Breaking Into Comics With Morgan Beem, Becky Cloonan, Jody LeHeup & Matt Wilson
by Gary Catig
Every aspiring creator longs to break into comics and share their stories with a larger audience. Common at many cons are panels on how to do just that and Big Adventure Fest was no exception. The interesting aspect of “breaking in” in this industry is that there are many ways to do so and people’s paths are different. Even if you attend many talks on the subject, you can always find a new nugget of information. Image Comics hosted the panel and brought along Morgan Beem (The Family Trade), Becky Cloonan (By Chance of Providence), Matt Wilson (Paper Girls) and Jody LeHeup (Shirtless Bear Fighter) to discuss their experiences.
Right off the bat, Beem encountered hardships that she had to overcome. Not only did she not have any experience, but there were preconceived notions about her water coloring art style. People thought it took longer than conventional methods and could potentially delay projects. Books like Harrow County and Grass Kings helped alleviate that thought. In order to prove that she could make comics, Beem tried to be a part of every Kickstarter anthology she could find. The shorter format allowed her to test out various styles until she found what she liked. Patreon and webcomics are other ways to show someone can produce comics. In addition, she attended big cons like NYCC in order to network at the show and the “Bar Cons” afterwards. She was still struggling to make ends meet at this point, so she would regularly share and pack hotel rooms with colleagues and friends to cut costs.
For Cloonan, one of her first artist gigs happened because of the art on her webpage. Brian Wood found the site, became a fan of her work, and the pair ended up collaborating on Demo. She found regular work illustrating comics and as a result, partnered with many talented writers. She pushed herself to learn the other side of the craft from these authors and began to self-publish mini comics that she both wrote and drew.
LeHeup took a roundabout way into becoming a creator. He decided to learn about storytelling from the editorial side. His career in comics began with an internship for Marvel which he received because the person originally selected for the position never showed up. Then he gradually made his way up the ladder as an editor through hard work and absorbing as much knowledge as he could at each step. Using all the wisdom he acquired, he started writing. On the other hand, his co-writer on Shirtless Bear Fighter, Sebastian Girner, applied for an editor job and received it on the strength of his resume and interview.
Though he attended art school, Wilson believes it wasn’t necessarily worth it to break into the business. He liked the sharing of techniques and styles with peers and faculty, but he says technology like Twitch and YouTube can help people get instant feedback on their drawing. Also, he suggests that coloring people’s inks and retweeting and tagging people can help gain visibility. He started off as an assistant to a colorist to learn and gain experience until people had enough confidence in his skills that he could take on work on his own. In addition, he stressed networking at conventions and mentioned how some of his colleagues keep databases of colorists and flatters so when jobs come their way that they can’t do, they have someone they can at least suggest and pass along opportunities.
The panel showed four different people and four different paths into the comic industry. Some common threads included networking, just creating content, and putting in all the hard work. If these things turn you off, maybe it’s not the right job for you.
An interesting off-topic tidbit from the panel is that Beem has a graphic novel coming out soon. She couldn’t divulge much since it’s still unannounced, but she described it as a “supernatural road trip”. Her new book will be about the unknown and how to grieve and will be an emotional tear-jerker. Keep an eye out for an official announcement in the future.