Why Bands Are Better Than Comic Creators

By | Tuesday, August 19, 2008 3 comments
My band members and I were sitting around after rehearsal the other night, talking about various issues, and one of the things that came up is that we've got a pretty good mix of talent to become a successful area band. Oh, sure, there's musical talent in the group, but that's not what makes a band successful. It's only rock-n-roll, after all, and a huge chunk of songs are simple chord progressions that any moderately talented 14-year-old good pull off. No, our potential for success comes from talents other than being able to play an instrument.

Our guitarist, for example, has a good sense of what music is/was popular BUT still doesn't get played much -- which means that we're playing songs that are well-received, but aren't over-played. Our bassist has good discipline and business sense, so he's able to handle the business side of getting gigs, and talking to bar owners, and such. He's also got some good marketing ideas. Me? I'm a web designer with an MBA, so our online presence looks a heck of a lot more professional than most of our competition. Our lead singer and guitarist both have a lot of personal connections, as well, that will allow us to bring decent crowds to even our shows.

This, as I see it, is where an independent band has a distinct advantage over somebody trying to put together their own comic book. Whether the band is a duo, a trio, a quartet, whatever, there are going to be multiple individuals in the band who have a variety of skills to bring to the table. Many independent comic creators -- especially, it seems, web comic creators -- do ALL of the work themselves. They do the writing and the art, certainly, but they also do all the marketing. Which is a skill unto itself, and one that many people don't study because they just want to be able to create and not have to sell.

Even in the small example of my band, three of the four members have no artistic ability whatsoever to be able to develop a decent logo or any graphics. But the greater number of participants means that there's a greater chance that other abilities besides playing music can be brought into the mix. A comic creator, working by him/herself, is limited to only his/her own talents. And while a good artist likely has a number of abilities that overlap with a marketer or a graphic designer, there's still a distinct difference in the thought processes and mindset of marketing.

Despite the title of this post, though, I don't believe bands are inherently better than comic creators. They just have a better likelihood of being able to practice their trade and get paid for it. Indeed, look at any decent-sized American city -- how many bands are earning a living in, say, Cleveland? Now compare that with the number of comic creators earning a living in the same city? (I'll give you a hint. The number of comic creators earning a living from making comic books is: Brian Bendis.#)

Of course, too, the extra number of creative people in a band generally means there's more tension in the group. One person, working alone in his/her studio, can change direction at any time with no justification necessary. A band, trying to change direction, needs buy-in from at least half of the members to even be considered a viable option. Which means discussions, possibly arguments, consensus building... that takes more time and uses more emotional energy.

But here's my point: several people trying to make a go of it as a band are more likely to succeed than one person, no matter how talented, trying to make a go of it as a comic book creator. In short, I whole-heartedly agree with Warren Ellis.

* Yes, I know Tony Isabella and Harvey Pekar also live and work in Cleveland, but they also both held "real" jobs to pay for their being able to write.
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Anonymous said...

I think there's a piece still missing - the person to come up with the band name. "Agony in 8 Fitts"? Really?

Pj Perez said...

As both a member of an independent band (damn, man, I didn't know you played drums too!) and as an aspiring comics creator, this particularly spoke to me. In my band, I make up for being "just the drummer" with my graphic design, web design and marketing experience. The bassist is an artist and runs his own gallery, so he is always interacting with the arts community. It seems to be an easier collaboration and more natural for a band than for a comic team though.

I like Ellis' FELL challenge -- the trick is finding the right parties with which to embark on such a quest.

Joe Willy said...

Interesting point. I tried to make our outfit, Red Flag Publishing, more of a collective in the spirit of a band, with each person chipping in to help publicize our book. But I think a lot of aspiring comics creators are deluded into seeing their goal as getting in print and that they don't have to do anything other than produce the script or art and things will magically fall into place from there. I thrive on creative give and take and would love the feeling of having people around me with different ideas and strengths to feed off of, but instead it just seemed like everyone sat back and waited for the money to roll in. Even the biggest publishers in comics don't do enough marketing and if you're with a small press I think every person should do their most to push the book.

Which brings me to another point you didn't quite hit on- bands market in their area (with some on MySpace- but for the most part you want gigs within driving distance) while few comics people market themselves in their geographic area (it doesn't help that the alt weeklies that once supported local comics creators have been bought up or have lost revenue to Craig's List and had to cut back on expenses such as comics and illustration). It was a bit harder with our book since we were aiming at a more adult audience and live in a more rural area so the audience is much more limited for that work that being in a metro area.