Without networking, I wouldn’t work at Darby Pop Publishing. Actually, I wouldn’t work in comics at all if it hadn’t been for a friend’s coworker’s brother’s start-up comic book review website and the connections I made there. Who you know and who you’re on good terms with is every bit as important as your skills, experience, and body of work. It’s an invaluable skill, especially for anyone seeking a career in entertainment. I am by no means a networking expert, but our guest writer for today, artist Sina Grace, has a few tips for all of us on how to network better.
Until next time,
On Relationships… The Work Kind
I’ve made a small – read: teensy-tiny – living off of talking about relationships. My focus has been on the kind where I tell people to stop dating bobos, but if I was smart (as in – smart enough to not date bobos myself), I would be capitalizing on a variation of the theme that I truly know a thing or two about: relationships within the industry. Master or not, I’ve been in the business of making comics since I was 15 years old. I’ve dated colleagues, and, by my estimation, my reputation is only as bad as I’ve chosen for it to be. The same editors I’ve gotten sloppy drunk with still hire me, the same readers from my college years still come to my table at shows, and it’s all due in large part to the advice I’ve received from the folks who’ve been at this a lot longer than me. For your convenience, let me highlight some key things about seeking out and maintaining positive relationships in comics. Yes, this balancing act is now in listicle form!
You Have To Network
Here’s a tidbit about my reputation: people think I’m a schmoozer. Correction, I am a schmoozer. For a while, I used to temper this ability and deny this quality, but the fact of the matter is that I really love talking to new people, starting fun conversations, and seeing where it goes. The difference between me and a schmoozer I’d call a “loser” is that I’m earnest. It comes easily. I enjoy having people around and, if there’s a vibe, I follow through. A friend once told me that networking helped her land a role in a movie because she got off her ass and trudged to a party she was too tired to want to go to. How? Because she met a director there who was familiar with her work, and talking with her in-person cemented a kind of rapport that translates well on-set. Those kinds of moments cannot be made facetiously or through subtweeting. Go out there, meet some people, and try to strike up a conversation. Surprise yourself.
Most People Can Smell Bullsh*t
Another admission about my reputation: people can tell when I’m fake-smiling. As I mentioned earlier, this is a balancing act! There’s no need to be fake to people, or be cruddy to someone when you run into each other at a show. Editors know when up-and-comers are lingering during interactions because they want a gig. Established talents are good at sniffing out the kind of zealous energy that comes from the hungry and near-sociopathic. Transparency begets transparency. If all you want from an editor is work, then don’t waste their time with fake pleasantries. Ask to buy them a meal and pick their brains. If you wanna be friends, ask them to brunch and never bring up work stuff. Whatever you do, don’t be fake; it’s not a good look.
Discretion & Courtesy Are Your Friends
As powerful as having and trading information can be (Bleeding Cool does quite well for itself releasing sensitive info on the reggo), people remember and value those who can keep info on the hush-hush. Another example about my Joan Jett-esque reputation: people think I have a big mouth. That’s intentional. Smoke and mirrors, y’know? I can make idle banter with essentially-pointless info, and protect the information that actually matters.
Really, Always Network
I know I know… sometimes after a long day of working a convention, you just wanna sit in a room with friends and decompress. It’s totally great and equally important to do that, but you have to make the commitment to go out and hit the bars once or twice a con weekend. You gotta maintain both the old and new relationships. A distinguished writer reminded me of this at Emerald City Comic-Con. Putting in the social time is necessary. There’s a social contract in comics where we all have to chat for about 180 seconds at a watering hole before weaving through the crowd and shaking other hands. I didn’t want to follow his advice, but the minute I hit whatever Seattle’s version of the Hyatt’s bar was, I was introduced to a dude at DC who loved my work on The Li’l Depressed Boy, and after some legit follow-through, we’ve become allies. He didn’t have the power to hire me (nor did I want it), but our friendship has yielded some wealthy shared information, and mutual freebies (I love free trade paperbacks). There’s always a new generation of talent and editors to meet and hang out with. If you’re truly anti-social, then maintain these relationships online!
Srsly, Don’t Sh*t Where You Eat
Just because your friends are making fools of themselves and potentially abusing fans or throwing-up in front of readers, media, and coworkers does not mean you should act the same way. Comic conventions, signings, social media – all of these arenas are platforms to showcase your talents and, more importantly, the level of professionalism you can maintain. As much as I hate to admit this, social graces can be just as important as meeting deadlines, doing great work, and having a prolific output. Be judicious about how you frolic in this public environment, alright? If you look a fool, people are going to assume you are a fool. I’m allowed to be a mess because I operate with reckless abandon and have an output geared toward indie/small press publications. You don’t win anyone at Marvel’s hearts over if you’re a sweaty, coked-out mess in sweatpants. At least, I don’t think so…
At the end of the day, it’s a matter of finding the balance that works for you. All I can say is that there is no downside to maintaining a sense of courtesy and politic throughout your interactions with colleagues and participating members of the comic industry. We’re all in comics, and yes they’re funny books! But that doesn’t give us the right to be as messy in our personal lives as we are in our careers. Be kind to the people you work with, nurture the relationships you like having, and — as the great Renae Geerlings once told me — “please” and “thank you” go a long way. Now, get back to crushing your portfolio samples!
About the Author
Sina Grace is a writer and artist living in Los Angeles. He is most recognized for his work on the Image Comics series “The Li’l Depressed Boy”, as well as his graphic memoirs, “Self-Obsessed” and “Not My Bag.”