Tag: Indie comics

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #014: Shameless Self-Promotion, Part 2!

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #014: Shameless Self-Promotion, Part 2!

Back in August, I lamented about the giant gamble of crowd-funding your way into comics. But as of late — with a deluge of projects bombarding my social media feeds these days — I’ve felt the urge to revisit the topic and dive a bit deeper into the nooks and crannies of shameless self-promotion. Get your pat of butter and jam ready, kiddos. Let’s make breakfast.

The truth of the matter is that being an indie publisher/creator/distributor of original content means having to navigate the choppy waters of branding, marketing, and relating to your public… all in order to keep your doors open and the money flowing to keep the drawings a’comin’. Simply put: you’re not going to be able to draw without also becoming a draw to would-be patrons. Especially if you opt to crowdfund your way into building the capital necessary to produce a product. Because of the nature of the beast, that often necessitates having to promote yourself early and often to the masses.

The how, of course, is the hard part. Because of the advent of social media, it’s easy (to a point) to build up a solid network of friends, fans, and family. But once you’ve amassed your following… stoking the fire becomes a balancing act between pride in your work, and desperation to see it pay off.

Shameless Self-Promotion to me is that balancing act of shilling for your passion projects without fear of sounding desperate. And there’s no greater time to act shameless, when you’re crowdfunding. Why? Because Kickstarters are built on the principle of all or nothing. With that in mind, setting the bar high and then needing to clear it or else will mean having to ask every family member, friend, and fan to support you. A lot. Repeatedly. And in doing it, maintaining a tone that comes with the confidence that your product is high quality, while you’re literally begging them to back you for a few dollars… comes with its own set of problems.

And the million dollar question is… When do you cross the line from acceptable hustle to annoying shill?

Truth be told: I don’t believe there’s an easy answer here. Every independent promoter I know is inherently tied to their brand. As such, one fella’s hourly update of his funding numbers may incite a truly positive groundswell as his fans rally to his aid… and another’s once a week crying vlog of happiness may get the job done just as well. So, what follows here is wholly my personal opinion, and nothing more.

As a friend/fan/contributor to a project, I don’t want more than a single touch a day from a given campaign (and to be clear: if a campaign is broadcast to multiple pages I’m receiving? No biggie!). The fact is, any more than that — save wholly for significant milestones or other worthy interruptions — triggers my “I’m caring less and less about your success” feelings. Having been on the other side of the equation, the data supports my leanings. No spikes in backer-dollars-in came due to incessant needling by way of over-posting.

More often than not, backers come in very few flavors. Those who know you and know they will back you — where their decision really relies on “how much can I afford to help you this time” really is the deciding factor. Those who stumble upon you by way of someone specifically sharing the project with them, or searching for something in the space your product is sitting. They are sold perhaps by your video, write up, rewards, or most likely some combination of all of the above. And the only elusive group we’re talking about here… those who know you but have no need to support you.

My last Kickstarter saw about 150 people back the project. I have 1,100 friends on Facebook. Unshaven Comics is liked by about 3,000. So, you can tell a considerable chuck of either subset represents that untapped potential customer group.

And I certainly tried every guerrilla marketing technique in the book to sell to them (such as it was, in the long-long-ago). Posting morning, noon, and night (being sure to self-deprecate about my frequency of shilling whilst still being positive and excited about the project). Making up daily contests. Begging people to share the project even if they couldn’t afford to assist. Posting to groups. Posting literally in any corner of the internet where people might stumble upon us. Asking all backers to “just increase your bid by X and we’ll make it!”

And in the end, we succeeded, but in the wake of the campaign, I personally felt hollowed by the experience. While the goal was met, and my little studio’s graphic novel dreams would now come true… It was hard to step back and feel if the support was earned or pitied. On some days, I feel bulletproof, and proudly declare that a win is a win. But more often, I’m left questioning if the naked neediness of shameless self-promotion hasn’t cheapened my brand. And at the end of the day… isn’t the value of your brand the most important of all? In the wide breadth of those I know in the indie market, it’s hard for me to separate the shill from the salesman at times. We’re all hustling — and next week, I’ll explore our specific brand of shameless salesmanship at Unshaven Comics — but again: there’s a line between over-confidence and wild desperation. To know where it is, is to live in that lucrative sweet spot.

I don’t have the answers as to where it is, of course. But when I figure it out, I’ll be the first one to sell it to you.

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #014:  Con-Job!

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #014: Con-Job!

Unshaven Comics — the studio that houses myself and my brothers-from-other-mothers — participated in our final conventions for 2018. While other comic cons are going to be running through the end of the year… for us, the year is over. And what an interesting experience we as a company had in our final pair of shows. It seemed we forgot how calendars operate, and wound up double-booking ourselves. The newly minted Ace Universe show in Chicago welcomed us (and our money) the very same weekend we’d committed (as always) to the Kokomo Comic Con, in Kokomo, Indiana. Luckily for us, there are 3 Unshaven Lads, and Kokomo was only a one-day shindig — allowing us to divide and conquer. With that being said… there is a lot to unpack regarding the size, scope, and relative success my motley crew saw across the pair of shows.

Ace Universe is a hot new contender in the pop culture convention space. As brought to the geek kingdom by way of the Shamus empire — formerly of Wizard World fame. Ace’s calling card is top tier talent specifically in the autograph / photo-op space. Specific to the Ace Universe Chicago show we tabled at? Chris Evans, Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Karen Gillan, Zazie Beetz, Matt Smith, and a litany of WWE Stars all took center stage. The show itself was held at Chicago’s Navy Pier — which by most fans we spoke to, was not the easiest or accommodating commute to take. The convention hall was a single large open room, with the autograph/photo-op area dead center, artists and vendors around its periphery, with a “main stage” set in the tail-end of the space.

As an artist tabling at the show, we found almost immediately that our success would be wholly achieved through the grind; as most of the attendees came strictly to collect their photos and signatures. These “celebrity experiences” were costly endeavors — with VIP packages starting in the mid $200 range. Keeping that in mind? It became apparent that we lowly vendors and artists were there strictly to act as window dressing and distractions for the already wallet-light fans milling about. Friday itself was the most-rough day of the weekend, with the after-work crowds all dawdling in with little desire to buy. Saturday and Sunday saw larger and more amicable fans pursuing the aisles (all 4 of them) with only slightly more desire to hear about new and wonderful independent publications (such as “The Samurnauts” or “Toolbox”). Given a relatively tame tabling fee, Unshaven Comics left Navy Pier on Sunday night a little above break-even; once the $30 per-car per-day parking snapped the top off our coffers.

In contrast, the Kokomo Comic Con was a single day, single community affair in the wonderfully proud 13th largest city in Indiana. Here in its 9th year, Kokomo Con is a show Unshaven makes the trek out for regardless of specific sales goals. As denoted this year even more than the last, with little new to showcase at our table, most of my interactions throughout the day really were with well-wishers who already owned all that I came to promote. Anchored by stalwart Indiana-based comic bookers like guest-of-honor Stuart Sayger, always amicable Gavin Smith, and a handful of other fantastic independent artists and vendors… the show seats itself in the wide-eyed, big-smiled hearts of those who know what comic conventions of yesteryear looked like. With costume contests, light-hearted announcements over the PA, and a little over 1000 fans from around the city and beyond milling about, it was as far removed from Ace as one might get.  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #014: Con-Job!”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #013: Sell Out!

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #013: Sell Out!

It’s been rattling around my brain for too long; this endless debate that begs a simple question: What makes one a sellout?

The term itself is often overused. It’s shorthand for labeling creators as lesser for any number of reasons — typically revolving around the notion that a creator acquiesces to changes in their work as demanded by a corporate entity to ultimately shave the edges from their output so-as to allow the end product be more appealing to a broader audience.  We also label those artists who choose to license their original work for use in commercials and other sundry productions with the same term… but in the specific case of my thoughts this week, we’re focusing on the former, not the latter.

When I’d heard the term bandied about through my youth, I immediately jump to a pair of performers in the music space; Jason Newsted of Metallica (at the time), and the entirety of 3rd wave ska band, Reel Big Fish. When asked if Metallica sold out, Newsted slyly smiled as he stared down the lens of the camera. “Of course we sell out — (he waits a solid and bitterly pregnant pause) — every seat in every arena we play!” And of course, Aaron Barret and his motley crew of California skankers received their first taste of widespread radio play with their hit Sell Out, wherein they joke about how “the record company’s gonna give me lots of money and everything’s gonna be alright.”

Upon hearing declarations like this, I’d felt an immediate kinship with those that ironically scoffed at the notion. That reaching a wider audience to seek better fiscal gains by way of a reduction of harder-to-understand nuances wasn’t inherently sinful. It was merely means to an end. And as an adolescent, my heroes all seemed to live and thrive living right in that sweet spot. Their work somehow seemed above completely shameless schlock, where the slick shine of heavily edited production and marketing did its job to make Enter Sandman or The Mask palatable to both me (suburban metal-tyke / comic-book-smart fan) and someone ten to twenty years my senior. And why would that be so bad, damnit?  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #013: Sell Out!”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #012: 24 Hour Comic Book Day… the Pre-Production

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #012: 24 Hour Comic Book Day… the Pre-Production

On Saturday, October 6th, some brave (or insomniac) comic book creators across the nation will take part in a little fun activity called “24-Hour Comics Day”. Started in part as a challenge, and furthered by the indie industry to include charitable drives and other sundry sub-events… 24-Hour Comics Day sets forth the task to complete a 24 page comic in 24 hours, soup to nuts. This year? I’m going to take part in the challenge — albeit with some modifications to suit my personal needs.

First off? My goal isn’t to complete a 24 page book. I don’t publish books that short (the economics of that can be saved for a later article, mmm k?). Secondly? I know I’m not that fast an artist or writer. At all. So, instead my goal is thus:

To draw and be immersed in my latest comic book for 24 hours straight with a desire to complete as much of it as I possibly can.

I’ll be sitting in at my local comic book shoppe, The Zone, of Homewood, IL. I’ll do my darndest to capture my work — whether I stream the whole 24 hour experiment, or just make a big-ole-honkin’ article here on Pop Culture Squad and update it on the hour. And per this article, well, I’ll be pre-gaming just a wee bit to set myself up for success.

For those more familiar with my creative process? Feel free to stop here. Give me a like on social media, and be on your way. For the rest of you wanting a bit of insider baseball and see how the comic sausage is actually made? Strap in.  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #012: 24 Hour Comic Book Day… the Pre-Production”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #010: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 10

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #010: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 10

The first comic book I ever bought was in fourth grade. It was an X-Men Adventures comic cribbed from the animated series, which itself cribbed heavily from a combination of Len Wein and Chris Claremont stories, published almost 2 decades prior. I bought it because I loved the “X-Men” animated adventures on Fox Kids, and figured the comic would further flesh out what I’d seen in the episode. It didn’t. But I still loved it none-the-less. After that purchase, I dove head-first into all manners of X-books. But I didn’t know the Brood from Bushmaster and called it quits nearly as quickly as I’d began my new hobby. It would take more than a few years after that to really be interested in comic books again.

My newly-minted best friend, Matt Wright, bicycled to my house in the freezing Chicago winter to deliver a hastily wrapped box with my birthday present tucked inside. A pair of #1 issues of my new found love of Malibu Comics’ Ultraforce and The Strangers — loved, again, because of my viewing of the soon-then-to-be-canceled animated series.

And from the moment I cracked open those books — sitting somewhere between homage and pastiche — I was adamant that I wanted to be in comics too.

With that in mind, after 9 weeks of helpful hints, tricks, tips, and too-green-to-be-called-sage advice? My last lesson is the only one that I can give you with trepidation:

Why do I make comic books? Because I have to.

Personal history aside, the fact of the matter is at my very core, I’m a communicator. Be it in print, in pictures, in song, or in actions… I strive constantly to be a vehicle of entertainment. Over the course of my life — however short or long you personally perceive 36 years on said planet to be — I have been a columnist, an artist, a singer, a stand-up comedian, a marketer, and a generally OK human being. The through-line to literally all of those mediums? That I’ve been entertaining in each; some funny, some heartfelt, some serious, and all existing likely somewhere in-between.

Of all those medium, the one I am proudest of? One guess.

No, it wasn’t stand-up.  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #010: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 10”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #008: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 8

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #008: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 8

This past weekend, Unshaven Comics attended a bad comic convention. I’ll unpack that a bit in a few moments, but for now, just go on the ride with me. Comic conventions are a mandatory element of our industry. Conventions are the live events that draws together the widest breadth of potential customers to the budding indie creator. From behind an eight-foot table, a would-be artist can get answers to nearly every single burning question they’ll wind up having throughout their comics career. In short? The comic con is a living breathing microcosm of the industry writ large. So pay attention, because:

The Con can make or break you.

Let’s start with this past weekend to provide us a dead body to dissect. I’ll opt not to name the convention where my Unshaven lads and I failed to succeed… because pointing a finger of shame/blame is not only unprofessional, it’s wholly unnecessary. And to boot, the coordinator of the Artist Alley was fantastic to us, and our load in and load out of the show was smooth as silk (once we got our table assignment).

So why did it suck?

In short: The fans didn’t show up. And those who did, were not in the mood to buy. It happens. And when it does, we need to look at the data, the anecdotal evidence, and extrapolate our conclusions.  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #008: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 8”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #007: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 7

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #007: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 7

If you google my name, and “Kickstarter”, “Crowdfunding”, or “Needs Money”, you will undoubtedly find a plethora of articles I’ve penned detailing my complicated thoughts on the matter. But, time has passed, and as such, it’s time within the context of this series to imbue you, the newly-minted would-be comic creator, with my hot take on all of your fancy IndieGoGoKickStartGoFundMe’ing. In short:

Crowdfunding is the blessing and bane of the indie comic movement.

Let’s just go ahead and lay out the forest before inspecting the trees, shall we? The good part about crowdfunding is that it offers the chance to level the playing field when it comes to raising funds before a project is ready to go—allowing successful campaigns to have a honey pot from which to build a budding empire. With the toolsets of all the major players set, crowdfunders enjoy having a working platform to process payments, organize purchasers, and promote their project both socially as well as natively to the crowdfunding site itself. And when a creator is extra good at creating a buzz? Well, sometimes those crowdfunding sites will organically promote those on-the-rise campaigns which can snowball a project from funded to stretch goals in a matter of hours. It’s exhilarating.  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #007: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 7”

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

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.   Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, man #005: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 5”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, man #004: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 4

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, man #004: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 4

Onward Comic soldiers… marching on to cons! I hope you read that like the little ditty from Sunday school. Further down the rabbit hole of comic creation, we find ourselves at a foothold that will define you and your brand for years to come. One misstep could lead you from indie darling to worthless sham artist in a matter of swathes of a brush. Hyperbole? You bet. But we absolutely need to discuss the matter at hand:

Your Product is Your Brand.

Take a stroll down the aisles of artists in the alleys of comic cons (aka “Artist Alley”) and you’ll soon find that they all fall into one of a few basic categories: Book Pushers, Famous-Enough-Not-To-Need-To-Sell(ers), Original Artisans, and Mad Merch Guys. Now, everyone (of course) is a unique snowflake — so they will all be a certain percentage of one, and another percentage of another — but these categories all basically define not only what we sell, but how we sell at a comic con.  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, man #004: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 4”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, man #003: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 3

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, man #003: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 3

 And so, we soldier on! In this my third installment of my ten-part series on playing the game of Independent Publishing, I turn away from the negative to embrace the positive. Where part one saw me bitterly biting folks over my trust issues, and part two was a wicked warning on the evils of exposure… this week, I’m opening up a topic that truly has no seedy underbelly! Wait, don’t quote me on that. This week, I implore you to consider this:

Networking is necessary.

No one is an island unto themselves if they want to be a success. Crack open nearly any comic worth its salt, and you’ll see colorists, letterers, editors, and others throwing in to the mix. When you’re starting out as a creator, shake hands with everyone you can. Because the next hand you shake may wind up saving your book in the eleventh hour. But let me not get ahead of myself… We should slow this down some.  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, man #003: Indie Comic Book Publishing 101 Part 3”