Some 42,000 comic book aficionados descended on Toronto the weekend of Aug. 24 to 26 for the Canadian National Comic Book Convention. While television personalities like Adam West were billed as the main attraction, the real draw for attendees was getting the chance to pump industry professionals for advice on making it big.
Chief among them was writer Paul Dini, who spent his weekend answering questions from swarming fans. After having created Harley Quinn on Batman: The Animated Series, written for ABC’s primetime hit Lost and spear-headed DC Comics’ latest crossover event Countdown, the general consensus was that he, more than anyone, would surely know the secret to being successful.
When asked outright how his life had turned out so well, however, Dini could only muster an amused “bless you, for preserving the illusion!”
Illusion or not, it certainly inspires admiration. Conrad, a twenty-five-year-old volunteer, manned Dini’s autograph booth for two hours, confident it was time well spent. “I’ve been volunteering at the Toronto Con for five years now”, the student explained. He feels strongly that proximity to voice actors and writers will someday help him join their ranks.
Surprisingly, he may not be too far off. Writer J Torres, whose Degrassi: Extra Credit graphic novels have been advertised on CTV since last spring, once worked at Infinity Comics on Ste. Catherine street. Attending the con to promote his latest projects (Teen Titans GO! and Wonder Girl), Torres sat mere meters away from another Montreal success story, former West Islander-turned-artist, Wes Craig.
A graduate of Dawson’s illustration and design program, Craig spent “four or five years” networking before finding work as an artist. Even though he’s living his dream, he still keeps a day job to make ends meet.
Similarly, Sam Agro’s successes have been bittersweet. The forty-seven-year-old self-appointed “Desperate Wanna-Be” has been trying for years to parlay his experience as a storyboard artist into a full-time gig in comics. He agrees it’s important to “try to make a lot of friends in the biz”, but getting an editor’s attention is easier said than done. “There are more people than ever trying to work in the comic book industry.”
When it comes to conventions, “three or four hundred guys can bring their portfolios and 70 per cent of them aren’t ready yet.” Since there aren’t that many jobs available, “editors can wait for the guy who is already great.”
Those seeking an edge over their competition found encouragement in the form of Ty Templeton. “Every one of you is as clever and as good as I am.
The biggest secret of the world of creativity is that talent is a myth. Talent is a word that means you have a skill that I don’t have.” Taking time off from acting, writing and drawing, Templeton has begun teaching at Toronto’s Max the Mutt school. There, students study under industry professionals and attend classes on writing, inking and anatomy.
Still, it’s worth noting that most of the convention’s aspiring artists were graduates of the esteemed Sheridan College, including Sam Agro. If there are no guarantees any school can totally prepare you for a career in comics, a few key “Dos and Don’ts” can certainly help for those seeking to make it big.
-DO study the fundamentals of writing an art, regardless of your preference.
-DO practice your craft. You learn more from finishing a series of short stories or comic strips than you do from attempting a massive graphic novel.
-DO take initiative. Get your work published by an independent press.
-DO send mail. It’s easier to delete an e-mail than it is to throw out actual paper, so sending physical portfolios increases your chances.
-DO stand out. If you’re sending an art portfolio, sketch something right on the envelope to help give the recipient a taste of what’s inside.
-DON’T copy. Whether it’s a story you read somewhere else, or a playboy cover you’ve traced, they can smell a fake a mile away.
-DON’T bother the editors-in-chief of Marvel and/or DC. Assistant Editors are more likely to take a look at your work and write you back.
-DON’T get touchy. Having your work torn down or torn apart is part of the game. Being able to take set-backs or criticisms well is essential.
-DON’T overdo it. Any good portfolio is short and sweet. Less is more.
-DON’T be late. If you get a job, make sure your work is in on time. Scheduling is tight and the reliable artists and writers are the ones who get to keep working.