect to see my precious originals, or do I send in copies and prints? If I do mail in originals, will I ever see them again?! I dread losing so much of my dedication and hard work to the rejection pile on the floor of some guy's office somewhere! How can I send multiple copies of my work to multiple companies? Would it be acceptable to scan my work and send them a disk? Or do I need to prepare to cope with a large amount of lost work before receiving acceptance letters?"
There are many benefits to sending work through the mail when you feel your work is of good enough quality to present to comic companies. Familiarize yourself with how the postal sysem works, stock supplies for making and sending sample packages and get a system going for tracking the samples you send. Then go online to review a copy of the submissions guidelines - the large companies and many of the small ones post their guidelines online. Yes, it is as simple as targeting editors. Decide which ones you to go after.
Make sure you use the correct submissions format posted in the submissions guidelines. Include a cover letter, business card and a self addressed, stamped envelope ("SASE"). The SASE is for returning your samples to you. If you are following up on a personal contact, it should be mentioned in the cover letter.
Once you begin submitting, send out samples consistently to show the level of improvement that always comes with producing artwork on a regular schedule. A system of updating your samples will show editors that you're not just handing them drawings you've been working on since high school, but that you draw constantly and are improving.
And, if you get feedback from the editors, use it! Apply their suggestions to the next batch of drawings submitted, mention what they suggested in the cover letter and thank them for taking the time to respond to you personally.
An excellent book about submitting to companies was written by Lurene Haines called "Getting Into the Business of Comics." It was published in 1994 and I know it has been updated - I'm attempting to get ahold of Ms Haines to see if I can make it available on CAD. In the meantime you can try a search at Barnes and Nobels bookstore. Unlike the "Draw Comics the Marvel Way!" books this one really says everything you need to know before approaching companies.
A couple of comic coloring questions. Someone who obviously didn't read any of the articles here before whipping out an email wrote, "Can you e-mail me the names of some software that can clean up and color a comic?" The answer, in two parts: Professionals use Photoshop (usually) to color comics. No software can automatically clean up bad artwork - that is dependent on the skill of the human behind it. And by the way, the colorist colors the comic, NOT the software.
Another email came from someone who read the articles here first and had the good sense to complement the contents before asking a very good question. "Do you have any idea how I can match or approximate the old, limited palette of CMYK comic book colors in Photoshop? I've tried 'eyeballing' it or matching the colors in various scans of comics pages, but neither result has produced those distinctive comic book colors of my youth."
As Richard Nixon used to say, even when he wasn't, "I'm glad you asked me that question!" My memory isn't great, but I'm pretty sure they used colors in 25 percent increments. So, to use the old pallette, set up your cyan, magenta and yellow colors as 100 percent, 75 percent, 50 percent or 0 percent (none). In other words, instead of some complicated formula for blue like78/92/37 (78 percent blue, 92 percent magenta and 37 percent yellow) use 100/100/0. Also remember these guys worked at breakneck speed, so the more colors using one or two of the Photoshop channels instead of all three together, the closer it will look to pre-computer coloring. For more on the subject, read the CAD article "Coloring Comic Books Before Computers" above.
You guys are so fun the way you stretch my brain in directions it wasn't going before! Jocelyn asked if there was any way to come up with a list of Canadian comic book artists for some recruiting she was doing. That's a tough one! With our global economy system working so well in the comic book field, I don't generally even know where people are from, only that they're producing. I'm sure I know some Canadians - I just don't know they ARE Canadians. Only one Canadian company came to mind: Dreamwave. Also, it is possible there is some huge "independent" comics convention for my Canuck brothers to the north, I just don't recall one. I do know Canada is now handling a large portion of the printing in the comic book industry.
Zack emailed looking for inking advice. Since I know great inking when I see it but couldn't ink with a brush even if Deathlok had a gun to my head, I referred him to the best book written on the subject, from Gary Martin and Steve Rude, called the Art of Comic Book Inking. I believe they have a follow up book out, too.
Nature wonders about the copyrights I have on CAD pages. "I was really curious because I've tried to ask the copyright office how coloring someone's inked picture could be copyrighted. I was told it couldn't be. I wish I knew what I did wrong in how I asked!" Yes, you misunderstood! What it says is, "All artwork is copyright © 2002 by its respective artists and publishers," meaning the ARTWORK is copyrighted. When the art is printed with the coloring and lettering, etc., the whole package is copyrighted by the publishers.
A tip of the hat to Steve, who was the first to point out that the Joe Kubert School is in New Jersy, not New York City. Thanks, Steve!
You ask the questions, I come up with the answers! Joel wondered what kind of riches can be won through a comic strip artist's career. "I was wondering," he wrote, "what artists working on a national newspaper strip should expect to earn."
Although I am full of knowledge (among other things), I passed Joel's question on to my friend Aaron Warner, who's syndicated "Adventures of Aaron" strip spent several years in newspapers throughout the country. Here is his reply.
"Hi, Joel! A newspaper strip cartoonist can earn as little as $5 a week or as much as $500,000 a week (not including any money made from licensing or other merchandise like T-shirts). Each paper will pay a different price for your comic strip proportionate to that paper's circulation size.
"The Detroit Free Press paid $75 per each Sunday strip I sent, while the Kalamazoo Gazette paid $20. Detroit has a Sunday circulation of maybe 500,000, while the Gazette has only 65,000. So you really want to get into those big city papers. The problem is so do 10,000 other cartoonists!
"If you can get a syndicate to sell your strip to papers, they will approach editors for you and keep 50 percent of what you earn from papers buying your strip. It's not worth it if they only get your strip in a dozen papers. That might average about $400 a month. If your strip was in at least 30 papers, and even with a syndicate taking 50 percent, you may earn $1,000 to $2,000 a month. It's real hard to say a definite price, since some college papers pay as little as $2 per week, and the Chicago Tribune might pay $98 per week.
"Start with your own local papers and build from there. If you can get your strip in 10 papers on your own, a syndicate might find you more appetizing. And you'll have somewhat of an income from it. Good Luck!"
Thank you, Aaron, for taking the time to enlighten us. Comic Artists Direct visitors can take advantage of some great deals on Aaron's comic book work by visiting the CAD Back Issues page here.
A curious mom emailed about her son, who is interested in a career in animation. I suggested that if her son is really serious about being in the animation business, maybe an established animation company would be willing to hire him after a portfolio review. After being hired, it really is the kind of work where you have to drive to work each day, unlike what I do, where I can easily work with a company from another state.
If I were him, and interested, I would start with a list of animation companies compiled from the internet and the library, with addresses and phone numbers. Then I would simply call to see what it would take to work there. He would probably start as an "inbetweener" drawing the frames between the planned out action. Or maybe he would ink, or color. Or maybe they need someone in promotions. Or someone in the mail room.
Back to comic BOOK questions, Charlotte emailed some confusion about comic book sizes. "I was wondering what is the typical paper format used for drawing comics, as well as the standard layout of the page," she wrote. "I have read what is it for Japanese comics but I'm guessing it's different for the US. Right now I'm using tabloid size paper (11" x17") but it looks strange with the Japanese guidlines (who suggest B4 format which is about 10" x14" in size, close to what I used for animation). Is it simply just an approximate 1/8" bleed border for the page layout?"
To make sure I didn't send her in the wrong direction, I consulted the literature I have from major comic book printers: standard comic "trim" size is 6 5/8" x 10 1/4". For pages that "bleed" (artwork runs off the page) an addition 1/8" should be added to all sides.
Ideal image size for non-bleed pages is 6" x 9".
I, personally, have always understood pages to be proportional to 6 3/4 x 10. Most artists use 10 x 15 on 11 x 17 paper and reduce accordingly (10 x 15 reduced 66 percent ends up 6.6 x 10). It depends on what printer you use and what they need for "gripper" (what their machines need to pull the paper through).
And it's always best to figure the format BEFORE drawing. So ask your printer!
Another correspondence came from a reader who wondered "is the Space Ghost comic book based on the old cartoon or the talk show?" He is, of course, talking about our own Scott Rosema's Space Ghost comic drawn for Archie Comics.
It's definitely based on the old cartoon. Scott's not too keen on what they did with one of his favorite characters on the talk show. (I think the talk show version is pretty funny - don't tell Scott!)
Wow, I must really sound like I know what I'm writing about, because I continue to get emails with excellent questions on a variety of subjects! This article section continues to grow. Let's dig right in.
First some boasting. Al, who is on the team for researching questions for television's "Weakest Link" gameshow, has once again used me to check a question they're planning. I'm sworn to secrecy, of course, on the exact nature of the question, but let's just say it involves a comic strip I am known to enjoy.
A curious artists writes, "I was looking for a video - not a book - for drawing comics and I couldn't find one, so I am asking, why don't you make one?"
That's a good question. I'm reminded of old "Wonderful World of Color" Disney Sunday night programs where they would show their artists drawing pencil roughs and speed up the camera. I seem to remember a Peanuts TV show where Charles Schultz did the same thing (although I remember seeing faint blue lines predrawn - what a Charlie Brown thing to do, not just wing it for the camera!).
What it comes down to is I only handle projects that have a slight chance of bringing money into the Beatty household. I know, I could just pull out my home video camera and sneak into Scott Rosema's studio, but I'm also concerned (perhaps overly concerned) with quality products, and I have no experience in professional video work! I have NO contacts in the video business, so even with a product I couldn't market it.
Somebody will come up with a video, once the pros who do videos for a living think of it.
Another artist wonders this: How open are comic book companies (esp. Marvel and DC) toward the submission of new characters?
The answer comes in understanding the dynamics of editing as a JOB. You have to understand that people in charge of the big companies receive thousands of submissions a week from people they've never heard of. But what is their goal? Why, it's finishing those comic books they're in control of with quality and on time so they can go home to their families, pop a beer and watch Ally McBeal - you, know the same goals of most working Americans.
Comic book editors work very hard. Digging into that submissions pile has to be on the bottom of their priority list. And when they do, they want solutions to their immediate problems. In other words, if they're in charge of the Barkley the Wonder Dog comic, they want to see Barkley stuff in their submissions pile, because it helps them do their jobs.
No large comic book company editor will give an unknown a shot at a comic with their very own, brand new character. The question then becomes, how do you become KNOWN?
The answer becomes self publishing or going through the small press publishers. Small press publishers are looking for well thought out, fully realized characters to add to their lines - that is what they are there for, sort of the "farm teams" for the major publishers. Work like crazy, become published regularly and communicate frequently with editors of the major companies by sending them what you are doing.
It's a system that has worked for decades! Editors love systems - it helps them deal with creatives and get home to that beer.
Yet another artist wanted me to do a portfolio review. It is really a shame that I don't have time to review portfolios of the artists I come in contact with (It sort of relates to that TV and beer comment above).
There are articles on Comic Artists Direct that will help young artists. Bringing portfolios to comic book conventions where major artists and editors will do portfolio reviews is an excellent way to get one on one feedback with real professionals. That's why they conduct portfolio reviews!
And, once again, comic book artwork is actually just ARTWORK! Anyone who teaches figure drawing can offer competent advice on drawing. So there are probably local resources for you to explore also.
I hope these emails from others will answer some of your questions, readers. Thanks to all for making me work those brain muscles to pass along the bits of info I've picked up throughout the years.
I continue to receive emails with GREAT questions about comics, preparing artwork, the industry - all kids of interesting questions! I'll add to this section periodically, so keep asking questions!
Joris from Amsterdam emailed me about some original artwork. "At this moment in a auction there's an offer of a one of a kind unique color drawing by Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes," he wrote. "It's well known that he never gives out drawings but this appears to be a original one with of course a high price (Especially for an 8" by 11" piece). Could you tell me if you have any idea what the right price should be for such a drawing, for I have no idea whatsoever."
I answered this question with in my usual helpful, but vague, manner.
"Unfortunately, a piece of original artwork is only worth what people are willing to pay for it! Pricing artwork, or deciding what to pay for a piece of artwork, is at best a lucky guess.
"To get an idea of what other comic strip artists are getting for their work, you could visit comic strip distributors like King Features Syndicate at www.kingfeatures.com, and Tribune Media Services at tms.tribune.com, and see if you can find, from there, individual artists' websites, where artwork is for sale. I know Walker, the Beetle Bailey artist, for instance, has a website where he sells artwork.
"Unless you are going to sell the piece, it really comes down to what you are willing to pay for something you enjoy to hang on your wall."
A caring grandmother emailed me about education for her grandson. "Where should my 16 year old grandson attend art school in order to become a comic book artist?" she asked. "Or should he even bother with art school? He is super talented, having drawn since he was three years old. What should he do?"
I am a big believer in college educations, if for no other reason than to immerse young minds in the history of culture. I wrote back, "A 'comic book artist' is actually an artist, who is able to draw anything from a train to a building to a tree to a human body. Many fine art schools will fit the bill for this, but mainly your grandson's dedication to drawing itself and developing his talent by drawing from life every spare moment of the day.
"There is a Joe Kubert School in New Jersey. Presumably, this is the best place to develop talent AND meet people. A website at http://www.kubertsworld.com might give you information about the school.
"I give this advice a lot: don't limit yourself to comic book art. Making a living as a drawing artist is difficult enough without narrowing your focus too much. And also LEARN TO INK! An excellent book on the subject is The Art of Comic Book Inking by Gary Martin and Steve Rude, published by Dark Horse Comics."
Truth (what a great name for an author) asked me about the possibility that his ideas will be stolen. "I've been working on a high-tech comic book for a few years but have never attempted to market it. My fear is that a company will plagerize my work, although it's copyrighted. I feel sick of myself for having a bonefied talent and not knowing what to do with it. Do you have any advice or recommendations?"
Instead of recommending a spell check program, I tried to be sympathetic. "In my youth," wrote I, "I was always afraid publishers were out to steal my ideas. I finally realized that (1) real, professional writers have so many ideas and put out so much work, published and unpublished, each and every year, individual works are not that "precious," and (2) publishers are swamped by so many ideas and so much talent they hardly need to - or have time to - steal ideas. "I guess I finally figured out that I just wasn't that important, a good lesson for any writer or artist.
"An (apparently) good reference to buy is The Trademark and Copyright Book #1 by trademark and copyright attorney Michael Lovitz, available from Sirius publishing. If you understand more about some of the legalities surrounding comic book creation, you'll be more comfortable.
"My experience has been that the only way to interest publishers in your work is to already HAVE a body of work that shows you can do it competently and on time. This means volume and working on quality while you go, not tweaking something for years. Put the pet project in a file somewhere for later and get out there and work!"
A young artist wrote me back. "Hello Gary. I'm learning how to draw comics and I just bought the inking book you told me about (The Art of Comic Book Inking, mentioned above),now I 've got a question for you: how in the world you create the characters positions? Do you copy them from other comics or magazines or you memorize them or you just have a file or what?"
"I'm not sure I know what you mean by 'character's positions,'" I explained, "but I think you mean how does any artist decide where to place a body on a page and how do they know how to draw the anatomy.
"Body placement on the page and in the boxes needs to move the story along, keep things interesting (especially when you have a page or two of "talking heads") and leave lots of room for word balloons. Artists can study comics, sure, but other media like movies are good to look at - how do they position people on the screen and how do they transition from scene to scene?
"Anatomy is simply a lifetime of figure drawing. Draw people and other things constantly. Keep a notebook with you and draw in spare time, not from comic books, but from real life and the things around you. Be fast and loose, not obsessive with details - it's just practice! Above all, remember that comic book artists are ILLUSTRATORS, who come from a long line of illustrators throughout history in books, illuminated manuscripts, Bibles, cave walls, everything. Broaden your focus to include the world of art, you'll develop your own unique style, and editors are more apt to hire you for that unique style."
Dave enjoyed the article here on computer coloring. "Your piece on how to color was very helpful. Quick question, after I have the image in Photoshop pasted on the K layer of channels, do I just paint onto the CMYK layer? Do I create layers and the paint on those? Also do you use the wand to isolate sections and then fill with a gradient? Also how do you make the black line work so that you can just paint over it and it won't be affected?"
Encouraged that someone actually READS the articles on Comic Artists Direct, I plunged right in. "After the artwork is pasted in the K channel, I generally make another channel just to hold the K artwork, in case I screw it up coloring. I do NOT touch the artwork in the K channel. Everything is colored in C, M and Y. I do use the K artwork for selecting with the wand, expanding the selection slightly to be sure it spreads under the blacks.
"Color in this order: flat color first, then gradients/airbrush. The flats help you select the right areas for grads and airbrush as you shade areas.
"After all of this, if you want to turn on the K (black) channel with the rest to grey it out for special lighting effects, you can.
"I periodically read articles from colorists who work in teams, who paste their flats (minus the K channel) into a separate channel so they can make selections from there. This would probably be a good idea for major changes and bigtime reworking of the color, since selecting in the first place is the biggest chunk of time for a colorist (and the least fun). I've never needed that extra level of complexity."
Speaking of complexity, Mark wanted to know how I set up my color palettes in Photoshop when I'm coloring comics. He must think I'm more organized than I am.
Basically I have a base palette of colors I like, go together and print well. I pretty much build it over the years as I go. Yes, I like to set up a tonal range of colors in my palette. You can actually save various palettes if you want, storing them for later use. If I see an interesting combination in a book or magazine I'll work out a palette for that color combo. I imagine the big color houses have palettes they pass around between workers. Yes, I build my colors with the CMYK sliders because I know now, without hesitation, what certain percentages will do. Other colorists, of course, do it differently.
I hope these emails from others will answer some of your questions, readers. Thanks to all for making me work those brain muscles to pass along the bits of info I've picked up throughout the years. Email YOUR questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since this article was first published, Gary has set up Indie Comics Magazine to offer independent comic book writers and illustrators a place to show their work and gain some name recognition in print. Find out more about it at IndieComicsMagazine.com.
Comments on our can be referred to Gary at gary -at- comicartistsdirect -dot- com. All artwork copyright © by its respective artists and publishers.
To find out about how to appear in INDIE COMICS MAGAZINE, Visit Indie Comics Magazine.com and click on Submissions!
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How do They Do It? is a feature on Comic Artists Direct that explores the nuts and bolts of the creative process. Check out the below articles!
James Lyle demonstrates his working methods from start to finish on an illustrated logo project.
Gary draws, inks, colors and lays out a cover illustration for On the Shore magazine here.
James Lyle talks about brainstorming for ideas here.
Check out Gary's article here for ways to keep your writing ideas fresh and different.
Gary's step by step article on lettering for comics is here.
Submitting Art to Comic Book Companies by Scott Rosema. What do the pros look for when judging the acceptability of your artwork? Tips from Scott.
Small Press Stories. Comic Artists Direct asked accomplished small press creators to tell us about producing, printing, publishing and distributing small press comics in today's changing market. The results are contributions from Peter Kuper, Jaime, Steve Lafler and Steve "Noppie" Noppenberger and more, here!
Promotion for Your Book by Gary Scott Beatty. It doesn't matter how killer your comic, fans have to know you exist. This primer by Gary offers some ideas.
Questions and Answers. Chances are your question is answered here.
Navigating Comic Book Conventions by Gary Scott Beatty. It's easy to wander around in a daze at big conventions. A little preplanning can make your visit even better.
Breaking Into Comics by Gary Scott Beatty. There's more than one way to be a success in the comic book industry. These stories from pros are inspirational.
Coloring Comic Books Before Computers by Gary Scott Beatty. The processes printers went through to color comics before computers will amaze and impress you.
Comic Book Lettering -- How do They Do It? by Gary Scott Beatty. Putting those comic book letters in those little word balloons may be more complicated than you think.
Been There, Done That -- Avoiding Cliches in Comic Book Writing by Gary Scott Beatty. How does a writer break away from the everyday?
Setting Up a High School Comic Book Class by Gary Scott Beatty. Wouldn't it be cool to take a high school comic book production class? A Minnesotta teacher is setting one up and asked for Gary's advice. So, as long as he asked -- Gary's article is here.
The Word "Got" and literacy in comics.
Halloween: Comics, Not Candy. Turn kids on to comics!