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