Dylan Edwards is an artist based in Denver, Colorado, who creates comics, 2D art, and sculpture. He is the author of the comic books, Transposes and Politically InQueerect: Old Ghosts and Other Stories, and his comics have appeared in numerous anthologies. His current project is Valley of the Silk Sky, a young adult, science fiction webcomic. In addition to creating comics, he also does illustration and graphic design work, and has appeared as a panelist and moderator at numerous comic conventions and publishing expos.
Edwards recently visited Japan and spoke at a program organized by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on innovations in business models for independent comics. “American View” asked him to share his insights with young people in Japan who are interested in creating comics or entering other artistic fields.
To begin with, aspiring creative professionals in Japan want to know how successful comic artists like Edwards get started in this business in the United States. In response to this question, Edwards said, “I became interested in comics mostly from reading American newspaper comics as a kid, because that was what I had easy access to. When I went to university, I studied art and worked in a comic book shop. That got me into the world of comics.”
When most people think of American comics, they imagine superhero comics like “Superman” and “Batman.” While mainstream comics like these are currently seeing a boost in sales thanks to the success of recent superhero films, comics by independent artists and small publishers are also enjoying unprecedented popularity. Indie creators are experimenting with a variety of new business models to promote and finance their work. Comics by and for women, LGBTQ individuals, and ethnic minorities are at the forefront on this resurgence, targeting audiences who have historically been neglected by mainstream publishers.
In the United States, many people assume the target audience for comics is children or teenagers, and that they mainly focus on fantasy or science fiction themes. Nowadays, though, the comic shelves at independent bookstores are also stocked with comics about daily life and more serious subjects. Many of these comics are also autobiographical.
Although Edwards tends to inject a sense of humor into his work because he grew up reading funny comics, he also touches on serious themes. “Comics don’t have to be funny,” he said. “My message is usually very focused on individual experience. I don’t tend to portray people as a monolithic unit. I’m always looking for what makes each character a unique individual person.”
He also tries to tailor his comics toward a specific target audience. “For each project, I tend to think about who it’s aimed at,” said Edwards. “The ways that I use the material are different. I have to think about what people in that age group are interested in and use that as a guideline.”
In addition to print comics that can be purchased at bookstores or ordered online, web-based comics are becoming increasingly popular. The advantage of webcomics is that artists can post them online for free and anyone basically anywhere in the entire world can see them. Edwards explained that webcomics have inspired creators to come up with unique formats for their artwork, such as comics that start at the top of a webpage and keep scrolling down until the end or animated segments in otherwise static comics. Many artists view webcomics as a new medium for experimentation and post their comics on platforms such as Tumblr and Tapastic to showcase their work and build readership.
The benefit of print comics, however, is that artists can actually sell them. “With a webcomic, you’re not making any money really, but with a print volume you have a thing that you can sell,” said Edwards. “Having a print volume makes people feel like you’re a little bit more of a serious artist and it also gets your work in front of people who don’t usually like reading comics.”
Even artists that haven’t established a name for themselves yet can make their work available in print using various types of self-publishing. Many artists distribute “mini comics” by printing them out at home and selling them at comic conventions and local bookstores. Another option is to self-publish a book after raising funds from Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform for creative projects.
But what drives indie comic artists to keep creating and promoting their work without a strict schedule or publishing contract? “What I’ve found very motivating is to meet other people your age who are working on these things,” said Edwards. “I go to a ‘drink and draw’ group in Denver where local artists hang out at a coffee shop on Tuesday nights and just sit around and draw and chat. That is very useful not just for motivation but also for creating opportunities for networking.”
When asked what advice he would give to young people who are interested in pursuing creative careers, Edwards said: “Do the thing that’s interesting to you more than what you think other people want to see. That extends to a few different things. If you want to write and draw comics, what is the thing that makes you want to write and draw comics? What stories or art push you to do that? If you focus on that, you’ll be a lot happier with what you’re doing.”