Creating comics can be a solitary experience. The time required to pursue what most of us are doing as a hobby or ambition can exceed the 40-hour work week. Choose the path of total creative control – performing all writing, art and production chores by your lonesome – and bind yourself to a kind of social celibacy. Opt for industry-style collaboration, fulfilling just one or two of those duties, and you’ll still spend countless hours glued to a computer or art desk. Factor in long-distance working relationships between work-from-home creatives and your personal interactions resolve as email threads, Facebook posts, Skype sessions. Level up and join the ranks of professionals? Eliminate your previous exterior workplace life and restrict your socializing to conventions and conclaves.
Actively creating comics requires huge amounts of effort and focus. You must be capital-C committed to accomplish your goals. Honoring that commitment proves very difficult for many. Unless driven by compulsive need to produce, or whip-cracked into productivity by a third party (boss), the work dwindles, interest fades. You talk about your big plans to create the next great series or graphic novel, then spend your available hours playing video games. Skip the sequentials to post easy pin-ups on Deviant Art. Binge watch streaming TV shows. Maybe even go out of doors and meet real people.
How do you repel that quagmire of wasted time and keep the creative fires lit AND score some much needed social time? Get out and form a comic creator group.
Why Form a Comic Creator Group?
A creative group provides a real-time feedback loop for your efforts. An interested audience, ready to review and discuss your work, is incredibly valuable, particularly when they are not close friends and therefore apt to be more honest. Spouse, siblings, and longtime friends make poor objective readers/viewers. Their feedback may lack insight or constructive criticism. You need fresh eyes, honed by exposure to and scrutiny of the comics medium, to evaluate your creations, to praise your accomplishments or offer helpful advice.
A club of mutual interest also serves as a peer support group. Creativity can be symbiotic and reciprocal. Seeing the work of others inspires and compels you to produce something to show off, in turn pushing other members to continue the cycle. Yes, you’ll commiserate over delays, procrastination and life’s obstacles. You’ll probably grow too understanding of your fellow creatives’ pitfalls. But you will need to hold each other to task, whether it’s a simple 10-minute daily sketch or a finished script draft.
Liberate yourself from apartment/basement/dorm room and visit the real world. More than just social time, regular excursions amongst humanity help you keep track of current fashion trends and cultural attitudes. This exposure keeps your art relevant. Lock yourself away for too long and your point of view may become stagnant, anachronistic. (Look at some notable, dependable comics professionals, whose characters still dress like a season two episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Have they been in public any time in the recent past?)
Most of all, a creator group manifests friendships – or at least other people who respect why you spend your time chasing the comic dream. Half the beauty of our nerdy world is sharing it with others of mutual passion.
How Do I Start a Group?
Post a flyer at your local comic shop. Set up websites or Facebook group pages. Connect with like minds on Twitter. Advertise your new group on Craigslist (but try not to get murdered).
Do you live in a reasonably-sized community? There’s a pretty good chance at least a handful of others are looking for just this kind of opportunity.
(My first creator group, the now defunct Comic Creator Cabal (C3), began with a small sign at the register of a local comic shop. That simple call to action – “Want to make comics?” – started a loose weekly gathering that solidified into the Cabal, which eventually produced an anthology, the first “published” work for all involved.)
Start with regular meetings but don’t over-schedule; once or twice per month is fine. Don’t pressure a time commitment some might be unwilling or unable to accommodate.
Locate a friendly, neutral and consistent location to meet. The back room of a supportive comic or game shop can be ideal, provided the atmosphere is positive (and the bathroom clean). Personally, I prefer restaurants and cafes that cater to meetings and loiterers, with free WIFI and late hours – Dennys, Panera Bread Company, Starbucks, etc. Some public libraries have meeting rooms where they don’t mind if you get loud. Perhaps a group member has free access to a university or community college’s classrooms. Steer clear of bars, unless you’re actively discouraging younger members – they make poor work environments and get expensive.
Avoid, at least initially, meeting at the homes of individual members. Get comfortable with these new would-be friends before inviting them into your sanctum. It only takes one klepto near your collectibles to sour the entire experience and sow distrust amongst your fellows. Hosting also implies responsibility to feed and entertain your guests, distracting you from the true focus – making some damn comics.
Who Do I Let In?
Consider your group all-inclusive in the early stages. Don’t push away those with interests outside your genre. Capes & tights, indies, manga, all-ages, literary, comedic — all these genres are valid; you can all learn from each other.
Seek out and embrace a diverse line-up. Different points of view are invaluable as you develop your art. If you’re lucky enough to generate a mix of genders and cultures, rejoice! Comics are for everyone!
Your first sessions may attract a few hyper-awkward individuals, or fans who love comics but aren’t actually interested in creating them. These folks will either find their niche or wash out swiftly. An overly enthusiastic non-creative – who fancies themselves a publisher, promoter or agent – might hang around for a while. Keep your intellectual property to yourself and let these guys follow the next shiny object off to other endeavors.
After a few months and several meetings, your line-up will likely solidify. (If you live in a large community, you might sustain constant influx of new members – pretty exciting!) Once the group is stable with a great mix of personalities and productivity is taking off, go ahead and close-up ranks. You should still be open to new recruits, but you don’t need to be advertising. Juggling a steady stream of new faces can be destabilizing for an established group, but growing stagnant isn’t good either.
If at this point your frequent attendees include a troublesome personality or two, confer with the group and deliver some tough love. Some behaviors are born of social awkwardness and can be improved. But if one jerk infringes on the happiness of the group, press the Eject button. Look to the group’s natural leaders (there will likely be one or two) to handle the situation. It’s no fun, but every hero needs a villain, right?
We Formed a Group! … Now What?
Your club might be art-centric, writer heavy, or a grab-bag mix of creatives. The DNA of your group will define how you spend your time. Many popular comic pencilers have “drink & draw” social gatherings, keeping drawing fun and not just work. Crank out quicky themed sketches and collaborate on pin-ups. Keep those pencils busy.
Writer groups pontificate, pretty much endlessly. Debates, critical analysis, general silliness – the scribes need a break from long, lonely hours at the keyboard. We might not produce anything tangible at the meetings, but we fuel our brains and fire up our creativity. That energy and encouragement braces the writer against the dreaded “block”, and keeps the ideas flowing from brain to page.
Chances are, though, that your creator cattle call will bring in a number of different disciplines. If the odds are ever in your favor, an even mix of writers, artists, inkers and colorists will emerge. Collaborators! — the holy grail of comic creator finds, other shoulders to bear the kinds of work you can’t (or don’t want to) do. Mix and match various talents over a number of small projects to discover viable creative teams ready to take on larger endeavors. Choose your collaborators well! Success of any project depends, first and foremost, on your team’s ability to get something done. (Not right, not perfect. Done.)
Where Do We Go From Here?
Your creator group might thrive and last for years. It might burn out or fade away. As long as you all work to make it a pleasant, enriching and educational experience, it will be worth the effort. You might use it to produce some real comics work, kickstarting your career. If you’re really lucky, you’ll create life-long friendships.
An earlier version of this article originally appeared on RocketBot.com