Comic books are a vibrant part of our modern mythology.
For almost 100 years we’ve been following the exploits of thousands upon thousands of fantastic characters. From the adventures of ageless super heroes like Spider-man, Batman, or Wonder Woman, to recent graphic novels like the autobiographical Persepolis, comic books and comic book culture permeate every segment of society.
This is good new for anyone who wants to make comics, because there are always new stories to tell and plenty of readers to read them.
Self-publish or try for a job with the top comic book publishers?
Is self-publishing your comic book a good idea, or is that a waste of time if your goal is a spot at Marvel or D.C.?
The truth is, almost no comic book creators start out working in the industry on a top title at Marvel or DC Comics.
The top publishers have the luxury of hiring talented artists and writers after they have already proven themselves, and that means you have a better chance of working for a major publisher if you already have a finished book or two to show them.
From a business standpoint, it makes sense. Taking a chance on an relatively unknown creative who has shown the ability to take a project from start to finish is a lot less risky than hiring someone with a portfolio full of individual drawings.
It’s kind of like sports. The NBA and NHL scout out the best talent available at colleges and minor league teams. Marvel and DC can choose who they want to work with by ‘mining’ the books of smaller publishers.
Creative freedom to fit styles, techniques, and pacing to your story
Producing your own comics allows you to test out styles, techniques and pacing. The large companies often have in-house styles that must be followed. There’s less room for creative freedom when you’re writing for or drawing an established character, especially when that character might at some point interact with the larger story universe.
Self-publishing your comic book allows you to work freely to the needs of your story, without the pressure to match a ‘house style’ of storytelling or visuals.
This can be important, especially if your work pushes boundaries. A larger publisher may not be willing to risk resources on experimental work, but self-publishing gives you an opportunity to show that readers can appreciate something new.
If you don’t fit the old mold, make a new one
Some stories just won’t work within the framework of long-established characters, and some creatives don’t fit into the existing industry framework.
To the business side of comics, all that matters is readers handing over money to read comic books, so the big publishers go with what’s proven and safe. For some creatives, that works. They love working on familiar characters and stories.
For others, ‘safe’ is the antithesis of why they do what they do.
Want to maintain full control over your characters? Self-publish your comic book
Creative control is the most important element of all for some of us. Having the freedom to tell our stories the way we want to tell them is the whole reason we do this.
If you hit on a successful idea and follow through with publishing, not only do you get to guide your characters through a comic book series for as long as you keep coming up with good stories, you may also get some licensing opportunities. That means merchandise, which can add a lucrative revenue stream that will let you devote even more of your resources to creating your vision.
Where there’s an upside, there’s a downside
As a self-publisher, all the creative control stays in your hands. But so do all the responsibilities. And the statistics are not in your favor. Fewer than one in a hundred self-published titles continue beyond a single issue.
…one thing the big publishers never forget, and the element most often forgotten by artists and writers.
That’s not necessarily because they’re bad comics, although it’s sometimes the case. There’s one primary reason for failure.
It’s the one thing the big publishers never forget, and the element most often forgotten by artists and writers. The comics business is a business, and that means if you want success, you need a plan.
Beyond the work that’s necessary to write, draw, and produce a comic book you have to have a plan in place to make sure that boxes of your comic book don’t sit in your basement for years after they are printed. Formulating a business plan to pay for, market, and distribute your books is every bit as important as producing a great book. Successful self-publishing requires a commitment to learning all the aspects of the comic book business.
The hybrid publishing model
To maintain creative control but have someone else handle the publishing end, some creators turn to companies that publish creator-owned properties. This is an option, but it doesn’t always simplify things as much as some creators believe. Before you sign on, closely check out the structure of the deal and make sure every aspect of the contract suits your needs.
Many comic book creators believe that publishing houses that work with ‘creator-owned’ properties cover all expenses and incur all the financial risks if the project isn’t successful. This is not the case. Creators normally have to front much, or all, of the production expenses to complete the project, and in some cases are responsible to cover up-front printing and shipping costs as well.
Is self-publishing worth it?
That’s a question I can only answer for myself. I get a lot of satisfaction and sense of accomplishment from publishing my own books. I’ve had some experience with large publishers, and have been offered more, but I just don’t enjoy that experience as much creatively.
For me, publishing my own work outweighs having to do the parts of the process I don’t like. And I’ve been able to partner with people who enjoy doing some of the things I don’t.
This is a good point to keep in mind. Although you should understand how everything works, you don’t necessarily have to do every step yourself. Finding good partners to work with can make the whole experience more rewarding and less difficult.
Self-publishing your comic book may be a stepping stone to working for a major comic book publisher, or you may end up becoming a major publisher yourself. After all, even today’s largest comic companies began out of tiny studios with big ideas.