There is a famous adage that has been around for a long time: “Opportunity knocks but once”. It is easy enough to interpret, but it is often a difficult lesson to integrate. Indeed, one would think the comics community would be eager to seize any legitimate* opportunity offered to them, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are stories abound of comics creators who consciously or unconsciously sabotaged their career progression by shying away from opportunities that were presented to them.
There are four major reasons why people don’t step through the door of opportunity:
Let’s deal with each of these one at a time.
In terms of (1), it is important to note that opportunities come in various guises and often in the form of tests—they can be straightforward, but they can also be subtle. As a consequence, prime yourself to pay attention. A request might be explicit and formal such as a publisher asking you for a story pitch or to submit your portfolio. Requests can also be informal such as an established artist or writer or another credible industry person mentioning casually how much they would love to see you do a piece of cover art for one of their characters or some sample sequentials. The request can be cloaked in detached language, but take note… it is a test of your responsiveness. If you can turn around a pitch in 24 to 48 hours it signals your seriousness and motivation. It also signals your reliability, which is one of the key performance indicators a publisher needs in order to make a risk assessment about the calibre of your professionalism in a highly competitive freelance market. There may be another series of smaller tests, such as colouring or inking a piece of art or coming up with some story concepts or something similar. These establish if you have the ability to meet a brief or a deadline, and are ready to progress to the big leagues where the stakes are higher. They are rehearsals for the official performance. A training session before you are invited to enter the sporting field for the big game. Stay alert for these specific or coded requests, and most importantly, take action.
In terms of (2), this is where the Ego can get in the way of taking advantage of an opportunity. This happens when comics creators, no matter how talented they are, or at what juncture they are in their career, challenge an industry expert or refuse to accept their point of view or experience. If you want to work in a particular space and your artistic values are in alignment with the studio, publisher or practitioner offering you an opportunity then it is important to quietly digest any critique that might come your way with attentiveness and humility, as well as to demonstrate that you are open to utilising that feedback to refine and develop your work rather than to defend it. Masterchef contestants stand quietly behind an invisible line while having the merits of their dish assessed by the judging panel. They don’t argue with them. If you are an arguer then it can signal your inability to accept feedback, as well as take instruction. It can also demonstrate a potential for conflict, as well as your profound lack of self-awareness in the face of being given a chance. Indeed, there is nothing more frustrating than an expert practitioner offering gold gilded advice or opening a door to opportunity and then having the recipient contradict or ignore it. If you find yourself in the latter category, you will rarely if ever be presented with the same opportunity by the same person again.
In terms of (3) sometimes people scurry away when presented with an opportunity. This is a fear-based response. It can emanate from low self worth and from a powerful and all-pervading inner message that says, “I’m not good enough”. It is also a symptom of Imposter Syndrome. The reality is that every challenge you face that takes you out of the comfortable and familiar will bring with it myriad uncomfortable feelings. That is your Ego, struggling for supremacy but also to protect you from potential harm, so it can contain you within your comfort zone and keep you safe. However, taking a risk, despite the scary feelings generated inside of you, will fortify your inner resources and make you more resilient no matter what the outcome. Working with a Creativity Coach or a therapist might be the answer to stop that pesky inner saboteur from letting you step into your full potential.
In terms of (4), some people are lazy or ambivalent about taking action. One reason, as Thomas A Edison so eloquently puts it is that “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”. If you’re not driven by passion for your art, and are not prepared to work hard to fulfil your artistic and professional potential and goals then you have to ask yourself why you are where you are… However, if you are serious about comics as a profession and you want to countermand procrastination then speed is your greatest friend. Taking action signals your intention, your commitment, your motivation and a professional mindset to yourself, as well as the world.
Part 2 of this article will be published next month.
* In the context of this article “legitimate” means a credible publisher, producer, comics creator or industry person who can offer you a contract to work on a project that will provide an income or some kind of other value benefit. It does not mean somebody who offers you “exposure” or has shonky business practices.
© Julie Ditrich, 2017