It takes time and dedication to hone your craft, be it behind a camera, in front of a drawing table, or typing away at a keyboard. For many of us putting in the amount of time is difficult while juggling a family, a social life, and another job or two. In this week’s Darby Pops Off, Women of Darby Pop winning writer Forrest C. Helvie talks about how he finds ways to put in the time to hone his craft and where his journey as a comic book writer has led him.
Until next time,
10,000 hours. That’s how much time Malcolm Gladwell argues an individual needs to spend on his/her craft in order to become successful in any competitive field. Put in practical terms, that means the average person will need to invest nearly 3 hours each and every day for 10 straight years to become a success – whatever “success” means.
As someone who wants to write comics but juggles a family and a full-time job, I struggle with this challenge repeatedly. And if I’m being honest? I’m not spending close to three hours a day honing my craft. So, why continue to chase this notion that I could become a professional comic book creator if everyone keeps reciting this rule?
The truth is that people who quote Gladwell and his famous “10,000 hours” often fail to recognize that the “science” behind his argument assumes the goal of becoming one of the best in an ultra-competitive field. Mind you, comics IS a world where only the strongest survive – and by “strongest” I mean those who have talent, get their assignments done quickly, and are easy to work alongside.
Many people who enter the comic book industry hope to attain the position and privilege earned by the likes of writers such as Brian Michael Bendis and Kelly Sue DeConnick, or artists like Brian Stelfreeze or Becky Cloonan. However, there are many others who would be perfectly happy developing a small-but-dedicated audience for whom they could continue to create four-colored stories. And perhaps it’s somewhere within this “happy medium” that someone such as myself can find his or her place.
To date, I’ve had seven short stories published at GrayHaven Comics, one with Red Stylo, one forthcoming short story with TPub, and most recently, a short story here with Darby Pop. Additionally, I successfully Kickstarted a 52-page children’s graphic novel last Fall and self-published a related comic this Fall – both of which I continue to actively seek a publishing home for. Needless to say, I’ve been thoroughly appreciative of the opportunities my editors and publishers have given me – as well as the backers who helped bring my stand-alone book to life. But, I recognize that what I’ve done so far – beginning in the Fall of 2012 – pales in comparison to the output of some of the other up-and-coming professionals out there.
I’ve been pursuing publishing opportunities since I finished my Masters in English back in 2008. Whether it was related to medieval literature or 19th Century American masterworks or comic book superheroes, I was submitting to whatever journals and critical collections I could. Not long after, I started my doctoral studies in Literature & Criticism, and I moved into online comic criticism via reviews and, later, interviews. The sites were modest at first. But, soon I found myself writing for larger venues such as Newsarama and Marvel.com. Sure, I wasn’t writing comics, but I was writing ABOUT them from all sorts of different angles and learning more and more about the processes involved in visual storytelling – often through “talking shop” with the biggest names in the business. While I may not have the output of others that’s concentrated in one area, I’d like to think I’m clocking those hours in my own way.
In my capacity as an interviewer for both Newsarama and Marvel, I’ve spoken to people who are about as close to having achieved “success” as you can be. And they all say the same thing: You need to put in the time if you want to play in the game. Go make a comic. Learn about what each member of the creative team does so you can help them shine and not step on their toes. Have people who are further along in their careers than you look your work over and seek their honest opinion. And be sure to thank them afterward for taking the time.
Whether it’s 10,000 hours or simply a few hours each week, you need to earn your stripes if you want to make it as a comics creator. And I do – in one way or another. So, check-in on me in another 5,000 hours, and I’ll let you know how it’s panning out.
About the Author
Forrest Helvie is the author and creator of the children’s comic series, Whiz Bang and Amelia the Adventure Bear. He lives in Newington, CT with his wife and two sons. He is an English professor at Norwalk Community College and his literary interests are broad-ranging from medieval Arthurian to 19th century American, and most importantly, pedagogy, comics studies, and superheroes.
He regularly writes for various academic venues as well as more mainstream outlets such as Marvel.com and Newsarama. Forrest also writes for indie comics publishers such as GrayHaven Comics, Red Stylo, and TPub. In 2016, Forrest became one of the winning writers of the Breaking Into Comics: Women of Darby Pop contest. Forrest can be found on Twitter (@fhelvie) discussing all things comics related.