It’s that time of the year again, when comics, pop culture enthusiasts and creators of all ages flood the streets of Seattle for Emerald City Comicon (ECCC). This year, ECCC featured expanded programming, switching to a four-day format, and holding the Image Expo on April 6.
This is the first ECCC to be held since the convention was acquired by ReedPOP, the same company behind other large fan events such as Penny Arcade Expo and New York Comicon, and the additional day includes plenty of material.
New titles and Creators for Creators grant announced at Image Expo
Now the third-largest comics publisher in the United States (after Marvel and DC), Image is known for publishing only creator-owned stories, and since being founded in 1992 it has continued to attract top talent in the comics industry. At the Image Expo, the publisher announced 20 new books for 2016, including titles from critically acclaimed creators such as Brenden Fletcher, Babs Tarr, Jen Van Meter, Ed Brubaker, Leila del Duca, and Brian Azzarello.
This year’s announcements at the Image Expo seemed to lean strongly towards fantasy and adventure, but as with most Image offerings, the worlds are set dressing for the deep character conflicts that drive the story forward. If there was one word to describe the common theme running through all the titles announced at the Expo, perhaps the most fitting one would be “transformation,” or the transition from one state to another — in a literal and metaphorical sense.
A full list of all the projects announced at the event can be found on the Image Comics website.
A fitting cap to the morning program was the announcement of the Creators for Creators grant. Creators for Creators is a nonprofit aimed at supporting the creation of original works through grants and education. The grant gives a writer/artist duo $30,000 to develop an original work over one year, and includes mentorship from the founders of the organization, who are all successful comics creators. Publishers Image Comics and Iron Circus Comics have also agreed to offer publishing deals to grant recipients, should they be selected.
Nick Dragotta, one of the founders of Creators for Creators, explained the raison d’être for the grant and the creation of the nonprofit:
There are no guarantees in any business, but comics are also an art form. It’s one of the most vibrant and fascinating art forms, one that’s found expressed in beautiful ways in every corner of the globe. For an art form to progress, artists need opportunities, especially the young artists. I want to read more fresh new voices, ones that are unrestrained and shock us with the new. I know they’re out there. I visit them every time I’m online, but are they getting a prominent enough stage to debut? Are they learning the ins and outs of an industry that is stacked against them? I’m sure every person in comics right now shares a history of hard knocks, and our saving grace was creating work we owned and having the support of publishers who share those values. Can we use our shared success to create new alternatives for the next generation of creators? Can we create opportunities to foster and grow our community, industry, and art form?
I think so. We all love this art form, and at the very least, we’re giving back just a fraction of what comics have given us.
Applications for the grant open on May 1, 2016.
Advice on becoming a professional comic creator from Steve Lieber
Steve Lieber may be known as an award-winning comic artist today, but making a career out of producing funny books wasn’t always easy. In an on-stage interview moderated by CommLead instructor Rob Salkowitz, he shared some of his insights into the creative process, collaboration, and getting better at making comics.
Lieber said his first inspiration for becoming a comic artist came from reading a comic featuring the Submariner, a character he described as “Mr. Spock in a speedo who kept starting fights.” Later, he practiced his art by tracing and copying other comics work, until he eventually landed a job drawing Hawkman and other properties for DC Comics.
After years of producing “assembly line” comics, Lieber began to feel disillusioned by being a comic artist. It wasn’t until 1998 that Lieber found the project that really galvanized him and allowed him to begin to develop his own unique style: White Out, a collaboration with Greg Rucka (now a well-recognized creator in his own right) published as a four-issue story by Oni Press.
As White Out was set in Antartica, it challenged Lieber to find a way to depict extreme weather conditions with ink and paper. It also gave Lieber a taste for stories where the main antagonist was not man, but weather conditions. Man vs. Nature was a theme that persisted into Underground, which tells the story of a park ranger who finds herself trapped in a cave system.
More recently, Lieber has gotten the chance to flex his sense of humor. He’s collaborated with Nick Spencer on Superior Foes of Spider-Man, a series that explores some of the antics the recurring antagonists of Spider-Man get up to when they’re not just up against the superhero. His more recent project with Spencer is The Fix, a comic about two corrupt cops that encounter their greatest nemesis yet: a determined police hound named Pretzel.
There’s a lot of fun, Lieber admitted, in creating stories with “cheerfully sociopathic narcissists.” Whereas a more conventional superhero book might depict the protagonist overcoming his obstacles, less morally upright characters rarely enjoy the same benefit. “There’s a lot of fun making them suffer slowly.”
Lieber was asked what failures he’s encountered as a comics artist, or common mistakes he’s observed people make. “Most advice is poisoned by survivor bias,” Lieber mused. “I’ve seen lots of folks who had all the goods to make it in comics but didn’t for one reason or another.“
One of these reason is that some people have sharp skills but very poor social skills. Comic making is a very social industry, and an inability to play well with others will hurt a creator in the long run. The same goes for missing deadlines, or not delivering something that was expected. Since comic creation is rarely a process done alone, being unable to fulfill your part puts a lot of pressure on other people who depend on you.
“A good interaction will be shared with one or two people, but a lousy interaction will be spread to thousands.”
It’s also important, Lieber stressed, to not be a jerk to fans. “A good interaction will be shared with one or two people, but a lousy interaction will be spread to thousands.”
In fact, Lieber had his own strange run-in with online fandom. One reader had taken his comic, Underground, and posted all its pages to 4chan, an anonymous online message board. Instead of demanding the comic be taken down, Lieber participated in the discussion thread instead, responding to comments made by readers and correcting speculations. While 4chan users were initially skeptical of his identity, once they realized he was the real artist it created a positive impression. Lieber said he sold more comics in the four days after that thread than he had in all the months prior.
Finally, on working with collaborators and navigating creative differences, Lieber recommended staying flexible. “Pick your battles. Figure out what you want to do versus what’s going to actively hurt the work, and keep your eyes on the prize.” In the end, Lieber said it’s important to consider what’s most important to convey to the reader. In case of serious creative discussions, he added, it helps to write out your points like an email, to help organize thoughts ahead of time.
“Always come at it from a point of respect,” he finished. “If you’re working with a person, it’s because you want to work with them and they’re bringing something to the table.”