Compiled by Gary Scott Beatty
If you judge the impact of small press creators by the percentage of all comics sold, it doesn't look like much. Marvel and DC obviously have a huge impact on the comic book industry as a whole. But how many small press creators have later gone on to work for the big two publishers, who use the independent comic book community as a kind of "farm team" for talent development? How many small press creators don't WANT to work for the large companies and are satisfied with pushing the boundaries of illustrated fiction without editorial baggage, more likely to appear as mainstream illustrators in national magazines than in Batman? Taken as a talent pool, the small press community represents a huge resource of expertise and experience, salesperson abilities strengthened by their choice to self-promote, artwork improved by their personal association with printers and message strengthened by their decision to make themselves accessible to the buying public through blogs and conventions. This is what some small press creators are saying about producing, printing, publishing and distributing their comics today.
Articles below are thanks to the contributions of Peter Kuper, Joel Rivers, Jaime, Steve Lafler and Steve "Noppie" Noppenberger.
Joel Rivers is creator of Along the Canadian (Winner of a 2003 Xeric Foundation Grant for Comic Book Self-Publishing), Lester Severe and Co-Creator on Brokenhearted in Bakersfield. Check out his dreamscapes and more at obioncomics.com.
by Joel Rivers, Obion Comics
There are A LOT of people who want to make comics books out there. Just go to any comic convention and your will see not just exhibitors but half of the attendees seem to be hocking their own stories and/or comic books. Many end up thumbing through your book but end up asking about the Xeric Foundation or how you find a printer. In a lot of ways it is thrilling to be around so many people that share your enthusiasm for comics, especially those of us that toil in our little dining rooms converted to studios for years to bring our dreams to reality, but it can also be a shock.
How much money will I need to print?
What program do you use to pre-press your pages?
Do you use digital fonts or hand letter?
Where do you get your ideas?
Wait! Let's stop here for a minute. Not a lot of time is paid to stories and ideas here, and in a field where many people are forking over their life's savings to print full-color glossy comics that, in the final estimation, are just not fully realized stories, maybe we should talk about the craft of story-telling.
Most people who want to make comics want to do because they ALREADY have the story all worked out. Or, at least they know they want to do horror, or Sci-Fi or autobiography. They paint themselves into a corner before they even begin. That being said, I do think most people really can tell a story.
Think about that when you come to work Monday and everyone catches up: How do they do it? Boring facts listed in order? NO. They tell each other stories. Most everyone does it, so it's not special or talent or anything like that. It's language and culture that make stories out of events.
But when someone sits down to be creative, the pressure is on to be CREATIVE, original, ironic, or relevant. We tighten up, our preconceived notions, peer-pressure (a real biggy that comic-geeks are constantly guilty of), and our obsessions can cloud the waters and our stories suffer. Sometimes the thing born of this unholy union can be a monster without a beginning, or a middle, or even an END.
So, how do we shake our heads clear of all these separate distractions? The only way I know is to write EVERYTHING, good bad an ugly. Write a LOT. Write about you dog, your job, your childhood, not that you'll later draw a comic about your dog (maybe you will) but because you have to clean out the creative pipes.
Even drawing a bad comic takes an ungodly amount off time and if it's not a web-comic, it's also going to take a downright evil amount of money to print. If you're like me you just want to sit and draw, not write press releases, call printers, scan artwork, color everything real pretty-like in Photoshop and sleep four hours a day, so it better be worth the time.
So, where DO your ideas come from you may ask?
The truth is I watch movies and read novels and history and science books and every now and then a comic book joins The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Uncle Scrooge on my bookshelf. We need to be open not just to other kinds of comics, but other kinds of stories. Listen the next time someone at work tells you about their cat or what they did on their vacation. You might just have found your next idea.
Go out there and invoke!
Peter Kuper's illustrations and comics appear regularly in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times and MAD, where he illustrates SPY vs. SPY. Recent books include adaptions of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and his own award winning Sticks and Stones, a wordless graphic novel about the rise and fall of empires. His many accomplishments as an illustrator and publisher would fill entire websites, and do, at www.peterkuper.com and www.worldwar3illustrated.org.
by Peter Kuper
Through my rabid interest in all things related to comics I stumbled into the world of fanzines - these are handmade magazines produced on a printing press or photocopied then, exchanged or sold to other rabid fans. My childhood friend Seth Tobocman and I published our first 'zine with the inspired title "Phanzine," at the age of eleven. It included our first feeble attempts at cartooning and interviews with various cartoon-world professionals (including Mad's publisher William Gaines, R. Crumb, Jack Kirby and Vaughn Bode.)
It was these early experiences that lead us to publish World War 3 Illustrated in 1979 while in college. At that time there were few outlets for non-superhero comics and with Ronald Reagan heading towards the oval office we were anxious to apply our art as a form of rebellion. It was very empowering to produce a magazine and the form proved to be effective enough that we are still producing WW3 to this day.
We didn't start WW3 with a manifesto, we just wanted to create an outlet for our political comix and have the opportunity as editors to publish work by other artists who also were not being seen much beyond local lampposts.
If we had written a manifesto, it might have said something about creating historical document that let someone from the future know that guys like Ronald Reagan didn't fool all of us. It also may have said, if you are going to make declarations about changing the world, a magazine is a decent place to start. In many ways WW3 represents a microcosm of the kind of society we'd like to see, a place where people from various backgrounds, genders and abilities can pull together to the benefit of all.
It also makes great bathroom reading.
One of the biggest hurdles between creating work and reaching an audience is distribution. We began by selling the magazine outside the school cafeteria as well as local book stores and comic shops that took it on consignment. Eventually we expanded when a record distributor, fans of WW3, took us on, as well as hooking up with Diamond, the biggest comic distributor.
Another reality you encounter in self- publishing is, the bigger it grows, the more of a businessperson you are forced to become. Add to that dealing with printers and promotion and it can become overwhelming. Still, these are the same skills one needs even when someone else is your publisher. Thanks to what I've learned through self-publishing I've found myself much better equipped to move through the labyrinth of mainstream book trade.
Self-publishing remains a fine way to produce uncensored work and you join a long line of artists who successfully reached a worldwide audience through this approach - see the Masses, Zap, Raw, Art Young, R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly among many others. I suspect that I will still be at it as the oceans rise and my hairline recedes.
© 2007 Peter Kuper
Jaime is the creator of My Fair Matey ('05), Claudette or The Poisoned Path ('06), Hoarse Chorus ('07), The Window ('07) and has even inspired a necklace design at Etsy. Find said works at Atomic Books and Quimby's.
There are some lads or lassies who have a slew of ideas + swift hand jive when combined with a quill, but alas, they don't know how to turn those tiny talents into a complete story, so they abandon it. Then there are some who have a wonderful story in their head, but the pot or heroin keeps it flying down an endless hallway just out of reach; so they just share it with any pal/pet around (be it on the sofa, park or tubeway). Then there are some that get a billion artists together (or team) and spend a jillion on these blokes only to see it die when everyone is fighting in the alley of a bar over your girlfriend.
Are you one of those completion challenged chaps? If so, let me tell you how you can actually complete this impossible composition and make people read it.
1) When you get an idea, write it down in a little black book (or English leather ;) ).
2) Make sure you are focused on the ONE story. Make sure your story has all the nuances, crescendos + a beginning and an end before you set off to do a storyboard.
3) Stay off pot, crack, heroin or meds unless you are awesome at doing both or all at once!
4) Don't watch TV because you will waste time. Turn it off NOOOOWWWW!
5) Don't play some 4,000 hour video game or don't buy one when you are anywhere near a completed story.
6) Don't start a band or cult, buy a kitten, start a quilt or run away from home or shelter.
6 1/2) Make sure your lover(s) is/are aware of your time constraints, making certain that they support your endeavors completely.
7) Make peace with yourself and find peace when drawing things you enjoy drawing.
8) Always read up on things, plus find sources to support and help round off ideas for characters, plot and storyline.
9) Make sure you have the latest art software on the oldest PC in history or vice-versa OR you can even have a new PC w/ the latest art software, fancy that!
10) Make sure you have a good reliable scanner.
11) Clean all the dust bunnies out from behind your desk so that your PC gadgets perform well and don't fizzle out on you. Place the dust bunny next to the 40 foot one behind your weight set.
12) Don't let your dishes pile up and don't neglect your other duties just because you might think you are hot.
12 1/2) Mind your P's and Q's in final draft.
13) Find literate and really, really cruel, evil candidates to read/edit your finished draft. Offer to add them to your completed book if they like it.
14) Find a good printer to print your book. Make sure they are versatile and can put up with your shenanigans.
15) Give the printer a good month turnaround.
16) If you like, send a draft to your agent or a publishing house and see if it sticks. Maybe they will print your book for profit or courtesy print.
16) If printing solo, print a low amount and see if it is good enough to make more. At first I made 350 My Fair Matey's but sold out within three months, so I made more.
17) Copyright your book.
18) Find out which boutiques will read your book and allow you to sell your book there. Make sure they like you at least a little bit, so be nice, clean up, clip your six inch talons and wash your hair that day.
19) Find a good distributor or not.
20) Let stores carry your book if they like it and want to carry it.
You have now completed your book! Now you may freely return to your bacchanalias escapades.
© 2007 Jaime
Cartoonist Steve Lafler, owner of Manx Media, a custom T-shirt printing and book publishing company, holds forth on "Self Employment for Bohemians" at www.bohoworker.blogspot.com. His graphic novels include 40 Hour Man, Bughouse, Baja and Scalawag. He has done work for Last Gasp, Fantagraphics, Apple Computers, Guitar Player and many more - many of these achievements are collected at >www.stevelafler.net.
by Steve Lafler, Manx Media
On a recent visit to Bridge City Comics in the quickly gentrifying Mississippi Avenue hood in North Portland, I asked my four year old son Max if he would like me to buy him a comic book. Bugs Bunny, perhaps? Scooby Doo? Power Puff Girls?
"No thanks Dad, comics are for grown ups." Laughing, I realized I walked right into that one.
It begs the question, where are we headed with comics? Do comic books have a future as an art medium, let alone as a commercial product? In an era when several conglomerates are vying to deliver movies to your cel phone, where do graphic novels fit in?
I've kept my eyes and ears open for clues as to the current and future viability of my chosen art form. Surely the future is bright; with the occasional New Yorker cartoon lampooning the ascendant popularity of the graphic novel, I feel moderately bullish that it's possible to secure an audience. Certainly, I look more to movies like American Splendor and Ghost World as evidence that there is a public for decent cartooning than to the latest X-Men or Splooge Bat offering from Hollywood.
Truth is, nothing has ever stopped successive waves of kids from being incredibly excited about making comics. What's more, nothing stops young artists from doing it their own way, packing their picture stories with their own cultural touchstones, the visual moments gleaned from the iconography encountered in the hyper wacked media landscape that is evolving around us. That's a jumbled way of saying that comics as an art form constantly renews and reinvents itself.
It's worth taking a look at the current state of distribution for comic books and magazines. Diamond Comics has a lock on "the industry," as it were (when you hear someone refer to "the industry," they are more likely to work for Image than to be a creative toiling in art comics). Even if you are doing limited edition comics with screen-printed covers, a Diamond order can underwrite a big part of your expenses; their market access is potent. But a monopoly is a monopoly no matter how you slice it; it's been ten years since Diamond swallowed Capital City Distribution, the remaining major comics distributor.
Fortunately, we have the Global Hobos of the world, smart people creating and supporting a community dedicated to the flowering of comics as a means of personal expression, and to creating an exchange for such clever items as they appear. This is preferable to viewing or downloading comics on the web, I'm still very much interested in holding comics (and books, and magazines) in my hands as I read them.
With digital media proliferating like bunnies on steroids, it is incumbent on each cartoonist to choose how to define themselves. Are you a graphic novelist? Are you going to screen print your comics on Macy's windows and cop cars in the middle of the night? How will you create and package your work, and how will it be distributed?
I love the example of Jeff Roysdon. Here is a guy who executes ingenious, witty paintings as a high level of craft; he produces strip and panel comics that appear in Vice, among other publications, and he is an insanely great Flash animator, the guy who always has a fresh idea. Here is someone who is not in the "comic book" world, applying his considerable energies and genius to a variety of mediums.
But what about movies being delivered to your cel phone, let alone via DVDs, TV, theatres and downloads? Are comics being digitally distributed? Yes, yes and yes. The difference is that no one is getting rich off of digital comics as of yet (although I could be wrong on that).
My own mini vision as I am about to issue a new graphic novel is to work the web with generous excerpts from the book, letting the best part of the cat out of the bag for free. I guess it's worth thinking about movies themselves too. No doubt some readers of this mag have put videos up on the web already.
Meanwhile, loose canon investors are pouring their money into movies at a record clip, at least this season. Hollywood insiders snear at the newcomers, yet are happy to make deals and take their money. Not too many art cartoonists are going to run into a Hollywood deal, and many would not want to, but I for one am a big fan of Ghost World, what the hell, let's see some more cool flicks like that! I note that I have yet to view Art School Confidential as of this writing; the critics are panning it, but I will make my own judgment.
© 2007 Steve Lafler
Steven Noppenberger's Angry Dog Press publishes Whistle Blower, NAFI and the anthology Potlatch. "Noppie" has also worked for Eros Comix. An informative website can be accessed at http://www.angrydogpress.net.
by Steven Noppenberger, Angry Dog Press
The biggest problem with the comic industry is Diamond.
With that said, I believe NOW is the BEST time to self publish.
When I left the Marines in 1984 and thought about self publishing, printing costs were around $5,000 and I still could not get anywhere near Marvel or DC's cover price. Later, I learned you had to use a printer who specialized in comics, but still it was more then I could justify spending. Now, however, printing cost have gone radically down and POD (Print on Demand) is a doable option.
In the late 1980s Photoshop was only available on a Mac and very expensive. Again, now, software is cheaper and even those incline to use a PC can now purchase Photoshop.
Computers have become a major part of marking a comic, whereas twenty or so years ago everything was paste up.
The internet has played a major role in making and promoting comics. If there are no art supply stores in your area of the country, supplies can now be order and delivered.
In addition, more and more comic book convention are appearing every year.
There are, in my mind, several major problems:
FIRST being almost anybody, and I mean anybody, can produce a comic book. Talent is not needed, only the will. It is great that anybody can do it, but the down side is there are some comics that are so badly drawn and written, pencil and pens should be barred from the homes of these creators.
SECOND being that anybody can produce a comic. With each comic produced their talent will increase. Their artwork will improve as well as their writing.
THIRD is the economy. Everywhere on the planet everyone is looking for a cheaper way to do things. Printing option are becoming cheaper. That part is good. The bad part is that everybody is fighting for the same consumer dollar and comics are a want, not a need. Past decisions within the comic industry have hurt business, reducing the number of readers. Self publishers, aka small press publishers, have been saddled with the burden of generating new readers. These are the publishers who can least afford it. In the past, one to 10 percent of convention sales with 80 to 90 percent of sales from distributors would have been the normal. Today it is just the opposite, with 90 percent of all sales coming from convention sales and the remaining 10 percent between mail order and distributor sales.
IF you want to correct Diamond, then it will need most self publishers writing letters to their congressmen or senator expressing their concern over Diamond's monopoly.
In the end, I still say NOW is the best time to self publish. If the cost seems too great then switch to a web comic.
Noppie's marketing plan
1. Attend six convention a year.
2. Publish a TPB once a year.
4. Press releases.
5. Ads in the Comic Journal, CBG, in most of the programs and on the web.
7. Attempt an ad exchange.
© 2007 Angry Dog Press
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