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 www.lulu.com. 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.
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!