Note From The President, Cerebus 181, April 1994Copyright 1994 Dave Sim
To find a printer for your self-published comic book, you can refer to the yellow pages of your phone directory. Provide them with a copy of a black-and-white comic with colour covers (Cerebus, Yummy Fur, whatever) and ask how much they would charge to print 2,000, 2,500, 3,000, etc. This is the way that printers work: if you just ask how much they charge, they're going to ask how many you want to print. Expect the quotes to vary from around 40 cents to 2 dollars a copy. Let them know that the cover stock and interior paper do not have to be exactly the same end that you are concerned about keeping the cost per unit down. Sometimes they will have a supply of paper from another job or remainders lying around that they can give you a 'deal' on.
The difference in price will depend on what the printer specializes in. If they do mostly wedding invitations and fliers, a comic book is going to be a very big job and it's going to cost you. If they do mostly newspapers and advertising supplements, it will be just another job. It they do mostly coffee-table-style art books and labels and promotions for Coca Cola, Exxon or other multinational corporations, your job is going to be too small and it will cost you.
Meanwhile. back at the creative end of things, I am finding that the biggest problem potential self-publishers face is not knowing for a fact how productive or unproductive they are. Without naming names (although I am sorely tempted), lack of productivity has become a recurring theme. The self-deception falls into a number of distinct categories. 'I'm plotting issue six.' When they say this, what they mean is that they only have six pages done on issue two and issue one came out eight months ago. 'I'm finishing up issue five.' When they say this, what they mean is that they've done all the 'easy' pages, half of the book is a mass of pencil squiggles and to get the book out on time, they will have to pencil, ink and letter between two and three pages a day and the printer will have to shoot the pages, print the book, pack it and ship it in a day and a half. 'I should be back on schedule with issue four.' When they say this, what they mean is that issue one of their bimonthly title came out in August of 1991, issue two came out in December 1992, issue three came out in June of 1993 and issue four will be going to the printer in the second week of September (to the average self-publisher, the day the book goes to the printer is the day it shipped; they fail to take into account that it takes an average of three weeks to print a book and three weeks for it to arrive in comic book stores). If you are doing a bimonthly book and issue four ships sixty days after issue three, you are late. This is one of the fundamental differences of perception in the direct market. I remember Ger and I working like plantation slaves to get Cerebus back on schedule; it was one of those periods when we were shipping a book just about every two and a half weeks (the memory lingers of that arduous time; it is an article of faith, the Central Article of Faith at A-V, now: Never Again). I would go into Now & Then Books and someone would smirk at me and say, 'Late again, eh?' For retailers and customers, late shipping is cumulative. For creators and publishers, late shipping is a purely relative matter; if the book is bimonthly and issue four ships sixty days after issue three, they are on schedule. Since there are more retailers and customers than there are creators and publishers, their interpretation of reality is the one which prevails.
Late shipping results from slow production. Slow production results from not producing pages fast enough. Not producing pages fast enough results from underestimating the length of time it takes to produce a finished page and overestimating the value of unfinished work. A pencilled page is not a finished page. A plotted page is not a finished page. A cover is not an issue.
In order to fix the problem of self-deception about your productivity you need an external, undeniable yardstick of productivity. We call these clocks and calendars. Here's an easy test for you as a potential self-publisher. Sit down to do a finished page. You are starting with a blank piece of art board. When you are done, it will be the pencilled, inked and lettered page one of issue one. Look at the clock when you start. 10 a.m. (let's say). Work on your page. After you've been working on the page for a while, picture in your mind whet time it is. If you picture in your mind that it is eleven-fifteen, and you look at the clock and it's noon, you have just discovered something about your productivity. You are considerably slower then you think you are. If you want to compete in the market, you are going to have to go faster. Not frantically faster, or sloppily faster; smoothly faster, efficiently faster. There are things on any given page that you know how to do and there are things you don't know how to do. You have to do the things you know how to do smoothly and efficiently to buy yourself enough time to solve the problem you don't know how to solve, yet. You have to learn how to pencil, ink, write and letter instinctively. If you have solved the problems with the first three panels, finishing them is a purely technical exercise: solid black goes here, thick lines go here. Start visualizing solutions to the part of the page you're uncertain about while your unconscious 'Zen' mind is finishing the technical exercise. Build confidence and efficiency in yourself. Once you have done everything on a page that you know how to do, the parts you don't know how to do become a surrounded enemy. Start whittling away at the uncertain part; if you know what the gesture and clothes are, do the gesture and the clothes. Check the time frequently, always picturing what time it is before you check. There are good mantras: 'I know how to do this', 'I can solve this problem', 'this is not that difficult', 'I'm not happy with the way this turned out, but I will do better on the next one,' 'what can I do, right now, right this second, to get my book closer to completion?', 'this is easy', 'this is fun'.
It is, you know. Smooth-and-efficient is fun.
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