When I was growing up as a fan of comics, it was easy for me to romanticize the idea of being a comic creator. As someone who fantasized about drawing comics for a living, I would often noodle in a sketchbook as a kid and think to myself, “Wow, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be paid to do this!” It seemed like the best job in the world. I mean, what could be better than bringing your own ideas to life in an actual comic book? “Nothing,” I’d think to myself, before I’d get back to my 300th attempt at perfecting the look of Impulse.
I long ago moved past the idea of making comics myself – turns out being bad at drawing is not an ideal place to start as an artist – but as someone who writes and podcasts about them, I’ve learned a lot about the lives of the people who create them. And you know what? It turns out there’s a lot more to it than having a good time drawing your favorite superheroes!
While there are plenty of positives and many of the creators I’ve spoken to wouldn’t trade jobs with almost anyone, the negatives are ideas most fans don’t think of as they’re lamenting a strange face or a seemingly unfinished background in your average comic. A lot of it comes from a basic element of the job, and that’s if you want to draw comics, you have to spend a lot of time doing that. That’s not inherently a problem. Jobs often require you to spend a fair amount of time doing the thing you were hired for. It’s a rather key component. But for comic creators, it’s what that time takes from you.
Let’s use a real world example. Several years ago, I wrote a big piece looking at the life of a comic book artist, and within that, artist Declan Shalvey was featured. He shared that it would take him 17 hours to finish a single page, which would equal 340 hours for a standard 20-page comic, or just over 14 days of solid, concentrated time put into one issue. That’s a lot, but the time itself isn’t inherently bad. It’s just time.
The real problem comes from the fact that this time is typically spent in isolation, as drawing comics requires concentration and focus if you want to do your job right. That means you’re not spending time with friends, family or even co-workers, you’re not developing your skills through study or research, you’re not networking, you’re not really doing anything except drawing. There’s a mental and professional cost to that, and it’s something many struggle with for understandable reasons.
That’s why finding a community of peers is hugely important for comic book creators of all varieties, but perhaps even more so for artists. Finding people you’re compatible with gives you someone who understands what your life is like. They can help push you or think of your work in a different way. When you’re forced into the scary real world at places like comic conventions, they give you a group to lean on and hang with. They can even help you build important connections, as the success of one can benefit the community sometimes.
While there’s value in connecting with creators of all varieties – I mean, who doesn’t want to talk with the giants of your field? – finding people at the same level as you is maybe even more valuable than other relationships you can have, as it gives you common ground and a group to grow with. That’s immense, and a key weapon as creators battle the grind of the job.
One of my favorite examples of how important community can be was Comic Twart, a sketch collective forged from the fires of Twitter in 2010. It featured *takes breath* Chris Samnee, Declan Shalvey, Tom Fowler, Evan “Doc” Shaner, Ramón Pérez, Mike Hawthorne, Dan McDaid, Nathan Fairbairn, *takes another breath* Mitch Gerads, Mitch Breitweiser, Steve Bryant, Francesco Francavilla, Dave Johnson, Andy Kuhn, Dan Panosian, Ron Salas and Patrick Stiles, and the idea was simple: each week a different member would select a theme for everyone to work off of, and then they’d draw and post it onto the site.
This was before many of these big deals were grade A “Big Deals,” and for this comic fan, it was an introduction to them that formed the foundation of a lasting love of their work. It’s a moment in time from comics I’ve always been fascinated by, if only because it’s an impossible assemblage of talent when you look at it now. 2 And today, we’re going to look back at the story of Comic Twart with perspective from many of its original members, and how this idea that started as a lark ended up being not just something that was fun, but an important community to those who were involved.