Deadlines. Hit or Miss?
Updated: Jul 20, 2018
Let’s face it deadlines are stressful. However over time I have not only come to appreciate them, but in fact rely on them.
If I could only give one piece of advice to an aspiring letterer, or any freelance artist really, it would be this:
The number one required skill to make it in this industry is the ability to hit your deadline.
This ultimately will be the determining factor of what jobs you will get and more importantly keep, how well you will work with others as well as your overall contentment working in the field. Before trying to prove your artistic abilities, work on one even more sustainable, your dependability.
This field is fast paced and more often than not projects run hot, meaning they are due immediately, if not already past due. No one wants to work with others who will not provide what was promised or even worse contribute their own roadblocks, detours, or bad mojo to the process. Goal number one is get the book to print! You may not be the greatest at what you do, yet, but being known as a reliable go-to-person already puts you light years ahead of even some of the best in the field. What good is a crazy talented artist if they can’t get the work done? We are making comics people, not building the Sagrada Família.
Be aware that the further down the creative chain you exist, the shorter your deadlines will tend to be. Writer and artist get first dibs on time. Whatever is left gets handed to the colorist and letterer. You can wish for beautiful amounts of time to complete an issue. My dream is to get pages as they come in and just keep a slow and steady pace. In reality though, it is more likely I get all script and art at once with a deadline in a few days. Even more realistic, is a deadline of tomorrow, as the colorist and maybe even the artist are frantically working to finish the art pages.
I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing writers and artist, and seen the great divide between those who can and cannot achieve this. Sure there are always exceptions and atypical situations. We all have a life, which can tend to burst into our work routine here and there, and most often at the worst possible times. But that is not what I’m referring to. What I am talking about is a grain of artist who struggles issue after issue, book after book, with the stress that habitually missing deadlines can cause. It's way worse than your occasional procrastinator, which I am convinced most creatives are. It just seems they can never stay on course, for whatever, always ever revolving, excuse of the hour it is this time. I guess amazing talent, an established career, or great connections might be able to keep you in the game, but I promise it wont be fun for you, anyone working with you, and most importantly for the fans waiting on your work.
When I had been apprenticing for about a year, because I love painting, I began trying out my hand at a little coloring. This was super fun for me, and at the time, felt like the natural road to pursue. But I jumped in prematurely before I had the key pieces in place. I’m not saying to let your ship leave should it come into port because you feel inadequate or ill prepared. I’ve made that mistake. I am also not saying that there isn't a reason for the way things work out for good, because that too is truth. What I am saying is, if it hasn’t happened yet and you are in the waiting season, spend your time wisely preparing to be ready for when it does.
Somehow I got thrown a little piece of work to color when making a few connections at Marvel. Without going into my mile long list of excuses, lets just say I blew my deadline. I can’t remember too well but I may have even blown my extension deadline. So really what I am saying is, I just straight up blew it! I screwed the creative team over who were waiting on my work and now had to scramble to find someone else to get it done. And no surprise that I did not get any emails again from that editor asking me to give it another go. There are some really kind folks working in those offices but what do they care that I had a 3 month old baby? And why should they, when there are hundreds of other people out there capable and wanting the work? Bottom line, they need the work done and you have to be ok as a freelancer just being a workhorse sometimes…almost all the time. That is the service you are selling. The silver lining to this miserable failure was the lesson I learned and priority I built into my work ethic to never repeat it again.
"Do or do not. There is no try." At the end of the day you get to make a living being an artist! No whining allowed…or at least out loud.
Let’s face it deadlines are stressful. However over time I have not only come to appreciate them, but in fact rely on them. Without deadlines, and due to my type A personality, perfectionism, ADD (whatever you want to label it), I simple would never finish anything. I would piddle with it endlessly. I’m talking moving one letter 1/16”, 5 times. And then moving it back. I can really overdue it if not reigned in properly. I mean I edit editors work! Enough said. Luckily though a deadline provides an end, and hopefully an opportunity to look back and say, “Hey I gave it my best and it turned out pretty good.” At the very least, you can move on with your life and start something new that you will be happy with. Endings are good and healthy and provide you with new beginnings (my favorite part anyway). Even more beneficial is the tenacious character it builds to finish something beginning to end, even when the experience at the time is terrible to the core.
As stressful as it is to consider, often opportunities that fall in our lap can be a critical step in our career path, something we don’t want to blow. So when I have down time between issues or books, I really try to work on getting everything in line. That way when it is go time, I am capable of full speed ahead. I have found that if I can keep four things in tight check, I am able to consistently hit my deadlines. They are to have my life outside work organized, have a reliable system and workflow, take care of my physical and spiritual needs, and be honest with myself, and more importantly my editor, about my availability and capabilities.
Keep an eye out for these posts as they come out for more about it.
The Art of Workflow
The Art of Self Care
The Art of Communication