Kickstarting...

I've been sitting on this post for a while now, but after comic writer Tony Lee got on a roll last week on his Twitter account, I decided to revisit it and offer up my own unwanted opinions.

Lee tweeted this a while back:

If you can't spend the time to learn how to write comics before doing it? Fine. But when you ask people for money? You'd better know what you're doing, which means you NEED to learn your craft, or at least have someone edit / read over your work. Ego does not = talent.

He was talking about many of the comic based Kickstarter projects that are popping up all over the shop, and the way that the platform has become a way to get mediocre comic projects up and running. He picked up this thread again last week and went on to make some valid points about the whole thing, the main thrust of it being that people seem to want to use it as a shortcut to get their project out there without learning the craft of making comics.

I'll put my hands up here and admit that I don't know that much about Kickstarter; I've never used it to either donate or help finance a project, and I don't have any plans to do so in the near future. However, I do find myself wholeheartedly agreeing with Lee, especially on two points from the tweet above:

  • Ego doesn't equal talent and
  • You need to learn your craft

The first one goes without saying, really. There's an abundance of ego in the comics world, at all levels of it, that can be both hilarious and terrifying in equal measure. I understand that it takes a lot of guts to put your work out there in front of people, so you have to wear your game face in public and build a front of self-confidence to hide your insecurities behind (I do that all the time, I don't mind admitting). But sometimes, it's not a front, and people genuinely believe that everything they're pumping out are slices of fried gold.

Self confidence is paramount to making comics - or writing, or creating art, or song writing or whatever - of that there's no doubt, but letting your ego take control and allowing it to make you think everything you're doing is quality, that you have nothing to learn, that you're good enough to work in the big leagues, is, frankly, fucking ridiculous.You need to learn the craft.

See what I did there? Seamless.

Anyway, that's the key thing about comics: it's a craft to be learned. Scripting, art, lettering and colouring are a discipline in and of themselves, each of them needs to be mastered, so each of them can be put together as a whole; they're parts of a puzzle that should all lock neatly together to produce a damn good read, which is the goal of good comics - hell, good stories - let's not forget.

However, having a great idea for a story doesn't mean you'll automatically be able to immediately turn it into a comic or novel. You need to have the skills and knowledge to put it down on paper in a narrative form, and if you don't have those, well, you should just go away and learn it, ask for help, do whatever it takes to get to that point where you can do it for yourself.

It is just literally a case of you have to practice and get good, then get better, because just being "good enough" should never be, er, good enough. You should be constantly striving to improve, to build your creative arsenal, rather than just sitting back and coasting by on whatever skills you've already picked up. But to get there in the first place, you have to go and learn the basics.

How? Just fucking do it.

Yes, it takes time and it takes patience, but, as with all things, it will pay off if you work at it hard enough. And - this should be pretty much common sense, but I think it needs to be said - if you're asking people for money, then giving them a halfway competent product in return is always favourable than handing over steaming a pile of shite.

Let me be clear: I'm not saying all comic-related projects on Kickstarter (or Indiegogo or whatever) are crap; there's sure to be some real gems that are worth the cash, but I'd lay good money on those being, y'know, half decent, and done by people who have that understanding of the craft.

Some of the replies that Lee got were interesting, too (although not as vitriolic as I'd expected), but one in particular stood out for me, about people using Kickstarter to get their "learning the craft" experience. On that, I found myself calling bullshit.

I'm only speaking on my own personal experience here, but the small press scene is a healthy and vibrant place (in the UK anyway, not sure how it shapes up in other parts of the world). It's a great place to plug in to, make friends and contacts and, above all, learn. No, there's not a lot of money in it (if any), and, yes, some people will look down on the whole thing (both from within the scene and without), but there is, simply, no better place for people to get to grips with the creation of comics and work out what they're actually doing. It's a lot of hard work, of that there's no doubt, and there's not always a reward at the end of it, but that's the way it goes sometimes.

Personally, I've taken something crucial away from every piece I've had published. I've learned a huge amount from seeing my scripts turned into completed comics. I can literally see what works and what doesn't, where I need to improve and where my strengths lie. It has, I think, helped make me a better writer, and develop a thicker skin - which is, basically, a pre-requisite to embarking on any creative pursuit. I've also learned to work with editors and artists, and not to just simply try and bend them to my will to make sure they realise my vision. More importantly, though, I've made friends and contacts that I can turn to for help and advice regarding comic projects.

I doubt you'll get any of that going straight to Kickstarter.

To make it clear, I'm not dismissing Kickstarter out of hand completely. As I said, I've never used it, but that's not say I won't in the future; I'm not ruling anything out. I can honestly say, though, if I had to go back and try and gain the same tiny little patch of ground that I've managed to grab hold of over the last couple of years, I wouldn't use it, largely for the reasons outlined in those last three paragraphs.

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