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Professionalism

There’s something that’s important in the comics industry that, if you’re pretty new to it, you might think you would find everywhere: Professionalism. Unfortunately, it isn’t so.

I once made a proposal to a company which I shall not name. I told the story of what happened with this proposal to two different writer friends. Each of them had an identical initial reaction (and I didn’t tell them both at the same time, so one wasn’t just agreeing with the other):

“Darn—” Actually I don’t think either of them said DARN exactly, but you get the idea— “I was going to pitch something to them, but now, forget it.”

Writers talk to each other. ARTISTS talk to each other. EVERYBODY talks to each other. If I sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), I don’t go and tell others about how things are or were going, but an NDA is a sort of sign of respect as well, a signal that says that everyone understands that This is now a situation in which Business shall be discussed. That’s already a situation in which (you’d think) that all involved plan to be as professional as they can. But you’d be surprised how unprofessional some people in this industry can be, with or without an NDA, and those people might be quite surprised at how such things get around; this is true at the bottom levels, at the higher levels, and in between. Ask anyone who’s worked in the comic book industry for some time, and they’ll tell you that in no other industry do so many people try do business as you see people doing in this one—“Not even in the MUSIC industry,” these experienced veterans will sometimes whisper in awe—truly the penultimate insult (which makes you wonder if those in the know use “only in the comics industry do people make such insane decisions” as the ULTIMATE insult).

On the other hand, this means that when someone is particularly professional, it really stands out. When I first met Josh Adams (son of Neal Adams), he seemed a pleasant, enthusiastic, talented young artist—but his correspondence, and the things he said and the ways he said them, evidenced someone who’d evidently picked up how to be professional (gee, imagine where he might have done so). If Josh likes an idea, he’ll tell you; if he can do something, he’ll tell you– without exaggeration; if something isn’t working, he’ll explain this as soon as he realizes it; if someone he’s introduced you to is less than professional, Josh’ll apologize to you. When I told my wife Barbara that I wanted to talk about this topic, Josh was the first positive example that came to her mind, and I instantly agreed.

I know a manga editor (whose humility I won’t embarrass by naming him) whose attitude with which he approaches his work is notably admirable: he’s enthusiastic about what he does; he doesn’t gloss things over or hide his opinion; he’s enthusiastic about talking to YOU; if he makes any sort of small mistake or is a little slow (and I don’t mean months and months) to reply to something, he quickly admits it to you and voices authentic remorse about it. Manga is truly like another country compared to Comics, but this is High Professionalism, even there. This individual’s prose style in his correspondence, like that of Josh, leans toward the formal in such a way that it puts a smile on your face because it shows that each of them is in Professional-Speak Mode—and one appreciates the effort.

So I say to you, industry newbies: professional pays off. No matter how stressed or irritated you are, of course (I presume) you’re going to treat the big publisher you’re pitching to with respect and respond to anything he or she says in nanoseconds. But the way you treat ANYONE will also get around. In a world (a bizarre world, apparently stranger than even the music industry) where whether or not someone already knows you or anything about you often makes more of a difference than your actual level of talent, the way you present yourself can make an amazing impact on your future—and sometimes it makes an impact in how creative talent start thinking about comics companies.