Talent Guarantees Absolutely Nothing In Comics
By Alex Schumacher
Towards the beginning of this year Erik Larsen, one of the founders of Image Comics and creator of Savage Dragon, asserted “there are very, very few outstanding talents out there who aren’t already working.” He went on to add the following absolute statement: “if you’re GOOD—you WILL get work.” At best, this blanket statement is dismissive. At worst, it’s condescending and disrespectful to the creative hopefuls still battling it out in the trenches.
What’s worse is that Mr. Larsen, who has been an indie comics mainstay for some time, would seem to have completely forgotten what it was like to be an artist attempting to find success in their chosen profession. His ensuing social media thread was a reckless admonition casting aside the expansive list of components which contribute to the success of an artist, suggesting that talent alone will always win the day. In essence, the statement posits that if you never get your “big break” it’s simply due to your lack of talent, as opposed to the multitudes of other factors working against you at any given time.
Which is a crock, to say the least. Assembling a reliable creative team, funding, and time itself are but a few of the numerous hurdles to overcome on the steep and unpaved road to becoming a professional creator.
I will readily agree that a certain degree of competence is necessary before an established editor or publisher will consider your work. Any career, be it mathematician, attorney, plumber, proctologist, etc., requires years, if not decades, of experience to achieve proficiency. I would like to believe that, at its core, this is the message Mr. Larsen was hoping to disseminate. Unfortunately on its rather abrasive surface, this particular message conveniently glosses over the fact that perseverance and the unyielding commitment to constantly hone your craft are far more essential than some arbitrary qualifier such as “talent”.
Dogged persistence and an emotional flak jacket will be integral too, since, aside from the aforementioned professionalism, art is almost purely subjective. This is why it’s plausible that an aspiring comic book professional with plenty of talent may never manage to link up with an editor who digs the cut of their jib. Anyone who has ever attempted a career in comics (or the arts in general) has received their fair share of rejections. This doesn’t, in any way, shape, or form mean they don’t possess talent. It simply means that, in the avalanche of up-and-coming creators constantly besieging publishers and editors they were buried alive. It happens every single day.
Thomas Edison famously stated, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” All the ability in the world means precious little if someone just rests on their laurels.
Which brings me to another point: this is a highly competitive industry. Tons of hopefuls vie for one of the few coveted seats in the hallowed halls of the comic book elite. Every single one of them is all a-twitter with the exact same hopes and dreams. Microscopic fish in an infinite sea of nearly identical aquatic life. To add to the already astronomical odds, those who have secured a spot in the upper echelon spend every waking moment desperately clinging to their hard-won position. Being discovered is not a piece of pie.
If your work is of a professional quality, and if your pitch/art samples hurdle the mountainous slush pile of thousands of other portfolios, and if your passion finds its way into an editor’s hand, and if the editor isn’t suffering from the flu or a hemorrhoid or an emotional setback that day, then maybe a submission will have a shot at being considered. This chance does not ensure publication. It does not guarantee stability. It’s most assuredly not the promise of a hit series or graphic novel. Overcoming this first of many monumental obstacles merely grants the unparalleled honor of having an exchange with an actual editor.
As an aside, editors don’t owe you anything for the gallons of blood, sweat, and tears you pour into your work. Never respond to a rejection with an impassioned plea for reconsideration or, worse yet, an infuriated diatribe accusing said editor of failing to recognize your genius. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and either move on to the next publisher or the next project, if your project has been passed over.
None of this is meant to deter prospective creators. On the contrary, I am attempting to impart clear-sighted parameters of what the journey may hold in store. Again, this information is not meant to intimidate but to embolden with the knowledge that after a million “no’s” it only takes one “yes” to get that proverbial foot in the door. This is why I wholeheartedly dismiss the notion that anyone with any modicum of talent has already earned their spot among the ranks of professionals.
Rash and damning generalizations are crippling, dangerous, and wrong. I’m not suggesting that everyone should be given a participation trophy, but there’s no reason why a luminary in a position of power or influence can’t at least offer encouragement. Be realistic and set managed expectations. Don’t throw someone’s dream in the wood chipper simply because you’ve become disillusioned with your station in life. I would truly like to believe Mr. Larsen was coming from a benevolent place with his statement. Perhaps he meant it as a friendly warning or a call for budding sequential storytellers to be more reflective about their current skill level. That said, anyone in the public eye should pay more attention to their words and how those words may affect others.
It happens to be a golden age for comics and graphic novels. If working in this industry is something you desperately desire, then don’t let anyone take a jackhammer to your resolve. Unwavering tenacity alone may not ensure your place in the comic book industry, but neither does talent. Keep on scribbling no matter what, kids.