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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...

U Cre-8 Comics Gets a NEW Edition...

Posted On Friday, August 17, 2012

I firmly believe that being allowed to be creative isn't just a privilege that young minds should receive, its a necessary part of the growth process, instilling in them the ability to think beyond simply what they see before them.  It was certainly one of the guiding forces behind the creation of the U Cre-8 Comics line -- I wanted to offer kids who may see comics as an easier route for creativity to have a chance to explore something fun, while still maintaining educational excellence.  But I also know, comics aren't everyone's forte!

With that in mind, I've launched U Cre-8 Comics STORYTELLERS!
"For the student who prefers Captain UnderpantsTM over Captain MarvelTM!"  

Designed to emulate picture books and chapter books, this line is inclusive of both early readers and advanced, with a wide range of formats to play with.  The first wave will be released this fall, so stay tuned to  the U Cre-8 Comics site [HERE] for more info!

Unconventional - "Age Appropriate Comics" pt 2

Posted On Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wait!  Have you read "Age Appropriate Comics" pt 1?  Check it out HERE first!


Previously in Unconventional: The dark forces of Negligence and Distraction have slowly spread their crippling grip on comic book readership.  With a relentless onslaught of high-def pixilation and Season 8 Easter Eggs, they’ve all but snuffed out the magic and wonder of the comic book form!  But from the ashes, there rose a hero – a champion, imbued with the grandeur of greatest geeks, goofs and gabbers – and per his solemn vow, he fights on…




Jumping right back into the swing of things, we’re going to go with the next stage of this plan for prolonged readership: Attack of the Tweens and Things!

Marvel Comics: Ages 10 – 18 Years:
When Stan, Jack, Steve and the gang decided to throw their hat in the ring with the onset of the Silver Age, they charged themselves to do things “better” than the guys up the street by creating characters that truly resonated with readers.  While still borrowing and reinterpreting mythological themes and hero archetypes in their own right, they infused that “x-factor” of realism that’s attributed to a rich, 60 year history full of characters and stories as prolific as they are poignant.  Always with their finger on the pulse, Marvel set about, not creating a new world with which to populate, but to use our own as the backdrop for their stories where they dared to ask, “What would I do if I had superpowers…, what would you?” creating a cast that struggled not only in the face of dynamic doom, but with everyday feats like paying the bills or getting a job.  At Marvel, heroes were allowed to fail, villains had an honest point of view and the line between right and wrong was almost as malleable as Mr. Fantastic.  At an age when customary ideas of ourselves, members of the opposite sex, and persons of authority begin to shift, the complexities of Marvel’s characters can provide a role model or point of reference that, instead of giving the definitive “this is the right thing to do” answer, offers a “I didn’t know either, but I tried this and this is how it worked out for me” approach that encourages independence and responsibility.  

The readership, having been introduced to longer running arcs and more controversial characters, should be eager to indulge in this new world of high drama and angst.  Using the successes of teen-centric  models from Harry Potter and the Twilight saga, there’s a significant “in” with regards to the Marvel universe that if applied, offer a brand new approach to previously established franchises.  As with Harry Potter, Marvel has their very own Hogwarts in the Xavier Institute, a school for those imbued with powers, not thru wizardry and spells, but through genetic mutation.  But while focusing on young mutants is far from a new concept to the X-Men mythos, Harry Potter offered something unique in that we were able to watch Harry and his friends grow up, each book signifying a new year at Hogwarts.  Taking this to heart, these X-Student titles (keeping a clear separation from the X-Men strike teams that would still run their usual fare of protecting the precarious peace between humans and mutants), would feature revolving casts, with a new class of mutants brought on every year, led by a specialized teaching staff of mutants and humans alike.  With scripting duties divided up between 3 writers, each would be given a distinct year of study to focus on, starting with the characters’ sophomore year and leading up to graduation.  Mixing in the realism of shows like Degrassi High, we’d find typical situations that are inherent to teen life (self-discovery, friends, grades, sex, etc.), but thru the already skewed lens of being a mutant.  There could be a graduation issue (an annual, maybe?!), that features those mutants that wish to join the X-Men proper, trying out for the team, a concept inherently lost (it seems that if you go to Xavier’s for any length of time, you’re automatically an X-Man).  This could also establish an integrated world for the mutants who don’t go into any superheroics, deciding instead to pursue a more common state of living.

With the Twilight series, there lies the solution to a problem that has truly PLAGUED comic book readership, since the beginning – GIRLS.  As an industry, we fail TREMENDOUSLY when it comes to the fairer sex, unable (or unwilling) to shed the boys-club image our spandex and muscled caped-crusaders embody.  But with Twilight, we saw women – seriously, WOMEN, fawning over the exploits of Bella, Edward, and Jacob and to top it all off, Bella didn’t even have any powers!  Did the backdrop of the strange and unusual simply put the dynamics of a romantic drama in a new light?  Was it a “center of attention” fantasy, played out to mod vampires and crunchy werewolves?  I can’t definitively say (I’ve never read it), but I believe the overall niche is a characterization type – with a more romanticized view of superheroes, their supporting cast or their exploits, the elusive female demographic could finally be attracted to the form without the error of placation or condescension.  Perhaps even, the answer does not lie in the comic book form initially – as Twilight began as a series of novels, perhaps that too can be the answer; a young adult, novella series, much in the same vein as the works of R. L. Stine or Christopher Pike, that takes the time to build an enriched world of interesting characters that the readers emotionally resonate with, which can then be articulated into a visual narrative featuring the same characters.  Again, I’m not pitching…
In the end…?

Maybe you see the merit already and are gingerly, if not unconscionably, nodding your head in agreement.  You see that change is imminent and figure this is just as valid as any other idea ever presented (I’d prefer a bit more enthusiasm though!).  Or perhaps you’re a bit more savvy and remain unconvinced, having realized what I’m seemingly taking away with this: Blackest Night (ghoulish renditions of favored figures coming back from the dead is a bit unsettling for the average 8yr old), Crisis on Infinite Earths (was difficult for ME to read and I was 19 at the time), the X-Babies (I’m afraid they’re just too cute to fit the brand) – these little tidbits would NOT be acceptable under the new age/content structure (I hear some of you rejoicing!), but alas, there is a silver lining.  With the Big Two taking on polarized age groups, this vacuum of content that is left wide-open to be filled by the small-press/Indie market.  Tackling the characterizations established by these companies by way of analogous conversions, Indie Press creators are free, if not compelled to explore these venues, once streamlined into Mainstream abundance.  Don’t think it’ll work?  Look at Watchmen, heralded as THE greatest graphic novel of ALL TIME, its characters are all analog interpretations from the Charleton/DC Comics catalogue.  While it can be argued that the series was fueled by the marketing mega-machine of DC, I’d point out the general lack of ANY comic property in the DC library attaining half of the critical and commercial success that Watchmen has (even The Dark Knight Returns pales in comparison)!
So, Marvel and DC are both raking in the dough with a specified plan for readership longevity, the Indie Press has more of a free pass for creative exploration and development, and readers are treated to a wealth of content, styles and a clear path to navigate it all.  Truly a win/win scenario for EVERYONE! 

Bio:  Victor Dandridge is a comic creator from Columbus, O-H(I-O), where he self-publishes through his WizWorld Inc. imprint.  His middle name is Horton…that is all.

Unconventional - "Age Appropriate Comics" pt 1

Posted On Wednesday, August 8, 2012


“With great power, comes greater responsibility…,” a quote that has been revered by comic book readers for decades, its mere utterance an example of sacrificing personal gain for the sake of communal well-being.  Certainly a lofty idea when applied to life in general, but to us, it’s as constant as tomorrow; the underlying theme we seek out every Wednesday when new comics fill shop shelves.  For me, there’s no power greater than imagination, the one true force behind every single innovation ever made.  As a practitioner of its magic, I feel compelled to use that power imbued me, not just in the service of creating new ideas FOR comics, but presenting new ideas TO comics as well.  And while the probability of affecting change may be low, the possibilities of what could be are so great, so infinite, I take it as no less than my responsibility to try…I’m sure Uncle Ben would agree…so, without further ado, I give thee: 

Let’s face it; comic book readership is nothing like it used to be.  And I’m not nostalgically vying for the sales-heavy inflation of the Investor’s Market of the 1990’s either.   No, its arguable how many comics were ACTUALLY read back then, considering collectors routinely purchased two or more copies of a single issue, one for consumption and the others for posterity.  My aim is to reach back a bit farther, to the dawn of the Silver Age, a precarious period where comics seemed to develop in maturity, testing the boundaries of what this fledgling medium was capable of.  For the first time, the form experienced reinvention abroad, clearly defining the genre of superhero from the pulp-style characters (though many were super powered) the Golden Age had bore before it.  And they were read en masse…well…or so we figure.  Distribution was a bit dodgy back then and so was the record keeping, but we’ve heard the stories: how kids all over had issues tucked in their back-pockets, pinned towels to their shirts and began the longstanding game of “What if these two people fought/I bet MY favorite character can beat YOUR favorite character!”  The idea though, is that when books were sold, they were read and getting people to read comics today is an ever increasing issue.
As its often been pinned a “kid’s medium,” comics have had the unfortunate task of competing with the ever growing media market of kid inclusive television, movies, video games and what have you, with comics drawing the attentive short stick.  Against the bevy of season 6 collector’s edition DVD sets (TOASTY!), those must see, summer blockbusters (EXCELLENT!) and 64 hit super-mega-hyper combos, with the juggle (FINISH HIM!), the persnickety, still images of comics come up a little short.  At least, that’s what some people think – I’m not so convinced.  It would seem that these media venues can work towards our favor – at least the almighty, “Big Two” seem to think so.  DC’s Batman franchise and Marvel’s growing Avengers franchise have netted huge returns at the box office, Justice League Unlimited is one of the best series EVER and Next Avengers set a new standard in direct-to-video movies.  As the preeminent forces in the mainstream and definitively THE face of the American comic book industry, I think it speaks volumes to the “could be” factor of other media venues to leading people back to comic readership that they so actively take part in these “distracting” genres.   But while, the potential is there, the follow through is inherently lacking.  Still, the answer lies in the Big Two. 
As tastes matured even further and creative minds brought forth the most brazen characteristics of exploitative cinema (the classic elements of sex & violence!), there came a need to draw a preemptive line, denoting the age appropriateness of issues as they hit the stands.  An attribute of feature films since the 1930’s, a ratings system seemed to spring up all at once, roping in both videogames and comics, simultaneously.  In videogames, it served as an early warning beacon for parents who weren’t game-savvy enough NOT to give in to their 10yr old’s whine for Grand Theft Auto IV; but for comics, I’d say, the impact is still far from constructive, particularly with books’ graphic imagery arguably reaching, if not crossing that line they claim to maintain (Invincible has often been criticized for its portrayal of violence and reference to sex).  And while the Big Two do actively support the rating system, I wonder…what would happen if they adopted it, not per title, but en masse, per company…? 
The Setup:

Instead of acting as competing forces within a dwindling market of their own making – and I say that considering that they ARE the dominant power in the American comic book market and as such have a hefty responsibility for the viability of the form – Marvel and DC work in tandem to secure and maintain a long-term readership system.  By delegating an age appropriateness per brand, culminating in an 8 year stint, each company would maintain a unique hold on its particular market that ensures a customary level of profitability (YAY for them!), as well as an easier path of accessibility (YAY for readers!).    Assigning which company should tackle which age group is as simple as defining the key characteristics of the companies themselves: Iconic vs. Realistic.
DC Comics: Ages 3 – 10 Years:
DC characters have earned the reputation of being “iconic,” with their characters not only dominating the marketable face of American comics, but also with their standing as modern-day interpretations of classic Greek figures.  This iconography is typified by their ability to use symbols to represent character brands, a hallmark of the simplicity needed to resonate with younger audiences.  While current storylines do much to contradict, there was a time when DC’s characters operated with a clear and distinct sentiment of right and wrong that culminated in an optimism towards their efforts to end crime and suffering.  Even taking into account the origins of the Holy Trinity of DC’s pantheon, two are clearly steeped in tragedy (Superman & Batman), but neither character are culpable for that which befell them, nor do they dwell on their misfortune, per se, but use it to motivate themselves toward success.  
Taking the first leg gives DC an enormous amount of responsibility to actually attract readers to the comic book form, but taking a cue from their current efforts in other media jaunts, this should be fairly easy.  DC characters have maintained a better standing as animated concepts, another crudely defined “kid’s medium,” with such series as Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited (JLU), and The Legion of Superheroes all reaching vast critical and commercial success.  It’s far from improbable to imagine kid-verted versions of characters or their pseudo-sidekicks, rendered in the same “big head, big eyes, big hearts” style of Ni Hao Kai Lan, helping early readers understand shapes and colors, numbers and letters.  Perhaps a series of “discovery books,”  narrated by Krypto  the Superdog, who uses his telescopic, microscopic and x-ray vision powers to give 1st Graders a glimpse of space and the celestial events that make up our universe, or the many pieces and systems of the human body (I’m not pitching, I’m just sayin’!!!).   Just like their mythic counterparts, as well as a lot of the cartoon series aimed at this age demographic, this revamped line would use morality as a constant theme, introducing kids to the various ideas of sharing, unity, effort and accomplishment that define, or at the very least are the foundation for success in our society.
Another element of note is that a lot of these series are structured with self-contained episodes, accounting for the limited, though developing, ability for children to receive, maintain and apply story beats through multiple episodes.  While shows like JLU certainly orchestrated a larger tapestry of story (a feat gone unnoticed by younger viewers), they kept each episode independent, requiring, at most, a 15 second recap of what happened prior.    Following suit, most of DC’s line would feature little to no continuity per issues, ensuring that easier path of accessibility I mentioned before.  Sure, characters would still have back-stories, but they would initially be used only to define their core concepts, allowing readers to focus more on reading the story at hand, than focusing on (or even being made aware of) their lack of other components.  As the readers themselves grow, the stories produced for their particular age would grow in complexity as well, first with chapter breaks through individual issues, capping with three issues arcs (embodying the 3 Act rule of literature).  


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