It may come as a surprise, but there are some colleges and universities that offer an actual degree in comic book art or, more specifically, what is often called “sequential art.” This course of study is available at schools such as:
- School of Visual Arts in New York City
- SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design)
- Minneapolis College of Art and Design
- The Kubert School
- The Rhode Island School of Design
University can be a huge boon for the artist, but in the end it is the artist’s content that counts, and there is nothing better than the long hours devoted to drawing and amassing a body of work.
Success as a comic book artist/creator is dictated by a combination of talent, an unceasing need to draw, and a burning passion for and commitment to the work.
WHERE DO I BEGIN?
In order to become a professional comic book artist, several things must be kept in mind if indeed one is serious and ready to face the numerous challenges (including the typical artist’s financial struggle) in order to become a successful and self-sustaining comic book artist.
Extraordinary and specific technique is what will make the artist stand out and become easily recognizable and memorable should success be attained. Without it, one is assured of mediocrity at best and failure quite certainly at worst. A competent comic book artist, like all fine artists, must know the intricacies of shading, the process of rendering, and how to employ the use of lighting effectively. Also essential is one’s draftsmanship and the overall knowledge of human (and animal) anatomy. Drawing characters’ bodies and facial expressions accurately and organically while also showing off the aforementioned personal technique and style is what makes a good artist great.
As already mentioned, a comic book artist must have the ability to effectively communicate story and, of course, must be able to give birth to the stories themselves in the first place. When all is said and done, the art of the comic book or graphic novel is all about bringing a good story to life through exceptional illustration. No matter how much martial arts action there might be, nor the size of the explosions, or the number of bodice-breaking Amazons there are populating the pages, without a good story you will not have readers. One of the most helpful books that this writer has ever owned that aided and abetted his understanding of the art of storytelling is the late Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which explores what he called “The Hero’s Journey”, the basic pattern that is arguably found in practically every story from around the world.
What is often one of the most important aspects in achieving success in this business is having a body of work. Of course, one won’t take the market by storm with no experience, so, as with all fine art, you better love to draw! Years and years and reams and reams of drawings is what ultimately will allow the comic artist to develop and hone his or her talents, not to mention to have something to show for his or herself.
HOW DO I GET MY FOOT IN THE DOOR?
A good place to start showing off your work is online. It is still quite egalitarian in that anyone can get a website and start creating his or her own “web-comic” series. It also will instill discipline in the artist through the commitment of getting out a strip on a daily basis and will also provide an excellent forum for experimentation with and the development of drawing and story-telling styles.
Again, it is paramount you create a portfolio that showcases some of your best work and to pepper it with as many pieces as possible that show off your art skills. This is your calling card when you are pitching yourself to comic book editors and the like.
It is also highly recommended to visit all the comic book conventions, as this is where you will meet and hob knob with the best in the business, including potential artist mentors and the editors and publishers of some of the world’s best in graphic novels and comics. Every year there are literally dozens of these conventions across the country. The biggest and most famous of all is Comic-Con, which takes place every summer San Diego, California. Many of the best companies offer portfolio reviews at these major industry shows, so be sure to bring along your work should the opportunity arise.
One can also query the major comic companies to see about being hired as a comic book artist. This can be quite challenging if dealing with the major comic book companies such as Marvel, DC, or Dark Horse, but it is important to keep in mind that there are quite a few independent comic book companies out there as well and they are often seeking new blood in the talent pool. When you feel you have attained a professional level to your work, review the submissions policies of these publishers and always remember to never send in originals of your work. Make some high quality copies of your best, include a SASE envelope (postage paid) with your query to get back potential feedback, and then let it rip!