In previous tutorial posts I’ve talked about my comic writing methods and helpful tips on pitching original stories to comic publishers. This time I’m going to talk about a subject every creator-owned comic writer has wracked their brains over: How do I find a good artist to work with?
Believe me, there’s no easy answer. I could just say “persistence and luck”, and those two elements definitely factor into it, but there are some tips I can give that might improve your chances.
First things first, I know you want to find an incredibly skilled artist, a diamond in the rough who’s been winding away their time doodling top notch pro quality pages just waiting for the right comic story to sink their teeth into. But, before you start that search, you need to make sure you are the kind of writer they’ll want to work with.
Just like I suggested with the pitch tutorial, you need to think like you’re on the other side:
If you were an artist, what would convince you to get on board the project you’re pitching?
MONEY: This is the easy one. If you’re independently wealthy and can afford a professional page rate, you’ll be able to convince a much larger pool of artists to work with you, even if your story sucks. Freelance artists, even great ones, go through slow periods. If your money is good they’ll take on the commission if they’re available. Since that’s probably not the case, you’re definitely gonna need to be…
PROFESSIONAL: You need to present yourself in a professional and courteous way. Your pitch should be clear and catchy. You’ll need to be flexible to their schedule and fair with sharing ownership of the final work. Your communication should be straight forward, your ideas should be easy to understand and your attitude should be upbeat and friendly. Don’t trash your own work and don’t come across as cocky and egotistical.
If you get a chance to send a potential artist your story concepts, make sure they’re tightly written, engaging and, for the love of all that’s holy, grammar and spell-checked. You’re asking someone to slave over your story for little/no pay out of the blue. That’s a ballsy thing to do and if they have any doubts about your ability to deliver on that, it’s going to sour the working relationship really fast. Even if you do everything right it’s still going to be a grueling…
SEARCH: When you’re just starting out you need to initiate contact with potential artists. There are far more people who believe they’re writers than there are great artists to draw their stories, so the onus is on you to find a good fit for your project. Online art communities like deviantART, The Drawing Board, Penciljack, Digital Webbing, ConceptArt or the forums of comic publishers and fan sites are a good place to start. Exploring Artist’s Alley at a convention and making face-to-face contact is even better.
I find deviantART particularly useful because each artist there has a Favorites gallery (here’s mine). This means when you find one good artist they’ve inevitably favorite-ed pieces by other good artists, which lead to other good artists, and their favorites, and so on, and so on. I’ll go on Favorite searching binges, bookmarking artist pages based on style, tone and skill level. That’s how I found Andrew Huerta, who I ended up recommending to Dynamite for the Pathfinder comic series we’re now working together on.
Once you find an artist whose work has potential, dig deeper. Find out about them, read their blog posts, get to know a bit about who they are, how they feel about their own art and what they’re currently working on. Approaching an artist who’s already working professionally in comics or who complains a lot about their inability to finish things they start is almost guaranteed to go nowhere. Approaching a professional working artist with your very first comic story is an almost impossible uphill battle. You’re going to have a lot better chance with a talented student or recent art school graduate. Do your research and you’ll save yourself a lot of rejection and hassle. Once you start narrowing things down, your next step is to make…
CONTACT: Just as I suggested with approaching specific publishers with your pitch, I recommend approaching an artist directly with a personalized message. It’s far more engaging than a Want-Ad style post on an art forum where you’re hoping someone great comes along and contacts you. In my experience sending a personalized message comes across way better and elicits a much, much higher percentage of responses. Even if they turn you down, there’s communication and a connection established, which could be helpful later on. A “no” now could become a “yes” down the road.
It’s okay to have certain bits of your introduction letter pre-written in advance, especially the parts about yourself or your story concept, but make sure you write a personalized section about the artist – what you see in their work that appeals to you and why you think they’d be a good match for your project. Sending a generic form letter doesn’t make anyone feel special or wanted.
I recommend not sending your pitch or writing samples to the artist in this introduction email. You don’t want to come across as pushy or demanding. It’s just a short request asking about their availability and interest, just an…
INTRODUCTION: Here’s an example of an intro email I’ve sent in the past, with the artist’s name and some of the specifics removed:
Comics Alliance has a weekly column called ‘Best Art Ever’ where they post up pin-ups, old and new. This week’s article had a link to a (describes the artist’s pin-up) you did a while back and it immediately grabbed my attention. Finding your art blog and searching through the archives, I discovered more of your work – expressive characters, detailed backgrounds and great storytelling. Awesome stuff!
My name is Jim Zubkavich (friends and colleagues call me ‘Zub’) and, in and among other things, I’m writing a comic series being published at Image called ‘Skullkickers‘. Boiled down to its essence, Skullkickers is a buddy cop film slammed into Conan-style sword and sorcery. The book has been doing quite well for an indy comic launching in this market and it’s starting to get a bit of media attention, which is thrilling and scary at the same time. While things are going well I want to make sure I utilize the momentum, so I’m on the hunt for artists to collaborate with on new comics – mini-series or something more involved.
If you’d like to give Skullkickers a read I can send you links to review PDFs or mail you a set of issues if you give me your mailing address. I’m developing a variety of concepts with different tones and subject matter, but reading Skullkickers will give you a solid idea about how I work.
I don’t know what your current work slate is like or if you’d be interested in doing creator-owned comic work, but I did want to let you know I was blown away by your quality and would be ecstatic to develop something with you any time.
However it goes, keep creating beautiful art and comics.
Without trying to sound too cold and analytical about the above, what I’m doing with this letter is complimenting the artist, establishing my credentials and then checking to see if they might be open to talking about future projects. It’s short, professional and friendly.
I’m in a position now where I have a professionally published comic I can reference, which definitely gives me an edge. Although I can’t 100% guarantee my next creator-owned project will be published, having a track record makes it a heck of a lot more likely. Assuming you’re not in that situation, then you’re going to have to make up for it at first with enthusiasm and really great story concepts to get over the hump. It’s not easy, believe me.
Although you may have a specific project in mind, I think it’s always good to leave the field open at first. If you receive a positive response you can see if they have a particular genre/style they’re excited about pursuing or you can mention a specific story concept you want to collaborate with them on. I’d rather create a new story that excites an artist rather than try to force them to draw something they’re not clicking with.
The search can be long. It requires persistence and patience. You can send out a ton of introduction messages before you get a positive response and, even when you do, the initial contact might not lead to a successful collaboration. Even with quite a few projects under my belt I still find it hard to connect with new artists who are both high quality and dependable. The creative commercial arts can be as exhausting as they are invigorating. Welcome to the business.
Starting a work relationship with an artist is similar to dating – you want to make a really strong first impression and showcase qualities that’ll convince them you’re the right person to move to the next stage with. Think carefully about how you’re presenting yourself and your work to make sure you’re an “attractive” creative collaborator.
Once you start working with an artist, make sure you have a clear agreement in place so everyone knows what’s expected of them. Charles Soule (the wonderful writer of 27 and Strange Attractors) has a great tutorial series on his site called Agree to Agree (parts one, two, three and four) all about creator-owned contracts you should really check out.
If you found this post helpful, feel free to let me know here (or on Twitter) and share the post with your friends. By telling you about how I find artists to work with I’m limiting my own potential artist pool, so please take pity on me and consider buying some of my comics to staunch the bleeding wound I’m inflicting on myself here.