Zen and Art

“I need to print my first comic book. Where do I start?"

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

“I need to print my first book. Where do I start?  How many should I print?  And should I look to sell ads in it?”

No matter your experience, I offer that you start off simple. If you have never published comic books before, it’s hard to really know what people are going to respond to. So keep your first foray into the market relegated to baby steps.

The most obvious, first baby step to start with, is to print a mini-comic book. This is basically a booklet (8 ½ x 11 folded in half) made at any copy shop. Some people call them ashcans, because they usually end up in the trashcan. Stick to black and white on laser or copy paper, with a cardstock cover or possibly a color cover. (Color covers can almost double the expense to a book, so you really have to be confident in your product to go this route). The idea is that if you can’t sell a cheap Xerox book for $1 to $2, you don’t want to spend thousands of dollars to find out you can’t sell it for $3 or $4. So start small and work your way up.

I try to encourage people to look at making comic books as a process. Your first comic book is most likely not going to be a blockbuster. In fact, to be honest, your first 20-30 are probably not going to be bringing you fortune and glory. Especially if you are learning the process as you go. Think of this as one step at a time. As long as each book sells a little bit better than the last one, you are doing well. And keep hitting conventions with new books, so that you can see first hand, what people are responding to, what they aren’t responding to, and why. Eventually, you will start to see patterns and solutions, and you’ll put all the pieces together to finally put out that blockbuster you’ve intended from the beginning. Just be patient, and try to enjoy the process.

When you are printing, costs break down usually in increments of 100. The first 100 copies are usually a set rate .08 cents to .10 a page, and after the first 100 you get a discount. After the first 300 sometimes, and then 500 and so on. Booklets also usually print in 4 page increments. This is because an 8 ½ x 11 double sided page ends up making 4 pages. To help keep yourself organized (so you don’t set up the pages out of order) I recommend you take a stack of blank 8 ½ x 11 paper with as many pages as you will need, and fold them in half and number them pages 1 through however many pages you have, and the outside sheet is the front cover, inside cover, back cover and inside back. This helps keep you from getting lost.

When you bring in your order, you will tell them you need a booklet printed 1:2… meaning 1-sided copies printed to 2-sided copies. Or if you are really techno savvy, you bring in a digital copy with all the pages in order in a PDF, and let them print 1:2 from a disk. I highly recommend that, because you get a MUCH higher quality print from the disk than from copies.

I usually recommend that you start with at least a print run of 100, but ideally at least 300. I like to work in time frames of conventions when I’m working on a new book. I make a new book, with a print run of 300, for a particular convention. That 300 will often last me for 4-5 shows. And each convention I print another issue with 300. So that by the time I run out of the first book, I know if the series is going to do well, and if its worth reprinting. It’s also a good marketing tool to have several issues of a book to sell in a bundle at a slightly discounted rate.

When I print Mini-comics, I usually fold and staple them myself. This saves a lot of expense. When you have the copy shop do fold/staple, it can add a lot of cost to the book. Even though you will get a nicer product, because they’ll often trim the edges of the book to make sure they are squared. I’d recommend doing it at least once to see the difference. If you do decide to put them together by hand you will need to buy a Folding bone, and a Long-handle stapler. If you haven’t heard of one before, they are a Godsend for comic book creators.

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