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May 01, 2008


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 Gene Yang:

Advice for a cartoonist who’s just starting out?

Get a day job. I know people tend to see day jobs as a sign of failure, but really, there are so many benefits:

1. By separating your comics from your need to feed yourself, you keep full control of your comics. You’ll never have to draw someone else’s story simply because that someone else is going to help you make rent.

2. Health insurance.

3. Your day job can be a great source of material. Stories occur around us all the time, especially when we’re interacting with other people. I’ve found that some of the best stories come out of interactions that you wouldn’t necessarily choose to have: ones with your co-workers, your customers, or your students. There are lots of great characters out there, walking around on the street and in office buildings and on campuses, just waiting for you to bump into them.

You do have to exercise good judgment in picking a day job. It should be something you like – not every day, but overall. It should be something you find meaningful. And it should be something that will leave you with enough energy to make your comics after work. For a lot of us, that means a day job that doesn’t involve cartooning.

Personally, I think classroom teaching is a great way to go. Everyone knows we need good teachers, and teaching, at least for me, draws from a different “energy well” than cartooning. Teaching is so extroverted, so people-oriented. At the end of a day of teaching, when I’ve had all the human contact I can stand, I go to my drawing board and recharge by inking a page. Then, when I’m sick of being holed up in my home office, I go back into my classroom. Plus, you can catch up on your comics during summer vacations if you fall behind during the school year. If you’re a cartoonist who’s ever even had a passing interest in
teaching, I’d encourage you to explore it. Heck, I’m one of three cartoonists on staff at my school, and we all put out comics fairly regularly.

Of course, plenty of comics creators do just fine with art-oriented day jobs. The incredible C. Scott Morse works at Pixar during the day and still finds the energy to create brilliant graphic novels at night. Plenty of others don’t have any day jobs at all. Jeff Smith hasn’t had a day job since the start of Bone.

But for me, I’ve found my own day job to be a blessing rather than a curse.


Yeah, or part time teaching job. I teach art classes some week nights at Westwood College. Comics by day, younguns by night. What's really hard is working a full time job that always asks you to work overtime, and teaching at night. Luckily I escaped that place and kept the teaching job.

I agree with Gene that having a day job helps (I too am a classroom teacher), but it takes so long to get anything finished! The long holidays do enable you to catch up to a certain extent. However, if your class are challenging (like mine were last year) all I wanted to do when I got home was sit in a darkened room and rock!

Jeez, oh how I am trying to get a day job.

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