The dream of most webcomickers is to make enough money off your work to live. While this is possible, that dream may be out of reach for a lot of us. Success So what do you do when you want to draw comics all day, but maybe your webcomic isn’t getting the traction you need to quit your job?
The answer is to use your webcomic to get paid doing other people’s stuff. Cross over from webcomicker to freelancer.
My path started back in 2012 when my webcomic Valkyrie Squadron was in full swing. For those you not familiar, Valkyrie Squadron is the story of a team of four female fighters caught up in a space war on robot drones. When I started my webcomic, all I wanted to do was make a comic girls and women could relate to, after seeing a lot of mainstream comics coming up short. My webcomic didn’t exactly explode in popularity. In fact my visiting numbers and click through rates were pretty abysmal, but because I do regular podcasts and social media promotion, it got noticed by two people in particular. One was Jeremy Whitley.
Like me, Jeremy saw how mainstream comics treats female characters, especially females of color, and he published his independent comic, Princeless with then fledgling imprint Action Lab Comics. Princeless is the story of a princess who gets locked in a tower by her parents, but chooses to break free, team up with her guardian dragon, and go on a quest to rescue her sisters who are similarly locked up in towers. Jeremy wanted to do a short story anthology with a multitude of female artists, and after hearing my story on the Cammy’s Comic Corner podcast, he came to me to work on the piece. I ended up doing both my short story and two covers for Princeless: Short Stories for Warrior Women. Given that those covers made it to Previews (the comic industry ordering catalog aka comics Mecca), that was a leg up for me. It was one of my first paying comics gigs and that was really exciting.
The other person to take notice of my webcomic work was Tyler James. In 2011-2012, he was working on getting his ComixTribe imprint going, which at that point was moving towards doing superhero type comics. Early pieces included Epic, The Red Ten, and the later Oxymoron books. Tyler and I had become friends on Twitter because of his slice of life webcomic from a while back, Over. We were webcomic comrades. When ComixTribe got rolling, there wasn’t much room for the straight science fiction I was doing with Valkyrie Squadron. However, Tyler knew I could do some comic art stuffs. I got commissioned to work on his Oxymoron Anthology, which went to Kickstarter and generated $20,000 and had a whopping 10 variant cover.
Since then, I’ve gotten quite the healthy work load from ComixTribe. Truly, I am a member of the tribe.
In mid-2014, I got a huge boost in my freelance work after a pretty serious personal downturn. I was bounced out of Los Angeles and needed work fast. I wrote all the emails and made all the calls ever to get whatever freelance work I could get, and people came through. Since then, I’ve had steady work and I haven’t been out of work since.
So let’s unpack how my webcomic work turned into paying work, shall we? What things worked for me to turn me into a freelancing success?
1) My Niche – In my case, Valkyrie Squadron is about armored action heroines. This attracted work from Jeremy Whitley, for his own series about lady action heroes. What kind of webcomic do you do? What sort of freelance opportunities can come with your comic’s niche? Do you do family friendly strips or a crime noir graphic novel? Are there publishers with similar stories you can reach out to get on their projects?
2) My Network – How well do you know the creative teams on those projects? Being unique qualified to work on a project is nice, but it won’t mean much unless editors or hiring managers feel like they can trust you. It really helps to connect with people either on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. The most genuine connection is just knowing that you and the other webcomic dude have something in common: you make webcomics. That’s pretty unique. Make friends with lots of different creators. Big, small, anywhere in between, whatever. Your connections to other webcomics people can sometimes produce work opportunities, but they can also produce great friends. This can make a comic convention more like a family reunion than a show you have to work. If you can’t get to actual comic shows to meet creators in person (which I highly recommend), there’s always social media. Get your face out there. Tell people about your work. You never know where it can take you.
3) My Skill Set – In my case, I’m an illustrator. That’s a marketable skill. In my particular case, I’m a very character-based illustrator. However, most of my comics work is coloring. I LOVE colors, and having gone to art school, I’m surprised how many illustrators aren’t too keen on coloring their own work. I had a skill. A special skill. And it’s a skill I work on all the time. Comics is a pipeline and each part of the pipeline requires a particular skill. Are you a good writer? A good draftsman? A good letterer? Figure out the thing you do best. Once you do, market yourself as that thing.
4) My Marketing – For a while last year, I would sometimes go on Twitter and advertise my availability as a colorist. “Hey! If you’re looking for a colorist for your comics, I’ve got availability for the next week/month/whatever.” I had some industry experience as a colorist, but not a lot. I certainly had never done anything for major publishers, but that didn’t matter to me. I needed work. I had no safety net. But I had a skill and I promoted it. And you know what happened? Work happened. My Twitter hamming landed me coloring gigs on Oxymoron: The Loveliest Nightmare and Gutter Magic, to be published by IDW. A webcomic can make a great portfolio for marketing yourself as a creator, but remember you have to promote yourself as a brand. What is the thing from your webcomic that you do that makes you salable? Let’s try this on for different creators.
Hi, my name is Alan Evans and I can draw the hell out of a wrestling match.
Hi, my name is Rose Loughran and I can paint like a mo-fo.
Hi, my name is Dave Dwonch and I can write stories that will make you laugh till you pee.
Hi, my name is C. Spike Trottman and I am the greatest project manager in the history of the universe.
Hi, my name is Jules Rivera and I am an action/scifi/coloring beast.
The work is there. The projects are there. You just have to go for it. There will be rejections along the way, sure, but there will also be opportunities. Webcomics have evolved into the new portfolio piece, and there’s more than one way they can work for you.
Jules Rivera is a freelance comics colorist and illustrator working for IDW, ComixTribe, and many other illustrious clients in the comics and animation industries. When she’s not a coloring soldier-of-fortune, she’s working on her own graphic novel projects, Valkyrie Squadron and Misfortune High. Her portfolio can be found at www.julesrivera.com