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Submitted on
August 20, 2013


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This is an old piece I wrote and posted a while ago, but just recently people have been asking what my experiences were with regard to publishing and getting published - so here it is again, with a few new notes added about dA and Madefire!

This is a very honest view based on 27 years experience as a writer, artist and publisher. The point here is to try to HELP you go into the business enlightened and with open-eyes, knowing what to expect. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PUT YOU OFF! However, you should know that getting into comics is NOT easy - as too many people frequently imagine - and neither is it a glamorous 'rock-star' existence. It is hard work, as are all trades, and it should be treated as such.
I see too many people despondent and badly hurt by their experience, and this can be avoided if you know what you are getting into right from the outset.

Getting into comics is something a lot of people want to know how to do, but there's a lot of questions you want to ask yourself first. There is such a vast array of genre and sub-genre, technique, approach, and so on, that it's important to be clear where you want to go with your work at the outset – and you have to be REALLY honest and tough with yourself at this early stage!

If you're into the capes and tights and you want to go mainstream you're going to have to want it incredibly badly, as the competition is the most extreme I've ever known it right now. There seems to be more titles than ever, and with the digital revolution more people are capable of producing sleek, mainstream quality art - but right across the industry there's an enormous amount of competition.

One thing I'm NOT seeing at cons is break-the-mould, edgy and accomplished new types of comic art. Invariably it's by-the-numbers, very average 'superhero' fare of a fairly basic level of ability - what I would typify as three or four years off pro-quality-standard, but showing some promise, if not terribly inspired. I often wonder when we're going to see the next Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave McKean, etc. - the next great stylist. Originality is not only becoming rarer, it seems less desired - either by the industry or the fans, who seem want above all else consistency and simplicity. I think we have to fight this! I think it's important that we reach, and stretch ourselves as artists, and that we educate our readers so that they grow with us. Unless comics are prepared to push themselves in a literate and artistic sense then they are not worthy of being considered 'true' art, and instead become a craft. Push yourselves people!

You might be interested to know that very few artists or writers are "discovered", becoming over-night sensations. Marvel has a full-time talent scout now. Most UK writers will have cut their teeth in 2000ad, and that's certainly the case for many artists too – even though the art in 2000ad isn't necessarily done in a US mainstream technique. If you can't get in to the industry through a break in 2000ad, or you're US based, then you have to go direct to the US editors at DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and so on. You'll most likely find one of them at a con – at which point you can sign-up for a portfolio review, endure any criticism or advice they might make about your work, and get the details you need to submit work. It's not easy, and it's fraught with disappointment – even as a pro of 27+ years, I've considered myself lucky if one in ten pitches gets off the ground! It's a lottery.

Another thing nobody tells you about the mainstream is that, as an artist, you'll almost certainly be drawing stuff you're NOT prepared for, and don't really have any desire to do or passion for. You won't generally get the book you're most suited too (I've been trying to get a Conan gig my whole career - a book I'm so clearly suited to it's unreal! - and after all this time I've still not drawn one officially.) Your portfolio – which should be mostly pencil art, half as big again as regular comic pages on high quality paper, and not inked with ball-point pens or felt tips – will be stuffed with things you LIKE drawing. Nobody practices the stuff they don't like! For example - I'm pretty good at monsters, barbarians, trees, natural landscapes, organic alien technology, and yet early on in my career I found myself struggling to draw strips packed full of things I'm not so good at - such as cars, house interiors, buildings... all things I find uninspiring and tough to work out. And it's not fun for me doing that work, even when it's on a great book like The Hulk! So be warned!

Your other alternative is the indie route, which is the route for committed auteurs doing print comics for the love of it. This is much more flexible, though you still have to find a company that fits your vision and buys into your work – and you absolutely will not make any money out of it 99.9% of the time as the rates will be tiny and there will rarely be any royalties.

If you can't find a publisher, you might as well just go ahead and publish it yourself:

HERE's where it gets interesting! Madefire have created a set of tools that will allow deviants to make Motion Books and publish them right here on dA. They don't have to be as complex as the ones that have been showcased so far, but that's up to you, the creator. The tool is in the cloud, so writers and artists can talk to each other real-time as the pages are built - even if they are on opposite sides of the world. There's already a creative revolution going on here, with all of us becoming patrons of the arts, patrons of each other. With the tool going live very soon this could literally change the face of publishing with whole new mediums evolving, and incredible new ways of telling stories being pioneered by deviants. It's INCREDIBLY exciting, and I'm personally putting all my new work up here because I believe it's in this digital first world that the new myths of the 21st Century will be written.…

However, if you STILL really want to go down the self-publishing print or indie route, then again you need to be very honest with yourself, and you need to know how unbelievably hard it is to get your stuff seen and sold right now. It has never been so easy to create comics and produce printable files, it has never been so cheap, and subsequently neither have there been so many people doing it.

With the advent of platforms like MySpace and reality TV, Andy Warhol's assertion that everybody will be famous for 15 minutes seems to be coming true. We're seeing everybody selling themselves everywhere – often with absolutely nothing to sell BUT themselves. That's what you're up against – everybody else selling something. So you have to have a good idea WHO is likely to buy it, and why, and where you're going to sell it to them. You've also got to know why you're doing it – because if you honestly think it'll be a good business venture you're almost certainly in for a shock. The only way to succeed as an independent is to do it for nothing else than the love of the medium, and belief in your product.

But then again - you MIGHT get lucky!

Also, be sure you really know what it is that you have. You'll need a pretty accomplished and experienced eye casting over most work to genuinely know if it's pro-quality. There's an awful lot of self-delusion in the indie publishing world!

At cons you'll need funds for tables, hotel rooms, etc, and you'll most likely not cover your costs with sales. If you get a distribution deal, you'll be in the long shadow cast by the big companies, buried in a dark corner of a vast monthly catalogue.

If you have no marketing budget, then your only option is message boards, MySpace, indie-driven comic sites, and by getting hold of a list of internet comics news sites – they're available, you just have to find them.

If you have created your own book, and your dream is to see it printed, but you have literally no funds, and nobody is willing to publish it, there are other great options, such as the afore mentioned Lulu Here you can upload your entire book having placed it into one of the templates they provide, and you can then order a printed, bound copy direct from them for the price you set for it. Print on demand is an incredible innovation, and like Amazon, they will list your book for anybody to buy, they'll even generate an isbn number and barcode, and provide editorial services if you wish. This is completely free, and they will take a small percentage of any book sold. The downside is you have no stock you can sell and show at cons, (unless you order a bunch as samples, but they will cost you the full price,) and you have to find a way to market them sight-unseen online – which is bloody hard if nobody has heard of you, and not easy even when they have!

If you accept all of this, I can promise you – there's nothing more rewarding than seeing it through. It's amazingly satisfying and cathartic.

The biggest issue of all concerning new publishers, indie publishers, and publishers of niche material in general, is promotion, distribution, and printing.

Securing a distributor in the first place can prove extremely difficult. Many book buyers simply won't take you seriously. Some require you to have published 10 books before they will even take a look at your material.

But lets say you get a deal with a distributor; immediately you'll be losing 62% of your revenue – and that's excluding advertising and printing costs. To get seen in the catalogue will cost you an arm and a leg if it's going to compete, and there will be no concessions in the price. Big companies receive huge discounts for advertising space because they buy so much of it. You, on the other hand, will have to pay the going rate.

You will also have to pay top dollar for your printing, as – unlike the big companies who get good deals for huge print runs – you'll most likely be involved in one generally tiny print run.

Promotion is an endless cycle of head-scratching and frustration, and it often doesn't seem to be reflected in sales. You can win awards, receive great reviews and endorsements, even get yourself in national – or even international – papers and magazines, and you still won't be able to get decent orders, the trust and faith of the retailer, and the full backing of the distributor. It's the most talked about subject of any indie comic publisher, and it can break hearts and bank accounts. Be warned!

If you really want to hear it as it is, you have to network within the industry – and be prepared to listen! It's a tiny business, so you really DON'T want to make enemies!!! THAT MEANS - BE CIVIL!!! Do not, on any account, force yourself into conversations, or make demands on pros. DO NOT BE RUDE OR SUGGEST YOU KNOW BETTER. A bad rep, once it gets hold, is near impossible to shake, and in such a navel-gazing industry it can be remembered for a very long time indeed. Look long and hard before asking a question, but if you do, you'll find there are a lot of people willing to give you answers and fill you in on how things work. Again, civility is the key-word!

If you think you know it all you'll be laughed out of the industry…

If you can build up a good rapport online, you'll find that pros are more open to you at cons, once they've established who you are - don't hide behind online pseudonyms, they don't help you. People want to know they're talking to real people, not "Frag Gor the Battle Rat"! There's a lot of vitriol being spawned because people hiding behind their avatars feel they can say what they please - and creators feelings and emotions are seldom spared!

Having said all this, something inside me drives me to continue. I love what we do, and I love art and the written word, comics and illustration realated material in all it's forms. Few art-forms are so labour intensive - if any - but few can transport us so readily to the places we imagine. Comics have the potential to be pretty much anything, as a fusion of words and pictures, and the more people who see and understand this the better. It's important we learn to be broad-minded in the things we're interested in, both as creators and readers, so that this evolution in the art-form can take place.

We're in a time where the whole medium could really explode, but only if we let it - and that's something we're all a part of and responsible for.

Very best,


NOTE: Historically, most of what I've outlined above I found out when I formed Mam Tor Publishing in 2005, and across my career in general. The first book Mam Tor produced was really a glorified convention sketchbook. These had become the thing to do for San Diego Comicon, and every artist had a pulpy black and white A5 booklet with a colour photocopy cover, that progressed to an A4 book with a card stock cover the following year. By the time I did mine, which ended up being "Sharpenings: the Art of Liam Sharp", we found it could be on glossy paper, with a colour section and cardstock cover. It had become - almost by accident - a real book. At around the time we were printing this, which was also a fallow work period for me (another reason for producing a showcase title) I met a group of highly talented artists at the Bristol Comic Expo – Dave Kendall, Kev Crossley, Emma Simcock-Tooth and Emily Hare, to name a few. We had met on my old message board, but it was the first time we had come together face to face. John Bamber (old friend, and long-time art collector) and myself simultaneously – and entirely separately – came up with the notion of an anthology showcasing their work. When we discovered this it became obvious we should unite our efforts, and put it out under the MamTor banner, as we had my artbook. I thought it might help to get some pros involved, and started asking around to see if anybody had any personal work they'd like to see in print. Some had, but as it turns out, most creators are desperate for a chance to do something for the hell of it, and without the usual editorial constraints. Our Mam Tor anthology "Event Horizon" slowly gave birth to itself!
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Scarlet-Wings-Kaili Featured By Owner Jan 15, 2014  Student
Thank you for taking the time to do this. I am so glad I found this.
Oh man, the future seems like a very scary thing lol. 
Usually what people ask after they have established that I want to go into art, they ask me what area of art. Although I'm open to all fields of art (other than sculpting because gravity does not like to work with me), what I really want to do is comics. Ever since I was a little kid, I loved stories, and between text and art, comics are like the perfect in-between. 
Of course there that thing called the future. I don't mind not having the most expensive phone or the newest clothes, but I'm not a fan of starving. So I guess that's a source of anxiety for me. 
I am prepared for hard-work though; I'm no stranger to it.  My mom says I'm crazy for working so hard, but I feel even though I have my whole life (minus 18 years :P) ahead of me, I won't have another chance where there will be so much people who can support me. So far this school year I've finished two comics, a 180 -187? paged one and a 14 paged one, so I know I can handle the work-load, but what is really hard for me to grasp is the promotion part. 
I am not a very talkative person and I usually don't know how to introduce myself. I really know don't know much about the industry other than it's very hard to get into and I might be doomed (but that's not going to stop me :evillaugh: ) so thank you again for giving me your perspective. 
My teachers, parents and friends think I'll be alright, but I know I'm not even close to being great. I can only push myself to get better. I think it's better to prepare for the worst, but aim for to be best I can be. 
So I do have some questions but if you are too busy, please don't feel that you have to answer them. 
1) Do you think the country I live in matters if I want to become a comic artist? (currently live in Canada)
2)Because of this is the internet age, would it be better to promote one on the internet, or through more traditional methods?
3)It's probably wise for me to start with small projects (because I am still in school) but what are good ways to start to get into the comic world? I know I'm not good enough to approach a publisher yet so is it better to try to get a fan-base first? 
Anyways, I'll stop with the questions now. Thank you for you're time ^-^
LiamSharp Featured By Owner Jun 19, 2014  Professional Artist
So sorry I missed your reply!
Very impressed by your commitment - 187 pages? Wow! That's a big step, and shows you can be dedicated.
Work hard, keep your eyes open. it's a shit-fight, honestly. Very tough to sustain a life as an artist for anybody, and that's the harsh truth. That said, if you keep fighting, keep learning, be open, be bold, be polite, and deliver on time, it can be the most rewarding of lives too. There's no quick fix, no easy answer, no clever techniques. There's no right or wrong, and sometimes the best people go unseen. You simply have to keep doing it, and strive for that lucky break - and luck WILL play a part, along with the sweat and tears. Good luck! And think about publishing on dA too. Look at people like Yuumei who has become very successful right out of this very space...
Take care!
Scarlet-Wings-Kaili Featured By Owner Jun 22, 2014  Student
I'm happy to receive a reply! Thank you for taking the time to reply. I will keep your advice in mind as I continue on my artistic journey. 

The one thing I don't doubt about myself is my ability to work hard ^-^ so hopefully, it will work out ok
LiamSharp Featured By Owner Jun 23, 2014  Professional Artist
That's half the battle won! :-)

I Got Angry Pt.3 just went up... hope it's ALSO of use!
Scarlet-Wings-Kaili Featured By Owner Jun 23, 2014  Student
yay~ Thank you! Emoji04  
I'll read it as soon as I get some time (and sleep!)
therichdarkawir Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2013  Professional General Artist
 I saw a post on a friend of a friends page. Hes an illustrator and as is all too familiar is struggling for paid work, he'd worked out that he would be much better paid stacking shelves for asda or working at a petrol station. This rings true for me too. Ive recently returned to drawing comics as its what Ive loved for more years than i care to remember. Ive met some really great people in the last few months who are involved in the small press scene and along with these lovely people and some older friends some of whom are very respected artists themselves, have received a great amount of support and encouragement which im immensely grateful for. It really is a huge struggle though financially, to do the work i have to allow time for it and that means not earning, which means falling into debt and the resulting stress and depression this makes you feel. When I set up my deviant art page a little while ago I found that Liam Sharp had cut a deal with them for his motion comic company Madfire and while looking at their stuff I found that Liam had posted a great deal of advice on working in comics. I only met Liam a couple of times many years ago when working at marvel uk but he seems a very nice chap, very genuine and some of the things hes written about himself on here are very familiar to me too so I take what he says seriously. After reading what he says about the reality of working in the comic industry and how hard it actually is I have to say I feel totally despondant now. My brother Steve often said the same things to me over the years too. Im currently working on around 5 scripts, a couple of which will maybe pay a small amount, I stopped working as a graphic artist years ago as i was sick of designing advertising, making lies look attractive leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but after around 30 years of working as an artist/illustrator/graphic artist Im being told that basically I have a snowballs chance in hell of making a living doing comics. Ive gotta say its really demoralising, I mean I dont want to be an astronaut or world leader, I just want to draw pictures and work in what I think is a wonderful medium. I dont care if it takes 100s of hours, that i may have to work all day/night. But can i get enough work to live on? seems the answer everyone is giving me is - you'll be lucky. I cant help but think/feel that the industry should be looking after its creatives a little more. Isnt there some middle ground to be had? something between £300 a page if you make it and maybe £5 a page. This sounds like im just thinking of myself but im not, there are literally 1000s of really talented creatives out there who are in the same boat. Steve struggled for years doing this, living in shithole flats with nothing to eat as he spent hours beautifully colouring and drawing comics. Friends of his have said to me that he chose to play to a smaller audience, but he didnt have any choice at all. When I look at his work now im amazed that it was like this for him, and if it was that bad for him what chance do i have realistically? As I said before im very grateful for the encouragement and new small publishers like Borderline press who profit share with their creatives are really great. Drawing comics is one of the hardest and most skilled illustration jobs you can do, why do artists have to struggle this much? Rant over, im going to draw now......
LiamSharp Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2013  Professional Artist
Sorry to make you feel despondent... :-(
It is hard, but as I said - it can be rewarding.
The biggest problem really is that there isn't a big enough paying audience. The world wants it's cake and to eat it, and so much is now free. If you can find an audience then you can make it - but we're not inherently sales people. 
Wishing you every success!
therichdarkawir Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2013  Professional General Artist
thanks for the reply Liam, you didnt make me feel despondant, its the whole situation. I think you give good advice. As for the audience size, im not sure I understand it yet, there seems to be much more interest in comics than in the 80s and 90s. Comic books into movies has become widespread and of course the digital revolution has opened doors to new audiences making great opportunity for new approaches such as your motion comics or Davids Aces online book, panel 9 etc. Seems nowadays its become really cool to read comics (hooray!) with graphic novels springing up into mainstream so now its a familiar term to everyone ( 1980s - "graphic what?" ). So comics seem to have come of age for us in the west, though I think in Europe they have been for a long time. But I still hear the same things being said that I heard in the 90s regarding working as a comic artist.
Another thing that has drastically changed is printing and I was amazed to find what was now coming out of the small press scene at Bristol Expo this year. Digital print means you can produce your own book in small or large print runs very economically. No films or plates or expensive colour proofs. I was quite blown away by this change and at the quality of production. Everyone seemed to say the same thing though - distribution. This is a major hiccup still, seems to have a stranglehold on success, doesnt matter if you make a beautiful book if no one can buy it in the shops and it has no promotion. So the small press travel from con to con promoting and selling their books to a specialist crowd. I sound negative I know but I really am impressed with the small press scene, what they make and how they sell it, some really impressive talent and motivation. Im very grateful for the encouragement Ive had from them this year too. Perhaps Im just unrealistic, years of reading fantasy? I shall plod on with it anyway, Im drawing again now after avoiding it for a long time and I enjoy it (torture at times too) but it has its own reward. David LLoyd said to me a while back " why bother with print?" and maybe this is something I should consider. Im still restarting my engine and banging it back into shape, the small press seems to be a great place to do that and since I started networking with them a few months ago Ive had around 4000 views on my flickr scribbles so theres movement. Would be nice to earn some cash too along the way, time will tell. Thanks again and best of luck with Madefire, its great stuff. Look forward to the deviant app - rich
LiamSharp Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2013  Professional Artist
Cheers Rich.

I know, it's nuts - but there are also now more creators than ever looking for an audience. Put it this way - I put a digital print on demand book out that contained the best work from my 27 years as a working artist. I blogged it, tweeted it, had it reviewed, told everybody about it. And I ordered copies myself - it looked lovely. It had comments by Dave Gibbons, Kevin Eastman, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Jim Lee, Glenn Fabry, and more. You know how many people bought a copy?


I'm not joking. I sold 18 copies. At least fifty people told me they bought it, but they didn't. THAT's what we're up against. 

Why it sold so poorly? I have no idea. I was very sad about it - that that was the best I could get! But that's exactly the point - I'm not a marketeer. It's why I've tried to help people with their expectations in advance, so they can see what's coming and face into it - be prepared, do their research. Don't make the same mistakes I made.

But again - I STILL love comics, and my years of toil are finally bearing some fruit - though even now I'd love more people to read Captain Stone is Missing… :-)

Take care, and again - very best!

Yuuza Featured By Owner Sep 27, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
hey, there's one subject that you didn't cover and i think it's a very important one considering that a huge chunk of dA users are not from America. Is it possible to get published or collaborate with someone or break into the industry if you don't live in the US? Sure, we live in a digital era and things such as drawings, scripts etc. can be sent by email, but is it actually done?
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