Monday, July 08, 2013

Useless Advice

"Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn."

Advice is great.

You can ask anyone -- a relative, a friend, a complete stranger -- and usually they will have some advice on hand to give to you.

Since I draw cartoons full-time, sometimes people ask how they, too, can become cartoonists.

"How can I succeed?"

I have some advice, but first, below is a video. That's not me in the video. No, no, no. It's not me. I found it on YouTube. That's an illustrator named Dan Page. I don't know Dan.

What's YOUR definition of success? I am going to assume that you want to succeed commercially, OK? You want to be paid for drawing.

You want to make a living from being a cartoonist.

Now, Dan is right that you need a portfolio. But the people at ExpertVillage, who, I assume, spent good money to get this fellow propped up in front of the camera, did not get the right guy for their How to Succeed as an Artist video. Here is his sum up:
  • build up portfolio,
  • submit your work to the "different groups or companies,"
  • you will receive "an opportunity,"
  • and from there, it's all what you do with it.

Above: Diane Franklin as Monique Junot from BETTER OFF DEAD.

I couldn't help but think of BETTER OFF DEAD's lead character Lane Meyer (John Cusack) who, when asking for guidance on skiing the difficult K-12 slope in the movie, was told advice so general (It was that opening quote from Charles DuMar and Monique Junot above, "Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.") that it was useless.

You have to seize the opportunity, like Dan says, but -- like one of the commenters on YouTube wrote -- "Isn't that how to become a successful anything? This is so general that it doesn't help anyone."

And that's why I'm here.

First off, talent is cheap. I can walk into any art school and see lots of art by people better than me. Most of those art students will not succeed. This is because talent has little to do with success.

How do you get that opportunity? You know, the one where Dan makes a fist and "seize that opportunity" right at 1:28?

Your talent may help, but persistence is key.

If you want to draw single panel magazine gag cartoons, draw 20 every week, throw away the weak ones and mail the rest of them out. Do this every week.

When I started I knew NOBODY. No editors, no other cartoonists. And I didn't know what I was doing. I got addresses from the magazines I looked at in the library and the bookstore. I took the addresses from the masthead of the magazine. It took me 6 months, but I began selling.

Do you want to draw comic books? Graphic novels? Comic book conventions always have an "artists alley," where you can meet professionals.

Meeting professionals at conventions is the best. I was at a convention last month and met a good number of pros and soon-to-be pros. Very friendly get together.

Advice from a friend or teacher can be helpful-- but to meet and talk with a professional is sooo much better. Especially if you are looking to become like them; to make a living from drawing and writing.

If you live in Northern New England, here's an opportunity to meet a professional: namely, me.

I'll be teaching a kids' cartoon class Saturday, July 13 at the Porter Memorial Library in Machias, Maine.

This fall, I'll be spearheading cartoon classes for older teens and adults in Berwick, Maine. And if there are snow days and no classes, well then -- we'll all ski the dang K-12 together, OK? More anon on that.

1 comment:

Brian Fies said...

I could write a whole essay on this topic. Maybe I will sometime....

A few years ago I was nervously preparing for a big talk at a comics convention. A syndicated cartoonist (name rhymes with Flephan Flastis) gave me some advice: "People aren't coming to your talk to find out how YOU got there; they want to learn how THEY can get there." That was a good insight that helped me focus my talk, but at the same time made me realize how useless any advice of mine would be.

Someone wanting to follow my career path would need to have been born when I was born, had the jobs and experiences I had, be willing to wait about 30 years to get published, and then have their envelope end up on the right person's desk at the right moment. That's a microscopic circle in a big Venn diagram. My path isn't duplicable. Everyone has a different story about how they made it, and none follows a formula.

I think the best one can do is suggest some good general strategies, and maybe highlight some blind alleys to avoid. My general advice goes something like: Try a hundred things and, if two or three of them work, do more of that. Working hard and showing up on time will set you apart from most of your competition. Luck favors the prepared and alert. Act like a professional even if you aren't yet.

So while your advice about meeting and talking to pros is good, I'd put a big asterisk on it. They won't tell you the secret to success because there isn't one--what worked for them probably won't work for you--and don't expect them to change your life because they can't (with a few very rare exceptions, one of which I witnessed myself).

Finally, I'm sure you remember Steve Martin's foolproof advice for becoming a millionaire and never paying taxes: "Okay, first you get a million dollars. Then...."