Wednesday, October 19, 2011

From the Frontline: Mark Siegel

The Cartoonist Alliance's campaign in the fight for spectacular comics has been a long and thrilling adventure. In From the Frontline, officers put the spotlight on notable events and meetings our club has organized or been a part of. Be sure to check out our last article, Hayley @ Group Critique Night #1. 

Illustration by Aodhan Cummings
Guest Speaker: Mark Siegel

Two weeks ago, Mark Siegel from First Second Books came to Cartoon Allies as a guest speaker and shared valuable advice from the perspective of both a publisher and an artist. 

If you wanted to know what he had to say but weren’t able to be there to experience it all, read on to find out more about it!  The list isn’t perfect, but we’ve got some important notes down on what most publishing companies are about and good ideas for artists to follow when trying to appeal to editors or publishers.

Mark Siegel entered publishing ten years ago.  Having grown up in France, he was used to comics being a part of mainstream reading, and the same could be said about Japan.  In France, if you wanted to be successful, you’d go into comics, but in America, comics were a tougher, less profitable business.  It was time America’s comics got into every household.  It was time to make comics that you never throw away.   

A lot of people had questions about editors.  Mark told us that a lot of people think of editors a little differently than what they really are.  DC and Marvel’s creation of the idea of editors is this icy cold hovering person, treating comics like an assembly line.  But we need to understand what an editor is.  An editor is essential.  When you need help, they ask the tough questions that help the artist find their own way around the problem.  They aren’t the ones who tell you that you forgot a hat or needed to change a panel; that would be in proofreading, something a copy editor does.

In case some people didn’t know what the mindset of publishing companies was like, Mark Siegel gave us a fair warning and a mindset of our own to have when going to work with publishers.  “Publishing companies are in the business of books, not your art.  Go into it wisely,” he told us.  To them it’s a source of profit, not a praise of how great your work is.  It’s not a good or bad thing, it just is.  Some people forget that and expect that once companies want them, they can do whatever they want, but that is widely not the case.

Now some tips for the artists!

“Don’t only breathe comics.  Accept all kinds of inspiration.”

Go to tables and talk to editors and publishers at conventions if you want, but don’t show up with a big portfolio and expect them to want to carefully look through it.  These people are already tired enough from being at the convention and dealing with a multitude of other things.  Most likely they already had several offers to look at work before you, so if you show up with a thick portfolio at the wrong timing, they may turn you away. 

Instead, it’s better to show them a mini comic you made if you have one and give it to them.  Even if they don’t look at it on the spot, at least somehow it will probably end up back in the office, and then someone might eventually look at it. 

If you’re showing your storytelling, show them your mini comic and give it to them.  If you’re showing your chops as an artist, show them a portfolio but have your portfolio be consistent in what you want them to know you can do.  If you want to show how good you are at inking, for example, have the portfolio be filled with inked pages or illustrations. 

Trust your work when talking to editors and publishers in person.  Be confident.  Sell yourself.  Your work may not be ripe yet, but if it’s right, the editors will have an instinct and tell you if they think it’s getting there.  Know that if they want you to work with them right away, they’ll trade contact information with you and get to you within the week.  If they seem to be interested in your work but perhaps not immediately, it’s okay to send emails to them, but be careful how you go about it.

If there’s a connection and you want to keep in touch with them, you can make little updates with brief samples of your work.  Make it count!  Keep it warm, and don’t send long pointless emails.  Simple short interactions over a longer period of time are better than long chunky emails that will make the receiver of the email uninterested.  There’s no need to elaborate so much on your work if you trust that your work speaks for itself.  Editors will appreciate it and even enjoy quick, short updates on your work to see how you’re doing, and that will help you get your foot in the door if you build a good relationship with them.  

When sending a proposal, get the editor hooked into your story.  Be BRIEF.  Give a synopsis, samples up to three pages, character designs, etc. to help them get a feel for the story.  There’s no need for long extensive essays on the background of your tale.  Again, trust that your work speaks for itself.

Be ambitious!  

“Aim to create works that’ll last forever, not just to satisfy yourself. “

There are many ‘good’ stories that start on a great premise, but halfway through the story, some of these ideas start falling apart.  That’s how some stories remain good, and don't go on to become great or sublime.

May you take this advice to heart and keep fighting.

Onwards, Allies!

Kou Chen is a sophomore cartooning major who comes from Taiwan. He enjoys movies like The Fall, books like The Book Thief, and comics like Black Jack. His life goal is to overhear someone talking about something he created, because "by all means if my stories are interesting enough to share, I've done my job." He loves tea and fluffy things... like alpacas.

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