Review: How To Self-Publish Your Own Comic Book

How To Self-Publish Your Own Comic Book

By Tony C. Caputo

Watson-Guptill Publications, 1997

The most egregious problem with this book is the title.

If you are keen to write and draw your own comic book and self-publish a modest print-run of, say, 1000 to 5000 copies (just as an example), then this is NOT the book for you.

Despite the title, this is actually a book about starting an entire line (i.e. starting a comic book company) of comic BOOKS, not BOOK — many or most of which would preferably (for marketing motives) be licensed comic book versions of existing franchises — and hiring artists and writers to draw them for you. Does any of this sound like self-publishing “your own” comic book? Most of what Caputo (one-time founder and publisher of Now Comics) describes in the book requires tens-of-thousands of dollars just to start with and requires multiple investors and capitalists, plus in-house staff, so I’m not sure how much of this publishing is actually supposed to be done by one’s “self” either.

I don’t know exactly what the publishing climate was like in 1997 when this book came out, but I have to assume that Caputo saw a potential target audience of people who had no interest in comic books but saw the potential to get rich on this “new” industry that was suddenly making a lot of money. At one point Caputo says: “your ultimate goal being to develop your business into an internationally recognized and accepted entertainment phenomenon with sales in the tens of million of dollars.” There is one chapter on writing and drawing your comics that seems so rudimentary that it feels like it was included for people who did not even know what a comic book was.

I have to admit though, Caputo seems to know his stuff. He backs up all his statements about the growth of the comic book industry with lots of pretty legitimate sounding figures, and given his company’s own meteoric rise to success in the late 80s, it’s easy to understand his enthusiasm and belief in his own statements — he probably DID have sales in the tens of millions of dollars at some point.

Caputo also goes into lots of excellent detail about things like the printing process, and the back features tons of addresses and contact details for comic shops, conventions, etc. He also has lots of details about forming different kinds of companies (even corporations), contracts (not just with talent, but also investors), newsstand distributors, etc. which is mostly useless information to small-fry operators like yours truly and probably the one or two of you out there reading this.

Speaking of distributors, that’s another problem with the book in itself. The book was written with multiple direct market distributors in mind, but the distributor wars of the 90s left Diamond the only game in town in the very same year (I believe) that this book was published.

Which also brings me to the fact that inevitably the section on the then-nascent internet is grossly outdated as well.

Anyway, at this stage of Weird Crime Theater’s publishing gestation, what I cracked open this book hoping to find was some marketing advice. What I got was: using the name recognition of your “hot” talent to stir up a “frenzy of interest,” hiring a PR firm (???!!!), and hiring costumed models and celebrities to appear at your multi-thousand dollar convention booth (Caputo admits for once that this might be a bit expensive). Here’s another personal favorite: “offer retailers a raffle contest in which one retailer will win an all-expense-paid trip to the San Diego Comic Book Convention.” There was nothing in here for someone like me.

Weirdly, despite the obvious intentions of the book, Caputo does not cover investors and capital until the very last chapter, when — as mentioned earlier — the reality is you need to sort all of this out first before you can even start using any of Caputo’s advice for founding your multi-million dollar comics publishing empire. Hyuk. Caputo never says how much money you actually need to pull off what he writes about in the book, but I have to guess it’s a LOT. Maybe the book was intended for people who were already multi-millionaires and needed a hobby. It certainly feels that way at times.

But ultimately, like I said at the beginning, the problem with this book is the title: It should have been called something like “How To Start Your Own Massive Comic Book Publishing Company with $500,000 in Capital to Start” and then I would never have wasted my money on it — but maybe mistitling books is one of those marketing secrets that Caputo doesn’t reveal in the book (maybe ‘cause it’s FREE).

And the supreme irony, of course, is that Caputo’s own multi-million dollar empire, NOW Comics, completely collapsed just a few years BEFORE this book came out with Caputo himself quitting HIS OWN company a few months before it dissolved (all of which is not even remotely alluded to at any stage in the book when you would expect to detect at least some subtext of regret about something in the plethora of business processes described). Now THERE is a potential book about the publishing experience that I would love to read.

KS

P.S. In 2003 Caputo attempted to revive the company but it withered into vapor again with nary a gasp.

3 thoughts on “Review: How To Self-Publish Your Own Comic Book

  1. Tony C Caputo

    I can’t help but laugh when I read reviews, or hear comments that my original reference book HOW TO SELF-PUBLISH YOUR OWN COMIC BOOK is irrelevant to small or self-publishers, stating, “Caputo’s examples and references are more for a larger publishing company with capital.” While I was successful in articulating, promoting and establishing NOW as a high-roller, it was all marketing and hype, because it started on my dining room table with two credit cards in 1985. I was a kid in my early twenties and I didn’t have a wealthy doctor brother who invested (Comico), I wasn’t part of a huge entertainment conglomerate (DC Comics), I didn’t own an entire industry (Marvel), and I wasn’t a company that sprang from a chain of successful comic shops and restaurants (Dark Horse). It was just me, myself and I, making $28,000 a year as a Creative Director at an ad agency. That is, until I moved from Sleepeck Printing (Comico’s original printer), to Maxwell Communications in St. Cloud, Minnesota, and found my publishing partner. How? They gave me a credit line for printing my products. That was the only reason NOW was able to grow so rapidly.

    My experiences with five entrepreneurial adventures; one on my own, one with investors, and three with friends who wanted me to help them with their technology companies through the 1990s, has taught me an intrinsic lesson about the life of business. It’s about the “partner.” I’m not talking about the investor. I’m talking about the right-hand-man, the sidekick, the partner-in-crime, amigo, brother, chum, or confidante. This associate shares your vision, your drive, and your dream. It may be for a different motivation, but they’re always there to work with you and not against you.

    Once a startup company achieves a certain level of success, when the entrepreneurial entity struggles to become a corporation, the weight can typically crush the sole entrepreneur (physically, mentally, emotionally, financially), and that partner, if they decide to step up to the plate, will cut the load in half. I never realized what an asset Maxwell Communications was to NOW Comics until they were purchased by the monolithic Quebecor Printing in May of 1990.

    Maxwell Communications was always nervous about NOW Comics because well, it was comic books, how can that be serious? That’s why when in mid-1988, when NOW joined the select few on newsstand (Marvel, DC, Archie), through Warner Publisher Services, at that time, the world’s largest distributor of magazines, they were very apprehensive to raise my credit line any further. After two months of eight books distributed to the newsstand my debt to them was about $200,000, of which I paid them the pathetic advance Warner Publisher Services (WPS) offered NOW (5% of the whole allotment or about $17,000). My credit limit, without any initial reservations, went from $35,000 a month, to $130,000 a month because I showed them how much money I was going to make from the sale of the books and (they neglected to hear this part), when the receivables were scheduled to come. Newsstand was a consignment deal, the settlement came in 180 days after shipping (six months) as it took that long to determine the final sales throughout the antiquated system of up to 100,000 newsstand outlets (I detail this more herein) The fact of the matter is that newsstand (consignment) was ugly to any investor, businessman, chief financial officer, accountant, but it was the only other game in town. When Maxwell Communications as for an equity position in NOW Comics, my answer should have been “Yes.” Columbia Pictures told me to say “No” because they wanted it, but my mistake was listening to my dream “Partner” and not my real “Partner.”

    Yes, the “Direct Market” in its heyday was extremely attractive, and lowered the barrier to entry for many new publishers to thrive, but those thriving publishers fed the Five-Headed Monster (see the industry’s first white paper: http://www.nowcomics.com/new/comicbook_whitepaper_v2.zip).

    The first edition of How to Self-Publish Your Comic Book was written with a positive core focus as I didn’t want newcomers to be frightened at the prospect of comic book publishing. The fact is that it is not easy at all. The medium is dying (as is print in general) and although NOW Comics failed (three times and you’re out), it doesn’t mean others, with this new insight, would also follow the same outcome. My new edition (available within the next several months) will go into this kind of depth, and more. It will also bring self-publishing into the 21st Century.

    Reply
  2. Kumar Sivasubramanian Post author

    Thank you for stopping by to share these insights, Tony. I look forward to seeing the updated edition of the book.

    Reply
  3. Awnings Cape Town

    I’ve been trying to get my comic book published for years now with no avail. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s the only way to do it these days since professional publishers are not interested in average writers like myself.

    Reply

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