To a new writer who’s trying to break into the industry, finding the right artist is a daunting task: their work will be everyone’s first impression of your work. Unless you’re Robert Kirkman who went to high school with Tony Moore (I know, not fair, right?) you’re going to have to hunt for the perfect collaborator. How do you strike a balance between quality and price? Do you make someone sign a contract or will that scare them off? What happens when the whole thing goes belly up and you have to start all over again? Hopefully I can use my small amount of experience to help the potential writer navigate this minefield.
Next to writing your script, choosing the artist is the most important step you’ll have to take. This individual will be your actors, cinematographer, costume and set designer, and every other film analogy you’d like to throw in. Keep in mind: nobody knows who you are yet! How many times have you passed over a potentially great book on the shelf with a no name creative team for the new book by your favorite writer or artist? Before you ever get the chance to wow someone with your script, they need to not only pick the book off a rack filled with other shiny, colorful comics, but flip through it and decide if it’s worth their hard earned dough. Only when you’ve cleared these hurdles does someone even get the chance to read your work.
This next point, I cannot stress enough: do not be afraid to break your piggy bank to pay the artist as much as you can afford. You can make all the promises in the world of ownership and future profits; these things do not pay the bills. A good artist will want a page rate and it builds good will for the future. Save up your money and be able to pay on a schedule you can both agree to. We will usually do half upfront, half upon completion of a set amount of pages. This makes the the payments a little less painful for us, and gives the artist incentive to finish as quickly as possible.
When discussing a project with a potential artist, make sure this is someone you can communicate with. Mutual interests and influences go a long way to serve as a touchstone when discussing your ideas. And while every artist on the internet is at your disposal (devaintART and Penciljack are great resources), don’t underestimate the advantage gained by hiring someone local. Asking around at your comic shop or local art school can yield great results as well. Being able to get together with an artist and see their progress over coffee is incredible, but just being in a nearby time zone is very useful too. If you can talk on a regular schedule, even if it’s just sending IMs, you’ll build a rapport that can keep you both energized and invested in your project.
Once you’ve found the perfect collaborator, make sure you get a signed contract. If it scares off your artist, you probably shouldn’t be working with them in the first place. It’s the professional thing to do, and it guarantees protection for the artist as well. Here’s a good template to start with: dyingcowproductions.com/DCPcontract.pdf
Even with a contract in place, you will lose an artist. At some point in every writer’s career it’s just going to happen and there’s not much you can do about it. The most important thing to remember when that happens is to not get frustrated. We lost one artist already because he made the leap to the Big Leagues. In our search to replace him, we found not one, but two future collaborators and have two pitches being prepared instead of one. Neither of these dudes would have even entered our radar if we weren’t on the hunt for someone new. Now we know a pro and two hungry up-and-comers.
Believe me, it’s an uphill battle, but if you fight through the adversity, the reward is incredible. Seeing an artist bring your script to life is such a satisfying feeling. The amazing thing about comics is that you can make them happen! It doesn’t require a gigantic budget or a huge crew or the support of a studio. Tell the story you want to tell and then get out there and make it a reality!