Friday, June 29, 2012

Toys & Corners: Some Thoughts, Part Seven...

(This is the next to last installment in this long, rambling series of posts outlining my thoughts on comics, my career, and where I'm heading next.  Really, it's almost over.  I promise.  But if you have some time to kill, you can read the previous installments here -- part onepart twopart threepart fourpart five, part six.)

The first full length comic book I ever wrote -- Walk Through October: The Storyteller -- came out in in 1995.  The second full length comic book I ever wrote -- the Doctor Who San Diego Comic Con special -- came out in 2011, 16 years later.

I've written short comic stories here and there between those two projects, and drawn more comics than I can quite believe during that time, but those are the only two full 22-page comics I have to my name.

A lot changed in the 16 years between those two projects.  When I started out, all I wanted was to get a chance to do comics for DC and Marvel.  That was pretty much what everyone wanted.  We used to call it, 'stepping up to play in the Majors', which I've been told is a sports reference.  I don't do sports, so I'll take other people's word for it.

These days, the goal seems to be making a name for yourself in the 'Majors' and then striking out to do projects at places like Image, where you can own the properties you create.  But even that isn't really the final goal for a large group of creators now.  Their final goal is to create a comic book that will be made into a movie or TV show.

I have mixed feelings about that whole idea.  And yeah, it's probably because I'm getting older and take myself too seriously...

I don't have a problem with anyone optioning their comic book to a movie studio.  More power to 'em.  And if it helps expand the comic book audience... even better!  But it bugs me that anyone would spend the time and effort to make a comic book if what they really want to do is have someone make a movie out of their idea.

Just write it as a movie, people.  It's called being a screenwriter.  And it pays a LOT better than writing comic books.  Trust me, I got to do it once.

Sorry.  Got off on a tangent there.  Not a huge surprise, I know.  Now... where was I?  Oh, right...

So, things have changed a lot in the comic book industry.  Between an ever shrinking audience of devoted comic book readers (which is a whole other tangent I'm struggling bravely to avoid following), and the incredible potential for profit if one of those comics gets turned into a hit movie, there's not a lot of room for taking too many risks.  You have to go with what works, what you know has the best chance to sell, and if you play your cards right, you'll end up with a Batman Begins or an Avengers or even a Walking Dead.

And the pressure can be insane; on creators, on editors, on anyone who's job it is to figure out how to sell enough comics to keep this whole crazy machine running.  It's the same old story... any time Art and Commerce bump into each other in a dark alley, there's gonna' be a fight, and most of the time, they're both going to get bloody.

And, yeah... commerce usually wins in the end.  It pretty much HAS to win.  Comic books are a business, after all.  And at the end of the day, it's about selling some books and making money off of them.  That's not a bad thing, not a good thing.  It's just the way things are.

I've said before that comics, like most industries where Art and Commerce try to find a way to play nice with each other, is all about perception.  The only way to survive and thrive is if you're perceived to have value in one way or another.  If people perceive you as 'a hot creator', you're golden.  If they don't happen to see you that way... for whatEVER reason... well, then things can get a bit tougher, especially if you do comics to pay your bills.

You have no control over whether you're 'hot' or not, no matter how much time you put into promoting yourself, or crafting a public persona, or sitting behind a table at conventions.  Really.  Trust me.  You have NO control.  At all.  And if anyone tells you otherwise, they're wrong.

Granted, you might be able to give things a nudge here or there, but there's really only one thing you can do -- the best work you're capable of.  Make every chance you get count.  And learn to be okay if that job you just handed in turns out to be your last.

I'm not a 'hot' creator.  Never was one, and there's next to no chance I'll ever be considered one.  And believe me, that would be absolutely fine as far as I was concerned if it wasn't for one, simple reality of the comic book industry.  The only way to do the things I wanted to do was if I somehow became scorchingly hot.

I got a taste of doing things that way when I was given the chance to write and draw my own Doctor Who story.  And then write two more Doctor Who stories.  And then write and draw four Doctor Who stories for a company in the UK.

It felt good.  And I wanted more.

But the hardest truth to face was that I just wasn't a big enough name to get too many assignments like that.  If I wanted to write more, to draw in the wonky way that comes naturally to me, I was going to have to find a different way to do things.

Remember how I started this rambling series of posts?  That immediate, immature impulse I feel whenever someone tells me I can't do the thing I want to do?  How I basically want to say, "I'm going to take my toys and go over there now"?

Well, that's exactly what I've decided to do.  Take an extended break from work-for-hire comics and go off to work on my own projects.  I already knew which stories I was going to tell... the same ones I got into comics to do in the first place, the ones I'm always talking about on this blog and with my poor, long-suffering friends.  Projects like Fade, Night Folk, and the October Girl.  The only question was how I was going to do them...

And on Monday, I'll tell you...

NEXT TIME:  The ever-loving, long overdue end.


.ray. said...

Really glad we're going to be getting a books written and illustrated by you.It just shows your perseverance and is a great example of never giving up on your dream.I'll be there supporting you.Looking forward to hearing where you're doing it.

When i first saw your sneak peek to your secret project,i thoight of October Girl.I don't know if it's her,but that's who it reminded me of.

You're an inspiration Matt.

All the best to you.

Anonymous said...

Nice! I feel your best work is about to come out. Now, I'm pretty sure I have Walk through October somewhere around here in one of these long boxes....

matthew dow smith said...

Thanks for the support, guys. Means a lot to me.


Jay Faerber said...

Loved reading this series of posts, Matt. It was great catching up to you awhile back. Was that at ImageExpo? Or Emerald City Con? One of the two, I'm sure.

I'm really glad to see the turn your career has taken and can't wait to learn about these new projects.

matthew dow smith said...

Emerald City Con. And it was great seeing you again, Jay. Been far too long.

Glad you like the posts, and thanks for reading them!