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.