Every comic publisher starts out making black and white comics that are 20 something pages long right? So what happens if we challenge that train of thought for a second.
Why are you selling gumballs?
Several years back when I first got married, I came across a magazine advertisement for, believe it or not, a gumball vending machine. The advertisement promised buckets of cash every month if you had one of their expensive gumball machines. All you had to do was put it in a store and fill it with gumballs. That’s right, you can make thousands of dollars a month buy just filling up vending machines weekly and the kids will come out of the woodwork drooling.
I, being a very smart business man (sarcastically speaking), convinced my wife that we should try it so we brought the magazine to my father-n-law to see what he thought. You see, he had a small venting machine business back in the day so he knew the ropes. Another motive was to see if he might want to lend us some money to buy some machines.
He listened to our case patiently and then paused for a minute to think it over. I noticed a slightly confused look on his face and then he said, “Why gumballs?”
Let me make this clear. He was happy that we were thinking about this business and trying to invest our money in assets that would give us money in return but he had a point. We would be spinning our wheels to first try to get our expensive machines in a store that doesn’t already have one, and then if we did get it into the perfect location we would constantly be worried about kids kicking it over or breaking into it for the coins. We would be buying candy at bulk and lugging it around town every week just for a few quarters. Suddenly my blinders were removed and I could see his point clearly. In fact, I felt pretty silly afterword.
Okay, why are we talking about gumballs on a blog about making graphic novels?
Because spending all the time that it takes to draw and write a comic only to package it up as a 22 page magazine for $3.00 is a lot like trying to sell gumballs. If you find a good printer that can print your comic for half that price then you are still in trouble. Minus the cost of shipping to a customer, store or convention. Convention fees, taxes, hotels and travel expense. Maybe you’ve gotten your comic into Diamond who takes 60% of your cover price to stock the shelves of dying stores and you still have to pay to ship it to their warehouse. After all those expenses are paid for, guess how much you made from your hard work. Mere cents. The same profit as selling a gumball.
You still wanna print 22 page Comics?
(Obviously I have a one sided opinion here but below are many reasons why I am doing the things that I am doing with reMIND. I’ve been putting all my eggs into this basket and only time will tell if I am on the right track. None-the-less here is my argument.)
First of all, the only people who seem to buy floppy comic books are the people who goto comic shops regularly to buy their superhero titles. So to start off, unless your comic is a superhero comic then I don’t really see the point in trying to convert everyone else into this format when they are used to reading books.
It doesn’t help that these comic shops sales have been dropping year over year for the last 15 years. [EDIT] So I am told that my statement of these comic sales are wrong and I apologize to Comichron.com for misinterpreting their information. I was linked to another article that reflect actual comic sales over the years here. Notice that trade sales have been increasing like crazy over the last 12 years while comic sales have been flat. Factor in the 3.4% annual inflation rate and comic sales are still down.
I went back home to Idaho to visit my family and while I was there I swung by the local comic shop only to find the doors closed. It was the only shop in a college town of around 60,000 people. It’s been almost 3 years since it closed down and still nobody is stepping in to profit off the niche. Why? Because there must not be a profit anymore.
I had coffee with the original owner of the comic shop and he said that all the Barnes & Nobles and major bookstores are now the way to get comics. But it’s mainly trades and graphic novels they sell. Now days it’s pretty hard to find a good comic store unless you’re in a major city like L.A. where I live but even in L.A. I have to drive a while to find what I’m looking for and I usually don’t find it when I get there so I go online and pay a cheaper price to have it sent right to my doorstep.
All the major book stores carry graphic novels and trades though. Some are even better than comic book store selections because it’s not just the Marvel and DC books. Major publishers, like Scholastic and Random House, have been taking notice of graphic novels and started selling books like Bone, Amulet, and Ghostopolis.
Sure, comic titles in the movie industry are hot right now with all their superhero movies making millions and I think it’s the main reason pamphlet comics keep selling at all. Even so, I don’t understand why Marvel or DC doesn’t hand out a free comic with each ticket on opening weekends for each major comic movie to try and introduce people to the medium again.
“My nephew loved Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, Batman, Wolverine and all those characters from the movies, and was enthusiastic to get into the comics. But after reading a few collections he figured something out. These aren’t stories. ‘Batman’ is not a story. ‘Spider-Man’ is not a story. They’re intermingled systems of stories, loosely connected by continuity of various levels of accuracy, written and drawn by people with wildly different styles and goals, staring characters in their twenties who have mostly been around for forty to seventy years.”- Near Death Blog
American pamphlet comics are TRYING to be like American sitcoms. Seinfeld was described as a show about nothing. When you watch it you can just hit an imaginary reset button after each episode and the next one can start. Well, I don’t think people want sitcom style comics anymore. I think Superman should have stayed dead when DC killed him back in 1992. What a waste of time.
I’m done with pamphlet sitcom comics with endless stories that never go anywhere, forgetting where they’ve already been. I want a story with a beginning, middle and end.
Comics are just ads for the Direct Market (Comic stores)
I recently spoke the Chief Creative Officer at a mid sized comic publisher that was interested in publishing reMIND. They asked if I was interested in publishing individual issues for the comic stores and I said no. He agreed with many of my reasons but he had one interesting point about why someone should still consider it. He said that the only real reason to publish a comic anymore is to advertise to the people in the comic book stores. You make very little if any money but it’s the only way to get your product in front of these people. If they like your comic then you might be able to make some sales on graphic novels too and actually make a profit. But my question is this; Do I really see my graphic novel selling in a comic book store? Not really. Maybe some of the stores that like to carry independent publishers but thats certainly not the majority of them. I’m not saying I’m not trying to get into the stores though. I have an independent distributor/rep who communicates with tons of stores that carry independent titles but the ones that don’t care about indie comics or graphic novels don’t interest me. It’s like trying to advertise Megadeth T-shirts in a Martha Stewart Magazine. Why bother. (Maybe that’s a bit exaggerated but you get the point.)
The Problem with Indie Comics
When I tried selling my 24 page, black and white comic back in 2006, I practically had to jump out into the crowd and hand the stupid thing to each victim to make a sell. And this was at the APE Con in San Francisco. (Alternative Press Expo)
As I sat there scratching my head over how hard it was to move indie comics I noticed the guy sitting next to me with a 74 page, hardbound book full of his sketches. People were lining up. Con attendees would notice the nice hardbound book from across the way and quickly make there way right past me to check it out. This guy was not famous. He had absolutely nothing else set up on his table. No banners, no prints or freebies. Just a big stack of his books. The first thing people would do is pick it up and ask if it was a story. “Nope”, he would answer, “Just a book full of my sketches.” They would flip through it and then ask how much. “Twenty-five dollars.” Sold.
It blew my mind. he didn’t even talk much. My point is, if a guy can roll in late to a convention with a bag of beautiful hardbound books and sell them like hotcakes without even trying, all the while I’m forcing my flimsy little comic into peoples hands and then running away before they give it back, I must be doing something wrong.
As you can tell, I had a lot of time to think about this while manning my lonely booth for two days. If people wanted a nice hardbound book even if it didn’t have a story BUT the first thing they asked for was a story, then I needed to scrap the flimsy 22 page comic idea and start making nice graphic novels instead.
Why was this hard for me to see? It’s exactly what I was always looking for too. A nice big thick full color hardbound graphic novel with beautiful art that I could leave out on my coffee table or place on my bookshelf to be proud of. After all I started Coffee Table Comics so I could publish coffee table quality books. Duah.
I just assumed making a black and white comic was the only way for a new guy to go because that’s what it seemed like everyone else was doing when they were starting out. Meanwhile all the guys with hardbound sketchbooks are making sales with a $25 to $40 cover price.
This brings up another point. I sold about 50 copies of my comic at that convention. That’s 50 customers. I made about a dollar profit per book but once I paid for my booth and hotel I was in the hole about 300 bucks. Meanwhile if I was selling a book like reMIND at $25 a piece and I had 50 customers who bought a copy, I would have made $1250. Minus out the $4/each it took to print the book and that leaves me at $1050. Then if I minus the hotel and con fees (I’m just guessing here) that would leave me at around $400. Hey what do you know, I made a profit and that’s if I sold the exact same amount of books as I did when I was trying to push my little 24 pager that nobody wanted.
I personally feel like single issue comics are a thing of the past. They are too hard to sell and too much work to produce and distribute for such a little profit. The reason they were popular was because it was the cheapest way to get to the consumer. Now we have the Internet. You can publish sections of your story online for free now. Why not just post your pages online and then collect it into an attractive graphic novel that people will want to buy.
Once again, why are we still trying to sell gumballs? People want a full meal!
What do you guys think?