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   Paul D. Storrie
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    STORRIE TIME #4 

The Secret

The comics industry is a weird one.  For one, it has the highest percentage of any entertainment industry I know where the audience wants to jump to the other side of the equation and start creating the entertainment.  Okay, so I didn’t do an official survey or anything but think about it -- what percentage of people watching TV want to write for TV (or direct TV or act for TV)?  What about the movies?  Even prose fiction, which has a fair amount of would-be writers in the fanbase doesn’t measure up to the number of aspiring creators in comics fandom.  That means there are a whole lot of people trying to figure out how to get a very, very small number of jobs.  Given that, it’s not surprising that they all want a leg up.

That’s where The Secret comes in.  Seems like everybody wants to know The Secret.  No, not the one from YOUNG JUSTICE.  The Secret is the key that most aspiring creators seems to think will open the doors to the fabled city of comics prodom.  (Hey, if there can be fandom there can be prodom.)  It’s one of the questions pros get most often at conventions and on message boards.  “What’s The Secret to breaking into comics?”  Like if they can just learn the passwords or the handshake or some other esoteric mystery, then they’ve got it made.

Bill Messner Loebs, talented writer, artist and all around nice guy, has the single best story about The Secret that I’ve ever heard.  Much as I’d love to tell it, it’s his story and I won’t steal his thunder.  Besides, he tells it better.  If you happen to run into Bill at a convention, ask nicely.  Maybe he’ll share.

Anyway, a whole lot of aspiring creators try to guess The Secret.  The most common assumption is the old saw, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”  Is it true?  No and yes.

Knowing the right people isn’t going to land you a career in comics.  Might land you a gig or two, but that’s not really the same thing, is it?  As has been said by countless others in countless other places, editors and publishers are certainly going to be more inclined to work with someone they know they like and can communicate with than a total stranger.  Unless, of course, that total stranger hits the editor with the best pitch the editor has seen in years.  Plus, even if an editor does give you a job, you’d darn well better have the talent and the professionalism to get the job done.  If you don’t, that’s pretty much going to be the end of that.  From my perspective, “who you know” is pretty much like the punchline about chicken soup.  “Couldn’t hurt.”  As a pro, you’re going to end up socializing and interacting with editors and other pros and getting to know them early on isn’t going to hurt any.  And, yes, it might even help.

Inevitably, though, even when someone is convinced that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is The Secret, there is still one more thing they want to know.  What’s The Secret to meeting other pros and editors?

In other words, “What’s the handshake or password that’s going to get them to let me in?”  Back to square one.

Well, I’m here to tell you, from my own personal experience, exactly what The Secret is.  It’s what I tell anyone who asks me how I broke in.

I was too stupid to quit.

Simple, huh?

As far as I’m concerned, that’s The Secret.  Pure, dogged tenacity.  An ability to take rejection and shrug it off and keep trying.  A belief in yourself and what you want to do.

Now I’m sure a shrink would criticize my encapsulation as being too negative.  Maybe it is.  All I know is that sometimes the most sensible thing to do, when you’ve hit the brick wall for the umpteenth time, is to quit.  Stop hurting yourself.  Accept your limitations.  Know when to fall back.  These are all intelligent, rational responses.  Certainly, when you try something and it doesn’t work, you have to look at what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it, and make sure that there isn’t a better way to do it.  You always have to be prepared to learn from your mistakes.

Sometimes, though, you didn’t make a mistake.  You might have just pitched the best story pitch you’ve ever written, or showed the best sample pages you’ve ever drawn, and the editor may still have gone, “Eh.”  Sometimes it has nothing to do with your work.  Sometimes it has to do with the editor having a bad day or something similar being in the works at the company or any of a hundred other things.  Maybe there is absolutely nothing you could have done better than you did.  That’s when being too stupid to quit comes in.

Your pitch doesn’t sell?  Fine, do another one.  Your first meeting with an editor sucked?  Fine, go meet another one.  (Then try and meet the first one again, later, and make it go better.)  Your book gets crappy numbers?  Fine, try and hype it or improve it or do another book or get a rabbit’s foot or a lucky four-leaf clover or whatever.  Anything but quitting. 

Along the way, you’d better be improving your craft, networking and getting criticism and learning from it.  All of those are essential.  But I can’t begin to tell you how many people I’ve met over the years, as I’ve kicked and clawed and glad-handed and WROTE my way into the industry, that have tried to break in, had all the talent they could ever need to do so, and who, having had a couple rejections, threw up their hands and said, “Oh well, guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

Me, I was too stupid to quit. 

 

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