The Business of Comics

To me, the hardest thing about making comics is the business part. It seems that a lot of the time, creative minded people aren’t focused on business. I can say that from experience. When I started out, I envisioned all the bases I had to cover. Well, almost all of them. I thought about the creative process, but I didn’t think about the money behind it all, and the decisions you have to make in regards to profit. Now, before I get too far, let me make it clear that I am not a real businessman. I mostly don’t understand all of that. So this will sort of be a reflection of my experience so far, as well as the importance of thinking with both sides of your brain.

As I said, when I got started, I thought I had it all covered. But I soon learned that I would have to add one more hat to my collection: that of a business man. When you are creative, you have a tendency to dream about the stars, with little means of getting to them. This is not a bad thing, I think dreaming is important. But once you get off the ground, you really have to know what’s going on. You have to manage money, contracts, and you have to make some tough calls. That means deciding who you can and can’t work with (even if they’re friends). It can be tough sometimes. I know there have been times that I’ve had to refuse the help of some people close to me because it simply wouldn’t work out. These decisions are not personal, but they are made in the much more factually based part of the creative industry. I hate making decisions like this, as I am not a confrontational person. But part of making your own way means finding that ability to speak up for yourself.

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I can’t help myself right now, I’m really back on a Planet of the Apes kick.

Anyway, it’s all pretty strange to me. Taking care of business also means kind of being a boss. And I don’t say that lightly, I’d hate to be anyone’s boss. Poor them. But when you are trying to run things, and you’re working with multiple people, you have to act like you’re in charge. I have to check in with people (but I’ve been pretty lucky with that, as they are good at staying on top of the work). And since I hire artists for longer stories, I have to manage funds, and find the right price for me. When I was a young lad (of 23) staring to make comics, it all seemed like magic, like everything would get done because I wanted it to! But really, it’s a balancing act. You’ve got to manage your own creativity, money, artists, a website, and find yourself ways to actually sell your book. I’m tired just thinking about it.

But, as I said before, it’s incredibly important to manage this side of things. And not only do I think so, but so does anyone I’ve ever read talk about making comics. There might come a day when I don’t have to worry about this, and some bigger force can just hire me to create, but until then, I’m crunching numbers!

When I printed my books for the first time, I had no conception of how much they would cost. Of course, I had worked in retail before, but it had never dawned on me that I would have to set a price in order to make profit. I think it’s because when I sold stuff in retail, it was never my stuff. So it seemed strange. And boy did I have a problem actually asking for money for something I made. Especially from people I know. However, I think this is a normal reaction for an artist or writer, or any creative person. We are somewhat conditioned to think that the things we peruse aren’t necessarily a career. Luckily, I am very supported. People want to buy my books. They want to read my stories. In fact, some people have bought everything I’ve put out, and man am I grateful for that. But, I think another aspect of the business thing is to over come that feeling of uncomfortably. That is not to say that I like asking people I know for money, but I have begun to put aside that feeling that I’m just some hobbyist. Besides, I still appreciate every dollar I get, and I let people know that.

Which, I suppose, is a good bridge to another business topic: customer service. I don’t like customer service. I have a hard time talking to people most of the time. But that all changes when I’m behind a table. And not like an act. No, I found out that I really like talking to people at cons. Good thing, too, because customer service is vital to the small press folk. And when I say customer service, in this situation I really just mean being approachable, looking interested. This may sound like common sense, but still, it seems like a sound business principle. Better interaction means more potential sales. And I don’t say that in a calculating way, but if you don’t look like you want to be there, people won’t even want to come up to your table. Then you’ll walk away with nothing!

donald As I read this, I come to the conclusion that I’m rambling a bit. But, like I said, I’m not a real savvy business person. I know the basics, but I will probably never feel comfortable in the position. I am first and foremost a creative person. So even as I gain business experience, it’ll always be far behind my need to create. I guess it comes down to learning by doing. Or by having someone who can help you with all the business stuff. Actually, there’s a good book about this called How to Self Publish Comics, Not Just Create Them by Josh Blaylock. I own a copy and I recommend that you give it a read or two. Lots of good pointers. See how I waited til the end to tell you about that, so you’d have to read all of these words? Ha! Oldest trick on the blog.

If you’re looking to get into comics, but don’t know how to deal with the business stuff, don’t worry too much. Yes, you should read up on it, and have some idea, but I think that’s part of the learning experience. Don’t ignore this aspect of comics forever and hope for the best. Just come up with a plan. See what works, learn from reading, and from your mistakes. And, most importantly, buy my comics.

Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum

I have lived in central Ohio my entire life, and it was only just this last weekend that I went to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum. If you’re not from Ohio, it’s a museum dedicated to comics and cartoonists. And, for anyone wondering, it’s my new favorite museum. During my trip I got to see the work of some of the masters of comic story telling. I also got to see samples of work from the past (some of which was from the late 1700s!). To see the history was simply astonishing. So, this week for the blog, I’m going to share some of the pictures I took, and talk a little about them.

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To start off, here’s something by Billy Ireland himself. I had heard his name through the museum, but I never knew who he was. Billy Ireland was an Ohio native and cartoonist who gained fame through his editorial cartoons. This cartoon was done 1920. When I saw this, it really shocked me. Look at the size of this thing! I guess this must have been the type of paper he always worked with, but my goodness! But it allows for more detail, and look at all of that text. Well, Billy Ireland did it right, because now he has a museum named after him!

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Man was I excited to see this! What we have here is an original page from Jeff Smith’s epic sage Bone. If you haven’t read Bone, by the way, you should get on that. What’s really neat about seeing this particular page is that Jeff Smith is from Ohio (he still lives here, too). So it’s really encouraging to see a local comic creator in this museum. It was also interesting because when you see it in person (and a lot of other pages in the museum) you can still see white out, sketch marks, and the lines for hand lettering. It gives you a true sense of the process.

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This is a piece done by the legendary Will Eisner. It’s called Army Motors and I’d never seen it before. It was a series of drawings he did in the army with this character, Joe Dope. They think it was made in 1944, and it always amazes me to see how incredibly it has held up through time. I guess when I think of comics and art from the 40s, it mostly feels dated, but that’s why Will Eisner is a true master.

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You might not know this, but I’m a huge Scrooge McDuck fan. This particular appearance was part of this big quilt that was hanging on the wall. It was embroidered with a ton of comic characters (many of which I didn’t actually know). But the important thing is that Scrooge McDuck is here. The crazy thing is all of this time and effort was put into the quilt, and the creator is anonymous!

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This was a cool one to see. There are several pull out drawers at the museum that have some really cool items for display. So, I pulled one open and saw this, the first issue of American Splendor. Another thing you may or may not know is that I’m a big fan of Harvey Pekar. His comics really changed the scene and made it so auto biographical comics could work (and now I make my own!) Another Ohio local, Harvey Pekar was truly one of the greats.

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And guess what else was in that same drawer? The first issue of TMNT from 1984. The original black and white Eastman and Laird adventure. You know, the one where Leonardo told Shredder to commit seppuku (really). This is a nice piece of comic history. I mean, here were two guys who created a concept by creating something ridiculous, printed a couple thousand copies and just hoping to make some money back. And look at the Turtles now. Sometimes the little guys can make it.

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This is one I definitely had to put on the blog. This is an original page from an issue of Captain America by the King Jack Kirby (some of you could probably tell by the art alone). Now, I’ve seen lots of Jack Kirby art, but I have never seen an original page of his in person. So many comic creators were influenced by Jack Kirby, and he shaped so much of what we know. This was really an honor to see.

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Now, you’ve seen some impressive stuff so far, but I have to tell you that this was probably the thing that I freaked out the most over. Why, though, you ask. Well, it’s because this story (from MAD Magazine) influenced none other than my biggest hero in comics, Alan Moore. I have read several accounts of Alan Moore’s life, and he has mentioned on multiple occasions how this story helped to shape his love for comics. And guess what? You could actually flip through and read this one. So, yeah, I read the same comic that gave a young Alan Moore love for comics. Alan Moore is the biggest reason I started making comics, so believe me, this was a big deal.

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I had to add this one simply because of history. Sometimes we think that the issues we face are entirely new to our generation. Well, look at the subject of this cartoon. Looks familiar right, we hear this talk all the time. But guess what? This was from 1881! This editorial cartoon by Frederick Opper is called A Dangerous American Institution. I had to put this one on here because it really made me stop and think about the cyclical nature of history, and how the issues we face today may not be new.

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I read about this comic once. It was part of the underground comix movement, and it landed the creators in some hot water. Dan O’Neil, Ted Richards, Gary Hallgreen, and Bobby London made this book which depicts Disney characters doing some not so Disney approved things. Well, Disney found out about this and tried to stop this. It’s actually a very interesting story. They kept making the books, even though Disney sued them, and eventually Disney racked up so many legal fees that they settled. That would never happen today, because Disney has so much money the $2,000,000 in legal fees is pocket change.

These are just a few of the pictures I took, but this post is already pretty long. More can be found on the Facebook page. The trip to the museum was really something else. Seeing all that I did was a very useful experience for an aspiring comics creator. But, no matter what you do, I suggest you check out the museum. There’s something to learn for everyone.

On Tabling

Tabling at conventions is one of my favorite things to do. For a day or two I can finally settle into my true environment: the comic book scene. Conventions bring together creators big and small, and for a small press creator, gets your work out there to the almighty reader. Now, all of this being said, I’ve only tabled a handful of times. But, I’ve had a lot of experiences in that small number.

Tabling is all about being attentive and friendly. There have been a number of times that, when walking around at cons, creators are looking down at their phone, or they look like they don’t really want to be there. I get it, some weekends can be long, and looking at your phone at some point is unavoidable. However, you’ve got to avoid looking at it for too long. That shows disinterest. And, personally, I feel like I’m interrupting someone when I have to get their attention. Part of that is on me, but when I’m behind that table, my phone is out of my hands for as much time as possible. You want to look inviting, because, well, you should be.

It’s an interesting environment, you want to sell stuff, but you aren’t going the retail route where you’re trying to sell a toaster to someone. You’re trying to sell something that you made to someone. I always feel that small cons are far less pressure to buy something that a regular sales transaction. Which is funny because when you’re out there looking at other creators, that’s when you most want to buy something. But in a normal retail situation, I feel a lot of pressure from salespeople, but I don’t want to buy something as badly. But to be fair, that’s because I want to support an independent artist over a big store.

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Accurate. You can take it from me.

Gosh, I think I’ve strayed a little bit from my original point on tabling. The point is: be engaged. If you’re not excited about your work, why will anyone else be? The other big survival tip about tabling doesn’t have to do with selling, though. It’s simple: be a good table neighbor. You will probably be surrounded on all sides by other people at their own tables. You’ve got to be considerate. Don’t take up too much space! You want to have good relations with your neighbors, you’ll be with them all weekend.

I’ve been lucky enough that, as of this writing, I’ve never been stuck next to someone who I can’t stand. In fact, I’ve ended up becoming friends with the people located around me. We are able to talk about what sort of comics we like, and tips and tricks of the trade. It goes a long way. Plus, you will be in close proximity, so it will just be awkward if you’re silent the whole time. Not to mention that those people will watch your booth if you have to go pee! That’s invaluable. All of the people that I’ve sat next too were very cool. If/when I see them at different cons, I’m always quick to go over and buy something from them. These bonds turn into friendships, and those are important in life and in making comics.

Now, all of this isn’t to say that I haven’t been host to some pretty weird things at cons. I won’t get into specifics in case any of those people read this (odds are small, but I don’t want to get murdered at my next con!) Those odd characters are pretty much unavoidable at these things. Conventions and weirdos go hand in hand, after all. So all I can say about that is be prepared to deal with the strange. You will have to listen to some peculiar things, smile and nod. Smile and nod. That’s how you get through the rough times. Then, once those people leave you, you can look at your table neighbors and have a good laugh.

I will also add this, tabling can be frustrating. People will come look at your work, flip through it, tell you it’s good, but not buy it. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not an art I pursued because of the riches. I know better than that. But, during a long day of tabling, it can be irksome when you can’t make that sale. Sometimes you’ll go hours without making money (OK, that’s my experience anyway) and that starts to wear you out. You start to wonder if your stuff just isn’t any good. But hang in there. You’ll make the sales. And equally important, you’ll get your name out there. You’ll make connections and the more conventions you attend, people will start to remember you. In the end, take a deep breath and realize that there are a lot of other people there, and everyone has different taste in comics. But if you do make a sale, show some gratitude. They didn’t have to buy anything. So always say:

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Now, if you’re reading this and do not table, never fear, I have some advice about that too! When I go as a fan, and not a creator, I’m always conscious about how long I stand in front of a table. I try to look at everything, and have a bit of conversation with the artist and/or writer. But, I don’t like to block the way for too long. That could cut off potential business. Especially if I’m not going to buy anything. It is pretty easy to get caught up talking to other creators, and they really don’t mind, but I try to be mindful.

I guess that comes more from some of the stuff I’ve seen (i.e. standing in front of a table for 20 minutes giving a complete presentation on your own hobbies). There’s been a lot of times that I see other creators give the look…you know, the “what are they doing?!” look. The “Please go away” look. But they are all too polite to say this. Just be respectful to the artist or writer, or what have you. As a con goer, you have no duty to buy everything, just make sure that you don’t turn your visit into a filibuster.

I hope that all doesn’t sound too harsh. As much of a passion as this is for me, cons are my biggest way (as of now) for making money to continue doing what I love. And I suppose this really comes from a few bad apples making it harder for everyone else. Most everyone at cons is great. They come, they talk, we find things we love, and we form a genuine bond. So don’t take anything I’ve said the wrong way.

As I said, behind the table is the place I feel like I truly belong, so I’ve got a lot of feelings about this. And I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff I left out, but let’s be honest, you’re tired of reading this by now. So I’ll see you at a show sometime!