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How to start freelancing without connections

Liz Ohanesian posted a great piece about how she got into freelancing as a blogger without connections. Read it.

Artists, bloggers, and musicians share the same types of marketing and publication methods, so this applies to everyone.

I know far too many people who make excuses instead of pursuing their dreams. School, while necessary in many cases, is also the #1 reason people pull out when it comes to subconsciously procrastinating. If you are a doctor, you obviously need school. Creative fields? Not so much. While it’s great to have the opportunity to study with a professional and to build a network, it’s just not always that feasible. In America, we have done our best to kill the arts as a viable career, and tie our healthcare to office jobs. Being unemployed can be extremely dangerous if you aren’t blessed with cash savings or a family to support you.

In my case, I didn’t have the cash to gamble on an MFA and I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do yet. The internet hadn’t happened, so without connections in traditional industries, I had ruled out art as a viable field. It was more sensible to bet on a general degree that would allow me to be my own safety net while I got my art career up and running rather than throwing all of my eggs in one basket. Lucky for me that the internet happened and made a lot of the old ways of entering the field less powerful.

By doing what I want to do online, I’ve gotten way farther than most people I know who have MFAs. Even the best student at the best school is nothing if they can’t deliver. Just by doing it, I proved I could deliver.

I took art classes when I could, but I do not have a degree in art. The funny bit about art degrees is that many of the programs out there fail to drive home technical skills coupled with business skills that will help you not crash and burn after graduation. The art program I was briefly in demonized computers. They are turning out people who end up stuck working in a Burger King.

Learning on the job is brutal, but you learn about the real world. Today, your education is limited to how much you want to hit google. It’s truly up to you. The negatives of not having a formal education in a fancy school is having to figure things out for yourself and not being included in cliques that form from certain colleges.

Both of these things are annoying, but surmountable if you just get off your butt and do it.

Now is the time.

Don’t feed me a line that because you weren’t rich or connected or didn’t go to a fancy school that you can’t do it. It’ll be tough and I understand that, but you are the only person who limits yourself. No one would have said that an abandoned baby from Pittsburgh would have done anything.

But here I am. I am no different or special other than the fact that I never took no for an answer.


Drawpocalypse will rise again!

Hi guys!

Photo taken by Katsucon.

It’s been a busy couple of years. I had discontinued this site because I wasn’t sure people found it useful, but recently it’s become obvious to me that people do want it.

Harknell is going to update the site a bit and then I’ll be posting here every week or so again.


A Note About Post Frequency

Hey guys, this is where I post static tutorials when I have the time. I recently started my very own comic/internet/geek convention. It’s called Intervention. It will be on Sept 10-12 2010 in Maryland.

Pre-Registration is Now Available for Purchase!

I will be VERY busy until this convention is over because I am responsible for making sure that it is amazing and a great resource for artists. I am working from 5 in the morning well through midnight on most days. I will post things here, but this explains why I haven’t posted in a bit. I do have some tutorials mostly written. After the convention I will go back to posting more frequently. Right now I am posting here whenever I can.

If you can come to my event, please pre register now.

If you are an artist, you can buy a table here.

If you are awesome, you can send people to my comic: Stupid and Insane Defenders Against Chaos. I am still updating that and my personal blog as usual.


The Table at the Con: The Most Important and Most Overlooked Key to Success

Most Webcomics understand that it is a good idea to have a user friendly website with things that their fans can buy. They also understand the value of going through the convention circuit to spread the word about their work and sell their merchandise. These commonly established thoughts are all Good Things.

There is one thing that some comic creators mistakenly don’t understand: How you conduct yourself when you are sitting behind your convention table and otherwise interacting with your fans is just as important as all of the above mentioned points. This alone can make or destroy your career.

Let’s look a bit closer at some examples of things I have personally observed in my travels throughout time, space, and Webcomics:

1. MeanFace Person:


Would you want to approach someone who looks like this? No way. This person is clearly having a bad day and is projecting major “LEAVE ME ALONE OR ELSE!” vibes. No one wants to risk being yelled at. Most people are shy when meeting a new person to begin with. A face like this is enough to scare away most people in the building.

We all have our bad days, bad months, bad years. A creator’s job as the face of their comic is to entertain their fans, not to burden them with their personal problems. No fan wants to pay to feel upset.

I had a seriously bad weekend at a con a few years back. I honestly wanted to cry and throw things. I didn’t, and sure enough my staying positive attracted a lot of great new fans. I left the con feeling very happy.

2. The Drunk:


Would you think that this person was someone deserving of your respect and readership? Don’t laugh. I have had to eject people from some of the cons I work at for sitting drunk or high behind their table! It is frightfully common. Not only is this a turn off to the fans, but it reinforces the misconception that Webcomics shouldn’t be taken seriously. This is bad business for everyone. Most likely the con will blacklist this person.

Personally, I take this even more seriously. I am sure some people could have one drink after hours and still be OK, but I don’t drink at all while at a convention. I am a lightweight. At one of my first cons I mistakenly had one screwdriver after hours at a room party. I figured there was no harm because I was with friends and no one else. Well, one of my friends brought in a big group of people. One of the girls was a huge fan of my work. She started crying and saying that I changed her life and gave her hope.

All I could reply to that was, “Thank you so much. I’m sorry I don’t feel well. I had a screwdriver.”

Never again. A convention is first and foremost a business, not a party.

3. The Overcompensator:


Have you met this person or perhaps sat next to them at the con? Does this make you feel comfortable? No way. Why does it make sense to act superior by way of putting others down? It doesn’t. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I say it takes a community to raise a comic.

If a person is insulting to their fans and the other comics next to them at the con they will find that at the end of the day, they’ll be alone.

Fan support is important, but so is the support of others in your field. The Internet is a big place. Often fans look for more comics to read through their friends and the comics they already know.

We aren’t competing here. Art is like apples and oranges. It’s not like selling Big Macs. No one is going to say, “I read X, so I won’t read Y.” and vice versa. People read what they like. If they like both of these comics, they will read both.

We’re all just regular people who like to draw and tell stories.

4. The Used Car Salesman:


Would you want to hang out at this table and look at everything this person has? Probably not. When I run into this person, I may stay around long enough to be polite, but I’ll avoid them for the rest of the weekend.

This individual mistakenly thinks that everyone is there to learn about becoming their fan and that quick at-con sales are better than a slower but more sustained, self-renewing fanbase.

I’m usually there to gauge if this person would be a good guest for one of the conventions I work for, or simply to introduce myself as a friend. If I can’t get a word in edgewise and I feel like they are trying to shame me into forking over my hard-earned cash. I usually run away and never return.

Beyond this, the best way to grow a fan base that buys from you repeatedly is to make your fans feel comfortable.

One year a fan of mine came to my table and we had a great conversation about some of her observations. She then said,” I really want one of your Coffee is My Homeboy T shirts, but my Mom only gave me enough for dinner. You know what? I can skip dinner. I really don’t want them to sell out before I can afford it.”

I told her not to worry, that I’d be selling this particular shirt for a long time. It won’t sell out. I then said that there was no way I was taking her food money. I sent her off with a free bottle of water and some stickers and told her to come hang out whenever she wanted. Why did I do this? Because I really love what I do and I have a deep respect for people who would support me.

Every year since then she buys from me and brings her friends who also buy from me. Immediate sales mean nothing. Longevity and integrity mean everything.


The key point here is that you have to love what you do. If you don’t love what you do, you may as well be behind a cubicle.

You also have to respect the people around you, and you have to be able to take the first few thousand rejections to the gut while keeping your game face on.

Spiderman might have the great power that comes with great responsibility. Webcomics have a great responsibility to put a great face on something we love…minus the spider tights. 🙂


A Con Staffer’s Perspective on Webcomics


I’ve had several years as a touring webcomic and several years working as con staff. I’m like that chick on She-Ra with the face that rotates. If any of you have the opportunity to staff a con, I highly recommend it. Oh sure, you will likely work a ton of hours and go insane, but the benefits far outweigh the craziness.

When I began staffing cons, I gained a different perspective on the industry. I was able to see my work as staffers saw it. Here are some tips I can give you that will make you much more attractive to conventions:

– Location: Make sure you have an “About” page on your comic’s page that is easy to find. Make sure your location (at least by state) is listed and that this is easy also to find. Why? Many cons have small budgets, especially when it comes to webcomics. If the comic lives close by I am more likely to invite them because they are probably more likely to be able to come. If I am really tired, I may be put off if I can’t find a location listed at all and decide to come back later. I might forget to come back later. Make who you are, what you do, and where you are from easy to find.

– Con Invite Manners: Always reply to con invites within a few days. Even if you can’t go say something positive about the event. It’s just good manners. Con Staff often feel very close to their events. Their con is the same as your webcomic. It is their creative baby. Make them feel wanted. They work just as hard as you.

One con staffer probably staffs anywhere between 2-6 different cons in a year or two of varying size. We all know each other. The big cons know the little cons and vice-versa. You do not want one of us telling another con that you are a douchebag that never replies to emails or replies as if you don’t care about the person’s event. Even if the event is not for you, man up and say something nice.

The best business people know that posting a link to the event and publicly thanking them for inviting you doesn’t cost you anything, and it’s a great way to spread some good will. For example you could reply with this:

“I’m sorry, I can’t make it this year because XX. It’s a shame because this looks really cool! If you’d like, I can post a link to it to drive some traffic your way. Good luck!”

Then follow up with this on your next blog post:

“Hey guys, I was just contacted by XX from XX Con (Insert a clickable link). I can’t go, but you should really check it out. They are doing some pretty cool stuff!”

If someone did all this and posted a link to the event I was working on, I’d file them in the back of my head as a real stand-up person that I could think of the next time I have something good to throw their way. This person knows how to market to their fans and is clearly a value-add to an event.

– Train Your Fans to Listen to You: Just like the previous point – if you are always telling your fans to click on things that you post they will get used to looking toward your blogs for their information. This gives you more power to drive traffic. Even small comics can have a more powerful ability to drive traffic than a comic with a larger fanbase. I’ve seen it many times. Years ago when I just started out and was an unknown I still had a huge posse gathering to see me at cons. A much larger comic approached me and asked me how I “did it”. I was rather shocked because…this person was not unknown. A quick look at his website showed a neglected blog that barely posted a sentence each time it updated. How I “did it” was I talked to people on my blog and let people get to know me.

If you communicate regularly and well to your fans, your value as an internet personality is much higher than someone who never says much. Your blog is just as important as your comic. If you want to be attractive to events, you need to train your audience to listen to you. What good is a webcomic guest who can’t get anyone to buy a ticket?

So, Oni – What Does it Take to Get Invited to a Con?

The honest truth? It isn’t always talent. The best and brightest are not always rewarded if no one knows who they are. The people who get con invites often fall into one of these categories:

1. They have a ton of traffic.
2. They are friends with or dating someone who has a ton of traffic.
3. They have contacted the con and asked them if they could please come.
4. They paid to get into a convention’s Artist’s Alley and made friends with the staff who got them invited next year.
5. Someone who has decision-making power at the con is specifically a fan of theirs.

It’s not about your skill as an artist or writer, but these things are factors. The biggest factor is either your traffic or your charisma because these will get you on the radar of the people making the decisions. When I started doing this, I didn’t have any friends in the industry or a magical “in” to get me on anyone’s radar, but I got in and I did and am doing well. If you aren’t already famous, your best bet is to be nice, don’t give up, and make friends with as many people as you can. It would be much easier if all we had to do is sit, draw, and post the comic but that’s not how it works for most of us. I had the hard road just like most people. Your ability to network and do good business is almost more important than how skilled you are.

Own it, rock it, and never give up!

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