Comics at Eide's Entertainment in Downtown Pittsburgh. Photo by Jason Phox.

Comic books have become widespread and popular in recent years with the success of movies and TV shows based on the most marketable characters. Some enjoy the artwork, others the storytelling or just following well-known characters like Spider-man and Superman.  

While some fans dream of being able to draw and write a major comic book or graphic novel, the local creatives who work in the industry say the jobs with Marvel and DC Comics come with challenges and struggles as well.

That’s why many locals in the comic industry, such as Jim Rugg and Thomas Scioli, draw, write and publish their own work.  

Comic book creator Jim Rugg. Photo courtesy of Jim Rugg.

“Self-publishing means you can do anything you want,” says Rugg. “And if you’re smart about the business and budget, you make all the profit. This can mean that a book with a small print run is more profitable to the self-publisher than working with a publisher where the profits must be divided among more people.”

Scioli has been writing and creating comics in Pittsburgh for several years. He contributed to the illustration for Freedom Force and Gødland at Image Comics, and the illustration for the Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Comic Magazine miniseries. Scioli also created “Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics,” a biography of the legend who co-created several well-loved comic book heroes such as Captain America, Black Panther and the Fantastic Four.

Comic book creator Thomas Scioli. Photo courtesy of Thomas Scioli.

Rugg is known for his ironic critique of 1970s-era comics and pop culture and has also worked as a cartoonist and illustrator for years. He wrote and illustrated for DC and Image Comics and worked on titles such as The P.L.A.I.N. Janes and One Model Nation. However, Rugg also has multiple self-published comics including his “Street Angel” mini-series and “Afrodisiac.”

“Some publishers want additional rights or a percentage of profit from the sale of additional rights, like media or foreign/translated editions. With digital and technological advancements from printing to promotion, like crowd-funding, print-on-demand, international printing, etc. Self-publishing allows artists to own and control their work and art completely,” Rugg says.

Pittsburgh has a small history in comic book storylines. But Rugg says the city is a huge inspiration for drawing urban environments in his stories. Scioli says Pittsburgh has several spots where he goes to focus on his next project. 

“The geography of Pittsburgh influenced me, you know, the mountains and the way the city kind of zigzags up and down the hills and things,” says Scioli. “That kind of thing works its way into my art.” 

Star Brand comic at Eide’s Entertainment in Downtown Pittsburgh. Photo by Jason Phox.

Rugg says ​​that just being good at drawing and storytelling is not enough today.

“It’s just really competitive to be in the entertainment industry, and in addition to working on your craft, trying to be good at storytelling and good at art, you also have to work on keeping up with your audience and building that audience and getting your work in front of a receptive audience,” says Rugg. 

Scioli adds that in addition to the comic book industry being a competitive market, finding the right publisher is challenging. He says it is rare to go straight from one project to the next, and it can sometimes take years to find a place willing to publish his work.  

Drawing by Thomas Scioli courtesy of Thomas Scioli. Credit: Courtesy of Thomas Scioli

Despite the challenges, Rugg encourages those who want to work in the comic book industry to find their voice and to keep practicing the skills needed in the industry: writing, structure, dialogue, plot, timing, characters, setting, fashion, atmosphere and the ability to draw all kinds of people. 

“Work hard. Write your own material. Developing your voice is vital. You need to be different and learn what you do/think/want that makes you unique,” says Rugg. “Learn about business. Successful artists are entrepreneurs. Draw all the time. Hone your craft. Develop a trustworthy support group.”  

Jason Phox is a journalist in the Pittsburgh area sharing important information with the people of the Steel City. He enjoys writing, photography, and mostly comic books.