Dilettante 038: Paying It Forward

Toucan reading a comic
Steve Lieber

I’m lucky. My comics career is in a great place right now. My studio is prospering. I’ve found a good workflow that takes advantage of all the wonderful technology available today, and my current project, The Fix, is doing well both critically and on the sales charts. I feel great about this but I recognize that I did not get here alone. Aside from my many, many, fine collaborators, I owe a huge debt to a bunch of people who gave me a leg up: Joe Kubert, Jose Delbo, Bob Schreck, Archie Goodwin, Steve Wacker, Marie Severin, and many, many others.

These people all have one thing in common: There’s really nothing I can do to repay them. So if I want to try to balance things karmically, I’m gonna need to try to help out someone else, which brings us to the subject of this month’s column: paying it forward.

Share the Spotlight

If you have collaborators, make sure you talk about them in interviews, at signings, and on social media. Their hard work, dedication, and craftsmanship helps your work shine. Steer your readers to your collaborators’ other projects.

Make sure readers know how much your publisher does to facilitate your work. Be aware of what else they publish and point out some of their other, less well-known works.

Talk about your influences. It’s very easy for older works to be lost in the continuous churn of popular culture. If an influence of yours is still publishing new work, let people know! If they’re retired or gone, steer readers towards whatever reprints are available. Reprinting classic comics is generally not lucrative for publishers. Do what you can to encourage a new generation of readers to learn about older cartoonists.

Move That Spotlight Beyond Folks with a Direct Link to You

But who should you try to promote?

Look for Artists a Generation Younger Than You

They’re probably getting started with a webcomic, and doing their best to build their audience one reader at a time. They’ve got a donate button that no one ever hits and a Patreon account that’s barely even nibbling at their student loan. You’ve got a platform and a bunch of readers. This is your chance to expand their audience and maybe make it possible for a promising young artist to continue to develop. And if you’re a fan as well as a creator, you’ll help ensure that the sort of work you enjoy gets a chance to grow.

Look for Someone from the Generations Before You

Many of them helped develop the visual language of comics. They did the work that kept the industry going and helped make possible the vibrant and increasingly diverse medium that we enjoy today.

How Else Can You Pay It Forward?
Support Anthologies

For generations, emerging cartoonists were able to use anthologies as a place to try things out, to learn new skills, even to fail. E.C.’s crime, horror, war and humor titles. Warren’s Creepy, Eerie, and 1984. DC’s romance and mystery books, Arcade, RAW, Weirdo, Twisted Sisters, Dark Horse Presents, Gay Comix, Drawn & Quarterly. Anthologies will always be a mixed bag, but they’re also a great place to discover remarkable new talents at the very beginnings of their careers.

Back Crowdfunding Initiatives by Emerging Artists

For many webcomics artists, Patreon and Kickstarter are the best tools they have for turning their avocation into their profession. And it’s worth noting that your Kickstarter contribution can be worth many times what you contribute. If a Kickstarter artist asks for ten thousand dollars to fund a project, and only nine thousand in pledges comes in, no money changes hands, and the artist receives nothing. Your $25 contribution can be the difference between thousands and nothing. Passing the hat has become a big part of how cartoonists today fund their work. If you can spare it, put some money in the hat and help fund a few promising projects. It’ll make a big difference for someone starting out. (I know plenty of young cartoonists who earned less for writing and drawing an entire creator-owned graphic novel than some of my peers make for drawing a couple of work-for-hire pages.)

Hire Them

A pin-up, a back-up story, a variant cover. If you collect art, commission a sketch. Pass along freelance opportunities that you can’t take on yourself.

Mentor Them

Do you personally know any artists getting started? Mentorship is its own reward. Even if their subject matter or stylistic approach is very different from your own, you still have a lot to offer. Your critiques can help them recognize and solve storytelling problems. (Just be sure that you frame your advice in terms of goals and principles rather than “the right way” or “the wrong way.”)

Bring Up Useful Perspectives on Seemingly Insurmountable Difficulties
  • Suggest strategies for dealing with challenging clients or collaborators.
  • Steer them towards someone trustworthy when they need a consultant like an accountant, agent, or lawyer.
  • Share your understanding of industry standards for pay rates and professional practices.

There will be times when you can’t answer a question for them. Use your network of connections. Point them towards someone who can!

Share Your Knowledge and Experience

You can also share your knowledge and experience with people you don’t know. If you’ve got a convention coming up, use your social media accounts to let upcoming artists know that you’re willing to critique some portfolios. Write analytical and critical articles about other cartoonists’ work. (“Critical” doesn’t need to mean beating up on someone’s work. Make sure you’re shedding more light than heat, and give your readers the benefit of your experienced eye.) Take questions about the art, the craft or the business on your social media and answer them as honestly as you can.

Look for Opportunities to Support the Charitable Organizations That Help Members of the Comics Community

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is “a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers.”

The Hero Initiative creates a financial safety net for yesterdays’ creators who may need emergency medical aid, financial support for essentials of life, and an avenue back into paying work.

And Creators for Creators is a brand new organization, just announced in April, that will be working to “help pave the way for the next generation of comics creators by supporting their work financially and through mentorship, as well as providing opportunities for their creations to reach a wide audience.”

Steve Lieber’s Dilletante appears the second Tuesday of every month here on Toucan!

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