Sunday, November 21, 2010

Indy Hunter Blog No. 2: War of the New York Independents Continues!!!

In The Interim...

Yes, folks we are still "In-d-trenches", of this all in effort from Danny Hellman's Typhon book as well as the rest of the other talented factions of the New York Independent comic scene. So before we break into part one of our review of Hellman's Typhon Vol. 1 opus, we have some much, very much delayed Malicious Mailbag column hot button topics to get to!! Well be back next article for the baited and waited review of Danny Hellman's Typhon Vol. 1  So in the interim let's get to the Malicious Mail Bag!

Old school Creator Earners vs. Nu School Project Enthusiasts Funding!

Jay Katz c.e.o of InvestComics is a New York native and before taking his dream to the web, actually was an independent publisher of the magazine format for IC. He hunched over, broke a sweat and printed the magazine himself. I asked him if projects like The Kickstarter project were around back then would it have helped him in his goals.

Here's what he had to say:

"the kickstarter thing seems to be a good tool i guess if you utilize it correctly. i for one won't have needed it for the mag. i was printing myself and didnt really have a need for it at the time...."

J.M.: " Do you think had it existed with a bigger budget you may have entertained the idea?"

JK: "Yes, probably."

Alright let's get to that mailbag topic!! Remember when this was asked?

"The debate is Old school indy creators who fund their own projects aka working 3 jobs, etc, waiting to get their shot vs. the new cats like us who employ other tactics such as the recent donations to reach a certain fund limit to achieve their dreams?

-Which side do you take, or do you fall into the middle?

-Should a creator take on 3 jobs to fund and promote their dream, or is going the Kickstarter and Indie Go Go way just smarter and more modern thinking?"

How did this topic come about?
 Well over at the website, particularly within Don's Column a debate amongst the staff started, then I said the hell with it!

 I figured why not make this a Malicious Mailbag topic and open the discussion up to everyone! Why not ask the rest of the Indyverse and some of my Indy producing friends that I know are in the thick of it! I got some interesting responses from both sides of the fence. Here's a snippet and some quotes, as well as responses from my Indy brethren. 

First up is Gerimi Burleigh creator of Eyes of the Gods, (a personal favorite of mine).

"Hi Hunter,

I'd be happy to chime in on the Malicious Mail Bag:
My overall answer is "By Hook, or by Crook" …A creator should exploit any and all tactics necessary to get their work out there and make a living from it.

There's no reason someone couldn't use both donations/ campaigns in combination with working 2 jobs and selling their blood to hospitals, as well as sending pitches to publishers until you find someone who will publish your work (for a deal that doesn't rob you blind)

In terms of soliciting donations to fund your creations… I wholeheartedly support it. It means that an audience believes in what you're trying to do and is willing to put money behind it before it's even in print. They will also be much more likely to tell friends and family about your work …Everyone loves to be a part of a success story. I haven't put up a donate button or created a Kickstarter campaign, but I know if I did, I'd consider every person who donated, a friend for life.

Personally, I work a day-job as a graphic designer/product designer for a toy company. I'm lucky enough to have a gig that is creative.

Still, I come home after a full work day and try to put in a couple hrs at the drawing table every night, making a slow creep toward my next graphic novel.

I actually had a conversation about this topic with a couple of friends that have drawn books for Marvel/DC…

While I would love to draw Ghost Rider or Hellblazer some day, the fact is, (for me personally) it doesn't make sense to pursue a gig like that. My long term goal is to write/draw/publish my own work and make a living from that.

If an indy creator is fortunate enough to be on a book for Marvel/DC, the problem is that they're probably work 10-12 hr days, 6 days a week… leaving very little time for creating their own work.

On top of that, there are very few artists that are pulling down page rates comparable to what they'd make doing advertising/storyboarding/animation/graphic design.

Basically, you're doing more work for less money and no time to create your own comics… All I'm saying is you'd better really, REALLY love Spider-Man.

Ok, that's a little disingenuous… If you're on a book like Spider-Man/Superman, you're probably a damn good artist, your work is in high demand, and your page rate is well above what you'd be making hourly/salary in other creative fields.

In addition… if you are able to put out a creator-owned project, your profile (and sales) will be much higher, than if you were Joe-Shmoe, no one has ever heard of. Just look at the success of Mark Millar's Kick-Ass/Wanted or Brian Bendis' Powers, Or Mike Mignola's Hellboy

As awesome as Sin City was, I don't think it would have had nearly the critical reception it did without Frank Miller's Batman/Daredevil work building an appetite for comics that are uniquely "Miller-esque"

But back to being a downer again… independent creators (and some fans) might complain that there's 4-6 monthly Batman or X-men books, but if you're looking to get on one of those books to build a rep for yourself, the problem is that there's ONLY 4-6 monthly Batman or X-men books.

There are only so many slots for superstar talent… which loops back into the point that if you aren't talented and fortunate enough to be one of those few superstar talents, you end up working 80hr work-weeks in comics for (barely) a living wage and no time to do your own work.

I'm of the mind set to find a (preferably creative) day-job that doesn't suck the soul out of you, has a 40-45 hr a week work schedule, and allows you to spend your spare time doing what you love until you can transition into making it profitable. It might take years, It might take decades.

The biggest advice I would give younger creators is, start self publishing while you're young. It doesn't matter whether it's mini comics hand sold at conventions, or a 1K print run sold directly to retailers in your area, and through the mail. Do it while you've got the free time. I did NOT do this, and that's probably my biggest regret in life. You learn so much just from the act of completing a comic, and even more from having to sell it.

As you get older, life, relationships, children (while incredibly rewarding) will leave you with little time to pursue your personal creations. It can be done when you're older, but if you've already got a few comics out, then there's some momentum… and hopefully people that have read your work in the past and enjoyed it, will remember you and pick up your newer work.

And speaking of work, there are still print editions of my first graphic novel, EYE OF THE GODS available at my site

It's a psychological thriller about a man cursed with the ability of remote viewing. 144pgs, Black & White, $10.99

And keep an eye on the website, I'll be making announcements about my next comic in the coming weeks."
-Gerimi Burleigh

Next up, Cheese Hassleberger, publisher of the House of Twelve Anthologies!

Hey there,

Hunter IM'd me and asked for my opinion on the idea of donation-funded comics as a longtime self-publisher type*.

First, I wanted to point out what Leila is doing is not traditionally how these I've seen kickstarter things done. She's actually selling a product in order to fund the project, that sounds fair to me, that's how a lot of artists do it: Sell minis to fund the publishing of a larger project.

I've been self-publishing comics for a decade, through the various House of Twelve books I've been lucky enough to have foster the early careers of some great cartoonists, like Miss Lasko-Gross, K. Thor Jensen and Kevin Colden to name a few. As lucky as I've been I know I'm never going to make a living making comics, and that's ok. I don't make my comics for other people, I make them for me, and if you happen to like them, great, if not, that's fine too. I could never ask people to invest in what is essentially my hobby.

This doesn't mean I don't take my books seriously, I'm extremely passionate about my roles as both an editor and a cartoonist and I work at them nearly every day. But also knowing the realities of the indie comic industry, it's pretty slim that at 38 I'm going to become so wildly successful that I could quit my day job. Shit, I know artists who sell decent numbers who can't quit their day jobs, the profit margin's just not there, at least not for indie comics.

I just looked up the indie month to months on, an Image or IDW comic sells about 10,000 copies, say at $4, so $40k minus Diamonds cut, leaves $16,000, after printing costs, leaves, maybe $12,000, minus publisher costs for ads, offices, secretaries, editors, janitors, etc., the creators are lucky to split maybe 3-4 grand. Now they're big time publishers with multiple monthly titles. I'm a dude with some great friends, a drawing board and an iMac. I sell through my site, at conventions and through a few stores. We used to have Diamond distro, but lost that when they tightened their profit rules, even then, moving say 1,000 copies of a book that costs $8 takes 2 years, and by then that money's been eaten up by ads, convention space, hotels, cars and printing. I barely make anything on comics, but I keep doing it. Why? Because I love it.

This is where the kickstarter people kinda rub me. I saw some asking for like 4 grand. For what? So you can quit working at Kinkos and draw your comic and tour the country for a book that no one will buy and after a year will make a sum profit of zilch? Anyone who would invest in indie comics as anything beyond being an altruistic patron is a sucker, and I don't have the moral deficit to rip them off.

* (I would usually insert a plug here, but as is the luck of all great artists of our time, my web-host went down and hasn't emiled me back all day, if you read this in the future, "Check out today!")

I've been an art director for over a decade, I gotta tell you, a sixty page 'portfolio' is overkill. If you can't prove you've got the goods in 12-24 pages, then your not going to in 60 pages. If you send an editor 24 pages they really like, they'll ask you for more. Seeing that you're working part time you should be able to knock out 24 samples in 3 months, tops. You could even do those as color printouts, which get cheaper and cheaper every day.

If you were dead set on making a physical comic book (something none of the submissions pages I looked at asked for) that's easy enough to get printed up. You can get a 24 page full-color comic printed by a print-on-demand joint like for $2.75 a unit. You won't need more then a hundred copies, so approx. $350 total with shipping. USPS mail for a 24 page floppy costs about a buck a piece, let's say you add in other samples and a nice envelope and we'll go crazy and bump that up to $2. That totals to about about $550 for printing and shipping. Even if you were dead set on printing a 60 page color book, they'll do it for you for $850 for 100 copies, add in shipping and everything and now you're looking at about $1200 tops.

You say that you've produced very few actual comic pages to date. Why? It's been said that cartoonists don't really know what they're doing until they've drawn 1,000 pages. If you're some sort of exception to that axiom, it'd be nice to see it. How about making the first part available on the web so people can see what they're getting into? Speaking of the web, why can't you serialize this on the internet? Getting a buzz going online would go a long way to convince editors or possible patrons that you're serious.

I understand that times are tough and you're living from paycheck to paycheck, but so is sixty percent of America right now. Asking people to cover your rent and loan debts while you create a product that you could produce for 1/4 of the cost or even run for essentially nothing on the web is, I dunno, rude.

Cheese Hasselberger
Publisher, House of Twelve Comics

Allen Montgomery of the famed message boards agreed with Cheese's take.

"On the topic, though, that "Cheese" guy hit the nail on the head. As these "kickstart" sites become more common, there are more and more people just looking for an alternative to maxing out a credit card or three. What it's becoming is a variation on the "send one dollar to five people" scheme.

Working for a living sucks, no doubt. That's why Huey Lewis wrote a song about it. If somebody gave me a bunch of money so I could take off for a year I'd draw a comic, record an album, direct a movie... Promise! Unfortunately, life doesn't work like that."

-Allen Montgomery

Then finally on to my fellow Oceanside California Native, Erick Hendrix!

"Wow, some very opinionated people talking about the whole comic book funding thing... Now, I have to ask, what's wrong with it really? If you're asking someone for money for nothing, that's got to be just plain altruism, but somehow creators need to scrape money together to print their books if they're self publishing. For some, they may have a decent paycheck, affording them the luxury of paying a creative team, printing as many copies as they want, etc, without really stressing about whether the books sell or not. For others, myself included, it's a matter of survival. COULD I raise the money to print books? Of course! When planning to print my first two self-published books, I sold parts of my comic and toy collection, worked to sell ad space, and collected as much change as I could before printing. Then what happens? Life! Health issues on my end, financial struggles, etc, and suddenly all but the ad revenue is gone. What to do? Someone recommends to me, I check it out, I apply, the let me in, and I post a project. Lo and behond, I get enough money together to print! Does that cheapen the experience? I'd say not. One skill you need to develop as a self publisher / independent publisher is marketing. You have to market yourself to get people to pledge (and offer them something) as much or more than you would have to market to sell the books. You're going to have friends and family throwing you a bone, fellow creators, etc, but at the end of the day, books are printed. Personally, I liked it because when all was said and done, I was as motivated to sell the books as I was previously, but without the added pressure of, "if these don't sell, I don't eat next month." Who wants to live like that?

If you're an 18 - 25 year old, single, few bills, great health, etc, and can front everything by maxing credit cards and living on the streets for a few months, good for you, but I wouldn't say that person is any more driven to succeed or more deserving of sales, etc...

On the other hand, don't ask for more than you need... I figured out exactly what I needed, got that, used it, and that's that. Also, don't rip people off with the pledges. You mark up your product, sure, but you give them autographs, give them ways to get original artwork, get creative, etc... On my end, I started sending my books out to people, maybe threw in a little something extra, etc...

Anywho, let me wrap up here... Having people help you get books printed isn't bad, it's good business sense. Just don't rip off the consumers or they won't help you next time!

I would not have been at SDCC 2010 with two freshly printed books which looked amazing if it wasn't for KickStarter... I would have either had a significantly reduced number of copies (likely printed in black and white) or something of such lower quality, I would have been hard pressed to sell them for $1 a piece."

-Erick Hendrix

Annnnnd there you have it folks. A few people who's lives are actually affected by their Indy efforts weigh in on some of the newest inventions of the industry. If you got an opinion or just want to weigh in, please feel free to use the comment section and by all means if you got questions? Ask away!

Until next time....whenever that is, same damn channel, (this one), I remain your Indy Hunter,
J.M. Hunter!