Sort of an odd post to write, because the subject matter is a bit of a tightrope walk. I’ve been extremely fortunate with comics writing so far – I’ve had some incredible opportunities, and I think a large part of that has been that I’ve had a few people in the business who were further ahead in their careers than I, who decided to help me out in large or small ways. That could be anything from advice on the business to a critique to a publishing deal. There are a ton of people I could name, but my list is starting to get so long that I’d be in danger of skipping important people. Basically, my feeling is that you don’t get very far in comics if you don’t get the occasional leg up from someone higher up the ladder.
I think that it’s important to pay that forward – Haley Joel Osment and Kevin Spacey taught me that much, at least. (They also showed me a bit about telling believable stories to police detectives and a great deal about how to craft a successful performance as a sad, child-sized robot.)
(Yeah, that was an A.I. shoutout.)
Anyway, when I get asked to look something over, or to give advice on breaking in, or to talk about page rates or similar questions, I do my best to find time to answer. I did a long Q&A session over on reddit’s comic book board recently, which was great because I was able to reach thousands of people in the same time it would have taken me to explain all that stuff to just a single person over email or at a con. You can see that here, if you’re interested.
I’m very flattered whenever anyone seeks me out to ask a question – I’m really not that deep into the industry at this point, and I make a ton of mistakes and there’s still a lot I need to learn. I really enjoy helping people when I can. However, there’s also a point where my willingness to help someone out is exceeded by that person’s expectations of what I should be giving them.
This post has been triggered by one specific guy – he seems nice enough, and I am CERTAINLY not going to provide his name – who is very excited about his book and wants it out there in the world right now, right away. He friended me on Facebook and started popping up in the chat window from time to time to introduce himself and ask questions. I’m usually happy enough to do that, as I’ve mentioned, but it started to be that every time I logged into the thing (it’s a bad enough timesuck as it is without getting into FB chat conversations) he’d pop up and ask for more, more, more. He wanted to send me his book to review for comments – I said sure, go ahead. Then he asked for my mailing address and told me what he would charge me for the book.
I explained that I was already taking some time out of my schedule to read his book and see if I could give him any tips – that’s farther than I would usually go, in fact. I also tried to convey that you don’t ask a guy to do you a favor and then ask him to pay for the privilege. (See, this is where I’m starting to feel like a curmudgeon. I feel like my position is justified – I AM busy, and I WAS doing the guy a favor – I’m not Alan Moore or Axel Alonso, but I think I give decent comments on people’s stuff. On the other hand, he’s just a kid – he’s 21, he told me – who really loves his work and wants to see how he can get it into the world.) He agreed to just send me a PDF.
I read it. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but I don’t think it’s pro quality at this point. I do think he’ll get there if he keeps working on his craft. That’s basically what I told him – I gently explained that I thought his stuff has potential, and he should keep hammering away and eventually he’ll have his own book out on the stands (or the tablets, more likely.) I didn’t really give specific beat-by-beat comments, because I didn’t feel like he’s at a point where that would have helped. He needs to learn from experience – and if I’m being honest, I didn’t have the time to give a line-by-line critique.
He wasn’t thrilled. He said that someone else had told him that he should start over and redo the whole thing, and he thought they were so, so wrong, because he’d already put a lot of money and time into what he had. (What I probably should have said then, but didn’t, is that money and time don’t automatically equal quality – hello, Transformers movies.) In a delightful twist, he also asked me if now I would buy a copy.
I’ve been ignoring his emails and FB messages since then. Most recent one was to ask how he could get the book published at Image. The short answer is “you can’t, not in the form your book currently exists,” but I don’t want to crush the guy. What I want him to take from his interaction with me is a sense that he should just keep working and refining his talent. Instead, I suspect he has a general feeling of resentment, possibly doesn’t like me or my stuff anymore (if he ever did), and his original sense of entitlement hasn’t been whittled down to where it probably needs to be.
I feel kind of bad about the whole thing, like I mishandled it somehow, even though I recognize it’s possible that this fellow didn’t want to hear anything except that he’s the second coming of Mark Millar. He didn’t want a critique or advice, he wanted validation (and possibly to sell a copy of his book.) Instead, where it stands today is that I would never recommend his work to anyone (even if it does improve), because my interactions with him left a bad taste in my mouth. On his end, he may never do what he needs to do to get better. Bad result on both sides.
Bottom line – if you’re asking for help (in comics or otherwise), recognize that people have stuff to do, and be as gracious as gracious can be about your request. You want to leave people feeling good that they helped you out, not feeling like they wasted time they should have used for something else.
So, am I a jerk here? I don’t know. Most of the time, I love helping people out, and I’m not going to stop doing it. I have a feeling this guy was a one-off. Truth is, most comics people are awesome.