01-SEP-2011 Talking about the cost required to make a comic, especially a grassroots independent comic, is like hitting a hot button. The article “Making your own comic book?” at the GeekOut blog of CNN.com may be slightly skewed in favor of artists depending on how you read it. What if you’re the writer? Consider this my manifesto in frustration and doubt about breaking into comics.
If you’re the person with the story idea, it seems the burden is all on you. My issue with this is not that one person becomes a “producer” of the entire vision, but that artists seem to globally complain that they are only pencil monkeys. I’m in a workshop every month live and daily on message boards where we discuss some kind of pot o’ gold at the end of the writing rainbow. This pot o’ gold is called COLLABORATION. This means that no one makes a dime up front and in some cases, the production costs of printing, web hosting, and advertising are split. Writers are told that if an artist, new or seasoned, believes in a project, he’ll put his work into it and ride the wave with you hoping there’s a payday at the end. But is this really true?
I model at the Joe Kubert School and the instructors tell the students they should never work for free. Never. These are students on the tail end of a rigorous three-year program. They are talented and worn out by the end of the term. They need some reality though. It’s rare to come out of graduation from art school with a DC Comics deal. It happens but it’s rare. I know of ONE student in the graduates of 2011 who got such a deal (sidenote: it was a girl! zomg! /sarcasm). Meanwhile what are the rest doing? Are they refusing potential comic work because they’re “too good” to be part of a collaboration?
Aren’t all parties’ talents worth something, including the writer? I snagged the Wachter quote because he’s in my Top Five of favorite comic artists. In fact, he’s number two behind Francesco Francavilla. However, Wachter does NOT get paid for his webcomic because he’s the co-creator and has a passionate vested interest in it. So is it only possible to find an artist to work collaboratively if you’re your own artist?
The CNN article does an okay job of breaking down the process of making a comic at a high level. You have the artist, the letterer and the printing and distribution. What you have to see further is that “the artist” can be three people: the penciller, the inker, the letterer and the color artist. But wait… there’s the graphic designer who you need to make your cover look professional and the inside front cover where all the pertinent information like credits (ie, the names of all the talent) and copyright necessities are printed. Someone has to make that presentable. Now you’re up to a writer plus FIVE artists plus the printing and distribution.
Then we get to the problem of Diamond and the minimum that’s required to get your comic into comic shops. At this point, unless you have a big name attached to your project, it’s a pipe dream to get into Diamond. If you’re very fortunate, you may drive up enough interest to get your first issue in but staying in the game knowing there’s always issue two drop-off is like wishing for all the stars to align.
The answer, I’m told, is take it to the web. Make webcomics! Sure, that’s a piece of cake. Wait… don’t the artists still want to be paid? I’m confused. When does it become possible to make a comic?
My friend Dirk Manning, creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD, insists it is possible. He followed the formula: webcomic + endless PR + tons of money for cons = landing at Image Comics under the Shadowline imprint. Manning says there’s no reason to avoid offering your comic for free online. You can’t expect a consumer to buy something if they can’t look at it first.
For of us “just writers” I guess we’re in this together. I hope so. I think the sandbox has enough room for all of us.