Bissette Bytes Digital Dave!

The Conversation Continues, With a Detour To Ponder Digital Comics Futures & Distribution Woes

* I’ll be taking a couple of detours in today’s and tomorrow’s conversation, to get into some of what I’ve been bouncing back-and-forth with of late with other fellow travelers and comics pro peers, all with the selfish goal of getting into these matters face-to-face in the Center for Cartoon Studies classroom with our seniors this semester (which begins on Tuesday of this week, hence my urgency in addressing some of these matters this weekend).

It’s really vital to me that we get into what’s happening now, if only so the current generation of creators can act on whatever we can impart or touch upon that might be of service. Lucky you, we’re doing this part of it publicly.

* As I’ve been steadily posting and responding to Dave‘s letters, working both foreward chronologically from our initial December 2010 exchanges, and Dave‘s more current letters, we’re finally arriving at the “middle” chronologically in terms of Dave‘s missives. That said, I believe we’ve managed this pretty well, and the conversational flow has been steady, progressive, and (I hope) of cumulative worth.

This brings me to the final and most current letter from Dave, dated January 12th (this past week), in which Dave follows up on numerous points we’ve bandied about…

Well, I’m sticking to my guns: I was publishing and co-publishing Taboo, not self-publishing.

I appreciate the compliment and the perception that what I was doing with Taboo was unique (to horror comics anthologies, if nothing else), but arching that ambition—in short, approaching horror comics as a philosophical quest, rather than just a commercial proposition—into an argument that it somehow made it “closer to self-publishing than your average anthology” seems to me to be a step too far.

Self-publishing, as a moniker, has become such an illusory badge of honor in some circles that I think striving to be that, when you can’t be that by definition (i.e., unless you are publishing only your own work, first and foremost, you can’t be self-publishing, and collaborative ventures are problematic), is part of the problem here.

I must reiterate that my working model very much emerged from mainstream publishing: Harlan Ellison‘s incredible sf anthology Dangerous Visions (1967) and its sequel volume that provided the template I worked from. I was hoping to do for horror comics (in some modest way) what Ellison had done for 1960s science-fiction, and by providing a central collective anthology to showcase the most disturbing comics being created, redefine what the genre was, could be, and should be. Dangerous Visions was the wellspring for the attitude, the manifesto, the introductions being essential to shaping the entire venture, etc.

I don’t think one can even argue I was in a particularly unique position for that era: a team initially (John Totleben and I), then an individual, shaping a horror anthology in the 1980s had plenty of bedrock to built upon.

Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein certainly had a philosophy at work in co-editing the famed EC horrors of 1951-1954; Archie Goodwin had clearly determined the initial contours of Creepy and Eerie in the 1960s (building on the vision and impetus of initiator Russ Jones, who “sold” the concept to publisher Jim Warren before a falling out between Jones and Warren resulted in Archie taking the helm, at the recommendation of Al Williamson); I’m not sure who per se “edited” the key underground horror comics like Bogeyman (the first horror underground, launched as a solo comic, featuring Rory Hayes work only, published by Gary Arlington), Skull, and Slow Death (was it Last Gasp publisher Ron Turner?), but Jack Jackson guided Up From the Deep into being one of the flagship genre titles of that era (I assume Denis Kitchen handled the duties on Death Rattle, but I won’t say more; no slight to Denis, but horror was never his cup of tea, and despite some very good work in DR, it didn’t hold a candle to the others I’ve cited here, in either incarnation: there was no singular vision or point of view cohering the whole into anything but “your average horror anthology” for its marketplace and eras). In the 1980s, Taboo‘s decade, Pacific Comics arguably opened that door in convincing Bruce Jones—the best of all post-Archie Goodwin writers to ever work for Warren (no slight to you, Dave, but Bruce was better and more prolific and attuned to the genre)—to do “his own” horror comic, Twisted Tales. That Bruce simply emulated the EC formula made commercial sense, but missed the boat in terms of the genre’s evolution in the 1980s (remember, John Totleben drew one story for Twisted Tales, from Bruce‘s scripting, and both John and I had strong feelings about what a squandered opportunity that title represented). In that, Twisted Tales was vital to Taboo existing at all, in part as a corrective and progressive reaction against the regressive nature of Twisted Tales following the tried-and-true paths.

Well, enough on that. You get my point, yes?

We don’t need the pretense, patina, or moniker of self-publishing attached to Taboo to legitimize or identify what set it apart. That said, nobody but you, Dave, would have tended the offer that led to Taboo being launched; in fact, nobody else ever did, then or afterwards. Even my parallel work with/for FantaCo Enterprises publisher Tom Skulan on Goreshriek and Shriek demonstrated the utter freedom I enjoyed doing Taboo as my own packager/publisher was a rare opportunity, and I think I can justifiably say I certainly made the most of that opportunity.

That badge of honor I’ll gratefully acknowledge and accept.

It was also commercial suicide: living up to its title as best I could, Taboo was doomed from birth. But it paved the way for From Hell outliving it, along (later) with Lost Girls, and it definitely paved the way for Vertigo (I got the initial phone calls from Karen Berger to prove that, however little that debt is acknowledged by Vertigo‘s “official history”).

Your parenthetical comments on the Taboo/”self-publishing” opening paragraph of your letter follow:

In the context of that, and my own retort above, I’ll just add about Taboo: Yes, you nailed it. Taboo was the eternal quest, truncated only by its publishing history: what is cutting edge now? What goes furthest, cuts deepest?

Thank God the money and Tundra ran dry, or I’d still be on that quest, or have landed myself in jail en route if I’d continued (debtor’s prison or over obscenity charges as a publisher, no doubt).

Taboo had its day, and I’m glad you mentioned Chester‘s stories from Taboo 1, because those (and Eddie Campbell‘s “Pyjama Girl,” which was actually the first work John Totleben and I acquired for the project) were the first submissions that had me saying to myself, “Yes, this is it. This is different, and deeper,” where no one else other than John and maybe you saw that was true at that time (before Taboo 1 was published).


* But your Sandeep dilemma is the more important section of this parenthetical comment, to my mind.

Let’s use that as the entry point to a much more vital discussion we must have.

You know, of all our past circle, I can only cite one or two as having stayed abreast of almost all the updates in computer technology over the years.

I’m in your boat, Dave. I’m still an graphite/ink/paper man, and loathe interaction with the computer to draw. I need to pay a compadre or willing tech hand to make anything happen from my drawing board to anything digital.

As a writer, I have taught myself html code, and can write directly to Myrant—and do daily!—and have learned the rudiments (very rudimentary) of scanning and posting my art, enough for Myrant needs. As a cartoonist and self-publisher, though, I’m in your boat.

For the Black Coat Press books—my first print-on-demand works—I was utterly dependent upon my friend and publisher, Jean-Marc Lofficier, handling all digital duties. I sent him the raw book manuscripts, he formatted them, I proofed them: all text-only, no illustrations (after our first book, Green Mountain Cinema, which was illustrated, I stripped to text-only so I could learn those ropes). We’ve upgraded that over the years to Jean-Marc providing me templates for the text, so I can now do the preliminary text layouts, but he still has to do the final versions, and send me the pdfs.

Jean-Marc handled all the cover design duties on the first print-on-demand experiment, Green Mountain Cinema; for the subsequent five volumes of S.R. Bissette’s Blur (collecting all my weekly film/video review columns and, with Volume 5, archiving my Myrant media blog postings), CCS pioneer class alumni Jon-Mikel Gates handled all the cover design work, for which I paid him. For Teen Angels, which I’ve insisted upon adding illustrations to, I was originally working with Jon-Mikel, who I hoped would design the book, but after (a) his move west, and (b) my considerable down-scaling of the project, I’m back to emailing scans to Jean-Marc Lofficier for final illustration insertion—just as we did Green Mountain Cinema in 2004.

Since 2009, I’ve been working with my computer/website guru Cayetano “Cat” Garza, Jr., one of the pioneers of web comics and a great amigo who has been absolutely essential to my remaining with one foot in the digital age via Myrant. The initial setup was started in 2005 by Jane Wilde, when I lived in Marlboro, VT; but having only dial-up access, we couldn’t get far doing much of anything, save collating files and Jane scanning artwork I wanted on my website. Jane got me going with Myrant as a text-only blog in 2005, which I slowly learned how to add illos to. After Marge and I moved north, in part to finally move to a part of Vermont that had high-speed internet access, Cat took over the setup of Myrant, working initially with Jane Wilde to gather all the work Jane and I had done—and then Cat set me up, and turned it all over to me as of a little over two years ago. He still has to trouble-shoot, and bail my ass out when I somehow fuck up, but that’s been less of an issue for a year or so.

It’s the first true autonomy I’ve had on the web, and I’ve made the most of it.

Cat and I now work regularly as we can as a team on book covers—we’ve done a number of them together (see our Mechademia cover, our first collaboration, at right), with my doing the black-and-white artwork, and suggesting possible color and design strategies, and Cat doing the digital design and color work—and we’re about to elevate that to a new level in 2011 (I’ll not say more about that until the time is right to do so; just take my word for it, we will be). I’ve paid or made sure publishers paid Cat on every job.

So, on those projects, Cat is my “Sandeep,” I reckon, or damn close.

Between Rick and Cat‘s urging me to engage more fully, and the market forces pushes us all toward digital publishing/digital comics, I can see you and I are in for a steep learning curve this year, Dave.

Whether we engage with the help of skilled experts like Cat or your replacement for Sandeep (good luck!), we’ve little choice but to proceed accordingly. Those who know how to work the gears, levers, and controls themselves will excel while we continue to try and catch-up via creative partners or hired hands, and the younger cartoonists will be waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay ahead of us every step of the way. In that, I bow to my CCS students, who have done some phenomenal online work, and continue to.

Now, I’ve been talking aspects of this over for weeks now with a few friends. The first to bend my ear about this change a’comin’ was of course Scott McCloud, back in 1990-1992: he saw it all back then, and we lived close enough together at that time to regularly talk into the wee hours of the morning over this.


* Colleen Doran and I have stayed in touch over the years, and of late she has allowed me to share her own experiences with my students at CCS. Before 2010 was over,

  • it was Colleen‘s involvement with the U.S. Congress hearings on online piracy I was tracking (this online article succinctly covers that aspect of her work of late),
  • but this month kicked off with Colleen‘s self-assessment of her own online experience with earnings via internet activities, which my students and I are greatly interested in.
  • This kind of information sharing is critical if we’re to collectively make sense of what’s really happening with online activity—in short, is anyone actually finding revenue streams with all this daily online activity, or is it another vast distraction from more rewarding work venues and making a living?

    As Colleen has been at it, with a proper website and blog, for a full decade now, her numbers (particularly those from 2009-2010) are revealing.

    She frames this sharing of information with lucid candor, and within her wider goals (aiming at 2013); she thankfully breaks out all her relevant numbers and explains them in terms contrary to the populist rhetoric. It’s well worth a hard look. Colleen also chums the waters, so to speak, by paying for ads promoting her cite and web comics feature (Project Wonderful ads; it’s a step Colleen urged me to take in 2009, but I chose not to, as I’m determined in my experiment to just see if content alone—I don’t even allow ads on Myrant, save those for my own art and links to friends’s own sites/blogs—can attract significant readership).

    Furthermore, Colleen had a clear jumping off point to measure from. She dramatically revamped her site and whole approach to online activity two years ago: she writes, “In January 2009, I hired DC McQueen to redesign and reformat the website, and to make the webcomic the lead feature.” This makes her sharing of hard info for that two year span particularly invaluable and digestable.

    Colleen‘s January 1st comment thread reply to initial comments to her post is also essential reading. I’ll share it here, as it’s already in the public arena via Colleen‘s post and comments thread:

    “Sorry to kill the buzz, but the web traffic for [Carla Speed McNeil's] Finder is dead low, about 100 page views a day. I’m not reading this as a success from print to web. For an Eisner-nominated book, I read this as very bad. And it’s a shame, because Finder is awesome.

    The entire Girlamatic site has a lower stat ranking than mine. I don’t know the exact numbers per strip, but the highest I could find was averaging about 3,000 page views per day. After how many years online? Geezus. Many appear to have been abandoned or moved their websites.

    Galaxion, which has been ongoing for years, is getting modest traffic – again, only about 1,000-2,000 page views per day. Sad, it’s a really nice comic.

    I’m looking at PW [Project Wonderful] numbers, and while they can be off, stat rankings compared to PW #’s can’t be THAT far off. And I showed you my exact, internal numbers. You can compare for yourself.

    I still can’t find any Western long form serial print to web dramas averaging five figure or better daily page views. Except mine.

    You can’t make decent money with 2,000 page views a day.

    You’d think comedy strips like Apes and Babes would do better, but even Frank Cho is not getting the numbers he ought to get, even though his numbers are OK.

    There does not appear to be much crossover between the print and web audiences. If you are in print, that means nothing re the web numbers you get. And vice versa.

    I disagree strongly that “..many works, like ADS [A Distant Soil] and Finder, jump media successfully.” I’m not seeing it. I’m seeing two different audiences with two different sets of habits, and it takes a long time to reach one and then the other. As I have found out for myself. It has taken YEARS to find a solid audience online, and I think it’s going to take another year more to turn that into decent income.

    Any webcomic that can’t get more than a couple thousand page views a day after years in production is a disaster. That’s a lot of work for very little return.

    If the audience wasn’t out there clapping to revive Tinkerbell, I was ready to chuck it last year.

    The whole thing reminds me very strongly of the self publishing boom and bust. Utopianism followed by wake up call.”

    Most relevant to you and I, Dave, is Colleen citing

  • Tim Geigner aka Dark Helmet‘ at, and discussion (accessible via this link) of an exchange between Geigner and Colleen.
  • In her later January 1st comment concerning her “The State of Colleen’s Industry” post, Colleen summarizes the exchange with Geigner as:
  • “Some yahoo of dubious credentials on some techy site [Geigner on] went on a rant about how artists like me should be able to monetize the web – piracy or no – what with us being so famous and all. Surely we must have a kajillion fans!

    But news flash: there is almost no crossover between our markets! Different buying habits, different everything.

    A reader who saw my work at Disney [Colleen's art on the best-selling Beauty and the Beast] is not my fan. That reader is a Disney fan. They may not read my next job just because I did something for Disney. Same thing for Spider-man, Sandman, or any other work I do. Credits don’t translate into fans.

    Can’t seem to get it through to people!”

    Well, Colleen got it through to me; and I subsequently satisfied myself of that truth via the experiment in 2010 with “King of Monster Isle.” As I stated in my first and second part of our current conversation, Dave, that serialized comic experiment in fact terminated what had been a successful experiment with monetizing Myrant via online sketch sales, and it subsequently took months to get that pump primed anew and income flowing again.

    Neil Gaiman‘s ongoing cultivation and sustaining an online audience was further proof, if it was needed at all.

    My experiments with print-on-demand publishing, to date, have been even more sobering: my numbers for 2010 are sad, sorry figures. I’m trying a new tact in 2011 (starting with the publication of Teen Angels & New Mutants, and going up from there), but my bread-and-butter is my CCS teaching gig, and my occasional (annual) working with traditional book publishing gigs (more on that later).

    Colleen‘s comment continues:

    “And someday, one of the print comics publishers is going to be honest and admit in public that their downloadable comics are only moving a few hundred copies per book.

    Who wants to be the first?

    What, no takers?

    The brilliant work by Stuart Immonen, Moving Pictures, did not do at all well online, and he eventually removed it.

    Based on Cameron’s rankings, he’s getting no more than 100 or so page views per day. Outrageous. That’s great-looking work.

    Print to web is not working for most print comics creators. At all.

    The top webcomics are gags and joke strips, and have been online for years.

    The good news for a work like mine is that even though it is old work to me, it’s new to everyone who sees it for the first time. No one reading this comic in Russia cares about the publishing history. They see what they like, and they read. It’s all new to them and that’s the only thing that matters.

    Half my current readership is foreign and I have more online readers than I ever had in print. Making that pay is 2011′s goal.”

    I won’t go further with this here on Myrant sans Colleen‘s permission (I share much in the CCS classrooms I’d never share here, and at present I only have permission to extend Colleen‘s and my conversations into the classroom); I’ve only shared here what Colleen has already shared publicly online.

    Colleen mentions this in her own comments on her blog: “I’ve been emailing Steve Bissette about this and our takeaway is that it takes such a long time for long form comics to pay off that most people will never be able to stick it out. The traffic jump this year on my website is not a sign of profit: it’s a sign of promise. That said, A Distant Soil has made good money over the years, and some years much better than others. It can work. But I wouldn’t bank on it.”

    [My own book sales via Myrant are very, very modest, and always have been. New work, old work, it isn't a revenue stream. How modest? While I sold a fair number of Vermont Monster Guide copies when it first came out (100+), those have dwindled to a trickle (one every two-three months), and Blur—all five volumes—barely sell a dozen or so copies per year. The limited availability of the Tales of the Uncanny preview booklet in the spring of 2010 was successful, but again, that meant about 100 copies. Period. Long term, for the books that are always available via mail order at Myrant, Tyrant sales are very occasional; about one set every three months. T-shirts sold not at all, so I abandoned that merchandizing. Taboo sales are, essentially, one or two copies per quarter, one full set per year (at my collectible prices, since I'm the only online source for a partial set—Taboo 6 sold out four years ago—that annual sale pays the mortgage for one month). About a third of all sales, including sketches, are to foreign readers/buyers. But only the sketch sales have proven worth continuing aggressively. Even the Alan Moore fan contingent isn't a resource: When I announced the end of availability of 1963 sets, only three sets sold; so I donated all remaining copies of the issues I didn't draw to two local charities, and saved the rest for CCS classroom use.]

    Suffice it to say, Colleen‘s and my conversation got into other matters, but her public sharing of info (see that above link) provides all of us with invaluable information that is also timely, given its assessment of January 2009 to December 2010 statistics, and Colleen‘s conclusions.

    Point being, Dave, we may have “a kajillion fans,” cumulatively, over all the decades and venues our work has appeared in.

    But it doesn’t mean digital comics are going to work for us. We’re going to have to work hard for every inroad and sale, as Cerebus TV amply proves.


    * On the other hand, the breaking news about digital comics sales vs. traditional Direct Market comics sales in the wider arena, of actual overall markets sales of published comics, is important—

  • like this January 12th Comics Alliance article on current sales, and what they show.
  • There’s some enlightening info being shared here.

    “If you go by the top ten series, the Big Two are responsible for just 30% of ComiXology‘s units sold. This is a sharp drop from the 77% they control in the Direct Market.”

    As I’ve argued for some time, this demonstrates (to my satisfaction, at least) that DC and Marvel are very much the fringe of the contemporary comics/graphic novel market now, not the mainstream. A redefinition of terms is certainly overdue.

    To my mind, the single most mainstream American, non-manga comic of 2009-2010 was Robert Crumb‘s The Book of Genesis Illustrated (W.W. Norton and Company, 2009): previewed in The New Yorker, reviewed everywhere (even in our local VT newspaper!), for sale in every book store in North America.

    Now, that‘s mainstream.

    It could be easily argued that the Direct Market share DC and Marvel maintain is due solely to their almost absolute control of that ever-shrinking market. Sustaining a 77% share of a monopolistic distribution network that both companies essentially have a lock on, but one that no longer accounts for the primary means of distribution for the medium and industry, is hardly a badge of honor, much less a means for sustaining growth. It’s a death-grip on an increasingly marginalized niche market, at best.

    “Further examination of the Top Ten Series on ComiXology reveals even more interesting data. Creator-owned books are 50% of the list.”

    This is heartening news; I’d love to know, though, how the money is sifting out and whether livings are being made by these creators, or if they’re still struggling to get to the back-end paydays down the road.

    “…these sales show that brands work differently online. Marvel and DC are playing second fiddle to companies that they dominate in the Direct Market, and Image is going for the crown.”

    (An aside: Image may be “going for the crown,” but they completely blew me off after seven months of negotiations to work with them on a project they supposedly wanted. It was disappointing, to say the least; I still haven’t heard a peep from Image on my terminating the venture two weeks ago. I must say, I have been surprised that, in my own recent experience, a venerable New York publishing house has moved much quicker—first contact with me on October 2, 2010; we finalized contract negotiations this past Friday, January 14th, 2011—than Image seems capable of, which doesn’t bode well for their being able to go “for the crown” if it requires quick action or turnaround.)

    January 12th has been a flash point of sorts in this analysis.

    Archie Comics—which, to our generation, represented in many ways the most staid and traditionalist of all comics publishing models—has been the most aggressive of all the former-mainstream comics publishers in this regard.

  • The same date as the Comics Alliance article was posted, The New York Times posted this article on Archie Comics going digital and their success to date,
  • which Comics Alliance had also covered, same day, via an interview revealing “same day and date” Archie digital comics were the new paradigm.
  • This is a major turn of events, manifesting this very month, and its significance will only accelerate the “need” for self-publishers of our generation to roll up our sleeves and get involved.

    Given Archie‘s history, this new turn of events is particularly astonishing. Since the death of the Goldwater patriarchs, the new proprietors (the Goldwater offspring) have really shaken the company to the core with (reportedly) great success thus far; alas, they remain strictly work-for-hire (and of the most odious kind), but that is in part what so empowers their moves at this time.

    Thus, their conservative business practices are perfectly attuned to taking radical steps into the new technology and its new venues.

    Of the venerable comics publishers, it definitely looks like Archie Comics is the big winner—and Archie, to touch upon a point being bandied about (in quite convoluted ways, sadly), is a COMPLETELY work-for-hire publisher, with among the most aggressive work-for-hire terms and policies of any comics publisher of the past 30 years.

    There’s still plenty of working creators laboring under work-for-hire, under terms with precious few perks or benefits; make no mistake, the plantations are alive and working.

    And the plantation owners are being amply rewarded in the marketplace.

    Owning absolutely all they publish, lock, stock, and barrel, and knowing absolutely their costs (and with no royalties, I believe, earned by their creative laborers), they can proceed full bore ahead as a model of total corporate ownership.

    This apparently is making it possible for Archie to move much more quickly than Marvel, DC, etc., who seem hobbled in this regard.

  • Frankly, I believe this—not just plunging sales of comics and graphic novels—was the real motive for DC Entertainment‘s major rewrite of all DC/Vertigo contract terms announced back in December (see Rich Johnston‘s article “Contractual Changes On Creator Owned DC Comics” of December 20th, 2010, at; here’s the link).
  • The major companies are going to be savagely reasserting work-for-hire, and, barring that, insisting upon “duration of copyright” contracts, which their legal departments consider essential for moving in the new realms and markets.

    Despite the nay-sayers, we’re right back to square one in the struggles for creator’s rights, as I’ve long stated.

    I see the proof in the book contracts (from mainstream book publishers, not comics publishers or gaming companies)—including the contract I’ve just negotiated for my own upcoming project—wherein they copyright the work in the creator’s name on page one of the contract, but then systematically strip away all that owning copyright means.

    It’s the 21st century new paradigm, and it’s going to be a tough struggle for the new generation.

    Of course, we’re also told these new online venues will empower self-publishing, and yes, we are seeing that already. But does it add up to a living? And if so, for whom?

    As self-publishing, to me, involves my friends who are writers (non-fiction, noveliests, and short story) as well as cartoonists, I’m already seeing my immediate peer group there taking the plunge.

    Most recently, my friend Joe Citro aka Joseph A. Citro took the leap, truly self-publishing a collection of his short stories under the title Not Yet Dead,

  • and he’s just begun to sell the collection via as a Kindle digital book edition.
  • He’s gotten his first sales check from amazon—a little over $20—but one must begin somewhere.

  • [Addendum: One of the CCSers just posted this link to the CCS discussion board, and I'll share it here: Massive Sqwertz! is this a viable option for self-publishing to cell phones? It looks way too complicated to me. Research, report, discuss!]
  • Finally, we should also note in recent news the fact that

  • Borders has been placed on credit hold by Diamond.
  • After a year or more of rough sailing for chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble, this could have devastating impact on the graphic novel market and publishers and creators banking on sales and royalties from sales via the book chains like Borders.

    Still, beware the hyperbole:

  • when a poster, Defiant1, shared the news about Diamond freezing Borders accounts, he wrote:
  • “If the book stores go under, Digital will be the only option anyway. There is a lot of spin placed out there by publishers about how great digital distribution will be, but there are still distribution costs associated with it. $1.7 Million Archie downloads still costs money to host and pay for the bandwidth. Also, how many individual books did it take to get that 1.7 million in year. If it took 40 different titles then they are getting a distribution of 42,000 copies. They still had production costs and how many people returned after their initial download? Digital Comics are a bit of a novelty now. I’m sure there are a certain portion of people just testing out screen clarity and quality at this point.

    Regardless of the transition away from paper, this is making publishers market the product to new customers through new methods. If a little effort had been put into seeking out print customers, the print versions might not be struggling.”

    Don’t mistake the chains for “bookstores” as a total market. The collapse of the chains will only prompt the re-emergence of a hardier, more flexible alternative: independent bookstores. They were here long, long before the chains, and they’ll be here and active and viable long after, and distributors like Baker & Taylor and Ingram will also continue to do business.

    This, too, is part of the “spin” regarding digital media: the false presumption that where go the chains, there goes entire markets. It isn’t true.

    But clearly, we’re amid momentous, game-changing transformations, and we’ll have to change with the times to survive, Dave. You are, and I’m (per usual) watching carefully and picking my battles, projects, and venues according to my own muse.


    OK, back to your letter:

    * Concerning the necessity of partnerships and business and/or creative partners to sustain self-publishing ventures:

    This is all very illuminating, and confirms my own perceptions over the decades of what seemed to be supporting viable self-publishing ventures—and what I, significantly, did not have in my court when I undertook Tyrant and SpiderBaby Comix. I could not get anything like it in my court.

    Much to Eddie Campbell‘s frustration, our last (what, two years ago?) exchange in which Eddie tried to chastise me over dropping Tyrant despite what was, in his mind in any case, an obviously “high page rate” I was obviously earning from my sales of the time. I argued I couldn’t possibly break Tyrant down to page rates, since I was in effect doing everything, except for what Preney Print & Litho did, including handling all typesetting (Alan Goldstein helped me with Tyrant 1 and 2, but I did it afterwards), dealing with phone, taking and filling orders, shipping of re-orders, etc.. I had no assistants at the board (as did and does Eddie, as did you via your relationship with Gerhard); I had no spouse supporting the household or the venture in any way (I was, in fact, in the early stages of divorce proceedings, subsidizing both households with my Tyrant income); and claiming my Tyrant earnings in any way broke out into a measurable “page rate” was patently absurd. If done, discounting all the labor associated with self-publishing Tyrant, it would have been minimal, especially in Image Comics-era 1996 terms, but that was besides the point.

    I mention this only to note, in all my exchanges with Eddie or conversations with other self-publishers or former self-publishers over the years (including, most recently, Jeff Smith, when we caught up with each other in the spring of 2009 when he was keynote speaker at our CCS graduation), I almost never mention the vital support networks the successful self-publishers have had. But it was and is critical; and it is a key component in most viable models.

    In this (and only this; she is far, far more productive in comics than I’ll ever be), I think Colleen and I are actually closest in practice, but I also had (while single and supporting two households) two kids to get through school, which pretty much knocks me off any comparable model with any contemporary.

    I see and hear the CCS students struggle with these factors—particularly regarding spouses and/or partners, whose employ offers household support the single creators do not have. I’m not comfortable airing their views here (it’s all hearsay from me anyway; perhaps some of them will weigh in on the comments thread), but it’s all very relevant and vital to how, in fact, a creator and self-publisher can or can’t make it in the world.

    Finally, Matt Feazell (Cynicalman) comes to mind, in that his spouse, if memory serves, in no way supported his venture (apologies, Matt, if I’m misremembering that dynamic). I also think of Mark Oakley and Thieves and Kings, and his I Box Publishing moniker; Mark was indeed going it alone, totally, wasn’t he? Is he still? Is he still going (I think I saw a Volume 27 of Thieves and Kings somewhere, which would seem to indicate ongoing work and some measure of success)?

  • [Addendum note: Mark is still at it! Mike Kitchen provided me with this link; click on it immediately. Stardrop is his latest book, AND there is a new Thieves & Kings book on the way! You can buy them all on his website.” Great news, this!
  • Continuing with your letter—note, readers, that Dave‘s references to Deni is to Deni Loubert, his ex-wife; Karen was Karen McKiel, who worked at Aardvark-Vanaheim when Taboo was starting out; and Cat and Dean refers to Cat Yronwode and Dean Mullaney, husband-and-wife partners at Eclipse Comics:

    All of which leads back to publishing, not self-publishing—which I think we’ve already covered in some depth—and back to where we started today.

    Deni’s part of Aardvark-Vanaheim—the non-Cerebus titles like Journey, Normalman, Neil the Horse, etc.—were publishing, not self-publishing, and the same goes moreso for both Renegade and Eclipse. Frankly, other than their relevance to Taboo, and the decisions Marlene and I made there (as long as it was Marlene and me working together as publisher partner, essentially Taboo 1-3), I’m not interested in what Deni, Cat, or Dean did or didn’t do in terms of this conversation just now.

    I’m interested in what we can do, now, ourselves, with our work—and thus, by proxy, discuss what every other current creator struggling to make it with their work can do.

    Next: Part 14 of Dave and Steve, Wondering How and If Howie Can Make It In The Real World…

    Discussion (22) ¬

    1. Brian John Mitchell

      This is a great (& of course somewhat depressing) post.

      I think one of the things that’s happened with comics in the clamouring to be called art is we’re now upset that the creators are a bit being treated like fine artists. Go to a gallery & find out who doesn’t have a day job & the answer is always those with spouses with good jobs. Same thing is going in the music industry. All of the arts have become a bit of a lottery at this point with “super stars” & “nobodies” & very few inbetween making enough money to stay alive off of their work.

      Webcomics (like the web itself) are a total mystery to me as far as monetization. When you look at the most popular webcomics & the most money making webcomics, the top twenty are very different. I read an article about it a while ago by a guy (I can’t remember who he was) who (at the time) had the 15th most popular webcomic (according to whoever’s numbers) & his revenue off the site was under $100 a year.

      What I do have a hope for is people making more comics oriented towards cell phones. People seem willing to pay a dollar on their phone more so than their computer (for whatever reason) & while making comics for phones (much like for the web – I hate how many people do webcomics that I need to zoom in & out & scroll up & down & left & right to read) means a major shift in how one designs comics, I think the spot is there.

    2. M Kitchen

      Mark Oakley is still going (though no longer in monthly comic format) –

      Stardrop is his latest book, AND there is a new Thieves & Kings book on the way! You can buy them all on his website.

      I was hoping to meet up with Mark in Halifax during Dave’s LAST SIGNING, but we missed eachother due to my lack of mobile communication. D’oh.

      On to the above: This conversation I find interesting. Both Blair (on THE POSSUM) and myself (on SPY GUY) do everything ourselves on our respective comics. Straight from inks on paper, to digital tech work, to typesetting, to warehouse operations, to anything else you can possibly think of, with the exception of the final QuarkXPress file and printing, both of which Lebonfon takes care of.

      Each of us are SIWLOK (Single Income With Lots Of Kids). That alone is a major impedement which goes against the monk-like lifestyle choice comic making (and especially self-publishing) favours, and goes against the financial security of having a back up revenue stream. Since we keep our wives VERY busy being mothers (of 3 and of 4-with-one-more-on-the-way) their time is best spent being the nucleus of the family unit. By my number crunching, I would need roughly 6000 readers to pay the bills and make comics a sustainable fulltime job. Tough to do without the forward momentum, but the forward momentum is tough to do without the numbers to support it, hence the dilemma.

      I guess Blair and I will be able to write the book on How To Be A SIWLOK And Self-Publish (once we figure out how).

      PS. Last page on SPY GUY #2 is just about ready to be scanned. Digital half-tones still to go. But now I have to animate some to pay the mortgage.

    3. Roger Green

      I think that, at least for some people, the fact that someone has a book come out or a record album released means that the artist has “made it”, and that there’s less of a moral code re stealing from the (presumably) rich. Even though the very premise is faulty.

    4. BobH

      I’m enjoying this exchange, though I haven’t had a lot to add.

      One of the problems with any public discussion of digital comics is that it’s all based on such a paucity of information, even moreso than the world of print comics. Doran notes her belief that those “top sellers” are only selling a few hundred copies, which may be correct. There’s also a lot of misinformation, based on fuzzy terms. For example, those “1.7 million downloads” that Archie reports, those are downloads of their free reader. You’ll never see Archie report the conversion rate of those downloads to paying customers, and I’ll bet there’s a huge drop-off on those who pay once, find the experience of paying $2 for a downloaded comic unsatisfying. Some people seem to think that widely reported number has something to do with comics actually sold.

      By the way, I’m curious, does DC itemize their royalty statement in any way, or just give you the lump sum based on all the print collections, foreign editions, creator participation and digital sales without a breakdown? Because some of your stuff is available for download at $2 a pop now (and I guess as a creator you are Number 2695 now. Welcome to the Village). Looks like the first item was put up on November 24, so not sure if it would be reflected in your royalties yet.

    5. John Platt

      * You say your POD books aren’t selling, so make it easier for people to buy them. When you mention them, link to their Amazon pages or your publisher’s site. (Amazon preferably; people like when they can get free shipping.)

      * Have you considered Kindle-izing your Blur books? The profit on a POD book is just a few bucks. Amazon pays 70% of the cover price of a $2.99 Kindle book. Works out pretty close, if not better. Check out author Joe Kornrath’s blog — he’s making $100k a year self-publishing (can of worms, using that term here) for the Kindle.

    6. srbissette

      Bob, the royalty breakdowns used to be pretty readable, but throughout 2010 that broke down big-time due to the DC Entertainment Inc. redirect of all DC Comics activities, and their bookkeeping was impacted. The most recent royalties had little hard info; we’ll see if that corrects itself in 2011, and if so, if it reflects download sales. Thanks for the heads up!

      I, too, was wary of the numbers Archie Comics is bandying about. You’ll note I didn’t mention their claims amid Colleen’s sharing of hard online stats, and like most “reporting” these days, it’s really Archie’s press release info that’s being spun into these articles. We’ll see if actual sales match or approach the ballyhoo as the year continues—but my point, about Archie being the free-est to exploit this new frontier due to work-for-hire absolute ownership is still valid and clear.

    7. srbissette

      The link has been up on the BLUR page for some time; and Jean-Marc and I will be looking into Kindle later this winter. I’m not sure what it entails, but Joe Citro did it himself, so I’m sure we’ll be able to make it happen in short order.

    8. Paul Riddell

      Oh, man, I feel for you. The worst part is suffering from what my wife calls “the You Should Justs”. She’s a jeweler, so she hears all day long from people who walk into her store, look around, and tell you “You should just…” “You should just start carrying platinum in the front displays.” “You should just start working with new materials, such as palladium or ammolite.” “You should just…”, always finishing with some variation of “Something that I like but that’s not even remotely profitable, because I want to feel important by convincing you to carry it.” If you ignore You Should Just, he’ll nag you until you acknowledge him. If you respond with the reasons why you aren’t going to do that, he’ll pull numbers out of his ass that PROVE that you’re missing out. No matter your answer, You Should Just will always give answers with the unspoken communication of “Give me this, NOW, or I’m gone.”

      Now, it pays to listen to customer recommendations. However, it’s also vital to pay attention to your business plan. Strangely enough, the best guide to creative business venues I’ve ever read came from a book by nurseryman Tony Avent called So You Want To Start A Nursery, on how potential customers would come into his nursery and tell him the same thing. “You should just start carrying wax maples, or agaves, or…”, always some exotic that might sell one plant or two per year with your main customer base. Even worse, if your specialty is roses and You Should Just starts nagging about carrying fruit trees, giving in means that you’re not offering enough of a fruit tree selection to make it worth your time unless it’s at the expense of roses.

      And that’s where You Should Just is dangerous. Oh, he’ll nag and bluster and whine about how you really need to move into this new venue or offer online comics or make up T-shirts, and he’ll always find a good reason why he can’t be bothered to put down money up front. Without fail, WITHOUT FAIL, the You Should Justs will cry about that great and wonderful thing that they need RIGHT NOW, and as soon as it’s given to them, they run like hell. It’s about control, not about purchasing.

      (On the subject of Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions collections, his friend Rick Wyatt came up with an incredibly simple way to shut up the You Should Justs. Harlan had been dealing with Cat Piss Man naggings for years about the release of The Last Dangerous Visions, and how just unfair it was that these wonderful stories hadn’t been published yet. Rick simply offered the opportunity to pay in advance for LDV: if it’s your money on the line, then you get a reason to bitch, and not before. Absolutely amazingly, the same doughboys following Harlan around and calling him up at all hours about LDV disappeared, because they couldn’t give a fart in a high wind about reading the collection. They were only interested in appearing important and bragging to their friends about how they were responsible for bringing Harlan Ellison to justice. And yet, somehow, these bozos are the people brought up as examples in the science fiction community of the sort of fans we should be encouraging.)

      I have to admit that I learned the lesson of You Should Just the hard way. I had a slew of them nuhdzing me about a collection of my old essays, going on and on about how “your work is IMPORTANT”, that I started getting serious self-doubts. When the two collections came out in 2009, suddenly the You Should Justs were gone, except for the ones who wanted autographed “review” copies that magically appeared on Amazon used book lists a week after receipt. They weren’t interested in anything else, and once they got their assurance that they were important enough to be listened to, they were outta there.

      And so we’re getting to that situation in comics and in bookselling in general. An underrated reason why Borders is going under is that the company listened to You Should Justs for far too long. Anybody remember the contest three years ago that intended to discover novel-writing Borders employees and publish their new novels, as if working for Borders was a criterion in getting people to buy a book? Remember the shrieking and yowling a decade ago about the “Ultimate Marvel” magazine, because of the You Should Justs who demanded a comic magazine that they could buy at a newsstand? (And remember that within three issues, it was back at comic shops because the You Should Justs weren’t buying it on newsstands?) Or, Steve, in your personal experiences, the people who nuhdz you to bring back Tyrant or Taboo?

      And now You Should Just is moving to online comics and electronic publishing. Once again, it’s not about buying anything, or helping creators afford to make a living by doing their art. It’s all about control, and the Dallas Cowboys will win a shutout World Series before You Should Just will spare a penny. Several writer friends are noting how they’re losing money to online piracy, and one had a goofball tell her to her face “Well, you should just give your novels and short stories for free online. That’s what Cory Doctorow’s been doing.” That’s a great motivator: if Cory’s novels weren’t free, he couldn’t give them away.

    9. srbissette

      Paul, I get the You Should Justs about SWAMP THING and/or Alan Moore about every month. As if I have any ability to do ANYTHING about those situations!

    10. Max Southall

      If you read Dave’s latest Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing, you’ll see that a possible problem with Sandeep’s participation is that Dave has made the decision that he can’t actually pay him – that it has to be done in barter for, say artwork – otherwise, Dave could end up paying him more for his expertise than Dave would be making himself, a line that Dave has said that on principle he cannot cross. Sandeep, fortunately, has had a very well-paid full time engineering position with RIM, the Blackberry people, which has given him financial flexibility to treat it as a hobby. At one, point, too, Sandeep was publishing his own Versus magazine, to which Dave was a reciprocal contributor – but given the financial exigencies of the recession, that’s now ended.

      The same problem has arisen with Cerebus.TV – Dave’s preferred paradigm very much depends on having a cadre of fan volunteers to do all the heavy technical lifting. That level of expertise and labor timesink simply isn’t available on a sustaining basis for something as challenging as inventing and maintaining the actual cutting-edge delivery method that is internet streaming television. Frankly, if the happy coincidence of having had a childhood friend appear on the scene back in Kitchener from the US two summers ago, who happened to have a lifetime of professional IT experience, had not happened, Cerebus.TV would literally have not been possible as a reality – it would have remained a figment of John Scrudder’s imagination.

      To make it happen, the reality of a full time workload had to be offset by the promises of eventual monetization on an equitable basis. If that fails to materialize, the greatest difficulty is that professionals simply cannot and will not work for free, nor can they see themselves as patrons of genius, the way fans might – they have their own self-fulfillment to think of. Dave does not want to think of his technical collaborators as genuine collaborators at all – then it would not be self-publishing, would it? – but rather fancifully on the low order of people performing basically perfunctory unintellectual and uncreative tasks that could be easily taught to interchangeable fan volunteers. Something as unimportant – and perhaps, to the artistic mindset, as valueless, as cigarette smoking, as he has framed it in several forums?

    11. srbissette

      Thanks for that, Max. It’s part of why I insist on paying everyone I work with on this online process, and wish I could afford to pay them more.

    12. Peter Urkowitz

      This is still one of the most fascinating conversations anywhere. Adding the contributions from Colleen Doran makes it even better.

    13. Brian John Mitchell

      For making you comics for the Kindle, my buddy Nick Marino has a thing you can read about it at you might want to check out.

    14. BobH

      “T-shirts sold not at all, so I abandoned that merchandizing”

      Did I miss something, or was the only t-shirt you offered that re-creation of your old family store t-shirt design? Because, not to “You Should Just” you, but that’s going to be a pretty poor gauge of how much of a market there is for Bissette-designed t-shirts. Given your brand, I don’t see why you wouldn’t start with a t-shirt design of either a) a dinosaur (specifically a T. rex, Tyrant or otherwise), or b) a monster (ideally a zombie in the current zeitgeist, but a werewolf or vampire or anything with teeth), or c) any of your 1963 characters. I’m not even much of a comic character t-shirt buyer (I can count the number I’ve owned on one hand) but I’d consider getting a dinosaur shirt in the style of the Tyrant covers or the 1989 Carnosaurs portfolio.

    15. geoff

      to those of us who’ve been involved in the “fine” arts as wells as comics–this is all too familiar territory. Work two years on 10-12 paintings for a solo show, say in best of all possible worlds you sellout the show-at $2000-$4000 a pop per painting. (emerging artist prices) Total sales-at best: $48000. divide that 50/50 w/ the gallery, that’s $24,000.– for two years work. Before taxes. And in NYC-or Vermont–or anywhere in these 50 states– that ain’t gonna cut it. So–what do MFA’s do? Teach. Been that way for years–that’s the gig. And it’s a pretty damn good gig too.

      There’s no shame in that. I dispute the notion that there’s some implicit failure in that. It’s simply a reality of the art market. I tell students, whatever you have to do to make it work for you is absolutely the right thing to do.You have to find the path that works for you. Doesn’t have to be Dave Sim’s path-or Colleen Doran’s path. That you’re working 3-4 days in the studio and teaching 3 days does not make you less of a real, working artist. On the contrary. There’s a long,long tradition of the artist/teacher, one I’m proud to be part of.
      “Success” is in how you define it. Finding a way to produce the next book, or making enough money to pay the rent, and food for your family–and buy art materials and pay for a studio, and finding the time to produce work–hey, for a lot of artists– that’s success. If you’re still making art that you believe in, that is challenging and exciting–10 years after grad school–the likelihood is that you’ll still be doing it when you’re 70. that is success. Al Hirschfeld once said-”you stay in this business long enough, everything happens to you”. A big part of winning the game is simply sticking around to the end.
      It’d be great to make a living from self-publishing comics—but the unique market circumstances that existed and helped make Cerebus (or for that matter, Bone or A Distant Soil) the success it was just don’t exist any longer. Perhaps some mix of pay-for -hire and self-publishing(-more likely than not-online self-publishing-)-can bring in enough to sustain a life–or maybe even a family–for a minority of working artists. The rest will either give up–or continue to make art while they find some other way to pay the bills. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The direct market –for alternative comics creators—is pretty much dead. And if the NYTimes can’t get readers to pay for content, what chance has a small-time comics creator?
      IF you’re going to make a life in the arts–you have to be flexible, you have to imaginative and you have to be determined. You can’t simply assume the the models of the past are going to work for you.
      I take issue with the notion–implicit in the comments from Colleen Doran more so than anyone else-that if you don’t have this number of page views, or this kind of circulation or this anything–that somehow that constitutes failure of some kind. Failure according to her standards perhaps, according to her goals. But “Goals” are relative according to individual and circumstance. It’s a different world out there –and how we define success is something that needs to reexamined in light of the current situation–and more importantly, perhaps, in terms of quality of life.
      As for a good many ‘successful” artists in the gallery world? Here’s a dirty little secret: trust fund.

    16. Colleen

      Geoff, your “issue” with my comments only highlights the schizophrenic relationship artists have with money.

      You write comments like “that ‘aint gonna cut it”, then object when I note that a certain number of page views or sales is – in my words not yours – a “disaster”. If you are trying to make a living as an artist, and you have been producing for years, and you can’t make above poverty wage, and you’ve sunk years of effort and thousands of dollars into your art, I’d call that a financial disaster. Whether or not you feel warm and fuzzy about the art is not an issue.

      I care about helping artists learn the creative life as vocation. If you are going to pursue this as a vocation, then internet utopianism and starry eyed dreams of being the next Eastman and Laird need to be smacked upside the head once in awhile with a healthy dose of reality.

      If you don’t think having a day job is a failure, then I won’t presume to debate you. My post isn’t about you. It is about print to web options and reality. It’s about making money on the web and reality. And the reality is, that most people are not able to make a decent living on the web.

      I have no intention of making a living on the web. Never did. I do plenty of other work than A Distant Soil, and have four graphic novel contracts on my plate right now. That’s how I make a living. A Distant Soil is a sideline for me. A graphic novel or two for Vertigo is my day job.

      Your personal art goals are not the issue here. This is about finance. If you can’t finance the art, you can’t produce the art. If you need a day job, get one. If not, good for you.

      Money matters. It takes money to make art. It takes money to live to make art.

      Financial failure isn’t ideological. If the numbers don’t add up, they don’t appear by wishing. If I don’t have the money, I can’t produce the work. I can’t publish it. Simple.

    17. Colleen

      And BTW, when I say “you” I don’t mean you personally.

      I always try to emphasize on my blog that money has nothing to do with being a good artist. But is has a lot to do with being a professional artist. You’d better learn about money, what works for your art, and what doesn’t.

      Don’t conflate artistic success with financial success. I don’t. That’s speaks to insecurity about what others think about your art.

      But I don’t ignore financial success as a professional creator, because the very nature of being a professional means facing the numbers. That’s what we are doing here.

      As someone who once had a job where my responsibilities included picking up dog poop, I’m really not in a position to sneer at people with day jobs. If anything, I envy the benefit packages that come with picking up dog poop that don’t come with making pictures for books read by tens of thousands of readers.

    18. geoff

      apologies. After re-reading your post, I believe I mistook your meaning.
      My “ain’t gonna cut it” comment wasn’t to suggest that such a circumstance is a failure of any kind, but rather an economic reality. Selling that many paintings at a show is big success,by any measure. But what I’m saying is that “big success” won’t necessarily pay the bills. It was meant as an affirmation of much of what has been said in these posts.
      My background in the arts is somewhat different from yours–and that of many comics professionals, I suppose, and I believe that it may offer an alternative worldview that is applicable to what appear to be rapidly and irrevocably changing circumstances.
      My feeling is that as comics, and specifically, alternative comics–have become increasingly recognized as an art form, (with museum shows, Chris Ware in the Whitney Biennial, etc.), and younger creators turn their comics into hand made art-objects,(more like fine art) they’ve also become increasingly isolated from the same commercial venues that had been the vehicle for the indy movement of the last 30 years.
      A result of that isolation( and the change in market forces addressed throughout this discussion)–is that the model–for career, for validation, for success–is becoming more and more like that of the fine artist, the painter, the sculptor, the printmaker. And that means that the kind of “professional” life that was the (rare–but still– attainable-) goal of say the 20th century–”making a living from your art”–has become increasingly unlikely. Under today’s conditions, the term “professional artist/cartoonist” is a term more open to a variety of definitions–and much more like the vaguer, more elusive life of a painter than that of the illustrator. (Does that mean we’ll begin to find “Professor of Comics” positions at leading liberal arts institutions? And academic papers on such? MFA’s in comics??!! of course!)

      A “professional artist’s ” career, and income,under this model– will be(or already is) broader, more diffuse–and income is likely to be hobbled together from a variety of skill sets-including teaching. But it might just as well include sheet-rocking and carpentry. And I’ve met plenty of artists who’ve done all three. Trying to make sense of today’s alternative comics environment, it might be helpful to examine some of the survival techniques of contemporary painters, print-makers and sculptors–as well as cartoonists.* That’s all I really want to say.
      (* all of which suggests that it won’t be too long before we see more than just the Xeric grant for self-publishing–I hope.)

    19. M Kitchen

      My interest in this discussion is how an independent comic book creator can survive as a self-publisher in 2011. There are lots of examples of successful comic book artists going the publisher route (with both creator owned and company owned material) but the list of successful self-publishers?

      Is there anyone making a living wage (above the poverty level) self-publishing in 2010-2011?

      If not, why?

      If so, how?

      I think the best scenario so far has been that of a supplementary income to keep the life support going and studio engine operational. Whether that be teaching, or work-for-hire, or trust fund, or in my case; animation (which is the only thing I can think of that is more time consuming and soul sucking than comic book making).

      And regarding digital comics; Mark Millar seems to be saying the same thing:

      I’ve posted this link elsewhere in this discussion, but these are my best thoughts on digital comics:

    20. Randall Drew

      Seeing that I had Tracy Yardley! as my CCS Advisor, I can comment briefly on the Archie situation.

      Tracy has worked pretty much full time for Archie’s Sonic The Hedgehog comic since 2005 after graduating from SCAD and being seen at a convention drawing Sonic by an Archie PR person and given a shot. He’s just bought a house and had a baby, all supported by his work for them. Considering he’s working with a licensed property, there was nothing to own to begin with, Sonic belongs lock stock and barrel already to SEGA. However, in his time there he’s been witness to not only the shake-up at the top, Archie’s bold new forays into the digital relm, but the hiring of many fresh, progressive faces from writers to artists to editors! Archie has shown to be very loyal to these new creators and the fan-bases they’ve begun to nurture outside of the great house that Archie Andrews built.

      Tracy and his writer Ian Flynn both co-run a private message board where they interact with the Archie Sonic fan base and a lot of what goes on there has an influence on the comics. Managing Editor (just promoted from being Sonic’s editor) Mike Pellerito has local connections, going to high school with Burlington/Winooski cartoonist Blair D. Shedd of and they continue to my knowledge to contact one another.

      They may still operate under “work for hire” but at least in the case of Sonic, they’re providing more than enough work and a livable wage for several young, talented creators who are changing the landscape of the creator-to-fan relationship and Archie is letting it happen. Oh, and to my knowledge Tracy is selling original pages and covers as well, not sure if Archie used to hold on to such things, but thank the digital age for that!

      Enough blaberizing for now, this article sure gave me plenty to ponder and worry about.

    21. Nuke

      I feel odd weighing in here, seeing as how I don’t make comics (Though I am working on a guest strip for my wife’s webcomic, but since that has never been about making a living, I really feel it doesn’t count.)

      But I did want to weigh in here and say that, given the chance, dedicated fans such as myself would love to help EVERY ARTIST WE COULD. I am a HUGE fan of Dave, of Coleen, of Steve and would love to help support people whose work I’m not even that huge a fan of, if it wwould mean promoting the idea of a creator’s vision getting out there without the corporate clusterfuck and disaster that seems to be par for the course in the corporate world.
      My issue, though, is similar to most of yours- Money. I just don’t have it. I buy about 20-30 dollars worth of comics a month and even those are only picked up tri-yearly when the budget balances.
      So what I’m asking is this: HOW CAN I HELP? I’m no Sandeep, no Ger and probably not even a Karen, but I do so desperately want to contribute in some way.
      Any suggestions?

    22. M Kitchen

      Hi Nuke.

      I’ve got two suggestions for you.

      1. Share the work you like. I know this goes directly against all the anti-piracy ideologies that are out there these days (such as “you can’t read it unless you paid for it because that’s stealing from the author”) but those ideas are nonsense. I’ve got a very small audience for my SPY GUY comic, and I’m pleased everytime someone likes it enough to show it to someone else. I’ve gained new readers that way, and have had comic shops introduced to my book that way.

      2. Send positve energy. It’s hard to make these funny-books, and for most people, the energy put into it doesn’t come back in any meaningful way (financially or otherwise). But even the moral booster of the occassional note saying “I like what you’re doing” is enough to super-charge the batteries and endure. It’s a small thing, but often those small things can make a big difference.

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