Monday, 5 September 2011

Free, or as close to free as possible

The best way to break into comics is to make them.

This frustrating advice is actually very good, and I've been meaning to add my own layer of opinion to the advice for some time.

For any budding creator I would say the first and foremost important thing to do is plan. Plan everything. There are small aspects of storytelling in comic books, such as having big reveals on even numbered pages (so that they appear on the left as you turn a page), panel placements and so on which need to be taken into account. You should also take into account the physical aspects of printing a book - that it will be printed in "batches" of four - a single sheet folded, so you should try to match your page count to this ration (4,8,12,16,20,24 etc)

Luckily, in this age of open communication, there is always someone who has gone ahead of you and can offer you a quick and easy guide to help along the way.

My guide is titled "How to make a comic for free, or as close to free as possible".

If you are a writer/artist, congratulations, you are on you way. If, however, like me, you cannot draw for toffee, then be prepared to pay someone to work with you. There are any number of message boards and social networking ways of getting in contact with artists, so use them.

If you are paying an artist, get a budget together - how many pages, how much per page (planning!). Contact artists you like and ask them what their page rate is. If it is above your budget, you can either ask if they will work for less (asking doesn't hurt - but be prepared for a no answer, and accept it).

Personally, I avoid back end deals or any other methods of payment than straight page rate payment. I find the process runs smoother this way.

I would also recommend producing a black and white book if this is your first book. For several reasons - cost, time, cost, post-production and reproduction learning curves, cost... did I mention cost? Cost to produce a color book can double the budget, and cost to print/reproduce seriously cuts into your profit margin.

You are an indie creator, so take advantage of the fact.

I would recommend setting up a account and linking yourself and the artist to the account. As a means of passing back pages and work quickly, it is fantastic. Set up a folder for the title, and within that a folder for "low res art" "high res art" "finished art".

Make sure that you are working towards an agreed upon spec for the pages - I would use Ka-Blam's template as a good basis for a comic page (also, more on Ka-Blam later). You want a high enough res, and a standard enough page so that printing in the future is consistent.

Once you have pages coming in, I would recommend setting up a website for the project. I would suggest Blogger, but any free web-journal service will do. People will not care that you have "bloggspot" or "wordpress" in your URL, but they will want a single place to be directed to. Blog's are invaluable for keeping people informed, promoting a title, and generally providing a single stop for announcements. If you want, you can pay out that little bit extra (around $10 with Blogger) to personalize your URL.

I would also set up a gmail account for the project, linking the blog and email together.

If you really want, you can use a web-journal as a webcomic site - without having to install any plugins or pay any extras. If you can, set your journal to show one entry per page, and post an image (the page) as that entry. You can even set it so that it shows the oldest entry first, so that the first page is the main page.

To keep the image storage as low as possible, use a program like Graphic Convertor to create a low-res image (72dpi is often enough for computer images) to use as the web-comic page.

Now you have your comic, your site. Social networking helps to promote the title - sites such as Twitter really help in getting readers to visit the site and see the work.

If you want to print the book, there are two methods I would recommend:

Using a Print on Demand service such as the aforementioned Ka-Blam. If you want a site to print low-runs of your books, I think Ka-Blam are excellent. They also offer a web-store (IndyPlanet) which provides another point of sale for your title. Things to note - remember to factor in print time and shipping costs to your books, and also cost-per-issue will be higher than if you do a big print run, but you will have control over numbers if you use a POD service.

Self-printing. Using a decent home printer or even a service like Kinkos to put together an ash-can of your book is a good idea of you want to keep production quicker and closer to home.

So, now you have your website and your book. How do you go about selling it?

You can set up a "buy now" button on your website, linking to PayPal and having a simple shopping cart service, allowing people to purchase direct from you. Alternatively you could use a service like BigCartel, which helps you to create a shop-page, and link to this as a page on your website.

Digital is also a big (and free) means of getting your book available and out there. I use two services - Drivethru and Graphicly, and both have been very good for me.

I think indie creators really need to use conventions as a means to get their book out to new readers. This often means moving away from the free model. Cost of a table, gas, food and lodging etc can really eat into your budget.

I would recommend starting small. As small as possible.

Start locally, to cut down on travel costs. Get an artist alley table, and see if you can share with another creator to help keep costs down.

Keep it all as simple as possible - you are there to promote your book, so try to make your table all about your book.

If you can draw, I would highly recommend offering sketch editions of your book - it personalizes the book for the reader, and helps make a little more money for you.

This method may not work for everyone, but hopefully if gives you some ideas.


JamesPeach said...

You should edit to point out that Kablam prints in schedules, meaning in fours. That includes the cover. The importance of knowing that in planning a book is so that creators do not try to go to print with only eleven pages of content, as I did. Making such a mistake affects the financing of the comic, because you may have to pay for more art at the last second to fill out the rest of the pages.

Benny the Ball said...

Good point. WIll do that.

I'm probably going to edit this down and put it into a small 'zine, so will be sure to make more of the planning side of things and digital art programs then.