Finding the right artist for your comic isn’t half the battle, it’s the entire goddam war.
This is the ugly truth: it doesn’t matter how well written your story is. No one is ever going to read it except your mom. If she’s really supportive. Unless, of course, the art approaches something that might pass for professional quality.
Your best bet is finding an up-and-coming artist, someone who wants to make a name for themselves. Someone who’s hungry.
Your biggest problem is this: most aspiring artists suck. I’m sorry if that sounds brutal, but it’s just the truth. Most people trying to break into comics really, really, really suck.
So how do you know when someone’s got talent? It’s easy. Take some illustration classes.
I know, I know. You never wanted to be an artist. You suck at drawing. Well, it doesn’t matter. A comic book writer who doesn’t know anything about illustration is like a film director who doesn’t know anything about photography. It’s so basic to what you want to do, you’ve got to know at least a little something.
When you’re out there hunting for an artist, you’ve got to be viciously honest about people’s ability. You’ve got to get used to looking at art critically, because if you don’t, your potential readers will — trust me. The only way to do that is to learn a little bit about the craft of illustration yourself.
And I’m not talking about touchy-feely “fine art” classes, either, where everyone makes pathetic sculptures out of coat hangers or whatever. No! This is comics. This is illustration. Repeat after me: most people suck. Let that be your mantra.
So learn the difference between good illustration and bad illustration, and don’t settle for someone who needs to either spend a lot more time honing their skills, or (this is more likely) needs to find another line of work.
Where to go hunting for artists? There is, of course, the double-edge miracle of the World Wide Web. You can find artists hanging out on deviantart.com, for instance. But beware: a lot of the art online is really awful. It’s not impossible to find someone good, but it’s difficult.
An even better option is to go to comic book conventions in person. And be brave. Walk up to the wandering souls with the big black portfolios — you’ll see them everywhere — and ask if you can take a look at their art.
Again, most people will be pretty terrible, but at least you’ll be able to meet someone face-to-face. And someone who’s actually bothered to drag their ass to a convention is probably a hell of a lot more motivated than someone who just uploaded a few scans to the Internet.
That’s the second thing you need from your artist: commitment. It’s just as important, and just as rare, as talent. You’ll find this again and again: the committed artists always suck, and the talented artists are always flakes. But you really can’t compromise on either.
Beware of flakiness, especially early on. It’s a bad sign. It never ends well. Trust me.
The trick, then, is to find the one person out of a thousand who’s actually talented, and is actually willing to put the time into your comic. People like that come along very, very rarely. And you have to know how to spot them when they do.
1. Take some illustration classes. Seriously.
2. Hunt around online but especially at comic book conventions
3. Beware of flakes.
Once you do find an artist you think fits the bill — it might take months or even a year — you will have to pay them something. Drawing comics is an enormous amount of work, after all. No one, no matter how dedicated they are, can do it for free. Artists have to eat, too!
Offer something on the order of $75/page. That’s a pathetically low rate, but it’s better than nothing. At the very least, it’s a token of your faith in the artist. Faith — that’s where every great partnership starts.
Above all else, Dear Reader, don’t forget that success is out there. I was really fortunate to find Juan and EricJ. Robert Kirkman was really lucky to find Tony Moore for The Walking Dead. That was a big part of the secret to our success.