Category Archives: Self Publishing

Articles About Publishing, Marketing and Promoting Your Comic

A Coffeehouse Comic Exhibit

I can’t think of too many things that are more compatible than sipping a coffee and reading the latest online comics. So what could be more natural than to have a coffeehouse comic art exhibit?  By definition a coffeehouse is a place where coffee is served and people gather for conversation, music, and other informal entertainment. Coffeehouses, as businesses, want and need events and attractions to add to their social draw for patrons. Comic artists always need more audience exposure for their work. A coffeehouse comic exhibit merges two mutually beneficial needs.

Obviously the first step for the comic artist is to locate one or more local coffeehouses which are looking for future exhibits. It’s as simple as making a few personal visits and making the appropriate inquiries. You may get turned down occasionally, but more likely it is just a matter of coordinating a time in their in-house gallery schedule. This article chronicles just such a showing that my daughter, Rachel, ( @lastres0rt ) recently put together to promote her art and online comic Last Res0rt.

Jig Saw Poster

Rachel is currently a grad student at the Georgia Institute of Technology and not far from campus, there is a classic example of a coffeehouse appropriately named Urban Grind. “Urban Grind was created with the the true coffeehouse culture in mind.” It’s got an eclectic comfortable atmosphere, regularly scheduled music events as well as open mic poetry readings and free WIFI. How can you go wrong with that? Most importantly the owner likes to keep the look of the Urban Grind fresh by having frequently changing art exhibits by local artists displayed on the walls. For Rachel it was just a matter of presenting herself and asking for the opportunity. The owner’s response was positive and a tentative date was established.

With a showing date established, the artist now has to determine their personal goal for their exhibit along with an overall theme. In Rachel’s case she wanted to promote both her comic and her graphic design skills. She chose to present a mix of poster designs and re-prints of actual comic pages. Based on the space available she determined that she would have 16 pieces in the show, 4 posters and 14 pages, a book promo cover and an “about the artist” information poster. She also planned to provide 4×6 printed post cards as a convenient take home item for customers.

Post Cards

 

Wanting to keep the cost down and focusing on the artwork itself, Rachel decided to mount each piece on simple black foam core boards. The Urban Grind has a utility railing that runs along the top of its walls and their typical method for hanging art is by using clear fishing line suspended from hooks connected to the railing. To simplify the process, binder clips made for an inexpensive but effect way to connect the suspended nylon lines to the art.

The arrangement of pieces was determined by the physical layout of the displayable space available attempting to provide a visual continuity that transports the viewer’s eye, building their level of interest as they navigate the walls.

Visually moving around the room.

Until the eye finds the main gallery wall.

A blend of Coffee and Comics to delight the senses.

An opportunity to reach a new audience.

Creating Artist Sketch Cards

As a comic artist, I’m always looking for ways to connect with my audience and also to find ways to earn money to offset my expenses etc. Recently I decided to create a series of artist sketch cards to have available for sale at conventions. In this article, I’ll try to give you some insights into how I’ve gone about the process.

The first decision I had to make was the format for my cards. There are a lot of  people who make sketch cards on a small format roughly 2.5″x3.5″. You can even buy these standard sized cards with a light blue frame outline and the words “sketch card” printed on them. But, I wanted to work in a larger size closer to the normal panel size of my comic. That meant that I needed a card that was approximately 6″x6″. I also wanted the cards to work well with ink and/or colored markers. My preferred surface is vellum Bristol board. As it turns out Strathmore makes a nice 300 series of vellum Bristol board in a 6″x6″ pad. Depending on where you buy them, they cost between $1.40 and $3.00 for a 20 sheet pad.


As you can see in the photo above, I’ve taken the plain 6″x6″ sheet of Bristol board and customized it with an outline panel frame with the titles “BugPudding” and “Artist Sketchcard” and my copyright signature. In order to do this I take the sheets out of the pad and run them through my computer printer. I made the template for the cards in Adobe Illustrator set up on a canvas that is 6″x8″. Then I save that off as a PDF document and use that to print on the Bristol board. The reason I layed the template out on 6″x8″ instead of the actual 6″x6″ size is because the standard paper size my printer expects is 6″x8″. Even though I’m actually printing on a sheet that’s 6″x6″.

Having decided on the size and format of the blank sketch cards, I’m ready to start making cards. I wanted to have two types of cards. One type is for pen and ink drawings and the other type is pen and ink that is then colored with markers. The plain pen and ink cards are faster to make and therefore I can afford to price them for less then the colored cards. Basically it takes about twice as long to do the additional marker coloring. In either case the first step is to do a loose blue pencil sketch over which I render the pen and ink drawing.

In general I erase any blue pencil lines that show after the ink has dried. I could leave them, but it’s an old habit.

Above is a photo of the basic tools that I use to make the sketch cards. Starting with the Bristol board, I use waterproof ink both black and assorted colors. My normal style in the comic is to ink in assorted colors so for some of my sketch cards I reproduce that look. For others I just use black India ink. I use my trusty lead holder with 2mm blue lead and a lead pointer. For the actual inking I use dip pens as well as Winsor Newton series 7 sable brushes. I also have a jar of “Pro-White” for making corrections and of course my handy Sakura cordless electric eraser.

I prefer to use Copic sketch markers for my coloring. The aren’t as flexible as using a brush and watercolors, but much faster and easier. Let’s face it, time is money.

Above is an example of an inked and colored sketch card. They aren’t as nice as if I were digitally coloring in Photoshop but these are “old school” hand drawn and colored sketch cards not digital prints.

Above is an assortment of my sketch cards. I want people to be able to handle them at the conventions when they pick out their favorites therefore I needed to protect the art by putting the cards in a self sealing clear plastic bag.

I buy these self sealing clear plastic bags sized 6-7/16″ x 6-1/4″ from a company called Clear Bags. A hundred bags cost $6. The seal is great and it allows the bag to be easily opened and resealed if I need to add an additional autograph ect.

I also take blank sketch cards to the conventions for the occasional on the spot special request, but I really am too busy to do much of that during a normal convention so I try to make up a big stock of cards in advance. I’d much rather be talking to people and showing them the comic and save my drawing work for in the studio. I hope you got some good ideas from this article. If you have any questions, or other thoughts, just leave a comment.

Writing In The Sand

There are a lot of talented people who want to publish there own web comic. I want to share some insight about this type of  undertaking. If you are someone who wants to have your own comic or you have already begun trying to publish a comic, keep reading , because I want you to succeed.  First off, you must embrace certain realities that exist. (1) There is a lot of competition for eyeballs. (2) Nothing matters beyond attracting and holding readers because playing to an empty house is not fun or profitable. (3) Doing a comic is fun, but also really hard work. (4) Writing and drawing the comic is only part of the job.

An Early Model Page of Monroe, a turtle.

To attract readers requires significant work in the form of promotion. And promotion is like writing in the sand on the beach, it has to be done over and over relentlessly, because the waves keep washing away your writing. Also, promotion is totally outside of your comic web site. The comic web site is your publishing platform, nothing else.

When you get a potential reader to land on your site, you have to grab their attention and convince them to return regularly. And, because most people have the attention span of a house fly, they have to be constantly re-attracted. Fancy websites are out there by the millions, it’s the content of the comic and the other content provided by you, the cartoonist, that makes or breaks your presentation. If your content provides the reader with what they want, they will come back, if it doesn’t they won’t. It is just that simple. So focus on what your potential readers want and provide that through your content.

The site itself needs to provide a comfortable place to view the content and clear easy access to the content. Beyond that, it should be totally invisible, the site isn’t the content. I see that mistake all the time, where would be publishers spend all of their time and effort on the look of the web site and totally miss the important stuff.  If you want to publish a comic, your goal is to get yourself up and running on a decent publishing platform. Then your real work begins, which is producing great content and the relentless self promotional work. It doesn’t matter if your comic is great, if no one ever sees it or reads it. It will just die of loneliness. And don’t be confused by the fact that you are a brilliant writer or a super great artist, talent is essential, but there are plenty of talented people who never get discovered or recognized. So, get yourself a big stick and get busy writing in the sand. And, if you get tired of writing with your right hand then switch to your left hand, but don’t stop. If you don’t want to promote, then you don’t want to publish. They are all part of the same thing.

Web Publishing a Comic – Some Thoughts

This article focuses on some general thoughts about publishing a comic on the web. I plan to add to it over time by posting additional thoughts in future linked articles.

I laughed at a recent comment from a friend about the short attention span of most readers. That is never truer than on the Internet. You have to constantly work on eliminating anything that can possibly get in the way of communicating quickly. It’s a constant battle. Readers are hard to attract and they can be gone in a “click”. I regularly have to remind myself that visual is the fastest method of communicating, and speed and clarity is paramount. You have to boil it down as clearly as possible, being as concise as possible. Repetition is important and useful but also it is your enemy. There is a fine balance between using repetition for reinforcement and repetition that causes reader’s eyes to glaze over causing them to get bored and “click off”.

Using the Internet as a publication medium is a real challenge. It is very different from print media. I have spent a lot of time studying classical comic strips and one of the first differences I noticed between the newspaper world and the Internet world is the instant access a reader has to the cartoon archives. In the newspaper, you read a comic and if you want to refer back to a previous comic it is very difficult and time consuming. On a web comic it’s a “click” or two at most. So the web cartoonist has to have the confidence that new readers or even existing readers will scan the archives to refresh their recollections of what came before. I even go a step further and “tag” every comic post with key terms so that a reader can just click on a “tag” and get an archive page with visual links to every comic tied to that “tag” in chronological order. A couple of important lessons learned are (1) recaps and repetition should be minimal because interested readers can and will backtrack to update and refresh their knowledge of the strip and (2) archives are not an afterthought but an integrally important feature of  web comic publication. Easy location of material and easy archive navigation should be critical aspects of your publication strategy.

Rachel’s Booth at Anime Weekend Atlanta

Last week, I attended an Anime convention with my daughter to help her promote her own web comic Last Res0rt. It was the third time I have gone to a convention to help her. Each time, I learn new ways to communicate and improve on the results. It also reminds me of the nature of the attention span of an audience. When talking with people at a convention, you can just watch their eyes to see what’s going through their mind as you try to communicate. You have no way to get that kind of visual reinforcement with web comic visitors, but you do get some interesting and revealing statistics. I track trends like number of repeat visits, frequency of visits, time on site per visit, number of pages (comic strips) viewed per visit etc. It becomes a statistical way to follow the reader’s eyes. For example, most visitors to a comic site will not only look at and read the current comic; they also will click back to previous comics. So this reinforces the confidence that repetition in the individual strips can be held to a minimum and the reader will supply their own level of needed repetition. Reader comments are also strong sources of feedback. It isn’t so much what they say in their comment as it is the focus of the comment. There are some people who want to add to the humor with their own take on the subject, others want to comment on the layout or the style of the art and others want to discuss or amend the actual content. Listening to your audience is super important because it can tell you a great deal about what they are receiving and not just what you think they are getting from your work.

Renato Taking a Dive
Renato Takes a Pratfall

I am a big fan of action based visual humor. So I am trying to find a way to balance the word play and the visuals in my strips. I am constantly trying to improve my comic, so I have been doing a lot of thinking about it. I’m actually trying to do three things at the same time in Bug Pudding. First and foremost I’m trying to entertain my readers. So that is the role of the humor both verbal and visual. Second, I’m trying to be satirical, to provoke some level of thought by the reader. That is the role of the situations and interactions between the characters. And thirdly, I’m trying to tell stories. And that becomes the role of plot lines and casts of characters. So far I don’t feel I’m being totally successful on all these fronts. The satire is certainly there. And there is humor too. The story telling is not really crisp yet. I just have to keep looking for the right combination of elements and I’ve set very high standards for myself.

A Rare Shot of Me Not Drawing or Talking

I have been pleased with reader responses to my art work and to the artistic production values of the strip. That is both personally rewarding and important to attracting and retaining readers. Personally, nothing turns me off to a comic faster than ugly artwork. I find it almost impossible to focus on reading a comic if the drawings repel me. So the fact that I am getting  good reviews for my art, unsolicited from readers, is a big plus. Now I have to really focus on improving the content itself.

Just some basic thoughts, I’ll be writing more on this topic later.