The Divine Right of the Indie Creator

As indie creators, we have an obligation to the consumer.  This obligation to the consumer is seldomly discussed because, as beleaguered indie creators in love with our creations and endlessly wailing against the evils of the Big 2 (a particular tendency and view not shared by this writer), we believe we have all the rights in the world.  I’m speaking in general terms of course, but we have bestowed upon ourselves these “Divine Rights of the Indie Creator”, direct from Heaven, due to our noble struggle as starving artists, working away late at night on our Mac computers and our PCs and our Bristol boards, lacking the resources of the great monolithic powers, Marvel and DC.  However, the consumer has rights too, and we as indie creators have lost sight of this.

A consumer purchases a book from Marvel, DC or Image and, at the very least, for his/her money, can expect a professionally crafted book, free of the errors and sloppiness that plague many indie books today.  The book may not be to their liking, but for the most part, they are free of glaring plot miscues, hideous grammar, typos, stilted or bad dialogue, basic pacing issues, misplaced and mislabeled captions, word balloons scattered around the page incorrectly, and finally, just plain old bad writing.  These errors and overall sloppiness keep the reader from engaging in these worlds we have created, and instead have them concentrating on the fact the book is sloppy.  This is a major writing no-no.  Any time we have the reader not concentrating or engaged in our story is bad because the reader may find it difficult or impossible to re-engage and just move onto something else.

There are too many examples in the indie world where a book has many (or all) of the various types of errors mentioned.  It is no wonder many consumers sadly do not even look at indie books and give them a try.  Many just buy their books from the usual companies (Marvel, DC, Image, Boom!, etc.).  When a consumer lays down their hard-earned money, they have the right to expect the professionalism and attention to detail they get from the bigger companies, qualities that are not impossible for smaller publishers and those who self-publish.

However, the view of many of my fellow indie creators is one of indifference towards thoroughness and precision.  Indeed, one person whose opinion I respect very much told me, and I’m paraphrasing, that this aspect of the comic book-making process is the least important and one that is easily fixed.  What is more important are aspects like art style, general organization of the panels on the page, coloring, the look (not the content) of the lettering, character design, or things that contribute to the overall presentation of the comic.  Another creator whose opinion I’ve come to respect told me recently that we should support minorities across the board whose books contain these errors simply because they are minorities, and that plenty of other books in the marketplace written by whites and non-whites contain errors, therefore ours are just the errors of any other creator.

Granted, the discussions I had with these two individuals encompassed more than what I have described above, but I have to say I could not disagree more with either one of them.  Apparently, from the atrocious writing and the sloppiness I have had the unfortunate displeasure to see in my short time as an indie creator, this part of the process is far from the easiest and probably the hardest.  A lot of creators are able to put books out there that look halfway decent but then you get to the writing and, quite frankly, it’s embarrassing to see adults write this poorly.  There’s no other way to say it.  And as to the minority aspect of it, as a minority writer I am appalled and ashamed that our standard is so low we are told to give ourselves a pass when it comes to writing.  What, we can’t write English?  As a professional and an educator I categorically refuse to think otherwise.  Quite the opposite: as minorities we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard because there is a perception out there that we cannot write well.  Small publishers like ourselves can put out a book just as professional as the Big 2; we just have to want it bad enough, and then execute.  Those that do not will just naturally fall by the wayside.  All of us who create know how hard it is to do what we do.  Without that desire and commitment to excellence, many of us will just stop creating and go onto something else.

It is sad to say my experience has been that many creators cannot take constructive criticism well, and therefore will never improve.  It has also been my experience, even from people who have asked me for advice or help, that they did not really want advice or help, they simply want to be patted on the head and told their work was okay, kind of like throwing a seal a fish for doing a nice trick.  Criticism about grammar, caption placement, clarity of their writing; none of that was what they were looking for.  For the sake of being constructive, here are tips on how a creator can avoid these mistakes and make their books look more professional:

1) find someone to bounce ideas off of who isn’t a “yes man” and will give you blunt advice – this is important, even at the scriptwriting stage – why wait to be told your book is flawed when it can be fixed at an earlier stage;

2) surround yourself with other comic creators – if you don’t know other comic creators and you work in a vacuum, you’re making a huge mistake – you have no one to criticize your work or anyone to help you when the sheer weight of producing an issue has you bogged down – I joined an organization called the Comicbook Artists’ Guild and they have been great in terms of providing information and for finding colleagues to work with;

3) for the love of Heaven, find yourself a good editor – we’re living in a country whose own citizens collectively cannot write in their own language and yet many of us “writers” don’t seek any help when it comes to proofreading a book – then we get upset when we’re not treated like true professionals in comparison with the Big 2 and are distraught when consumers won’t support indie books, even though our books read like comics some of us were producing in junior high school.  Additional tips will be covered in future blog posts, along with other topics.

To expect the public to shell out their money, simply because we have been working on these characters since third grade, is ludicrous.  There is no directive from Heaven granting us a holy right of consumer forgiveness or a right to expect a consumer to fork over their money simply because we are nice people and we have magnets at our table at comic conventions.  The Divine Right of an Indie Creator is a construction of fantasy, like Middle-Earth.  I am a consumer and a fan, first and foremost, and I support and buy books from big and small publishers. A consumer deserves to have a book free of errors and wanton sloppiness.    And as creators, not only is it a good idea creatively to put out a professional book, it is an obligation we have towards the consumer and our fans.

Posted on April 12, 2016 .

Please Get An Editor (Or Why Everybody Needs An Asshole)

I respect anyone who takes it upon himself to try to publish a comic.  This is a hard endeavor we undertake, this business of creating comics and graphic novels.  We creators take this love we have for an incredible medium and combine it with a need to express ourselves, in the hopes other people will join us (usually buying in to do so) as we explore and develop these worlds we are creating.   After all, any one of us can post something on the Internet or put it on paper and feel good about ourselves.  I for one do not create in a vacuum – I want people to come in and share my creation and I wish to make money while doing so.  Due to the fact I am charging the public a fee for enjoying my creation, and due to my own high standards, I feel I have an obligation to that same public to put out as professional a product as possible.  Unfortunately I have seen that many of my fellow comic creators do not share this same view.  They wish to sell the public on their idea, not necessarily the execution of it.  And in the end, the creators and the fans suffer for it.

I buy many indie books in an effort to support my fellow creators.  First and foremost, I am a fan and wish to read a good book.  The great majority of my indie collection is in what my wife calls “the shit pile”.  That is because most of the books either (a) do not look professional; (b) are so replete with grammatical errors and other transgressions of the English language they barely resemble the writings of adults; (c) are sloppily put together (i.e. balloon placement, panel placement, bad dialogue; or (d) all of the above.  When I confront my fellow creators about this phenomenon, I have been shocked at the reactions I have received.  Many of them dismiss obvious horrors, saying “well, everyone makes mistakes”, or throw out Sesame Street-level platitudes such as “maybe he’ll do better next time” (as if praying will fix bad spelling or syntax instead of using a dictionary).  I had a conversation last night with an educator, who is a fellow creator, and he told me the “Big 2” pay for editors and we couldn’t be expected to edit our own books.  Really?  With so much reference material available online, we can’t make sure we have the proper usage of the word “peak” (rather than “peek” or “pique”)?  Millions of people online refer to themselves as “writers”.  Shouldn’t a writer have some facility with, you know, language?  A plumber should know about plumbing.  He charges for his services.  A lawyer should know about the law.  He charges for his services.  Shouldn’t a writer (the entire creative team for that matter) who is bombarding the internet with requests for people to buy his book actually write well?  If I’m paying for a book, why should I buy a book just because some dude or woman has been working on this idea since third grade and yet couldn’t take the time to write English or put together a coherent comic?

Another virus plaguing the indie world is the dreaded “pat on the back”.  We all see it.  Many of us have even been guilty of it.  That is where someone we know (or do not know) posts a picture or some pages online about a book and his friends unleash a deluge of meaningless praise, even though what is posted is filled with many of the mistakes I have mentioned above, all for the purpose of providing “support and encouragement”.  I have not yet met the creator who has benefited from receiving false praise, the result being him led to think that he is producing the best work he can.  When we “support” our friends and colleagues in this way, we are actually ensuring they will never reach their dreams because they will never produce their best work with everyone misleading them.  Therefore, we are not really being good friends and colleagues in these instances.

What is the solution?  GET YOURSELF AN EDITOR.  Procure one by any means available: scour the internet, kidnap one, do anything you can to obtain one.  There are many men and women online who charge for these services and will help you put out your best book.  We should all fail (or hopefully succeed) putting out our best work.  That way, we leave nothing on the table, especially regrets, which can be the worst things in the world.  Also, if you do not have that friend who is able to look at your work and say “Dude, what the hell are you doing?”, get one or GET YOURSELF AN ASSHOLE.  We all need one as creators – that person who can pull us back from the brink and cause us to reevaluate what we are doing at any given moment.  Don’t surround yourself with friends who will click a thumbs up on Facebook even if you post a drawing of a turd.  Better yet, explain to them how important it is to give you brutally honest feedback.  It made me deathly sad recently to purchase a book by someone who thanked his friends profusely in his dedication page for giving him honest feedback, critiquing him, etc. and then still allowed him to put out a totally atrocious piece of shit (let’s go over the list again: bad art, confusing layout, errors of all kinds, story did not make sense, you name it).  His friends did not do him a favor by “enabling” him to put out the garbage I paid for.  This is a creator who will never achieve his dreams (unless his dream was to put out a nonsensical piece of shit – in that case they were the best friends in the world).

In fact, it is sad that many of my colleagues, people I have gotten to know in this business, will never achieve their dreams for these same reasons.  Many of them do not listen, even when the right advice is given, and most of them do not have that person who is able to cause them to reevaluate what they are doing.  I entered this field knowing little of it and I am a sponge when it comes to absorbing information on how I can make my books even just a tiny bit better or professional.  I will gladly (and readily) discuss any aspect of the books I have put out so far and I am proud of what I have produced.  When one of my books reaches someone’s hands, I am proud that they paid for a professional product that not only makes my partner and I look good, it makes all of us indie creators look good  Most importantly, the readers and the fans ultimately win by enjoying a “ripping good yarn” as they say across the pond.

Why go through life with regrets?  Why have low standards?  Do we somehow think that by just showing up at a con with smiles on our faces people are just going to forget about the “Big 3” and buy indie books?  Those of us that have sold at the shows know better.  And when, at those shows, we finally snag that person who is willing to try our book, why are so many of us eager to foist upon them sloppy and unprofessional work?  Or, at the very least, our “C-” work instead of our “A” work?  When I go out to buy I certainly don’t enjoy it when I shell out money for crap.  Those of us who think this is the right thing to do to the buying public should just go home and do something else.  Those of us who want to do good work, our best work, and professional work (and I’ve met many out there) should surround themselves with the right people and take the time, money, and effort to make sure their books are properly edited, put together, and reflect our best work so that we fulfill ourselves and do not insult the public.

Posted on April 12, 2016 .