This newsletter is published every two months for the Massacheusetts-based Words & Pictures Museum. The newsletter is published in a newspaper format, and is sent to both museum members and subscribers, as well as sold in the museum itself. This feature, The Comics File, is a simple business advice column for the comics industry.

The Comic File : So You Want To Be A Pro?

So you think you want to be a professional in comics?

Well, there's a couple of ways to approach this. You can try and do it the hard way. Start knocking on doors and phoning around. Show unpolished samples of your work. Brag about how much more talented you are than established professionals. And continually display your ignorance about the profession. With this method you're likely to achieve nothing but much disdain.

Then there's the right way. It might not be described as the easy way, but it's a lot more likely to gain you some degree of success as a professional.

You should start by learning a little something about this profession you've chosen to pursue. Knowledge is a very powerful tool. By learning a bit about the industry and how it operates, you ensure that you won't be making business blunders at every turn. And you prove to established professionals - like editors and publishers - that you are serious and sincere in your pursuit of work.

So where to start? It's simple. Step One is to become a Professional Professional. Here are various methods useful to navigating the tricky, and often turbulent, waters of the comics industry.

1) Enthusiasm is indispensable. If you really love what you're doing, then your work will show that. You'll be happy with what you produce, and that will further inspire you. Your enthusiasm will be contagious. Other professionals will love dealing with someone who so obviously loves their work. As a professional, nothing erodes my interest in a project faster than a co-worker who can't share my excitement for the job.
A word of warning, however. Excessive enthusiasm can be as much of a turnoff as total lethargy! Make sure you keep that enthusiasm in control.

2) Draw on your personal work experience. Few professionals have ever worked exclusively in comics. Most have brought experiences from other fields to bear on their comics work. Many business techniques and methods you've mastered in other jobs can be applied to your work in comics.

3) Don't be shy about asking questions. If you don't know how something is done, ask. Professionals will respect you for wanting to do the job right. But remember, if you can look up the answer, do so. Don't risk confidence in your professionalism by seeming eternally confused!

4) Be sure to listen. This is probably the most valuable tool for improving your chances of getting professional work. Pay attention. Listen carefully to what is said, especially if it's advice. You might not gain any startlingly new insight, but you may get a new perspective on the situation. That can make a big difference when approaching a business problem next time around.

Now on to Step Two: Do some research about the comics industry.

Wait! Wait! Don't collapse moaning at this potentially boring task! This is going to be a lot more fun and interesting than you might expect.

Many newcomers are convinced that by simply appearing with samples in hand at an editor's office, or confronting a pro at a convention or store appearance, will guarantee they are "discovered."

BZZZZT! I'm sorry that answer disqualifies you.

In actuality, an unsolicited appearance is more likely to aggravate the professional in question. Particularly if the newcomer fails to follow proper business form or procedure. And particularly if equipped with the wrong attitude. I.e., Here I am! Hire me.

Before embarking on the "surprise approach" path, you should take some time to learn a bit about comics.

You need to learn about the composition of the comics industry. Find out a little about the small press segment of the market. This is one of the most viable entrances for newcomers wanting to gain some published exposure.

Learn about the material and the genre each company favors (e.g., superheroes V. alternative work). If your interests lie in a specific area, you need to target those particular publishers. You also need to find out if a specific publisher produces original works, or if all material is owned by the company. If you are a creator with a specific property or characters you want to develop, a work-for-hire publisher like DC Comics or Marvel Comics won't be of interest to you.

Find out about each company's financial arrangements for compensating freelancers. Work-for-hire publishers pay you a one-time fee for doing work (some also pay a royalty on reprints) but own all rights. Other publishers simply print your material, giving you complete control and a large portion of all profits.

You must also determine the reliability of the company. Do they actually pay their freelancers, or continually promise the moon yet only deliver you into debt? Check on a publisher's reputation before pursing work with them. Most pros will be happy to point the finger at "rip-off" companies if you ask them. They don't want to support publishers that act unprofessionally!

Where do you look for all this information? Start with your local comic shops. They offer material from the various publishers. Check a variety of stores so you can get a good cross-section of what's available. Don't hesitate to ask questions, too. Most shop proprietors are happy to answer questions, and many are valuable sources of industry knowledge. They may also allow you to look at their distributor order books or "solicitation catalogs." These list all the materials to be printed in the next sales period. Descriptions of the products (sometimes with sample art) can provide useful research info about many companies from whom the retailer does not order.

Remember to check out the wide variety of comic industry trade publications, too. These include The Comics Buyer's Guide, Wizard, Combo Magazine, Comic Shop News, and The Comics Journal. These publications offer unique perspectives on a variety of industry areas. To be a knowledgeable professional, and give yourself an industry edge, it is a good idea to read at least a couple of these publications regularly.

Using all these pieces of industry information, you can build a solid base of knowledge on which to begin your professional comics career. Remember, the more knowledgeable you are about your chosen field, the more improved your chances are of taking the right path to gaining work. Arm yourself with information, and you'll soon find yourself secure on the front lines of the comic industry!