Note From The President, Cerebus 188, November 1994Copyright 1994 Dave Sim
A question I get asked a lot nowadays is: 'Is it possible for a writer to self-publish?' That is to say, if you're not able to write AND draw, is self-publishing still a possibility?
The best I've been able to come up with (and this is largely untried and theoretical) is a yes-and-no answer. In the case of Neil Gaiman the answer would be 'yes'. Neil Gaiman's Comics & Stories would have a lot of box-office appeal and, I'm sure, many artists in the field (myself included) would be lined up for a spot on Neil's roster. For a lesser known writer or an unknown writer, the risks would be greater and the challenge of finding artists to illustrate the stories would increase in inverse proportion. ETHICALLY (and this is just my opinion) you would have to have a shared copyright. The artist would have to have the right to reprint his or her own work, just as the self-publishing artist would have that right, beyond a certain time period (i.e., six months or a year after appearing in the self-publishing writer's anthology). A self-publishing writer who employed artists on a work-made-for-hire basis doesn't strike me as any great improvement on the status quo. I think hubris or karma or whatever you want to call it would bring such a project to a crashing halt (or to Dark Horse, which amounts to the same thing) in pretty short order.
For lesser known or unknown writers, the odds would improve if they were able to limit the length of the stories they wanted to tell. A would-be artist/participant could probably accommodate a three-page or four-page story into a drawing schedule more easily than a twelve- or fifteen-page story. Whether these short short stories were bound together by a common character, theme or subject, or existed independently, is immaterial. If you are looking for an artist to do stories 'on spec', or for very low page rates, or the promise of future royalties, you are going to take a back seat to an assignment that is guaranteed to help pay the rent.
When it comes to a continuing series, graphic novel or an epic-length piece, I think the possibility of a writer self-publishing treads the realm of the impossible. Any artist with ability - hell, competence - in this day and age has no trouble drumming up work somewhere. If the artist has any commercial potential at all, it will be recognized pretty early on in the collaboration and an entry-level page rate at a company is going to look pretty attractive compared to splitting the profits on a black-and-white that's selling two or three thousand copies. If you have to replace the artist, you are now selling a new creative work and you have to start over again from square one.
Most of the collaborations that I've watched founder could be attributed to a lack of interest on the part of the artist. Writers usually forget that the artist is going to be staring at a given page a lot longer than the writer is. While the writer is hell-bent-for-leather to get to that fascinating confrontation in issue five, the artist is on page two of issue three wondering when he or she is going to get something interesting to draw. If you can't draw, you're going to have to keep your stuff interesting for the artist. Most writers don't and they suffer many desertions by collaborators as a result.
Writers do have one advantage (what a relief, eh?). Because it takes a lot less time to write a comic book than to draw it, it is possible (and this is, again, theoretical) for the writer to handle all of the business aspects of a collaborative self-published comic. The most common reservation artists have about self-publishing is that they don't want to be bothered with the business side of things. A trade-off is possible here, assuming that both parties have the dedication to see things through. The writer could hold down a full-time job, do the business side and write the stories: one at a time. The would-be self-publishing writer would have to be brutally watchful in this case - make sure the collaborator is producing pages and be ready to ditch him or her at a moment's notice if he or she isn't. It is a very, very long, long shot. You probably have better odds of getting hit by lightning in the next half hour but IF you have the aptitude to write a successful comic book, IF you can make enough at a full-time job to help out with the startup costs, IF you can find an artist/collaborator who is talented and reliable, IF you can resolve creative differences amicably, and IF neither of you has too many family/friend/outside obligations getting in the way on a regular basis, then it IS possible for a writer to self-publish.
IF any one of those IF's isn't there, then I think you have something less than a prayer of self-publishing successfully.
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