Thursday, July 24, 2008

Breaking and entering... comics

Almost two years ago (has it really been that long?), Red Flag Publishing published the first issue of our anthology Red Flags. We published what was basically a 20 page business card on crappy newsprint (a misunderstanding in reading the quote from a printer not used to dealing with comics and assuming they were printed on that 1940s war-rationed toilet paper) mostly to take to conventions and send to publishers as a way to introduce ourselves without seeming like rank amateurs. Every "how to break in" article or message board thread suggested actually producing something. And since Jim and I were both in the publishing business (newspapers) we figured that was simple enough. Jim's a writer and editor and I work in layout and produce graphics so we pretty much had the bases on production covered. We got them published just in time to hand quite a few out at Wizard World Chicago, we traded many people for copies of their self-published or small press books. We didn't have a table so we were limited on how many we could sell but it was a good taste of what the world of comics was like. We vowed to come back bigger, stronger, faster.

We very quickly had ourselves a second and much better issue of Red Flags. Immediately thereafter, writer extraordinare James Hitchcock began soliciting other artists to draw the products of his fertile imagination as he was writing faster than I could draw them. We also received a submission of mind-blowing comics from Slovenian creator Matjaz Bertoncelj.

We hit the Wizard World Chicago convention again, this time with a small table and what we thought was an attractive set up. The convention wasn't a spectacular success since we got stuck in one of the side aisles of Artists Alley in a sort of no-man's land (and I can see how that display wasn't as cool as maybe we thought and that guy sitting there probably scared off people). There also wasn't any big names to draw people past our set up so we could get the valuable foot traffic retail establishments seek when hunting for a location- we were the guy at the end of town near the industrial park. Plus, we still only had our first issue for sale. Our second issue was 99% done but at the show we had only some fliers I'd made- a tabloid size sheet of paper folded over with one page devoted to hyping the three stories for our next issue. We also had another flier hyping the work of Matjaz with a couple actual sample pages. I should mention that Wizard World Chicago is also a very mainstream town, despite Chicago being home to some of the best indy comics creators and retailers, and many fans just aren't interested in anything besides the spandex and cape comics from the Big 2- I even talked with one award-winning mini comics creator who flew out from the West Coast and sold less books than we had!

After the show we began posting our stories at Web Comics Nation as a way to stir up some publicity for the next book. But our press releases got ignored by the news sites we sent them to, despite Jim being a professional editor who knows how to craft a press release and despite those same sites featuring press releases of much more questionable news content or for work which is far less professional in its level of quality. We got a decent number of hits from our own efforts (the web comics aggregator sites worked very well for us) but no reviews, comments or feedback to show for it. Our plan all along had been to self-publish the second book at some point and hit the convention circuit again. Those plans fell through when our publicity efforts fell on deaf ears and then my partner Jim got busy with starting his own retail frog business, and any funds we'd have used to publish a second book dried up gas prices shot through the roof.

Finally, after much deliberation I asked Jim if it would be OK to start seeking publishers who might be interested in the stories we've produced. One of our problems has been that neither Jim or I has a published credit in the industry yet. In an industry filled with thousands of amateurs all trying to break in, it's hard to be noticed when you are just one of a faceless herd of rookies looking for a try out, especially if you aren't part of a circle of friends based in an urban center as this industry is extremely cliqueish and creators tend to bring their friends up the ladder with them, leaving less spots in the life raft for everyone else. So, we've decided that instead of peeing into the wind and continuing our self-publishing venture, that for now we'll try to entice someone else to focus on publishing so we can focus on creating (especially while Jim gets his store up and running to become the engine that funds our future publishing empire- insert maniacal laugh here).

So, long story made not quite short, last night I sent off the first submission to a publisher who produces an anthology featuring comics that kind of straddle the line between indy and mainstream. Something we've noticed in our past efforts has been that what we're doing is neither fish nor fowl in a industry where people like their niches. We're too mainstream for the indy crowd since we tend to play in genres and feature realistic art (except for Matjaz) while we're too indy for the mainstream crowd that follows name creators and tends to favor their genres untainted by things such as deeper meaning and politics. Besides, their anthology is also known for giving a break to people who go on to become something in the industry.

The only other time I've submitted any comics for publication was to Top Shelf (when they still pretty much just published their Top Shelf anthology, long before Blankets or Lost Girls) around 1999 or 2000 for which I got back a nice postcard saying that my story wasn't quite what they wanted but they'd be interested in seeing more of my work. I never got back to them and actually kind of gave up on comics for a few years. It's only now that I'm realizing how much I really want to do comics and that I'm sort of wasting my life waiting for the industry to beat down my door to beg me to come work for them.

So, hopefully this is just the first in a series of posts about my efforts to hustle my way in which ends with me getting paid to create comics. Stay tuned...

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