As an offering to our young talent, and to anyone who might find this helpful–here and elsewhere, green or seasoned–I’ve asked a number of experienced authors to send a little word of coaching, encouragement or mentoring to them. We’ll call this new category MENTORS CORNER. It will occasionally feature some authors who aren’t with First Second.

Check back here on Thursdays every week for new offerings. If any of this speaks to you and answers a need or sparks an enquiry, do add your comment–who knows what dialogue may open up from it.

From Mike Cavallaro:

There are so many potential pitfalls encountered while working alone on a long graphic novel project that it’s impossible to address them all. Sometimes it’s just hard to stay focused and away from the Playstation day-in and day-out. Maybe you feel your own work isn’t measuring up to the work of your favorite artists and that’s making you panic and redo things. With so many wild tangents and distractions, it’s hard to tell the right path from the detours and dead ends.

Fortunately, there are tools for finding your way. Two of the most useful are calendars and clocks.

Although some guys like Sfar and Trondheim seem to do a graphic-novel-a-week, the rest of us have to put in long hours for every page. The “free” part of “freelancer” is truly great, but it’s still a job, and you’re going to have to put in a real workday just like everybody else.

That work day should be something reasonable, like an 8 or 9 hour day.

In that time, you probably need to be penciling at least 2 pages. So get an early start, get that first page done, take a lunch break, and then get back to work.

This is where the calendar comes in. At the end of the week, you will be able to see the fruits of your labor in the form of 10 or so newly penciled pages. Progress!

If this isn’t happening, you’re doing something wrong. You’re overworking your pages, getting distracted by tv, video games, friends, etc., or sitting there staring at a blank page.

Do yourself a favor, try to remember the confidence you had when you did the sample pages that got you the job to begin with. Art should be fun. Have fun with this, just stick to your schedule. It’s possible to do both.

All these times and measurements have to be adjusted by your actual deadline. Two pages a day only works if it gets you done in time. Maybe you can do one page. Maybe you need to do three. It depends, obviously.

The bottom line is, drawing all day may be the greatest job in the world, but it’s still a job and you have to treat it that way. All things in moderation. You still need to see your friends and goof off a little, but you also need to get this job done.

Put in a real work day, and work hard. Have a daily quota, and be sure to meet it. Watch your completed pages pile up around you. Don’t waste time obsessively redoing things; you’re getting better as you go even if you don’t realize it. Let it happen. That’s how it went for all the cartoonists you admire.




DAVID SPURLOCK: Is there any message that you would give to aspiring artists?

JOHN: If you’re looking to make a living, open a deli! At least you won’t starve (laughs)! Seriously, no matter what you tell someone, if they have the drive, they will do it. If you try to discourage them, they’ll do it anyway. Others, you can give all kinds of encouragement, but they’ll fail if they don’t have that determination. When people ask me for advice, I say, “Do what makes you happy. That’s the only way to go.”