Wednesday, June 27

Making Comics

A few times during HeroesCon, I was asked how someone can make a comic. This morning, I saw Kelly Sue DeConnick's answer to a writing question. I wrote a little bit about this in BATTLE ROYAL 1 (on sale here, of course), but let me offer here what I told those folks.

When people walked up to my HeroesCon booth, they saw comics at three sizes.

WE'RE HAVING A MONSTER and FOCUS are both 1/4 of a letter-size page (roughly 5 x 4.125). eMMA is a 1/2 a letter-size page (roughly 5.5 x 8.5). These sizes came before the story. I knew I wanted to make minicomics for a local convention -- the late, great Asheville's Fanaticon -- and the first thing I had to determine was cost. Instead of looking for online print outlets, I checked the local stores: PostNet (wouldn't touch it), CopyWorks (unreliable based on past projects), Kinkos (none in my county), and OfficeMax (on my commute and a friend works there). 

Turns out OfficeMax has an in-house print service called ImPress. I took them a folded sheet of paper as a physical model and asked for an estimate based on paper stock, page count, number of copies, and their charges for cutting, stapling, and folding. A lot of folks will do all of this at home, but I'm not home so much between my job and commute. I'd rather hand the project to a professional service and pay for the product. I chose cost over time, and that's a necessary decision about resource management. 

That's what making comics is: resource management. This includes your resources as a writer/artist/letterer/colorist/publisher/salesman/warehouse manager/accountant. This is why I chose the practicality of the dimensions and production before I drew one page. It would be heartbreaking to bang out a comic story and find out I couldn't afford to make it a comic. I decided to make a minicomic for Fanaticon not long after it was announced for May 2010. This would have been Fall 2009. 

Once I knew the cost of the comic and the time I had to make it, I had to apportion those months. How much time could I take to write it? How much to pencil it? To ink it? To letter it? To make the cover? To color the cover? To prep the comic for printing (i,e. make it into a PDF)? How long would OfficeMax need to print and assemble the books? Time is a resource, and it must be budgeted. 

Turns out I could bang out FOCUS quickly enough that I had time to make another mini, and WHAM was slapped together in two weeks. It's half the pages, and I balanced the slim page count with a gimmick: You design the monster, draw it in the comic, and add it to our online gallery of monsters.

Here's what I needed to make those comics: paper, pencils, rulers, shape templates, pens, a flat surface to draw on, a digital camera for quick photo reference, a scanner, a computer, and software to letter the comic, color the cover, & save the whole thing as a PDF. After that, it went to OfficeMax. After that, it went to Fanaticon.

I made eMMA the next year at larger dimensions and more pages. Everything else was the same. I did learn, however, late in the process that OfficeMax couldn't give me full bleed on the covers, meaning my image wouldn't reach to the edge of the paper; there would be a border. I had to make adjustments. They may have upgraded the printing since then.

I originally planned to work Fanaticon and HeroesCon in 2012. When I learned Fanaticon had folded, I had already started BATTLE ROYAL. Originally, it was going to run the same size as eMMA. But once I decided to go all in and get my first table at HeroesCon, I decided to use the Fanaticon money to make a full-size comic book (actually extra-size; BATTLE ROYAL is 40 pages). I checked online print options and got estimates. I went with Ka-Blam based on prices, and the experiences of friends and other creators. That required more money to print/ship and a larger print window, but all my other resources remained the same.

I decided to build a website to sell the comics under my studio name, Robot Wonderboy. My "studio," by the way, is the workshop seen in my header banner. It's a converted half of the carport. But the majority of the BATTLE ROYAL comic was drawn in the kitchen so I could watch the toddler. I decided to build the store as an offshoot of this blog, and I had bought the domain name through Blogger/Blogspot. They sell domain names for $10 a year with the option to automatically renew annually. That's dirt cheap compared to, say, GoDaddy. I made the store using price buttons from PayPal. Those are free. So, for $10 a year, I have an online store. So can you. PayPal charges a percentage for each transaction; a hypothetical comic purchase of $5 won't give you a full $5. That needs to be considered while you're debating if you're charging too much (and driving away sales) or too little (and losing money).

Resource management. What do you want to make, what do you have in hand, how much time will it take, how much will it cost to make and sell, how much can you sell it for, where do you stash it? Are you going to a con? You'll need to schlep it. I used a luggage dolly to get my comics from the car to my HeroesCon booth. That's how you make a comic. And that doesn't even brush the topic of where ideas come from and how much you can steal from others without being outed as a hack.

Questions? Reply below, and we'll fill in the holes.

Monday, June 25

HeroesCon 2012

It's the Monday after the convention, and I'm happily exhausted. I've attended HeroesCon for more than ten years, although not annually. I've seen the convention room fill up over the years. New folks don't believe they used to park a fire engine in there for the blood drive. You can't do that now; there are too many tables for vendors and artists. This year was crammed full, and the variety of wares was boggling. I'm glad to have simply seen the show, not to mention be a part of it.

I printed up my comics (available here) and made some black-and-white sketch cards and took my portfolio of larger & older artwork. I wanted to sell 20 4-packs of comics. I didn't. But I sold many more cards than I expected, and I managed to cover the cost of the table. That was ultimately what I hoped for. That got did. Financially then the show was a success.

I wanted to submit a piece for the annual auction. I did that too, but my work was bumped to the Sunday floor auction. Still it sold. People traded bids on it. My first year's work went for a decent price, and next year's will be strong enough to make the Saturday night event. That's my new goal. HeroesCon doesn't discourage me in the slightest; it makes me want to do more and do better.

I've worked two convention in Asheville. They were one-day affairs for much smaller (albeit just as curious/enthusiastic) crowds. I was a bit concerned, even anxious, about working a three-day shift at the hugely vast and largely biggish HeroesCon, especially for its 30th anniversary show. I had to talked to a longtime friend last year about working a table for this year's show, but we hadn't worked up specifics. A few days before the show, we confirmed we were going to tag-team the booth, and that made the show less daunting. We took turns roaming the floor, and I was able to take in the friendly madness. Also I was able to buy toys -- a GI JOE zombie bad guy, a Hellboy Rasputin (with Hellbaby!) -- and an Xavier Institute t-shirt.

Working the booth was a blur. I spent a lot of time standing and saying hi to folks as they passed, gently offering the sales pitches, lowering a price here, and throwing in a freebie there. When people said they wanted to see the while room before buying anything, I gave them a business card with our table number or a reminder that we were right under the sign identifying the 900 block of tables. Some did come back. If I didn't have a sketch card already made with the character they wanted, I was glad to take requests for them. I took it as a challenge, almost a friendly dare. "Can you draw Ghost Rider?" You betcha! "Spock?" No problem. "Lion-O?" Gimme ten minutes. Lookit this happy customer.

This was what the majority of con folks looked like. We were a little overwhelmed by it all, but the joy of the con was infectious. I am pooped, but I still have that buzz of camaraderie and shared interests. I talked GI Joe and Loki and Buckaroo Banzai, and I got to draw a vampire hamburger muppet.

Favorite moment? I'm gonna go with Saturday night. I was feeling bummed about the auction (my fault for being so specific in my expectations). I just got off the phone with my wife, and I knew virtually no one in the hotel lobby or the auction. I felt isolated, but I wanted to make the effort to talk to people. It was Saturday night at a HeroesCon hotel, and the lobby was packed with my people. Even if I couldn't find conversation, I could glom off the vibe a bit. Down I went. I rode the elevator alone to the lobby and checked my reflection one last time before the doors opened. When they did, I was standing eye to eye with Stan Lee. We smiled and nodded before someone behind him asked if he'd say hello to their child. Lee turned, and I slid out of the elevator and out to the lobby. That was a good moment.

There's a local convention in October, and I'd do it tonight. HeroesCon left me jazzed about making comics and art and talking to folks about what we love and why. I talked to kids. I talked to grandmothers. I talked to people who make things I would never come up with, and now I wanna make more of my stuff. I leave the convention feeling like I just ended a run of theatre shows or after a strong 5k run. I aim to be back next year.

You can see all my con pictures here. Check out all the costumes. These two happened to walk by at the same time. This picture, with the artist tables behind it, might epitomize HeroesCon.

Thursday, June 14

Captain Marvel

I wanted another piece to sell at HeroesCon, and the new Captain Marvel costume is a blast to draw. Simple and clean and dynamic. This is done with pencil and Micron Pens. Probably a Sharpie too.

You can buy this, if you like. I'm asking $50 for it. Comment below if you're calling dibs.

Wednesday, June 13

HeroesCon Sketch Card Update

Brand-new sheet for sale: The Legion of Doom from Superfriends.

This is priced at $50 for the whole sheet, suitable for framing, and you can replay below to call dibs.

Other cards for sale are here, here, and here.

Tuesday, June 12

Visit Me at HeroesCon

We got our table assignments today. I'm at AA-57. Whoever got AA-23 is in a Death Star jail.

Yeah, it's a big show.

I'll have $3 sketchcards (see recent posts to the right), $10 4-packs of Robot Wonderboy comics, and artwork for sale. Please stop by, and say "hey."

Friday, June 8

More HeroesCon Sketch Cards

The art squids at Robot Wonderboy have toiled for you. They have doodled their tentacles off for you. They are all aflutter for HeroesCon.

Each card is $3. Reply to this post or email me with your requests. See you there!

Tuesday, June 5

New Sketch Cards

As noted yesterday, I'm making wallet-sized sketch cards for HeroesCon. Here's what I drew yesterday.

These cards will be available at the convention for $3 each. You can request certain characters by replying below or emailing me.

See you at the con!

Monday, June 4

Comics and Sketches For Sale!

I found three boxes of my comic waiting for me late last week, and hokey smoke, they look good. Ka-Blam Printing is the way to go, people. I sent my files on April 17, chose the cheapest shipping window, and had my books by June 1. And speaking of quick turnarounds, I reprinted 110 issues of minis from OfficeMax on Thursday, and they were done Friday afternoon. These copies surpass the originals, thanks to newer technology. Things are looking good for HeroesCon.

Speaking of which, I'm going to have art to sell. As with last year's Fanaticon in Asheville, I'm bringing my wallet-sized sketch cards to Charelotte. Put a hero/villain in your wallet. Here's one I did yesterday while watching this week's SmackDown.

And here's the sheet it came from. Cards will run around $3.

I'm thinking of making sheets of Avengers cast members, and selling those at a premium.

But you'll also be able to buy sketches posted on this blog and Facebook in my Sketchtember folder. Here are some examples:

Prices will vary for media and size, and I will be taking commissions. Inked 6x9 sketches (like the inked images above) will run $10, and you can request sketches before HeroesCon by emailing me here. Or reply below.