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Everybody Asked Kate Beaton How to Make it in Comics, Here’s Some of What She Said


Kate Beaton, the historical maven behind Hark! A Vagrant recently surprised a lot of fans by announcing that she would be retiring from regular updates to her webcomic for the foreseeable future, in order reassess her career after publishing her wildly successful first book, and figure out where to go from here. As she said: “Webcomics are often cited as the future of comics and the internet and I don’t know what else, but the fact that no one has retired from them yet means that I, at least, rest a little uneasy in these shoes sometimes if only for the lack of having a dependable compass by which to steer the ship.”

But Beaton herself knows that her successful webcomic and bestselling book mean that she’s worlds ahead of prospective webcomics artists in experience, and in an effort to share the lessons she’s learned, she’s been taking questions on how to make it in webcomics, and answering the most popular ones.

We’ll start this selection of the ones we found most interesting with the hardest to answer:

How do I get paid jobs in comics?

Wouldn’t we all like to know! That is a question even the pros struggle with. Ideally we’d all be making our own graphic novels right? Usually, when people I know fish for freelance work, they get a lot of offers to.. make a comic about someone’s wife for their birthday (is fifty dollars ok?). It’s cute, but it’s not a real job that you can depend on to pay the bills. And these are talented, experienced friends with resumes stacked to the roof. If getting comic freelance work is your main deal, it’s not going to be easy to get jobs you like. Other people I know have made comics for corporations, promotional items, that sort of thing, not always comics for the comic industry. The way it goes, when you gots to get paid.

Here’s the biggest truth about comics that we all know is not going to change any time soon: we all wish comics had more money in it.

Continue with one that every artist struggles with and needs to readress regularly:

What is the best way to process criticism?

The funny thing about the internet is that it made everyone a critic, and it made everyone an expert. Amazing right!

The first time you see someone tear your comic apart it’s like a punch in the gut. The hundredth time you see it? No big deal. All the same, even when you know better, there are days when a load of people will say ‘good job!’ and then one person says something shitty and you feel like garbage. Hey, it happens! Don’t worry about it. The bad things people have called my comics could fill the Salty Sailor’s Dictionary of Swear Phrases. Not a present I’d give to my mom. I said this before about online critics, I’ll say it again: remember that on the internet you can go to a place that reviews Citizen Kane and underneath it someone will have written “this is the most overrated piece of shit on planet Earth.” Then remember that whoever said that doesn’t matter.

Generally, if you go on reddit or somewhere and ask for advice, people will give you an array of opinions as to how to improve your comic, and some of it will be good and a lot of it will be people just talking. Will you know the difference? No one should know your work better than you, no one should see the room for improvement more than you. As always, it goes back to you.

And finish with one that explains how to keep yourself confidence without turning into Charlie Sheen.

How do I get more confidence? Not like a crazy ego monster, but how do I help myself feel motivated to keep going when I feel like I’m not that great?

This goes back to what I was saying about knowing, in your own heart and mind, that you are good. That you do have talent. That if something needs to be worked on, you’re smart enough to know what it is, and the more you do it, the more you go back to it, the better you will get. We should all be our own worst critics, because your mom and your best friend are going to tell you your comic is great all the time, and the internet is going to tell you that your comic is shitballs all of the time. But you, you know it’s good, you know you have something, you know that if you keep going, try something different, work on figure drawing and color and expression a little bit more, that you’ll get there. That the picture on paper will start to look a more like the one in your head, the idea that you came up with.

I just watched a documentary about Joann Sfar and in it, he said that from the time he was 16, he sent a comic a month to publishers, and at best he would get a nice rejection letter. Then, when he was 24, several publishers responded at once that they wanted him. Three things here. One: there are a lot of reasons to get down when things don’t go your way, and that’s obviously understandable. Two: just because no one is responding to your work right now doesn’t mean that you don’t have it in you to be great someday. Three: Joann Sfar got rejected for years. Joann. Sfar.

And if you do become a crazy ego monster, hire an assistant to delete your weird-ass tweets.

Man, yeah. Assistants.

You can read the many, many more answers Beaton gave here, at her Tumblr.

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  • Terence Ng

    I wish I could meet her in person. She seems so cool…

  • John Wao

    Mary Sue you should post a list of essential reading.