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I wonder how it is....

...that webcartoonists find one another. There's an interesting column on this week's Comixpedia feed on the subject of collaborative webcomics versus single-creator comics. And obviously there's success in the collaborative model. T. Campbell, Shaenon Garrity (who's just as successful in single-creator stuff, of course), Gabe and Tycho and the like all show the strength of having a separate writer and artist. More than a few people who Megatokyo lost credit the time Rodney Caston left and Fred Gallagher took over the writing as well as the art duties as the breaking point for them.

My question is... how the Hell do most writers and artists find each other for collaboration?

In the garage band world, you go down to the local coffee house or guitar shop and tack up a note that you're looking for a bassist for your band. However, I don't know of any place you go and tack up "WANTED: One Writer -- must not suck at dialogue. Gag-a-day preferred but good if you know Nordic Tone Poems too" or "ARTIST WANTED FOR COMIC STRIP: no pay and I want you to stick to my script, but your name will be on it too if you want! Please have some understanding of how large a woman's eyes and mouth are proportioned to her face."

I honestly don't know the magic. Maybe it's because I live in New Hampshire, but I just don't see it happening. The one time I looked to collaborate on a webcomic was after I'd gotten to know an artist well electronically, and she ended up having commitments crop up that no person could possibly work around.

I agree that Collaboration creates powerful comic strips, sometimes. I just don't know how it comes about. Or should we petition eHarmony.com to start an art-matching service?

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-the tacked up note on the bar thing. Last August, I found a post by Shaenon over at Talk About Comics "WANTED, ONE ARTIST". I sent her some links to my work. I'm now 55 pages into More Fun with a writer I have never met.

I have watched many of these relationships fail though. Often, the artist can't keep up the deadlines or needs to produce more paying work. For my part, I'll admit I've had trouble from time-to-time with motivation. Part of me wonders if I should be putting more time into writing my own strips. I'm trying to do more of that lately, but Shaenon's just so damned good at it I can't walk away 'till I see a whole lot more of what she's got in store for these characters.

It's really very simple. The writer-fish finds a tasty-looking artist-fish, stuns the artist-fish with its electrical tentacles, and then latches onto the artist-fish's hide with a lamprey-like mouth, and keeps its grip firm for the next however long: six months, five years, lifetime.

Seriously, I wish I knew this, just so I could have something to tell all the writers who come to me with hat in hand. The way I did it wouldn't work for everyone. And my few attempts at creative-team matchmaking have not been very successful.

The best I can say is the following:

It's an artist's market out there, and writers can often write two or more comics, so if you're an artist seeking a writer, you're not guaranteed yes every time, but you've got an easy road.

If you're a writer, you're going to need a selling point, some REASON why the artist will be better served by bringing your story to life. A concrete publishing plan. A gap in his current portfolio. A really, really GREAT story that also SOUNDS great as an "elevator pitch." Free cocaine. SOMETHING. And remember to see it from THEIR point of view: a portfolio gap is not an adequate incentive for a 600-page commitment.

Many writers do extra services for the artists over and above lettering-- Tycho manages most of the PENNY ARCADE site, I do lettering for Jason and John and some of the PR work for Gisele. One thing artists love... that writers, if careful, can provide... is more time to draw.

As in job interviews, you will sometimes be rejected no matter what. Everyone loses some, but what separates the winners from the losers is... right, you've heard that speech.

Oops, said "above lettering," meant "above writing." Okay, everybody point and laugh.

Like Bob said, for "More Fun" I put out a call for an artist on various message boards and mailing lists. It was something of an experiment for me; I wanted to see what kind of response I'd get, and whether anything I saw would match the artwork I saw in my head. I heard from some really, really talented people, and ended up going with Bob because, in addition to doing lovely, cool-looking vector art, he had experience with Web-format "infinite canvas" layouts, which was something I wanted to play around with for "More Fun."

It's been a match made in heaven, as far as I'm concerned. My only regret is that "More Fun" isn't more popular yet, so that Bob can get the attention he deserves.

For "Trunktown," my Serializer comic, Tom Hart contacted me about writing for him. I have no idea why. It was my first collaboration, and it was a blast. Once we got into the groove, I think we achieved the gestalt that most collaborations try to reach, where the end product is something neither individual could have produced alone. Tom taught me a lot about cartooning.

For "Li'l Mell," Lea Hernandez had been harassing me to do something for Girlamatic, and she hooked me up with Vera Brosgol. Eventually Vera got too busy with school and had to quit, but it was fun while it lasted. Bill Mudron did some great Mell pages after Vera left. I plan to have rotating artists on "Li'l Mell"; I like seeing how different people handle the characters. Plus I'm lazy and want somebody to do all my work for me.

I might do another big call for artists for a future "Li'l Mell" story. I have artists lined up for some storylines, but there are others for which I want a certain look that I haven't been able to find.

And that's more than you ever wanted to know about how I find artists.


And just in case you were really morbidly curious, here's the post that netted me Bob Stevenson:

Good afternoon. I'm Shaenon Garrity, webcartoonist and Modern Tales goodwill ambassador. I write and draw "Narbonic" on Moderntales.com, I write "Li'l Mell" on Girlamatic.com, I sporadically write "Trunktown" on Serializer.net, and I am always right.

I come to you today because I wish to submit a comic to Graphic Smash, an upcoming Modern Tales sister site devoted to action/adventure comics, and I need an artist. The comic will be part superhero adventure, part campus comedy, sort of like "Spider-Man" without all the Objectivism. The format: full color and infinite canvas. I am looking for someone with a bright, bold, iconic, gently cartoony style, along the lines of C.C. Beck or Jack Cole (or, to substitute webcomics examples, Jason Little or Derek Kirk Kim). I have a very specific idea of what I want, and if I can't find it, I just won't do the comic. So don't take it personally if I don't bring you on board. It's not you, it's me.

Beyond that, if you're still interested, my only requirement is that you be able and willing to stick to a weekly schedule, and work ahead of schedule when possible. Because this comic will have "pages" of different sizes and shapes, it may not be possible to complete a full installment each week, but we must have *something* to post, even if it's just a few panels. I am charming, generous, and a delight to work with, as my collaborators Tom Hart and Vera Brosgol can gladly attest. Actually, Vera will probably say I'm a jerk, but she lies like a tablecloth, and anyway she bit me.

To start, I want to assemble a couple of sample pages to submit to Graphic Smash. If we get the gig, we will split the profits 50/50. The payment system used by the Modern Tales sites is pretty simple: the money made by the site is split between the creators, with the comics that get the most hits getting the most money. An advance warning: although the money in Modern Tales can be pretty good, it can also be pretty piddling, especially on the sister sites. I currently make about $300 a month from my comic on Moderntales.com, but only about $10 a month from my comic on Girlamatic.com. So please do not come into this expecting the mucho dinero, the life of Riley, the Irish Sweepstakes, the green light at the end of the pier. We are doing this for the love of webcomics, and for small amounts of money which we can spend on Coke and Fritos.

If this sounds like a rad project, contact me and attach some samples of your art. We'll talk. It will be smooth.

Finding a good artist sure isn't easy. I spent over a year placing ads and starting up various collaborations before I lucked out with Bill Duncan. Prior to Bill, I worked with no less than eight different artists, none of whom delivered a finished story (and my stories were only 6-8 pages -- nevermind trying to get a major project going). Most of them didn't even bother to quit -- they sent me a sketch or two, and then I never heard from them again. And like T said, it's an artists' market, especially if you aren't looking to do superheroes.

I've now been working with Bill for over a year--just a couple of short stories to start with, but now on a regular basis with Picture Story Theatre. The good news is, the longer we work together, the more in sync we get--I feel like we're just now starting to hit our stride, and it's very satisfying.

I just ask. I've been involved in comics for over twenty years, so I know a lot of talented artists. The only tough part is getting them to work for free.

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