Freestyle Comics' Victor Dandridge Shares A
Mid-Ohio-Con Indie Panel Rebuttal
By Victor Dandridge
OMG. As I type these words, I can't help but surf through the immediate banks of my memory, literally leapfrogging from awesome moment to awesome moment at this year's, Mid-Ohio Comic Con. I saw old friends and made new ones; I had the distinct pleasure of general camaraderie and friendly competition amongst my peers. WE reveled in the glory that is the comic medium for more than 10 hours and I felt like a kid again the whole time...but then, the clamor died down, the booths packed up and we all went back to our separate lives, till yet, we meet again, at that Artists Alley down the road. Still wanting to taste that magic, if only for another hour, I ventured to my FAVORITE site for comic book news, www.comicrelated.com, where I poured over the pics and interviews, the videos and recaps, grappling for every memento I could find. But...there was a sour grape amongst the bunch...
I didn't have the pleasure of being AT the Indie Comics panel, and having my first experience ON an Indie Comics panel at the Champion City Comic Con just two weeks before, I was eager to hear what my comrades in arms had to say about comics and this wonderful world of Indie that we all play in...and OMG...what a sad tale they weaved. Oh there were a few shining stars to be sure, but their light was eclipsed by the hanging storm clouds of embittered creators, seeming with a grudge against the mainstream, against print form, against truly enjoying the form that so many of us have dedicated our lives to supporting, both financially and creatively. Like I said, I wasn't at the panel, let alone on it, but here are some tidbits I would've offered had I been, if for no other reason than to inspire the next generation of creators that's just emerging around us. Some of these ideas are...experimental - maybe even radically so - but don't be alarmed. Thinking outside the box is a GREAT thing to do and I implore everyone involved in a creative field to do so, regularly.
- Stop blaming the Mainstream: Creators who do this sound like those guys on Murray that call their Baby Mamas hoes and whatnot - the woman was good enough for you to pick up and lay down with and all of the sudden she's no good and scandalous?! Yeah right - if it wasn't for the mainstream, few of us would even read comics, let alone want to create them. Matter of fact, a few of the nay saying creators even TRIED OUT for the mainstream and it wasn't until they got shot down that the mainstream became "The Mainstream!" Too many Indie creators are treating it like there's this big divide between what they do and what the big boys do - that's self-imposed limitation. You think the big boys are killing the industry, become one and change it. Stop using their numbers as a determiner of what numbers you can do - yeah, they've got 40-50 years of recognition, that's also a lot of baggage and history. And with the way their numbers have dropped, that means equaling, if not overcoming their sales is a whole lot easier.
- Enough with the "web is the future," already! The web is a tool, folks, don't put all your eggs in one basket, because the truth of the matter is it can't sustain the industry on its own because it requires a lot more. First you have to get the Kindle, then you have to get the reader program, then I have to go the site where you get this book or that book, then I have to download it - oh but wait, my Kindle can only hold so much, so at some point, I may have to choose between having issue 6 and getting issue 600. And what about successive programming? With innovation being what it is, is it possible that current production files may grow obsolete and segue into extinction like the 8track and Beta? Can you easily share digital comics, or does it breed insular appreciation, which only furthers the lack of general acceptance and sharing of content? As a promotional tool, I'm all for using it - but use it contextually! Create content specifically for the web - the same formatting structure for books doesn't work as well. That doesn't mean redo your entire series in both formats (unless you wanna), but why not put some supplemental stories or ideas on the web that will funnel back into your book sales and vice versa.
- Know when to follow the crowd and when not to: We've followed this trend of how an Indie creator is supposed to work for so long - but who defined that for us? I say, rethink the model as a whole and see how you can effectively use what tools are at our disposal, as efficiently as possible! Remember when I said I'd get experimental - try this:
- Get sponsored: The average comic book has about 22pgs - not all of them actually meet this and a few times a year they exceed it, the point is that 22 is not a number easily divisible by 4, which the total number of pages printed always is - what that means is you have space to put in ads - go to your favorite places, the ones you frequent the most or where people know you. Offer them a spot to promote their business in your book - do it for the price of umm...$30 a pop - but when you do, it, give them a whole page's worth of glory! Now depending on how many ads you choose to have (and again, nominal is the key - my personal limit is 5), you now know how big your book is gonna be (story + ads = total page count), you've got startup capital, which immediately puts you in the black AND you've got additional, if not non-conventional arenas that will help promote your book FOR YOU.
- Keep your print runs nominal: I'm not talking 100 copies - more like 20! Just enough to get into your local shops. This significantly cuts down your initial print cost, possibly down to under $50.00! For the scope of this experiment, I'd say go with a Print on Demand company like Ka-blam (www.ka-blam.com). They're courteous, professional and they put out a good product - more than that, they're partnered with online store Indy Planet (www.indyplanet.com) that will sell your book for you - the cost of any copies purchased should be factored into your sales price and Indy Planet will send you a check for the difference...but that's not news, is it? Heck, anybody that's used them knows that! So let me put it a different spin on it - because Ka-Blam doesn't have a minimal order amount (that I'm aware of) to be eligible for Indy Planet sales, your initial order to put books in the comic shops is sufficient. Because you haven't overprinted, you're not required to sell any particular quantity of books to make back your investment - in fact, you've had to invest $0.00 dollars into the printing - so all books sold through Indy Planet equal immediate profits for you...contemplate that for a minute.
- Promote LIKE your life depends on it, because it DOESN'T: Not HAVING to sell your book makes it a lot easier to actually do it. You're not pressed if this guy or the next doesn't snatch up a copy, because you're not sitting on an inflated inventory of product. You know who does something similar to that? The Mainstream - go to one of the bigger conventions where Marvel and DC are on hand - are they selling books or promoting them? They've got flyers, posters, buttons, all kinds of odds and ends to promote their product; to put it in the mind's eye of comic book buyers and a lot of it they give out for free. Yes, yes, they're a huge commercial machine with millions to spend in advertising, but you've just masterfully initiated a cheaper publishing system that will afford you awesome promotional material as well! The sky is the limit for what can be used as promo items - and again, some CAN be free, but, if you sell them, the goal is to promote the comic book product!
- Use conventions and websites as promotional tools, not specifically as sales floors! Trying to get somebody to buy your stuff is a great way NOT to get them to buy your stuff. At conventions, specifically, your goal should be to create an experience for the con-goer - that's building a relationship, one that is far more lasting and will generate sales on its own. And for that matter, why are we acting like we're at a golf tournament when we're at cons? Make some noise people!!! Get loud, create some excitement, if not for your work, then for comics in general.
- Limiting the amount of books you have on hand is a way to allow for sales, but not needing them. Yeah, cons can be expensive, but if you play it right, what you're really paying for is an awesome weekend experience! You can easily recoup a con expense if you make enough lasting relationships!
I've droned on enough and hopefully, you get my point. Don't let the short-sighted anecdotes of a few kill the fun of making comics - there's a magic there that we all know and love and it doesn't matter whether it carries a Dark Horse, Disney, or Freestyle Komics logo. The possibilities of the Indie creator are limited only by the creativity with which he creates...
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