The Septagon Briefing #3: Career Paths

Found in my local library system:

--Cool Careers Without College for People Who Love Manga, Comics, And Animation (Cool Careers Without College series) (Library Binding)

Just from the title, I was provoked to think about the whole issue. "Is the point of this," I wondered, "to get kids excited about this stuff before they even graduate from high school, so they can kind of get a head start?" A quick look through the start suggested to me that the answer to that question was "No," which bothered me, because a "no" response made me feel too much like they were suggesting "Hey, 18-year-olds! Not planning on going to college? Have a look at what Comics, Manga, and Animation have to offer!"

Don't we want to encourage the youth to try to go to college? What happened to the American conspiracy to convince young people that they practically don't have a choice but to give college a try if they possibly can? Are we just not doing that conspiracy anymore? Or is the possibility that college may not be for everyone just an unfortunate fact that I'm not facing?

Either way, as someone who's BEEN in high school, as someone who's TAUGHT high school, as someone who's BEEN to college, as someone who's TAUGHT college (and am about to do so again), I'd like to say a few words about the intersection of education and comics.

If possible, take art classes, draw constantly, hone your skills, and do art. If you're good enough, you can be highly in demand--it's a powerful skill set, and one you can find extremely valuable.

And that's just if you want to be an ARTIST. If you want to be an artist who writes his or her own material, it's also valuable because you won't have to find nor pay an artist. Which means that you should definitely learn to ink yourself, and preferably letter yourself, and if at all possible color yourself.

But what if you AREN'T taking the art route in whatever combination?

Then boy, could you use some education. Listen up, all you pre-high-school graduates.

--English: Yes. You know English now, probably, so this is really a course for written communication. You'll need it to communicate your ideas, to get them across smoothly and with style. Grammar, editing, proofreading... you will need these, too, not just pure creativity, not only so that you can write comics with them, but so you can write professional-sounding letters to people. And professional-sounding Digital Webbing ads. Geez. Of course, in high school, you have no choice about all of this, but perhaps I can convince you to try harder--and to voluntarily choose to take extra English in college.

--And of course there's more than just writing explanations of things and letters to people--English also means literature, what makes stories tick, it's very good for you. Plus, you can learn something of what's been done before in literature--no comics writer should have a comics-only mental intake. If it wasn't for high school we never would have had issue #44 of NAMOR: "The Rime of the Ancient Sub-Mariner." I kid you not. www.coverbrowser.com/covers/namor (The one on the right.)

--Deadlines: English class makes you write extended projects to deadlines! Now THERE's a type of practice that you'll also need: self-discipline/time management. Learn now to avoid making Mrs. Cain call your mom because you're not turning your work in on time, and you should theoretically be able to avoid your editor calling you about it as well. Mrs. Cain does not have anything to do with you getting paid, so you want to master this particular skill set before things go too far.

--Okay, what else? How about ART? You'll be a lot more careful writing panel descriptions for your artist once you've had to try drawing some things yourself... You might even learn an amazing secret about comics: that there's only so much you can make an artist stuff into a panel, and only so much you can make an artist stuff onto one page. Just this week an artist came to me and said "Congratulations! Unlike every other writer whose work I've read this year, you and your wife know there's a limit to how much you can stick on a page, and you know just where that limit is!"

--Computer classes. You may want to work hard on these. Not only can it lead to helping you with art-related things (or at least coloring or lettering), it could also lead to a very handy way to pay the bills. Bills like paying artists to draw or color things. Computer skills are a much more reliable way to have the scratch to do so, in fact, than lots and lots of English classes. Don't tell anyone I told you that secret, though.

--Math: Nah, you don't need math. Except for KEEPING THE BOOKS. That's right, algebra will not particularly help you in this field, but balancing a checkbook or ledger will. Ask any retailer--or Crossgen, for that matter.

--And then, as long as I'm talking to young people, how about keyboarding classes or whatever they call it nowadays? If you can't type yet--and I mean FAST--and I don't just mean with your thumbs--you'd better start learning now, pally. Me, I'm plenty fast... but I wasn't in high school. And my handwriting... was not good. It really would have helped me... but it only comes with lots of practice.

--Incidentally, in English? Art? Journalism? Start asking about comics-related extra credit projects. Might as well start getting all the experience you can now. But if your teacher says no? Accept it, don't keep pushing on that same teacher if they stand firm on it--start pushing on a different teacher.

--And hey, how about History? Ask to do a report on comics during WWII, if you love Captain America that much. Where would we be if little Frankie Miller hadn't loved history class so much? We wouldn't get to run around yelling THIS IS SPARTA every five minutes, I'll tell you that.

--Home Ec. You're going to need to learn to be self-sufficient, folks. And hey guys, you know who's in Home Ec? Girls. Think about it. Just... just think about it.

--Okay, now for you college freshmen: don't be an English major--just take them as electives. Force yourself to keep writing. Business? Check. Art if possible, and computers. But how about film classes? Learning about storyboards wouldn't kill you.

--Oh, and if I haven't gotten this through to you already: STAY IN SCHOOL. Don't drop out. James Brown wrote at least one song about it, so if you don't listen to me, listen to him.

--Incidentally: got a larger-than average brain? Learn Japanese. Seriously. Think about it. If you have a brain of even average size, you will surely see advantages.

--Okay, now what? What next? Get an internship at a media company, publishing company, advertising? Marketing? You're looking to find yourself a day job that will either translate into getting into comics on some branch, or will really, really pay the bills so that you have the money to throw at artists and colorists and lulu.com or Comixpress (do people still use them?) or Kinko's or whatever. Your objective with your job is to have enough money and health insurance that you're not living paycheck to paycheck, but you also want one that's uncomplicated enough that you can leave it there at the end of the day and not be totally exhausted.

--If college just isn't for you, go to a trade school. Graphic design/website design... You could be a techie temp. This job will not be your life, but I've seen too many good people crash because they didn't have the foundation of a good day job and health insurance (Thank America sarcastically for the no-health-insurance, kids. "THANKS, AMERICA").

--What if it's too late and you're done with school, let's say, and you don't wanna go back? Answer: then get yourself a job that doesn't pay well (or at all) with a comicbook website (MangaLife is seeking writers). A lot of people say comics journalism isn't it anymore, they say it's too much like fans just hanging out, but it can work networkwise. And respectwise, it can be better than just having a blog or being a forumhack (which used to be called a letterhack)--although nothing says you can't combine them. Review copies to stay in the loop, conventions... It can help. Oh, and it's all more practice meeting deadlines, too, as well as serving as further studies into what makes a good comic tick.

Planning ahead is MUCH better than a LACK of planning.