Making a comic book requires a host of creative skills. Some comic books are made by one person who fulfills all the creative roles: writer, artist, and colorist.
Most of the time, though, that’s unrealistic. There are great writers who can’t draw well enough to make comic book pages. There are amazing artists who don’t have the writing skills to structure a compelling story.
That means that a large part of successful comic book creation is partnership. Finding the right partner who has the skills you don’t can mean the difference between success and failure.
It’s one of the biggest stumbling blocks when you’re trying to get a project off the ground. Finding a great artist or writer or colorist is tougher than you might think.
If you are exceptional in one of these areas it’s rare to find an equal in the other production areas within your close circle of friends. Your buddy who did the diagrams for your science fair project in grade 10 probably isn’t going to cut it when compared to professional artists in the comic book industry.
You need to find a professional.
Writers looking for artists
If you’re a writer, you may have tried to contact established comic book companies asking to be matched with one of their artists. If so, you may have received a response similar to this:
“Unfortunately, due to legalities, we’re unable to accept script
submissions without accompanying artwork. While we have never had any
incident, many claims that ideas have been stolen from unsolicited
scripts have been filed against other comic publishers. This has led
to a near industry wide policy of not being able to accept unsolicited
story ideas and manuscripts.”
Many major comic book companies have shut down their submissions departments entirely to avoid potential plagiarism legalities. If they never see unsolicited work, they can’t be held accountable for stealing ideas from them.
It’s frustrating. How can you work as a writer in comics when you can’t get your scripts read? That’s the point where you realize you just have to go ahead and do it yourself.
Keep in mind that you may need to hire more than one artist. For a full color book you’ll need a pencil artist, an inker, and a colorist. Sometimes you’ll find someone who can do all three of these functions well, but if not, once you find an artist for one specialty you can ask them for recommendations about the others.
Artists looking for writers
As a comic book artist, your strength lies in your ability to visualize a story and bring it to life. When you read a script, you have all kinds of ideas about how the characters will look and how the background scenes will support their actions.
You need a writer to provide a strong story and motivation for the characters. Without the foundation and structure a script provides, you’d end up drawing pinup art for scenes that don’t quite gel and making pages that don’t flow.
Where can you find a partner who has the skills you don’t?
The options are the same whether you are an artist or a writer
- Find a small, independent publisher
- Pay another creative for the skills you don’t have, and publish your comic book yourself
- Form a partnership with another creative and publish together, dividing the tasks and sharing the expenses
Contact small, independent publishers
Your first goal when you contact them is just to make a connection. It’s not very likely that they’ll want to work with you immediately, but putting yourself on their radar could lead to some opportunities.
They have a professional network and if they like your work, they might be willing to help you find a partner for your book.
If everything aligns – your project fits what they do, they like your work enough, and you can agree on money issues – they might agree to publish your book, and that’s even better. This will make it a lot easier to get your book done, because they are already publishing and know the process.
You can find them at comic conventions in your area, and many of them will be willing to take a look at your work. I’m approached frequently at conventions and it’s where I meet a lot of hopeful artists and writers.
If you can’t find a publisher, self publishing is a viable option, either as a long-term plan or to show a publisher that you can get a product from start to finish. I talked about the pros and cons of publishing your own comic book here.
As always, money is a consideration. If you’re publishing your own comic book, and you want to maintain control, then paying a writer to write a script, or an artist to bring your script to life might be your best option.
If you can’t afford that and need someone who will pay part of the expenses, then you need to find a partner who is willing to work within that kind of structure.
Where to find an artist or a writer
It’s never too early to start looking. Even if you’re not quite ready to work with someone else, developing a network of contacts now will help you find someone when the time comes.
If you prefer to work with someone local, a comic con in your area is the best place to find them. If you don’t care about working with someone local, larger regional conventions draw an even bigger variety of creatives. Even if you don’t find someone that day, you may get some leads to follow up.
- Approach your favorite publisher whose style matches your vision and ask them for recommendations.
- Artists alley is filled with illustrators looking for opportunities.
Social media, blogs and online discussion forums
- Ask your connections. This is the most obvious place to start, especially if many of your connections are comic book people.
- Join groups and discussion forums. Online discussion groups (including social media groups) are good places for finding people with the skills you need. Try the Comic Book Collabs subreddit, a Facebook group like Indie Link, or a site like Comic Book Artists Direct. Some discussion forums have subforums dedicated to matching artists and writers, such as the Employment Opportunities section of Deviant Art forum. These are just a few examples, so if one place doesn’t suit your needs, just try another.
- Do searches. Not just in search engines, but in social media. People sometimes forget that many platforms have really good search functions.
- Place ads in social media. If all else fails, spend a little money to get some leads. Social media ads can be very effective because they are so well targeted.
Be specific and clear about what you need. “Looking for artist” is not specific enough. “Looking for illustrator with light, airy style for children’s comic book” is much better.
Anywhere there’s a group of people taking a class to learn a skill, there are people eager to start using those skills in the real world. Find an art class or a creative writing class and contact its teacher to see if star students are available. You might not get quite the level of professionalism as with people who have been working for years, but it will probably cost you less and you’re likely to find people with lots of enthusiasm.
Guidelines for choosing a creative partner
Ask for samples. Is the work at an acceptable level? There’s a good chance that you will get responses from people who aren’t yet producing at a professional level. Be picky. (See the bottom of this post for information about how to evaluate art and writing).
Once you’ve narrowed the field and you’re almost ready to make your choice, you might even ask for a sample page or two from your script. This will let you see how they will handle your book specifically.
Does their style match the material? Dark, heavy subject matter should have art that matches, and the opposite is also true.
Has this person shown he/she can meet a deadline? If you ever want to publish, you must set timelines. Deadlines tend to get a bit mushy in this business, but do your best to find someone who can meet them. Ask questions about previous work and check with previous partners, if possible.
Do you click? Making a comic book with someone requires teamwork. You don’t necessarily have to be best friends, but you do have to be able to communicate and have similar view about what goes into a good comic book.
Evaluating creative work
You’ve found someone who seems like a good fit. You have samples of their work. Now what?
Now it’s time for careful evaluation.
Remember, if you hire someone, once they give you the finished work and you pay them, that money is gone for good no matter what the outcome of the book, so you don’t want to skip this step.
Need more help figuring out how to evaluate an artist or writer? Log into the members only area for advice about How to Evaluate an Artist or a Writer. Includes downloadable evaluation checklists.
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