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Unconventional - "Making Comics My Way" pt1

Posted On Thursday, August 23, 2012

     I was going to change the small-press market forever...at least, that was the image I had MODESTLY concocted for myself a few years ago.  It was at a time when my name was beginning to mean something as a creator (about as much as it does now -- which isn't to say I didn't make a BIG SPLASH then, just that the world of comics is a MUCH BIGGER pond than I knew) - people KNEW my work and for the most part, liked it and I was being introduced to and/or connecting with other influential creators.  I was established, on this very localized scale, as a "Master of Self-Promotion," as well as an outside-the-box thinker, and I was ready to take that jump to the visionary heights I KNEW were in my future.  My years prior, getting my feet wet in making comics, were all about slowly building my own publishing philosophies.  I had seen things and built up my own assumptions on what the comic market was and what I could do with it.  And I just knew my time had come -- I was LITERALLY going to change the game; but not with some ground-breaking character(s) (Superman, Batman or the Turtles), nor through some newly crowned seminal work (Watchmen or Kingdom Come).    My claim to fame was going to affect the way self-published books were made.  Because I had discovered how to make comics that were INSTANTLY profitable.
     My mindset was simple: Treat comics as a business.  Let's face it -- that's exactly what comics are: a business, a multi-million (or is it billion now -- I am an Avenger!) dollar industry designed and equipped to make money.  It's a concept that I FEEL too many Indie creators shy away from, with many abhorring the commercialized nature of the Mainstream side of comics, they'd rather not be aligned with those nasty misgivings of business orientation.  But, for a lot of us, this isn't JUST an art form that we like, it's the potential job of a lifetime -- a dream we've nurtured for decades and the only way we can viably pursue it at any full-time capacity is for it to make us money.  So I took the role of the entrepreneur, aiming to innovate the publishing process and possibly reinvigorate the outlook on print media for continued use.

     Back in 2009 (man, time REALLY does fly!) I was invited to take part in my first comic book panel - "Independent Thinking" at the inaugural Champion City Comic Con (this fed directly into my belief that I was on the fast track to comic stardom!  Lol).  There was a question posed about the use of technology by the self-publishing creator and how well we thought it was being capitalized on.  You can see my answer HERE (the audio is a bit weak, but if you try real hard, you can get the gist of what I'm saying).  The trending thought on technological use was that going digital was the inevitable future for comics (one that I was ADAMANTLY against), but here I hint at this idea that you could build your own distribution system using Print-On-Demand facilities and this was really the lynchpin to this publication model I had cooked up.

   I wasn't nearly as open about "sharing my cookbook" at the time, so I really kept this idea close to the vest.  I wanted to do it, gain all kinds of success and notoriety and THEN reveal the ins and outs of  how I did it all (I did say I was modest, right?).  But then I heard the audio of the Indie Comics & Small Press Panel from the Mid-Ohio Con that year (you can watch the videos HERE and I put my personal goals aside for what I deemed was the greater good.  What got me was the downright NEGATIVE view of being a creator some of the panelist portrayed,  particularly in the financial department.  It seemed like the resounding voice was that comics were VERY expensive and was almost given as a cautionary tale AGAINST others becoming self-publishing creators.  I HAD the solution to this and I figured it was FAR MORE important to share that answer immediately.  So I wrote THIS rebuttal to the whole panel.  And that's when I laid it all out for the world to see!

  1. Know when to follow the crowd and when not to: We've followed this trend of how an Indie creator is supposed to work for so long - but who defined that for us? I say, rethink the model as a whole and see how you can effectively use what tools are at our disposal, as efficiently as possible! Remember when I said I'd get experimental - try this:
    1. Get sponsored: The average comic book has about 22pgs - not all of them actually meet this and a few times a year they exceed it, the point is that 22 is not a number easily divisible by 4, which the total number of pages printed always is - what that means is you have space to put in ads - go to your favorite places, the ones you frequent the most or where people know you. Offer them a spot to promote their business in your book - do it for the price of umm...$30 a pop - but when you do, it, give them a whole page's worth of glory! Now depending on how many ads you choose to have (and again, nominal is the key - my personal limit is 5), you now know how big your book is gonna be (story + ads = total page count), you've got startup capital, which immediately puts you in the black AND you've got additional, if not non-conventional arenas that will help promote your book FOR YOU.
    2. Keep your print runs nominal: I'm not talking 100 copies - more like 20! Just enough to get into your local shops. This significantly cuts down your initial print cost, possibly down to under $50.00! For the scope of this experiment, I'd say go with a Print on Demand company like Ka-blam (www.ka-blam.com). They're courteous, professional and they put out a good product - more than that, they're partnered with online store Indy Planet (www.indyplanet.com) that will sell your book for you - the cost of any copies purchased should be factored into your sales price and Indy Planet will send you a check for the difference...but that's not news, is it? Heck, anybody that's used them knows that! So let me put it a different spin on it - because Ka-Blam doesn't have a minimal order amount (that I'm aware of) to be eligible for Indy Planet sales, your initial order to put books in the comic shops is sufficient. Because you haven't overprinted, you're not required to sell any particular quantity of books to make back your investment - in fact, you've had to invest $0.00 dollars into the printing - so all books sold through Indy Planet equal immediate profits for you...contemplate that for a minute.
    3.  Promote LIKE your life depends on it, because it DOESN'T: Not HAVING to sell your book makes it a lot easier to actually do it. You're not pressed if this guy or the next doesn't snatch up a copy, because you're not sitting on an inflated inventory of product. You know who does something similar to that? The Mainstream - go to one of the bigger conventions where Marvel and DC are on hand - are they selling books or promoting them? They've got flyers, posters, buttons, all kinds of odds and ends to promote their product; to put it in the mind's eye of comic book buyers and a lot of it they give out for free. Yes, yes, they're a huge commercial machine with millions to spend in advertising, but you've just masterfully initiated a cheaper publishing system that will afford you awesome promotional material as well! The sky is the limit for what can be used as promo items - and again, some CAN be free, but, if you sell them, the goal is to promote the comic book product!
      1. Use conventions and websites as promotional tools, not specifically as sales floors! Trying to get somebody to buy your stuff is a great way NOT to get them to buy your stuff. At conventions, specifically, your goal should be to create an experience for the con-goer - that's building a relationship, one that is far more lasting and will generate sales on its own. And for that matter, why are we acting like we're at a golf tournament when we're at cons? Make some noise people!!! Get loud, create some excitement, if not for your work, then for comics in general.
      2. Limiting the amount of books you have on hand is a way to allow for sales, but not needing them. Yeah, cons can be expensive, but if you play it right, what you're really paying for is an awesome weekend experience! You can easily recoup a con expense if you make enough lasting relationships!


   There were a few people who felt a little chided by my words, and rightfully so -- looking back, it was a little preachy, not to mention, I had basically called them "stupid" for not coming up with this themselves (to be fair, THAT wasn't my intention, exactly -- but I WAS rather peeved at their attitudes and that they were sharing them with any potential creators who could've been discouraged).

One of the panelists (thankfully) outright challenged my ideas, saying
"Show us, Mr. Smarty-Pants!  Put your money where your mouth is and show us what you're talking about!"  It seemed like the perfect opportunity to see (and show) what I was made of and almost immediately I started working on my first book: Omnibus #1.

 To be continued...

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