Friday, June 19, 2009

Comic Writers: How To Find An Artist!!!

The number-one question I hear from budding comic book writers is: "how do I find an artist?" Part of this stems from the need to have illustrated samples of one's work as opposed to just script samples. Other writers are just skipping the submission process to publishers entirely and just want to get their comic book out there themselves.

But what if you don't have the cash to pay your artist up front?
Where do you find artists to approach?
What do you say to the artist when you approach him or her?

Writer Brendan McGinley (Invisible Inc., Hannibal Goes To Rome) has, in my opinion, incredible luck in finding artists to work with. First, his artists are really really talented. Second, they actually produce (which is a tribute not only to Brendan's compelling scripts, but his management & interpersonal skills). If there was any comic writer I would go to for advice on finding artists for new projects, it's Brendan. And so he has been so gracious as to share with us his advice.

OS: Do you recommend paying the artists rather than getting them to work on spec? Pros and cons?

Brendan: I recommend chaining the artists to their desks till those flighty geniuses turn everything in. But that's not our concern at the moment.

Val Staples advised me once to pay everyone in percentages, and he should know. But there are no guaranteed profits. and if you're an unknown talent with a story good enough to print, you ought to lubricate that offer with at least a nominal page rate as operating costs.

Page rates aren't necessarily expensive. There are lots of incredible artists who want to create something smashing. I've found a lot of collaborators in Argentina, where the rate I can afford to pay is a better income than here in the states.

Collaborative terms should be open and upfront. Is the artist merely a hired gun for flat-rate collaboration? Are you simply sharing net profits? Copyright? Trademark? Merchandising/licensing rights? Will one of you have to jump out of a cake wearing a penguin suit? Figure out what benefits you both, then re-state it clearly in a single document and confirm it.

I tend to offer a mix of up-front page rate and back-end spec, depending on how fast the production schedule is. A more demanding schedule calls for a higher up-front rate because they don't have time to work on other, more lucrative projects. That said, those heartless bullies at Tokyopop and Mirage keep swiping my best artists, so maybe it's best to dominate someone's calendar with a fat page rate.

If you have an arc equivalent to a feature film's worth of plot, you're looking at 110 pages of 11" x 17" zoom and pow. You can't ask someone to commit to that kind of workload without offering them some money along the way. If you can't afford it, write something short and satisfactory. The DOSE anthology was founded on my hard-learned lesson that most artists whip out five pages before they run out of steam, and I wanted to do scripts I could write in a few days rather than agonizing over the social resonance of repurposing Thelemic principles as superpowers for political allegory. You know, just like in GARFIELD.

And lastly, remember: you're writing all those pages and coordinating production and submission, and actually paying gobs of money for the privilege. Your time and talent is worth something too, and if you're going to do triple duty as writer, editor and publisher/production director, you should hold out for quality, timely work. Otherwise, do what I do and draw it yourself. Badly. Over the course of several months.

OS: How did you build such an impressive roster of talented artists? Did you know them all beforehand as friends, or how did you meet them?

Brendan: I haven't met anyone in person, because no one dares venture this deep out into Queens, which is a shame, because I grill a pretty good steak when you get here.

I originally solicited artists on Digital Webbing but found the responses too broad. Very few people regard the actual stylistic requests, and though a lot of the submissions were qualified, not everybody's ready to actually work on a production schedule. I've been burned and burned again by great artists who decide life is in the way of the agreement, and then I'm holding eight pages and an art-shift when I have to replace them. That's no way to launch a mini-series. It's easy to find an excuse. It's hard to find a professional.

(One more reason for DOSE -- to see who can get a short story done before handing them a sustained project. And Digital Webbing did get me, among a couple of other choice finds, Johnny Zito who I have in fact met, but not cooked steak for. So I do still recommend it, especially if you're a vegetarian artist.)

I started hitting up people whose work I loved on Mark Millar's message board. There I linked up for STAR-X with Andres Ponce, who's now working on HEIST, and this was while I was still at WIZARD and they encouraged us to read all the comics that came out every week. I really enjoyed a Jay Faerber property called FIREBIRDS, especially the costume design, and I checked the credits to see who the artist was. "'s that fellow I agreed to do a book with this morning." So he passed a blind test and we carved out a fun chapter of STAR-X. I've kept Andres close since then, and he's recommended a lot of other people, like Tomás Aira for INVISIBLE, INC. And I'm going to meet him in person at SDCC next month. But again: no steak, though I doubt my grilling could impress an Argie.

Josh Elder and I trade artistic wishlists sometimes. I tried to peel Ashleigh Firth, who blew me away with just a couple of headshots in Drew Melbourne's ARCH-ENEMIES and almost succeeded. Nicola Scott, I'd hit up, too, right before Dark Horse found her. I'm either half a step ahead or one step behind all these companies with the budget to woo great talent. Maybe I should become a headhunter for editorial. Which is to say, I should let Andres do the headhunting and take all the credit.
Yeah, recommendations, those are where it's at for me. Look to Buenos Aires, I say.

OS: Say that Writer X wants to find artists to do pitches or spec stories. What do you recommend he or she do?

Brendan: Writer X should do the smart thing and go into screenplays. Much better payoff. But let's assume they have a story that must remain intact, free of meddlesome suits.

I keep a list of eye-catching artists with stylistic notes for reference when a fitting story hits my keyboard (are you listening, Bing Cansino? One day I'll track you down!), though if anybody at the moment can do a cool, pop-glam, animated style ripe with expressions and textures then...well, either you're Amanda Conner or you need to e-mail me right now about SHE'S FAMOUS NOW. Or both.

What really works is to see who the people you want to hire are watching on DeviantArt. Sure, Writer X wants to work with the impressive Artist Y, but what about the stunning Influence Z?

Thanks, Brendan!

You can read "Hannibal Goes To Rome," by Brendan McGinley and Mauro Vargas, on Shadowline Web Comics.


  1. I'm sure this post will get a lot of attention for a very long time.

  2. Anonymous2:33 PM

    I've received so much BS looking for artists over the years. It really surprises me, since other people seem to have a fine time finding good artists to work with. I'm extremely thankful to be working with the people that I am currently working with.

    Good article.

  3. Anonymous8:05 PM

    Thanks very much.