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.

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