Currently circulating around Twitter and the Blogosphere is this article entitled “When To Give Up” by Calista Brill on the First Second blog. First Second is a publisher of fine graphic novels, about 20 to 24 per year, and Calista is an Editor there.
The article details when and why a comics creator (artist / author / graphic novelist / cartoonist) would or possibly should give up on their dream of making comics their vocation. It’s written from the perspective of a New York City publisher who sees hundreds of submissions per year, and it’s part of a series of articles on the publisher’s website tagged “Behind The Scenes,” that gets into the nuts and bolts of graphic novel publishing. I think it’s generally smart and very on the ball, in that it clearly espouses the economic realities behind comics as a vocation (it’s difficult at best) and confronts readers and the aspiring-to-be-published with some basic truths about the business of comics.
Specifically, I like that Calista takes a bunch of time to couch her advice and experience by pointing out the flaws in her own method, despite that it’s the best method she’s got to work with. Early in the piece she links to two different dissenting viewpoints from hers–about not giving up in the face of discouragement and that editors like her are human and make mistakes–but she goes on to make her overall point: “Take a realistic look at your work and its reception amongst your peers and the marketplace, and if it’s not good, maybe reassess your career goals.” (Paraphrasing)
Where the article slips is in not using clearer language to differentiate between an artistic career, and art as a vocation. It’s clear to me that she’s using phrases like “publishable” to mean “publishable with the hopes of finding financial remuneration.” As I mentioned this article is also part of a series of blog posts on that subject, and being made by a publisher for whom making enough money to stay in business and keep publishing is an end goal (though clearly not the only one). If this was the first article you’d read on this site or were otherwise inclined to do so, you might interpret this as a ‘quit making art, you suck’ and Calista’s partly at fault here for not being clearer in the second half that this is about the economics of making art. A strong concluding statement would have helped a lot too, to incorporate the economics and vocational aspects clearly outlined in the first half into a final statement–as it is the article just sort of stops, rather than concludes.
All in all, I think it’s a ballsy move for a publisher to come out and preemptively ask artists to do some soul-searching about their chosen vocation. If the people who are going to be providing you a paycheck in your chosen vocation can’t give you advice on that subject, then who can? This article speaks directly to their publishing model and publishing philosophy, and has opened up a heated discussion on Twitter about other models, other philosophies, and the nature of artistic passion. I kind of wish it’d started a discussion about the nature of economic survival in the face of artistic passion, but beggars and choosers, right?
Ultimately, my favourite comment about this article came from Michael DeForge, a very talented comic creator and a friend of mine who was dismissive of this article in its entirety:
“that :01 article going around is dumb, but if that sort of thing could actually convince anyone to quit they were a probably a sissy to begin with”
Straight to the point–DeForge is amazingly skilled creator whose comics ability improves rapidly, whose work I love to follow, and who is already interrogating his own work in many of the ways outlined in the article. He isn’t someone who lacks insight into his own work in the slightest, and the article, which recommends it, is therefore pointless. I think that perfectly sums it up for me.
P.S.: I am friends with Calista and the folks at First Second, just as I am friends or at least friendly with every single person I’ve seen criticizing this article. Just in case you were wondering where my bias is, it’s in favour of realistic expectations of the industry–not the medium–of comics.