I've been writing about comics and breaking into comics for a few years now, and there's one thing I've gleaned, one undeniable truth that holds the key to making it in this industry:
Don't Be An Asshole.
I'd guess this is the same for most industries, but a few I'd call into question. It seems that being an asshole in the world of hedge fund brokerage and insider trading might give you an edge. Certainly being an asshole in professional sports doesn't keep you from getting paid. And hell, being an asshole in politics seems to be the order of the day. Not so in comics.
Guys, comics is a good guy industry. What's that mean? Well, the best I can explain it, it means that comics is mostly run by the good guys. It's a labor of love. What you see at convention portfolio reviews aside, this is not an industry that's courting what most people would consider the top talent. You don't make money doing this unless you're very lucky (Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt are a star worth hitching a wagon or two, to). That's not to say that you can't put food on the table making comics, but the idea that you're going to be some rock star, money swimming king of nerd mountain is just foolish. Despite what publishers might have you believe, the most talented people in the fields of writing, design, typography and illustration are not beating down the doors of major comics publishers. We get talented people because those talented people love comic books.
But if you didn't love comic books you wouldn't be trying to do this, so I'm not telling you anything you don't know already. What I am telling you, when I tell you not to be an asshole, is that sometimes your level of talent doesn't even matter as much as just how well you work in the industry itself. Sure, talent is a factor. Nobody is going to publish your stuff, no art director is going to put your illustrations in their favorite book, if you don't possess some skill for the medium. Increasingly though, I've found that the most important skills in this industry are interpersonal.
I'd like to state for the record that I'm not trying to undermine the value of hard work. Comics is a grueling medium (see above that you have to love this to do it) that requires miles of research and hours of hard work for very little pay. Nor am I trying to sound like a whiny creator who doesn't appreciate what the industry has offered me (and I'm young yet, so there's more to come). Certainly it's a blast having such a large network of creative people which you can tap for advice, certainly traveling to some America's best cities each year for "work" is a privilege not afforded most people in most lines of work, and god knows that creating something you love as a job is a far cry from the grist mill of the typical 9 to 5.
I'm simply trying to illustrate that in this industry, being a decent person is going to go a long way. Not that comics creators aren't open to critique or mindful of negative press, they are. And like most creative types, comics creators learn from their mistakes and taken open and honest criticism to heart. What I'm trying to illustrate here is just how large and how supportive a community this is. If all you ever see of comics are vitriolic fanboy messages about the presence of Superman's underwear, then you might carry with you a bad impression of the industry as a whole. The fact of the matter is though, most of the people who make comics really look out for their own.
Sure, there are the Twitter fights. Sure, there is the summary dismissal of the majority of Mark Millar's oeuvre. Sure, we're all less than sanguine about this new DC reboot. For the most part though, comics creators band together. Go to any convention and marvel at how easy it is to make new friends. Certainly your work will eventually have to stand on it's own merit and if you have good work, you're more likely to make a profound and beneficial connection. Regardless of your work though, you'll have no shortage of new friends. If you are friendly, if you are passionate, if you are supportive and realistic, this industry will invite you in with open arms.
If you're a dick, well...I don't like your chances.