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To many people in comics, I only arrived a few years ago with Joe the Barbarian. Then came Hellblazer (completed in 2008 before I began working on Joe), American Vampire: SOTF, and finally Punk Rock Jesus. Once in a while someone will mention Off Road (an OGN I did with Oni back in 2004), but for the most part it seems like I've been published only these last few years when in fact I've been published professionally for a decade now.

This isn't a plea to have everyone go back through my previous work--in fact, I'm glad that a lot of the books I've done over the years aren't on readers' radars. I'm proud of it all, but the books above are a nice, tight group of titles to be associated with. They're all in a similar brand, they're all recent, they all have good creators/publishers associated with them, and the artwork is mostly consistent. Go back further than that, and you'll see artwork that looks nothing like the stuff I'm doing these days. (Although Off Road still holds up to some degree.)

I realized I hit the 10-year-mark only a few days ago, and I wanted to write something about the past 10 years, so here's my list of Top 5 Mistakes

5. Not getting paid

I won't mention the company (I have in the past, and it's not worth more drama)--at this point it would only give them undeserved attention. But when I was still in college, I did 3 issues over a summer and never got paid. I had a contract, but it was written in such an amateur way by the publisher that there was nothing I could do legally. 3 months were wasted when I could have gotten a job at Home Depot to pay my college bills, but I learned a valuable lesson about trusting publishers. I haven't been burned since, and that's because I've become a viper when it comes to paperwork and negotiations. I can be unpleasant and overly suspicious, I'm sure, but it's the only way I know how to protect myself.

I'm not sure how I would have avoided this at the time. Now I'm better at noticing shifty behavior from people and knowing whom to avoid. Back then, I was too young to see it. Oh well, lesson learned.

4. Learning valuable things about art, then ignoring them

At SCAD Savannah (the impressive Atlanta campus didn't exist yet), I'd sometimes have time to do a page in a week, and I would use the time to explore a lot of different techniques, tools, and ways of mark-making. During the latter half of school, I began getting work with Dark Horse on Star Wars Tales, and then on a book called Crush (once I'd graduated). It was the first time I'd been forced to work at a page-per-day, so I stripped away the stuff I'd learned (in and out of class) for a more streamlined look. Instead of using brush, quill and ink, I used Microns and French curves. The art was slick and had lots of movement, but it lacked depth. It was plastic, lazy and unimaginative. For two years I was coasting on cruise control and not challenging myself. The art served the story and nothing more--there was never a panel to drool over. Never anything to hang on a wall. There are guys who have found many ways to effectively use Micron, but I'm not one of them.

It wasn't until I started inking Zach Howard on some unpublished Vertigo pages (this was 2004) when I began to use the brush and quill again. Microns and Rapidographs were taking too long and I couldn't make the tools embrace how dynamic Zach's art was, so I forced myself to pick up the older tools. It was clunky at first, but after a few months it was like rediscovering a limb. And I've never looked back.

To this day, I'm still trying to think of a good reason why I stopped using them in the first place. My career might be 2 years advanced if I'd never done that.

3. Store signings

The one thing I've never gotten over the past ten years is get a line of people at a comic shop signing. And I'm not asking for a killer line, just any line at all.

I'm sure if I did more high profile superhero stuff, it would happen. But with how well things have been going lately with Joe, Vampire, Blazer and PRJ, I would have expected to get a least some kind of showing, especially in NYC. But it never happens. The best one so far has been at Casablanca Comics in Portland, Maine. And even though it was somewhat successful, I had plenty of time to stare at stacks of books that I wasn't signing.

There's a lot to gain by doing store signings, of course. It means a lot to people who can't travel, it gives you time to spend quality time with readers, and it's often a free mini vacation to wherever the store is. But 9 times out of 10, it's usually a disappointment for me and the store owner. And I always apologize to him as I leave the store, my head lowered between my shoulders in shame.

Here's why I think I do so poorly at these things: half my readers are women who don't like going in comic shops. Lots of them brave it out, sure, but most don't because--let's face it--a lot of shops are creepy. I also think that many Vertigo readers prefer to buy the trades in books stores or order stuff online. Or they download in digital.

Whatever the reason, I've decided not to do any more store signings for a while. They're great for keeping an artist humble, but I've found them very depressing.

2. Turning down Assassin's Creed 3

I mentioned this before, but I was offered a chance to work on Assassin's Creed. I was also offered the chance to work with a lot of great writers over the past few years--one was even offering $1000 per page. But I turned them down to do Punk Rock Jesus.

I'm glad I chose to stick with PRJ--great gigs will always be there, but finding a window to do your own stuff is really hard. But every time I drive by an Assassin's Creed billboard, see a commercial or hold an action figure, I feel a tinge of regret. And now that I'm trying to put a down payment on a house in Brooklyn, part of me wishes that I'd taken a script more lucrative than PRJ.

But not really.

1. Insecurity

My thoughts on the psychology of being an artist are always evolving. I'll spare you a drawn out emo-description of what it's like inside an artist's brain, because most people on dA know exactly what I'm talking about. And that's my point--no matter how much we fight it, we can all be overly sensitive, emotional, and very insecure. That's just the price of creativity, I think.

I used to pretend that I wasn't insecure because I thought it put me above the drama and the hen-pecking I see at conventions and online. And you can see all kinds of insecurity playing out if you know what to look for. There's the "quick-to-anger" artist: getting upset so quickly is a defense mechanism to quickly isolate himself and appear alpha in a situation. There's the "emo-hipster" artist: being a comic artist isn't enough, so he decks himself out in some sort of costume complete with leather bracelets, floppy hair, and a b&w artist bio photo. Or there's the "I-don't-care" artist: he claims to not read comics and will go out of his way to act like he's not caring what people think--while constantly checking his Google alerts.

There are a bunch more, and I've inhabited many of these roles over the years. And there's nothing wrong with being any of them, but try not to kid yourself because (chances are) you've got baggage.

The types of creators I'm really drawn to these days are the ones who admit their insecurity in some way. And by no means are these creators above it; they still let bad reviews get to them, they're not above trolling the internet for mention of their name, and they usually keep a list of "I don't like this creator and here's why" on the edge of their tongue. But at the end of the day, these creators do their best to laugh, admit that they're not perfect either, calm down, and try not to take it all so seriously.

I find that doing this for a living requires constant monitoring of your state of mind. Patrolling myself for weirdness, immaturity and other artist-insecurity is part of the daily grind. Of course, focusing too much is its own form of insecurity and egocentrism, so be careful.

And when I fail at this (and it happens a lot), it's always my biggest regret.
  • Listening to: Beethoven piano sonatas
  • Reading: Attack of the Theocrats
  • Watching: Science Channel
Add a Comment:
pfendino Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2013   Traditional Artist
Great stuff Mr.Murphy, really enjoying all your journals. Spend the last hour beeing sucked into them! :D
Thanks for sharing your insight, it's highly appreciated.
zarro83 Featured By Owner Jun 3, 2013  Student Traditional Artist
Very interesting. This makes it clear that you are also very sensitive, you can also see in your work. :)
Pachycrocuta Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2013
Hi, I was really struck by your comments about inking with Microns versus brush and dip pen.

I currently use Microns and I've been trying to push being sketchy and varying line weight with them, but I think I'm running into the limitations that they have as pens and my own cowardice. I read through your "Techniques" journal from a while back, and that's a good pointer to materials, but would you have any advice about how to practice or what would be good things to focus on while trying to teach myself brush/Crowquill inking?
KevinMcDougall Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2013  Student Writer
I adore your honesty over being insecure. Kudos, man.
ShiroiFocus Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2013
good read.
smbhax Featured By Owner Jan 14, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thanks for the list, it's very helpful. Congrats on 10 years, and here's to the next 10, filled with new and even more glorious mistakes! : D
jtchan Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2013  Professional Interface Designer
Good stuff, Sean. Always like your long posts. They always offer a lot of good insight and reflection.
artistjerrybennett Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2013  Professional General Artist
Very cool of you to make this list. We do feel this way often. (Thinking of several points, especially #1.) :)
johnchalos Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Professional General Artist
Thanks for the insights. PRJ turned out pretty great.
wlfmn68 Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012
amen brutha, amen.
KnuckleSupper Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2012  Professional General Artist
Hit the nail on the head. I made a few of those mistakes.
Xanadu7 Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
These are all valuable lessons. You strike me as a humble and down to earth guy which is great. Can't stand the arrogant artists out there. I haven't read the books you worked on, but I am planning to read Punk Rock Jesus soon since it got good reviews. Cheers!
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2012
Thanks man! I'm sure some people think I'm arrogant. :)
stucklessportfolio Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2012  Professional General Artist
Thank you for sharing Sean. Very brave & generous. Keep up the good work.
gskaraxx Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2012
Hey sean,nice said there are most welcome to Athens by the way,we may not be mecca of comics or anything like that,but things are happening here,plus we have our,small comic convention where people/arists get together and have fun...check it out!

Take care.
Ventel Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2012  Student Traditional Artist
Reading about your experience reminds me of my friend ~XxSMARSxX. He's an indie comic artist, but he's a pretty great guy as well.
neilak20 Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
I've been down this week on myself because many of my friends are more successful than I am. As a result I tend to take on more work than I can handle (that and to pay bills). Reading this put that in perspective and I'm glad you posted it. Thanks.
SonicWolvelina99 Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2012  Student Digital Artist
Thanks for sharing this with us. <3
boardinker13 Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2012  Professional
Have you ever heard of Phil Noto's art demo at the art store? i believe he said it was a very humbling experience.
ReiRobin Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks for sharing, it's very insightful for me! :,)
Anmph Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you for writing this. I always appreciate your candid posts.
ebony-chan Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2012
Good stuff here man. Very educational.
richard-chin Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2012
now, lets move on. to a brighter future. cheers
Antonio-Rocha Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2012
Words of the wise! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Sean.
Eastforth Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2012  Professional Artist
Nicely put, and insightful. Thanks for taking the time to post this.
Dan-Van-Cool Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Assassin's Creed and a pretty wicked title to pass up but... The first time I ever met Shawn Barber this subject came up and he simply said you gotta do your own shit. Since then one of the most common things I've read from artists during interviews is online follows this same line of thought. Often worded differently. PRJ is Awesome dude and I've spent my $$$ to support the story, the skill behind the book and creation.
Great Post man, Id be really interested in knowing more about the negotiation side of the biz. Its the knowledge I lack the most ramping up into the biz.
carnivalofsins00 Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2012
We've met many times now, sir, and my girlfriend and I are always happy to have been able to chat with you. You're one of my favorite artists and you're always crazy fun to be around, man. It's always nice to talk to someone off of the online world. We're super pumped for the finale to PRJ, and of course I'll be double dipping for the paperback. Seriously, don't stop doing what you're doing.
ManoelRicardo Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2012  Professional General Artist
I have problems with insecurity, but I think its much more heavy than yours. Many times this insecurity led me to stop drawing for a while... or pushed me towards the music, then I begin to be insecure in music, and hover back to drawing! and when im back to drawing, my art turned back to SHIT!!! GODDAMMIT!

I think that understand a little about psychology helped me to do somethings I am proud, but right now im strugglin to be a better artist BEFORE try to get a contract or do another autoral GN. and by strugglin I mean ALMOST KILLIN MYSELF.

this is a thought road. and thats why I thank you SO MUCH for sharing!
Bradaviel Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and feelings (point 2 is conforting me on something) !

Just getting back to point three : I didn't know you felt (and experienced things) this way since i was early to get to the Paris convention you came to not too long ago and couldn't get a place in line because it was already full (wow, getting in line would get me talking to some amazing girls apparently ! :P )
I guess if i lived in NY and knew you were signing stuff somewhere, i would still get there everytime to get another amazing sketch.

And the sonata 57 appassionata mov3 is my favourite classic piano piece in the world (thank you John Woo).
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2012
Good seeing you in Paris! At conventions I usually have some kind of line. It's just the small shops that it's usually dead. :)
strattkat Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Man, that was really insightful and helpful! I hope you continue to post stuff like this. I really like the art on PRJ, I'm just one of those viewers that never really say anything...but keep up the great work.
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2012
Thanks for saying something. :)
VoipComics Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh, not getting paid!

I did some graphic design work for a High School that burned me, and honest to god public high school. After that I became cynical of everyone. Everything has a contract, even the free ones so they know their boundaries. When your new to any form of paid art it is easy to fall into a trap of trusting someone because your desperate to just do any work.
Angilram Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2012  Professional Digital Artist
Amen to all that. Thanks for sharing your experience, it's always interesting.

And I had to laugh at the comment about women readers and comic book stores. Last time I motivated myself to go to a comic-book store, I got once-overed, smirked at and commented on behind my back in a not so discreet nor pleasant way. Another time a guy (probably a regular patron) offered to take me on a tour of the basement. Arr Hurr. Not all of them are like that, thank God. I've been in one were the owner was very nice, but it's way too far, so I order trades online and just avoid stores all together. Pity.
Mostly it's way past time the comic-book community realized women read comics too and would be more present if not made to feel so unwelcome.
And then maybe they'll make Deadpool t-shirts in women size that my brother can't steal from me. _
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2012
That's hilarious. Sorry it's like that, though. I'm honored to have many female readers because (and maybe it's only my imagination) I feel women are drawn to more complicated writing and storytelling--the stuff you often find at Vertigo.
HallowGazer Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Once more, a great journal to read.
While it's not completely new to hear, it's always interesting to hear about the insecurities every artist goes through in one form or another and it's even more interesting to hear it from the professionals.
ViceDriven Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
For whatever it's worth, when Crush came out I picked it up just because the art was so awesome.
tshasteen Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2012
Man oh man, these all hit very close to the mark with me. You and I have a lot in common... except you're younger, better looking, and are way more talented! ; )
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2012
I'm just glad I finally wrote something that didn't piss you off. :)
tshasteen Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2012
Ha! You rarely piss me off. Rarely : )
mrdamron Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2012
Can't wait to see what you create in the next ten years Sean.
Lboors Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2012
I just bought a nice tent, some canned beans and a blanket. Gonna form a line outside your home. Pls sign the tent. Thanx.
Doofball3 Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2012  Professional General Artist
This was a great read. I was actually looking through old sketchbooks from my HS days and realized how experimental everything was, I was using markers a lot more and challenging myself. In college (SVA), nibs and brushes were a big deal, but after I graduated I went right back to pitt pens.

I am not an established cartoonist/creator like yourself, but already I am falling into this rinse and repeat slump and trying to play it safe. I am working on my second book now, but I've already got my nibs ready to go. Playing it safe (or lazy) just isn't an option, especially when I'm still trying to get my stuff out in the world.

Thank you for sharing your experiences.
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2012
Good luck with your stuff. And thanks for writing.
martinplsko Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2012  Professional General Artist
Dear Sean, if me and my (comic)artist friends would live in the U.S., we would definitely create a line of drooling fanboys or a line of inspired comic artists wanting to meet their inspiration, at a store or a con. I know its not so important, but it helps to know, so here is a short list of your fans from Slovakia, Europe: :iconburningflag:, [link], :iconmichalivan: and :iconvladimirschmidt:.

Thank you for journals, they are always insightfull, funny, educational and most of all helpfull. And keep up the good work for at least one or two decades more, please, we want to drool in awe over your artwork :D
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2012
Thanks for the kind words. I hope to make it out to Eastern block countries at some point.
martinplsko Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2012  Professional General Artist
:) just dont tell anyone here, were the eastern block :D Looking forward to that and until then wish you the best of luck and world fame for PRJ!
jtbozz Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2012
Shoot. I just committed my biggest pet peeve. When somebody makes a comment in a thread that has nothing to do with the root article. Loved the post about the mistakes you made above. There, got that off my chest:)
jtbozz Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2012
I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts of when you visited Olivier Coipel in his studio and what you guys talked about. You both have such different backgrounds and styles, yet are so passionate about the craft. Future blog post perhaps?!
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2012
Sure--never made it to his studio though. He's such a different kind of thinker than I am, it's weird that we're friends. Maybe I'll think of something to write later on...
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