I was talking with some very knowledge comics folks this weekend, and the question of why more creators don’t solicit advice and feedback from people who’ve already gone through it came up. Particularly when it comes to Kickstarters and other business models. The webcomics community, generally, is pretty open and sharing, so why is there this invisible barrier here?
My first thought was that there was some level of intimidation going on. I suggested that newcomers might be bashful or shy trying to approach someone like Scott Kurtz or Matthew Inman. When it was countered that younger creators probably don’t look up to them so much, and are looking more at the Noelle Stevensons and Kate Beatons of the industry, the same thinking applies. Whoever it is that someone looks up to as a role model is likely going to an acquire a pedestal that they’re placed upon. This elevation—warranted or not—will separate them from the individual putting them in that lofty position, and make it emotionally more challenging to engage with. After all, who wants to run the risk of being embarrassed in front of someone they admire?
I attended a panel this weekend at C2E2 where, when a Q&A portion came at the end, a woman from the audience stood up and tried to thank panelist Lucy Knisley for being an inspiration. I say “tried” because the woman was fighting through tears the entire time; she was emotionally overcome by standing in front of her idol and just trying to say “thank you.” Knisley’s work was clearly very meaningful, so much so that this budding creator held Knisley in such esteem that she seemed to barely deem herself worthy of talking to her.
I also chatted with George Gant, who has been working on The Reset Button webcomic off and on for a decade, and—unsolicited and unprompted—he noted, “One thing I’ve learned this past weekend is that reaching out to fellow creators is nowhere near as intimidating as it used to be, but it’s still pretty damn intimidating.” Ten years of being a creator and he still finds the prospect challenging.
There are some cultural elements at play here, too, of course. In the United States, at least, we’re a very individualistic, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps type of society that doesn’t like asking for help. At a subconscious level, it’s considered a sign of weakness and/or failure. Also, we have mores here that dictate we shouldn’t openly discuss personal finances, which business models tread very close to. It’s considered the utmost impropriety to ask someone how much they earn, and relatively few people even come close to breaching that discussion with their closest friends.
But personally, I think the intimidation factor is a bigger issue here. Talented people who make their work seem effortless appear to have powers beyond the rest of us mere mortals, and it can be difficult to overcome that mental roadblock and just ask them for some simple pointers. Even if that can be one of the most useful things a creator can do!