More Than Capes

Let me start by saying that I have nothing against super hero comics. In fact, I still enjoy quite a few. I’m only writing this entry to highlight to readers that there are other genres to choose from. As Scott McCloud once said, people often confuse the genre for the medium. That is, they think that all of comics  (the medium) is the super hero story (genre). And while there are a lot of great super hero stories out there right now (Unbeatable Squirrel Girl being my favorite), I’d like to show people that there’s a wide variety of story telling being offered. In fact, it’s more than ever these days. I think, though, that with the success of the comic book movies, there is more emphasis on these books. But I’d like to get people to see what else is out there.

I guess maybe it’s a bit personal. Like I said, I enjoy super heroes, but personally, it’s not the kind of story I want to tell. At least at this point. Anyone who has read my comics, either on this website, or in the physical form, knows I have a wide variety of stories to tell. Granted, as we speak, I’m working on finishing up a super hero story, but that’s more of a comedy than a tale of tights. I’ve really used comedy to highlight the bizarre. To tell stories that I think will entertain and leave people with a message (sometimes. Other times I just draw pocket bees). I don’t think I could do that with a super hero story. Now, some people can (Alan Moore!) but not me. So I rely on other genres.

I think the biggest thing that these genres give me is an ending. Super heroes have been around for a long time. They continue to be published, and there’s really no ending for many of them. And even the ones that die come back. Now, for me personally, one of the best things about fiction, for me, is an ending. Writers can craft something that ties everything together. I wish life worked that way, which is maybe part of the reason I got into writing. Now, with many books outside the super hero genre, these stories have a beginning, middle, and end. They are epics that stretch for just the right amount of time, then come to an end. Take Y the Last Man for example. 60 issues was the sweet spot for that story. That sounds like a lot, maybe, but it was always going to come to an end. It didn’t just run until it got cancelled. It told a great story. In fact Y was one of the first stories that really showed me what comics can do. I read the whole thing and saw the power of the medium, controlled not by the genre, but by a story to be told. In fact, you should go read Y right now.

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OK, done? You read it all? Wasn’t it so good? These types of stories also often offer us much more real stakes. Part of the super hero genre is the impermanence of death. That’s just part of the territory. But personally, it often leaves me asking “what are the consequences, really?” That could just be me. I’ve read a lot of super hero books, so it might have partially numbed me to anything really happening. But when someone dies, they don’t stay dead (for the most part). And, as I’ve said, most characters have been around so long, I wonder what they could possibly do next. It all kind of becomes a game. But take a story like Y the Last Man or Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire. When something bad happens, the results will be permanently felt. When a character dies, they stay dead, often in truly heartbreaking fashion. There are often fantastical elements to these stories (Sweet Tooth is a deer boy), but they somehow feel more real. I think these other genres invest us in their characters a little easier because they are not super heroes, and neither are we. So it’s easier to see ourselves in Sweet Tooth, even though he’s part deer, because faced with danger, he’s scared. Super heroes, not so much. But that is part of their appeal, and I understand that.

But sometimes these stories aren’t fantastical. Sometimes they are really our stories. One of my favorite comics ever is American Splendor which is an autobiographical account of Harvey Pekar’s (RIP) life. You might say “I don’t want to read about someone’s life. I come to comics for adventure!” and yes, comics are good for that. But read Pekar’s work, and I bet you’ll change your tune. It might not seem like the medium lends itself to these down to earth stories, but it does. Very much so. Harvey had a way of looking at everyday life and turning it into a narrative. Even the most normal things turn out to be examinations of the human condition. That’s something that everyone can understand, if you are in fact human, and not a lizard person. Sure, you get this from time to time in the super hero books. But I think it’s a whole lot more genuine when it comes from a normal guy who spent his whole life in Cleveland. When Superman gets a flat tier, that’s easy stuff. When Harvey gets a flat tire, he’s got to deal with it like the rest of us. There are a lot of emotions to be found in auto bio comics. And, I don’t know about you, but I like hearing people’s stories. I think that is because I’m a writer. I think that real life is the basis for the best stories, or at least the issues we face in real life. And when you hear someone’s story, it’s so fascinating. Let’s face it, we tend to think that most other humans are just empty shells, but then they tell you about this or that, and they’re actually real live people, with backstories, hopes, and dreams. Sorry, that’s a bit of a tangent, I suppose. But American Splendor does that to me. Not only that, but it inspired my own auto bio comics, Bearded Comic Book Enthusiast (issue 2 coming soon!). Shameless plug aside, thanks, Harv.

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He always asked the important questions. Anyway, listen, I think I’ve gushed enough. Just know that these type of stories are what influence me the most, and are worth a read. In fact, here are some suggestions: Chew (One of my favorites of all time), Transmetropolitan, Preacher, Lumberjanes, Hellboy, Judge Dredd, From Hell, and really I can keep going and going, but maybe I’ll publish that as a separate list so I can go into more detail.

Listen, like I said, the super hero genre is a good read. I’m only trying to encourage people to delve into other areas. Comedy, horror, auto bio, sci-fi, fantasy, realistic fiction. Though super hero stories have many of these elements, they are really only one genre. I only hope to get people to take a bigger look at what talented creators have to offer. Independent books might not be your thing, but I think if you try the right one, you’ll open a new door, to a world full of stories you never would have experienced before. And in the end, that’s what comics are all about.

 

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!

Web Comics

So, as you might recall, last blog post I mentioned that I’d talk about the benefits of web comics sometime. Well, that time has come. Phew, didn’t have to wait to long. I remember last time I caught myself veering off into the topic of making web comics, but it’s better if I can give it the spotlight it deserves.

I really started thinking about the positives of a web comic when I was at SPACE. Another vendor there asked me how I liked having a web comic. Now, I really do enjoy putting out a web comic, but I’d never stopped and thought about just what doing so afforded me. So I got to talking to this guy and realized that making web comics is really one of the best experiences I’ve had as a creator thus far. Isn’t it always great when you have a revelation that you’ve been doing something right?

So, here’s what I told him. I enjoy making comics to publish digitally, but to me the most important thing is this: it’s the least expensive way to fail. And that’s not a negative thing, not at all. What I mean by that is, through the creation of these web comics, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and through those mistakes, I’ve learned a heck of a lot. When I started making comics on my own, I didn’t know anything about coloring, lettering, inking, or pretty much anything. I knew how to write, period. But I had to learn all of these things as I went, and now, while I’m sure I have a lot to learn, I know so much more than just a year ago. So, what do you do when you’re learning? You make mistakes. And, instead of making costly mistakes, I got to make them for free! How great, really. It’s not that I like making mistakes, but if I had to choose between paying money for them, or getting away with them for free, well I choose the latter option.

Now, I absolutely don’t like to look back at my comics and realize I did something wrong. But, that’s how you learn, isn’t it? I look at the first couple comics I made and think “Oh, never do that, that, or that again.” And sure, I put those comics out, but that’s a nice public record of progress, I suppose. So that’s excellent.

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Now, there are other positives to this method as well. As I said in my last blog, it’s cheap. Actually, it’s free! And think about this: you can publish on your schedule, and you don’t have to have a whole full length comic done as you would if you want to publish. Plus, not everyone wants to make long stories. Some people just want to do gags, and that’s something you can do with web comics. Not to mention that anyone can do them. Isn’t that great? The power to make comics is really in the hands of everybody when using web comics. All you need is a place to put them, and that’s easy these days.

The affordability of web comics also allows you to experiment. My web comics are hardly ever about the same thing. It’s the ultimate place for me see what works and what doesn’t. And if something doesn’t work, then I can abandon it with no real damage done. Sure, I’ve lost some time, but that time went into practicing making a comic, anyway. If you publish a book, and it doesn’t work, you’ve lost the printing fee, and potentially the money given to the artist. That’s not to say that publishing physically is a bad thing, I quite enjoy publishing that way, too. It’s just a lot more final. The first couple of books that I published (as is to be expected), are not very good. And that’s all on me. The art is good, but gosh, I read that writing and I don’t like it. I feel the same way about my first couple web comics, but I didn’t lose any money on that.

In the end, I’d recommend doing both. But if you’re getting started out, why not do a web comic? What do you have to lose? You can learn a lot about the craft. And hey, you’ll get some exposure. I’m the kind of guy who jumps right into things, so that was a big plus for me. Was I ready? No. But I did it, and people read the comics I put out. When you publish on the Internet, people from literally anywhere in the world can stumble upon your work. I see people from the other side of the planet have looked at my stuff sometimes. That’s how you get your name out there and build a fan base. That fan base will grow to support you in the future. Gotta start somewhere.

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Sorry that these pictures don’t really have anything to do with web comics, but I use the images I like. Anyway, there’s quite a lot to be learned from doing web comics. And, because they are typically shorter, they can be done quicker. So you can put out more, and thus learn more. It’s like a concentrated training session. An 80s montage. Sure, you should always be reading (comics and books about comics), but getting the hands on practice is invaluable. I know in another year I’ll be better than I am now (well, hopefully, anyway). So making the web comics have really only done good things for me.

My final advice is this: if you’re thinking about doing a web comic, go ahead and give it a try. It won’t hurt anything, and you can still do any other work that you might be trying to do. It’s a win win. Don’t let digital reading or any other technological concerns get in your way. Get those comics out there and let everyone know who you are.

Making Comics Epilogue

Well, you’ve done it! You’ve made a comic. You wrote it, drew it, inked it, colored it, and lettered it! Woo, I’m out of breath now. Anyway, I’m proud of you, it’s a tough process, I know. So, what happens when you’re done with all of that? You publish it! I understand, it sounds pretty scary. And, it certainly can be.  But, after you did all that work, you probably want to publish it, right? So you better get on it, folks. Like I said, it can be scary, but we’re actually living in a great time for this sort of thing. There’s quite a few options you have when it comes to publishing.

So, let me start by saying this: publishing a comic is not the same as publishing a book. When publishing a book, you have to send out your manuscript to a publisher and hope that one of them will pick it up. Now, when it comes to comics, it’s far easier to publish yourself. That’s not to say that you can’t ship your story out to established publishers, but a lot of companies do not even look at unsolicited material. So, you might have a hard time with that. Plus, it’s easier to get yourself noticed when you have finished products to show to editors. That’s a whole different game though.

Anyway, I was saying, self publishing is the way to go (at least in the beginning). And comics are way smaller than books, so they are easier to publish yourself. And when it comes to publishing yourself, you have a couple of options: publishing a physical book or publish online. Let’s start with the physical.

Publishing in physical form is great. I don’t really know how to describe the feeling of holding a book that you’ve made in your hands. It’s an amazing experience. Now you might be asking yourself, just how do you get that book in your hand? Well, what a time to be alive friends. There are several companies that specialize in printing comics, and of course you can find them all on the Internet. The place I use is called Kablam.

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The thing that makes Kablam affordable is that they are a print on demand service. That means that you can order how many ever you want, and don’t have to worry about a minimum quantity. So, you can order 50 books at a set price per issue. If one issue is, let’s say 1.50, that’s the price you’ll pay per issue. That is in contrast to offset printers, which require a high volume of books being published. Basically, the more books you print, the lower your price will be. So if you wanted one single issue printed, it might cost you 20 dollars (as an example, I’ve never used this sort of printing before.) This type of printing is used by the big boys (Marvel, DC, etc.) that will be printing hundreds of copies of each book. For smaller, self published labels like Hot Cakes, print on demand is the ticket. This way I can order 50 or 75 copies and not break the bank. There are lots of places out there that will do this, so if you Google around, you’ll find something. You might even find something local like I did, with Page by Page Copies and Finishing. You will spend money to make physical books, but in the end you’ll have something tangible to sell at cons and maybe even a book to get into your local comic store!

Now, as I’ve said, what a time to be alive. Publishing online has never been easier before, and guess what? It’s only going to get easier as time goes on. You may notice that on this very site I publish comics. Yes, it’s true! So I know what I’m talking about. The Internet is a great, great thing, and if you use it’s power for your comics, it can mean really good news for you. Obviously, the best thing about publishing online is that it’s free. Sure, you can buy a domain name, a place to put all your comics, but those are stupid cheap most of the time. But, even if you don’t want to do that, you can just set up a tumblr and get it going. You can put your content out there for literally everyone to see. While holding a copy in your hand is primo, not having to pay anything to put your comic out there is also very nice.

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Basically, once you’ve finished making your comic, and saved it in a PDF or tiff file, it’s ready to launch. That’s a really cool thing. I mean, think about the time that you’re saving (printing does take some time). While you won’t be able to sell these digital comics cons, you will be able to drum up interest for anything you might do later. People who read your webcomics regularly will probably like you enough to want to see what you might do next. And, I don’t want to get any hopes up, but maybe someone from a big company will notice you that way! Don’t count on that as your way into the industry, though.

You might do stories that are unrelated (like I do), or you might build an entire story page by page. Either way, you’re getting your work out there, not to mention doing webcomics have other benefits (that I will address in a separate blog). Then, let’s say you’ve done a page a week for a story, you can collect those for print and you’ve got a physical comic!

The other nice benefit of publishing online is that you can sell your comics digitally. That meaning you can put your comics on your website for sale without having a single physical copy. That way your fans and supporters can simply download a file and read them on their phones and tablets. This means you can still make money, and charge a cheaper rate since it didn’t have to be printed, and people can still read your comic. As I said, what a time to be alive.

Really, publishing either way is good, and it’s not that difficult. You just have to assess what works for you and your story. Maybe you feel more comfortable with a weekly tumblr comic. Maybe you want to have a book to show an editor at a con. Just think about what you want for yourself, your book, and your future. I know that sounds like a lot, but it starts to come pretty natural after awhile. I publish in both formats. And, while online is quicker and free, there is something about holding that book in your hands that you’ll never be able to replace. Now, that’s not saying that one is better than the other, it’s just sort of surreal when you see your name as a creator.

The most important thing I can tell you about publishing is that, if you’ve done the work, publish! Getting your books out there is the goal, so don’t let this last step stop you.

Recommended Reading
The Complete Guide to Self Publishing Comics By Comfort Love and Adam Withers

Making Comics by Scott McCloud

There aren’t too many books that I’ve read that focus on this, so supplement your reading with the all powerful GOOGLE!

Making Comics Part 5-Lettering

Well, we’ve finally made it to the end of the creative process. I would say the end period, but there’s an epilogue to all this (next blog post!) And what is the last leg of creating a comic? It’s lettering! It seems to me that a lot of people might ask what a letterer does. Some people think that the writer is the person who puts the words in the balloons. They think that’s what writing a comic means. But no. Any letters on the page, be they words or sound effects, are put there by the letterer. The letterer gets the script and decides the best types of fonts for dialogue and how to make a sound effect really fit the situation.

Much like the last couple of jobs in making comics, a letterer should be subtle, and is underappreciated. I’ll warn you right now, there’s not much glory in lettering. But that’s not what it’s about, so don’t sweat that. My first point, subtly, actually is important though. Like color, when you letter a comic, you don’t want to overpower the page. You want your word balloons to draw the eye, but not punch that eye in the face. This is more common with sound effects. When you make a sound effect, you have to walk this fine line of making, let’s say, an explosion, but not letting it override the art. It can be a bit hard at first, but with a little practice, and reading comics, you’ll see what I mean. Take this for example:

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See that sound effect? It’s an explosion that reads like ba-throom, and it’s actually a bathroom blowing up! It’s huge, but look at that subtly.

As I said, the letterer is not as celebrated as the writer and artist, but without a good letterer, the story can derail pretty quickly. Imagine you are reading Conan the Barbarian. He’s a big, angry guy who cuts a lot of people into little parts, right? Well, what if he had a font that was in cursive? Or dotted every “I” with a heart? That would pull you out of the story. Here’s this big barbarian, and in cursive he sounds far too elegant, and with that heart over the “I”, it’s like he’s writing a note in middle school! See what I mean? It doesn’t quite read right.

So, what is the process of lettering? First of all, you have to read that script! Luckily, I letter my own script, so this is easy. You have to note tone, or if the writer has mentioned a certain type of font or color for words. If you letter your own stuff, you already know what you want, which is really nice. Then you take a look at the art and decide where everything should go. Before you lay down those letters and bubbles, you have to run through it in your head. Look at the space on the page and decide where everything would fit best. This is why it’s good practice to lettering if you are a writer. When writing before lettering, I didn’t consider anything but the story. Now I gauge how much space I’ll have per panel. It’s like writing and art. If you do it yourself, you know what your asking someone else to do. Your letterer is going to have a much easier time if you can visualize space ahead of time.

Once you’ve got it all laid out in your head, then you can actually start! To letter, I use Adobe Illustrator. As a quick side note, I always find it ironic that I never actually draw in Illustrator, I always use it for letters. Now, that being said, you can letter by hand, but I have no idea how to do that in any good capacity. It requires tools and techniques that I’ve never used. When lettering by hand, I pretty much just use my hand writing (albeit neater). If you want to letter by hand, I would read stuff by people like Todd Klein, who’s probably lettered the most. Ever. Anyway, you want to set up different layers, bubbles underneath text, that way your words will appear in front of your bubbles. Some people lay down words first, then add bubbles, however, I do the opposite. I don’t know if that is the wrong way to do this, but it’s just the process I got into.

You might not put any thought into this while reading comics, but someone has to design those bubbles. They are usually standard speech bubbles. But what about the jagged edged bubble of words coming over the radio, or the thought balloon? Sometimes people get pretty creative with balloons, take a look at this example:

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That bubble really helps give the reader a feel for the character, doesn’t it?  (That’s by Todd Klein, by the way). Many of the bubbles I’ve made are the standard kind, so I haven’t done much exploring. But some letterers can really do a lot! It’s here that you really have to pay attention to the space in a panel, you don’t want your bubbles to make everything look too crowded. So put them in spots where they don’t get in the way!

Once you’ve decided what each bubble needs to look like, and where they go, you can add the text. This is the real fun part, because you can play around with fonts. I love playing around with new fonts. That’s probably not something people say a lot, but lettering has given me that appreciation. This is the stage where it’s really nice to letter your own work. First off all, you know the emphasis and how each character sounds. Plus, you can make any last minute changes to a script so much more easily. I can’t remember who said it, but I once heard that lettering is to the script what inking is to pencils, and I couldn’t agree more. Those words, and how they look, will give what you’ve written complete life.

Now, as I just said, you get to play with font. Not everyone is going to have a special font, but if you want to give someone say, a robotic tone, or a fancy tone, you can find fonts for that. So, while your reader isn’t actually hearing the character, their brain will process it like they are. There are a lot of good font sites out there, but websites like Blambot and Comicraft are specifically for comic books. Take your time here, play around with fonts, and see what works best. You’ll also have to fit the words into the balloon nicely. That means, not too much white space, but not too little. You want it to look very even. Unless your character has a small voice, then if you add more white space, it looks like they are meek.

Once you’ve chosen the right text, and it looks nice (that takes time, some of my bubbles even now are pretty rough looking), you get to add the tails. Those are what tie the word balloon to the speaker. You can make it a straight tail or a curved tail, using different pen tools. You should always make it clear to whom the tail is pointing, and, even though this sounds like common sense, make it point toward the mouth. The common rule of thumb is to extend the about halfway to the character’s mouth, from the word balloon. Then, you can join the bubble and tail together, and you have your lettering! Once you do that for every panel, you’re done! You’ve made a comic.

That’s right, you have made a comic from top to bottom, and that’s that! Except, my next blog with be an exciting epilogue to this whole process: publishing! So join me then.

Recommended Reading

Comic Book Lettering: the Comicraft Way by John Roshell and Richard Starkings (READ THIS!)

DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering Comics by Mark Chiarello and Todd Klein

The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics by Comfort Love and Adam Withers