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Six Ways to Read Comics for Free

I originally wrote this for iTaggit.com back in 2008. It seems to me it’s more relevant than ever, so I thought I’d dust it off as food for thought for budget-minded readers as 2012 approaches.

There are not too many people I know that are not feeling the pinch right now, and have been for the past several years. The price of nearly everything seems to have increased by up to 200 percent or more, and short of space aliens landing and gifting us with a new, working financial system, there’s no reason to think things are going to improve. If you love comics, now is a great time to explore alternative ways of reading comics. Here are six ways you can satisfy your thirst for great comics without cutting into your household budget.


                                  

Your Local Library
— One of the fastest-growing markets for comics is the library right in your hometown. Librarians talk to each other a lot, and for the past few years they’ve been talking about comics. Now, a visit to your local library may or may not turn up all sorts of graphic novels; mine, for instance, has a sizable manga section as well as great works like The Castaways by Vollmar and Callejo and the entire Sandman collection by Neil Gaiman and company. But they don’t have all the graphic novels I would like to read. What can you do in a situation like that? Luckily, your library is very likely not an island.

Many libraries are part of regional networks that trade books, and that interlibrary loan system opens up your choices to a far vaster array of books than is at first obvious on the shelves of your brick and mortar library. Go online and investigate the options your library makes available to you, or stop in and ask them if they have an interlibrary loan program. If they do, ask how you can access its listings to see what’s available to you. Search for “comics,” “graphic novels,” and of course, run a search for the names of authors whose work you’d like to read.

You’ll also find prose books on the subject of comics, books on how to create your own comics, and DVDs related to the subject as well. You’ll need a library card, of course, but that’s one resource no thinking human being should ever be without. Once you start looking into the options at your local library, and the other libraries they allow you access to, you may never have to spend a dime on comics again!

* Online Comics — Your options for reading comics online are limited only by your tastes and your willingness to experiment with new ways of delivering comics to your brain. Some people will never adjust to reading comics on a computer screen, while others take to the idea like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Newsarama posted an article on the subject, and a LiveJournal writer posted his gigantic list of free, online comics. That list is far from complete, but it will give you an idea what is out there, and take you months to read all the strips if you choose to do so.

And, I have to mention my favorite online strip, American Elf by James Kochalka; his site has free access to the entire near-decade of his daily diary strips, as well as other features, many of which are free. And if you really dig his stuff and have a couple bucks a month to spare (or 20 bucks a year), it’s all yours along with the comfort of knowing you’re helping one of the internet’s online comics pioneers (and most talented cartoonists, to boot) feed his family.

* Have a Seat — Many bookstores, from big chains like Barnes & Noble to your local independent bookstore, provide a comfy chair and a welcoming environment in which you can relax and browse their wares.

This isn’t entirely for the sake of charity, of course — they know a certain percentage of browsers will succumb either to guilt or heightened interest from perusing an interesting book for a while, and those people are more likely to spend some money from time to time. It costs the stores virtually nothing and increases their bottom line.

Now, don’t be obnoxious about it — browse one or two books, keep them clean and salable, and put them back where you found them when you’re done. And if you can afford it now and then, definitely spend some money in these stores to show them that offering this sort of service is a wise policy that pays off in the long term.

* Friends with Comics Benefits — As if my previous suggestion didn’t make you feel enough like a freeloader, here I go, suggesting you borrow comics from your friends. Face it, some of your friends have better taste in comics than you do, and if you promise to treat their comics right, they just might let you take home some great reading material once in a while.

Of course, it’s only fair that you return the favour and let them borrow a few of your comics. I know the very suggestion fills you with dread and sets a dull buzz going in the base of your skull, but come on, they’re only comics. Share, already!

* Torrential Downpour — Have you explored the comics available through BitTorrent? I don’t mean illegal ones, either. Sure, there are plenty of those to be found if you know where to look, but there are also public domain and creator-approved torrents that you can download and enjoy with a clear conscience. Despite what some archaic organizations might like you to believe, BitTorrent is a great way to share files with your fellow internet users. A great program to use is uTorrent, which doesn’t use much of your computer’s memory and has a boatload of options you can tweak to get your BitTorrent experience the way you want it.

Sequential Swap — Finally, a great way to get rid of your old, unloved graphic novels and replace them with fascinating new reading material is Sequential Swap. This site puts comics readers all over the globe together and allows them easy access to the trade lists of all the participating members. I’ve done scores of swaps on Sequential Swap over the years, and most everyone on the site is friendly and fun to swap with. You’ll have to pay shipping costs to get your books to your fellow swappers, but in the US if you send by Media Mail, the average graphic novel costs just two or three bucks to send anywhere in the country, a real savings over the 15-25 dollars you’d otherwise have to pay for the graphic novel you’ll receive in return. 

Believe me, I’m feeling the pain of this economic paradigm shift, too. I’ve tried every method on this list, and they all work. See which ones match your temperament, interests and resources, and explore the wide world of free comics. Let me know how you make out, and if you have any other tips for free comics reading, feel free to email them to me and I’ll pass them along here on TWC.

— Alan David Doane
ADD Reviews Dark Horse Comics’ Watermark

The dictionary defines a watermark as “faint design made in some paper during manufacture, that is visible when held against the light and typically identifies the maker.” Dark Horse defies this rather conventional view with its digital watermark, by making it bold, not faint, visible at all times, and applying it not to paper but to digital review copies rather than paper.

"Wait a minute," you’re no doubt saying, "I’ve seen a digital watermark on promotional items from Marvel, and they’re not that bad." Well, that’s Marvel, my friend. They stick a watermark in the corner, sometimes obscuring a small part of the artwork, but Dark Horse? They want to make certain you can think only of the watermark when trying to immerse yourself in whatever it is that lies beneath it:





See what I mean? Now multiply that times 6 panels or so per page for 242 pages. I think you’ll agree that, for staying top-of-mind and really drawing the reader’s (well, reviewer’s) attention, The Dark Horse Watermark really hits it out of the park. No matter how hard I tried (for some damned reason or other) to read the material — it might be comics, I guess, maybe — underneath that watermark, at the end of the day, it’s all I could see, all I could think about, all I care to mention of the file I received. Kudos to the genius that thought up this amazing way to promote a watermark. Job well done.

Flashmob Fridays Returns!

If you’ve been with Trouble With Comics from the start back in 2009, you may remember a weekly feature called Flashmob Fridays. Chris and I have decided to bring it back, spinning it off into its own blog and bringing in some new writers (and some who worked on the first version of FMF) to get together each week and converge on a single comic or graphic novel. We hope you’ll join us for the new Flashmob Fridays. An introduction and archives of the original posts are up now, first new post likely to appear a week from tomorrow. Be there!

Alan David Doane 

There are two types of fans: superhero fans and comics fans. The problem is that most superhero fans mistakenly believe they’re comics fans.
Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads!

The ads in comic books are just no fun anymore.

Video games, movie ads, glossy full-page appeals to whatever dollars the kids have left over after buying the latest and greatest MP3s on iTunes, or whatever kids are spending their money on these days. Mine seem to spend it all on energy drinks. But it’s not like kids are reading comics anyway, right?

When I was 6 years old, I started reading comics, and I was the prime audience for the ads you’ll find all over Mail-Order Mysteries (Insight Editions). Author Kirk Demaris, who appears to have had a childhood much like mine, dives deep into the truth behind the hype of these frequently ludicrous and always dubious little ads, the ones that stick with me after all these years.

How could they not? I was one of the suckers who bought the stupid piece of metal you put in your mouth to supposedly throw your voice. It did nothing. I sent away for the foot locker full of 2-D army guys that weren’t even as entertaining as the ad that promoted them. Sea Monkeys? Of course I bought them. They were freeze-dried brine shrimp about the size of a molecule, and if they lived long enough in your tap water, you might kinda-sorta think you saw one swimming in there, just before they died. These are memories that last a lifetime.

And now in this highly entertaining new collection you can not only relive those nearly-criminal ads (or see them for the first time, if you’re too young to remember them), but find out the truth about the crap your hard-earned nickels and dimes eventually got you (sometimes you mailed in your money and that was the end of it — believe you me). 

Demaris has a lot of fun with the subject at hand, showing off pictures of the real stuff you’d get and going into some detail about the swindlers who masterminded this decades-long scam that touched the lives of millions and probably netted the companies hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, which they laughed all the way to the bank with. It’s a brilliantly-conceived trip down a narrow back alley of comics history that was long overdue for exploration, and unless you have no sense of humour or history, you’re sure to enjoy the book. Much more than I enjoyed those flat-ass army guys, that’s for sure.

Alan David Doane

The publisher provided a copy for the purpose of review.

The Unluckiest Characters in Comics

Friday the 13th always brings thoughts of bad luck, even to the least superstitious of us. This week we barely avoid the dreaded day, as the 13th falls on Thursday. Good luck for us. Here’s a look at some of the characters with the worst luck in the history of comics…

Uncle Ben Parker — Bucky came back. Jason Todd came back. Gwen Stacy’s clone’s had more revival tours than Kiss. But Uncle Ben? 


Despite the occasional tease — such as when writer Peter David and the late artist Mike Wieringo brought him back, kinda sorta in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, poor ol’ Ben Parker just seems to stay dead, dead, dead.

And staying in the Spider-Man mythos for a moment… 

Harry Osborn — You’d think it would be great, being the carefree son of a multi-millionaire industrialist. The chicks, the cars, the pills…oh, the pills…! 

Even better, though, when Harry’s old man — who constantly berated him for failing to live up to his expectations — died as an accidental result of his own misdeeds, Harry inherited his wealth and even his secret identity as The Green Goblin.

But, Harry failed to live up to his father’s dreams even as a supervillain, continuing to never quite reach Norman’s expectations, and finally dying, poisoned by his father’s own Goblin formula.

Even more unluckily, Harry was reborn in Marvel’s “Brand New Day” storyline, which hopefully will be retconned out of memory eventually. Like his dad, Harry is a character who never should have been brought back, as his revival creates far more questions than answers, and stinks of creative bankruptcy.

Joe Chill — Ever heard of this poor fellow? He was directly responsible for the creation of Batman. 


Now, Joe Chill lived to a ripe old age and never really suffered the fate due him for the double murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. But how unnerving would it be if Batman showed up and confronted you with the truth? 


So of course, Joe Chill did what any sensible hood responsible for the creation of every gangster’s biggest nightmare would do…he told his fellow criminals. 


And, with forgiveness and understanding, those fellow criminals thanked ol’ Joe the best way they knew how. 

He’s really chillin’ now.

And, finally, the all-time champion #1 unluckiest character in all of comicdom…

Shermy — Originally one of the stars of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Shermy was in fact the first with a speaking role. 

Alas, over the years Shermy faded into the background along with (non-Peppermint) Patty, Violet, and other ultimately minor characters as Snoopy, Lucy and Charlie Brown came to dominate the strip. Ivan Brunetti paid tribute to Shermy in “Whither Shermy,” one of my all-time favourite comic strips (available in full-color in Schizo #4). 



I always look for Shermy to pop up at baseball games and in line for movie tickets as I read along through the decades in The Complete Peanuts, the great, ongoing reprint project from Fantagraphics Books. Alas, with the series now into the 1980s, we’re well past the point where Shermy will ever play a significant role again (his very last appearance came in 1969). It’s a sad way to end up for the guy who started the whole thing off. And people think Charlie Brown is unlucky.

Alan David Doane

Related: Shells: A Modest Proposal 

ADD Reviews Little Nothings Vol. 4: My Shadow in the Distance

When it comes to comics, I feel like I don’t know what the hell I like to read anymore. I know it’s corporate superhero comics that have abandoned me, and not the other way around, but it really makes me feel like a bit of an idiot when someone asks me (as they frequently do), “What are you reading these days?” Because they usually mean, “What superhero books do you recommend?” And the answer to that, really, is, not a one. The only thing published by either Marvel or DC that is active on my pull list at the comic shop is Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and that’s put out by Marvel’s Icon imprint with, as far as I know, little input or advice from Marvel. Just based on my own observations, Ed and Sean seem to be doing it all themselves, which is fine, because set free of editorial interference, they’re creating one hell of a body of work, there in the only monthly comic book I care much about at all.

But man, I have tried hundreds, if not thousands of times over the past five or six years to re-immerse myself in the  superhero universes that introduced me to comics as a storytelling medium. I tried Fraction’s Iron Man for a while, and that was okay as long as it was read in chunks of 6 or 8 issues at a time, but I need more than “okay” to keep my interest. I tried Hickman’s FF for the same reasons John Jakala laid out recently, and bailed out after four or five issues for the same reasons he did. Blah, indeed. Since Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s Authority is one of my favourite comics of all time, I gave the first issue of the new Stormwatch a try, and my God but it is fucking dire. If that’s what “The New 52” can do for me, I’ll pass, thanks very much all the same. Hawksmoor and company really never were the same after Ellis and Hitch left the title (and frankly, neither were Ellis or Hitch), and one day I’ll learn to let go of the hope that anyone at all will ever be capable of making good comic books about those characters again.

(Digression: I recently re-read Brubaker and Nguyen’s Authority: Revolutions and realized how harshly I had initially judged it; it’s nowhere near as good as the sacred First 12, but it does actually feel like those characters and it nicely sets up the team for a new era that sadly never was realized. My biggest criticism, really, is I wish Henry Bendix looked more like Henry Bendix as drawn by Raney or Hitch. But other than that, it’s good. If you’re a fan of The Authority but gave it a pass, try it now.)

So, yes, to get back to the point: I’ve loved reading comics since 1972, but I feel like I am a dying man in a desert free of quality comics entertainment. It’s not that there aren’t great comics being published, but that the transition to graphic novels and away from serialized periodical storytelling makes it far less likely in any given week that I am going to be banging down the door of the comic book store on Wednesday, desperate to get at this week’s gem. I’d give anything, really, to return to the days when Eightball, Love and Rockets, Nexus, and Acme Novelty Library, to name a few, were being issued in floppy form, and far more often than we see any iteration of any of them now. Never mind some era (1980-1987, maybe) when DC and Marvel had enough of a critical mass of talented creators working for them that guaranteed at least three or four good titles from each of them every month. As it is now, the “big two” (chuckle, snort) might as well be dedicated solely to publishing pamphlets about, say, country music; or farm equipment; or liver and headcheese recipes. Any of those topics would generate as much interest from me as the current Marvel/DC output in the hands of the current (mis)management and current fan-fiction brigade of creators.

So, yeah — what a delight to read a comic I enjoyed from cover to cover!

Little Nothings Vol. 4: My Shadow in the Distance is just the usual dose of Lewis Trondheim wonder and whimsy — a little slapstick as he tries to figure out how a sink with three knobs instead of the usual two works. A little rumination on mortality as he wrestles with nasal polyps, in a sequence that really clenched my sphincter for me (you’re welcome). A little hanging out with other comics creators, a little travel, and lots — every page, dear reader — lots of gorgeously-rendered pen-and-watercolour illustrations of the environs in which Trondheim carries out all these adventures. 

Lewis Trondheim is one of the greatest living cartoonists. It’s not even an argument. His work is immediately accessible, profoundly universal, and deeply hilarious. When he makes you laugh (and he will), it’s not just a sight-gag or well-observed human foible. It’s that you are so invested in his character and his world that it’s as if you are laughing at yourself, because in a way, you are. I can’t think of anyone in comics other than Charles Schulz who so brilliantly and intuitively understood human nature and conveyed it and depicted it as well as Trondheim does.

And I always forget how skilled Trondheim is at the callback. He almost always lets you forget something then hits you with a surprising and delightful reference to it later. There’s one of his best here in this volume, and I don’t want to tell you where it is, but believe me, you’ll know it when you see it, and you’ll love it, and it will make you realize how lucky we are to have comics by Lewis Trondheim in this day and age. 

Alan David Doane

Buy Little Nothings 4: My Shadow in the Distance from Amazon.com.

ADD Reviews Batman: Year One DVD

I’ll get my bias out of the way right up front: Artist David Mazzucchelli’s work on the Frank Miller-written Batman: Year One (the comic) is about the best art ever created for a superhero comic book. I love the work of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Gil Kane, to name a few great superhero artists, but Mazzucchelli on Year One (and also in the also-Miller-written Daredevil: Born Again) brought a unique blend of dynamism and humanity that is sorely lacking from even the best superhero comics. Mazzucchelli’s brief time as a superhero artist was one of the high points of superhero comics history, and while I love his later, more personal work, I do wish superhero comics these days possessed a hundredth of the visual depth and artistry he brought to the table. So forgive me for wishing Batman: Year One (the DVD) looked a little more like Mazzucchelli’s art. But, I’m nitpicking, and I have to admit it. Batman: Year One is faithful to the mood of the comic, even if it doesn’t always match it frame-for-frame. That said, many scenes in the movie are clearly right out of the book, and the characters look on-model, especially the vile Commissioner Loeb, Lt. James Gordon, and the prostitute Selina Kyle. 

The fact is, Batman: Year One is one of the most faithful comics-to-film adaptations ever. Unlike the direct-to-DVD All-Star Superman (which I liked but didn’t love), it really feels like the whole story is there. James Gordon (voiced by the amazing Bryan Cranston) is really the star of the show, idealistic but human, moral but flawed. The movie doesn’t shy away from Gordon’s moral lapse with colleague Sarah Essen, but wrings the same drama and pain from their affair that the comic portrayed.

The arc of a determined Bruce Wayne feeling his way from willful amateur to truly becoming Batman feels genuine and earned, in keeping with the original comic. The ending feels pregnant with a world of possibility, but is satisfying at the same time. 

I don’t have a Blu-Ray player, so most of the special features are out of my reach, but the regular DVD in the combo-pack includes a Catwoman short, and multiple previews, including one for Justice League: Doom, which adapts Mark Waid and Howard Porter’s “Tower of Babel” storyline from the Morrison-era JLA run and looks like it will be a fun addition to the DC direct-to-DVD line.

The quality of DC’s direct-to-DVD movies has varied pretty widely, but Batman: Year One is the best one yet produced. The voicework, animation, and committment to keeping the greatest Batman story intact on the screen all make it a must-see for anyone who loves this story, or these characters. The movie will be available on 10/11 for download and 10/18 to buy on Blu-Ray and DVD. Whatever your format of choice, see it. It’s great.

Alan David Doane 

A copy of the DVD was provided by the studio for the purpose of review. 

Buy Batman: Year One at Amazon.com: Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy, Single-Disc DVD, Two-Disc Special Edition.

So You Want to Make Comics?

So you want to make comics. A lot of people do, but only a few are ever lucky enough to see their stories get into print. There are few storytelling mediums as visceral and exciting as comics, and nothing as satisfying as seeing your own stories come together and entertain an audience, so if you are thinking about creating comics, here are some points to remember along the way. 

How do you get started creating comics? The best thing to do is simply make comics. All you really need is a piece of paper and drawing supplies, or a computer, or some combination of all of those or any other art supplies you can muster to create your story in words and pictures. The Education of Hopey Glass by Jaime HernandezI have nearly zero talent for drawing and almost as little desire to write stories, but even I have created comics in this manner. Your supplies matter, but nowhere near as much as your desire to create comics.

There are numerous books that will tell you a lot about how to make comics, but usually those books are skewed to creating the sort of comics that the creator of the book is known for. If you’re looking to be the very best comics creator you can be, the best way to achieve that is just to assemble your tools and start creating stories. Do your best to improve your craft, whether it’s writing, drawing, or both. Tell stories that have the most personal meaning and importance to you as a human being, whether they are autobiographical or fictional. 

It’s a truism in comics creation that everyone has to create 1,000 bad pages before they start creating good ones. The more comics you create, the better a feel you’ll have for what types of stories and storytelling modes work best for you. When you feel you’re ready for some input and criticism, show the comics you’ve created to trusted friends, and let them know you want their honest assessment of what you’ve created. Listen to both the positive and negative feedback, and understand that every comment you receive on your work will help you better understand your own creative process and how to improve it.

Compare your work to professionally published comics in similar genres; if you feel your work has honestly reached a level where it might be ready for public consumption (and this evolution could take months or years), then you may be ready to assemble a portfolio of your best pages (editors and publishers want to see examples of your storytelling, not pin-ups and poster shots) and bring them with you to comics conventions in your area. If there are no conventions in your area, check the websites of publishers you are interested in working with, learn their submission guidelines, and follow them to the letter. Be warned that some publishers are not interested in receiving unsolicited submissions, while some are eager to find new talent.

It is crucial that you educate yourself about the pitfalls of working in comics. Since the very beginnings of the industry, creators have suffered low pay, loss of creative rights, few or no benefits, and other unfair practices. Be sure you always watch out for your own best interests. If a publisher offers you a contract, go over it with your own attorney to be sure your interests, and the interests of your family, are protected in the longterm. Corporations will always protect and promote themselves over the interests of any individual creator. This doesn’t mean “don’t work for corporate comic book publishers,” it just means “know what you’re doing before you do.” An informed comics creator is far better prepared for a long career in the industry with fewer heartbreaks along the way.

Alan David Doane
 

So You Want To Publish Comics?

If you want to publish comics, you’re not alone. Something in the raw appeal of comics storytelling makes a large portion of the audience want to try it themselves.

If I had to guess, I’d say this phenomenon is far more common to comics than it is to other storytelling media. Sure, a small percentage of moviegoers want to direct their own movies, but most people are happy just watching an entertaining film. Something about comics, it seems to me, spurs the impulse in a far higher percentage. So much so, in fact, that those of us that really don’t want to make their own comics, and yet have a prominent voice in the comics community, are often wrongly seen as wannabe comics creators. I wish I had stories to tell, in comics or any other form, but I really don’t have a lot of fiction inside me waiting to be set loose. And I certainly don’t want to start my own publishing company. You’d have to be nuts to want to do that!

So, if you’re one of those crazy people that wants to publish comics, here’s some advice based on decades of observing companies try and fail to establish themselves in the marketplace.

Cerebus the Aardvark

First, realize that no new comics company can be expected to make any money whatsoever within the first few years of its existence. If you want to publish comics, you must have a enough capital on hand to withstand the indifference your initial offerings are likely to be met with. Unless you’ve inherited a boatload of cash from rich Uncle Fred or Aunt Betty, chances are you are going to need to find investors. And those investors are going to want to see a solid business plan. Familiarize yourself with business plans by doing research online or at your local library. Warning: If your eyes glaze over at the many technical details of starting a business, you may not be ready to publish comics.

If you do not have the confidence that your books will be of such high quality as to ensure a large readership that builds over the first few years, and that you’ll be able to stick to your business plan and keep your investors happy, then do not start your new comics company until you can meet those marketplace realities. Wishing will not make it so, and if you build it, history has shown that they will not come. Be especially aware that new superhero universes and American-created manga-style comics are extremely unlikely to succeed. You might want to familiarize yourself with the rise and fall of such companies as Speakeasy and CrossGen Comics, to see where their founders went wrong.

Start small, with just one title. Make sure its creator(s) are able to meet the schedule you plan to release the book on, and make sure that the creator(s) focus on putting together a professional product at every step of the process. Make this as easy as possible by communicating your needs and intents clearly and in writing, and by paying them fairly and on time (every time) for their work. Conduct yourself as an ethical publisher who understands your business depends on the efforts of those you hire to fulfill your desire to publish comic books. Be aware that every issue you publish should contain a satisfying story unto itself, even if it is part of a longer, continuing story. Pay a lot of attention to proofreading, a virtually lost art these days, and be aware of professional lettering techniques. Bad, amateur lettering can spoil the reading experience of even the best-written and best-drawn comics. Warning: If you don’t know when to use the letter “I” with serifs and when without (“sans”), you don’t know enough about lettering comic books.

And how do you pick the creators that will write, draw, and letter (and possibly colour) your comics? Just because you like a writer or artist, that does not mean that readers will like their work. The worst thing an editor or publisher can do is be buddies with the talent they publish. If your judgment is thus compromised, you owe it to yourself, your creators and your readers to seek out blunt, critical analysis of the quality of the work and its likelihood of success before publishing it. Be aware, when looking for talent, that writers and artists professional enough to make your dreams come true will be willing to work with you and for you, provided you are professional enough to help them feed their families and help them pay their rent, again, in an ethical manner and with written contracts fair to all parties. Warning: If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer and an accountant, you can’t afford to publish comics.

If you must publish comics and are not already an established company with a well-known line and a reliable slate of books, then start your new company with one bulletproof book that is so well done and wildly entertaining that it can serve as the foundation of a steadily-growing company over the course of the next few years.

History has shown time and again that this is the most reliable way to build a brand and create a publishing company. Starting a line with a number of titles only dilutes your brand in the marketplace. If Dave Sim had released seven or eight other titles the same month he debuted Cerebus the Aardvark, it’s pretty likely you would never even have heard of that title, never mind the seven or eight others.

Be generous with review copies. Send real copies (not PDFs or other web-based previews) to every competent comics critic you can find, from reputable online critics and bloggers like Tom Spurgeon, Johanna Draper Carlson and many others, to online and print magazines like The Comics Journal and Entertainment Weekly. It’s absolutely vital that you get the tastemakers talking about your book, and it would be wise to pay careful attention to their criticism and suggestions, as well. Since they don’t know you, they can offer an unbiased assessment of what you’re doing right, and what you’re doing wrong. Trust your own judgment, but listen to the experts, too. Warning: If you can’t take an honest, critical assessment of your comic books, you are not ready to publish or create comics.

Finally, and most importantly, if you cannot afford a full-time publicity department that is dedicated to getting your books the maximum exposure possible — either yourself working many extra hours a day, or a paid employee, then you cannot afford to be a publisher. Hiring the talent and printing the books is no more than 50 percent of the equation that results in a successful book. You must familiarize yourself with publicity and marketing techniques, and be aware that message board posts and banner ads on comic book sites are only a small part of the equation when it comes to publicizing your comics. A professional publicist will have insights and inroads into getting the word out about your book that you never imagined. It will cost you money, but if you want to be a publisher, you must get used to spending money, and lots of it. It will likely be years before you start making a profit, but if the books are high quality and you start small and grow at a considered pace, and comport yourself as a professional business person with an ethical and moral grounding, there’s a chance you could one day be considered a professional publisher.

Alan David Doane