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*Because I'll be teaching in about a week at SCAD, I've been thinking a lot about what to tell the students.  And I wrote it out so that I could solidify it in my head.  This stuff is for younger artists mostly, so feel free to skip.

When I spend time with another comic artist, sometimes I'll ask, "What's your 5 year plan?"  In other words, what steps is he taking in order to gain control over his career in order to move up the ladder?   Usually I don't get much of an answer.

The reason I think many comic artists aren't forward-thinking has to do with the way our industry is set up.  Whether by conscious design or through the neglect of its participants, younger freelancers get into a habit of complacency while hoping for a chance to suckle from the teet of a major publisher.  Waiting around for a career doesn't promote the idea of freelancers taking active control of their OWN careers.

If I had to sum up the 5 Year Plan of newer freelancers, it would sound like this: "I'm always working on my craft and trying to get to shows. Maybe I'll put a sketchbook together.  I tweet with a lot of other artists during the day, and I kind of have this story of my own that I'd kind of like to work on someday.  Then again, I also have back-end offers from writers who seem like they know what they're doing.  I don't know yet--mostly I'm just going to hang in there and hope that Marvel or DC will take notice and offer me something good.  Then I'll have a fan base.  I don't know, but I'd like to be the next Jim Lee."

This kind of ho-hum approach drives me crazy.  The sit-around-and-wait-for-opportunity-of-comics has retarded freelancers into submission.  But there are other reasons why I think this happens.

Think about all the stuff you've heard about "comic industry protocol".  You've been told to wait in line at a show in order to get an editor to review your work.  Sometimes they'll even dangle a "last person in line" sign around your neck (a real badge of respect, that one).  Or you heard somewhere that the best way to work for Marvel is to work for DC first.  Or you're told that you have to submit Marvel samples because they don't want to look at Batman samples.  Or maybe they want you to try out on a cover--unpaid, of course.  Or maybe they want to see pencils and inks separately.

As much as we fool ourselves into thinking otherwise, there often IS no protocol.  I did none of these things and still found a way in.  If you want to jump through these hoops then be my guest--I'm sure some people have had success.  But just because you're being shown hurdles doesn't mean you have to jump them.  And just because they mark the line to the front door doesn't mean you can't find a side entrance.  You just need to utilize a talent that you already have: being creative.

Here's my list of suggestions to help evolve your 5 Year Plan:

TALENT
I've heard that there are 3 things found in successful artists, and as long as you have 2 of them you'll be fine: talent, respecting deadlines, and being nice to work with.  I agree with this, but it could use an adjustment: 10% being nice, 10% being on time, 80% talent.  Proof?  If Travis Charest was always late and always an asshole (I hear he's a really nice guy BTW), he'd still get work.  Because his stuff is SO GOOD that it would trump the other two.  My point is that you should always be working and drawing and improving.  It's obvious, I know.  But it can't be stated enough: the backbone to your entire career is your ability.  Your ability creates your demand, and being in demand gives you options.  Options is control.

3 THINGS AT ONCE
You should get more than one project going at a time.  Each project increases your chances of having a hit.  And when work on one project is delayed (happens a lot), you can switch gears and remain more productive.  Suggested side projects?  Work on another book that's your own or co-written by someone you like and trust.  Or plan a sketchbook for the con season.  Or look for video game work.  Or venture into cover design.  Or create a Wolverine alphabet to keep you busy.  Get creative and think out of the box.  3 at once is good, but maybe you can handle more.  And even if most side projects fail, at least you're in control of them.

WRITE
I'm guessing that most people would give most comics a grade C or lower.  Not because we think of comic writing as being inferior to other forms of writing, but pick a group of ANYTHING and most things will be average, or C level.  It's the Law of Averages.  Therefor, you probably buy a couple titles a month that you'd give an A to and a few more that you'd give a B to.  So if most comics are C or lower, why not give writing a stab?  With a little bit of effort, could you write a  C+ story?  Of course you could!  C+ is better than most comics.  We deal in an industry where characters fight crime in their underwear--don't be intimidated into thinking you couldn't put together a half decent script if you tried.  Yes, there are a lot of awesome writers who use the format for ground breaking material that you and I could never achieve.  On the other hand, it's heroes in their underwear--we're not exactly looking for Philip K. Dick here.

Writing isn't just another asset, writers are planners.  Planners deal with tomorrow.  Having one hand in the future means you have more control.

And if writing's not for you, consider yourself in the role of Director/Producer.  Figure out what kind of story you want to tell, and work on it with a writer you trust.  Pitch it to Marvel.  Even if it's material you don't own, at least you're more in control.  Or pitch it to Image and own the rights.  The digital age is an exciting time to be dealing in new content.

BRANDING
I'll use my friend Scott Snyder as an example here (and I'm about to repeat his name a lot).  Scott's first hit was on American Vampire with Stephen King.  Immediately, Scott is labeled as a horror writer because that's what Stephen is.  As Vampire continued without Stephen (it's Scott's book, after all), Scott's branding went from "working with King" to "Scott is a horror writer in his own right".  Aware of his branding, Scott has been careful to select projects that fit his brand.  Swamp Thing, Severed, and Batman are all books with a horror twist.  It's easier for him to get these books because DC and Scott know what Scott's brand is.  His brand is so clear, in fact, that he has to be careful of what he works on in the future.  Skipping around without regard to what books suit him would hurt Scott.  I suppose Scott could write Spider Man one day (Scott can do anything well), and if it ever comes time for him to tackle the web-slinger, I think Scott knows that he has to approach it very carefully because Spidey's not known as a horror book.  Scott isn't doing well because he's lucky--Scott also pays attention.

As artists, we still have a brand.  And even though we all need to pay bills, we shouldn't say yes to everything.  Your brand is built by the titles you produce, the characters you've drawn, the writers you're associated with, the vibe of your art, and by your blogs and tweets.  Figure out what your brand is and use that to dictate your decisions.  Even if you're on a book that's not quite "you", perhaps you can suggest something to the writer to help inject your brand into the story.  I didn't think of Joe the Barbarian as being within my brand, but making it really dark helped me move it closer to my brand.  American Vampire SOTF is totally my brand; PRJ will be the purist form of my brand.

ATTITUDE
Let's tweak a line from JFK: don't ask what you can do for comics, ask what comics can do for you.  Thinking in this way helps build confidence, I find.  Carry this with you whenever dealing with editors and writers.  They're not doing you a favor, you're doing one for them.  You'll spend WAY longer drawing a script than it took the writer to write.  You have more to give and more to lose with these projects, so keep that in mind.  I'm not telling you to be arrogant, just don't act submissive.

CONNECT THE DOTS
Whatever you decide to do with these tidbits, try and mold them into a grand design.  One successful project should segue into the next.  When one project is coming to an end, plan the next.  There is no finish line, because a finish line means you've stopped.
  • Listening to: Charlie Rose
  • Reading: Trotsky
  • Watching: Top Gear UK
Add a Comment:
 
:iconthinkinked:
ThinkInked Featured By Owner 1 day ago  Professional General Artist
I like you, Sean. I've been reading through all these comics-related posts and thanks for putting it out there.
Reply
:iconnightray2002:
Nightray2002 Featured By Owner Mar 29, 2013  Professional General Artist
'I've heard that there are 3 things found in successful artists, and as long as you have 2 of them you'll be fine: talent, respecting deadlines, and being nice to work with. I agree with this, but it could use an adjustment: 10% being nice, 10% being on time, 80% talent."
I disagree. Travis isn't getting as much work as you seem to think because he's always late. He gets work from those small press or independents because they're doing less business than he'd bring them but when was the last time you saw him in a major book? I also disagree with you about the %'s. Being on time trumps all the others because once a publisher establishes a print date, if the book is late they pay for the print time anyway. This causes them to loose money if the book isn't ready.
In all the companies I've worked at, meeting the deadline was #1 and accounted for 80% of my return business. Being good furthered that along and the fact that I was easy enough to get along with was also a factor. All of those things, not any two made all the difference.
deviantART muro drawing Comment Drawing
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:iconmaureenoconnell:
maureenoconnell Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2015
Second this!
Reply
:iconartofadamlumb:
artofadamlumb Featured By Owner Mar 16, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Inspiring stuff Sean. This certainly rings true to me from my experience in my other career so no reason 5 year plans shouldn't apply to comics. Thanks for posting this.

[link]
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:iconlmsrock:
LMSRock Featured By Owner Jun 11, 2012
Well done, Sean! Sadly, I feel I've been holding my career back for many years because of many of the things you've pointed out...Thanks for sahring your thought..I hope I can get ahead...
Reply
:icondrpr:
DRPR Featured By Owner May 18, 2012  Student General Artist
You have just made me think for a change my friend.

I'll get back to you when I put my ideas in order.
Reply
:iconluispuig:
LuisPuig Featured By Owner Apr 27, 2012  Professional General Artist
Outstanding commentary/advice. Thank you for taking the time and thought to write this.
Reply
:iconkeeleyanimeaddict:
KeeleyAnimeAddict Featured By Owner Feb 29, 2012
Nice work!
I drew a comic series last year...
.. It was horrid. But now I'm halfway-focused on redrawing it... Just now getting into shading and all...
... That should be fun...
But anyway, I think my brand is fantasy and romance... perhaps with a twist of getting-kidnapped-every-three-pages.

Not that you particulary care, but anyways.

Thank you!
Reply
:iconpandyras-paradox:
pandyras-paradox Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2012
I needed to hear this. I've been trying to work on my own stories, but I've been so discouraged lately because no matter how much I refine things, all I can do is look around and say, "What am I really doing here?" I feel like I've been spinning my wheels by doing boring ordinary day-to-day shit that doesn't interest me because I'm not making progress that I'm actually putting out anywhere. I think for now all I can do is keep working, keep on that boring day-to-day shit and promote myself when I have enough work to show off. Thank you.
Reply
:iconsmfelipe:
SMfelipe Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
Hello, Mr. Murphy.

I'm from a Brazilian website and podcast that called Kokocast. We talk about comics, recommend good stories and ask people to avoid bad ones. You can find us at www.kokocast.com

Actually, I'd recommend you to take a look at [link] It was our special program about comic books we're reading and we talked about both Joe - The Barbarian (which is now being published here) and Off Road (that I bought abroad, as it hasn't been published in Brazil). Of course, as Brazilians we speak in Portuguese, but ... well, we talked about you and I think you should know!

I'd like to know if we could translate and publish your "5-Year-Plan" in our site. Of course, we would give you all the credits for such. My partners and I were extremely amazed by your words and we think they would touch many lives here in Brazil as well - our main comic-book production is independent.

If you would also like to say some words to our Brazilian readers, that would be AWESOME, but no pressure on that!

You can email me at felipe5horas@gmail.com or just answer this comment. I'll keep and eye on it.

Thank you VERY much for your attention.
Sincerely

Felipe "5 Horas" Martins
Reply
:iconseangordonmurphy:
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
Thanks for the link! Feel free to translate anything you like for your own purposes, no problem. Thank you and take care.
Reply
:iconsmfelipe:
SMfelipe Featured By Owner Mar 7, 2012
Hey, Mr. Murphy.
As promissed, this is the link to your article, translated to Portuguese in our website:

[link]

Again, thank you VERY much!
Reply
:iconsmfelipe:
SMfelipe Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2012
Thanks a lot!
I'll post the link as soon as the translation is ready
Reply
:iconbenini-art:
Benini-art Featured By Owner Jan 22, 2012  Student Digital Artist
The best Jornal that i read...helped me a lot those truths, Thanks
Reply
:iconsnakeluvr:
snakeluvr Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012
Jason Aaron can and does write anything his brand is hes so good
Reply
:iconjmringuet:
jmringuet Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
I don't see the 5 years anywhere.
Reply
:iconmeesimo:
Meesimo Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2012
Great read sir, thanks for putting the time, thought, and passion in. This level of commitment to the field continues to shine through in your art.
Cheers,
Mees
Reply
:iconlycorisu:
Lycorisu Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
This is wonderful advice and something I wish more artists would take note of, there are so many I know who could do more and go further if they only read awesome things like this haha.

I would however add that plain ol' LUCK can sometimes be that last thing you need to be in your favour ;)
Reply
:iconbradaviel:
Bradaviel Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Wisdom.
Reply
:iconcuervoscuro:
cuervoscuro Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2012  Professional Writer
:clap: Totally agree :D
Reply
:iconstaypee:
staypee Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2012   Digital Artist
You're right. Thanks for this eye-opener.
Reply
:iconm-a-w:
M-A-W Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2012
Thank you.
Reply
:icondreamerwstcoast:
Dreamerwstcoast Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2012   Traditional Artist
thanks for the advice. i will make good use of it.
Reply
:iconvoipcomics:
VoipComics Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Yes, but that talent has to be in the top 0.005% or they wont notice. I have seen friends beat themselves against that wall. Editors have such a pool of applicants that they can be unreasonably picky.

From what I can see its sort of a roll of the dice for most incoming, based on some factors that are out of your control. Is your style in? even if you stuff is the greatest, if people aren't looking for it you are a no go.

I admire you for being able to break in Sean and I know it took a lot of work but I had no stomach for that.
Reply
:iconmonstertraynor:
MonsterTraynor Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2012  Student General Artist
Insightful, and everything a student at our school needs to hear to keep us encouraged! Thanks for these words! We'll see you at our Campus soon!
Reply
:iconsol-caninus:
Sol-Caninus Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2012   Traditional Artist
:thumbsup:
Reply
:icondorkpimp:
DorkPimp Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2012
I think it's good sensible advice. If you don't mind I'd like to print this out and post it in my studio?
-J.M. Hunter
Reply
:iconalekesam:
alekesam Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2012
Wow, you nailed my attitude of nearly the majority of my twenties (except for the Jim Lee part) in that fourth paragraph. It took me awhile to break me out of doing only submission-type samples. I could've finished how many books by now if I had got it in my head to do something on my own and stick with it. I would start but far too often I'd backdoor it at the slightest chance of working for someone else (which usually ended up failing as a project).
Reply
:iconm-a-w:
M-A-W Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2012
you have no Ideal how much your words help. Thanks.
Reply
:iconphildunne:
phildunne Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
VERY inspiring read.
Reply
:iconjthd35:
jthd35 Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2012
I'm gunna start my Wolverinr alaphabet today!

thanx for the honesty, love it
Reply
:icongiadrosich:
giadrosich Featured By Owner Jan 13, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
Informative and to the point. There is great material here for the beginner, as well as plenty to remind the pro to "get back on track." We all need reminding of the essentials now and again, as "never saying no" to projects sometimes dilutes what we are trying to achieve, artistically.

The comment on branding was right on the money. Keep up the fine work, both with your visuals and information. Your students are in good hands.

:D
Reply
:iconhalfeatencandybars:
halfeatencandybars Featured By Owner Jan 13, 2012  Professional Artist
:) Sweet article! I'll be at the artist's forum this year, looking forward to hearing you speak!
Reply
:iconatmanryu:
atmanryu Featured By Owner Jan 13, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Definitively a good read.
Reply
:iconjackiemakescomics:
jackiemakescomics Featured By Owner Jan 13, 2012
Awesome article, Sean! Can't wait to see you at SCAD again!
Reply
:icontweetmoo:
tweetMOO Featured By Owner Jan 13, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
Great article, Sean! Looking forward to your talk at SCAD!
Reply
:iconnoirzone:
NoirZone Featured By Owner Jan 13, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
Very interesting as always. really thanks for sharing
Reply
:iconmaniacmatt:
maniacmatt Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2012
I find a lot of this applies to writing as much as it does to drawing. Especially the "3 things at once" point. I've had trouble with artists I worked with not following through, and now I'm just drawing my own stuff while I wait on them even though I'm not confident in my art. It helps to always be working on something.
Reply
:iconstephenbjones:
StephenBJones Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2012  Professional Filmographer
applicable to any creative person, in any creative field, at any stage in their career. sage advice from such a young man. brains and talent, deadly combination.
Reply
:iconchadthx1138:
ChadTHX1138 Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2012  Professional Filmographer
Mike Kaluta told me once, Editors and Art Directors don't know when he is out of work until he tell's them.
Reply
:iconwillaimaaker:
willaimaaker Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2012
This is a very good article!!! I agree you must take control of your future in comics and plan ahead. But the challenge is to remain relevant while building popularity in a very competitive field. It’s true, you must build your talents but be attentive on how you do so and keep in mind on how others respond to your growth and style. Comics is a commercial art form so the popularity of whatever project you are involved will depend how the fans will respond to your execution. I suggest to have that in mind before you even do your first sketches.
Reply
:iconshamelessmagic:
ShamelessMagic Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2012  Student Filmographer
All my gratitude to this amazing advice!!
Reply
:iconsadboy09:
Sadboy09 Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2012  Student Traditional Artist
Well said and Thank You!
Reply
:iconrizathepenguin:
Rizathepenguin Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2012  Student General Artist
Thankyou for this useful advice! =)
Reply
:iconart2ms:
aRT2MS Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2012  Hobbyist
Thank you!
words of wisdom, these are!
Reply
:iconkambadais:
Kambadais Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you so much for this journal sir!
It is very helpful!! You are the best! :#1:
Reply
:iconxabeix:
Xabeix Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2012  Student Traditional Artist
I want to like it ^^
Seriously, I started a degree in comics at the University and at first, I was afraid that it was not meant for me and that I didn't have talent enough. I do have talent and if I decide that it's meant for me, well I'm pretty much sure I'll survive through the end and I'll make it MY job.

I liked your advices because it's true, we do wait until something happens... fortunately, they are people like you that survived and help young freelancers :)
Reply
:iconmrpowerpuff:
MrPowerpuff Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2012  Student General Artist
Hey i loved reading this cause I'm very interested in wanting to join the comic book industry.

I've been drawing a webcomic just for that reason. To get better with writing, story telling, paneling and drawing at the same time.
I should probably work on another project besides that...however School is coming up XD

But all in all. This is actually a really good read. Thanks for making this
Reply
:iconrodavlasalvador:
rodavlasalvador Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2012  Professional General Artist
Thank you for sharing. It surely helps. Best.
Reply
:icondisneyfanjulia:
DisneyFanJulia Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is very insightful :)
Reply
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