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Drawing Comics for Fun and Profit? Not So Fast, Hot Rod. [Part 2]

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The cost of doing business in the comic book industry continues to rise. New technologies, devices and software and an expanding list of conventions that you “must” attend are driving that cost up.

Last time I wrote about the specific costs of attending the New York Comic Con as an artist in Artists Alley. This is a representation of only one convention of the season, albeit one of the most expensive.

Let’s say that at that recently attended con where you ponied up the cash to sit in artists alley so people would think you were a professional even though you really have no idea what you’re doing, you got lucky and a frazzled editor had to hand a job off to someone. You happened to be standing in the right place when his finger stopped moving. You’ve been called up to the bigs kid, so now it’s time to deliver the goods. Now comes the question of how you go about crafting that art that will garner you the star attention you and I both know is yours by birthright?

Variable II: Doing Business the Old Fashioned Way

Paper, Pencils, Pens and Brushes, and Inks: $30 per issue

There’s almost no business cheaper to be a professional in than comics in the pre-digital age. There is no travel involved in your day-to-day and no hidden costs. Your work attire is whatever you happened to be wearing at the time. It helps to have a drawing table, but it isn’t necessary. It helps to have a pencil sharpener, but it isn’t necessary. It helps to have a library of reference, but it isn’t necessary.

That’s it. Were you expecting more?

I guess you could stretch and buy some imported Japanese pens, a set of french curves, or a carousel full of graphite sticks and various erasers, but none of those tools will actually make you a better artist.

All of this still works, but you’d better find a way to deliver those pages digitally so you could buy a scanner or…

Variable III : Doing Business the New-Fashioned Way

Computer/Laptop: $300 – ‘How Do I Make That Infinity Sign With My Keyboard?’

Everyone and their brother will try to talk you into shelling out for the newest Alienware laptop or an iMac with the Thunderbolt screen, but your machine only has to be able to handle medium to high-end graphics. Other than that, you aren’t limited by cost. A PC or laptop you can play a 5 year-old game on is plenty fast and powerful enough. I’ve been using a 2011 Macbook to produce We Can Never Go Home. It’s not that I couldn’t get anything better or newer, I just haven’t needed to and neither do you.

Software: $50-$400 or $20-60 a month

We are not short of options when it comes to what to use to actually make the art digitally. I use Manga Studio 5 in my day-to-day work because it’s made specifically for making comics. It’s slim, sleek, and doesn’t have a lot of tools you won’t ever use. The color handling options in Manga Studio sadly aren’t the best.

I could use Photoshop for the line work and the colors, but it’s bloated and slow. On older processors having fast hands can translate to a weird lag that can throw off your tempo. Also Photoshop is now a subscription service which can be inconvenient if your editor (accidentally) misses a payment. $20 can buy a lot of Ramen. Please don’t eat $20 worth of Ramen.

Paint Tool Sai, Sketchbook Pro and Painter all have their detractors and sycophants, but each piece of software offers month-long trial versions so there’s plenty of time to decide what works best for you.

Drawing Tablets $25-$2800

The drawing tablet has come a long way in capturing the finesse of a hand on paper, but it’s still not exactly the same. Subtlety is often marginalized due to the constrictions of the number of pixels you have to work with. When a comic is printed either on paper or digitally those nuances are lost anyway. I only ever work with pencils now when I want to do character design work or just want to sketch the day away. The tablet offers enough of the same experience to help you recreate your work.

The product is broken into two categories. Either a table-top tablet translates your drawing to a computer screen or you draw directly on the tablet.

The draw-on tablet is preferable, but the cost is prohibitive. The most financially accessible you’d actually want to purchase are developed by Huion, but even those are hundreds of dollars. The Cintiq might be gorgeous, but the newest top-end will have you shelling out $2,800 dollars for what is essentially a sketchpad with infinite paper. To run that kind of hardware you must have the processors and video managing capabilities of a high-end Mac which could end up doubling the cost of the tablet. For that money you could have flown to China to pick out your personal Huion from the factory and spent a week taking bites out of Beijing’s delicious air.

So far all I’ve written about is the fiscal cost of being a comic book professional and it’s fairly daunting. You love this industry though, so you’re willing to sacrifice for it, right? What you haven’t heard about yet is what I’ll be writing about next time, the most steeply dear aspect of working as a comic book professional: the opportunity cost. Only the truly brave can face it.

Until then KEEP DRAWING.

Also keep an eye out for the We Can Never Go Home trade paperback. For all you late comers it’s going to be the best way to get up to speed on eBay’s favorite comic™.

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