So Long and Thanks for the Fish, man #005: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 5

This week, I am most likely to shoot myself square in the foot. And not with one of those fancy 3D-printed ghost guns you’ve been hearing all about. And not with one of my dozens of Nerf blasters. You see, I’ve been around the indie comic community enough now to divulge a little bitty secret no one would tell you openly about. It’s one of those “unspoken” head-nod dealies. A little grime on the underbelly of an otherwise joyous and hilarious community I’m proud to be a part of. If only on the far reaches of it. Because kiddosؙ—

There is a cool kids club, and I ain’t in it.

The key to remember is that in any industry, there will always be a social stratum. Niches within niches. Diversity where you’d think there’d be only commonality. What this means, in short, is that even within the tiny universe of comic book creators… there’s a cool kids club that you don’t just get to belly up to.  

Think back to high school. Or maybe junior high. Hell, maybe even back in late elementary. There were those kids who you always wanted to be a part of. Kids whose style, attitude, and/or unseen “X” factors just made them the magnetic north of popularity and coolness. Now, recall your feeble baby-giraffe-like walk as you tried to permeate their circle. They’d be telling a joke you don’t get, but can’t help but nervously titter over. Silence. Dead stares. Your one chance to break the tension. Open mouth, insert foot. I mean, if you succeeded, you wouldn’t be reading this column, would you?

And sure, maybe one on one these cool kids — when getting to know you — would open up, and you’d find some common ground. Maybe even a few inside jokes if you shared Econ together. Or U.S. History. But then the bell would ring, your hip new pal would catch the eye of his buds waiting by the lockers, and any rapport you clinched will fall through your fingers like sand at the beach. You fade into the background, and wonder what the hell you did wrong.

Here’s a tip: You didn’t do anything wrong. Put a pin in that for a second.

Let me pull no punches. Several times throughout my comic making career, I have made it more than clear my desire for myself and my Unshaven brethren to permeate the various groupings of fellow creators who we not only admire, but feel like a collaboration would be a momentous endeavor. And each and every time these would-be new-best-friends start another project, guess whose names are never even in the running to lend a single pin-up for in the eventual Kickstarter? Guess whose names are never on the cork board for collaborators? Guess whose names aren’t sitting in the backs of throats when after-con festivities are being planned? Pity party, thy name is Fish, man.

And for a good long while, this bugged the hell out of me. These same people who I’d pitched my pen to time and time again, have all moved up and on to bigger and brighter pastures without a goodbye. What felt like rolled-sleeve camaraderie has reduced to a gentle nod during setups and breakdowns. And for a select few who shared with me late-night instant message production woes, have all gone dark — save for an occasional like on an Instagram post about my diet or kids. It’s lead me, honestly, to some seriously angsty places. Bitterness swelling as I’d declare to no one how I’d just leave this whole comic making thing behind, or just keep my head down, and why don’t you all just go fuck yourselves I’d mutter.

And then I grew up.

Or that is to say… Someone finally came to me, to collaborate and commiserate. As Unshaven Comics set forth on a voyage from Chicago to Denver in our trusty mini-van (ahem, my kid schlepper), we were joined by a longtime friend who wanted to save a little dough by helping us split our normal gas/hotel/food bills into four parts instead of three. I’m not sure if it was on our ride to or from… but during a lull, I let loose a bit of my frustrations. How we’d been “in the game” for nearly 10 years, and it felt like everyone we knew was knee-deep in shared projects and comradery.  And how much of an outsider it made me feel. And in response, I was met with mirrored feelings. I wasn’t alone in my loathing of being an outsider yet-again. And from there, each of my listed gripes was met with aloof and confident swats of truths to shatter my overt criticisms.

The thing to consider in all of this is that I came into the game with an unfair advantage. My studio-mates and I are life-long friends. We grew up together, and united as creators long before we took to Artist Alleys. And because we’re house cats not social darlings, we long-since missed the boat to suppress social anxieties to join in the beer-hall-hangouts post cons, where mighty friendships are forged in unforgettable karaoke. These same sessions where new books are pitched on half-wet bar napkins, and followed up on over long phone calls during lonely rides home. The cool kids I covet so much time with are, in essence, the same Lonely Hearts Club Band my own studio is… without decades of history; just a shared love of the medium and the same fear I’d have making something creative with, when my business and brand are on the line.

What’s the lesson here? In short: if you want to be a part of the Cool Kids Club, then you have to figure your own way in. Simply put… I don’t know the way to break in to breaking in. All I know is that I’m proud of the work I do, proud of the sales I earn with my studio at Comic Cons, and set in my ways socially. If that prevents me from ever being in the mix when it comes time to create new and great things? I’m perfectly fine with that.

Because I have my own cool things to make, and eventually… those cool kids will come a’callin’. The rub though, is whether they’ll be cool enough for me. Natch.

Next week… The nuts and bolts of printing and distributing. Roll up your sleeves.