A Career in Comics

Dennis Calero can’t remember when he started drawing, but he has a great excuse—he was only one. He has some of his drawings dated from back then, just not the memory of creating them. “I have been drawing literally for as long as I can remember,” he says. Now an award-winning artist and writer who works primarily on comics, graphic novels, and film and television projects, Calero is volunteering his time for two related events at The Wolfsonian on Saturday, April 20. During a public talk he will discuss breaking into comics, his career and technique, and the creative and business aspects of working for companies such as Marvel, DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, CBS Films, and Weed Road Pictures. He’ll also discuss a pilot he’s currently developing for Syfy (formerly Sci-Fi Channel). Following his talk, he will review work by teens ages fourteen through seventeen and offer a critique. 

Calero, who is based in New York, was born and raised in Miami and went to New World School of the Arts before attending Pratt Institute to study architecture. After two years, he switched to illustration. “All I wanted to do was tell stories. Drawing and creating and writing have always been my first love,” he says. He was attracted to comics in part because they combine drawing and storytelling. “I’ve always loved comics. The chance to have a career where I could draw every day and get paid for it was very exciting.”

Among the projects Calero has worked on are adapting Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles into a graphic novel, helping develop X-Men Noir for Marvel Comics, and creating a web comic of Stephen King’s short story “Little Green God of Agony.”

In terms of breaking into comics, Calero has some advice: “It’s incredibly important to persevere and realize that you don’t get just one chance in life. If someone rejects you, the next may not. And even after that first yes, there are still going to be plenty of nos. You can’t take it to heart. It’s part of working in the arts.”

He also emphasizes the work that goes into developing one’s abilities. “Drawing is not a gift. It’s a skill. It takes interest and practice and hard work and study. That feeling of drawing something and never getting it quite right is always a challenge, and it should be.” For kids—or anyone starting out—he says people should realize that “you’re not as good now as you will be in a year. There is something deeply moving about that. There is a sense of accomplishment you get after forty hours of drawing where you’ve not only produced something, but you’ve worked on your skills. Working on it enriches your experience of life. When people tell me they like to draw but they’re not good at it, I say, ‘So what? Carry a sketchbook and draw for the pleasure of it. Art belongs to everybody.’ I think it’s important for parents to encourage children to do things that require an investment of time and energy. It’s hard as a parent to get across the idea that you’re doing something you might stink at, but that’s ok. It will get better.”

Calero’s appearance complements ComicKraze, The Wolfsonian’s ongoing workshop teaching teens the basics of cartooning and graphic novel design. The next weekend workshop sessions are April 27 and May 4 for Inking and Coloring and May 18 and May 25 for Experimental Comics.