Helping comic-book creators monetise their art - Part 1


28 November 2018

Writing and drawing a comic book isn’t easy. I’ve done a few so I guess I should know. A 24-page comic-book that can be read in under half an hour can take months or even years to put together - particularly if you’ve got a day job to hold down and a life to live at the same time. Most creators I have known have put their comics together in stolen moments.

But once you’ve (finally) finished your comic you’ll find that getting printed copies of it out to your social media followers and your friends and family (and maybe even the world at large) isn’t that easy a thing to do either.

You can share it with people on your own website of course and maybe even get it uploaded to a webcomic site or two, but there’s a whole world of difference between reading an online comic and holding and reading a printed comic book.

That’s not to say that I don’t like webcomics. Quite the opposite in fact. Sharing the week-by-week creation of your comic with your followers is an art form in itself. It produces a strong bond of loyalty between creators and their followers. I have followed hundreds of webcomics over the years, regularly reading page after page, week after week and following the trials and tribulations of the artists as they share their struggles to carry on with the creation process on Twitter or Instagram or wherever through whatever life throws at them in the meantime. My view is that many creators would simply not be able to finish their comic-book projects without the support and encouragement of the online communities to which they belong.

But, reading a comic online is not the same as reading a printed comic book.

Once the creation process is finished my view is that most creators would wish to find some way, any way, of publishing their work. That’s certainly something that has been true for me over the many years I’ve been drawing comics.

I’ll be writing about the economics and practicalities of publishing comic-books and graphic novels later in this series of articles, but even though it might seem strange to do so I want to concentrate in this first article on how creators can begin to monetise their art before they even finish writing and drawing their comics.

I am writing and drawing a comic-book at the moment as a joint venture with my friend David Snashall. The book is reviving a cartoon character of mine, Captain Romford. You’ve probably never heard of him, but his cartoon strip ran for many years in the Romford area of East London in its local newspaper, the Romford Recorder. I was paid weekly for that strip and now want to revive the character and see if I can get another small income from sales of comic books going both locally and through the internet. It’s not likely to be a worldwide bestseller, but most comics aren’t, just like the vast majority of books aren’t.

So far I’ve only talked briefly to David about our collaboration and have sketched out the plot for two of the planned six 24-page comics I hope we’ll be able to produce together in 2019. The plan is to publish each 24-page comic separately as they are finished and then produce a graphic novel of 150 pages or so of them all collected together.
In the meantime though, I have already started monetising the project.

I had sketched out the cover of issue #1 of the comic and reintroduced my two characters, Captain Romford and Cat Bandana, before a recent holiday to Australia and intended to spend my time on the (very) long plane flights working on drafting some more pages. I like to draw comics whenever I travel by plane or train these days; it helps pass the time and gives other passengers something to talk about.

That is only possible because comic-book artists are no longer tied to their studios and attic rooms. Using an iPad Pro and the Apple iPencil and comic-book production apps like Comic Draw by Plasq has released artists from their garret rooms and enabled them to create comics anywhere and everywhere. (I have been drawing my Emma Leaven weekly strip for the Mouthy Money website for over a year now and every single weekly instalment has been produced while I have been travelling somewhere or another.)

On the flight from London to Singapore though I decided that instead of doing layouts for the pages of the first issue of the comic that I would first work up a T-shirt design from the draft cover. It took me about three hours of the flight to come up with the design here:

I went for nice bold colours and a strong ink line and produced the whole thing in the Comic Draw app as usual - it is my go-to app for my comics these days.

The wi-fi in the plane wasn’t brilliant so I waited until I got to Singapore airport to upload the T-shirt design to my Artithmeric studio and worked on it there to build the T-shirt and get it up for sale in my Artithmeric shop. I managed to do that quite easily in the hour we had as a stopover in the airport that night before catching our plane to Sydney to complete our journey.

Basically all I had to do was log in to my Artithmeric studio, select the build a T-shirt option, upload the jpg file I’d created on the plane, write a short descriptive bit of marketing blurb, select a retail price to sell the T-shirt at in my Artithmeric shop and then press the ‘publish’ button.

As soon as I’d done that my Captain Romford T-shirt was up for sale worldwide. In fact, I saw it up for sale before I left Singapore for Sydney that night.

(The screen-grab here from my phone that night is a bit blurry, but you can go to artithmeric.com and see the shirts in all their glory if you wish - and buy one while you’re there if you like. Go on, you know you want to…)

Anyway, when I arrived in Sydney I went online to my Artithmeric shop and ordered and paid for a T-shirt which was delivered to my home address a week before we got home from our two-week Australian holiday. (Although as the 
creator I only had to pay the lower creator price and not the retail price I’d set for shop sales). I’d also managed to sell a few others while I was away though so I had made a little income and profit from this new venture already in a few stolen moments while travelling. That’s a good feeling.

The T-shirts are printed on demand by Artithmeric’s merchandise printing partners and are packaged and shipped worldwide by them on a daily cycle. The shirts are of high quality, as is the print quality (although this photo snapped with my iPhone doesn’t really do the finished product justice!) yet the costs of production and distribution are kept low through Artithmeric’s ability to negotiate bulk rates with its partners for individual sales.

Since returning home from Sydney via Perth and Singapore (and drawing more pages of the comic on the journey) I have started working with David on the first issue of the book which I am pleased to say I have been drawing in my studio while wearing my Captain Romford T-shirt with pride! I’ve also sold a few more online since then too and it’s great to think I can make money on this book before I’ve actually even started drawing it!

I won’t say much about the book at the moment except to say it’s set not just in Romford, but also in Edinburgh and Venice (which might widen out the geographical location of the likely readership); it’ll be a great adventure story I hope and it will be brilliant when issue #1 is on sale in my Artithmeric shop (and David’s Artithmeric shop) sometime in January or February next year (depending on how things go stolen-moment-wise for both of us this winter!)

In the meantime here’s a sneak preview of what one of the pages might look like…

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