This is the second in a ten entry series of blog posts about my experiences self-publishing my first graphic novel, Tonoharu: Part One. I’m writing this “how-to” guide in the hopes that my limited experience might be of some value to aspiring comic book self-publishers.
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 see the first entry in the series. Links to other installments in the series can be found on the bottom of this entry.
Part Two: Honing Your Craft / Creating Your Comic
Self-publishing requires a huge commitment of time and money, so before you self-publish a graphic novel, (and by “self-publish” I mean produce a commercial-quality book and market/distribute it as such) you need to have created something that is worth the trouble. You’ll still be doing promotional and administrative tasks for your book for months & months after you’ve finished it (or for years & years if you’re lucky), and the last thing you want is to have a sneaking suspicion creep in that your book isn’t really worth the effort in the first place.I had been seriously drawing comics for sixteen years before I published Tonoharu, and I think the timing was just about right to take the plunge. Maybe my evolution as an artist was particularly slow, I don’t know. But you’d probably want at least a few years of cartooning experience under your belt before even considering a major self-publishing push.
So if you’re just starting out, the old saw “don’t quit your day job” probably applies. Treat comics as a hobby that you do on weekends or after work/school. Try out different styles, formats and art materials. Get books on making comics from the library and try out their suggestions. Go to conventions, join comic book clubs. Give your xeroxed comics away to other cartoonists, or sell them on consignment at an indy-friendly comic book store. Keep a sketch book. Do a web comic. Don’t worry about whether what you’re doing is good or original or whatever. Just have fun with it. If you’re not sick of drawing comics after a year or two, it might be time to start getting a little more serious about it. Take a look at your previous efforts from a few months before (i.e., from long enough ago so that you can look at them somewhat critically) and look for the weak points. Is the lettering bad? Do your character’s hands look like lobster claws? Is the pacing off? Do the backgrounds suck? Is the inking or composition weak? Etc., etc.
Force yourself to work on the things you’re bad at. If perspective is your weak point, do a comic with a bunch of weird angles. If you’re bad at drawing bodies, draw a comic where you show the characters from head to toe in every panel. At the same time, keep experimenting and trying new styles/storytelling techniques/and printing methods.
After a couple-few years of that, maybe you’re ready to get a little more serious still. You might want to start researching publishing options, and learn more about book production and graphic design. If you’re really devoted (and/or rich), you might think about investing in a good computer/scanner, and suite of graphic design programs. (My specific recommendations for some good resources for research will be the subject of next weeks’ entry).
So how do you know you’re ready to take a stab at self-publishing a commercial book? If you’re like me, you’ll feel it in your guts. But then again, no one’s going to be more biased towards your comics than you yourself, so perhaps a better gauge of if you’re ready is if you’re able to secure a Xeric comic book self-publishing grant. I’ll write more about what that is in a couple weeks, but for now, I’ll just say I wouldn’t even think about self-publishing a comic book without one of these babies.
I’ve only given very general advice in this entry, because it would be presumptuous for me to predict how complete strangers might evolve as artists. What worked for me might not be right for you. (Though if anyone is interested in my specific approach to creating comics, I wrote an excruciating ten entry series about it, the first part of which can be found here.)
I will, however, offer one specific piece of advice, which you can take or leave depending on the sorts of comics you want to do. If you have an interest in inking your comics with a brush (and you should, because it’s awesome!), consider taking a class or getting a book on brush lettering. (The former option would be ideal, but if that’s not viable for you, here’s some books our friends at Amazon thinks you might be interested in):
I took a brush lettering class in college, and it was one of the most helpful things I ever did for my comics. In fact I had such a positive experience with it that I decided to continue studying brush calligraphy in Japan, which is what I’m doing now.
That’s about all I have to say about creating comics. The process of honing your craft really has no end point; after drawing comics for more than sixteen years, I feel like I’m just starting to get some idea of what I’m doing, and I can still see many, many areas for improvement.
But while you work on refining your craft from now and until eternity, you can simultaneously be working on other preparations on the road to self-publication, which I’ll be covering over the next six Fridays. Stay tuned.
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