Creating Opportunity: A Venn Diagram

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Chasing a creative dream is a complicated matter. Deep down, we know it’s not a simple as “step 1, step 2, step 3, SUCCESS!”. Deep down, we know it’s all a crapshoot, and there’s so many determining factors of what could lead to success (however you may define that), it can feel like a big waste of time. That can be quite a downer, right? As you’re spiraling downward in the Pity-Party quicksand, muttering “what’s the point?” to yourself and tearing up your tear-stained comic pages, it’s almost impossible to see ANY path to success. So why start the journey?

Well, you know why, deep down. Because drawing comics, telling a story, creating characters is what you live for. For some creators, that’s all they need, too– just to create, not necessarily to find success or a career from their creation. This article isn’t about the content hobbyists, however… it’s for the aspiring entrepreneurs. That balance between creation and striving for “success” of said creation, is a strange teeter-totter some of us get our feet stuck under as it comes crashing down. (Remember that? Man, that hurt.) Part of what gets that plank up off the ground again is determining that making the effort is worthwhile.

Thus, we tell ourselves we know the recipe for success and just need to work hard at mastering the ingredients….

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We know it’s not this simple, but sometimes a straight-forward path helps motivate us. Which one is YOUR weakness?

 

Seems simple enough right? You gotta have all 3: skills, brains, heart. These categories contain so many qualities, methods, suggestions, and skills.. it can STILL seem insurmountable- but it’s a start at least.  So, let’s review the ingredients of success and see how to master them:

Art & Writing Skill

  • This could be a natural, inherent talent you were born with, or learned with years of practice.
  • Not that it’s a requirement, but a solid art and/or literary education is definitely a plus. Even taking some community college classes to strengthen weaknesses is helpful.
  • We’re usually either naturally one or the other… and have to drag our weakness up to par.
  • Stemming from the above, writing CAN save mediocre art in comics. Writing, at the core, is what keeps readers coming back, art is what initially grabs them and makes the reading more enjoyable.
  • Remember, an artists’ work is never done. Growth is endless. Keep improving. Never be complacent in the plateau.
  • Commercial art means you need to consider your audience- appeal to a wide group, OR a fanatical niche base. Write what you know, write what you would want to read, and keep it relatable.

Passion & Persistence

  • Being consistent with updates and creating comics in general is more than just a suggestion… it’s required. There is no better way to grow a readership, but remember- quality still trumps quantity.
  • If your heart isn’t in it, quality cannot be forced. The inspiration and desire to create the same comic, draw the same characters, finish the same story, has to be there every time you sit down to work. If it’s not, you need to question if you’re working on the right concept, or in the right field.
  • We all go through ups and down, hit a wall at times. The process of picking yourself up, pulling yourself out of “the rut”, and settling back into what you do best is a skill that also must be honed.

Business Sense

  • I hear you, right-brainers… you just want to create, and not have to worry about how to make your creations famous. Life in Fantasyland was fun while it lasted, eh? Time to wake up to the modern DIY era.
  • You’re creative, right? USE that. The business side of comics doesn’t have to all boring math and structure…. you can think outside the box and try new paths. Keep an open mind while also researching the tried-and-true methods of marketing your comic to your demographic.
  • Utilize technology to cut down the amount of time the business side of comics takes up. Services like Hootsuite, IFTTT, Buffer, Mail Chimp, and a plethora of WordPress plugins, are there to help– you just have to set aside the time initial time to learn them!
  • Networking, people. Many of us are introverts, but we have to push ourselves past the comforts of our own home and circle of friends. Hit a convention, a comic shop, a drink & draw event- and SOCIALIZE. If you are genuine and willing to lend a helping hand to others, you’ll receive the same in return… and you never know where a new friendship will lead down the road. A good word given to a publisher, a reference on a great project, or even simply a new reader or book sale. These are the types of luck that you can create more opportunities for….
  • Local Community: even in the internet age, it’s still important. Reach out to schools, libraries, comic shops, smaller family-owned bookstores– any place that would be willing to feature local authors/artists in some fashion. It’s another form of networking, wherein the gift just keeps giving over time! Plant the seeds.

I’ve known many artists who have 2 of the 3 categories NAILED, and ignore or try to find a loophole past the last one.  We find ourselves thinking.. if I’m not finding success, I’m either one of these three (please humor my playful labels for the time being):

  • Hardworking Starving Artist. You draw and draw and draw and have a TON of talent, but no idea how to market yourself. Or maybe none of the time it takes.
  • Laid-Back Mastermind. You got the skills, and brilliantly business-minded (always giving your friends great ideas)… but you can’t stay focused and get sick of doing the same thing over & over.
  • “You’re a Brainiac, Charlie Brown”. You have a huge heart, are as dedicated as they come and a sponge for new ideas. But no matter your efforts, you just don’t have “it”. Not even with training, practice, or persistence.

That last one stings, I know. And the funny thing is we all suspect ourselves of being “Charlie Brown” from time to time, worried that it really just boils down to lack of talent. But art, creative careers of any kind, is a subjective thing. A right-time-right-place type of deal, wherein your skill set suddenly jumps from “meh” to “perfect fit!”, by pure chance. Actually, this factor can come into play in any of the categories above- and the longer I’ve been grinding away at this, the more I think it’s just as important an ingredient for success. That factor:  LUCK.

And therein lies the key– the reason why the above diagram is over-simplified.

… And the reason the diagram below is more REALISTIC

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The 3 ingredients we are trying to master don’t lead to success. They lead to OPPORTUNITY… for success. Without all 3 ingredients, your window for possible success is very small. Is it possible for the “Hardworking Starving Artist” to stumble into success without any business sense? Sure, but that’s very much the exception, and banking on that wouldn’t be very savvy. When you find your balance between the 3 (which may vary person to person), you are maximizing your window of opportunity– enough so for that little thing called LUCK to fly in. Usually, at the most inopportune and unexpected moment, too. Ah, life.

It’s not a crapshoot, but a CONTROLLED crapshoot. You have the ability to control your window of opportunity. Don’t squander that. Luck may find you, it may not. Enjoy the process; having your heart in the creation process is as important as having your head in the business game.What Does This Luck Look Like?

I want to be clear here. When I say “luck” I do not mean being “discovered” and POOF, your life changes. I mean the domino effect of little bursts of positive actions. A referral from a client. A random illustration goes viral. Simply being in the right place at the right time. But you can’t BE in that place without the effort it takes to… well, BE there. These little bursts can be success in themselves, or can lead to your own personal definition of “success”. Let me give you a personal example (while being humbly vague)….

  1. In 2014, I landed a big project. One I never dreamed I’d get.
  2. I wouldn’t have landed it, without the person among those in charge who stuck her neck out by recommending me- a lucky break.
  3. I wouldn’t have had a strong relationship with this person, without my dedication to my work and exhibiting at comic cons year after year.
  4. I wouldn’t have initially met this person had I avoided the business side of comics, such as exhibiting at at comic cons.
  5. I wouldn’t have grabbed her attention without the skills I developed in art school and with a ton of practice.

So, you see, it’s not a BIG break, it’s a little domino I placed in my window of opportunity by trying to master all the categories… I just had to wait for the right scenario where someone, or something, knocks that domino over. It may one day lead to another domino, that I can’t see just yet. But I’m not going to allow that window to shut while I wait!

The Moral of the Story is….

The key to success isn’t guaranteed. You can only strive to maximize your chance to stumble upon it. Luck, chance, faith, dreams, opportunity… these are terms that make those of us who like easy answers, cringe. The only easy answer I can give you is to do what you love in a controlled, informed, and balanced manner.. and seize opportunities.

Or, if you prefer.. a quote from League of Their Own:

 

tomhanks

 

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DawnPicDawn Griffin is the resident “crazy chick”. She likes steak, Cleveland sports, video games and oh yeah, comics. She spent her formative years either playing street basketball, pitching, or drawing comics and submitting them to syndicates. Once she –accidentally– discovered the world of webcomics, the syndication route became a pointless hurdle. After all, “Crazy Chicks” do things their *&%$ selves. Dawn is the mastermind behind Zorphbert and Fred, and you can find her portfolio site HERE.  She can be easily bribed with ice cream.

 

 

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12 Comments

  1. Wow, this breakdown makes so much sense! Really great read, Dawn!

    I’m pretty sure art and story started out as my weak links, but I can feel they’re getting better the longer I stick with it. Business is another thing I didn’t really think I could or should be doing until I had a book, and local networking is really nerve-wracking when you live near the big studios but your art is not Disney-quality. But I’m finding so much encouragement and support out there that I’m really regretting waiting so long.

    I think the “keep it relatable” point is super-important too, and one that I’m trying to live by more and more. I see people toiling away at the One True Project in Their Heart for years, and it’s not that the writing or art is BAD, it’s just inaccessible because it’s got a 400+ page archive, poor website navigation, and a rough beginning that they’re afraid to edit. Cleaning some stuff up or at least having some examples of your writing/art that’s to your current skill level and in a more digestible form will let you test the market, try new things, and ultimately guide more people to your epic magnum opus.

    • MANY thanks Daphne! Take solace in the fact that NONE of us can nail all 3… but having some skills in each of these is the best thing you can do. Diversify! Find the balance that works for you…
      I know it’s hard not to compare yourself to other artists (at big nearby studios), but think of their work as more of an inspiration. There will ALWAYS be artists out there better than you… even with a high ceiling for growth, it’s something we have to accept. Try to look at it as “Oh good, I’ll always have someone to inspire me and motivate me and I’ll always be improving” rather then “I’ll never be as good as ____ so what’s the point in trying?”
      You’re definitely not alone in your thinking, in your process. It’s harder out there for long-form comics especially because the entry-point has more barriers than comic strips which are perfect for the instant-gratification, lowest-denominator internet attention span. Not to say all comic strips are shoe-ins for success online, of course.

  2. The “domino effect” bit at the end reminds me of the Steve Jobs quote about connecting the dots… “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

    That’s one of my favorite quotes, and I think it really applies to what you’re saying about success here.

    Great article!

  3. Thanks so much for this article Dawn, just the thing to keep us artist types in FOCUS! I just bookmarked this baby.

    I fall into the category of feeling I have a good comic but clueless about how to make some decent money with it (at first at least to cover all my costs). I know it’s a long road and I’m still a relative newbie (will be 3 yrs this June). I do realize there is no magic bullet and I have a pretty unique comic, an all-ages horror adventure, for which I’ll have to find a unique path to any success I may achieve down the road.

    Is being a Webcomic a way? Not sure about that but what being a webcomic has given me, is a wonderful support group, the Webcomic community. I’ve made so many friendships (online mostly) with so many great artists whose encouragement and love of my comic has been so important in helping me keep faith in myself and what I’m doing.

    Thanks again Dawn!

    • You’re quite welcome, Rich!

      After all this time in the webcomics “biz”, I tend to think of webcomics– well, provided you work at it for a good long while– as a springboard to other things. While there’s that slim chance of your comics being your sole income source… and that’s VERRRRRY slim, most successful artists find many ways to market THEMSELVES, the brand of YOU the artist, not just their comic. It may be other comics with a similar demographic, or maybe fun comic con merch that sells like crazy (Tshirts, prints, crafty stuff). Or more of a service, like teaching or organizing comic-themed events. I think if you define “success” as “earning a living solely from my own comic”…. you’re in for a world of disappointment. It’s not IMPOSSIBLE, but realistically… it’s like saying “I want to be the best quarterback in the NFL”. Let’s aim for “I want to do something associated with football, and be able to play in some form too”. That opens more doors.

      While you’re working on your webcomic and learning your strengths and weaknesses, you’re also networking and and making friends, getting involved in the community. That’s TERRIFIC! As in my example in the article… you never know where that can lead you. Set small goals each year. For instance, this year I vowed to exhibit at a book festival, do more workshops/public speaking, do a Kickstarter, and come up with a new item to sell at shows.

      Thanks Rich… it may seem like a slow process, but when you reflect you’ll see how far you’ve come… and that gets even more grandiose over time.

      • Oh of course. Any hope for monetary gain right now would be just to cover costs (website, merch, cons, etc.). Sure I’d love to be making comics as my full-time job and yes most successful indie creators have several revenue streams and their comic is just one.

        But I have lots to be thankful for in the short time doing my comic, I’ve been very blessed.

        Thanks again!

      • Really great article, and covers some hard truths I think a lot of us don’t want to admit. 🙂

        My first webcomic (a long form 400+ archive type Delphina mentioned) hit its peak at about a thousand readers. I always considered it a starter comic, meant to hone my skills and make me better (which it did, and I’ll always be grateful to it for that education), but in the back of my mind I had that hope it might take off. But being a starter / learning comic with a lot of issues, it really never had a shot at that. I also never had the initiative to put myself out there at conventions and comic shops because I knew I was still a ‘work in progress’.

        When I started my new comic, I purposely made it a panel strip. While it does have storylines and some ongoing themes, it’s definitely made in a while that someone can jump into a storyline even if there’s 500 pages in the archive. It’s still fairly new (about eight months old) so I’m still fighting to get readers, but I’m having more fun with it than the other one. Plus my art and writing are much better this go around thanks to learning from mistakes from my first one.

        My problem is trying to figure out WHEN is the right time to start hitting conventions, book stores, libraries, etc. I always told myself when I had a decent readership (1,000 to 5,000, I guess?) that was the time, but who knows when that will happen. But I feel silly going to a con if my readership is barely into a hundred. It’s like those readers legitimize me, and being so low in hits feels like I’m playing in a field I haven’t earned a shot at.

        So when is the right time to start putting yourself out there? I know it’s subjective, but at what point do you stop looking at it as ‘building the comic up’ and move into actively going around? Or am I being silly and should have already been planning con spots, regardless of my readership?

        • I think it’s more about what you have to sell at cons, as opposed to how many online readers you have. After all, the majority of people passing your table at a con will be seeing your work for the first time anyway so the size of your online readership to them means squat… all they see is your comic, the art style, and your pitch. And meeting you.
          Your comic will always be a “work in progress”.. as will the next one, and the next. If you’re searching for a moment of “perfection” when it’s ready to be “put out there”, you’ll be waiting for a long time. Part of being an artist is continually improving and growing. I mean, you already have SO much content.. I see no reason why you can’t put that into a book and sell it. Take the next step, if YOU feel ready to hit conventions… but don’t just wait because you’re hoping for perfection, ok? ;0)

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