chrisgumprich.com

LESSONS LEARNED #3

By Chris Gumprich. (Originally appeared May 8, 2005)

When last we met, Recriminations had just cost me an extra twenty cents a copy printing charge because I wasn't paying attention. The art came out a little dark, and the lettering slightly blurred, but none of that mattered. Copies were in the mail, winging their way to reviewers who would surely help spread the gospel and increase my sales.

With one glaring exception (which I'll get to in a minute), Recriminations didn't receive any bad reviews, but it hardly set the world on fire. A prominent professional said ".nothing very surprising, but there's nothing wrong with it either." Another reviewer pointed out that the production values weren't the best, that it looked to be run off the office copier. "The pages are very dark," said a third reviewer, "it makes it hard to tell what's going on in some panels."

Remember the important point from last column - if it looks bad on the master copy, it will look five times as bad on the printed page. When reviewers start talking about the production of the comic instead of the story, well, you've done something wrong. Lesson learned, I'll know better next time.

Then came the glaring exception that I mentioned above - a review which, although when I look at it now isn't all that bad, at the time it was devastating. It included such phrases as "probably best not to send [it] out for review" and "amateurish." Ouch. Suddenly my dream of fame and riches had run up against the harsh, cold reality - I wasn't going to get a movie deal for Recriminations. It wasn't going to be my big break into the industry. It was looking like I had failed miserably.

Let's take a step back and consider the situation. A lot of people want to do comics, enough to pester pros with questions like 'where do you get your ideas?' All of these people have one thing in common - the dream. Some of them give up when they realize that they aren't willing to do the work required to achieve said dream, although if you were to ask them they would come up with excuses like "I don't have any ideas" or "I don't have any money." Others take the lessons learned and put them towards making a comic. Some even go so far as finishing the comic, printing it, and sending it out into the world. By this time they are still flying on dreams.

Then reality walks up to them, slaps them across the face, and explains the way things are. "You may have realized that success will be the result of hard work, but you didn't realize what Hard Work really means," says reality. Anybody can do a comic - draw some stick figures on paper, slap in a few word balloons, staple it together and hand it out at the bus station. The real challenge comes after - making a second comic.

If I were feeling suitably poetic, I would make some comment about being at the crossroads. I had to make a choice. Do I give up entirely (the easiest path) and spend the rest of my life feeling like a complete failure? Do I continue printing minis at the local copy center, moaning about how I'm a misunderstood genius? Or do I follow the most difficult path -- accepting that I made mistakes, learning from them, and moving on to the next stage.

Time to move on to the next stage. I've made a minicomic. It reviewed badly, but I know why, and I can fix that. It sold dismally, but I know why, and I can fix that too. It's time to go back to the research, back to asking questions, and learn how to make the next comic better.

It was time to graduate to a full-sized comic.

Yeah, I know. He finishes one minicomic and figures that he knows enough to make it to the Big Time. A perfect illustration of the single most important of all the important points that I'll be making throughout these columns - being confident is good, but don't let it fall over into arrogance.

Next time I'll talk about the birth of Midnight Coder, and how mistakes can be a lot more expensive on a full-sized comic.

Before I close, I want to give a shout-out to Emma, artist on Recriminations. She did a great job on the story, and I still feel bad about the less than stellar production work. She's moved on to bigger and better things now.