What is the career path of a graphic novelist?

  • I’m not sure if many of you are going down this route but more and more it seems like the path that makes sense for me. My problem is that I have no idea how to do this. And I know in any art career there is no direct path and all that but I’ve tried to find out what other artist have done that lead the their careers as graphic novelists and it’s basically always just "became a graphic novelist".
    Does anyone have any insight on this? I can’t just make graphic novels all the time, they take too long. What is the regular work a graphic novelist should look for to get income while they’re waiting to get work or publish their novel?

  • @Griffin I'm not an expert, so grain of salt on this- but I think if you don't want to make a graphic novel, you aren't going to get work making a graphic novel.
    They do take too long, and if you don't absolutely love it, it's going to be grueling and that is going to show up. I've been working on a pitch for a graphic novel for over a year now and I've learned a lot about layering and pacing from doing it that I didn't really fully get from just reading comics for years. I think when people hire for graphic novels they want to make sure you can do that invisible part of it as well as draw the characters and scenes and that's why the "become a graphic novelist" advice is a thing.

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  • @HeatherBouteneff Oh I absolutely want to make a graphic novel. More than than anything. But graphic novels take a long time to make so I’m wondering what other illustration jobs pair well with being a graphic novelist. It just seems so strange to me that there doesn’t seem to be a path for graphic novelists. There’s not really a latter to climb, it feels more like you’re either a graphic novelist or you’re not.

  • I am not a graphic novelist, and I don't know any of this for sure, but from the 3 Point Perspective podcasts, I get the idea that doing some mini versions or components of graphic novels might be the way to go. Jake talks about spending your evenings doing the best possible small version of your goal project, with the intention of putting it up for sale. He mentions starting an online store selling prints of interesting pages, self-publishing zines on indigogo or kickstarter, doing a webcomic, gathering fans on Patreon, taking commissions for fan art or character art in your style, putting together a chapter or a page at a time and serializing it, getting a table at a con, etc.

    I don't suggest that this path would fully financially support anyone right out of the gate, but it does seem like a good strategy to keep working in your desired project and generate some income, a fan base, and demand for the work you do.

  • @Griffin My friend works for DC comics and he did loads of fan art of characters that DC makes. Now he has a job there doing the front page titles for Batman and other DC comics. So a good starting point is getting into the system where you can learn off people in the industry and learn how it all works from the inside. Basically his way in was through character design but using characters that were already established.

    The downside to this is that there's not much time to work on your own projects while making comics for other people.

    Another way in is to look for storyboard or animatics jobs as this requires less work to complete but it gives you experience in putting together a story from the foundation. You'll need this kind of work in your portfolio but its way quicker than making a whole graphic novel, so less daunting!

  • First what I would do is go find any graphic novelist you can get your hands on and flat out ask them what they did for money when not making actual graphic novels. You might reach out to 20 but only get a response back from 2 or 3 but that would go a long way to figure that out.

    A lot of graphic novels are compilations of smaller stories into bigger arcs, so I imagine some of it would simply be doing smaller scale stuff until the interest provided a market for a larger collection. But I would wager that the majority of artists that are known for graphic novels are also doing a lot of other illustration work to fill the gaps (probably also including working on their own product lines).

    But I think a more important question would be find out - do most graphic novelists work for a company or are they mostly entrepreneurs? That dramatically changes the conversation because you're at this point either looking for a pathway to get hired to a studio or finding out what it takes to make your own IP.

    So, just logically if it's to make your own IP, I think in your position what I would do is start taking stock of what kinds of ideas you have that you might want to build stories in. Get a pretty firm foundation of what you'd like to explore, then start doing it on smaller 1 page or 3-panel spreads and start getting feedback via friends, family, forums, social media, etc.

    That'll start building some experience in doing the work and also build the foundation of your process. As you work out styles, techniques and workflow all that stuff will directly apply to any larger project you want to do.

    But I think it'll do 2 more important things:

    1. Get more familiar with the worlds and characters and stories you're interested in actually doing. Like you said, it's a LOT of work, do you better like what you're doing enough not to hate it by the time your done. That'll also weed out some characters and stories you just find to be boring after a while.
    2. Get enough feedback from people to see what others actually want to see more of. You can't really dive into any kind of big project that no one is interested in. If you for example explore 5 or 6 different ideas and people are clearly resonating with one of them, you've done quite a bit of market research right there to determine what might sell.

    During that process, the hope would be that you'd obtain an audience large enough to maybe consider doing something like Kickstarter to finish one of your fleshed out ideas you think would sell and everyone has given enough feedback on to make it exciting for them and they're involved.

    One thing does seem sure though - you're probably in for some sleepless nights 🙂

  • SVS OG

    @Griffin hi! So in the most rudimentary way, here’s how to be a graphic novelist as far as I know: (i’m not a Graphic Novelist so take this with a TON of salt) 😅😅😅

    Route 1: Agented Route

    1. Make a portfolio focused on graphic novels/ graphic novel pitch.

    2. Apply to an art/ literary agency. Most agencies are currently looking for graphic novel illustrators. Some agencies, including mine, are always encouraging artists to make graphic novel samples. If your portfolio is already geared towards graphic novels or you already have a pitch, your chances of getting represented is higher.

    3. You and your agent try to get your book published. Which is a whole other can of worms.


    Route 2: Direct to Publishers Route

    Basically the same as Route 1 but you bypass the agent and submit directly to publishers. Publishers are always looking for new graphic novels. If your book is good, there’s a good chance you’ll get published. Well... you’ll have a better chance compared to the usually picture book.


    Route 3: Self-Published Route

    1. Start a graphic novel

    2. Post it online on platforms like Webtoons or maybe on your own site or social media like instagram.

    3. If you have a lot of readers, webtoons will pay you. You could also just set up a patreon and get paid that way.

    4. Once you have a decent following, you can crowdfund your book and have it printed.


    These are the routes I know of. I hope this was helpful

  • @Valerie-Light good advice! This is pretty much my plan right now, just trying to make bite sized graphic novels to prove that I can do it and hopefully build up a following that will allow me to gain more traction.

  • SVS OG

    @Griffin have you seen this? Pretty short but i think it was very informative - watched it right when it came out quite a while ago.

  • @Nyrryl-Cadiz Interesting! How do agencies handle graphic novels when they are picked up? Are there people that just write and do not illustrate graphic novels similarly to children's books?

    I always had it in my head that the graphic novelist always did both story and art. It sounds like from your description you're pitching a complete idea and you aren't just looking at doing the art. Am I interpreting that right?

  • SVS OG

    @jdubz It can go two ways:

    1. An illustrator writes and illustrates their own graphic novel. After that, you can pitch it to publishers. If you have an agent, the agent will pitch it for you.
      It is also important to note that you don't have to illustrate the whole book in order to make a pitch. From what I know, all you need to prepare is an illustrated chapter, your script, blurb, synopsis, and query letter. You can ask your agent for help with the requirements.

    2. An illustrator is chosen to illustrate a graphic novel written by another author. You don't have to write anything. You just need to have the right portfolio.

  • Get a copy of Will Eisner's books - Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative as well as Comics and Sequential Art.

    Those are the Bible on graphic novels for story and art. Eisner invented the medium (and he was a great guy too!)

    After that, start a graphic novel and do whatever else you need to in order to pay the bills.