Q&A: How do I find an artist to draw my graphic novel?

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Hello Antony,
I’m seeking advice, and hopefully not crossing the line.
I’ve just finished an MA at [REDACTED] and have a full length graphic novel to show for it (written on your Scrivener template — thank you). But I’m having trouble finding an artist who is interested in even looking at the script, let alone collaborating.
Can you offer any thoughts?
[Name withheld]

Hi there! You’re not crossing a line, but it’s a tricky question to answer. In fact, comic writers get asked this a lot, so I’m going to use this opportunity to cover a bunch of related stuff, and hopefully it can stand as a catch-all reply for new writers in the same situation.

First, congratulations on finishing the script for your graphic novel. That’s awesome. I’ve written a lot of OGNs — more than anyone else in the English-language market, in fact. I mention that not to brag, but so that you know I understand how much work you put into it, and what it took to complete it, when I say:

My advice is to take that script of yours; put it in a drawer; and forget about it for a while.

Yes, really. Hear me out.

You’re having trouble finding an artist to look at the script because of its sheer size. You called it a “full length” graphic novel, so let’s assume it’s at least 100 pages. In fact it’s probably more than that, but even 100pp is a lot of work for a comic artist.

“Artists not wanting to see your graphic novel script is not a reflection on its quality. No matter how good it is, the length will simply turn most artists off.”

Most monthly serial comics are 22pp, and take a professional, experienced artist one month to draw. So to draw 100pp will take that same artist almost five months. (And that’s assuming they can afford to do it full-time, which they probably can’t, because I also assume you can’t afford to pay them.)

(Of course, maybe you can afford to pay, somehow. If so, tell the artists you approach, because that could change things a lot. But for now, let’s assume there’s no money.)

It’s also important to understand that artists not wanting to see your graphic novel script is not a reflection on its quality. No matter how good it is, the length will simply turn most artists off, because it will take them “off the market” for at least half a year, sometimes more. That further limits the number of people willing to draw it, because our industry is over-reliant on monthly exposure to make, and keep, a creator’s reputation. Some artists can’t afford to sacrifice that.

All of this means you’re probably not going to find an experienced artist to draw your script. Instead, you need to look for creators in the same boat as you: starting out, and looking for a way in to the industry. And that’s great, but even new artists probably aren’t going to leap into a 100pp+ graphic novel with no budget.

So what can you do?

Option 1:

Put it in a drawer and write shorter pieces instead.

Find new artists — people like you who are hungry for publication, for portfolio pieces, for the chance to build a reputation — and write short scripts for them, somewhere between 6 and 12 pages (perhaps you even wrote some during the course of your MA?). Work with as wide a variety of artists as you can, and when they’re finished publish those short comics online somewhere; tumblr, a website, flickr, whatever.

(Sidebar tip: get to know artists, and ask them what kind of stories they want to draw. Write short pieces accordingly, to suit their style, and then everyone comes out of it looking good.)

A dozen pages isn’t too daunting a task for either you or the artist, and serves you both well. Long enough to be a complete story, and make a representative portfolio piece; short enough to accomplish in a month or two of spare time.

This is the option I normally advocate for new writers. Write short comic stories, get them drawn, publish them online. Rinse and repeat, and if all goes well you’ll build up your profile, experience, and reputation. You’ll probably then move on to writing miniseries, 4–5 issues of regular comics at 22pp each. And once you’ve got a few of those under your belt, getting your OGN drawn and published becomes a whole lot more viable, because the next option is…

Option 2:

Sell it to a publisher and let them finance an artist.

The less published work you have under your belt, the more difficult this is. And you have to know your market; depending on the subject matter, an OGN pitch might be better placed at a fiction publisher rather than a comics specialist. If you do approach a comics publisher, make sure it’s one that publishes the kind of book you want to make. Don’t take your literary fiction to Marvel or DC; don’t pitch your Spider-Man epic to Image.

But, the usual difficulties of pitching a book notwithstanding, this is often the best option to see your OGN published. Being approached by an editor to draw a book already approved for publication (and with a budget!) is much more attractive to artists than a cold pitch from the book’s author.

Note that this option isn’t exclusionary to the first; in fact, unless you get very lucky and achieve a quick sale, I recommend that you write and publish shorter pieces while trying to find a book publisher for the OGN.

Finally, of course, there’s always…

Option 3:

Draw it yourself.

Depending on the style and genre of the piece, your own illustrations might be perfectly suitable. They might not, and if so, I understand. Believe me, nobody wants to decipher a comic featuring my chicken scratch. But there’s no more surefire way to get your script drawn than to do it yourself.

Conclusion

I know this doesn’t answer every question. It doesn’t consider Kickstarter, or Patreon, or digital-first publishers, and those are all increasingly viable outlets. I’ve also talked about ‘finding an artist’ without going into how you do that. But such issues are details and sidebars, and they change with the times. The main thrust of what I’ve written here hasn’t changed significantly in the past 20 years, and it’s unlikely to in the next 20.

One thing that never changes is conventions, and the value of networking. Us creative types can be shy and socially nervous at the best of times, but getting to know other artists and writers, whether in person or online, is one of the most valuable things you can do.

Be friendly, be professional, be kind. You never know, you might just meet an artist looking for an OGN to draw.