What I wish I had known when I started in comics.
Over the course of the past 10 years, the comic industry has hit the consciousness of the mainstream viewer more now than ever. Out of this has come a boom in Australian independent creators seeking to forge their way in the comics industry acting either in the role of content creator or as publisher. Under the name Whatzacdrew Comics I was one of these creatives and there is a lot I wish I had of know when I first started a few years ago.
The benefits of indie published books include being able to create a wider range of storytelling and artwork. It allows the creative team to release the story that they wanted and not be hindered by or feel the pressure of an 80-year legacy, like the major mainstream publishers seem to be suffering from. While this history can sometimes be a difficult to live up to, it also becomes a major asset, as a writer or artist your work is instantly recognisable as sellable because of the character’s popularity in the genre. This does not really happen in indie books unless you have come from a mainstream career, or you have been publishing the indie title for years.
Edmund Kearsley, creator, and publisher of the series Radical believes the hardest thing about being a publisher today is the same as it’s always been. Mr Kearsley continued “It’s finding an audience. It’s finding people who want to buy the types of comic books you make. Even in the social media age the signal to noise ratio is so high, it’s hard to let people know that you’re out there making books.
The best piece of advice I ever received was from fellow Australian artist Nicola Scott, a mainstream artist who left a full-time exclusive contract with DC Comics to peruse creator owned title Black Magick for Image Comics. Nicola and I were at similar ages when we began a journey to break into comics, and what she said while going over my portfolio was that this is a long and hard job, you really must want it. This is advice I now give to people who ask me about creating comics, there is so much extra work to do because of a bias and stigma that indie books are not as good as mainstream comics. Another thing I tell people is that this is a slow burn, don’t expect sales or recognition off the first book and gradually all your work will build to a property that someone recognises.
TIPS FOR CREATING
Along with telling people about the importance of wanting to do this as a career I also say write to the market, meaning look at what is popular and write stories about that theme with your twists. This will give you some help in getting your book get noticed. Also, Superhero stories are not the only stories to tell, so think beyond the superhero genre because in many cases it can hinder the creative process. Mr Kearsley also stated, “My advice to new creators would be to make YOUR comic book.” He elaborated “Don’t try to imitate corporate books. Do it all yourself. Do everything. Do the writing, art, letters, and colours all by yourself. At least once.” This is how I work on my books and knowing how to do everything will benefit you in the long run. Another important thing to remember is to habitually create, always be working even if it is sketching layouts, research, it all counts. Maintaining a schedule will help you with this, treat it as if it were a job.
PRINTING AND FUNDING THE BOOKS
Money is often a make or break in the independent scene, but in the last few years platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have really taken off and offered to help creators raise the funds required to print their book. You could also use social media to do pre-orders or sell your final book. To help get use to printing books start with smaller mini comics or zines, these can be lower in costs to produce and will help you learn the printing side of publication. However, when you send your book to a printer ask around for recommendations first as there are a lot of horror stories about printers out there, so the more you know the easier it will be to find a good one. And secondly always get a proof copy, no matter the size of the print run, this will save time, catching errors and money down the line.
Distribution is one of the major concerns with being an independent publisher, as is there is no established distributor. Gary Dellar of Reverie Publications, an Australian publishing house agreed that this is one of the major problems with comics presently. Mr Dellar said “There is none. No national distributor exists for Australian comics. (Use to be Gordon and Gotch in my early days of making comics) Yes there are groups of websites plus the old one or two comic shops that you can place your comics up for sale, but this isn’t enough to sustain ongoing comics.” Mr Dellar continued, “for me it was the ongoing promotional exercise of doing tables that attracted readers from outside the creative groups. It’s a lot of hard work but it gets the sort after readership you need, and it showed everyone we existed and produced excellent comics under the Reverie brand.”
Another way to help your distribution network is to make new contacts through cross promotion, that is, allowing other creators to put an advert for their book and vice-versa in the hope that you can use that creators fanbase to expand the readership of your book. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t, but advertising is becoming very important, even if it just gives your book a few seconds of recognition with another publisher or reader.
Other areas you can investigate as a publisher to help your distribution network is, once again social media, in today’s market a key requirement is to have some form of social media. Something like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are very useful, you can build a following and promote your work and its free. As an independent creator, money is always ongoing issue and when there is something available that can benefit you that is free, take it.
Online stores that specifically sell indie books, either in digital format or physical form. Australia has a few online stores that have really taken off, first there is ownaindi and then the more recent addition of ComX Shop, a side project of ComX Studio. These are useful tools as they will be able to reach an audience who are specifically looking for indie books.
So, to summarise, while creating remember to maintain quality, and try to release something frequently, but not to fast your quality will drop. Quality of your book is key as an independent creator. Start with what you have; the resources, skills, price range, materials etc just publish. Just because someone else has a different program or materials does not impact you if it isn’t broken don’t fix it. Finally, and this is the most important thing of all, tell your story. Share your vision on your own terms, the ideas you have don’t exist outside of your head, your idea needs to be out there to exist.