As an acquisitions editor at Universal Uclick (a major comic syndicate) and Event Director of Kansas City's Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, Shena Wolf has a unique perspective of the art world.
In the interview below, Shena shares insights on making the most of art shows, finding success as a comic artists, and creating a sustainable career as an artist that can help to set you on an optimal (and practical) path to success.
What got you started in the comic and art worlds? Do you create comics or art of your own?
I got an internship with Universal Press Syndicate (a feature syndicate providing a lot of content, especially comic strip content, to newspapers and other outlets) my senior year of college. Our features include Doonesbury, Garfield, FoxTrot, Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, etc.). After I graduated, I got a job with Uclick (the digital division under the same parent company). I'm now the Acquisitions Editor for Universal Uclick, which is the result of a consolidation of Universal Press Syndicate and uclick. I edit comics and features and I look for new content.
As a part of my job, I started attending San Diego Comic Con, where I met the Fenners, who had been publishing the Spectrum Art Annual for many, many years. They invited me to be on the jury for Spectrum 18, and later asked me to be on the planning committee for the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live event.
I am not an artist or a cartoonist.
As the Event Director for Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, what would you say to an artist who hasn't attended art shows and events and doesn't recognize their opportunities for professional and personal growth?
If you're worried about the cost of exhibiting, try to attend a show to see what other people are doing. There are certain things that are pretty effective for a lot of different content. Pay attention to what stands out in booths, and what kind of presence the artist is presenting. Take notes, and try to apply the things that you liked and noticed to your future presence at shows. When you're exhibiting, especially If you're not a well-known artist, you need to make sure that you're paying attention to the public and making them feel like you're engaged and interested in telling them about your work.
There are a lot of opportunities at these kinds of shows that aren't directly tied to what you sell at the moment. Maybe an art director will see something they think is interesting and contact you later. Maybe you will meet people whose work you admire. Maybe you will make friends with other artists who are in a similar stage of their career. Networking can be a huge part of a show if you're willing to talk to people.
What should an aspiring comic artist know about Universal Uclick?
We are the largest comic strip syndicate in the world, and we have an excellent reputation for the quality of relationships we maintain with our creators. We have an online site called GoComics.com, which gives you an idea of the kind of content that we work with. Only a small percentage of these features appear in print, but we're always open to looking for new content, either for print or online.
If you have a comic strip that you think is really good, and you'd like us to take a look at it, our submissions guidelines are here. (Just FYI, Due to the volume of submissions we get, we won't be able to provide you with personalized feedback)
Is getting syndicated through a company like Universal Uclick the key to being profitable as a comic artist? What are some other avenues successful pros have taken?
It used to be that getting syndicated by a company like UU was a huge measure of success for a comic strip creator. It's still a big deal, and it's still something that a lot of creators aim for. However, I don't think that it's the key to being profitable as a comic artist in this day and age.
There are a lot of very successful cartoonists who have taken totally different paths than the traditional syndication route (and frankly, because the market is so competitive, I think that alternative approaches are always a good idea). It's easier than ever to get your work online. There are ways to monetize sites based on ad revenue from page views (often very small) and merchandise. There are collectives of artists who work together to reach the largest possible audience. There are also crowd-funding initiatives like Kickstarter. If you are doing amazing work, find a way to get it out there so your audience can find it.
When reviewing comic submissions for Universal Uclick, what are common triggers that lead to rejection? Is there anything one might to do spark your interest or increase their odds of being picked up?
The work has to be really good. I see a lot of letters that talk about how people know their work is good because their family and friends tell them that it's good. Most of the time, this work isn't of the quality that we are looking for. Have someone look at your work and review it as honestly as possible, because when someone from a syndicate looks at it, they aren't going to give you any breaks because they know you personally. We are just looking at the quality of the work. Is the art polished or interesting? Is there something about it that stands out? Is it taking on an interesting subject, or telling a story in a unique way? Long/funny/sarcastic cover letters don't matter. Only the work matters.
Through Universal Uclick and Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, you have no doubt been introduced to a great number of artists. What characteristics or approaches distinguishes pure hobbyists from those who earn a side income or full-time living from their work as artists?
The people I know who are successful as artists work on their stuff all the time. They are focused, they keep pushing themselves, and they have a passion for what they're working on. They believe in their talent and what they are doing, and they would be creating art or comics even if they weren't making money. Cartooning in particular always seems to be something that creators are compelled to do.
Do you think that art plays a different role in our society now than it did before the internet? How do you see the career of an artist today being different from the career of an artist 100 years ago?
I think that it plays the same role as it ever did, but the internet has made it both more accessible to potential fans and to aspiring artists. Anyone can have a platform for their work now. Getting an audience for that work is another story, but the internet gives us the ability to see work that would have been much harder to find before. It allows artists to work for art directors in different countries, it allows collaboration between people who are not geographically close, and it allows for all of these things to happen much faster than ever before. Social networking allows artists to find each other, and to find fans (and for fans to find their artist heroes). Crowd funding allows fans to help artists fund projects that would have perhaps never have happened because of the difficulties of finding publishers in a crowded market. I don't think that artists 100 years ago could have imagined the possibilities that the internet has made a reality (I do think they'd be pretty amazed).