MAKING COMICS: Getting Published (by Eugene J. Byrne)
If you’re reading these articles you want to get into the production of comics; albeit as an artist, writer, letterer, publisher et cetera. There is one common element to these roles; they take commitment and hard work!
There is some good news though; getting published is easier today than it ever has been before. And I know there are people reading this thinking “What am I smoking!” Let me address that statement. There are a plethora of publishers now available. Granted, I’m including small press right through to the Big Two! But, if you were to ask any of the names that are of the ‘old guard’ how they got in the door, it wouldn’t be uncommon for them to mention an indie comic (small press) that you’ve never heard of or one that has now established itself as a ‘household’ name.
Advice for Artists:
Before I get too far ahead let me put the brakes on for a moment. It won’t be a click of the fingers. You could just start showing of your portfolio at comic conventions but for you to get your first break this way is the same as you winning the lottery. Both scouts and publishers want to see sequential work from you. And not just a couple of pages you copied from your favorite comic!
At Wolfman we have traditionally sent out a script to artists, requesting they draw up three non-consecutive pages. Why? Editors should be able to identify which pages they are from ‘reading’ just your art, no dialogue or captions. Solid art, and more importantly, the ability to show demonstrate storytelling.
So, google scripts online, preferably something you don’t know, because it’ll stop you pulling scenes, references etc, from the original consciously or subconsciously! Once you’ve done that you’re technically ready to go! BUT I would add this strong piece of advice; you could focus on going after being a paid pro though, as a contradiction, working with small press (more often pro bono) will actually provide you with some strong experience into getting published, seeing your work in print and dealing with editors… How this experience helps is, it highlights your weaknesses, and prepares you to take the knocks. It toughens you and makes you aware of your skills. To me, this is a serious plus you could have before you run after being a paid professional! There are a myriad of small press publishers available, attending comic conventions will introduce you to the locals in your country, a little research online will give you more! And the great thing about it these days is that there are many that are professionally run and produce top grade books. The only catch is that more than often they can only offer you pro bono work with payment in publication and promotion. One key note I’ll add is that if you’re sending your sequential work via email give them time to give your work its proper due. Most small press companies are run by people who are over-worked, probably have another full time job, and sometimes married. So, be patient. But once you’ve gotten a good body of work in print then your work tells potentially paying publishers that you’ve taken some knocks, been edited (and that usually hurts the most) and are genuinely hungry to make it!
My words aren’t new they’ve been said by giants way before I came along.
Publishing is a very different beast to getting published. This is the establishing of a business.
There are some key requirements before you can even get started; other than a computer, some sort of website and your plan, aka the comic. You need talent on-board; writer, artist and if possible a decent letterer. But lettering can be ‘winged’. Your writer needs to be able to write for comics; script writing, not a prose writer, which is a completely different, and even worse, you do not need the comic writer that can only write the NEXT GREAT EPIC, they’re useless! You’re fans / readers will run out first and then your money will follow! And if you’re the writing talent learn to control yourself. I always suggest talents like Mike Mignola (and his Hellboy) as an example of controlled wordsmiths. So, contain your story to a mini-series, aka three to five parts (to begin with) that has a clear ending / resolution to that tale. And secondly, you must have an artist that will stay the course. If possible have a back-up, life happens in small press, and your artist could jump mid-run and could potentially sink your Titanic! So, be prepared.
And yes, I know, if you’re the writing talent, you have the next great ten or twenty part story in your head, but if your artist is working pro bono (for free) then he / she could, more often than not, will disappear before the journey is completed. And you could ask yourself ‘why’? The answer is simple, because working free on a huge story gives their work such little value, making it too hard to explain to potential future employers. So, keep him / her happy by knocking out a kick ass tight story that can be re-packaged into a great graphic novel (plus selling you as a gifted tight writer)!
And I know there are plenty of people producing (or currently in production on) cool work today who would want to argue this point with me. You strongly believe, when they see it, the sales will hold it up… blah, blah blah! I hate to say it, but from just over a decades’ experience I’ve learnt that comic fans will only buy into big part stories when they come from the established big names, Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, et cetera. Indies that sell well from the first issues tend to have huge family-friend-clique-connections to help in the beginning. It’s when they keep coming that they can be trusted, because they’ve put in the hard work promoting themselves and have gained a modicum of respect (and a fan base). If you have a part story in your head contain it to three to five parts and comic fans will take a risk on it. Also, to make your comic a home run, make sure you have a hot cover artist, this can be a different person than your interior artist. I’ve worked with great pencillers who can’t work in colour. So, hit the online boards and seek a cover artist. Or if your interior artist is cool but can’t knock out killer colours then advertise for a painter or digital artist. There are plenty that will collaborate. And, if you can contain your enthusiasm try to produce some of the work from the future issues to promote before rushing out your first. And I also know most don’t wait. Wolfman didn’t the first time. We were too eager to show the fruits of our labor. But fortunately for us we also had a large team to push the promotion. Word of mouth works wonders for small press. And we didn’t have Facebook, and MySpace was just beginning. I also recognize there have been exceptions to the rule concerning putting out a large part story that gained its audience. But for indies, that’s not the norm!
Now, getting passed the material to the physical publishing, for first timer publishers who don’t have a budget there are businesses like Reads of Dublin. They have affordable digital printers available and can staple your work for you (traditionally known as the photo- copier comic). And you’ll be able to knock out some comics for your first work and at cost that will suit what you can afford. If you’re not in Dublin there are plenty of these sort of cheap digital printers available throughout most cities. This is how I first saw my work in print. But be aware, it won’t look like Marvel.
Now, if you’ve got a job and have the capability of putting together a production budget then have your comic digitally printed. When I first researched printers in Ireland I was dismayed to discover that there were no companies outfitted with the templates or the correct paper to print comics. So, we turned to mimicking 2000AD’s format. Wolfman’s flagship comic Havoc 21 was printed on quality paper with a heavier stock cover paper with a gorgeous gloss print. We were proud of it, and it actually turned out to be a plus factor for sales; because it stuck out above the imports! There are plenty of good printers that can produce this method around. We have used both digital and lithographic printing for Havoc 21. Digital is what indies traditionally use; utilizing POD (Print-on-Demand) companies like Kla-blaam, Lulu (and now retired Comixpress) et cetera, providing standard comic paper. The pro small press and up use litho print with standard comic paper. When I say ‘pro small press’ I mean companies that put out a minimum of a couple of thousand per every comic they publish. This is also the method of printing that’s standard for the big companies.
Now when you’re dealing with the POD companies most will have a user friendly website where you can get an instant quote with shipping and handling costs. And once you’re ready to go you can send over your comic but I would stop you and advise you to request a ‘proof’ copy first. The more recognised names are based in the States, I know there are others in the UK but I currently don’t know the active ones. So, before you order your prints get that one proof copy. Most professionally run PODs will provide it. This copy allows you to check your work for any errors, art or otherwise, plus it will show you how digital printing affects the product. The big difference will probably be your cover. What’s on your canvas, paper or computer will more than likely be slightly different, colour-wise, than the copy you’re holding. So, any changes, try and make them in one go, because to keep re-ordering proofs can be a pain and expensive.
Once you’ve received your printed comics you’re a Publisher!
And yes there is so much more but that’s for another time!
Look forward to seeing your comic,
Eugene J. Byrne
Editor-in-Chief / Publisher
Wolfman Productions Intl.