Why spend $85 to go to the New York Comic Con, when you could go to Buffalo Street Books instead? Last Friday, the bookstore held a panel of comic book artists that rivaled any convention that you could find in the city. First off, you didn’t have to wait on line for three hours to get a seat. But more importantly, the three artists featured at the event each understood the comic industry differently. Usually when you go to a comic convention, the panels are highly specialized — you don’t get to compare artists with wildly different styles and backgrounds in the same room. Yet this was what you had at BSB.
The panel was geared towards local artists trying to break into the industry, advertised as providing information on “Indie Comics, Web Comics, Self Publishing ... & Everything Else You Ever Wanted to Know About Drawing Awesome Comics and the Industry.” Amazingly, all of this was covered.
Steve Ellis started everything off by talking about self publishing and this little website called Kickstarter. The site is a poor man’s best friend. If you have an idea, but don’t have the money to produce it, log on right now and create an account. Unlike in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, you’ll have the rights to your comic and control over what you produce. Basically, you set a funding goal and project deadline, and online contributors will choose to fund your project or not. It functions almost like a reality show, but instead of getting votes, you actually get funded.
Kickstarter sounds almost like a shortcut to getting published, but in a way, it’s not. All of the responsibility falls on the artist. They are given money, but they have to get materials and distribute everything themselves. Ellis shared a friend’s experience with the site. He explained that the goals of the project were set so high that his friend couldn’t fit all of his materials in his house. This forced him to buy a storage facility, and, in the end, lose money on the project. Ellis’ own comics High Moon and The Only Living Boy were successfully created through the magic of Kickstarter.
On the opposite end of the industry is Aaron Kuder, who only recently broke through. Before he started his career as an illustrator, Kuder was a full-time electrician. He attributes his success to luck, saying “I was like Cinderella,” to which Ethan Young, another panel member, teased, “We all know you look good in a dress.” Seriously, Kuder is an exceptional illustrator, yet his story probably would upset some aspiring artists. He never submitted portfolios to publishers; he got called to replace someone. Now, he works for both DC Comics and Marvel on the new Green Lantern and Avenging Spider-Man series respectively.
Working now for such major publications yet groomed by smaller ones, Kuder has an interesting perspective on the industry and the dynamic between writer and artist. He explained that “you receive your assignment in the mail, and sometimes all it’ll say is ‘fight scene on pages six through 18.’” This means that you have to be somewhat of a writer as well as an artist. Your job not only entails drawing, but deciding what is being drawn and how that conveys part of the story. On the other hand, the writer can choose to control what the illustrator draws in each panel, making the artist follow strict directions rather than interpret ideas. Oddly enough, Kuder associates drawing for Marvel with the former description and his experience at DC Comics with the latter. He did admit, however, that Marvel is starting to follow the meticulously planned storyboard method found at DC.
Now we come to Ethan Young, appropriately the youngest panel member. He is also the only writer and illustrator among the group and truly a unique individual. He went to Laguardia High School of the Performing Arts in NYC and was one of the top illustrators of his class. Yet when he went to college and found his teacher couldn’t draw a tricep muscle, he dropped out. And at the age of 22, he came up with a comic called Tails, a semi-autobiographical tale of the misadventures of a vegan hippie who talks to cats. Young jokingly said that writing Tails validates “assigning names to the voices in [your] head.”
Among the audience were quite a few aspiring artists trying to get their feet in the door of the comic world. Laura Shepard ’12 and her friend Tom Regal, an Ithaca College grad, were a part of this crowd. When asked how helpful this panel was to their careers, both agreed “it was informative,” but not as helpful as they hoped. After all, Ellis did classify himself and the others as “the modesty panel.” A lot of getting into the industry is luck, and luck is not the answer students want to hear.