Category Archives: Self-Publishing

Review: True Facts

True Facts: comics’ righteous anger, a pocket guide to self-publishing your own comic books

by Larry Young. AiT/Planet Lar, 2002.

“Pocket Guide” is right. This book is a slim 120 pages, with plenty of white space on the already pocket-sized pages. Much like No Guts No Glory which I reviewed a while back, it is a reprint of an internet column. Unlike that book, which was too physically big, this one is almost too small. Most columns are only one or two pages, but each chapter gets a full page announcing its number; and there is an introduction by Matt Fraction; so it could have been even shorter. Some, but not all of the columns come with additional commentary from Young a few years after the columns were originally written.

Not that this is all bad. The first several chapters are excellent and tell you succinctly what you need to do to get your book published and out there. The first four “chapters” cover creation, printing, distribution, and promotion. It’s about as straight-forward as you can get, but that actually makes it encouraging. At this point Young apparently had planned to stop, but then kept on going with the subject of promotion in subsequent chapters: writing press releases, getting noticed, focusing promotion on retailers, etc. One thing I quite liked was that Young spends some time writing about the fact that many of us find self-promotion distasteful and how to deal with that.

But then it starts to lose focus — straying from the path and occasionally back onto it — and I’m not sure what some of the columns have to do with self-publishing at all. There is some discussion about the state of the industry, the state of internet discussion about comics, how back issues are bought by the pound at Comix Experience, etc. Some of these later columns may have been “on topic” but Young’s writing is less sharp here and it takes him much longer to get to the point — not good in a 2-3 page column. There were two columns devoted to telling Marvel they need to focus their brand identity and that they don’t have a clear view of who their customers are which I didn’t agree with. You don’t tell Penguin Books or Random House to only publish vampire books — for the sake of the industry, a juggernaut like Marvel should be diversifying if anything. (In fact, I wonder if the fact that Young published this very book through his own company doesn’t somehow violate his own rules by going “off brand.”) Anyway, look — now I’m off topic too!

Okay, so the book starts good, and ends bad. What’s the problem? Well, it forgets that it is a book and not the internet. Rather than just farting all of his columns out into a book without changing anything, Young should have used all the info he’d written in the columns and re-editted the thing into a book from scratch. Put everything in order — put all the marketing stuff together, rather than scattered everywhere — and cut out anything that is irrelevant to the book’s purpose. If you’re trying to make a point about the sentimental value of comics with that “buy-by-the-pound” anecdote then come out and say it, and use it in the intro or something. And give the chapters goddamn titles so you can actually find stuff when you need it. This would all make the book much shorter — yes — but it would also turn it into a lean, mean publishing resource

KS

Review: No Guts No Glory

NO GUTS NO GLORY: HOW TO MARKET YOURSELF IN COMICS (Beau Smith. Blue Line Art, 2008.)

Just a quick review today since, unlike the last two How-To books about comics I read, this one is actually very good, and provides little to complain about.

Beau Smith’s book is really all about networking, getting other people in the business of comics to remember you, and getting yourself to remember them. When I got to his chapter on how to write comic scripts, I initially wondered why it was in the book to begin with, and then I realized that what he was really writing about was establishing relationships with the artist and editor.

Smith takes on a manly, rancher-cowboy persona to write the book. I say “takes on” but maybe it’s genuine, in which case he may track me down at a con one day and challenge me to some fisticuffs for casting suspicion on it. At any rate, being a wussy-writer-type, the very idea of self-promotion scares the shit out of me. Manliness of the jockish, macho, biker, or any other variety also scares the shit out of me. So theoretically, this book should have sent me running to the toilet. What I found instead was that it was genuinely ENCOURAGING.

It’s so well written, rather than feeling like he was grabbing me by the lapels and throwing me into a prison rodeo, it was more like he was a sympathetic mentor or Jack Bauer telling me, “You can do this,” before jumping into the water to wrestle the crocodiles. He is perpetually a nice guy, and all of his advice is delivered in a straightforward, common sense way that doesn’t make you feel a fool if you didn’t know it beforehand. I felt like he genuinely wanted even us wussies to get out there and do our best if it meant good comics. This was a real breath of fresh air. So many of the other books seemed like their real agenda was sabotaging any potential competition. Even his chapter on keeping physically fit to survive the war was inspiring — especially compared to, say, the ridiculous section on showering and dressing nice to meet editors in The Writer’s Guide to the Business of Comics by Lurene Haines which seemed to assume that its readers were all slavering Neanderthals.

NO GUTS made me feel like my goals were realistically achievable. And the reality is, if you are intending to self-publish, even us shy-artist types will need to get up on our feet at some stage to go out there in the world and get our work printed, marketed, and distributed. This book gives us some manageable options for establishing the necessary relationships to make that happen.

The only thing I would’ve changed is made the thing a less manly size. The book is in a large and somewhat unwieldy format despite a relatively low page count. It could have been more compact and ninja-like.

There is a lot here, and I don’t think I would be able to implement all of his advice at once. Plus, a lot of it is aimed at getting the attention of editors on work-for-hire books. This is not my area of interest obviously, and the book does not pretend to be comprehensive, but it is a necessary read for getting off your damn ass and getting to work. Recommended.

KS

Marvel Strip-O-Gram!

Late last year, Marvel announced its “Strip your DC event comics covers to get a free Deadpool variant” promotion, a juvenile attempt to show up DC’s premium-driven sales for what Marvel believed they really were (DC gave out free Green Lantern rings to retailers for ordering X number of copies of certain books).  In January, I wrote this is an email to Mulele about the whole thing:

I think the bottom line is really Marvel should offer free variants in exchange for their own overhyped event bullshit comics, rather than wasting their time trying to make DC look bad.
 
The thing about DC’s promotion was: if the retailer buys 50 copies of a specific comic, they get 1 (or some? or 50?) green lantern rings, buy 50 of another specific comic, the retailer gets a red lantern ring, etc. If you are a comic shop that normally sells 5 copies a month of title XYZ, but then you order 55 to get the ring, and now you are stuck with 50 extra copies — guess what, it’s the retailer that fucked up, not DC. Marvel thinks they are pulling a stunt on DC, but it’s really mud in the eye of stupid retailers, who will now be rewarded for their stupidity.

Well, it looks like Marvel — like the CIA — has been reading my emails because apparently they are listening, and are now offering premiums for returns of stripped covers on their own books: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=27130 . This seemed like a ballsy move to me at first, but actually Marvel only stands to make money from this.

Back in the early days of newsstand returnability, retailers would tear the covers off the comics and mail the covers back to the companies for a refund. But in this case, the comics are still non-returnable. Meaning Marvel gets to keep its money and only loses a few bucks from the few premium comics it has to print up.

This time around — hypothetically — foolish retailers might order 55 copies of Marvel comic X so they can tear the covers off and return them for the premium. I can’t imagine anyone would actually do this, but let’s say it happens. The retailer then sells the 5 copies he would have normally anyway and strips the 50 others for the freebie. Then three more customers come in looking for the same comic. Whoops! All his extras have the covers torn off. He can order three 2nd printings of course (which cannot be stripped for the premiums) and Marvel has now sold 58 copies, and only has to give away 1 free variant comic which cost Marvel $1.18 to print.

Like I said before, I don’t imagine this scenario will ever happen, but in any case, Marvel cannot lose in this situation. They don’t even come off looking like idiots the way they did trying to sabotage DC.

KS

Unrelated: Here’s a book on “self-publishing” that I will NOT be reviewing, but you can check out for yourself: http://www.co2comics.com/pages/how_to_start_a_comic_book_empire.html

How to Self-Publish Comics… Not Just Create Them #1-4

How to Self-Publish Comics… Not Just Create Them #1-4

by Josh Blaylock

Devils’s Due Publishing, 2006

This is another pretty awful book about self-publishing comic books. I would like to say that — like with How to Self-Publish Your Own Comic Book by Tony Caputo which I reviewed recently — anyone attempting to follow this book to self-publish a comic book is bound to crash and burn, but the reality is, I don’t think there is enough information in here to even start a company to drive into the ground.

The problem most often with this book is that Blaylock tells you WHAT to do but not HOW to do it. This is a book full of advice, but without information to act on.  Just flipping through issue #1 again here, Blaylock’s “chapter” on ‘Distribution: Bookstores” is a whole half-a-page long, he says: “When distributing your comic books through bookstores, there are a lot of distributors out there.” He mentions a few of these but doesn’t give any contact details or discuss in any way how to approach these people or what is needed from you when you do so. At one stage on this same page, he says: “In a future volume, I will go into more detail about marketing to the book market,” but I’ll be damned if I can find where he actually got back around to that detail anywhere in this series.

It feels like most of his chapters end with: “There’s lots of information about this on the internet, so be sure to go look it up!” rather than himself telling you how to do it. Where the Caputo book was almost overloaded with in-depth details, Blaylock reads like he wrote this thing in between games of Halo and picking up nachos. He is so vague at times and clandestine with concrete information that I felt like he must have been so deliberately in order to sabotage any possible competition. Caputo was out of business when his book came out — Blaylock is still in it. Coincidence…?

Another unforgivable offence with this book is his “chapter” (this time a whopping seven sentences long!) on “Distribution: Newsstands.” The chapter describes what newsstand means: “Newsstand is the avenue of distribution for periodicals such as the magazine rack at your local grocery store, or the comics you find in convenient stores” (that hilarious typo is Blaylock’s, not mine). Blaylock then goes on to say that he doesn’t really know anything about newsstand distribution and that he “may cover Newsstand distribution in further detail in a future supplement, but for now I’ll only touch on it, because it may have been an outlet you were planning to exploit.” Actually, he didn’t even really touch on it for those people — he only mentioned it existed for people who already knew it existed anyway having been planning to exploit it. This chapter is fucked. If you are writing a chapter about something in a non-fiction book, you have to write about it. If you don’t know much about it, you have to research it. You can’t say: “I don’t know anything about this subject” and then slap a $4.95 cover price on the front. Imagine opening up a biology textbook to the chapter on photosynthesis and finding: “I don’t know much about this subject, but I sure would like to. Maybe someday I’ll get back around to it.”

(below: The offending page on newsstand distribution.)

The typo I mentioned above also brings me to one of my favorite passages in the book — this line about being accepted by Diamond Comics Distributors: “Their requirements aren’t really that strict, so a rejection means you need to take a serious look at your comic book. It’s most likely nowhere near the professional level it needs to be, and you need to be honest with yourself about the quality of what you’ve put together.” Well, Diamond regularly rejects art comics too, so this statement from the publisher of Barack the Barbarian sounded slightly narrow-minded to me. But what I love is that at the bottom of this page and the top of the next, some text has been deleted resulting in unintelligible gibberish. Is this what Blaylock means by a professional level of quality? It certainly seemed to be good enough for Diamond so even the validity of the statement’s intended meaning is questionable. Typos are frequent in the series.

(below: Another offending page — misprinted professionalism.)

I also found it weird that “Vol. 1” (issue #1) covered “Building the Infrastructure” such as setting up shippers and distributors, and Vol. 2 was “Building Your Creative Team.” But you need to have the comic before you can approach distributors to distribute it for you. Weird, especially since the goddamn title of the book seems to assume that you’ve already created the book.

The one thing I did like about this series was the sample contracts, invoices, and other practical documents at the back of each issue. Issues 3 and 4 then had 10 and 8 pages of house ads respectively, which led me to the belief that this was really intended as an exploitation book. There are a lot of people out there — myself included — who are hungry to self-publish and will spend money on a book like this as soon as they see the title — like I did. What they get is lazily written and shoddily put together, and full of ads for titles published by Devil’s Due; and delivering those ads (at an inflated cover price) to vulnerable, unwitting readers strikes me as this title’s real agenda.

KS

P.S. This series was also published in a trade paperback edition which I struggled to find, so I got the periodical version.

P.P.S. Hilarious update, one day after writing the above review:

http://www.bleedingcool.com/2010/07/06/devils-due-leaves-diamond-industry-shudders/

http://tinyurl.com/23hmb5w

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.