You Sure You Want a Career in Comics?

10% inspiration and 90% perspiration…

As anyone in the business will tell you, it’s more like 99.5% perspiration.

When we’re kids we dream…we envision worlds…we invent characters – or find those we love and identify with – and imagine stories about them. The lucky few who are gifted with the ability to write and/or draw are able to set those imaginings down for others to share – but usually, only to a point. Because when an amateur (which means, literally, someone who does something for the love of it) makes the first mighty attempt at a graphic novel, he or she gets a bittersweet taste of exactly how much hard work it is and how much of one’s personal life must be sacrificed to realize a vision from beginning to end.

I was eleven when I essayed my first full color comic (drawn on both sides of the paper because I didn’t know any better). It was an attempt to faithfully record, scene-by-scene, from memory, my favorite anime cartoon Alakazam the Great (no such futuristic dream as home video recorders back then). I guessed it would be about a hundred pages long and was enthusiastic about it as only an amateur can be. Thirteen unfinished pages and several months later, I gave up and set it aside. It was too much to think about, too many elements to keep organized, too much patience required. And, ultimately, I guess I didn’t want it enough to see it through.

On the plus side, however, that experience brought home to me the realization that every time I read a comic book or watched a beloved movie, I was enjoying the end result of countless hours of labor and devotion to an idea. If I wanted to entertain and inspire others the way I’d been entertained and inspired, I’d have to choose a long, hard, but ultimately rewarding path of dedication.

As a teenaged fan I created a group of characters called “The Rebels.” I wrote and drew their adventures on ditto master and sent them on to my friend Fred Patten who kindly printed them up for me and inserted them in the seminal APA (Amateur Press Association) ‘zine called “Capa Alpha.”

Not having done much living yet, I didn’t really have much of an idea where to take the Rebels on their outer space journeys. But the first chapter of the very short-lived series was well done, setting up the characters’ intriguing origins and personalities in just a few pages. More significantly, it was self contained – an introduction promising more to come. Unlike the way-too ambitious “Alakazam” graphic novel attempt, the origin of “The Rebels” was a manageably sized offering and one of the first things I ever finished.

If you love the comic book medium and want to create your own, there’s nothing like bringing out, by whatever means, your first completed story. It’s an unforgettable rite of passage that proves you can do something whole. From then on, you know your abilities can only expand through years of experience and the sky’s the limit.

And yet…

There isn’t another art form I can think of, save for animation, that’s so labor-intensive, or depends so much on the creator’s love and willingness to make sacrifices, as comics. If your love carries you into the professional arena, where the ability to meet deadlines is usually the deciding factor in a career’s longevity, then you must be prepared to have that love tested, ferociously, on a daily basis.

I’ve had plenty of days where inspiration dried up like a desert creek and all I had left to rely on was what seemed to be faltering skill. At times like that, the last thing you want is a call from your editor reminding you pages are due. Hey, you justifiably ask, what do you do when you’ve got nothing left to give and you’re faced with a deadline that couldn’t care less?

The answer is: You do your best. And you never forget why you got involved in this crazy business in the first place – for love, for that peak moment when your book’s in your hands like a newborn, redolent with the smell of fresh ink, and you know it exists to entertain and inspire because you… youYOU were willing to go the distance.

Pant pant… OK… pompoms down. Let’s relax on the bleachers a minute.

I guess perseverance is on my mind right now because I’m blasting my way through ElfQuest Grand Quest volumes 7 through 9, which cover the “Siege at Blue Mountain” storyline. I’m doing these manga all in a chunk to get ahead and leave a few months open this summer so I can concentrate on…

(Shhhh! Top secret news – subject to clearance from DC’s marketing department!)

Heh heh… Well, since I can’t go there yet, I’ll just say that what’s happening with this particular original art, as it’s shifted into manga-size pages, is worth the intense effort.

“Siege” is probably the least known, least discussed part of the EQ saga. I think that’s because, long ago in the early 1980s, fans were shocked to see me working with an inker, Joe Staton, who is still one of the finest comic artists in the business. Some just couldn’t take it and left. Others stayed, but groused all the way because it wasn’t “pure” Wendy Pini artwork. I understood their feelings, but my workload was so huge, then, that I really needed the help. Anyway, I think “Siege” got short shrift as a result. So it’s great to be able to present it again in a way that demonstrates how bold and energetic the artwork from that period really was.

Cripes! Look at the time! Better wrap this up or I won’t make my page quota today. See, kids, this business, however enticing, is always like that – sacrificing what you want to be doing for what you have to be doing. The trick is, as a very wise fellow bus traveler often reminds me…

Be happy with the choice.

‘Til next time,

Much Love,