Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Stay Away from the "Real Artists"

When I'd first started the blog, I had a huge diatribe written out about DeviantArt and how while the site had useful features, the DeviantArt community itself was poisonous and essentially the MySpace of art sites, with the exception that you have to pay good money to DeviantArt to properly assault people's eyeballs. I deleted it for (among other reasons) believing that I was being heavy-handed to blast the place just because they made it too easy for everyone to get a page there; after all, making things easier is something any person starting out in a new field wants to encourage.

After roughly a week's worth of sitting on this, I realized the problem wasn't Sturgeon's Law; it was the presence of the "Professional Internet Artist", which falls in the same vein as the "Internet Tough Guy" but with minimally more marketable drawing skills. They might be big people in a certain corner of the community, or they might actually be pretty decent artists, but the main distinction is that they either:
  • Still hang out too much online in certain communites, especially if they work in a digital medium. To be anything worthwhile, yes, becoming known in communities is important to becoming well-known, but at the same time, if you're there too much it's an admission that you've got nothing better to do (which, if you're starting out, is at least partly true) or you're a lazy artist. Being a Lazy Hacker is cool; being a lazy artist isn't.
  • Seem to think they know exactly what's wrong with your attitude and your work, but at the same time aren't willing to help you do anything about it. The reason is that they have no incentive to give you any advice other than "go away and come back when you're better", but we'll get to that in a moment.
While it'd be all too easy to say they're just assholes for the sake of being assholes, we'll have better luck actually getting to the heart of the difference why (at least if you're going into a niche part of the art market like comics) it's best to just avoid these folk. Most of the rationale can be traced back to a key difference between a 'Professional' Artist versus a 'Professional' Blogger (and let's face it, I keep saying your comic's a blog for a reason): Professional Artists work on individual commission. Professional Bloggers work on collective effort.

As to why this makes a difference, look up to where I mentioned "having no incentive" to be nice to you and give you appropriate criticism. Artists work for money just like everyone else, but they work for only one person's money at a time. Until the artist gets to a level where more people are willing to pay than he's willing to work for, he has to make himself stand out as above the 90% crap line; there's a lot of ways to do this, but the favored method seems to be making everyone else look like crap through criticism.

Criticism can be a subtle form of trolling, in that any sort of response to it tends to make you look like an asshole for questioning it (unless it's really obvious they've overstepped a boundary), while for the person giving the crticism it gives them twofold benefit in making them look better than you are and either forcing you to accept the insult (thus proving them right) or reject it (which gives them an opportunity to label you with a bad attitude, giving them the high road). This isn't to say all criticism is bad, but "You forgot to draw Sonic's ears in" is far less likely to get a bad response than "Your anatomy is awful, I'd never commission someone of such low skill."

Depending on collective effort, meanwhile, is a necessity for comic artists and bloggers alike because there is far more strength banding together for them then there is in standing apart the way freelance artists do. The reasons are obvious: Bloggers depend on collective authority and the connections of the internet to maintain their positions of power, and likewise, comic artists working together can leverage conventions and other money-making opportunities that would otherwise be inaccessible singly.

Comic artists won't have nearly the same level of arrogance regarding their work because they realize that beyond the general skill involved in 'making art', comics require the ability to tell a story as well: this means skill in paneling, lettering, and other comic-specific traits that have to be balanced in along with the ability to make good artwork. Having 'great' artwork is now relative because it has to be balanced in with producing lots of it in a way that is interesting for the reader to follow, and of course, the more you work with other comic artists, the more likely they will draw new fans to you as well; some of the best artists work as parts of a comic collective that assist and support each other by association.

Ergo, comic artists have incentive to be as helpful as possible; a rising tide floats all boats, after all, and anyone who can get new readers into their comic can also bring new readers into everyone else's comic as well as their own. Since comic artists only require a little from everyone instead of depending on one person's commissions, working to get lots of new readers (of which a few will hopefully pay more to get something special!) is a key goal of their work.

So support your local comic artist. You'll be supporting everyone else's too.

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