Saturday, 19 December 2015

Asking A Lot

Been thinking a lot recently about whether or not to crowd fund my projects going forward.

Are we stuck asking the same group of people again and again to give again and again?

I'm not sure about the crowd building success I've had with my projects, never sat down to look at the backers across two Kickstarter campaigns, and see which percentages are repeat backers, which are new, and what percentage of backers from the first campaign fell off from the second.

But ultimately, I've been thinking a lot about comic work this year anyway. Hero Code has become something I do for my own personal pleasure, if people read it, that's great, but I'm doing it for me, and so is it right for me to ask others to pay?

I have wishes for the series, I wish I could put books out quicker. I wish I could be sure that the story I want to tell will be told across a bunch of issues, and that the people who work with me on it are getting something out of it too.

But I'm not trying to build an empire, break into publishing, become a full time comic writer with these books, I'm just trying to tell a story that I enjoy telling.

I still think Kickstarter and the other crowd funding services available are great, I'm just not sure if I want to do more of them.

What do you guys think?

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Hero Code - Lucky 7

Work has begun on Hero Code issue 7

Hero Code issue 7 page 2 - art by David Brame
Coloring is due on issues four and five for the series, which will see the completion of the first arc, The Menace of the Mannequin.

David Brame will be taking over the art duties for the series. He provided art for issue 6 (which was published as issue 2 for a short while, a stand alone story that we put out while waiting for art on what is now issue 2 - hopefully not too confusing!).

David Brame's cover to now issue 6


The first arc is very much an introductory story, hopefully leaving enough questions for readers to want to continue. The pacing on the next batch of stories will be different, and we will see more characters introduced.

The series has been hit by delays, some unforeseen (changing artists after delays), some the usual fare for self published work (day jobs, other priorities and commitments).

I'm hoping to have a little more stability and regularity in 2016 - we have issues 4 and 5 to come (as well as seeing 6 being released on ComiXology) and the 3 issues of the Theatre of War mini-series to come.

Hero Code Theatre of War issue 1 cover, art by Gary Lister
Even just getting these five books out in a year would be an improvement on previous years publishing records - so working on future books, and hoping to get at least two more issues in the bag would be quite a leap.

I've also been reworking scripts and folding in other story lines to the series, to make the whole thing hopefully move along smoother.

As always with self publishing, we are in the hands of other fates, but fingers crossed, there will be a lot more MPS stuff coming in the future.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Kickstarting a Single Book (With a Series in Mind)

Issue 4 of The Hero Code is about to begin the coloring stage of production.

Which means that we're a step closer to finishing the first arc of the series, and a step closer to a planned Kickstarter for the collected edition.

This is the first collection of what I'm hoping to be several more, which raises an interesting issue - whatever I end up making the book into now (in terms of design, size, cover, cost) will hopefully be a design that works for a series of books.

So, although on paper I am looking to produce a single book, I am actually establishing the look of the series.

Two thoughts have come up with regards to this process.

Ken Epstein of Nix Comics raised an interesting point, and one which got me thinking - with stretch goals (I know, I'm getting way ahead of myself here) books can sometimes change - becoming bigger, become hard covers - from what was originally pitched as part of the campaign. This might work for a stand alone book, but for something which is going to establish a look, it could prove problematic.

The other point is an ongoing series of posts by Justin Jordan about the price points of books, and what people are willing to pay for a book - often dictated by the physical attributes of the book itself, sometimes over content.

The Hero Code: Menace of the Mannequin (volume one of the series) will be around 140pp, full color. I have two ideas as to what size I would like the book to be - standard comic book size (6.625x10.25) or a smaller 6x9 size.

Using the standard page and cover weights on these two sizes (12pt cover and 70lb gloss interior pages), and looking at a print run of 500 books, the two print costs for these two print runs would be as follows:

Standard: $4066.03 (around $8.13 a book)
6x9: $2396.35 (around $4.80 a book)

Quite a difference, as you can see. However the price point for these two books is quite different - one could comfortable charge $15-$20 for the stand size book, but would probably be looking at $10-$12 for the smaller size.

I tend to use a model of giving a slight discount or "free shipping" on reward points for Kickstarter rewards. So taking the higher price points of the two books, and using just the physical books to make the goal on a Kickstarter covering just printing costs, you would need to get around 204 backers for the bigger book, 200 for the smaller book.

So that leaves around 300 copies for future sale - seeing a return of around $3561 on the larger books and $2160 (neither of which will cover reprint costs on a future run if the book does sell out - the costs for 1k print runs isn't much more than 500, and offers greater opportunities for return and reinvestment, and 2k print runs seem to be the really sweet spot.)

There isn't much difference between the two numbers of backers needed to make the project happen, even though the costs are very different.

Now, looking at the same books but with hardcovers;

Standard: $4942.28
6x9: $3261.39

You could probably charge more for hardcover versions of both books, although would the rise in cover costs be enough to justice the increase in costs to produce?

Having a stretch goal to make the book a hardcover would work for sure, but then would I be reliant on having to meet the stretch goals on future Kickstarters to make the book uniform, or have future Kickstarters be at a higher goal amount to keep the books the same?

It should be noted here that stretch goals don't always mean that the book itself will change dramatically. It could be something as simple as including a collector card, a mini-print, a book mark, a button, etc - something I did with my own Black Wraith Kickstarter.

With the Black Wraith Kickstarter I was very conservative, went for a low amount, kept the rewards very simple, made it very clear. It worked well, raising more than three times the goal amount (however, see box to the right to see where I stand in terms of breaking even on that project). I would like to be less conservative with The Hero Code Kickstarter, and see if I can actually make the goal amount, but still keep the reward tiers as simple as possible.

Which makes me nervous, for sure.

The two campaigns I have so far run on Kickstarter, both have been successful. Both have had just over 100 backers.

In order to do a full Hero Code Kickstarter (that is to raise the printing, shipping, KS costs, etc) I would be looking at needing more like 300 backers.

All things to ponder on in the future - however, for now, I open the floor and ask if people have a preference to the size of the first and future volumes of The Hero Code - standard or 6x9 - leave a comment...

Monday, 14 September 2015

How Making Comics Can be Like Working in Film

I had mentioned doing a post along these lines briefly on Twitter last week, so here it is -

Working in film as a freelance sound mixer means that I have encountered jobs of a variety of budgets, levels of professionalism, genre, style, format, technique, etc etc. It also means that sometimes I encounter those words dreaded by both film technicians and comic book creators alike - jobs that are "good for exposure"

I see a lot of artists and creators who quite rightly rally against this as an idea, and I am incredibly pro people getting paid for the work that they have done. I am, after all, a member of a union.

I have, however, realized that there have been several occasions where I have taken jobs where the pay wasn't great, or even non-existant, for a number of reasons, and it got me thinking about the similarities, the differences, and why "for exposure" can often be the wrong way of thinking of these things.

One thing I would point out now is that, as a technician working in a union environment, a lot of the negotiation work has been done for me - I have benefits and wage levels set out by the union, which helps when making some decisions.

It wasn't always the case, though. In the UK, where I started, and in the world of non-union movie making, there was a lot of job to job negotiations that went on.

When I was first starting to make the move up the ranks in sound, trying to get more work and experience as a mixer, there were a few options open to me. I could do work for experience (sometimes referred to as 'copy and credit' work - that is, you don't get paid, but you do get a credit on the project, and sometimes even a copy), I could do lower budget work, or I could cold call and sit and hope and pray and wait and sit and hope and... you get the idea.

A lot of work in these areas is short (sometimes shot over weekends, or just a couple of days, or a handful of weeks at most), and they do give a great arena in which to learn ones trade.

But even short projects in film take up a lot of time. 12 hour days are pretty much the norm. Often it is a lot more.

I used to have three rules for taking on such work - especially the short movies - and they served me pretty well;

A) Was the movie being shot on film? The thinking behind this was that film was expensive, and so it lent itself a level of discipline and professionalism that many films shot digitally lacked.
B) Was the equipment being paid for? Sound equipment is not cheap. And it gets worn out when being used. Makes sense that these costs should be covered at least somewhat.
C) Did I know anyone producing/directing/working on it? It just helps to have a friendly face sometimes!

If one of the three were covered, I'd think about it. Two of the three, I'd do it if available. All three, and I'd be more than happy to do it.

With lower budget movies I would make decisions job to job, but there was of course a time when I would say yes to most things because I really needed to build my credits. However, as time went on, I was in a better position to say yes to those projects that I found interesting, or thought I would learn something from doing.

Some jobs are great for the experience, terrible for the bank balance.

I still did the job though.

Here's another rule I've always had - if you agree to do a job, have made it through the negotiations for the rates, the perimeters, the rules of the engagement, then you've agreed to do the job. No complaining about the rates, no moaning about the pay.

Here's where I think a different approach to comics would work, along the lines of film work, and were some fluidity in approach could help -

Film rates are determined by the budgets of the projects. In the union world I work in they are set within tiers, project budgets determine the rates one will be getting from job to job.

Non-union or even what are called 'tier zero' are negotiated at the point of the job, and can vary wildly.

I think some people would do well to approach comic work in the same way. Consider working on the big two company books as high end, full rate, or scale, productions. Do the work for the pay (and chances are you will get higher readership - in the same way that if I work on a big budget movie, more people will more than likely see it) and also be expected to have more asked of you.

Working on a professional publishers project for hire that is not one of the big two? Treat it like a medium budget or lower tiered movie. You won't get as much pay, you won't get as much exposure, but you'll still learn something about your craft. If it works for you, do it.

Working on an indie or self published project? Treat it like a non-union project. Negotiate a rate that works for you (even if it is free). Set the perimeters (length of time you are willing to set aside for the project). Establish the rules. Maybe even come up with a three rule system (will it be printed or digitally released? Will it cover expenses and material costs? Do I know the person I'll be working with?)

The great thing about this is that if you establish rules, you leave yourself able to walk from a project that doesn't feel right when the rules are transgressed. And, if all goes well, you still learn something about your craft.

And that's the thing here - and where I think calling it exposure isn't great - each project teaches us something new, and that is invaluable.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Hero Code - where's it at?

Art duties have finished on Hero Code for issues 1-6, with just a few production issues to wrap up issue's 4 and 5 before they are complete.

Here's a run down of where we're at, with an outline of our plans going forward -

Hero Code issue 1

Cover by Drew Johnson
Wrapped! This one was finished a while back, featuring art by Jonathan Rector, colors by series colorists Heather Breckel, and letters by Frank Cvetkovic (the first print featured lettering by Bernie Lee, but we redid the first issue for the sake of continuity as Frank took over for the series).

Available on ComiXology and Drivethru

Hero Code issue 2

cover by Agustin Calcagno
Wrapped! Agustin took over art duties on this issue (Jonathan had other commitments) and has now completed the first 5 issues.

Available on ComiXology and Drivethru

Hero Code issue 3
Agustin again!
Wrapped!

Available on ComiXology and Drivethru

Hero Code issue 4
Agustin Calcagno

Issue needs coloring and formatting - I'm hoping for a December 2015 release.

Hero Code issue 5
Agustin pays homage to the fantastic Justice League cover by Kevin Maguire 
Needs coloring and lettering - hoping for a January 2016 release.

Pretty soon after this I'll be running a Kickstarter (March?) to put the first 5 issues into a printed volume.

Hero Code issue 6
By David Brame
Wrapped! This was originally done as a stand alone story after issue 1, and was later moved to become issue 6. Features art by David Brame, and lettering by Jim Campbell. This book is up and ready to be released on ComiXology once issue 5 has been released - hopefully February 2016.

Hero Code Issue 7 and on...

Agustin will be leaving the book after issue 5 to pursue other commitments (I'm going to miss him!) and David will be taking over art duties on the series. Issue 7 sees the start of a 2 part story line. Brother's Keeper, headlining the Black Wraith on the search for his brother's killers, and then we will have 2 more stand alone stories before returning to the adventures of Optiman, Myth and The Black Wraith for a six issue run which takes us to the end of the first chapter in the series.

Hopefully issue 7 will be ready for lettering and coloring some time in January, for an April 2016 release.

And what about Hero Code Theatre of War?

Theatre of War - Prologue issue
Art by Agustin!
Wrapped! This prologue issue features art by Agustin, with the regular gang of Hero Code collaborators, and takes place during the second world war in our Hero Code universe.

Available on ComiXology and Drive-thru

Hero Code Theatre of War issue 1
Cover by story artist Gary Lister
Needs coloring - I'm hoping to get this one finished in December for a January 2016 release.

Hero Code Theatre of War issue 2
Lister again!
Needs coloring - hoping to get this one done in February 2016 for a March/April release.

Hero Code Theatre of War issue 3
More Lister!
Needs coloring - hoping to get this one done March 2016 for a May/June release.

Once this is done I'll be running a second Kickstarter (August?) to put this mini series (the 3 issues by Gary Lister, and the prologue by Agustin Calcagno) into print.

By this stage I am hoping that issue 8 of the ongoing series will be finished, and ready for color and lettering.

Amongst this I'll also be trying to find a time when Andrew MacLean and our starts align to get working on Department O issue 3 - which will complete that series (another Kickstarter? Perhaps in 2017?)

So we have;

Hero Code 1 - done
Hero Code 2 - done
Hero Code 3 - done
Hero Code Theatre of War Prologue - done
Hero Code 4 - December?
Hero Code 5 - January?
Hero Code Theatre of War 1 - January?
Hero Code 6 - February
Kickstarter for Hero Code 'Menace of the Mannequin' (1-5)? March?
Hero Code Theatre of War 2 - March?
Hero Code 7 - April?
Hero Code Theatre of War 3 - May?
Kickstarter for Hero Code 'Theatre of War'? August?
Hero Code 8 - August?

All dates are of course subject to change, but here's hoping we can get this stuff done. Once I have some complete collected editions of the series I'll be looking to go to some more shows and conventions.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Year of the Indie - Part Three, Apocalyptigirl

Full disclosure, I have a huge art crush on Andrew MacLean, and have had one for years. So with that in mind, this is less a review, and more a case of me promoting a book which I think you should all own. Seriously. Buy this book. You won't be disappointed.




Andrew's art has been growing and improving over the years that he has been working on self-published books for other writers (including my own Department O), and his story telling has really come to life with his own self-published series, Headlopper.




This book, a contained original graphic novel, continues his growth as a story teller, includes some incredible art and design work, and looks fantastic as a physical package (again, seriously, buy this book - the physical copy - it's so well put together!).




It's a great book by a truly great artist becoming one of the best graphic story tellers around.




Did I mention that I think you should buy this book?

Available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, various comic book stores...

I will be running a contest in December, a chance for someone to win all of the 12 books reviewed in the Year of the Indie series of reviews. Stay tuned for details!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Department O 3 and beyond

Along with Hero Code Theatre of War being finished (interior art) I am currently receiving the pages to complete issue 5 of The Hero Code: Menace of the Mannequin.

This leaves Department O.

Unused Department O cover, art by Andrew MacLean
The final script for issue 3, which wraps up the first story, The Body Politic, is finished. It runs at 35 pages, which will make the whole story run at 80 pages when done, with the book being closer to 96-100 pages when done with added mater.

There are two barriers that stand between us starting and finishing the book, which are money and time - namely finding a moment when Andrew is available to work on the story.

I am striving to focus on this series and really push to get it finished, so once the art for MotM is complete (and, based on how fast Agustin can work, it will not be ver long at all!) I will put that book aside to get to work on Department O.

This will leave both Hero Code series waiting coloring and some lettering, but I think pushing to get Department O done will be worth it.

My plan still remains to complete each series and then run small Kickstarter's to do print runs for the completed books. I will still be looking to publish in 6x9 and start with funding for 1000 copies, pushing to 2000 as push goals during the campaigns (the bump in cost to print 1k and 2k copies is actually so slight, that it wouldn't take much of a push to get there).

Once the first KS is complete, I can focus on finishing up Hero Code and Hero Code Theatre of War (running KS's for each of them) before getting back to work on the Black Wraith book.

ETA: If any artist friends out there want to provide fan art for Department O, please let us know, thank you!