Note From The President, Cerebus 168, April 1993Copyright 1993 Dave Sim
As you can well imagine, I get a lot of mail asking me about self-publishing. It's also the most common request at signings and conventions. Martin Wagner was going to publish a comic book about self-publishing and a lot of us were helping him with it, but there just wasn't a large enough demand or interest at the distributor and retail level to even get a first printing out there so it sort of died on the vine (which really isn't such a bad thing. Martin's a lot better off devoting himself to Hepcats, right?).
So, I've decided, what the hell. I'll use this space to discuss self-publishing from a practical stand-point and just rattle on until I figure that I've covered all the bases right from square one and when I'm all done I'll stop. Hopefully sometime before issue 300.
When young cartoonists ask me how to self-publish, I always liken it to a golf fan going up to Lee Trevino and asking 'How do I become a professional golfer?' The answer of course is a question. 'Do you have a set of golf clubs?' Here, let me write that down. Buy a set of golf clubs. And then a second question 'Have you ever played golf?' Okay, that's good. Let me write that down, too. Play some golf. Do you understand? Writing and drawing comic books is like anything else. You have to apply yourself and you have to do it. Assuming I wanted to be Eric Clapton when I grow up (or at least when I'm older), it makes a great deal of sense for me to buy a guitar and take some lessons before I write and ask him how to become like him. You first have to find out if you have the aptitude for what you're attempting to do. Now, the only way that you are going to discover that is to sit down and try to do it. The guideline I always use is A Page a Day. If you can't comfortably do a finished comic book page (written, pencilled, inked, lettered and toned) in a single day, you are facing trouble before you get very far along. Assuming that you are going to draw a comic book every month and making allowances for the way that life intrudes despite the best of creative intentions, a page a day is mandatory if you're going to stay on your monthly schedule. If it takes you two or three days to do a page, the best that you're going to manage is bi-monthly and if two or three days is the best you can manage and most of the time if takes you four or five days, then you are looking at quarterly as the maximum frequency. When you consider that the average black and white comic book is going to sell two or three thousand copies and the profits from that are going to be around two or three hundred dollars, that gives you a total income of seventy-five dollars a month for all of your living expenses. Even the most widely-known and well-thought of black and whites are selling in the low ten to twelve thousand range. It is not a get-rich quick scheme. The first five years that I did Cerebus I could have made more money baby-sitting (that isn't a joke). Five years. Think about it.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself.
The most common mistake of the starting cartoonist who wants to self-publish is to ask questions about things that are two or three years down the line. How do I copyright my character? How do I find a printer? How do I solicit the distributors? How much should I advertise? What you are doing is asking Lee Trevino (having already established that you don't even own a set of golf clubs) what the best airline is to travel from tournament to tournament: how much caddies get paid; what sort of wood to use on the fifth hole at whatever course.
Go to the bank, take out some money, and buy yourself a club.
Let's start with the golf clubs.
You have to find out what is right for you. The art paper should be proportional to the image size. A comic book PRINTED page is 6X9. We draw Cerebus on 11-1/2X17-1/2 boards. The image size of the originals is 10X15 (PRO SECRET #1; I use a sheet of Letratone which is lOX15 to rule up the page. I position it on the art board, mark the corners and then connect them using a ruler and a blue pencil so that I don't have to fuck around with t-squares and shit like that). There is an infinite number of dimensions proportional to 6X9. You can draw the pages 3X4-1/2 and have them enlarged. It'll be pretty easy to fill the page, but you sure won t get much detail and all of your mistakes will be magnified 200%. You can draw the page six feet by nine feet. It'll take you forever to fill the page, any detail you put in will fill in during the reproduction stage and the lettering will probably vanish altogether. Something in between. There are a hundred different kinds of art paper and illustration board (I remember Bernie Wrightson telling me in 1974 that he used to use DC's paper to draw on until he realized he was blowing his nose on better quality paper. Having occasionally had to ink a piece of art on Big Two art paper, I know what he means). Buy a variety of art boards and papers. Most art stores are happy to cut them to size for a small charge. Try a variety of sizes. For Cerebus we use an illustration board (S-1 72 Bainbridge) that is like a sheet of plate steel. Everything sits on the surface. Pencils do not penetrate the surface. A pen nib will (Hunt 102) but it takes a fair bit of pressure. The problem I have with Big Two art paper is that it is very fibrous. If you put any pressure on the pen nib to thicken the line, the point gets clogged with fibrous and the ink has a tendency to bleed into the scar on either side of the line caused by the pressure. Once you throw on the solid blacks, the page rolls up like cheap wall paper and you have to be holding it down with both hands and one arm to keep it flat. Of course it isn't flat, it's all rippled so after a certain point you're half-inking and half-surfing. Cross-hatching lines and keeping them parallel on Big Two art paper is like trying to scotch tape waves to a beach in a straight line.
Once you have a variety of papers and boards cut to a variety of sizes, buy a variety of pencils. They go from really hard to really soft. If the pencil is too hard, the line is going to be impossible to see without digging right into the page and if you try to erase it, the pencil line will come oft, but there will be an indentation. If the pencil is too soft, it's almost impossible to make a distinctive line, the line will be very dark and when you try to erase it it will just smudge and smear. You'll also have to sharpen it every three or tour seconds and you'll use about four pencils per page. 2H 3H and 4H are the usual range. You'll see the difference between them when you test them on the art boards that you have purchased. Draw a quick little head or something with each of the three pencils; not the splash page to your two hundred page epic. You're learning how to swing the club; not teeing off on a sudden death hole at a Masters Tournament in Augusta. An electric pencil sharpener is a must. If you watch professional billiard players, they chalk their cue between every shot. Amateurs put as much chalk on as they can to last three or four shots or don't remember to chalk again until they muff a shot because of too much friction. The same principle obtains. Sharpen your pencil so that if is sharp enough for you. If it's too sharp it'll snap off and you'll be pencilling with a jagged point. If it isn't sharp enough you won't be able to pencil detailed lines clearly enough to know what to ink. Sharpen, pencil, sharpen, pencil. It becomes part of the rhythm. The pencil is perfectly pointed for a while and then gets a little dull. Sharpen. Point is too sharp. Doodle a bit on scrap paper until its perfect. Pencil. When it starts to get dull, sharpen. As you build up a rhythm, you'll know instinctively how long to hold the pencil in the sharpener and what position to hold it in so you don't have to doodle to make it perfectly pointed. You might want it a little duller than I do or you might want it a little sharper than I do. The right way is the way that is right for you. There are also a variety of erasers. Never use pink erasers, and especially not the ones on the ends of pencils Never touch the surface of the eraser that you are erasing with. Oil from your hands, an eraser and a pencil line are very bad ju-ju. You'll find that out. Okay. Variety of art papers and boards and quick little two minute heads on them; don't make the drawings too detailed and don't take very long drawing them, because when we get to inking you're going to throw ninety-nine per cent of them away.
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