Note from the President, Cerebus 170, May 1993.

One of the most common mistakes I see in the samples that are sent to me, or which artists show me at signings and conventions involves layout and lettering. Put very simply, nothing looks more amateurish than lettering which butts up against the border of a word balloon or a caption. Usually this is a result of putting the word balloons in after the pencilling stage and the lettering after the word balloons. The lettering can't 'breathe' that way and the result is story-telling that is very hard on the eyes. It is for this reason that I recommend that everything be put on the page at the outset; you have to do very light pencil roughs of the drawings, you have to letter the dialogue and caption approximately the size that they are going to be in the finished work and you have to put in the balloons and the caption boxes making sure to leave space between the lettering and the balloons or caption boxes. The more space the better. It you rough in all of the elements at the same time, you can adjust the 'balance' with a minimum of fuss and muss. If you tight pencil a figure, labouring over it for an hour or two and then try to fit the balloons and lettering around it, it's going to look too crowded. It you do a quick stick figure and then rough in the dialogue and put a nice balloon with breathing room for the lettering and the whole thing doesn't 'fit', you can trim back on the dialogue, or change the position of the figure without having to erase a few hours work to do so. It's words and pictures together, folks. The words have to look as if they were meant to be there all along or they are going to look like a sloppy after-thought.

Now, as promised; whether to draw comic books or become a plumber.

To start self-publishing in this day and age you have to be prolific and you have to be able to compete with the best work out there. At the time that I started Cerebus, writing and drawing comic books was something that you did until you could do something else. There are still many creators who are here temporarily, until they are lured away by Hollywood or whatever else. But, face facts. Wendy Pini is not going away. Neither am I. Neither is Neil Gaiman, Eddie Campbell, Jeff Smith, Colleen Doran, Steve Bissette, Larry Marder. (footnote) The greatest mistake you can make is to say that your work is better than a lot of the shit that's out there. No doubt. But being better than shit is not exactly a shining credential. Do you have anything to say? I mean, if I read one more proposal for a post-apocalyptic nightmare society ruled by remnants of a blah blah blah, I'm going to throw up. I mean, who cares? Likewise two hundred issue story-lines that consist of a handful of character sketches and a rough outline. I mean, so what? If someone comes up to me with fifty pages in photocopy form and the last page is better than the first, I tell them what Mike Kaluta told me in 1973; 'You're on the right track. Keep going.' I just got in the first issue of a comic called Strange Attractions ($3.00 plus postage - Retrografix, 2130 Williams #3, Bellingham, WA 98225). I read it and enjoyed it. I could follow the story no problem and when I got to the end, I wanted to know what happens next. If the work doesn't have that effect on you, it's largely wasted effort. The work has to come first. Until you've produced a couple of hundred pages, you aren't going to know if you have the aptitude, ability or inclination to do comics for a living. The work has to come first. Once you have produced a couple of hundred pages, you have to move to the next level, doing a number of things simultaneously; producing the work, reproducing it in some fashion (photo-copies, mini-comics, booklets), circulating it and promoting it. All of those things. Simultaneously. If you produce the work but fall behind on reproducing it; if you produce and reproduce it but fail to circulate it; if you produce it, reproduce it, circulate it but fail to promote it; nothing (I repeat, nothing) is going to happen. Chester Brown did a number of issues of Yummy Fur as a mini-comic and then became too big to be confined to mini-comics. That effect will happen only if you are productive, only if you circulate your work and only if you promote it. The work has to come first. If your family comes first, or your girl-friend, or your wife or your kids or socializing or drinking or drugs, you are better off learning how to be a plumber. The work has to come first. If you have a natural talent and you produce a couple of hundred pages in the course of a year, you will get better and things will start to happen for you. If it takes you five years to produce a couple of hundred pages your improvement will be slower and you will find it almost impossible to make a living. There is nothing wrong with having any of those other things as top priorities in your life. Most people do. Almost all people do. The only way to make an impact in the comic book field is to be an exception to that rule. It there is anything you would rather do than sit down and write and draw a really good page, that thing is going to be an impediment. The world is full of distractions. Take two weeks and decide to do a page a day; pencilled, inked and lettered. If you miss a day, look at what you did instead. Whatever caused you to miss doing a page that day is an impediment to your career.

Look at the impediment.

Look at the work.

Make a choice.


NEXT: Circulating and promoting your work. (Archiver's note: "next" is actually more on comics versus plumbing)

Copyright 1993 Dave Sim

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Since Sim wrote this, Wendy Pini has given up most of her cartooning and is instead devoting her time to the Elfquest movie, and Larry Marder has given up most of his cartooning in order to become the Executive Director of Image Comics.