Firstly: if you haven’t already, go read Tristan Jones’ article on Bleeding Cool about crowdfunding his Sebastian Hawks project with Greg McLean and Chris DiBari. It’s a comic about a Victorian era monster hunter and it looks awesome. Then go and support the campaign at their Pozible site, as I have. I admit that I have mixed feelings about this whole crowdfunding phenomenon, which I’ll talk about in a moment, but good comics is good comics and the boys need your support. That link again:
Okay, so now that you’ve done your good deed for the day, let’s talk about what jut happened.
Crowdfunding is being hailed as the salvation of the comics industry. Douglas Paszkiewicz, author of the brilliant ARSENIC LULLABY, recently wrote a terrific article (also for Bleeding Cool) about how his book, which was on the verge of cancellation, has not only been saved by crowdfunding, but has in fact yielded him triple the revenue he would have made selling the book through traditional channels, i.e. the Direct Market.
Now crowdfunding is not the only way to make a successful book in today’s market. Some friends of mine have recently had big successes the direct market with their own material–Justin Jordan’s LUTHER STRODE and Brandon Seifert’s WITCH DOCTOR have both been big hits (by today’s standards) and I think both of those guys are very happy with how well their books have sold. But what Doug Paszkiewicz and all the other cats and dogs who have successfully crowdfunded books are showing us is that there is a big market for these books–original, creator-owned comicbooks–that the traditional model does not reach.
I think that the success of crowdfunding campaigns lies in the fact that it provides a massive slab of grassroots marketing. Traditionally books are advertised in the DM Previews catalog in the hope that comics stores will pre-order the book, and… and that’s pretty much your only shot. If the book doesn’t get pre-ordered well, it’s dead in the saddle. Crowdfunding, which allows creators to market and sell the books directly to the customers without a middle-man to taking 65% of the revenue circumvents this problem… but this is basically buying that gutshot cowboy a new horse.
The real problem, of course, is the Direct Market itself, which was designed to sell Big Two superhero comics–by the Big Two. Anything that is sold out of the same catalogue is a bonus (or in the case of the WALKING DEAD, a kind of miracle), but that’s not what the DM was intended for. The DM is now a fraction of the size it was at its inception, and of course it’s those independent books that have suffered the most.
It’s not the fault of Diamond, who now control the whole of the DM by virtue of the fact that they’re the only distributor to have survived the 90s. Diamond is doing what the DM set up to do. It’s the fault of the Anglophone comics industry, where the ‘mainstream’ is doing freelance work-for-hire on decades-old properties within a very narrow band of genres. Superheroes or bust. There’s some amazing quality original work coming out in the comics medium these days but the marketplace just is not set up to support it. People are only now noticing the surge in quality and diversity of original material put out by Image comics and I am sure that this onslaught will yield improved sales, but imagine how well they might do if there was a sales channel set up that would service them as first class citizens?
Now, since this is my blog, I’m going to talk about me. Here’s me in a nutshell:
I make money every time I sell a prose story or a novel. Maybe not a lot–if I’m lucky we’re talking four figures–but I usually get something for my effort. But I’m lucky to break even every time I publish a comicbook. This is regardless of whether I self publish it, whether it goes through an American Direct Market publisher, my local Aussie publisher or whether I publish it myself.
I’m not going to lie to you. Despite the fact that crowdfunding feels uncomfortably like participating in an odious TV talent contest, I have been considering it as an option for my own work. Of course I have. An acquaintance has approached me about running a campaign for me for one project, and… well, Sixsmiths volume 2, with fifteen artists involved, is looking like a very expensive book to finance. I don’t want to crowdfund–I’m not wired for the kind of relentless self-promotion that running a crowdfunding campaign requires of you–but it’s currently looking like the only way I can feasibly break even.
What other options do I have? I don’t know. Write more prose? Sure–but I’m certainly not giving up on comics. I’m looking at pitching a superhero book in the next couple of months (yes, really). And what else? I don’t know. Somebody with a business brain will figure out a way to turn all of the recent and amazing positive attention that has been focused on the comics medium into book sales, I hope. In the meantime, I’ll just keep on writing.
Just as well the bloody Mayans were wrong, eh?