If you're a card-carrying geek (aren't we all?), you've probably toyed with the idea of publishing your own comic book at one point or another. However, most of us never get past the notebook-scribbling stage and our dreams of becoming the next Neil Gaiman remain sorely unrealised. In this advice-packed guide, Australian comic book author Paul Caggegi explains how you can get your project off the ground -- from the physical creation of your book to selling it for actual, real money...
Superhero picture from Shutterstock
Creating and managing your own comic can be an involving process. I should know: For the past three years, I've been producing Pandeia– a sci-fi adventure set in Earth's distant future.
I am the writer and illustrator, but I also handle the marketing and promotion. At the same time I'm a new dad, a house-husband, and I maintain a freelance career as a motion graphics designer. So my process for creating a comic has evolved since I first began. If you're considering producing your own comic, I'm here to share a little of what I've learned.
For the sake of brevity, I'm going to assume you have a basic understanding of comic book layouts and can kinda-sorta draw (although you don't have to be a brilliant illustrator to break into comics). Instead, this guide is designed to help you choose the right tools to streamline the process along with some tips on how to make money off your creations.
The Creative side
To begin with, organisation is key. I'm already time-poor, so I multitask while doing routine tasks: I think about the story while getting myself ready. While driving the kid to day-care, I record notes on my phone to listen to later. If I have an on-site booking, I write and sketch on my commute.
My iPad is the best tool for creating on the go. I'll jot down notes, outlines, scenes that spring to mind in the notepad app, for example. When I've got sufficient material for a 22 page issue, I format a draft script using Celtx.
The Celtx app is a free download. It has several macros, including comic formatting titles: Page, Panel, Character, Caption, etc. This speeds up the process, and allows me to think about the layout as I write. It also allows saving to the Cloud, so you always have a back up, and can access your script via other devices.
I'll sketch concepts on paper, then take photos of the sketches and share them via a facebook album. This shows an on-going documentation of my progress. Others who follow me via social media can critique or comment on the images, allowing me to get real-time feedback which helps form direction for concepts quickly.
The next step is to take the finished script, the final concepts, and begin to thumbnail the outlines for each page. I usually do this on paper, too. I then take pictures for the purposes of layout.
Pandeia is formatted at standard comic book size – 16.8x26cm with a 5mm bleed at 300dpi. Many sites offer templates for free, such as Ka-Blam.
I then take my template and my thumbnails, and open them in the package I will use to create the comic. Photoshop is very popular, but there are a couple of other considerations worth a mention, depending on your budget.
Comic creation software
Free: GIMP runs on almost anything – windows, MacOsX, Linux, FreeBSD. It is fully-featured, customisable, and easy to learn. I used GIMP for the first three issues of Pandeia. [See also: 10 Photoshop Alternatives That Are Totally Free]
Under $100: Manga studio 5. It normally costs $80 for the standard version, and $300 for the all-the-bells-and-whistles version. It comes with a complete brush-set for speed-lines, speech balloons, even halftone shading. It also has a set of comic fonts, and page templates to choose from right out of the box. Its workflow takes some getting used to, but once you get to know your way around, it's possibly the fastest tool to work with for comic creation.
$20-$50 per month (ongoing subscription): Adobe Photoshop (optional: InDesign). For a single Adobe program download, it costs $19.99 per month, but if money is no object you may as well fork out $49.99 per month and gain access to the full suite and grab inDesign.
The next stage is to create pencils over your thumbnails and template. These can be done on paper, scanned, and imported into the program to be further manipulated for inking and colouring. Alternatively, Pencils can be sketched inside the program. For this method (as well as for digital inking and colouring), I use a drawing tablet.
If you are on a tight budget, I'd recommend a Wacom Bamboo. It is light-weight, portable, and one model is wireless. They cost between $95 and $235 and have 1024 pressure pevels (pretty decent).
I have a medium Wacom Intuos4 (around $300). Like with the Bamboo, you will have to develop hand-eye co-ordination as you draw in one place, and look at the screen instead of your hand. I happen to prefer this, as my hand does not obstruct the view of the drawing. It has better pressure sensitivity (2048 levels) for drawing more precise lines, and getting more accurate variation on brushes.
If you can afford it, you may want to invest in a Cintiq (can be as much as $1150 to $4200) – this is a tablet screen which you draw directly on and is the most intuitive tablet to use.
After the comic is drawn, coloured and finished, it has to be exported in a format people can see. If you've decided to release your story on the web, you can save out a JPEG version at 72dpi and the required size directly from your application. You might set up a wordpress blog with a theme like Comic Easel, designed to organise your web-comic without too much fuss.
For print, it's a bit more involved. It is best to get advice directly from your printer as to how you should deliver the files to them, but here's a rough guide: I first save each page in a lossless format (TIF, LZE compression). I create a new document in InDesign, setting the dimensions of my comic, complete with bleeds.
I import all the interior pages to make one sequence of 22 pages. I then export to PDF as a high quality print, making sure I enable the “Marks and Bleeds” . The covers are exported as two separate double-page spreads: one outer cover, one inner cover. These files are then emailed to the printer at the time of ordering a print run.
That's pretty much the process of creating the comic, so now you need to know a little about...
The Business Side
I self-publish my comic, which means I have to take care of everything a publisher would do for me. Should you wish to go down the self-publishing route, here are a few things to consider:
You will need to track your incomings and outgoings – costs of printing, postage, and any packaging you purchase, as well as price-point for sales. I prepared an example spreadsheet which you can download here.
Find a local printer who will give you a reasonable price per unit, or affordable discounts for large orders (these are known as offset printers). A couple I am aware of are Jeffries Printing (Melbourne), and Digital-books-on-demand (Sydney). It can save you money by sourcing someone local, as you can pick up direct from their warehouse once the job is done. Print-On-Demand is becoming more popular, so printers will accommodate orders as low as 50 or even 20 and will sometimes throw in a few extras (e.g. -- posters, fliers, postcards).
Work out a reasonable price-point. As a rule of thumb, most 22-36 page, full-colour floppies will retail from between $2.99 to $6.99. You need to make a comfortable margin, but not price it so high that it's a turn-off for the customer.
Get your title out to comic fans where they will shop for them. Start by going to conventions. The cost of hiring a table can vary from $15 to $500 and some of the bigger conventions like Supanova or Oz-Comic-Con require you take out public liability insurance as well. I pay $195AUD per year with AAMI, which covers me for any and all conventions I might attend throughout a calendar year.
Conventions give you opportunity to meet and hang out with other comic artists, who can become potential colleagues and network contacts. Also take the time to visit stands of comic book stores. You'll find the big ones like Kings, but also smaller ones who actively promote local and independent content.
If you feel confident enough with your product, hand out some comps to the store owners and see if they'd be interested in stocking your title.You will have to negotiate a price which sees your costs covered, but which will give the store a profit.
Keep in mind that selling to a store will see you break even at best, so the point of getting it in stores is not to make money, but to gain exposure quickly. Store owners and staff will actively promote your book in some cases, and if it sells well, may invite you to do an in-store appearance at an event. These are not guarantees, but nurturing a relationship with local stores can go a long way to help your title gain traction.
Consider making your comic available in a digital format. Submit it to ComiXology. This could net you an international audience who is becoming increasingly enamoured with digital books.
Promote yourself through podcasts and YouTube channels that talk about comics. We're fortunate to have shows like Kapow (which you can see my mug on here), Beardy and the Geek, and Geek Speak Live who are always looking for new content.
Finally, don't expect to make a fortune right away. As a general rule, profit margins on floppies are much smaller than on graphic novels, due to the economies of scale, but comics are a good way to get an audience hooked before the customer will make a larger investment in your work.
I hope this advice helps you in your own creative endeavours. With any luck, I'll be hearing about it soon!
Paul Caggegi is an Australian comic book author and graphic designer who has worked on 3D animation projects for everyone from Telstra and Microsoft to Nickelodeon Jr. You can check out a showreel of his comic and corporate stuff here.