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To begin with, one should be good at writing or drawing. But there’s more to making comics than just that.

Created on: Jan 02, 2014 20:27 pm

Samir Asran Rahman

Founder & Creative Director, Creative direction
Mighty Punch Studios

What are the prerequisites for being a comic writer/artist?

To begin with, one should be good at writing or drawing. But there’s more to making comics than just that. A writer should be able to create a great story, interesting characters and also be able to break everything down into a proper script. Some kind of film background (or interest in film) can be helpful (this goes for the artist too) as the writer will have to visually imagine what will show up on the comic page and write accordingly.

An artist should not just be able to draw cool pinups and awesome character designs but they should also be able to tell a sequential story through their artwork. If the writer plays the role of scriptwriter, the artist plays the part of acting everything out with their pencil, so getting the character’s expressions rights, creating the mood setting etc. are all important things to take into consideration. The artist’s job is way harder as often they will have to do the penciling, inking and coloring all by themselves. Comic artists should also be able to draw in a variety of styles, be able to work digitally and be able to draw reasonably quickly.

What is the difference, if any, between a comic writer/artist and a regular cartoonist?

Cartoons or comic strips only have a panel or a few panels to tell a story, joke or observation whereas comics can run for many pages. In most cases, cartoonists both write and draw their own comic strips. Nushash Humayan’s H#SH displays his own funny, quirky and meditative worldview filtered through his own unique drawings. Of course, some people write and draw their own comics too. Bone is an epic comic book series that spanned 55 issues and was written and drawn by Jeff Smith. Tintin was entirely done by Herge.

Most comic books involve some degree of collaboration between a writer and artist. The story arcs in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman were all drawn by different artists and most superhero comics have various writer and artist teams working on them at different times. Sometimes this is also true in the case of a comic strip. Jim Davis created Garfield in 1978 but he’s been mainly writing it since the 1990s, while the inking and coloring is done by other artists.

Which specific talent should drive a student in this line of work?

Some people have a natural talent when it comes to writing or drawing but it doesn’t amount to anything unless they work hard at improving their craft. If someone has enough passion for writing or drawing comics and they keep working at getting better, then eventually they will do so.

Can good writers and good artists, both separately have a possibility of succeeding in the comic book industry?

I usually buy a comic based on who is writing it but I’ll also buy one if I’m attracted to the artwork. There are many comic writers and artists abroad who have made a name for themselves based on their writing or their artwork. It is possible to make a career out of either vocation, but writers and artists have to come together to create a comic (unless the person is lucky enough to be able to do both well).

Is there a need for academic education for being a writer/artist? Or what sort of education would be beneficial for this line of work? Is there any academic institute for learning composing home and abroad? Where are those situated?

While an academic education can certainly be helpful, especially in the case of art (as there are a lot more technical things to learn). I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary.

Shamim Ahmed who draws The Legend of Zooey is studying Architecture. Mehedi Haque who drew the first issue of Shabash studied Urban Planning. Their drawing is great not because of their formal educational but because they were passionate about the craft and kept pushing themselves to get better. I myself did a BA in Economics but I’ve been writing since my teens because I enjoyed creating stories.

Of course, it can be wonderful to have good teachers and mentors. I took a creative writing course my last year of university (I tried to enroll for it from my freshmen year but it was always full) and while I had already written a number of short stories by then, my professor E.J Braham really gave me great feedback on my work and made me realize that I was a decent writer with the potential to become a better writer. That validation was very important to me.

It also helps being around peers who are also passionate about the same things. I am part of a writer’s group in Dhaka called Writer’s Block. Writing is usually such a lonely pursuit that it helps to be around other people who are excited about the craft. We can feed off of each other’s energies (not in a vampiric kind of way of course) and the process of giving feedback to each other can help writers grow as it’s easier to improve one’s own writing when the person is trying to figure out what’s right or wrong about someone else’s.

The same thing goes for those creating art. Some of the artists I know share their work with each other for feedback and tips. Social Media has helped in this regard and there are Facebook groups like Akantis and We Draw Stuff where people are producing a lot of cool artwork and inspiring each other to improve.

Besides forming groups and communities, one can also attend workshops for writing or drawing. There have been a few creative writing workshops over the years (I attended one that was organized by the British Council and it was a lot of fun). Many of the artists here, whose work I like, improved their drawing skills on their own but they also learned a lot about the craft under the guidance of Sabyasachi Mistry (a great illustrator) during a workshop that I believe he organized. 

Can you tell us something about the whole course of works for publishing a complete and standard comic book?

This probably differs from comic to comic. Usually, it all starts with the story and script, and then the artist does some rough thumbnail sketches based on the script to figure out the composition and where the word balloons will go. Once things look good, the actual penciling starts. Then the pencils are inked and finally colored.

It’s common abroad (at least in the bigger publishing houses) to have different artists taking responsibility for different parts of the process; one person does the penciling, another does the inking, and another does the coloring.

What about the job sectors in this field? What are the challenges in the jobs? What is the average income of a person doing a responsible job in this field?

Places like Europe, America and Japan have a rich tradition when it comes to comics but Bangladesh doesn’t have a comics industry so it’s really too early to talk about job sectors in this field. This could change in the future as there seems to be a lot of recent interest in comics as evidenced by the popularity of local comic conventions and the advent of comic publishers like Mighty Punch and Dhaka Comics. If making comics becomes a financially lucrative thing, then of course jobs will begin to open up.

This field as we understand is more about creativity and art rather than business and income! But what are the risks?

Any comic book publisher, whether it’s a small independent one consisting of one writer and one artist or a studio with many people, has to be business-minded in order to survive. It’s great to have a great idea for a comic (and indeed some people put up their comic strips or pages for free online) but if you want to make money out of it then you have to think it through in more detail. How do you market and distribute your comic book? Will it be possible to turn a profit on sales or would it be feasible to get companies to cover the costs by putting their advertisements in the comic. If you’re going to visit companies to get ads, then you need to create a solid business plan and pitch to them properly. Wishy-washy ideas aren’t going to work.

As Bangladesh still has a growing comic book field, which does not really have a huge number of audiences, how should one choose what to write, how to write? How do they know what would appeal to the audiences? How do they know if their material is good enough to be published?

While I think it’s possible to do market research and tailor a comic to what people may want, I actually write whatever I like writing.  I hope that if I enjoy it, hopefully other people will enjoy it too. The best works are driven more by personal vision than by trying to write for a particular audience. Not to say that the latter way doesn’t work. It probably can and may even be less risky – but it’ll only work if the writing and artwork is good.

If people produce good stories then there’s always the chance that they will find an audience for it. Perhaps a good way of testing the market out is by putting up comic strips or pages on a blog and seeing if there is demand for it.

How can our own industry be more popular and in how many days? What is your opinion?

It can be hard to compete with internationally loved characters with long legacies like Spider-Man or Batman. But I think people would take an inherent pride in local creations if the stories, characters and production values are very good.

Please tell us about your struggles including all positives and negatives, while reaching this position as a published comic book writer.

I used to draw comics in the back of my exercise books when I was in school. I remember attempting an epic crossover between the Ninja Turtles and the characters from Super Mario Bros 2. I never stuck to drawing long enough to get very good at it, but I did stick to writing and have written several short stories over the years that were published in The New Age’s literature supplement and the What The Ink anthology bought out by my writer’s group. I’ve also been working on a novel series for the longest time. Zooey is actually based on a character from one of my unfinished novels.

8 years ago, I had the good fortune to get a job as a writer/director of animation for Sisimpur. I found that I loved working with artists and I started to seriously think of the possibilities of bringing some of my story ideas (that were just wasting away on a hard drive) to life through animation. When it dawned on me how expensive it would be to make cartoons, I started dreaming about making comics instead.

I didn’t really follow up on this dream at the time and ended up becoming an associate creative director at an ad firm for a while. It was enjoyable work in a fun atmosphere but two things happened to snap me out of my comfortable bubble. Firstly, that I wasn’t doing anything with my story concepts. Secondly, that my son was going to be going to school in a few years so I figured I had better do something before I had to start forking out expensive school fees.

I decided to open my own studio this year – something that I had been thinking about for years. The main goal was to create original stories and characters in the comics medium (maybe even animation one day) but I knew it would be a risky venture if I were only to do that. I decided that Mighty Punch Studios would also have to take on commercial work like animated television commercials, graphic design, branding and packaging and also illustrations. Currently we are working (and have worked) on commercial work like the ones mentioned above, while at the same time developing our studio’s own IPs. We’ll announce our other projects on our Facebook page soon.