Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Breaking In Part 2

Paying Your Dues

Like in any business, you have to start at the bottom and work yourself to the top. Every one does it. All the greats have done it. Yesterday I talked about sacrifice, and this is a great example of that. You must be willing to start small, for little or no money, sacrificing time and effort. Now like a lot of comic book artists out there, I started out as a background penciller. Background pencillers usually get credited very small at the end of the credits, usually as background assists, pencil assists or a lot of the time, no credit at all. However, the job description is pretty basic: The penciller draws the figures, you do the rest. Michael Turner was an assistant to Marc Silvestri. Keu Cha and Talent Caldwell were assistants to Michael Turner. Jim Lee had a slew of assistants namely Richard Bennett, Brett Booth and Travis Charest. This was a common starting ground for a lot of artists. Now a lot of my fans know that I started out at a company called Dreamwave Productions, and Pat Lee. Through all the crap that happened at DW (to all who want a good "company goes down and brings everyone with it" story, you can read about it here: or here: ), I am grateful that he got my foot in the door. My experience at Dreamwave gave me the experience I needed to venture out into freelance work, and gave me valuable life lessons as well. Now I keep saying I’ll talk more about my relationship with Pat, and I will soon. Stay tuned. But how did I get the job at Dreamwave? Let me tell you.

I took technical illustration in college. I took that course because I felt my figure drawing was already strong and that this course would help me improve my ability to draw backgrounds. Actually the real reason was because I was rejected for the classical animation course but that’s a different story. Anyways, like everyone else I was putting together art samples and bringing them to comic conventions. I met a good friend of mine named Sigmund Torre at the Canadian National Comic Expo in 1999. He liked my stuff and gave me a card with Dreamwave’s number.

Now during my last semester, there was a 3 week job placement period. We had to find the job of course. Dreamwave, being the only real professional comic book studio in the Toronto area was really my only choice. So I tried calling them. They had no secretary, and everytime I called, no one picked up. I called endless times and no one picked up. So I remembered articles I read about the place and there was one particular passage I remember about Pat starting work at 12:00am. So one day, I called them at 3:30am. Someone picked up. It was Roger Lee, Pat’s brother. He let me come in that night for an interview.

That night, I sat down with Pat Lee and he went over my portfolio. My figure work he really didn’t care for (and I wouldn’t either – it sucked). What caught his attention were two particular images. What I did was, I took previous Dreamwave covers that had no background, traced the figure and drew a background around it. That’s what he liked the most. That night he offered me a work placement, and a job.

I did backgrounds for Pat Lee for about 3 years. I learned about keeping a deadline, and working under tight situations. Most of all, I learned a little humbleness as well. When my work would get published, I would run to the message boards trying to see if someone would notice my work. I don’t know what I was looking for – maybe someone saying “did you see how cool that tree was on page 17???”, and I’d say “I drew that tree! That was me!!!” That never really happened.

That’s when I learned there was no point complaining about the lack of credit I received for what I did. Yes, there were times when I drew everything on the page, and Pat got the credit for it. For example, my very first work was Darkminds/Witchblade doing backgrounds for Pat. The first 5 pages that were shown to Top Cow were all done by me, except for the hands Pat drew. Top Cow freaked out and praised Pat, but not me. That used to bother me. It bothered me a lot. But I realized like all jobs, if you pay your dues, do good work, you work hard and have a reputation to work hard, someone will notice. It will either be your boss, or if he doesn't notice, someone else will. Thank God, someone else noticed.

So pay your dues. Nowadays, it would be tough to find a background penciller job. The comic studio of old doesn’t really exist nowadays. Everyone working in comics now work from home as opposed to a studio. So how can you pay your dues? My suggestion would be to try and get published. Try to start contacting established writers. Most writers have stories in their back pocket they want to tell. They also have huge imput when it comes to who will pencil their story. If you’re good, they’ll reply back to your emails. Be willing to work for very little, or even for free – as long as it’s published. Sites like you could hook up with writers who are looking for artists. Find the ones who are getting published and work for them. You’ll learn how to work from a script, keep a deadline, and producing quality work. If you keep improving, someone will notice.

Keep active and post your work on message boards. Take for example Nicola Scott. She’s from Australia and moved to NYC with dreams of becoming a comic book penciller. She labored for years working on different independent projects. Most of those paid very little or not at all. She always posted her stuff on, and people started to notice. She was known for how much she wanted to draw Wonder Woman, and did whatever it took to succeed. That hard work paid off. She got her first regular gig drawing Birds of Prey at DC Comics – a book she is perfect for (and she started with issue #100. I did issues 98 & 99).

So keep working hard. I’ll be talking more about Dreamwave and my personal experiences there next week. Tomorrow I’ll talk about why I left comics and how I got into the Visual Effects industry.

Pics today:
1-4) Pages 1-4 of Darkminds/Witchblade #1. I drew most of it. What did Pat draw? The hands.
5) A splash from Warlands #12. I layed it out and drew the backgrounds and all the Angels and Monsters. I looked at message boards for weeks to see what people would say about it. No one cared.

James Anthony Raiz
Stand-Up Joke of the Day:
“…Hi, I’m Susan Powter and I lost 1468 lbs, and still found a way to remain totally unattractive. Why don’t you take advice from me, Susan Powter, a woman who looks like Ross Perot’s lesbian sister…” –The Late Great Richard Jeni


Psychomud said...

Wow James! GREAT and interesting blog! Glad I stumbled upon it (Thanx to Dawn of Dread Force)!

So you ever think Pat Lee will 'get his' in the end? Seems he takes a LOT more credit that he is worth. It's sad that someone can be so shady yet continue to work in the industry. ;(

PS - I'm gonna have to read this blog everyday! Great stuff!

Jeff Witty
aka PsychoMUD

Anonymous said...

By that I mean latching on to this or that latest, most innovative idea that some self styled money making guru has put out in the hope it’ll go viral and make them a lot of money off the backs of all the headless chickens who will follow them blindly down a blind alley. Its a shame but a truism nonetheless that people will follow where someone they see as an expert leads. Even if they lead them to certain disaster, which is what most of the gurus tend to do to their flocks.
The trick is to recognize a shadow when you see it!