“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something”
Two weeks ago I posted about wondering, essentially, what the point was when it comes to trying. I reiterated that I’ll never stop drawing and creating, but was there a point when it comes to trying to gain any sort of fan following online? Is it even worth my time to try to find a publisher for my projects?
I mean, there’s always a chance something will click with someone, but I am not, and wasn’t, feeling optimistic. Much of this perspective comes from making comics for as long as I have and, essentially, not getting anywhere.
But there’s actually a lot of very good reasons I have not been published. Let’s take a look at them, shall we?
The first issue of ‘Uptown Girl’ came out in 2003. It was the first comic I ever drew and it shows. The art is terrible and inconsistent and was drawn in a single afternoon while I was at work. The spirit and the humor was there, but the art was…well, it was my first comic. I like to think it was obvious that I loved what I was doing and my enthusiasm for the characters came across in every issue but it was also obvious that I needed to draw better.
I submitted my comic to various publishers after a dozen issues or so. I thought publishers would be impressed by the fact that I was making my comic monthly and would be charmed by the humor and characters. And they were, I think. But the feedback I got was the art needed a lot of help. It stung a little but I knew they were right. The art was getting better but not ready for a wider audience.
I kept at it and eventually I had finished the monthly series at 75 issues. The art was much better but still not ready for a publisher. I think. I don’t know because I never submitted my comic to publishers after my first attempt years prior. I was too busy and having too much fun with creating the comic to bother trying to find a publisher for it.
Part of the reason for stopping the monthly series and moving the characters to an annual graphic novel format was so I could spend more time on the art. I like to think that the art took a huge leap forward when I allowed myself more time to draw it.
Once the first graphic novel was finished, I sent it off to maybe…five publishers. This was back in 2008 or so when graphic novels were only published by comic publishers, not traditional mainstream publishers. These days there are many more options to submit your work too, thankfully.
But it was turned down and I shrugged it off and went on to draw five more graphic novels. But I never bothered to show those to a publisher.
The final ‘Uptown Girl’ graphic novel came out in 2017 and Uptown Girl’s adventures were over. It’s not fair, and not realistic to be pessimistic about not being published if I only bothered to send my work to editors only twice in a 14 year span. I may have been doing comics for 14 years but it’s not accurate to say that I have been trying to get published for 14 years.
When I started ‘The Retros’ I thought that this would be the better project to pitch. I had…accepted? Learned? Realized? that if I wanted a publisher to look a my work I needed to show them my work. I hoped that by posting my comic online it would generate some buzz and would catch the attention of someone, somewhere, but that didn’t, and isn’t, happening. So, once the first story arc/season was over, I collected it and sent it off to about a dozen publishers.
I chose mostly comic publishers even though at this point non-comic publishers were doing graphic novels. By the time the first book was printed, ‘The Retros’ had become too weird, too political and just too…quirky (how I hate that word) and didn’t really fit in anywhere. I didn’t think it had a chance anywhere but my odds were better with a company that only did comics.
It didn’t go anywhere and I could see why. Like the first issue of ‘Uptown Girl’ I was still learning. I had gotten pretty good at doing comic books, but doing a four panel comic strip took some adjusting to. It took a while to adapt to the format and I had to learn a lot about timing, pacing and layout. Even in the early days of pitching it, I could see why a publisher would pass on it.
It’s tempting to redraw and resubmit the first story arc but I’d rather spend my time on moving forward and creating new stuff.
As ‘The Retros’ enters the third year, I suppose I could say that I’ve been doing this series for several years but have not found a publisher. But again, that’s not accurate. I haven’t been trying too hard. The stuff I’m doing now is better than it’s ever been, but as this is an ongoing series it really doesn’t matter how good the third year is if the first year or so isn’t publishable. So, like ‘Uptown Girl’, I haven’t found a publisher because, honestly, I am not trying too hard to find one.
If I am being honest with myself, and with you I suppose, I really only have sufficiently tried to find a publisher for one project in the 15 years of trying to make a career out of drawing. My picture book, ‘Bear and Rabbit’, was submitted to over 100 literary agents and almost 50 publishers and nothing yet. The disappointment in this comes from two places. The first is that I think this is a pretty good book. I worked hard on it and I really feel it’s a strong story. I learned a lot about picture books after reading so many of them to my daughter and I like to think that the book is a result of that. The second reason is that I tried really hard to find a place for this project.
But it’s not done yet, something may come from it. Not all hope is lost. Even if the book never finds a home, I learned a lot about pitching and the publishing world. As I researched editors and agents, I kept seeing a demand for more graphic novels. As Sophie gets older, she has moved onto reading more comics and like many kids her age, she loves Raina Telgemeier‘s books. Her interest in comics as helped introduce me to a ton of new books I never would have noticed otherwise.
The type of graphic novels she’s into and the type of graphic novels publishers want are keeping me optimistic about my next project. I am impressed at the range of topics and level of maturity that are in the comics being published for the middle school/young adult audience these days. I am also blown away by the art and the charm and talent of these cartoonists. Discovering this new world makes me…hopeful and confident that perhaps this new graphic novel might have a better chance than Uptown Girl, The Retros and Bear had.
I am about fifty pages in and I think I am about a tenth of the way done. I started lettering it about a week ago and I think once I am done with the scene I am doing now I’ll post what I have so far online. The book’s inspiration and “hook” I suppose, is if ‘The Legend of Zelda’ took place in my hometown and starred a young girl. I think I’m accomplishing that as evidenced in the flashback pages above. I don’t want to say it’s darker than other things I’ve done but I think some stuff might be a surprise to people who are familiar with my work.
Anyway, the point of all this is to remind myself that yes, I’ve been drawing a lot. But no, I haven’t drawing very well for that whole time. I’ve had dreams of being published for a long time, but no, I haven’t been trying that hard to become published.
I may have not accomplished what I want to accomplish, but if I am being honest, there’s reasons for that:
- I needed time to become a better artist
- I need to show my work to more people as long as it’s good