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Practical Guide to Collaboration, Part Two: A Collaboration Survey

In preparing my article, A Practical Guide to Collaboration, I sent out a survey on collaborative experiences. I received considerably more information than I was able to use in the article, much of it far too interesting to leave unpublished. Presented here are some additional highlights from the survey.

The following people contributed responses:

What qualities do you look for in a collaborator?

Joey Comeau
Artistic skill and the same sort of strange sense of humour as I have!

Graveyard Greg
Someone who can deliver on the schedule we agree to, and make it all look nice.

David Hellman
Probably the most important thing is to be able to go with the flow, to borrow from the Hippies. It's like improv theater or sex; you've got to work with what your partner gives you. You've got to be patient enough to let your own contribution emerge as part of the collective process. If you don't take the pitch, if you just say 'no,' the moment dies. It's hard enough for one person to turn off criticism and get lost in the process... with two people, it's even harder. Or easier. I can see how it would be easier also.

Gisèle Lagacé
Hard to say, T is the only guy I collaborated with in regards to comics. I guess he satisfies a lot of my needs...cough... you know, work wise. He's professional, funny, well rounded and about a foot taller than I am... does that count for anything?

Bob Stevenson
Someone interesting and humorous though, in my case, Shaenon chose me without me knowing much about her.

John Waltrip
Thrifty, cleanliness, a nice person, and has to pay me at least something above zero dollars.

 

What interests you about working collaboratively? (Why do it?)

Dale Beran
David and I, I think, are just interested in creating things. The work we do independently that we share with each other—it's just a large part of our friendship. That and a regular jogging schedule. So it’s just sort of natural and a nice change of pace that we would work together on something. That way, we get to crawl out of our respective creative caves, both literally and figuratively.

Joey Comeau
I think collaboration is good because it keeps you from getting stuck in a rut or from doing things that are self indulgent. You always have that other person there to say "dude, have you been drinking draino shooters?" And you're there for them.

David Hellman
To continue from and clarify my last comment, working with another person can drain the product of its terrifying personality-revealing qualities. When I'm working alone, I feel more pressure to make something that really "represents me," and that's usually, or maybe never, a helpful thought. When Dale and I work together, the project is not incubated within me, but between us, so in a sense it's less personal, which takes pressure off.

Gisèle Lagacé
Well, it gives you someone to put the blame on when something doesn't work...he he, just kiddin', T if you're reading this. Seriously, for me, I need a little bit of butt kickin'... and it's hard to kick yourself, you know. And I really like the exchange of ideas—the brainstorming.

Bob Stevenson
Working with Shaenon forces me to solve visual puzzles that I would never stumble onto otherwise. There is a huge difference between laying out pages from your own scripts and laying them out with someone else's.

Shaenon is a much better writer than I am and it's been a pleasure to see the story unfold. To keep everything exciting, I only read a few pages ahead and then only when I need to make sure I emphasize something or include some piece of scenery that we'll need a couple of pages down the road. At this point, I'm genuinely interested in who the bejeweled woman is and what's in the briefcase and who belongs to the NCM. I have to admit I don't care to know any more about the Shower Shitter, though. I know there are artists who like to have lots of input in the story. I'm confident enough in the mediocrity of my own writing to keep my hands out of it.

And seeing Roger handle characters I've drawn is a humbling pleasure. He reminds me how much I still have to learn.

John Troutman
I don't actually like to draw. I mean, obviously I draw anyway. And I'm reasonably good at it, if I may say so myself. I've been drawing since I can remember. But I seriously don't have any sort of passion for it. So if I can get someone else that really DOES love to draw to do my comics, I'm a happy king.

John Waltrip
I don't have to do EVERYTHING! I don't have to write, I don't have to worry about the tech stuff. I just draw. Doing a webcomic is something I've never done before, and it sounded fun. Also, to expand my skills by drawing in a different style.

 

What are the drawbacks?

Dale Beran
There's something to be said for total control. But hey, it’s only rock and roll. The hardest thing about art is starting—if there's something or someone there to keep that snowball rolling until it’s a big wonderful disaster barreling into town, then it's great and it's fun. If it’s horrible, you only need to throw it on the heap and move on.

Joey Comeau
Scheduling concerns, mostly. Emily lives on the other side of the country, which makes getting together to talk about the comic rare at best, so thank the lord for the internet.

Graveyard Greg
When they get hit with artist's block, the comic might be in trouble for a day.

David Hellman
The only drawbacks to collaboration are the drawbacks to people. One of the loftiest pleasures of art-making is the blissful isolation, surrounded by the aura of a mind at work, by which others pass with a solemn and respectful nod. Well, working with people is messier than that. Besides, artistic people are notoriously awful. But as long as I have my own work besides, the comic collaboration is a wonderful break from myself.

Gisèle Lagacé
Having your butt kicked... T's got one big shoe! Nah, there aren't that many really. It just depends on what you want. If you like to take full credit for something, collaborating isn't for you. If there's a fight along the way, well, that might put a halt to things. I guess all I could say is choose your collaborating partner wisely.

Bob Stevenson
There are times when I find it hard to get excited about starting the next page. It's that missing element of ownership that catches me off-guard, the feeling that it's not my own creation. I got into webcomics because there's so little standing between the creator and the audience. With collaboration, there's that script in the way. Most of the time, it's a good thing, forcing me to do a better job, but there are times when it's not as exciting as I imagine telling my own story would be. The beauty of the page a week format is I have time to do a little of both.

John Troutman
You're at the whim of the artist's schedule. You may spend many nervous days waiting for the next comic to come down the pike. For instance, VH has been written ahead for a loooong time now, but the comic is so labor-intensive to draw that Megs can only find time to do it weekly, if at that. I don't blame her or anything—it's tough stuff "paint." Just sayin', there's no instant gratification when you're just a writer.

John Waltrip
Not many. Just very little money in it.

 

What are your main worries when entering a collaboration?

Graveyard Greg
That it doesn't last. Nothing worse than to hear the words "I can't do it anymore." Depresses me to no end.

Bob Stevenson
Is this story going to be worth my time (not monetarily, but creatively)? Are these characters interesting? Am I up to rendering the script?

Gisèle Lagacé
My worries would be what I already did to T, and that is to not pull through on a project. T had this nice story all written out for Cool Cat Studio and in the middle of it, I just pulled out. I feel terrible about it; for him and for my readers. But what's done is done. So, to anyone planning a collaboration effort, stick to it and even if things start to get rough, try to pull out gracefully and do a nice finish—you'll feel better in the long run.

John Troutman
That the artist will bail on me halfway through the story or not even finish the story at all. That hasn't actually happened, but it's always a fear.

John Waltrip
Again, money. Getting paid SOMETHING for my work.

 

Do you sign contracts with your collaborators? If so, what do you see as the most important details to lay out?

Dale Beran
Uh, no. We didn’t sign anything. We agreed from the beginning to split any money down the middle, which we now keep in a vault that can only be opened by the two keys that hang around our necks. There is a powerful counter-curse for betrayal.

Joey Comeau
No, but we're not big fancy professionals who would sue anyone.

Graveyard Greg
Not yet, no. Usually my gut instinct works on who to trust. They say never to go into business with a friend, but I think that's bunk. Friends are someone you can trust!

Gisèle Lagacé
No contracts here (other than the one we have with AliasEnterprises.com) but we did talk about it. We're basically 50/50. As to what's important to lay out... I guess that's pretty obvious. Decide from the get go on who owns the feature and how you're going to split the profits. Then decide on what you'd do if one or the other left or didn't pull through.

Bob Stevenson
I think there was some mention of splitting things. It's important to lay down some of your hopes and expectations ahead of time so no one's under any misconceptions.

I'm just about finished reading Men of Tomorrow by Gerard Jones. It digs into the nastier parts of the story behind the golden age of comics, particularly all kinds of relationships, artists and writer being one of the more interesting. I'm thinking it might be useful to just cut and paste the whole book under a section called "Contracts." That said, I have no contract, so when the Chumaka Man T-Shirts hit it big, god knows the chaos that'll unfold. I'll be writing nasty and futile letters to Shaenon for the rest of my life (reference: Joe Shuster). Of course Joey Manley's publishing model kicks the giant elephant out of the room. This, I think, is the lasting beauty of the Modern Tales model, one that can encourage collaboration because creators maintain the rights to the story and characters. On the other hand, maybe down the road you're just pitting two different parties against each other. At least they're the ones who did the actual creation.

John Troutman
Oh ho ho, no. They're pretty much just my friends anyway, so a contract would be weird. They're more like the internet version of "handshake" deals. Where everything is honorably agreed upon, but nothing is down on paper. I, personally, think the most important details are a) money, b) update frequency, and c) the amount of input from each collaborator.

John Waltrip
Yes. Equitable credit and compensation.

 

Have you had any particularly bad collaborative experiences? If so, what went wrong?

Dale Beran
Do sexual experiences count? No, I'm not really sure. Most of the time it’s very difficult for me to work with other people. I can never really express what I'm thinking, or my reasoning doesn't make sense to them. And if I think I do a good job explaining, then people still kinda shrug and roll on, like I've hit some bad key on the piano.

Graveyard Greg
Not really, no. The only "bad" collaborative experiences I've had are when they can't do the project anymore. Real life is usually the blanket reason for this.

David Hellman
Dale is referring to our respective girlfriends.

I had a messy collaborative experience... There were five of us in the group, thrown together by professors. Three of us were reasonable and enjoyed each other, but the other two were always either slacking off or pulling the project onto useless detours. If there had been a leader among us, maybe that person could have made some executive decisions to streamline the process, but since we were all equals, at least in theory, everyone had to be polite and tolerant. It was a useful and at times very enjoyable experience, but our product was crippled.

Gisèle Lagacé
Uh, other than me quitting abruptly with CCS, I'd say no. And I don't want to repeat that experience... with anyone.

Bob Stevenson
Seventh grade. I couldn't draw. He couldn't write.

John Troutman
Comicollage. JOKING! No, every time I've collaborated with someone else, the results have been muy excellente.

 

What advice would you give to an artist or writer entering their first collaborative partnership?

Joey Comeau
Find someone that you really get along with, and whose work you think is awesome. If they think the same about you, it might work!

Graveyard Greg
Make sure you can keep an open line of communication with your partner. You'll have less headaches if you can do this.

Gisèle Lagacé
Think of it as a relationship. Both have to work at it... 50/50. If one’s not pulling his weight, take the boots out. Honestly, it can be a very pleasurable experience... especially if the people involve have the same vision.

John Waltrip
Respect and consideration for your partner's talent.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Joey Comeau
Collaboration makes you more attractive. Girls can tell.

Graveyard Greg
Collaborations rule when they work.

Gisèle Lagacé
Read Penny and Aggie :) -- Tell the world!

John Troutman
Just some shameless plugging, all relevant to collaboration - Vigilante, Ho! returns this coming Friday to vigilanteho.com, Felicity at secretagentgirl.org, as mentioned above, will also start to get artwork from Megs on March 22nd, and after she's done with it, my buddy Teague (www.MADaboutU.com) picks up the art duties on May 10th. And let me tell, it is HOT.

You don't have to include the shameless plugging if you don't want to. I just thought you might be interested, as I'm actually collaborating with others a lot more as my career progresses because I enjoy it so much.

John Waltrip
Webcomics aren't rocket science or brain surgery; they're mostly for fun, so don't take them (or yourself) too seriously. Enjoy.