Comic Creating: First step Collaborating or not? Part 1

Collaborating comes in several different forms.  Usually it's a writer who has a script or an idea and they need artists.  But it can also come in other forms.  You have part of an idea and you need help fleshing it out and writing the script. Or you have a team built up, but you want someone that's outside of your core team to be an editor. Here are some things to think about if you thinking about collaborating with anyone.

How do you find someone to collaborate with?  Collaboration should be considered akin to marriage for the life of the project.  Your collaborators will be someone you work with closely on the project until it's finished.  You have to be able to get on the same page through discussions with your collaborators.

From my experience with working in comics. I have a few recommendations:  

1. Try and really get to know each other before you begin or even think about working together.

Now I know the above seems like it might be a really difficult undertaking.  You already don't have much time.  You're working on other things, you've got other friends, you've got family. But I promise you that you will be better off knowing your potential team before you start. You may find that while that artist is spectacular at drawing and has great interior pages that he hates drawing horses and that idea you had for a western just isn't going to fly with him. He may be a huge flake and not complete projects that he starts.  These are all things you really want to know ahead of time. I'll throw a caveat here, You can pretty much get anyone to do anything if you throw enough money at them. But you have to make sure that dollar amount is going to be enough to get them to do what you want.

2. Know that laws that revolve around Intellectual Property. This is going to help with number 3 as well.

I can't stress this enough. The more you know the better you are going to structure any documents you have and you'll know how far you can take things without sign off from anyone else. As an example if you and your collaborator each own a portion of the IP, neither of you can sign a contract that give another company an exclusive right to create a move.

3. Make sure that no matter who you are working with that you have a written document that details exactly what everyone is going to be doing and what everyone is going to get out of it and when.

When I say details I really mean details.  I mean who owns what, what rights everyone has access to. Who is drawing, when that person is going to turn in pages. How much is each person getting paid and when are they going to get paid. I don't care if you've known the person since you were toddlers, get this shit in writing.  It's very important.  People change. While you might be best friends when you start, you might grow apart at some point and you want to make sure that you know what you can do with that IP without them involved.

I'll come back and right more soon.

What happens if Fan Art goes away?

There has been a lot of discussion about Fan Art recently. I’m not here to argue for either side except to say that it’s illegal and I believe it overshadows originality. I just finished reading an article by Joel Rivers at Darby Pop talking about the latter.  Not only does it overshadow the original creations that can be found at a convention.  Rivers describes it as the “weird guy with his little books that no one’s ever heard of”. Guess what I’m one of those weird guys, and I have a little book called “The Threat”, and I’m betting that you’ve never heard of it, or that if you have you’ve never read it. I’m also trying to help other weird guys bring you their little books through Stratum Comics.

I started working on my “little book” back in the mid to late 90’s with my friend and co creator Vince Chuter. We’ve worked on it off and on since then, had to make decisions between paying the bills and working on the comics. It was harder back then for indie comics to make it.  There wasn’t the ease to publish online or POD services, basically the only way (that we knew of) to publish a comic back then was to be able to print and sell through 5K copies. Now you don’t even have to print a comic at all.

I’ve been at shows where 85% of attendees walk by without even a glance at the table I’m at because I don’t have a huge wall of fan art behind me. Where they stop at the table next to me and spend 30 minutes perusing the fan art, but then walk right by my table. I don’t draw so I can’t even sit there and sketch fan art to entice someone to come over and talk to them about my “little book”.

This is where the rub is though. What would happen to the entire comic convention industry (with a few exceptions like SDCC and NYCC) if you took away the fan art? Would we see a decrease in artist in artist alley?  Sure you’d have guest artists at the shows, and you’d have artist there who have worked or are working on an indie book, many of them at the table with the creator (if it’s not themselves). But how many artists would be able to make it at the conventions without fan art?

Now, you’d think I’d be ok with this, and I might be. I mean if there was less fan art, attendees at the show would have more interest (and more money) for my little book. Except, would they? I believe in “The Threat” and all of the books I will ever publish. I think if you’d just pick it up and give it a chance you’d be hooked.  So much so that we decided to let you read preview versions of the first three issues for free. That’s not my worry.

Let’s create a hypothetical situation.  Let’s say that Marvel (Disney) and DC (Warner) decides that they are going to make a huge statement that they are going to send legal teams to shows around the country and that they are going to sue artists and convention promoters for Fan Art.  While the artists may be willing to take the chance and go ahead and book shows, I promise you that the promoters are not going to allow it happen.  They’ll be closely looking at every artist as they are setting up and while they might let fan art be displayed, they are going to have a rule that if they catch anyone selling it they will be removed from the show.  So now we have conventions that no longer support artists of fan art. In the beginning not much might change. But as the general public realize they can’t buy a Superman print at the cons are they going to find something else at the show to make it worth the 40 bucks for the ticket and 20 bucks for parking? Some might, but now because of the lack of fan art there are going to be less people paying for tickets.

Now the convention has lost some income from both booth sales and ticket sales. Now they have less money to bring in guests both artists and celebs.  These people aren’t cheap to bring in.  Even an artist that doesn’t require an appearance fee still has to be flown in and put up in a hotel.  For a 3 day show you’re looking at about $1000 per guest. Then you have to tack on appearance fees or a celebs guarantee. For those who don’t know, most celebs require a promised amount from signatures and photo ops.  If they don’t make the promised amount the con still owes them the difference.  So now, without those celebs and guests there are less tickets sold because less people want to come to the show.  This becomes a vicious cycle, or the promoter has to turn the show into something that’s far less a comic convention, raise ticket and booth prices (think Wizard World).

Higher ticket prices mean fewer people going to the show and less money to spend inside for those that do go. So now, I’ve spent more on my table, meaning my overhead is higher, I have fewer people to sell comics to who have less money to spend.  Yes, these people may be more interested in buying an original comic, but I’m not the only one there selling original books and they have less money to spend.

All of this is of course hypothetical. There is also the possibility that artist could start getting licenses to produce fan art, which would make all of this go away. People going to the shows could swap to picking up great art of public domain characters or as Rivers suggested mythic characters like Krampus. Hell, (fingers crossed) they may even turn to picking up great indie comics like “The Threat”.

There is also the other side of the coin. If these artists are able to produce fan art (and again I’m not advocating, they be allowed or should) many of them are going to have to turn to a day job.  Some of them actually rely on conventions as their only source of income going to conventions almost every weekend of the year. If they aren’t able to sell fan art they are going to have to hope that originals, public domain and mythic characters are going to keep up their sales. If not, they have to find a day job. Not all of them will be able to secure a job producing artwork (which there are a limited number of jobs available that pay enough to live on). So now they are behind a desk, or working some manual labor job for minimum wage and when they get home they have no desire to draw. Meaning they aren’t honing their skills, or able to produce submission packs for publishers. Many of these artists could also get noticed by publishers both large and small and find potential work. How many artists currently working in the industry were found by a small publisher and were able to produce work for them until they got noticed by a larger publisher? Would we be losing potential future greats?

Again, all conjecture and hypotheticals, because unless something comes from the larger property owners none of this will ever happen. And while I’d love to think that if it did happen it would do nothing more than increase my sales I’m not so sure that would be the end result. It could just mean the death of a lot of indie books and end the careers of potential greats before they’ve even begun.

What’s the answer? Only the IP owners can really answer that question.  Do they come up with an easier path to getting a license? They aren’t really losing any money from the fan art and could only gain by having more licensed artist out there. Even lowering their fees, they could probably make up the difference in volume. They wouldn’t be able to do a percentage of sales, managing that would be insane, but they could have a flat fee for fan art at conventions.

Of course that doesn’t take into account the overshadowing of originality. I don’t think there is much to say there except that artists need to figure out what they want.  Do they want to forever be beholden to other people’s IP? Or do they want to eventually present a project to a publisher of original work.  Maybe if you start phasing out your fan art and helping to make conventions less about fan art and more about original art we can all do better at shows.

The point of this is to bring up a discussion about solutions to the fan art issues I’ve mentioned NOT the arguments about fan art itself.

Article over at Bleeding Cool on Indie Publishing.

This article by Joe St. Pierre on Bleeding Cool is pretty on point in my opinion.  I've come to understand over my time publishing comics some of the do's and don'ts.  If you have a freaking awesome cover that a huge artist makes for you just make it your cover and use the one you already have for something else.    I'd also like to add that doing a Kickstarter you should limit the size options for shipping purposes.  DON'T do any 11x17 Prints.

The Threat Issue 1 Reboot Campaign was a Success

We just sent this update out to our Kickstarter Campaign!!


We wanted to thank you all so much for the support you've shown us.

From spreading the work about our campaign to pledging we appreciate each and every effort made to make this campaign a success.

We will be working hard over the next few weeks to complete all of the reward levels, creating surveys for each of you and beginning to send our your rewards. Please be active in getting back to us with your survey answers so that we can get your shipments ready and out to you as quickly as possible.

One thing we've decided to do is to send each of your a special reward.

I'm A Viral

We will be including the I'm a Viral image in each of your rewards. For the Digital only packages you will receive a print quality version and for all shipments we send out you will be getting a sticker version as a way of saying thanks to all of you.

Once we have completed a few of the bio pages we will send out a special backer only update with the link to the main page. We will continue to update these pages and update you as new bios are available.

For those of you who find our project at this point we are sorry you missed it, but you can still become a Viral by visiting our website or finding us at a shop or convention.

Once we have all of your rewards sent out we will begin working on our next Kickstarter event (Yup, they are that cool) bringing you The Threat Issue 5. We hope you return and continue your support of The Threat. We will have a horror themed cover series, another Kickstarter event exclusive cover, and a few other limited print run version of the comic.

If you have any suggestions for rewards you'd like to see available, don't hesitate to let us know about them.

Thanks again for your support.

The Stratum Comics Team.

Crowdfunding and Indie Comics

You must be a little bit crazy to try and work in the comic book industry. That, and very passionate about what you do. Every aspect of the comic book world, writer, artist, inker, colorist and letterer - the business is notoriously hard to break in to. Most likely you aren’t going to get picked up by the big boys for many years.

You are going to have to go it alone and work on your own projects or find a small publishing company to work with, and unless you are lucky enough to be very wealthy or collaborating with an established name it’s going to be a long process.

Of course, everyone hopes that their project will explode and they’ll take the fast lane to instant celebrity, movie deals, and riches. Unfortunately that rarely happens. The people who have become successful and reached the pinnacle of their profession have worked their tuchus off to get there. It’s like a band that makes the circuit for 20 years and get that one single that gets them noticed and suddenly they’re the hot new voice. Many things can elevate a book to the next level. Finding that one genre twist that amazingly hasn’t been done yet (good luck on that), signing with an established publishing house, or having a big name creator on board, are but a few. It’s important that all parties involved be committed to the project for the long haul. This is extremely important for today’s independent creator.

Financial issues are probably the single largest obstacle to success, it’s a serious uphill battle right from the beginning. You’ll need to decide the direction you want to go, do you have the money to self-fund the project, or do you have a Daddy Warbucks standing at your side willing to rain dollars upon your project?

If you are like most, the answer to those questions is a resounding no. That shouldn’t be the end for your project, rather just one hurdle in a line of many that you must overcome before reaching the finish line.

So what are you left with? The answer, my friend, and as many of you already know, is crowdfunding. If you don’t know what crowdfunding is, the easiest way to describe how it works is it allows a creator to set up a campaign in order to raise a set dollar amount for a set goal; people can donate as much or as little as they want and based on the pledge amount the donor gets a specific set of rewards.

It’s become the greatest ally of the independent comic creator. Crowdfunding has allowed more comic book creators to procure funding for their projects by going straight to the fans.

The most popular crowdfunding source is Kickstarter. However, there is a catch: If your Kickstarter goal isn't met, the project isn't funded. Sometimes the difference between success and failure for these campaigns can be the smallest of margins so don’t take it personal.

This is making a big difference for many creators, like our series The Threat published by Stratum comics out of Austin, TX. Kickstarter has become an integral part of our development plan, most independent comic work is paid on the back end by giving them a percentage of the sales of each book, but we pay our artist a page rate when work is completed - or at least that is what we strive for on every issue. This can place a financial burden on us before a single issue is even sold. It’s also a risk for companies with this type business model as the owner/creator only take their profit after the book sells (if it turns a profit at all).

As mentioned, not every campaign is successful. The Threat has had five campaigns since the publication of its first issue. There was a big learning curve with our first attempt that ended with its cancellation.  Our second one never got near its goal. This was devastating as we were struggling to print our first issue, but we persevered and were successful in getting the issue published. We didn’t attempt a campaign for our second issue and were hesitant when it came to our third. Necessity helped in our deciding to give it another shot. This time we successfully funded, it was awesome and somehow vindicating, having someone tell you that they love your project. Since then we’ve had a second successful campaign partially due to word of mouth and partially due to learning how to properly market a Kickstarter campaign (we can talk more about this later, as it deserves it's own post).

Two of the biggest hurdles with Kickstarter are trying to inform fans about your product and reaching new backers. While most comics on Kickstarter are just looking for help getting published, each approaches it differently; utilizing websites, social media, industry groups, Twitter and friends to help spread the word. Some projects flounder if the project isn’t funded and are never published. We try and find a way even if we have to delay the release. We don’t do this because of money; we do it because of a creative need and want to share with others. Creators should be doing this because they love the projects they are working on and want you to enjoy them as well. If they wouldn’t pay to read their own books why would anyone else?

It’s a stacked game and the big players dominate the industry and can indirectly dictate when and where your book is seen. Beyond that, success is dependent on the actions of readers, retailers and the marketing venues we choose.

There are a few things that readers can do to help indie publishers and creators., You can support creator owned comics by letting retailers know you would like them to carry a title. Local retailers are hesitant to put untested products in their stores but by pre-ordering books you allow them to remove the risk on investment. Many artist’s’ only revenue stream is what they make doing the Con circuit. You can help guarantee new and innovative books by purchasing direct from the creators at cons. This helps them recover their cost by putting more of the cover price into their pocket.

Finally, the best way you can help before a product is available for sale is by supporting independent comics on Kickstarter, not only financially but by telling your friends about the campaigns to increase awareness of them.

Check out these other articles on how Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites have helped independent creators of comics and other products find success.


And check out our Kickstarter project: