Selling Comics

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The Comics Journal published “Letter to a Young Cartoonist“. James Sturm, co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, published this comic at Medium’s The Nib. The conversation got going in earnest: blah blah blah comics money audience… authenticity?

Spike Trotman’s thoughts on twitter (excerpts below) and Brandon Graham’s redraw of Sturm’s strip are some notable current-pro responses. The WWAC staff did a little chatting behind the scenes, as well.

Megan P

You want a career? What are the realities of the market today? What kind of work can you find to support your internet-distributed cartooning? This has always been the way of art. There was no golden age. There is no creative class.
 
The internet does not represent a total transformation of ways of being or doing. It merely expands networks at the expense of space and time. What collapses: traditional gates and their keepers, brick and mortar, the old places, the old patrons. What flourishes: new gates and new gatekeepers (there is no real old and new media, there are just new game-players in the same old game), non-traditional retail opportunities, savvy self-promoters, new online spaces, new patrons. Things aren’t so different — can’t you see it playing out over and over again? (No, I gotta think piece.)
 
Noelle Stevenson, Star Trek Kirk and Spock fanart, gingerhaze.tumblr, 2014But the internet is vital social infrastructure that can potentially bring your work to millions, not something that can be simply judged good or bad. The internet, as a method of distribution and promotion, hasn’t ruined cartooning — what in the world did it ruin? Was there an alt-comics distribution titan that I’ve missed out on hearing about, being a digital native? How would Noelle Stevenson have faired without without the internet? How would Kate Beaton? How would Spike Trotman? There is more money in comics for more people than there has been for some time. That’s important. There is more energy, more internationalism, and more to discover. That’s important too.
 
If you build it, they may come. Or they may read Homestuck. Publishing comics for free online and collecting them for not-free is a proven sales and marketing strategy — and it works for many, many people — but is not the fundamental way of the world. It’s one way and you, yes you, can find others. Unfortunately, neither the internet nor the industry are here for you, man — en masse, they’re cold. Luckily, both are just intricate networks of people who might be here for you, if you can connect with them. It’s up to you to build a solid professional and creative network. It’s up to you to set goals and deadlines and test the market’s interest in your product. Unfortunately, it’s also up to luck.
 
But: Are you making good comics? Great, that’s step one. Do you know how to market your comics? Still going strong, bud. Can you sell your comics? Yup, that’s the tricky one. Thankfully, the art of the deal is something you can learn. Do the research. Be flexible. Kill your projects when they aren’t working. Hustle, young man, hustle. Art has always been compromised by capital.

Colleen

I read that Comics Journal piece, which I found entertaining and I think has some good points. My main thought is when it comes to making a living as an artist, history repeats itself and no one remembers.
Pablo Picasso, 1901, Old Woman (Woman with Gloves, Woman With Jewelery)

Pablo Picasso: Dad was a professor. Below: Old Woman (Woman with Gloves, Woman With Jewelery), 1901

Trying to make money as an artist of any kind has always been a problem, since the ability to BE an artist trickled down from the upper class to “normal people” in the early to mid 1800s. Essentially, most of the artists of the past that we revere (from Picasso to Caravaggio) were trustifarians (meaning, they were already rich/came from wealthy families before they became artists), so it’s not like they had a great, sustainable model for how to make a living as an artist that people can follow now. This is still widespread in the fine art world today. I wonder sometimes if there isn’t a sort of fantasy of how ‘things used to be’ that leads people to think that technological progresses (like the internet) is somehow leading us astray from some artistic financial utopia.

I think, also, there is a fantasy of the old guard comics guys — the Jack Kirby’s and Al Capp’s — who could get a structured job in comics, chomping on a cigar while they drew. Yeah, that’s a fantasy pretty much only white dudes have. Everyone else knows those good old days only existed for a certain group in society and everyone else’s prospects for being a comic artist improved as we moved closer to equality. You could say that the internet is a continuation of that platform for equality.The internet is a fantastic tool to extend your work to innumerable people, and the amount of content one puts online has more to do with how productive you are than how greedy the internet is.  If you want to save a piece for print publication, but you also want online exposure, you either need to produce more content that is strictly for sharing online, or just share your work online anyway and see what happens (which has worked for SO MANY PEOPLE — readers still want hard copies of books even though they’ve read it online).

You also have to be realistic about who your audience is for your work. A comic artist or writer who wants to scale the heights of Marvel or DC, and that pop culture universe, needs a very different marketing approach than an avant-garde zine maker who exhibits in galleries and does the occasional performance art piece.

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About Author

The rock that drops on your head. WWAC Chief Comics Ed. Find me at claire.napier@wwacomics.com

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