We Need to Support Black Creators Working in Comics

Y’all. I wanted to make a blog post about my favorite comics by black creators. Until I realized I know so few of them.

First, I’ll say that C. Spike Trotman and Taneka Stotts are my favorite black creators who have edited for the Beyond anthologies and My Monster Boyfriend (among other works). And yes, both ladies have written and drawn great comics of their own!

But very few comics I read are written and illustrated by black creators.

At least, not artists working recently.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Jackie Ormes and Richard “Grass” Green. Look up their work, they are AWESOME.

That said, I can do better to support black comics creators working today. I will do my part to seek them out and read their work. (I think I’ll start with Prince of Cats by Ronald Wimberly, because I follow him on Instagram.) (And also this list from Book Riot.)

Part of the reason why I think it’s hard to find comics by black creators is because…well…

Here’s the Secret.

It’s an uphill battle to HAVE black creators working in comics, particularly “mainstream” comics. They want to work, but industry leaders and execs will not hire them. This prejudice in hiring practices is so intense that CB and I wrote about it in Validation a long while ago, and the topics discussed in that arc are STILL relevant today. (The strips at the top of this post are some highlights from that arc.)

There are more black creators in indie comics because until recently, no one in “mainstream” comics wanted to hire them. Often for not-great reasons.

But then, I’ve never been a big supporter of “mainstream” comics. It was an all-white-boys club in the 80s and 90s, and in so many ways, it still is. “Mainstream” comics regard minority groups as subject matter to highlight their “otherness,” not as a target audience to make comics for.

I know that opinion is contentious. But I’ve come to this conclusion after making comics and attending conventions over the last 7 years. I’ve seen and heard the arguments all around. And I could write a whole other blog post about “the industry,” but that’s for another day.

Long story short: “mainstream” comics has a representation problem with hiring black creators. So much so that many black creators go indie and have immense success on KickStarter.

Am I going to let “mainstream” comics’ allergies to hiring black creators get in the way of seeking them out? No. I will go find a creator on KickStarter, do my research, and if their story tickles my fancy, SUPPORT THEM. And I hope you do the same.

And if you missed it, here’s a list of some of my favorite black creators. Some of them DO make comics in the indie sphere.

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading!

You. Are. Awesome.

Writing for Comics 101 – Making Pages You Can Actually Read

In today’s lesson of Writing for Comics 101, let’s talk about making pages you can ACTUALLY read.

How do we do that? By not packing the pages with an obscene amount of dialogue.

Or at least, if you HAVE to keep so much dialogue, how to pace it out so it’s not a word brick.

This technique is something discussed in more detail in Making Comics by Scott McCloud, so what I’ll do for today’s post is share my mistakes so you can learn from them.

Let’s take a look at this page from Seeing Him, written by Kia Crawford and drawn by me:

seeing him transgender webcomic page 25

To be honest, there’s a way to get the information across that we need, without using a fuck-ton of dialogue.

We could:

  • split this between two pages,
  • condense the banter,
  • condense the backstory drop,
  • change the page layout,
  • change the balloon layout,
  • or any combination of these.

At least past me had the sense to split the dialogue into separate balloons. That way the page felt, at the time, a little less like a word brick.

This is me spit-balling some ideas right now on how to fix this page of Seeing Him: we could change the camera focus in the second and third panels, to cut away to framed photos on the walls. Those photos could showcase the history of the venue. With that edit, we can split the dialogue up some more, re-frame where the speech balloons sit, and make the page feel like less of a collection of talking heads.

Compare this page to The Legend of Jamie Roberts, page 65, written and drawn by me.

the legend of jamie roberts genderqueer lgbtq pirate adventure webcomic page 65

Here, I let the space breathe and tell the story for me, without so many words.

Whether you can draw or not, comics are a visual medium. Let the environment and scenery describe for you what words could not.

If you have questions, or need feedback, let me know in the comments. I’m happy to help.

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading!

You. Are. Awesome.

The Freelance Lifestyle – What Jobs to Pursue

Today for The Freelance Lifestyle, I’m going to give an honest take on what kinds of jobs you should pursue – especially if you’re freelancing for the first time.

For the first time freelancer, it can be tempting (or even encouraged) to take the first job that comes your way. For folks like me who have been freelancing for a few years, you get a better sense of what to say “yes” or “no” to.

I hope that in this blog post, you can learn from some mistakes I’ve made, so you can avoid really shifty, shady, or downright nasty clients.

Trust Your Gut.

Your logic brain will tell you to take any job you can get because “it’s money.”

But if there’s something about the potential client that makes you raise eyebrows, pay attention to that.

Pay attention to these signs if you’re unsure about a gig:

  1. Does the client use language that makes your spider sense tingle? For me, that looks like anyone who makes sexist jokes, or talks about Christian topics in really uncomfortable ways. My primary audience is the exact opposite of these people. So if a potential client is using language that my primary audience would NEVER use, I note that.
  2. Does the client use an obscene amount of emojis? I’m not knocking against emoji use. However, I’m encouraging you to spot any communication from your potential client that’s less than professional. Especially if you feel that it’s detrimental.
  3. Does this client have a digital presence that’s easy to find? Some clients will share their website or social media link with you. THIS IS GOOD. Some potential clients may not provide this information, even if you ask for it. THIS IS SHADY. Do your due diligence and go to Google. Cross-check them. If the search results come up with something weird or unsavory, voice that concern.
  4. Does this client balk at the idea of signing a contract YOU wrote? If you don’t know how to write a contract that protects you and a client, I wrote a post a long while ago about how to do it. There’s also some good templates through the Artist and Graphic Designer’s Market.

If you wrote a contract, and the potential client doesn’t want to sign it or even READ it, make note of that. A good client will ask clarifying questions before signing anything.

If I missed something, or if you still have questions, let me know in the comments. I’m happy to help.

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading!

You. Are. Awesome.

Writing for Comics 101 – Why One-Liners Are Not Enough

In today’s installment of Writing for Comics 101, let’s talk about why one-liners are not enough.

If you missed it, I wrote in last week’s installment about how to write good characters. Now, I’m going to let you in on a secret about how to write dialogue for characters:

YOU CANNOT FORCE A ONE-LINER.

Admittedly, this is more of a problem I see in people who want to get into superhero or shonen comics. Both genres are guilty of having characters talking (almost incessantly) on the pages during action scenes. This incessant talking is meant to lead into quote-worthy one-liners.

Don’t get me wrong. I love one-liners. Otherwise I would not love the movie Mystery Men as much as I do.

But here’s the secret about one-liners: They are rooted in the characters.

To have good one-liners, you need to have good characters. To have good characters, you need to know your characters REALLY well. As in, you should know the things I talked about last week. If you don’t, go back to the Word document.

But a story cannot be made of one-liners alone. You need to have connective moments. Even Mystery Men knew that.

So what you need to learn is how to write actual, believable dialogue between characters.

To make that actual, believable dialogue, you need to understand your characters backgrounds, wants, and fears.

And here’s the most important secret about making comics that few people talk about:

Sometimes, the best thing you can say on the comic page…is nothing.

Trust me: silence can say more in a story than any amount of dialogue ever could. Read Cairo and Asterios Polyp if you don’t believe me.

If you still have questions, let me know in the comments. I’m happy to help.

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading!

You. Are. Awesome.

Writing Comics 101 – A Comic Is More than Just Cool-Looking Characters

Thanks for joining me in the first post of Writing for Comics 101. Today, you’ll learn that a comic is more than just cool-looking characters.

Here’s a common problem I see among aspiring comics creators: they create this cool character that hits all the right buttons for trendy clothes, kickass attitude, and more one-liners than Mystery Men.

But what do these folks do with their cool-looking characters?

Absolute fuck-all.

Here’s the thing – nobody cares about how cool your character looks. And nobody cares what kind of powers or cool abilities they have.

Readers do not care about the superficial crap. Readers care about the journey the character goes on.

If you want readers to be invested in your cool characters, you have to know how to develop that character to make them go on a story.

Here’s a super easy process to help you flesh out this character. I guarantee that by answering these questions, you’ll not only make actually believable characters. You’ll also actually find a plot that writes itself.

Here are the questions you need to ask about your cool character:

  1. What’s your character’s background?
  2. What do they want?
  3. What do they fear?

That’s it.

You may have seen quizzes and templates everywhere, from Tumblr to Pinterest. These character templates will ask questions like “what’s your character’s favorite food? What’s their fondest childhood memory?” etc etc.

That’s all superficial crap. Those can, and will, change during the writing and re-writing process.

But if you get the answer to those 3 questions up top? Your character will be SOLID.

Here, I’ll use one of my characters to illustrate this point.

This is Auxaton.

What’s his background? He’s a mountain ridge elf, and a monk for the goddess Ahyahweh. His life is devoted to acts of community service, to help his people live in a cold environment.

What does he want? Well, recently ALL OF HIS PEOPLE have been kidnapped and enslaved. He wants to find his people so he can free them.

What does he fear? That he will lose his connection to his goddess.

And with that, we have a plot! A monk who has lost his people is on a journey to rescue them.

Now, folks who have studied film will say, “Wait, you didn’t address their need! Story is what a character wants vs what they need!”

You have already figured out their need – by asking what they fear.

What the character WANTS and what they NEED are two different things, but are usually tied together. For example, in the Disney movie Aladdin, Aladdin’s WANT is riches and a palace. He FEARS Jasmine discovering that he’s not a rich prince, but a beggar boy using magic to appear rich. His NEED is to stop pretending to be something that he isn’t.

So there you have it. Do this exercise and I guarantee that you will have yourself a character that’s worth exploring and writing about.

Stay tuned for more writing tips. And be sure to sign up for the email newsletter to know when the next Writing for Comics 101 drops.

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading!

You. Are. Awesome.