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Comic-Con Special: Buddy Scalera on How Young People Can Break Into the Biz

Sure, I had some major problems with Morgan Spurlock’s recent, and generally amiable, documentary about Comic-Con (which is now underway in San Diego… as if you didn’t know). But one thing I felt it really captured well was how the event represents a kind of Mecca for aspiring artists who want to break into the industry, a fact that educators should probably pay attention to where youth is concerned. I mean, just think about that for a moment: where else do we see teens and college-aged students saying, “I want to create—let me” in such numbers? (Remember, beginning writers also head to Comic-Con, often with the idea of teaming up with  artists.)

With all this in mind, I thought now was the perfect time to hear from Buddy Scalera. I first Buddy when I worked in comics full-time—he was a journalist then, one of the best, actually, but that’s not where he remained career-wise. He’s gone on to be a writer for several major comics publishers, and in fact he’s now busy providing scripts for Richie Rich (hence the photo above).  But that’s not all: he’s also authored an entire series of reference works for artists (hence the cover below) as well as the terrifically accessible and comprehensive Creating Comics From Start to Finish. Featuring interviews and advice from both the famous (Stan Lee and Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada) as well as those in professions that don’t always seem so glamorous (editors, colorists, and so on), it’s a wonderful resource because it provides coaching on breaking into comics by illuminating what’s expected of those who do turn pro.

And so I decided to ask Mr. Scalera a few questions…

***

Can you see teens and tweens using Creating Comics From Start to Finish—not just adults who want to break into the business? Or, put differently, how might you tweak your approach if speaking directly to younger readers? What’s most important for them to understand about creating comics?

Teens and tweens can bring an incredible amount of focus and energy to their goals. When I go to conventions, the classes often include a few teenagers. The stuff they want to learn about the comic book industry really isn’t taught in most traditional public schools, so they come to conventions to complete that education.

My book is written for a rated-PG reader in mind. There are no significant profanities or any sexual suggestiveness. You can safely give this to a high school student who wants to learn more about comics. That said, I’m not pandering to appeal to younger readers. I fully expect that readers who want to get paid to make professional comics are going to rise to meet the challenges in the book. If you want to get paid, you’re going to need to conduct yourself as a professional, which is an ongoing and important theme in the book. It’s about turning in your work product consistently and with the right attitude.

I’ll be doing appearances at local schools and libraries, [and] I’ll adjust the presentation so that kids understand they don’t go from a really good sketch in their notebook on a Monday to drawing Amazing Spider-Man on Tuesday. I will let them know that they have to hone their craft to the point where editors will want to hire them. I want them to understand that there’s nothing stopping them from working in mainstream comics, but that it does take time to develop your skill sets.

The most important thing to know about comics is probably the same things you need to know about any real craft. Practice and dedication are a huge part of your success. Creating comics or any art is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.

I really like how you put the editor front and center in the process despite it not being the most flashy of jobs. When I’ve made comics with kids I actually assign one the role of editor and it’s quite a learning experience. What should parents and educators know about the potential for young people to learn and grow by making comics together, collaboratively?

Well, it is important to note that comics—at least professional comics—are a business. And many times, creative decisions are weighed against economic decisions. Kids may have a tougher time with that concept, since often they are creating art for art’s sake. That’s how you develop your talents and skills, but it’s not necessarily how comic books are published.

It’s also worth noting that the editor has the final say in any project. Kids need to understand that concept is a challenge throughout your career. There’s always a struggle of some kind going on behind the scenes, but you can’t quit over that. You have to work through it and try to put out your best work.

Why do you think there are so many software programs, Web sites, and books (like yours and Christopher Hart’s) about making comics these days? Are webcomics and the rise of small and micro indies over the last decade to “blame” for all the interest—or have people always wanted to make comics to this degree, it’s just that now there are more resources to make getting started easier?

Well, quite frankly, I think there’s a lot of substandard educational products being produced. I don’t care if it’s a free website or a book that you buy, it should reach a minimum level of quality if it is going to be positioned as educational. It’s hard for the average consumer to differentiate, so I hope that people consult two or three books in order to get a good, well-rounded view of how comics are created. Eventually, if you stick with it long enough, you form your own view of how comics get created.

I’m familiar with Christopher Hart’s book line. He’s focused primarily on helping artists improve their techniques, which is a critical part of the learning process. I consider Creating Comics From Start to Finish to be the one they read after they’ve read the technique books. So, once you have your anatomy and storytelling, you may start to wonder what comes next. You may want to know how you fit into the comic book industry. My book will help answer questions about breaking in and staying in the comic book industry as a mainstream creator.

My book features creators who have broken into comics for at least 10 years or more and who continue to actively work in the industry. I’m really targeting the reader who wants to have this kind of career and also earn a living doing it.

In conclusion, what would you emphasize to those who might be interested in Creating Comics From Start to Finish? Any final words of wisdom?

I think it’s really important for creators of all ages to create a body of work. It may be penciling or inking or writing or coloring or lettering. You need to do enough pages to work through your beginner stages and into your intermediate and advanced stages.

Then, you shouldn’t immediately go looking for paying, professional work. You should look to publish your strips online or in some other way, so you can gain an appreciation for the process. Try to understand different aspects of how comics are created, so you know what other people in the process actually do. If you understand what other people do, you will improve your own craft.

If you actually produce a complete comic book or webcomic, that’s what you show to editors and other people who publish comics. You prove that you can complete a project, which essentially what you would be expected to do if you got hired. My book is about the people who create comics professionally. When I tell their stories, I am telling readers about a profession in a very niche industry. Hopefully that story is entertaining and compelling.

Last but certainly not least, build your professional network. Maintain relationships, since people move around and try different things in the industry. Those relationships are important because people tend to help their friends and other people that they like. Join communities and go to conventions and just build some connections.

What a perfect ending for Comic-Con weekend—thank you!

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About Peter Gutierrez