Thursday, April 2, 2009

Advice about the comics

I've been approached by two aspiring comics artists recently about how to break in to the business, and just for some general advice. Being that I still feel very much like a fledgling artist at best, and very much an outsider, I'm not sure I'm very qualified to help. I hate. No, really hate most of the crap I hack out. I have a mental disorder about it. I am glad that some people like it. That brings me more joy than anything in regards to this "career" of sorts. I tried my best to help these two guys. I thought it prudent to put these here. Why, I dunno. Let me be very clear. I am not an expert, I am not a great artist. I am an artist that has worked hard and has had some recent luck. Thanks to everybody who reads this blog and supports my books/projects. Names and particulars have been omitted.


... I'm interested in one day becoming a comic book artist. ...the link to my webpage:
... (To view my work, click "Browse Gallery.") It would be great to get some feedback from somebody in the business, as well as possibly a part-time job as an artist...I am a potential penciler and/or inker. Is there any way he could arrange an on-site portfolio interview? ... I am passionate for an arts career, especially one in comics. I've been accepted to several art colleges such as ... but am not, as of yet, sure which road to take...

Thank you so much for your assistance!

Hi ...,

First and foremost, your art shows promise. There are some composition and sequential storytelling fundamentals that you will learn in time, either by getting critiques, or simply doing the work. I think I had to grind out at least 500 comic story pages before I came up with anything that had staying power (something I'd be proud of year after year), but hey, that's me. I'm super obsessive and anal retentive.
The comics industry is very challenging, competitive and sometimes cruel. For every guy lucky enough to land paying work, there's literally, I'm not joking here, 1000 other guys in line behind him that are either on par or better than him. Think of it like a pro sport. How many guys make it to the "big show" and all the other apt athletes, for whatever reason do not? There's no real answer there. For better or worse, it's a sadistic game of numbers and chance. You need to be at least two of these three things to get work: be fast, nice, or really good.
I'm thirty-one years old now, and just in the last two or three years have I started to get paying work. I only started doing art full-time five months ago. What was I doing all those years other than art? Well, given that I have ZERO education and no other skills than being a comic artist/illustrator, I've work mind numbingly dull, tedious, soul-draining "Joe Jobs", such as working for eight years at Nordstrom stocking shelves. EIGHT YEARS. I've also worked at fast food places, other various department stores, and even worked, ironically, the graveyard shift at a funeral service, literally picking up and delivering corpses in various states of decomposition. Nice, huh? No. Not nice. When I use the term "soul-draining", I do NOT use it loosely. Toiling away for years for little compensation doing something you hate is damaging to your spirit. This is the fate of many artists. MANY. I believe it has taken years off my life and aged me prematurely.
My biggest piece of advice, stay in school as long as you can. Don't squander ten or more years of your life floundering around from job to job in hopes to use those few hours at night when you're not working said day job to o what you REALLY want to do, which is, of course, art. Secondly, obsessively draw everything and person around you. Instead of sitting working on a robot drawing for a half-an-hour, go outside, to the mall, wherever, and draw the things around you. Keep a moleskin sketchbook of this stuff in your back pocket. Constantly do gestural or contour line drawings of EVERYTHING. It will help you immeasurably.
Thirdly, don't pigeon-hole yourself strictly as a comic artist, rather, visualize yourself as a commercial artist, one who works in many mediums, styles, and works in a broad range on industries. The comic book industry is in great state of upheaval and change right now. The advent of digital readers (Apple is expected to unveil the iTablet in the fall), will most certainly put the last nail in the proverbial coffin that the floppy market (with the exception of Marvel and DC).
Fourthly, diversify your abilities. Drawing is fundamental, but you need to learn other things to diversify and make yourself more marketable, and thus, able to make a living. Learn some web design, Flash, graphic design, drawing, painting, life drawing, etc. ( obviously at one of these fabulously fabulous schools you've been accepted to). Who knows, you may figure out there's something else out there that you like even more than comics. I know, hard to imagine.
Lastly, to quote one of the most trite ad slogans ever utilized, just do it. Want to make comics? MAKE FREAKIN' COMICS!!! That is THE best way to learn anything. Doing it. Start a blog (like a Blogspot blog) and post a new page or strip every week. There's no one stopping you except yourself.
You should come down to Stumptown Comics Fest April 18th and 19th. I'll be there at table 90 (with my wife and baby). I think it's only six bucks to get in. If you want to talk more about your work, feel free to swing by. The show is in Portland near Lloyd Center. There will be a lot of independent creators to talk and network with. It's a fantastic show. Here's the link:

Best regards,



Hi Mr Churilla.
My name is ... I'm an amateur comic artist and I live in ...
I am big fan of your work and follow your blog constantly.

I'm building a blog with my portfolio and I would like to know if you could take a look at it and get an opinion from you about my work and if possible some hint of how to work in the U.S. comics industry.

Thanks and I look forward return if possible.


First off, thank you.

Here are a couple things I've learned over the years:

1) Simplify. Always simplify. I find that if a figure doesn't "read" as a silhouette, it's not worth drawing.

2) Things in the foreground are almost always darker than things in the middle ground and background.

3) Also, make sure where you are putting your big spots of black makes sense, if not, you are cluttering the page.

4) Lastly, storytelling is more important that drawing. If your pages don't "read" well in a visual sense, then it's pointless.

5) I get work through dumb luck and obsessive tenacity. Go to cons, talk to editors, talk to other writers, etc. Do your own web comic or creator owned comic, etc. It's a long haul for most (including myself) so hang in there. Do comic because you love it first, for money later. You want to make comics? Make Comics.

Recommended reading:

Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner

Anything by Alex Toth:

All that said, I like your work.

Hope all that helps. Also, take what I say with a grain of salt. I'm an idiot and don't know what the fuck I'm doing half the time.




Blogger craig said...

good words of wisdom Brian. Really interesting to hear about your experiences before comics.

April 3, 2009 at 8:34 AM  
Blogger Brian Churilla said...

Pain and suffering...Pain and suffering.

April 15, 2009 at 5:45 PM  

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