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January 1, 2014
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There are lots of tips, chestnuts, and other pieces of advice that I've heard over the years--tidbits of wisdom passed on from one generation to the next, from professional to professor to prospective student.  Some of them are drawing tips, some of them are tricks to dealing with publishers, and some are general guidelines on how to survive in comics. Most of them are useful and true and will stand the test of time, but a few of them  have become hackneyed platitudes and have gone unquestioned for too long. Here are 5 that I'm questioning...

1. READERS WILL ONLY LOOK AT A PANEL FOR 5 SECONDS, SO DON'T SWEAT IT TOO MUCH.

I understand the intention of this bit of wisdom, and I mostly agree with it: drawing great interiors is important, but at the same time, you don't want to get bogged down with small details that most readers won't even notice.

But here's my concern with this: if you treat every panel like it's disposable, then you're less likely to make an impact with readers.

Think of it this way: even if readers ONLY look at a panel for 5 seconds, and your book sells 20,000 copies, then that tiny panel you were fretting over will be looked at for 100,000 seconds, which is around 28 hours of total viewing time. So, if you have the time and energy, try not to phone it in.

If the art is good enough then people will look longer than 5 seconds; readers will appreciate your extra effort even if they don't see every detail. And if you get REALLY good--if your art is thoughtful, layered, and compelling enough to withstand a second, third or forth viewing without falling apart-- then other artists will study you, which means they might be looking over your panels for hours.

2. TO BE A PRO, YOU NEED TO BE AT LEAST 2 OF THESE 3 THINGS: TALENTED, NICE, OR ON TIME.

I wish this was true. In fact, I wish that a professional artist had to be ALL 3 of these things in order to succeed--but they don't.

If you're talented enough, then you don't need to be timely or nice. Proof? We all know that some creators are always late. And on Twitter, we often see these same creators acting unsavory. So why do they have careers? It's because they're talented and sell well--publishers see them as an asset are willing to put up with difficult/late creators if the sales are high.

Keep in mind I'm not giving anyone full license blow deadlines and act like a jerk. If you can be all 3 of these things, you're better off. I've always liked this bit of wisdom, but I'd like to adjust it:

For me, success is...
70% talent
10% being nice/easy to work with
10% being on time
10% blind luck.

The numbers are all subjective, of course.

3. IF YOUR PAGES ARE GOOD, THEN EDITORS/PUBLISHERS WILL NOTICE.

You can be the best artist on the planet, and some editors/publishers might not see it. They tend to respond more to sales figures, internet hype, and buzz by the office water cooler. It's frustrating, but understandable. At least to me.

Try to keep in mind that most editors aren't trained as artists, they're trained as administrators and coordinators. They worry about shipping books out, not about facial expressions, mood lighting and fish-eye lensing--that's your job. Most editors are swamped with more work than they can handle, and they work for publishers who have hundreds of creators to keep track of. Getting dozens of books out on time is a difficult task, and while most everyone at these companies makes a genuine effort to put out a good, consistent product, sometimes things fall through the cracks. Plot lines don't come together, books ship late, and sometimes valuable talent gets overlooked.

So if you think you're talented, and you're frustrated that editors aren't noticing, don't take it personally. Hang in there, keep plugging away, and if you're truly talented, eventually someone will notice.

And if you meet a talented editor who DOES have an eye for art--someone like my friend Mark Doyle who edits me on The Wake--stick with him.

4. DRAW EVERY DAY.

Yes--practice, practice, practice. But once in a while, take a break and PURPOSELY let your drawing skills erode. When you relearn them, you'll come back a bit stronger.

This job is demanding, and if you're not careful you can end up in a sweaty, nervous, nail-bitten mess as you struggle to hit your deadlines. When you're in this state, you're probably putting out B level work. You start making mistakes you don't see while developing other bad artistic habits. Your style becomes stale and incestuous (when was the last time you actually LOOKED at a photo ref of a tricep?). And when you're in this state, you're usually not growing as an artist because your main goal is output--things are going out, nothing is going in.

Taking a break from drawing and letting your skills erode seems counter productive, but it's a good way to ditch bad habits and re-approach your style in new ways. It's like when master chess players set up matches with amateur players--they end up learning more about chess when the game gets shaken up.

5. DON'T GOSSIP.

It's naive to think you can avoid gossip, so I say embrace it in a healthy way. Gossip is a commodity, and it should be traded just like any other commodity.

I know "gossip" is a dirty word. And yes, gossip can often lead to useless, Jersey Shore style hen-pecking. But there's a lot of good information in gossip, and I don't see the shame in filtering it in a fair, balanced, and mature manner to help you make better decisions. Gossip can create friendships, solidify loyalty, help you avoid swindlers, spread helpful memes, weed out unsavory trends and raise awareness about issues that need fixing.

The "women in comics" issue is a perfect example of gossip being well utilized. The information came along with a lot of mud slinging, of course, but at the end of the day we've all had our awareness raised, and it's a good thing.

The trick is to utilize useful gossip while discarding TMZ style gossip. There's an art to it, and getting good at it requires practice. If you can ignore it--fine. But it might be worth listening in every now and then.
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:iconlightdragonii:
LightdragonII Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2014
good advice.
Reply
:iconbcfire:
bcfire Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Number 4 really...yeah. I stopped drawing for a while (like an unhealthy amount of time, most likely not what you're saying here, but I'm not a pro. so it's not as damning as it would be for someone working professionally), and getting back into it was really hard and I was dissatisfied all the time. But at the same time I found myself relearning things and worrying less about making my art "pretty" and more about experimenting stylistically so it actually became a little more interesting (you can still see a lot of old habits shining through, but I'm less clingy). I'm still building and making things better, but I feel the time I've spent relearning everything after my hiatus has been really fruitful. 
Reply
:icongibsonquarter27:
GibsonQuarter27 Featured By Owner Feb 3, 2014
Great Stuff, really enjoyed the read. Most interesting to me was the whole
"letting the skills erode on purpose" ...I've noticed that too, but I've always been paranoid on those days when I WASN'T drawing that somehow I might be falling behind due to the whole 'draw every day mantra' that was running through my head. Great to hear that others have noticed this too.

So now I guess I CAN take a break now...thanks dude!
Reply
:icondmrademir:
dmrademir Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks for share
Reply
:iconbalancomics:
BalanComics Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
I'd always been afraid to do #4, even though I know breaks are really good for me.  Nice to hear from a pro that it is actually a good idea.  Thanks!
Reply
:iconmdtartist83:
MDTartist83 Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2014   General Artist
Very well written.
Reply
:iconblackmeout:
blackmeout Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2014
i paid a lot of attention to your artwork in PRJ.  after i revisited the comic a couple of times i noticed small details like using your own fingerprint as a filler and thought it was a great idea... so i started doing it ;D
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2014
Cool! I'm not the first to do that. :)
Reply
:iconblackmeout:
blackmeout Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2014
i know you're not, but you're the first i've seen to do it. ;)
Reply
:icondio-03:
dio-03 Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2014  Student Artist
Thanks for this, I feel like you've tapped into a lot of the same things I've wondered about in my place within comics, and I feel like this answered a lot of those questions I'd been having. I've spent a good deal of time staring at your work, so yeah it's paid off for you, definitely.
Reply
:iconazabachesilver:
AzabacheSilver Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
A lot of good advice I think even we amateurs can benefit from!
Reply
:icongiadrosich:
giadrosich Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
I always learn quite a bit about the industry by reading your journals, and although I don't have any aspirations about doing comics, I appreciate your opinion. The candor is refreshing, and as it comes from someone whose work I admire, all the better. Keep doing what you do, and may you have continued success in this coming year! :D
Reply
:iconvarakienen:
VARAKIENEN Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2014
Nice.
Reply
:iconchidoman11:
Chidoman11 Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
¡Cool! ¡Thanks for share with us!
Reply
:iconchrisnoeth:
ChrisNoeth Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Watching some of dave finch's and your youtube vids have reactivated my comic art genes and I started working on my anatomy skills and more comic related art stuff. I have worked on game art for too long now and working on more comic related things like storytelling for example is very refreshing. Thx for the inspiration! ;)

Best,

Chris
Reply
:iconghwalta:
ghwalta Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2014
"...when you're in this state, you're usually not growing as an artist because your main goal is output--things are going out, nothing is going in" 

THAT'S SO TRUE!!
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:iconbetteo:
betteo Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014  Professional General Artist
Totally agree on this, SGM.
Excellent post.
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:icondavidgmiley:
DAVIDGMILEY Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014
Good Read, Sean. 

Thanks for putting in the time and effort in sharing. 

much appreciated. 
Reply
:iconmisterbzd:
MisterBZD Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
These are good tips I think. I'm currently trying to break out of a month long hiatus from drawing.
Reply
:iconelspatula:
elspatula Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014  Student General Artist
Very insightful! However, I would rather replace "talent" with "putting your talent to use" ... you can have all the talent in the world, but if you don't practice your basics, you will not be very good/as good as you can.
Reply
:iconhallowgazer:
HallowGazer Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
I always love reading your journals about the comic industry and how to become a part of it.
Especially your take on "Draw every day" - I've never seen purposely stopping to draw for a while as a valid option. But it does indeed make sense to take a step back from your own work and re-evaluate certain aspects.
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014
THanks for reading! It works for me in small bursts sometimes.
Reply
:iconhallowgazer:
HallowGazer Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
I see. Are there certain intervalls you take breaks from your work, then?
Like every other month or so?
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:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2014
Maybe a week or two at most.
Reply
:iconhallowgazer:
HallowGazer Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
:O That's quite often, then, I see.
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:iconjoshhood:
joshhood Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
It's a shame our industry doesn't maintain a serious industry journal. I'd love to see you write a column. 
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2014
The major comic news sites are more focused on being US WEEKLY than the NY Times, so there's very little as far as researched, thorough, investigative reporting and insight. Those articles don't get much traffic. The best info comes from pros who are well spoken and willing to take the time to share.
Reply
:iconanimatrix1490:
animatrix1490 Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
I think there might be a better word for what you're talking about than "gossip"--more like Information or something. This whole journal is really fascinating, though. Thanks for sharing these tips to outsiders as wells as their questionable nature.
Reply
:iconlady-kaguya:
Lady-Kaguya Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you for the opinions and advice, it was definitely a good thing for me to read.
Reply
:iconrichardpace:
RichardPace Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Professional General Artist
Really, REALLY like this, though I'd quibble with a few bits.

There's a whole lengthy discussion to be had over panel detail, which can be used to add or reduce time the reader looks at it.  An experienced hand will know when to add or reduce environmental detail to draw the reader into a panel for more time on a panel or page and how to make an panel act like an exclamation mark to a sequence.  When I first saw you drop the "5-second" rule of thumb, I thought "that's 100% true, except when it isn't".

I don't think that 70% is best described as talent, but as quality of work.  I've seen too many artists with vast amounts of talent who never put the effort in to get better or consistent.  It's a little bit of the tortoise and the hare, here.

Thanks for sharing this.

~R
Reply
:iconeye-m-alias:
Eye-M-Alias Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
…Seriously, though, you do need to draw every day. If it's style problems you're worried about, go back to the basics: draw from life, make realistic pictures for a while.
Reply
:icondanharing:
DanHaring Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Professional Filmographer
Great stuff! Thanks for sharing. I'd never thought about the idea of letting skills erode a bit and coming back stronger. Makes perfect sense.
Reply
:iconhazmatt86:
HazMatt86 Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
As someone aspiring to be a professional comic book artist I really appreciate this post. The insight is really helpful.
Reply
:iconbatsdontkill:
BatsDontKill Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
Very good advice, as always and put forward in a way that's not arrogant but is actually helpful to people, thanks as always Sean :) :#1:
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:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
Thanks for checking it out!
Reply
:iconzarro83:
zarro83 Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
Thanks! :)
Reply
:iconcaptaindeathbat:
CaptainDeathbat Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Student General Artist
Thank you for sharing this!
Reply
:iconcooler1985:
cooler1985 Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014   Traditional Artist
yeah ,and sometimes . my hand don't obey me, even i draw the picture in my imagination
Reply
:iconbarksodaverne:
barksodaverne Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
over interesting!
I especially enjoyed the first and fourth points!
trying not to "treat every panel like it's disposable" has indeed an impact on the readers!!
as for letting the skills erode, it is an interesting way of approaching our art, and the comparison with the game of chess is very nice!

 thank you for writing, it is nice to have the point of view of someone from the inside!
Reply
:iconzabbah:
Zabbah Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Student Artist
Loved it. Awesome insight. Thanks for the post, Sean Gordon!
Reply
:iconslewis18:
SLewis18 Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
It's advice like that, that proves you are one of the best. A great read for the start of a new year. :D
Reply
:iconglmike77:
GLMike77 Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014  Student Artist
You're a class act, Mr. Murphy. Definitely a great read.
Reply
:iconbesnglist:
besnglist Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
Nice reading material, as always. Your comic musings are great because they refer to everybody in this area. I recognize all the points as true, except for the fourth one, but it's more the time management issue and I guess it's more a personal preference then a general rule. I believe drawing every day is one of the key points, but not in the way to burn out, more to keep the (low) productivity below the point when it's becoming tedious and maintain the feeling of enjoying while working.   
Reply
:iconikewhitehead:
IkeWhitehead Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
Really great post!
Im personally at a point where I'm not sure how many more times I should be showing my portfolio to the same editor ( who happens to have a background in art and I feel he has been somewhat encouraging).
Is he trying to see if I'm going to keep at it?
I'm going to keep trying to get better regardless, I just have moments of doubt
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
I followed up with the same editors for years, all the while meeting MORE editors. And it paid off. You want them all to like you, if you can manage it. I say keep plugging away if they're willing to respond and help.
Reply
:iconikewhitehead:
IkeWhitehead Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
definitely.
now i wonder if one con a year is enough?
Reply
:iconglortor:
GLoRToR Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2014   General Artist
I think there are five things that make an artist a good artist, regardless of industry.

1. Fundamentals
2. Comprehension

3. Communication

4. Passion

5. Talent


1. Fundamentals

- Are the most important thing in anything you'll do. Whether or not your page will be looked at for longer or shorter than five minutes (I know people, among them myself, who have a minimum art requirement before we'll read a story - see classic X-Men: Inferno issues where they art was so poor quality that I just haven't read those parts of the story, period.) purely depends on how well you know your  #drawskillz.


2. Comprehension

- Of what people want and how they want it and how to make the best of it is simply quintessential to being good at what you do. Being nice, on time, or even talented has little to do with it, if you have fundamentals and comprehension you can just toil your way to the top. I'm not going to say any names but those of us who are in the industry know whom I'm talking about. At the end of the day, you could be drawing piles of dung with glue on black rock slate all your life, if nobody's interested, you're wasting your life away at nonsense. Though knowing today's market, somebody would buy that sh*t. Just sayin'. 


3. Communication

- Or in other words, getting the message across, getting the point and making a point where needed. Gossip or not, professional or not, you can't NOT look at concurrent mediums and adjust a bit. I mean look at Burnsy for example, he's been in the industry for what, forty years? Guy's always had something fresh coming in, going out, he's loved and adored and everybody knows him for his style and "that guy who could make an epic story with Superman on 32 pages"


4. Passion

- In which it doesn't matter how often you draw but when you do, hell buoy, it's rawkxolid and omfgawesome. Because that's your heart on paper right there. I don't know about you, Sean, but I absolutely loathe to see heartless deadlike work. Hell, be a week late but make the readers hang at the edge of their seat to see those panels again the next issue.


5. Talent

- And we agree here fully. Back to the X-Men: Inferno thing. Whoever drew those panels, can't remember. But I was real glad never to see that person draw anything ever again. Just... bad.

Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014
It's a good list. You should post it on you dA page so more people can read it. :)
Reply
:iconglortor:
GLoRToR Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2014   General Artist
I try to keep low-key around here until I have what to show to the big heads in the industry. What do you think an eastern european guy's chances are at making a career as a concept artist? Is there an age limit? Is there a "you have to live near the pot to get a dip" kind of deal? Could use some insight on whether I should bother or not. 
Reply
:iconalienshores:
AlienShores Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2014
Thanks for sharing! Always nice to hear another view on things - helps broaden the mind.
Reply
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