That's an important question and, with a new group of artists' Glass House Graphics meetings coming up in Manila on July 2nd, it deserves a thorough answer.
“Don’t you just hand out jobs? I mean, I can send my own stuff to DC and Marvel. CB visits here every year, and I can show him myself!"
What does an agent do?, indeed. To begin with, it varies from talent to talent – and from agency to agency. (That’s right, Glass House Graphics is not the only comics agency out there. And while we DO represent 128 talents, as I see on my roster today, comics are only part of what we do. CGI/traditional/flash animation, design, photography, sculpture, copywriting, children's books, and so on fill up the other half of our business.)
Unlike most other agencies, Glass House Graphics does a LOT of training. At one location in Italy, we have an honest-to-goodness dedicated art school. In Brazil, we hold periodic workshops. I do many hours of one-on-one training with Philippines-based artists online, and over the years I've taught many Seminars and workshops in Manila (and some in Cebu!).
So it should come as no surprise that other agents out there like to try to poach our people, because it’s a lot easier than training artists themselves. Heck, at our Manila, Philippines location, we for the longest time did training right in our offices and assembled "team jobs" so artists could earn as they learn. We even designed a practical comics art curriculum for a major University.
Plus, of course, I fly throughout the USA, Brazil, the Philippines, Canada, and Europe, to review portfolios and teach seminars about creating comics at art schools, colleges, and conventions. We also teach occasional online seminars, where a small group of artists all sign on at once, and everybody gets to view art or color creation right there on their computers, in live interactive presentations that connect our artists in the U.S., Brazil, Europe, the Philippines, Chile, Australia, and India.
All that stuff happens BEFORE we help artists plan and craft their portfolios – and that’s still a long way from our trying to land their first jobs for them.
So let’s say we’ve worked with an artist for days, weeks, months, whatever it takes to turn an “almost ready” artist into a saleable, professional artist. They came with a desire and an ability to draw. We’ve taught storytelling, style, professional attitude, market realities, dependability. Then what?
Then we start agenting: Chasing after jobs, analyzing markets, mailing packages, emailing files and follow-ups, schmoozing publishers, publicity, website creation, convention/hotel/airfare arrangements, original art sales, money collections, international brokering, translations, reviewing layouts and art, negotiating contracts, and everything else a professional agent does to earn a commission.
“I can do all that,” an artist says. Yes, you can. Can you AFFORD to do all that?
Your time is valuable. How many hours of your time will be taken up with making all those calls and sending all those Emails looking for jobs, and making those art photocopies and cover letters and preparing envelopes and running to the post office to send dozens of packages every few weeks to every editor or publisher who writes checks? How much time and expense will you spend flying to New York and California to visit Marvel and DC and Archie? And what about New Jersey, Illinois, Georgia, and Oregon, all of which have important publishers?
How much time/effort/money will be spent hitting Comic-Con (in San Diego) and New York Comic Con and others, to stand in line and show work and schmooze? How much of your time will you eat up listing and selling your original art on various websites and schlepping it to Conventions? And if you’re manning your table at the Con to sell your art, how can you be over there in the portfolio line trying to show an editor you’re better than the severel hundred other hopefuls also armed with portfolios and a dream?
Where do you find the time to study all the comics out there, to understand publisher needs and determine which ones you’ll draw samples for, to prove you’ll fit there best? Who exactly do you chat with to learn which publishers pay on time, or very late, or don’t pay at all?
Have you spent the time building relationships with so many editors that some will tell you what’s really going on with their publishing plans and invite you to editorial summits and business planning meetings, so that’s you’re involved with strategizing certain projects from the ground up?
When do you find time to build and maintain a webpage to promote your work, correspond with fans, and arrange private commissions? When might you find time to write and send out publicity releases about yourself, once you start getting work, so readers and editors can learn more about you?
Do you really have years of contract experience to know how to handle that 20-page contract they’ve sent you, knowing what could and should be removed, what terms you can ask for given your value to that publisher, and so forth? If not, how much time/money will it take you to research contract law – or hire an attorney to review it for you?
And once you’ve carved out time to do all this, plus pester the slower publishers for your money, and deal with translations and/or banking fees and complications if you’re internationally based…
…when will you have time left actually to DRAW the books you’re hired to draw? And still have time left for your families?
What’s more, if the comic book market dries up, with no work coming in, will you have the strength left to do most of the above, all over again, for the commercial art markets?
And if your scanner goes down, you need a new Cintiq but can't order it overseas, or your internet’s out, or your computer’s hard drive gets fried, what then? Or what if you’ve fallen behind on your job through whatever personal problems, family emergencies, or whatever? – wouldn’t it be good to have someone looking out for you, who can get you assistance so that you meet your deadlines with high quality despite all odds? Or what if you and the editor just don’t see eye-to-eye and there’s a lot of friction?…who is watching your back, to step in and smooth things over?
A GOOD AGENT DOES ALL THAT – leaving comics artists free to do what they set out to do in the first place: BE COMICS ARTISTS.
"What DOESN'T a good agent do?" might've made a shorter Facebook post.