Note From The President, Cerebus 184, July 1994Copyright 1994 Dave Sim
Today, synchronistically, I got two letters in the mail which both addressed an idea that is long overdue for inclusion in this space. John Holland who is getting ready to self-publish DIEBOLD (104 Oak Court, Westwego, LA 70094: $2.95 per copy. The first two issues will have covers by Sam Kieth and Mike Zeck) and Steve Lafler who sent along the first issue of BUGHOUSE (495 Elwood Ave. #5, Oakland, CA, 94610) both suggested selling the original artwork to their books in order to raise much-needed capital.
It was Brian (the artist half of the DIEBOLD team) who came up with the idea of pre-selling the artwork. Basically, their patrons (which is really what they are) paid for the artwork in advance. In exchange, each buyer gets a random page, as well as their name in the comic on the page they'll receive (below the artwork, of course). The art buyers, thus, became partners in getting the comic published. Which gave John and Brian the name for their company: Silent Partners.
Steve Lafler, on the other hand, circulated a letter offering pages for sale and included a copy of the book.
Some guys will do this and some won't. Ger and I don't sell our pages for the most part because it is just a colossal pain in the ass. Everyone wants the same pages. No one wants the other pages (have you got one with Cerebus-in-costume-using-his-powers?). A vast majority of art collectors want to haggle - you know, can they have fifty bucks off if they buy two pages? All I can afford is half of your asking price, can you give me a deal? Pleasepleaseplease.
But back at the beginning, I definitely sold the pages - usually for ten dollars each. For the first two years, getting an extra two hundred dollars out of an issue by selling the artwork made one hell of a difference. As long as we had the negatives for reprinting, the artwork was (and is) just a raw material. The printed comic book is the finished work. The artwork is like the paper stock or the staples - a necessary element in the final equation.
I'm not saying you should sell your artwork and I'm not saying you shouldn't. I'm not saying you should sell it for a lot of money and I'm not saying you should sell it for a little bit of money. But, if you're interest is in establishing yourself as a reliable writer/artist/publisher, if you want to see your tenth or your twentieth issue come out on schedule, then at some point, I think you have to face whether you want to do that by whatever means are necessary or if you are going to permit some inner need to own your artwork stand in the way. If the difference between selling your artwork or not selling your artwork is the difference between making a go of it or becoming another self- publishing casualty, then I really think you have to look long and hard at your own motives. Put another way, how valuable is it going to be to have all of the artwork to your first three issues if you can't afford to print your fourth issue and you have to go out of business?
On a related note, I find commissioned work to be a royal pain in the ass as well. It is very easy to promise an original piece to someone. It is very easy to take money for it. Then the money is gone and you still have to work another piece of artwork into your schedule.
As a self-publisher, if you are able to get a core following for your work and build on that, every page that you produce will continue to earn revenues for you every time that you reprint it. All things being equal, that can be for the rest of your life. A commissioned piece is the same thing as taking money out of a banking machine. You can't really remember what you spent the money on, but it is definitely all gone.
And don't count on the art collector to send you a check for two dollars every time they stop and look at the piece you did hanging on their wall.
The art game doesn't work that way.
As long as your energies go into writing and drawing the next page (and the next page and the next page) until the issue is done, in my opinion, you are making the best use of your time and talent. It is a long-term investment in your own future. Be the proprietor of your own intellectual property first and foremost. If selling the original artwork helps move you from 'hanging on by your fingernails' to being 'comfortably established', I think it's a sensible tradeoff from the vantage point of a far-sighted proprietor.
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