If you read my blog entry last week then you know I was a tad starstruck at the idea of being invited to speak on the same panel as someone like Neal Stephenson. I carried through with it in what I hope was a professional, and, more importantly, thought-provoking manner, but there’s that word: professional.

When are you considered a comics professional? When San Diego Comic-Con tosses a badge your way? When people invite you to exhibit at conventions? When your name goes on promotional materials? Do you have to be at the point where making comics is your primary livelihood and source of income and your day job, if any, is “the hobby”? Or is it more of a mental thing? Your attitude towards the work. Your approach as you start getting a sense of how things work in the industry (or at least some part of it)? Let’s not go so far as to call it cynicism — how about “empirical experience”?

For example, have I ever told you how lucky I was to have had a willing comics artist basically right in front of my nose? I believe I have, and I also believe I’ve mentioned how many years we were together before we actually started collaborating. I just didn’t know any better, did I?

So for any of you who don’t know any better, an analogy: in the comics world, the artists are the pretty ladies at the singles bar. The writers are the guys trying to impress them, because if they don’t score a pick-up, well… if we were any good with our hands we wouldn’t need an artist.

The trend is everywhere. Any big comics-related forum usually has a message board which equates to a personals page where people are trying to find a partner for their project. Every so often you’ll get “Artist ISO Writer” (and there will be many responses in short order), but by and large it’ll be the other way around and the writer is going to have to put a lot more effort into their, ah, opening lines. Best if they’re offering generous creative credit and even some money to sweeten the deal.

Comic-Con International is hosting a face-to-face meetup which is basically structured exactly like a speed dating session. Five minutes to talk and maybe exchange cards, and at the end of it you get up and move to the next person down. There is a notice:

“Thank you for your overwhelming support of the Comic Creator Connection. We have now filled all the open spots for writers, but still have openings for artists. “

Emphasis theirs. I’m surprised I haven’t seen one of these where they offer free drink tickets to any artists that sign up. What if 50 writers show up and only 10 artists? Well, it might be awkward, but let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised.

Go through the submission guidelines for just about any comics publisher and they’ll be more than happy to hear from an artist looking for work, but writers usually need not apply. If you have a story pitch you’re shopping around to the independent outfits, the usual first question will be, “Do you have an artist for this?”. If not, you better be an established name or it’s almost unheard of that anyone will go through the trouble of hooking you up.

So there’s a lot of writers seeking artists out there, because without one, it’s even worse than just going home alone… your comics story you want to tell is dead in the water. I’ve talked to several people at conventions where they’ve got a great idea, if they could just find someone willing to draw it. If they had the money, well, a lot of artists are ecstatic with the lot of getting paid to draw–suddenly you’re not just the random guy at the bar, you’re the random guy with the nice suit and the valeted Lexus–but a lot of writers are just as poor as the people they’re hoping to partner with. Collaborations without money involved can still happen, but you’ve got to have a fantastic personality to get past the dreaded line of “Well, when we make it big you’ll be part of that”. Artists hear that line a lot, and it’s about equivalent to “Of course I’ll respect you in the morning”. You better come off like a guy who’s willing and able to cook breakfast.

One last thing I could bring up is the conventions. While I’ve had artists come by to show off portfolios for critique and occasionally a story tip or two, I’ve never had one ask me if I’m looking to take on any new writing projects. Contrast that with Dawn, who usually has at least one new business card from a hopeful writer any time I come back from a walkabout. That even happened once when I was present, but that was at Anaheim where we each had a full table so it looked like we might both be artists. If we’re together and I’m introduced as the writer then it’s probably equivalent to the lady at the bar saying “Oh hi, have you met my boyfriend?”. But hey, at least one guy took Dawn’s business card and then contacted her later. Several months later, and in a way that seemed like he was probably sending a similar (non-paying) pitch out to everyone he had a card from that could draw–but it’s nothing to take personally. He was perfectly polite and, as far as I know, took the rejection in stride. It’s not actually sex, after all, it’s just the needs of the business.

Although really, if Alan Moore walked up to Dawn and said “Please draw my new comic”, all I would probably be able to think of to ask is, “Can I watch?”.