Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Letter to Maddi

A little background first. Maddi is a young woman who I met last year, along with her family. A little while after that meeting, she contacted me and asked if I would mentor her- for a senior project regarding a career that she would like to pursue. I agreed to help her with this and together we are going to produce a comic book.
While she works on the story, she sent me an email yesterday which included some questions that she needed answers for as part of the project. I thought that folks might be interested in my reply.
Here is my email back to her.

Glad to hear from you and look forward to reading the updates for your story. Hope you found my suggestions useful- I feel kind of funny being in the position of giving input into someone's work but it might be good practice for you if you decide to pursue this whole comic book thing.
Let's answer some of your questions.

1. Education or training requirements?
I have a Bachelor Degree in Illustration from the Paier College of Art in Hamden, Connecticut. I'm one of the few artists here at Mirage to actually have a degree- so I can't really call it a requirement-however, I do think that it was time and money well spent. What it did do was provide me with a foundation- exposure to different arts and art mediums along with a familiarity with art history. Maddi, you're a hell of a lot younger than I am, so I might advise someone up and coming in the art field these days to get training with some of the graphics programs ( Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign). Web skills would be a good thing too.
2. Personal characteristic requirements?
You need a thick skin. If you ever achieve any degree of success, you will need to be able to accept criticism, and some of it can be very mean. Particularly what with the internet, which allows many anonymous people access to your work. You must be able to accept that some people will not like you, and you must not let this make you bitter, or cause you to doubt yourself.
You must be a hard worker, and love what you do. That is the gift and reward of being an artist. Sometimes I think artists are a little underappreciated- I believe perhaps that many people see our skills as common, or effortless. What you believe your stuff is worth and what others might think could vary greatly. The value that you get in your art is in it's creation itself. It's an amazing feeling when you draw something and you're pleased with it. You must not lose that.
3. Are there many opportunities for advancement in this job? What do you need to advance?
This is a tough one, Maddi. I've been at Mirage for 20+ years now. I've never had a raise. I don't take vacations, other than a day or two here and there. What I have had is a life of drawing, which is pretty damn good. However, I will never advance here. Please keep in mind that I am only speaking about my unique situation- I know it's not like this everywhere.
4. Is there a future demand for this job?
This is another tough one. The easy answer is that I think there is. You gotta have the skills, but beyond that, you need luck, timing and all the intangibles that need to come together to make a connection. The thing is, there are hundreds, if not thousands of people out there just like you and me, and they are all wanting the same thing. Me- I have a job, I'm lucky.
Having said all this, your work will speak for you. Draw all you can, as much as you can. You will not help but grow. Don't be afraid to show it- if you can go to comic book shows with your portfolio then do it. Listen to what people tell you- use what is useful and discard the rest.
As for comics, you must proceed with no expectations that you will ever get rich. There will always be comics and a demand for artists, and there are opportunities and some will achieve success but those situations are rare.
I don't want to dissuade you from pursuing a life in comics. I'm sitting here typing this and as I look to my left, there is a half-inked page where a mother T-rex is attacking a pair of dinosaurs and, I'm really liking the way it's coming out. I never get over the feeling of appreciation that I have for what I honestly think is a gift.
I love what I do, and that's the totality and emormity of it.

Maybe if some of you are like Maddi, you can take something from this letter.


  1. It's cool that you did this for someone.

  2. Jim, you're an inspiration. I thought that was very generous of you to help mentor a beginning artist. Keep doing what you do, and I know Maddi will learn a lot from your experience.

  3. Thanks, Jim. That's really intresting and inctructive...

  4. You rock, Jim! I'm sure Maddi appreciates all the help and advice. I thought it was all very interesting.

    On a side note: I would be interested in seeing this comic once it's finished. Are there any plans to get it printed?

  5. Thanks, Jim. I still have to remind myself that the ability to draw is, indeed, a gift. Sometimes it does get tiresome but I have found that it is community that helps me most (like reading your letter here and seeing other artist's work on blogs and what not). I always try to teach my students that your gift is not an excuse to be lazy and with community it's easier to keep on top of it and keep moving forward.

  6. So very true... I dont have much work experience with comics at all really, other than a short stint as an editorial cartoonist, but working with comics is my biggest dream, it's really the only thing I want to do with myself. Sometimes the task seems far too large, that I simply dont have what it takes, but like you said, you gotta have thick skin and be stubborn as hell.

  7. Maddi is one my good friends and I remember meeting up with her the next day to see her. She told me about how she met you and everything, she was very happy! :)