Why Marvel and DC should fear YOU, the independent comic creator


Stan Lee wants your comic book to fail. Seriously.The year is 2000.

You desperately want the comic book superstar lifestyle, and all the perks that go along with it: legions of adoring fans, billions of dollars, several vacation homes, and your own private jet.

Not to mention the bevy of beautiful supermodels that will be swarming you wherever you go (OK, now you know I’ve gone too far, but you get the picture).

You know what you want, you have the talent, and you’re ready to rock.

But there is just one tiny obstacle in your way: you need to get your foot in the door with one of the ‘Big Two’.

Without question, you almost HAD to figure out a way to get Marvel or DC to notice you before you could get noticed at all, by any fan.

You had to somehow (I honestly have no idea how) get someone to realize your artistic brilliance, and hand-pick you from the tens of thousands of other pencilers, inkers and writers that were desperately fighting for every possible position (and you can bet those were few and far between). And art is very subjective, so you can bet politics played – and still do play – a large part in this process.

You can also imagine that along with hard work and talent, a LOT of luck had to be on your side, as well as a hell of a lot of personal connections.

But wait, there was ANOTHER path towards comic book superstardom: self publish!

All you had to do was create your comic, and then print it.

Which, of course, cost anywhere from $1.00 to $1.75 per book, depending on your print run, paper quality, color, etc.

Then you had to get Diamond Distributing, the middle-men who get your book into comic stores, to put your comic in their catalog…there goes another huge chunk of cash.

And THEN you had to get fans familiar with your book, which meant thousands of dollars in print advertising, or getting a booth in as many conventions as you could afford (again, we’re talking thousands including travel, lodging…it goes on and on).

The result? Sell maybe 10,000 – 15,000 copies or more, and maybe, if you’re lucky, you can BREAK EVEN on your massive investment.

Yikes.

Feeling powerless, afraid and alone? You’re not the only one. This near-impossible mathematic equation has broken more than a few independent comic creators over the last several decades.

Even the incredible Hulk is tired of this monopoly. He's more of an indy comic guy at heart.But cheer up, sunshine – now it’s 2010, and things are a little different.

You create a comic, and all of a sudden you don’t need to have a contact at Marvel or DC.

You don’t have to pay Image thousands of dollars to put their ‘i’ logo on the cover of your book. And you don’t have to sell your soul to an evil demonic creature from a perilous hell dimension (or whatever Rob Leifeld did to get famous).

You just throw your creation on the web, and BOOM – you’re a comic book creator.

No one knows who you are? No problemo.

Get social. Twitter, Facebook, Buzz, Deviant Art…you can get noticed any number of ways. Do you have 10 friends on Facebook? Send them a link, and ask them to read and share. If it’s good, it will go viral.

The bottom line is that if you have an Internet connection, you can get eyeballs on your work.

But what about the cash?

How are you going to pay for your Lamborghini Diablo and the mansion in Beverly Hills? How are you going to afford to date a Victoria’s Secret supermodel (or one of those hunky guys from this past season of Bachelor Pad…am I right, ladies?)

Surely you aren’t going to get paid for putting a free comic online.

If you build a following first, you can do a number of things to make money:

Kickstarter allows you to gather donations before you even put out your book. People love your digital stuff? Pay a few dollars and you’ll ship them a printed copy. Some people on Kickstarter have gathered $1000, $5000, or even $10,000+ in a matter of HOURS to fund their creative projects.

There are a number of online publishers that will sell your digital book for a small fee. Or just get a merchant account and charge with PayPal on your very own website.

Sell T-Shirts. Sell action figures. Sell ANYTHING. If you’ve built a small, rabid fan base, the members of your tribe will follow, and won’t mind shelling out a few dollars here or there to be a part of it.

Will you ever sell 120,000 copies at $2.99 a pop like a top-ranked Marvel or DC book? Possibly not. But can you get a couple thousand people to pay $1, or even a whopping $2 a month?

With the right strategy and a quality product, it’s a very real possibility

The future of comics is fast approaching. No Delorean required.

Marvel and DC, for the foreseeable future, will dominate the sales charts. And with good reason: they have some great characters, exciting stories, and talented people in their camp.

But as iPads, digital comics and social media continually make life easier for the independent comic creator, their empire will slowly crumble. Fresh new projects will continue to circulate, and spread with greater ease.

And the day is coming that the Big Two almost certainly dread: the time where YOUR comic book will be alongside theirs, and a reader can simply press a button to choose which title to purchase.

When you factor out shelf space, printing costs, and the middle men, you’re left with who has the better art, the more compelling story, and the greater ideas.

I’m not sure that’s a fight that Marvel and DC want to get into with the independent comic creator, because in that battle, the odds are no longer in their favor.

‘Nuff said.  🙂

Love you guys,
Blake xo

WHEW! What a blog post. I hope you liked it. If you wanna get friendlier with me, why not connect with me on Facebook? I hear that’s what all the cool kids were doing so I just started with it (I’m a big loser, I know). Or follow me on Twitter if you don’t already.

Or if you REALLY want to get nuts, re-tweet this post and let your followers read it!

Can’t wait to read your comments…fire away!

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22 Responses to Why Marvel and DC should fear YOU, the independent comic creator

  1. Ben Calverley says:

    Really loved this post. Really interesting, certainly gave me plenty to think about.

  2. Deemar says:

    I want you to write my business plan, it’s Deemar’s Catfish Fry.

    Good blog CBG Kickstarter is a good site for initial funding, but most importantly as you stated, build a fan base or rather a community of online followers.

    That what we do at Comic Culture Warrior blog, (although it’s less about making comics as it is reviewing and spoofing)

    Either way good stuff.

  3. Jonn says:

    Building your fan base also be ready for the long haul. It’s a lot of work to put out content on a regular bases. Much like working out the more people you have involved the more ideas will be generated.

    Look for good honest crit. of your work and have a thick skin. Those close to you may always tell you the work is good, so bring fresh people in.

    Also if the work is really good there is the outside chance you may get an offer to be bought out. How would you handle that? Answer now, then in 5 years when your view may change or requirements of life change.

    These are some things we all have to face over time. Shoot big, but don’t live big until you are established, then start to enjoy.

  4. phil says:

    Gosh durn it Deemar, are u one step ahead of me on all of Blake’s posts? Anyway, good stuff, B. –I’m gonna have 2 check Kickstarter out

  5. mogo2814-matt white says:

    Really good piece on getting out there and just doing it ,i myself am currently playing catch up on old projects with the intention to pitch some of them to scar comics in the near future also i thought it was just me that didn’t get leifeld (giant upper bodies-tiny legs) nice to hear from another like minded individual and like you said the big two will always hold a place in the heart of all comic geeks-including mine but it is always good to check out something different.again really good piece-well done.M

  6. Randall says:

    Excellent, excellent points. I started reading comics in the independent publishing heydays, when Image was getting its proper footing, and people like Dave Sims, Jeff Smith, and Terry Moore were able to put work independently and actually make some sort of waves in the industry with it. I was all but resolved to the fact that my dreams to do the same were kind of… unlikely, for lack of a better term, as the climate of the industry kind of eliminated all but the biggest of the small time names. The most exciting thing to me about the arrival of digital comics is that this has once again become a possibility. Sort of like getting a lost dream back.

    That being said, I don’t think Marvel and DC have anything to fear. They’re still run by Disney and Warner Brothers, respectively, and as long as that is the case, it’ll never be an even playing field [huge resources, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they find some way to make sure their comics and some indie guy’s aren’t listed right next to each other], and on the off-white chance any title or creator does threaten their supremacy, they can just… well, buy them and their properties.

    Still, I don’t care. I’m just glad this is a possibility again, as I’d much rather be Jeff Smith successful than Mark Millar successful. If I can be arrogant enough to parse success like that.

  7. Mark Witt says:

    Have you and Warren Ellis been talking?

    http://www.warrenellis.com/?p=10615

  8. Mark Witt says:

    One more thought, and forgive me if it has been covered in the comments to your previous posts.

    DRM. That is probably the one thing that will prevent me from going fully digital. I hate app/platform lock-in. I have thousands of scanned comics in .cbr (Comic Book Reader) file format, precisely because I can read them on just about any platform. And if I can’t? Then I have the ability to rename the file to .zip, open it up, and view the scans like any other picture. Without this type of freedom, digital comics will be dead on arrival to someone like me, because I change my platforms often.

    Admittedly, I haven’t done much research on the digital comics apps available now, so perhaps I’m speaking out of terms. But if the various entertainment and publishing industries have shown us anything, it is they still love themselves some DRM!

  9. Great post and a lot of good points, ComicBookGrrl!

    Anyone who knows me well knows that I want to be a comic book writer someday. It’s no secret. I mostly want to create independant comics, since I’ve found that indie comics appeal to me more than Marvel or DC (not that they’re bad). I’ve also noticed that a more variety of people read independants more than Marvel/DC. I also LOVE the freedom of independants. You can do whatever you want. You can create whatever kinds of characters you want. Creators should create.

    Also everytime I’ve explained the concept of CHEW (my current fav indie) whoever I’m explaining it to is always interested by the idea of CHEW. Same goes with Pride of Baghdad, Scott Pilgrim, and Blankets. Slowly but surely I’ve found myself becoming more interested in independants mainly because they’re something new every time and there’s never any rehashing of storylines or any frustrations like in *coughOMITcough*. I’m not saying Marvel or DC are just all around bad. I love Marvel and DC, but lately they’ve been letting me down, so I’ve had to turn more to the independants and manga.

    Again, great post! Keep up the good work! I agree with Deemar, you should check out the Comic Culture Warrior Blog! It’s a great place to discuss comics!

  10. Demon Etrigan says:

    This is a dream that will never come true

  11. americanwade says:

    This is great analysis and I think it points out the big shift we’ve seen with comics, which is actually pretty close to the way music has been for a while. I think there a lot of creators that aren’t necessarily concerned with making a living off their books (at least not turning into a FULL TIME job) and certainly a lot that aren’t interested in Marvel or DC. This is similar to how there are a lot of bands out there no longer obsessed with getting on a label or at least a major label.

    I think what you left out is the advent of Oni and Dark Horse or even the Veritgo imprint (I know, I know, still DC) and how that has been a way to get good distribution for more experimental or offbeat creators the same way some smaller lables (subpop) have been a vehicle for bands not TRYING to get on Top 40 Radio.

    What’s even better in the comic world is that you have guys that will do stuff for a progressive imprint when they have an original idea, but still dip into the Marvel and DC universes when they want. I really like that within the same decade, we’ve seen Frank Quitely work for Marvel and DC AND other shops.

    It’s pretty amazing what you can do if you truly have the drive now that there are options available. I would be interested to know if this still remains an unattractive route for some artists and writers. Especially for folks with day jobs, this is a huge time commitment on top of the not insignificant amount of effort it takes just to produce the comic itself.

    I’m excited-but a little less optimistic-about the fact that digital comics will mean greater choice. I think Marvel and DC aren’t worried about that fight because they have the major franchises and characters (not to mention if they fired all their talent, they could probably be viable companies based on the sale of TPBs and collected works for a few years) that will bring in the young kids and keep people coming back. What’s also difficult with the type of Saturation that digital downloads bring is that you’re in competition with a lot of shitty work and limited means of convincing potential fans that your work rises above the rest.

    I am superpumped that this will add much more value to the recommendations of bloggers and tweeters and will hopefully encourage more people to get out there with their opinions. Right now you can get some reviews from AV Club and there are a few sites to turn to like Comics Comics, but overall it’s hard to find good criticism across the many genres of comics. Newsarama, perhaps the king of comic oriented websites will get you somewhere but they’re more devoted to supplying exclusive interviews and previews and I’m tired of reading capsules about the usual suspects (Green Lantern, the Avengers titles, X-Men). My hope is that sites like this one-that aren’t tied financially to the success of the industry and the Big Two-will become more important in terms of influence.

    Thanks!

  12. Demon Etrigan again says:

    No, but I’ll try anyway…

    I really wish things were that simple, we ruling the world with internet. But when you grow up you see that there is a system, a way things are done.
    And people will fight to keep these traditions. I don’t see myself being hired by DC Comics drawing Superman on Deviant Art.
    About been independant, it’s a shot in the dark really.. you got less than 1% chance of being successful.
    I’ll check that kickstarter page anyway, and other donation pages. Got loads of action figures to buy 🙂

    keep up the good work, you write about very interesting topics

    • Amby Warhol says:

      Kinda like the music business, huh? And look what happened in that industry. Everything is changing including the system, as you called it.

  13. phil says:

    I caught the vid on The Amazing Fist, I think I’ll be visiting Kickstarter more often. Thanks 4 sharing this with us.

  14. Ferran says:

    Very encouraging post!

    I think the key is to create top quality content, the kind of content a reader would expect from Marvel, DC or any of the major publishers and deliver it in a professional way. Working hard in your site and tools efficiency, but most important, not missing any update. I’ve focused myself on these aspects and the results I see with my webcomic so far are very promising.

    Social networking is just as important, now that advertising is on the wane. People must feel like they discover things, and sometimes it can cause a world of difference in the way they embrace a product or content.

    But SN can be just as demanding as generating quality content, so each creator must juggle with these things as they see best.

    Great content CBG, keep up the good work!

  15. Kyle Quakenbush says:

    Nice little blog/site you got here 🙂

  16. Aaron Broverman says:

    Wow, where have you been and how come I didn’t know you before? In Toronto, no less? Cute too. Thoughtful analysis as well, I think us writers should get to know each other beyond this comment field.

    Bonus: you’re “Down with MMA”

    -Aaron

    White Rock, B.C. expat in Toronto

  17. M Kitchen says:

    Great article you wrote here Blake.

    I just finished writing some similar yet tangential thoughts regarding digital comics and independent art here if anyone is interested in reading them: http://www.ultraist.net/journal/2010/09/05/thoughts-on-digital-comics-and-file-sharing/

    That post resulted in an hour and a half podcast with Javier Hernandez that can be listened to here: http://javilandblog.blogspot.com/2010/09/javiland-episode-39-self-publishing.html

    All that said, I came to the same conclusion as you have here.
    Look forward to reading more of your thoughts.
    We need more people contributing to the collective brain-storm.

    Mike.

  18. I enjoy the honesty and simple blunt answers you’ve given. Even people like C.B. Cebulski (the guy who does hiring at Marvel) admits that it’s tough and it’s difficult to pick an individual out of a crowd.

    It’s definitely something worth exploring – and something I hope happens for me in due time.

  19. Wes says:

    Haha, Rob Leifeld created Cable and that was good enough for me.

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