Anyways… I think a lot of the interest in the essay stems from Dawson being open about his pricing and quantities sold. It’s not as in depth as the essays Jim Zub has run up on his blog, and I think maybe that makes the conversation a little more open. Most people can understand “I Sold X number of Books at Y dollars each. I got to keep Z percentage.” without seeing the actual breakdowns. The numbers aren’t what’s interesting to me about Dawson’s piece. Here’s what pulls me in: to me, Dawson is talking about what he feels is a shortcoming of his as an artist.
I believe that part of any art-form is bringing it to an audience. The degree to which that is true may vary from art-form to art-form and from artist to artist, but a piece of art in a vacuum is really no different than a piece of rock in a vacuum. I think that as a storytelling medium, finding an audience is an especially important part of comics. An unread comic is just a sad, lonely thing.
I also believe that all artists have their strengths and weaknesses within their chosen form. Illustrators who draw beautiful figures but can’t get the hang of drawing cars. Actors who have a larger than life stage presence but limited emotional range. Genius songwriters who can’t sing worth a lick. Within that range of strengths and weaknesses are the artists who have mastered their craft but can’t get anyone to buy their art. Think Van Gogh; it’s possible to be the most creative dude on the planet and to have absolutely no one care during your lifetime. Why? I think the easy sour grapes answer is “people are idiots” but the real answer is that for various reasons Van Gogh lacked the ability to make people care about his work.
The opposite is type exists as well… There are artists who haven’t necessarily mastered their craft or don’t have fertile imaginations, but are great at selling it. I respect that as part of the art and can even recognize genius within that aspect of artistic skill. For instance, if there is a genius aspect to Stan lee, it’s not his creativity. It’s pretty clear to me that Kirby, Ditko and crew made Marvel Comics and Lee sold it with a larger than life persona. That opinion is not to be interpreted as a justification of the inequities in attribution and subsequent financial rewards involved with Marvel Comics characters. I’m just saying that Stan Lee’s artistic contribution to Marvel Comics included being the driving force behind building Marvel Comics’ audience. It was his strength as an artist. To add another example, I’d liken the relationship between Kirby and Lee to that of Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. Townshend was the driving creative force for the Who, but lacked the stage presence, voice and frilly jackets to pull in an audience. That was Daltrey’s skill.
So am I suggesting that comic artists should practice selling their comics in the same way they practice drawing or writing? That they should be on the look out for collaborators that provide a counterpoint to their own weaknesses as an artist? I guess. sort of. Not really. I’m just riffing on an idea that Dawson’s essay has helped gel in my head. Offering advice to myself as it were, as I review what I think my personal strengths and weaknesses are as an artist. A lot like Dawson was doing with his initial essay.
(Can you tell that I’ve become a non-believer in comics career advice? Whenever I am interviewed or on a panel discussion and I’m asked what advice I’d give to someone who wanted to break into the comics business I feel like asking in return “Would you prefer anecdotal advice that probably useless to most of the audience or just a dangerous platitude that implies everything will work out if they just work hard and be themselves? I can give a convincing but only half-smart answer either way.” What the fuck do I know? I’m just another guy rubbing two wet sticks together hoping for a fire like everybody else here.)