Why should I work hard making comics?

I’ve been waiting for about a month before making this post, because I know I may turn off most, if not all, of my readers. I didn’t want to put out something that I really don’t know for sure if it works. And the thing is, that there is a select variety of comic book makers out there that will go to their graves fighting with you, thinking that to make comics you have to work your fingers to the nubs by working hard. This is simply not true.

I’ve been reading a lot about others in the comics biz saying how you have to work hard to break into comics. This is not true either. For some reason people assume that the harder one works, the more successful they will be. I suppose to a pragmatist it does make sense, doesn’t it? Hard Work=Better Pay! This is the way most of the world thinks. But this is a false proposition that the world has been indoctrinated with since the industrial revolution. If you really want to work hard to get better pay, you may want to know what you deem as ‘hard work’, and for that matter, what you deem ‘better pay’ :-) .

The reality is you probably don’t have to work as hard as most people do. And you most certainly do not have to work hard to break into comics–especially in 2011. Ever heard the term ‘work smarter, not harder’?

I have worked very hard in my life having 2 jobs since I was 14. Paying my own way through four years of college, the Kubert School and working 40+ hours a week  to accomplish what the world says you should accomplish. Get good grades, work hard, get a good job, start at the bottom and move up the ladder. Well, unless you’ve been under a rock the last 20 years you know this old school approach doesn’t really work except to line the pockets of entrepreneurs who are intent at making profits while you slave away.

This type of business does have its rewards, and you can benefit from this old way of doing things IF you learn as much as you can from your educations and turn it into your own experiential knowledge. It won’t benefit you much if you keep working so much from day to day that you lose sight of what you are working toward. (I think that’s why there hasn’t been a far leap forward in the last half century in the comics industry as we would have liked to have seen–we were all too busy making comics and hitting deadlines that we never looked up from the drawing table and got a bigger picture perspective, but I digress.) The point is that the most money I ever made in my career was very small, opportunistic moves that require very little work indeed.

Here’s a few quick backstories to prove my point.

1) At one time I had a paper route, I would get up every morning at 3:00a.m. and go fold papers, load them in the car, and throw them out the car window. This cost a lot of gas, time, energy and a few new tires. It was some okay money, but one day, I told the boss I was quitting. He said he would have someone else run the route during the week and I could just run the weekend. So instead of working for 7 days a week, I worked 2. When I got my check at the end of the weeks, it was twice as much as my normal checks. Work less, get paid more…hmm. Must be something too this.

2) When I got into my first stint at comics I was working for a hourly rate coloring comics.  We’d spend all day coloring. Day in. Day out. That’s it. Fun work. Hard work. Well eventually their layout guy quit, so I took the job. Instead of coloring all day and night, I would scan in pages. The scanner would do the work, I just had to name it correctly. Well, you guessed it, the job paid more…less work.

3) Now onto project managing. I got a job as a designer/colorist moved up to project manager. Worked my tail off to prove I could do it. Everything lined exactly the way it should be. I’s dotted T’s crossed. Workflow streamlined. Great job right? Well, I got fired from that job. Probably because I worked too hard. Hard work =  no money.

4) One more project manager story: I worked on salary as a designer moved up to project manager for just about the same pay as a designer. I worked hard and got a few salary increases throughout the years there. We were on intense deadlines every week. Lots of hard work + good pay. This is what we should expect a salary/work comparison to look like. Maybe my streak was broken? Well, we finished all the projects. Not much else coming in. Time to relax. The boss was out of town for a day and needed some contracts sent. I told him I could do it. Took about 4 minutes. Next day $10,000 raise. Ahh. Streak in tact.

Point here: Work smarter, not harder.

Ever notice how things you really want to get done aren’t work at all. You want to do them, and it energizes you. And many times things will just fall into place where they are supposed to be. If you have to work really hard at learning a new idea or a new skill, it probably isn’t going to be your best career path. You want to pick something that will flow into your skill sets easily. It will be a lot less work for you and you will make more money doing it.

I should probably end this with a contrasting argument. Some will say that I got better pay because of the time I had been with the companies and I deserved to get more money. First off — one never deserves anything. Secondly, the things you learn on your journey of life will help you know how and when to position yourself so companies can afford to pay your higher salaries. My advice is to implement as much educational knowledge as you can right away, so it becomes experiential knowledge, the faster you can implement a “listen and do” mentality, the faster you can start being lazy. It is very profitable.