Note From The President, Cerebus 185, August 1994Copyright 1994 Dave Sim
Even after all of this time of writing these columns on self-publishing. I still get mail from would-be cartoonists who are missing the point. So, I'm going to try to address a basic fundamental that seems to be central to many of the inquiries.
Self-publishing does not just happen. Even if I put everything that I know about self-publishing into a single volume and mailed a copy free to everyone who wrote in asking for advice, self-publishing would not just happen. One of the biggest obstaclesyou are going to face in trying to self-publish is your own inertia. Jeff Smith's standard advice is to 'do your homework'. By this he means that you should find out everything about publishing and distribution before you even attempt to enter the field. 'Doing your homework' is very different, however, from the traditional view of that phrase, which has come to mean (in the last half of the twentieth century) send a list of thirty-five questions to an expert and then sit back and wait for a reply.
Not only doesn't the world revolve around you, NOTHING revolves around you. You are a human being. Picture yourself as a planet. Your talent, your intended comic book, your story-to-be is your molten core. It is up to you to make an environment for that molten core which is conducive to growth, which will permit your talent to flourish in a hostile world. There are any number of ways to go about this. I always recommend that the story has to come first. You have to have something to say. The only way to find out if you have something to say and the determination and work ethic to see it through to its conclusion is to make a start and stick with it. I find, at this point, that most would-be self-publishers' eyes start to glaze over.
You have to make a start and stick with it. Rather than self-publishing Bone as he did, Jeff could have done Bone mini-comics and sold them through a dozen stores in the immediate vicinity, while maintaining his animation studio. He could have done Bone as a series of Sunday comics style pages and gotten them published in a local weekly newspaper, while maintaining his animation studio. Bone was (and is) a solid, commercially viable, interesting idea. It is well-executed. That had to be there before anything else could be there. It is futile to talk about promotion, distribution, the mechanics of self-publishing unless and until that basic requirement has been fulfilled. Deciding to self-publish on the basis of eight pages of the start of the story, or ten pages or twenty pages or fifty pages, is the equivalent of expecting to get a job at Disney with the first fifty animation cells that you've ever drawn. It just doesn't work that way. It just doesn't. You have to make a start and stick with it. You will know when you're on the right track, but until you're on the right track, you're going to think that you're on the right track. This is a tough point to understand. It is possible to work for two years on something (I did a weekly strip for two years before I did Cerebus) and have it be the wrong thing. If it's the wrong thing, nothing will happen, no matter if you get a Xeric Grant and a circulation of twenty thousand copies. If there's something in the back of your head that keeps gnawing at you while you're developing one story, start putting the one that's gnawing at you down on paper. I was convinced that I was either a newspaper strip artist, a political cartoonist or a short story comic book writer/artist through most of the 1970's. Then I decided I was an inker. Then I decided I was a magazine cartoonist.
The key was that I kept trying all of the options that were out there. I pursued each of them with great determination. I never quit on anything. But nothing 'happened'. At any point, I could have been working on a super-hero series I created for a publisher (Revolt 3000) or drawing and lettering a story from someone else's script (Phantacea) or doing political cartoons for the local paper. In each of those cases, it went for a little while and then it died, usually in a period of a few months. Each thing told me, 'well, I guess that wasn't it.' The difference with writing and drawing and self-publishing Cerebus was overwhelming. Things got in the way, but I could go over, around or through them. That's what told me that Cerebus was 'it'.
With comic book companies coming into existence, vanishing without a trace, being taken over; with the amount of submissions playing 'red light green light red light', there is no shortage of places to find out what 'isn't it'.
Keep working your way through the maze. You'll know what it iswhen it happens, but you won't know until then.
'God grinds the axes he intends to use.'
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