How I Self-Published a Graphic Novel (1/10)


This is the first in a series of ten blog entries about my experiences self-publishing my first graphic novel, Tonoharu: Part One.

This account may be of interest to laypeople (maybe), but I’m writing it more as a sort of informal “how-to” guide for aspiring comic book self-publishers. When I was going through the self-publishing process I had a number of questions that I had a hard time finding answers to on the web, and I hope that this guide can help to fill that information gap in some small way.

This guide is offered with no guarantees. I’ve done my best to provide accurate information, but I assume no responsibility for any negative consequences that result from following my advice. For other important disclaimers, please read the rest of this entry. Links to other installments in the series can be found on the bottom of this entry.
Part One: Introduction/Disclaimers

For those who aren’t regular readers of my blog, I’d like to start off by introducing myself so you know where I’m coming from. My name is Lars Martinson, and I’m a thirty-one year old American from the Midwest with an educational background in graphic design.

I first became interested in comics in elementary school, and by the time I graduated from junior high I knew that comics were my calling. I have single-mindedly devoted myself to their creation ever since, in the hopes that I could eventually make a living as a cartoonist.

In 2003 I began work on a graphic novel entitled Tonoharu, a work of fiction based in large part on my experiences teaching in Japan on the JET Program. With Tonoharu I suspected I finally had something worthy of a serious publishing and distribution effort, so I started researching my options. I ultimately concluded that self-publishing was the best way to go. By shouldering the burden of the publisher myself, I could keep the publisher’s share of the profits, thereby improving my chances of eking out a living wage.

The verdict’s still out as to whether that will ever be a sustainable reality, but I’m off to a pretty good start. In late 2007 I was awarded a $10,000 comic book self-publishing grant from the Xeric Foundation. In April 2008, I published Tonoharu: Part One as a 128 page hardcover book in an edition of 2500 copies. I was able to secure national distribution through Top Shelf Productions, and my book has garnered coverage from a number of publications and websites, including the Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, and Publishers Weekly (a fuller list of coverage can be found here). The first printing of Tonoharu: Part One recently sold out, with a second printing just hitting stores.

So apparently, I must have done something right. And maybe, just maybe, I might have something of value to impart to others thinking of going the same route. But I’d like readers to be aware that my knowledge about self-publishing is by no means comprehensive, which leads us to the disclaimers:

*Disclaimer #1*
I’ve self-published exactly one book, and one lone experience is a poor basis from which to offer advice and make generalizations. I can only comment on the aspects of self-publishing that I have personal experience with, and since that experience is limited, this account may be less useful to those planning a project that differs greatly from Tonoharu in terms of presentation or content.

*Disclaimer #2*
Similarly, those whose personality or life situation differs greatly from my own may find this series less useful. Three things to keep in mind about me as you read this:

  • I know in my foolish heart that cartooning is my calling, and I’m willing to make just about any sacrifice to the pursuit of making a living as a cartoonist. My advice will tend to be geared to those who are similarly single-minded/obsessed.
  • I wrote, drew and designed Tonoharu by myself. I can’t offer much in the way of advice to those who intend to collaborate with others in creating their comics, or who plan to hire graphic designers to do design work for them.
  • While I am by no means rich, I don’t have any major financial obligations to speak of either. No kids, no mortgages, no college loans or credit card debts. If my self-publishing endeavor doesn’t pan out, the consequences would be much less dire for me than for someone who has a family to support. Those who have more obligations might want to exercise more caution.

*Disclaimer #3*
Speaking of finances, I feel like I should mention that cartooning (particularly non-mainstream cartooning) is a very poor career choice. Some of the very best alternative graphic novelists in the business have to supplement their incomes with illustration work, and others live in abject poverty. I’m trying to make a living as a cartoonist not because I think it’s a good idea, but because I’m convinced that this is what I should be doing with my life. You should probably only try to profit from your comics if you’re similarly burdened with that absurd notion.

*Disclaimer #4*
And finally, the most important disclaimer. This guide is offered with no guarantees. I’ve done my best to provide accurate information, but I assume no responsibility for any negative consequences that result from following my advice. Please take everything in here with a very large grain of salt, and seek information from other sources as well (I’ll have recommendations for good places to start in a later entry).

That’s probably enough for now. The next installment will address the first step in self-publishing a comic book (that being actually creating one) and will be up next Friday.


How I Self-Published a Graphic Novel
1/10 – Introductions / Disclaimers
2/10 – Honing Your Craft / Creating Your Comic
3/10 – Research, Research, Research
4/10 – Savings & Money Management
5/10 – The Xeric Grant
6/10 – Preparing for Press
7/10 – Working with Book Printers
8/10 – Distribution
9/10 – Marketing
10/10 – The Long Haul / Conclusion

Complete List of Recommended Self-Publishing Books / Resources

  • priyan

    Hey! great idea …looking forward eagerly for part2 upto 8 :)

  • Mia White

    My name is Mia White and my best friend and I are working on a graphic novel. We already have the name copyright, and are exploring the ideas of selfpublshing ourselves. Your tips have helped so far, but is there a certain software that we need such as Adobe Illustrator or can we do it by hand?

  • Lars Martinson

    Hello Mia,

    When you say “do it by hand”, what do you mean exactly? Creating the comic? Preparing it for press?


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