“Work hard boy, and you’ll find
Someday you’ll have a job like mine.”
—Cat Stevens, But I Might Die Tonight
Shawn DePasquale writes:
I’ve been working in comics for ten years, mostly self-publishing and trying to “break” into the field so I can get paid doing what I love. Recently, after years of attempts, I nailed by first paying lettering gig for Sean at Arcana Comics. I’ve done several books for him since and was recently hired by Platinum Studios as a letterer. I’m having a blast doing something I love and making money for it.
That said I wanted to try and get in touch with as many professional letterers as I can. I’m just looking for advice on starting a new career. Maybe some perspective on what I should be asking for as far as page rates are concerned. I have some questions that, if you have the time, I’d love answered….How can I go up from here? How can I nab a job with one of the big two? How can I get hired by a lettering studio like Comicraft? Should I do that or have you found it’s better to freelance?
I get questions like these fairly often. I’ve already received a few at this website. I’m sure any successful person gets them, no matter what field they’re in. Basically it boils down to: How Can I Do What You Did? or How Can I Be Like You? I’m going to answer Shawn’s specific questions here, then add some general advice, and this whole entry will become the first on my Frequently Asked Questions page, link to come shortly.
Shawn, first of all, congratulations! You’ve crossed the line from amateur to professional by getting paid for what you love to do, something lots of people will envy. As to how you can move up, I can only say that in my case, and I think in most cases, it falls to various mixtures of the following five things: Talent, Hard Work, Opportunity, Ambition and Luck. I’ll address each of these below.
Getting a job with Marvel or DC is very tough for a letterer right now. DC is doing most of their lettering in-house, so lettering for them means landing a staff job. Marvel contracts most of their lettering to a few dependable individuals or studios, so you would need to make contact with them and inquire further there. I can’t speak for Comicraft, but their lettering workload has certainly dropped in recent years, and they’ve moved into publishing. Freelance lettering now is very hard to find because demand is down and supply (those who are already working) is up. Does that mean there’s no hope? Of course not. There’s always room at the top for the very best. But getting there these days is much more difficult than when I started, and it wasn’t easy then. Rates have a lot of downward pressure now, but as always you can expect to start low, and if you’re successful, move up.
So, I guess the most obvious answer to the bolded questions above is probably You Can’t, with the unspoken corollary So Don’t Bother Trying. But I don’t think that should stop you from trying, and I wish you all the best in your efforts to do so. Here are some suggestions that mostly fall into the realm of Advice, General Wisdom and Common Sense. But sometimes it doesn’t hurt to say them.
TALENT: Lettering is a craft which you can improve with time and practice. Some people are naturally going to be better at it than others. I’ve found that a few people really love to do it, and those are probably going to be the ones who develop the greatest talent for it. Most artists seem to dislike lettering, which is one reason why people like me have a career at all, but these days it’s easier to use computer fonts and knock out something readable without the hard learning curve that used to be required, so more of them are doing that. All you can do is try to be better than the average. You can’t just be as good as Letterer X, he’s already got the work. You have to be better. Not an easy task. Learn to be your own harshest critic. Look for what you can do better.
HARD WORK: Sure, doing what you love to do is fun. But it’s less fun at hour 10 than it was at hour 1. Long hours are inevitable in any comics job, it just takes much more time to create these things than it does to read and enjoy them. If you are an organized person who can stick to a regular schedule, and if you are willing to put in the extra time needed to get through a deadline crunch, you’ll further your career. Don’t forget to take regular breaks, and time off for fun stuff, though.
OPPORTUNITY: Comics creation is generally a solitary business, unless you’re in a studio situation, or working at a big company. So, look for ways to put yourself where the work is. An internship with no pay can be a great opportunity to make contacts that will lead to work. Just don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. Is there a comics professional teaching in your area? Take a course, ask a lot of questions. But try to be helpful to that pro, not a pest, you’ll get more out of it. Try to find people at your level to hang out with, either in person or online. Team up with them if you can, you’ll both learn together, and maybe it will pay off later if one of you makes it big. Find friends and contacts at conventions and where you buy comics.
AMBITION: Not everyone has it. If you do, you’ll go further. Don’t let it rule your life, though, and remember that helping others along will help you, too. Don’t give up easily. Keep trying.
LUCK: Can’t help you there. Some people get the nod, others do not. All you can do is keep doing what you do best and hope someone will notice and reward you.
Have I left anything out? Probably. But your eyes are glazing over already, so I’ll leave it there.