Let's Make Comics!
I wanted to write a tiny primer for self-publishing comics in Ireland. This is written mainly for people self-publishing their first comics in Ireland.
Before we get started you need to:
MAKE YOUR COMIC
Could be pencil on post-its, could be full colour digital painting on a padder, but you've got to make and finish a comic! Finishing a comic is the important part!
Resist the urge to make a book "perfect." There is no such thing as perfect. Perfect is the enemy of good enough. If you need a deadline, give yourself a deadline (and upcoming DCAF event perhaps). If you don't like deadlines, then limit your editorial passes. Sure give a book a once over to make sure you spelled your own name right, but it's okay if your style changed between page 1 and 30, compare Scott Pilgrim volume 1 vs volume 6, the evolution is part of the fun!
If this is the first comic you've ever made, try a short one first! Even if you have an idea for a 330 page comic, while you're working on that, try a 15 page or 40 page comic. Something you can start and finish quickly will teach you a lot and help the process of a 330 page comic go a lot smoother.
Keep in mind that printing a book works in page increments of 4, so if you've got a 17 page comic, you've got 20 pages in your book to fill, so feel free to get creative with interior flaps and your "about the author" page.
And don't forget to put your name, the year, a website or social media handle somewhere on the book. You never know where your comic is going to travel to, make it easy for fans to find you.
SCAN YOUR COMIC
If you're drawing digitally, make sure to work at 300dpi. CMYK colour pallet if you can, if not make sure to test some RGB-CMYK conversions so you don't get a shock later.
If you're scanning physical media you need at least 300dpi depending on the art style (depending on the medium, digital photography with a good digital camera might produce a better result than scanning), sometimes I like to scan way above that (600-1200dpi) and then size down, I feel like the scaling down afterwards acts as a sort-of sharpening pass.
You may want to experiment with posterizing the image, sometimes all the detail in a high-res photo or scan can produce a fuzzy image when printed again. Not every gradation in the plain white paper negative space needs to be reproduced. Dropping some unnecessary detail from your image can help it print sharper and clearer. It seems counterintuitive, but such is the translation from paper to screen and back to paper.
Prepping a PDF for printing generally requires InDesign or an equivalent. The only way around it is to maybe pay an extra fee to the printer to do it for you but not every printer offers that service. You want a paginated (pages in the order to be printed, not the order they're read, for instance the first page and last page of a story share a single piece of paper in a folded comic) PDF with crop marks (lines for the guillotine cutter to follow to trim the comic) and bleed (extra space to cover for slight misalignments in the printing/cutting). This is my least favorite part. But the good thing is, once you're making PDFs of your book, you can also make a PDF for digital sales (and to send to reviewers and shops you'd like to stock your book).
If you have access to a printer, it's good when you finish the PDF stage, to print out a quick low-res version so you can double check that the pagination works and nothing's missing or out of order before you send it to the printer.
If you've got time (and money) it's good to order a physical proof from the printer if they offer it before the print run starts.
WHERE DO I PRINT MY COMIC?
This is assuming you're not bringing a bag of post-its to a photocopy machine with your long-arm stapler, if you're doing it DIY more power to you, you can skip to the next section!
A lot of this depends on budget, and who you like to work with.
Damn Fine Print (RISO) https://damnfineprint.com
Examples: DCAF posters
Sooner Than Later https://www.soonerthanlater.com
Examples: Ghosting by Debbie Jenkinson
Plus Print https://plusprint.ie
Examples: We Can't Afford This by Matthew Melis
Digital Printing Ireland https://www.digitalprintingireland.ie
Examples: Madame Moustache by Hugh Madden
Screenlink Printers https://www.screenlinkprinters.ie
Examples: the DCAF postcards and posters you see around town!
Gemini Printing (01) 826 1312
Examples: Odd Reels by Matthew Melis
WHAT PAPER SHOULD I USE?
In general, as someone who flips through a lot of comics: I recommend printing comics on matte paper.
Even full colour comics. Yes glossy paper can look nice for prints, but matte is still better for comics. Looks better, feels better to turn, most of your favourite high-quality reproduced comics are printed on matte paper.
I've seen unique comics printed on reflective-silver-glitter-wedding-invite-paper, so there's exceptions to every rule but in general, stick to matte.
For small short zines you can get away with using the same weight paper for the cover and the interior but it can be nicer to choose a lighter weight paper for the interior and maybe a heavier card for the cover. Feel free to go glossy on the cover if you like. Even a slightly heavier card on the cover will help keep the book from warping and the cover from curling.
If your book is black & white, you can get away with lighter weight interior papers, even headed towards pulp territory.
The exact grams of paper weights are for you to figure out with your printer, either by visiting their office to feel samples or getting their weight options and finding samples yourself to test.
Fancier tricks like French Flaps can also make for a sturdier softcover comic.
Staple bound is the most common method for assembling short zines up to 40ish pages. It won't save you a lot of money, but sometimes you can have a printer just print the pages and you can collate and bind the book yourself with a long-arm stapler.
Another DIY option is to bind with needle and thread to add a splash of colour and elegance.
Perfect binding has limits on the smaller end, you generally need a higher page count to give the glue enough surface area to bond the spine.
If your book is very very short, under 10 pages, you can look into concertina printing (accordion-style) or printing on a single folded page (traditional zines) and skip binding all together.
You can make a zine out of a single A4 piece of paper in one of Kat & Kate's zine workshops in Little Deer if you want to experiment with this method.
HOW MANY COPIES DO I PRINT?
That depends on your budget and storage. The more you print, the cheaper your per-unit cost becomes! But with more books comes storage issues.
50 is a fine first print run for a first time self published comic. There's a chance you'll sell out and need to reprint! Yay!
100 is common but you'll definitely have a heavy box of comics you'll need to store for months/years depending how frequently you bring it to bookshops and festivals.
100+ I would only recommend if you have access to weather-safe storage, an empty closet? An insulated attic? A family member's garage? You will likely have copies of this book for years, so be sure you're happy to move it with you from place to place.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I CHARGE?
This calculation depends on how much it cost you to print the book and what you'd like to make on each copy against what audiences expect a comic to cost.
Often artists will change their prices based on their mood or their circumstances, "I've travelled to this event I don't want to drag these books home, I'll lower the price this afternoon" but I'm a proponent of choosing a price when you print a book and sticking to it.
In general, you should be charging enough for your comic that if you need to sell it for half-off (either wholesale to a shop or even just to put it on sale yourself to clear out your garage) you're still making some profit.
So if it costs you €4 a book to print, and you're selling it for €5 a book, you're not giving yourself much wiggle room.
Similarly, there's value to the reader. If your book is 4 pages long, it'll be a stretch to ask for €12, even to an indy audience that enjoys supporting artists directly. Often the higher prices in self-publishing are reserved for limited-print-run grad-school-thesis-handmade-art-books.
There's quite a few mini comics in Little Deer in the A6-A5-A4 size, between 15-40 pages, selling for around €7. If your book falls in that category, you may be looking at a price between €5-€10
If your book is over 50 pages, maybe consider €10+
If you've made a graphic novela (80+ pages) maybe consider €15+
If you've made a longer graphic novel (200+ pages) maybe consider €20+
For selling a digital version alongside the physical version, I suggest not undercutting yourself too much. You can offer a slight discount for the digital edition, but if you're selling the print copy for €7, maybe sell the digital version for €5 instead of €1. Obviously lots of digital vendors allow the ability to add a tip, or pay what you want, and some artists make a lot of money that way! All my advice is general.
NOW WHAT DO I DO?
Get started on your next comic!
But while you're planning your next book, set aside some time to
SELL YOUR BOOK
Tell people you've made a comic! Share links to the digital version everywhere. Make yourself a website, even a free one, and add the link.
Sell the physical book at festivals and bookshops! Submit your comic to reviewers and awards!
DCAF, The Dublin Comic Arts Festival (hi) is a good first festival if you've never tabled before. Sharing tables with friends is a great way to lower the pressure and ease the costs. If you've got other ideas for stickers and badges and postcards, now is the time to print them!
Little Deer (hi again) buys self published comics.
We buy "firm sale" or "wholesale" or "outright" which all means we buy the book from you at the discount and then sell it on at the regular price. If you're selling the book for €10, we'll buy copies for €6 and sell it on for €10. A 60/40 split, you get 60% when we buy it from you and then we make 40% on that when we sell it on.
Firm sale has the advantage of getting you money straight away and then it's our stock to worry about selling. We're motivated to sell our stock.
Consignment is the alternative bookstore sales method. Consignment means you give them the book and if it sells you get paid (minus their cut), if it doesn't sell the books are yours to take back. Less risk, maybe you get a higher cut, but less motivation.
The trick with consignment is you need to be organized and keep track of where you've sent your book and be sure to follow up at regular intervals (don't hassle them, but contacting them 2 or 3 times a year shouldn't be a bother) to make sure that you get paid if the book has sold.
Besides comic book shops, you can try bookstores with nice graphic novel sections (and local artists sections), galleries, cafes, music shops, any shop that you may have a relationship with. Spend all your free time rollerskating? Ask the roller rink to stock your comic! If you have a regular car boot sale or farmer's market you like you can ask them how much to set up a folding table.
Submit review copies to reviewers! Which reviewers? Well you need to look around a bit for that. The Irish Times reviews comics with some regularity now, but you need to investigate who is writing those reviews and kindly contact them or follow their socials to see when they're looking for books to review (most commonly towards the end of the year). The Dublin Inquirer sometimes reviews comics, again, polite emails to editors and keep an eye out for submissions. Broken Frontier is a site dedicated to indy comics! They've also quite a backlog of books to review, so they may not review every book you submit to them.
Submit your comic to awards! Which awards? I honestly don't know! I'd try the SPX Ignatz Awards. Beyond that, I don't have much experience. Beware any awards you haven't seen more experienced artists mention and beware any awards that either asks for money or bizarre contracts.
And the reason I said at the start of this section to start working on your next comic is that sometimes the selling/festival/review/award step of releasing a book can be an emotional roller coaster so it's nice to have your next book there to keep you busy.
WHY SHOULD I REPRINT MY OLD COMIC?
Your first print run sold out? Congratulations!
Now I run a physical book store, so I'm partial to physical books. Yes, you could print 50 books and sell 50 books and then share the comic on Twitter and be done with it. But sometimes it's nice to have a lot of old books around!
It shows your prolificacy and range as an artist, it offers variety to customers at festivals. If you think, "everyone who wanted to read my comic has read it already" you'd be wrong!
New audiences are finding comics every day! Kids reading comics are growing up, comic fans are in town visiting who have never been to Ireland before and are asking for local books, artists are immigrating to Ireland and searching for peers and colleagues, Little Deer and DCAF are working all the time at bringing in new audiences! Audiences who never saw that zine you published last year!
"But I don't like my old stuff" - no one knows it's your old stuff! Very few people are looking to make sure a book says "most recent work" before they buy it. And often, if you were to shuffle your books, audiences wouldn't be able to guess the exact order in which they progressed. We're often too close to our own work to see it the way a fresh audience sees it.
Reprinting old material also gives you the opportunity to experiment with printing options! Maybe it's time to collect a bunch of short stories in one perfect bound book? Maybe a book that you originally printed digitally you should try printing in RISO? Maybe it would be fun to print an A6 mini edition? Or go the opposite direction and blow it up to A4! Second editions (and beyond) give you a chance to try different printers, different sizes, print methods, which then gives you more experience for the next book.