If you want to turn professional at comics, you’re definitely going to need some skills. In addition to business and marketing tactics (which I hope to discuss in the coming weeks), you definitely must have some kind of skills in drawing, writing, and storytelling. After all, a person can’t just get some tools and call himself a carpenter out of the blue. He has to have training and practical hands-on experience.
So where can you get this training for comics? Well, there are art schools out there. Yes, there are institutions of learning that can teach you how to draw, how to paint, how to render on the computer, and so on. But can they help you land a job as a professional? Is art school necessary for comics?
Unfortunately, that is not a question I can give you an exact answer to. I cannot say “yes, a degree in art is a must” or “no, art school is a waste of time and money”. Sadly, there is no clear answer to this question. The best I can tell you when wondering “is art school necessary for comics” is that it all depends.
There are different sorts of art schools out there. Some of them are universities/colleges that will offer degrees in a specific field such as fine art, illustration, graphic design, computer art, animation, etc. Some are traditional types, sometimes called “ateliers”, such as the Art Students League of New York. These places are more for fine artists. If you want to render your comics realistically or photorealistically (like Alex Ross), then this type of institution might be the place for you.
The former type (the college/university) will usually offer among three types of degrees: a two-year degree (associate’s), four-year (bachelor’s), and six-year (master’s). But there’s a challenge here. Enrolling in a college to earn a degree of any sort requires a significant investment of time and money. This is not something to be done on the spur of the moment. You have to give such a move careful thought plus you must take account of finances. In addition to tuition costs, there’s art supplies, additional fees, and housing/transportation concerns. Furthermore, competition to enroll can be fierce. Many art schools don’t take just anyone. You will often have to submit a portfolio of some of your work and will have to be interviewed more often than not.
In asking whether is art school necessary for comics, you have to look ahead to beyond the halls of learning. Is there any guarantee that having that four-year degree or that certificate will land you a job working for DC/Marvel or making a hefty profit on your own graphic novel? No.
There are many out there who earned degrees from these places, yet never produced anything and went on to work in low-paying jobs in other fields. Sadly, these individuals are not completely to blame. From what I’ve seen and from what I’ve learned from many professionals in the field, there’s little or no support beyond art school. Many graduates are given bare-bones classes in marketing and promotion, perhaps a portfolio class, and told that as long as they have a website and business cards, that the jobs will come to them. This not only holds true for comics, but its sister fields like illustration and animation.
What I’m trying to say is that art school isn’t necessary for making a living at comics. If you have the time and money or you absolutely believe that it can help you, then go for it by all means. But if you don’t have a four-year degree, don’t sweat it. Some out there in the field such as Gary Larson (The Far Side) never had a formal art school education. If you want to learn skills in drawing and/or writing, there are plenty of options. Look at colleges that offer continuing education courses or adult education centers. These places offer classes that can be affordable and are often held on weekends and evenings.
In fact, I myself trained at night school. Since 2009, I’ve been attending nighttime and weekend classes over at the School of Visual Arts to learn about comics as well as life drawing, marketing and color theory.
So is art school necessary for comics? Maybe. Decide what you want out of comics and whether you want to make an investment of time and money into an education. It may or may not be worth going to school full-time. But only you can make the decision in the end. Only you, readers, can definitely answer for yourself and yourself alone “is art school necessary for comics”.