Which Way is Up – by Le Beau L. Underwood
I wanted to post something here that I posted on my blog a few days ago, I am hoping that many of you can gain some insight from it. I apologize in advance for its length.Which way is up?Yeah, I know this is the title of a famous (one of my personal favorites) Richard Pryor movie, but the question applies to many in the comic book industry, and one that I ask myself frequently.See, I feel as if I’ve hit a wall. Not in my work; that takes CONSTANT refinement and effort. I mean, regarding OPPORTUNITY.Just to be clear: the hardest part of the comic book industry is not breaking in, it’s staying in. As an inker, it is doubly more difficult. A trend now is more and more publishers are opting to go straight from pencils to colors, so this eliminates opportunities for inkers, both newcomers and established professionals. Only a select few inkers are consistently working. What does this mean, overall? Well, just in my opinion, an inker would be better served by either teaming up with a solid penciler, or become a penciler him/herself. I see many aspiring inkers who suffer from delusions of grandeur ( I did, too) by thinking that somehow, they will manage to overshoot many established pros. I won’t say that that will not happen, but I will say that it is highly unlikely, due to several factors. One: established inkers have proven their ability to not only deliver professional-level work consistently, but they have also established great relationships with their editors. So, when those editors have an opening, they will most likely call upon those who they KNOW can deliver the job. That would be an established professional, not a newcomer, simply because because they are an untried source.So, how does one overcome this?I know a lot of aspiring inkers do not want to hear this, but start SMALL. Meaning: work at smaller publishers, first. This will help you become familiar with the work ethic required to compete at DC or Marvel. Also, you will build a body of published work. Believe it or not, editors DO look for stuff like that. Rarely will a newcomer be offered a gig on the spot with no prior experience, especially nowadays. Put your ego aside: DC Comics and Marvel have both been around for many years, and it is HIGHLY unlikely that they are going anywhere soon, so the opportunity will always be there to shop your work to them at that time. Too many times, aspiring inkers allow their egos to get in the way of their progress (again, it has happened to me). The best bet is to learn from those who are doing this for a living, and incorporate your own perspective into your work.Also, keep one VERY important fact in mind: you are not competing with the worst, but the BEST that the industry has to offer. Inkers such as Scott Williams, Danny Miki, Jonathan Glapion, John Dell and Mark Morales (among many others) set the bar VERY, VERY high. You are going up against guys like these for the bigger gigs. No editor is going to hire you if you cannot match or surpass them. Period.But again, this brings me back to the question I posed above: which way is up? I’m a bit of an odd duck, in the sense that, I’ve been in the business for roughly 18 years, total. Beginning with small press work to clients such as DC Comics, Marvel Enterprises, Image Comics and others. So, I am good enough to work for either publisher (and have), yet still haven’t quite landed that ‘dream gig’.I’ve got the experience, the knowledge and ability. That much is proven.All I can do, and all ANY of you can do, is persevere and remain diligent. Refine your craft and always seek to grow in your knowledge. The opportunities will present themselves…..….but, it never hurts to learn another craft while you are waiting.
My experience, which you can take a look reading my posts here sums the first part of the article. I am working for several indie publishers (BlueWater Productions, Emerald Star, ECV Press, Bad Cog) and despite the fact that they are american publishers, still I have to deal with back end projects, free but still going to print work, moving schedules, but lots of offers. They are the base of the pyramid where I can gain pages, not a salary. I planned to devote one year as an inker to break in comics, but I am on the second year and still there are scheduled to be published many comics, so the road is windy and full of excitement.
Thanks Le Beau because you have shown how difficult it is and it’s getting me more motivated.