Welcome to SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you to put your burning questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics professionals.

The Panel lives or dies by your contributions; please email them to panel@silverbulletcomicbooks.com and we’ll add them to the list…

This week’s question comes from James Redington and is as follows:-

“As some of you know I write myself, and also run a small press company that has grand plans to be an Indy publisher further down the line. We have had good reviews and people have enjoyed my work – especially my new title Rob & Ducky which was my first real attempt at comedy, usually I am an all out horror or superhero guy – with 2006 and new ideas taking shape I am working to expand my reach.

The question is “What Advice would you give someone in my position?”

Should they go to Diamond? Is it worth it anymore? Should they enlist a pro’s help? Should they push for more reviews? Try and get some pro’s to read there work? Should they stay “small press”? What would you do if you were just starting out in the comic industry? Should they try and submit work for bigger companies – either their own or their writing services?”

Mike Bullock Writes:

Start small, build a solid foundation and don’t get over anxious about expanding. I think way too many small press publishers want to come out and take the world by storm. Look at the track record of companies that have tired that. There are dozens over the last 20 years who have tried, and with the exception of Dark Horse and Image, none have succeeded. On the flip side, look at companies such as Slave Labor, Moonstone, Top Shelf and Viper. They start small, build a loyal following, find their niche and cater to it. Each one is now a success story in their own right.

And when the day is over, make sure you can look back and say “Wow, that was fun.”

Mike Bullock is a writer, promotion agent and President of Runemaster Studios, Inc. Lions, Tigers & Bears, his first published foray into comic writing, debuts in January 2005 from Image Comics. His other comic credits include editorship on Alias Enterprises’ Imperial Dragons and Dreamwave’s Warlands. Bullock has several other creator-owned comic properties in the pipeline, including Gimoles a book set to debut in the summer of 2005.

Mario Gully Writes:

I’ve been on both sides of these fences and I think I’ve learned a bit from past experiences. In my opinion its best to try to get your work picked up by a big publisher. There are so many benefits with working with a company that is in the business of publishing comics vs. a small press company. If no big publisher will take you then I would go down the line and try to get picked up by the better smaller publishers. Self publishing is ok, but I would also go through Diamond if you choose to self publish. At the end of the day you are most likely going to get the same response from self publishing as you would get going to one of the smaller press companies. Unless they are willing to fork us some loot for advertising. If you decide not to go through diamond then chances are that very few retailers will give you a chance. I would also advise to get a professional to either help you grow in your craft or get a pro onboard to help develop your story. Comics are tough and the more advantages you have going for you the better chances you have for success.

Mario Gully is the Creator/Artist of ANT, published by Image Comics. It’s a damn good comic and is well worth checking out!

James E. Lyle (a.k.a. Doodle):

I’m not sure if I know the answer to this one. Going to Diamond is fine. I don’t know if they’ll carry your books or not. They are rather inscrutable lately. But you won’t know until you try.

Should you enlist more pros? I guess it depends on if you know any pros that you could afford to hire. I’m sure they’d welcome the work. That’s what makes them pros.

Push for more reviews? Sure, why not? I’m in a band now and we’ve sent out free CDs to everybody we think might give us a review. We’ve been highly regarded by some and ignored by others. Again, you can’t know until you try. I will add this advice, look beyond “comics circles”, try some other venues that might give you some coverage. Comics reviewers will look at your submission as “one more comic”, but a newspaper, magazine, or other venue that DOESN’T normally do comics might find it refreshing to see one. It’s worth a try.

Try to get pros to read your work? Sure. Again, “why not?” I get MagnetMan Mini-comics from Brien Wayne Powell on a regular basis. So does practically everyone else Brien has ever met (I think). So he has built up a lot of good will in the comics community. But he’s had to send out a lot of comics to get people to even look at his work.

Should they stay “small press”? Yes, as long as nobody comes along to make them “big press”. If that comes along they should jump at the chance.

What would I do if I was just starting out in the comics industry? Probably the same thing I’m doing now. The thing is, to some people I’m an “old pro” at this thing to others I’m just another wannabe. The best advice I can give is that you should live like a freelance (translation, gun for hire). Take the work that you can get. Go look for more. If you have the opportunity to self-publish, the time to create your own work, and the connections to get paid for it, then go for it! But if you need the money to pay your bills, go out and look for work in pro comics (if you can get it), look for work in advertising, look for work in graphic design, etc.

Mike Carlin told me this a few years back, “there is no secret to success in comics, the goal is survival!” (Or words to that effect) Get the work that you can. Do what you can to keep yourself at the drawing board or at the word processor, don’t worry about fame. If fame and riches are your goal you will miss the boat. Do what you love for the love of doing it. If you can get paid for it, all the better. Perhaps fame and fortune await you, but by concentrating on those as goals you’ll miss out on the fun of doing comics.

James E. Lyle is a cartoonist and illustrator, including co-creating titles Escape to the Stars, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and DoorMan, plus work on Fright Night, Cynicalman Sells Out, and the accurately-spelt Wiindows. More recently Lyle worked on Turok, the “missing” Paul Gulacy T.h.u.n.d.e.r. Agents, and DRASTIK #1.

Bart Thompson:

Since Approbation Comics is a small press company it’s a bit hard for me to answer this question, but I’ll give it a shot anyway from my perspective, what I’ve done, and what mistakes I’ve made and learned from. First, if you’re just starting out, you really need to do your homework. Research the industry from ALL aspects… business, creative… the works. Read those Wizards (I started collecting around issue #30 and I went back and found #1-29 over the years), get those Write Now and Draw magazines, read the weekly Comic Book News, and so on and on (Comic Buyer’s Guide, online resources, etc.). Get a copy of the Cerebus Guide to Self Publishing… over the years Dave Sim’s comments, thoughts, and essays have been words of wisdom and one of my comic bibles. There are tons of other books out there… if you want to be a publisher, you gotta try and learn as much as you can about everything: business, publishing, writing, pencilling, inking, coloring, lettering, advertising, editing… the works. Start e-mailing printers and getting quotes (as I’m sure you have a comic in mind if you’re not already working on it)… read everything they give you front to back. Ask Diamond for their info for new publishers and read all that from front to back. Get you some black binders from Office Depot or Staples, hole punch all these pages, and organize them all in binders. Label those binders, because if you’re like me you’ll soon have about 20 black binders and you’ll need to know what’s in them at first sight.

So you’re about to or currently working on your labor of love. I’m sure you’ve seen what’s on the shelves currently and what’s come out the past 5, 10, and 20 years… you should have noticed the trends, what has risen against impossible odds, what many projects failed miserably. Is your project like any of them? If so, you need to do some soul searching if this is something you need to invest time and money into. What do you do? More than likely you’re a writer, but you may be an artist or both. Recognize your strengths… I’m a writer and artist, but art takes so much more out of me and with writing I can be a writer, editor, publisher, promoter, organizer, etc. As an artist I wouldn’t have any time to do anything else, plus I’m slow and a perfectionist, so I have to delegate art to others. So you’ll have to go on a talent search. Look around your city and online for the missing pieces of your creative team… be up front with them. If you have money to pay, use that as your lure. If you’re like most of us poor publishers, let them know that. If your idea is that solid, people will still come.

So get to work on your comic… keep in mind all factors of quality and keep in mind that your labor of love will be competing with everyone else- Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, so on and on. Pull out all the stops to make your book shine like a gem on the shelves. If and when you have that, follow all the guidelines Diamond provided to you and things should be cake. I’ve heard many problems from small press publishers with Diamond. Personally Diamond has been great in my experience- very helpful, very considerate, and they get the job done. I hope this helped!

Bart Thompson is the founder of Approbation Comics and creator of “Vampires Unlimited”, “the Metamutoids”, “ChiSai”, and “Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs Zombies”. The Myriad 6-issue anthology will be released early 2006, so be sure and pick those up!

Vince Moore:

Wow, there are a lot of questions here. And the answers have filled up a lot of books. Any information I would pass along would mostly be cribbed from those books, so I’ll just list them and give those guys the credit.

I would get The Cerebus Guide to Self Publishing by Dave Sim and True Facts by Larry Young. Get ’em, read ’em, know ’em and live ’em.

Then I would figure out exactly what you want to do in comics. Once you have that strategy in mind, then all the other choices are simple. If you want to do one or two small books, you can stay as a small publisher. If you want to do more books, or reach more readers, then submitting projects to companies like Image or Dark Horse or Alias or Speakeasy becomes the plan. Knowing what you exactly want to do in comics–what kinds of stories do you want to tell, what genres–will determine everything else.

Oh, and another thing which is very personal, stay small. The marketplace is full of lots of books. Thinking like a rodent in the time of dinosaurs is a good approach. Look at Jim Balent’s company, still going strong after six years. Because he knows what he wants to do in comics and he’s stayed relatively small.

Vince Moore is the editor for DarkStorm Studios, a comics company started by Kevin Grevioux of Underworld fame.

Gary Spencer Millidge:


Any serious independent publisher must offer their product via Diamond.

There are other distributors like FM and Cold Cut, but these generally prefer your product to be visible in Diamond’s catalogue Previews anyway, and these will only ever be able to shift a small percentage of books in comparison to what the Big D will sell.

You could also offer direct to comic retailers, install pro shopping cart software on your website and set up at every convention, expo and festival that you possibly can. But these options are very labour intensive and/or expensive and you should expect only a limited number of sales. If you have lots of money to burn, you could even go direct to the book store market, and good luck to you. But that’s not really an option that most small press types could afford.

Of course, there is currently a lot of discouraging press about Diamond’s cut-off point for carrying titles. But if you can’t meet Diamond’s minimum sales requirements, then you aren’t likely to be making any kind of profit.

So if you decide to offer your titles to Diamond, then you need to be prepared to work very hard at publicising them. Diamond will list your titles in Previews with a thumbnail image, but that is unlikely to garner many pre-orders from retailers and consumers by itself. You should consider advertising your books in the same issue of Previews, as well as elsewhere if it can be afforded; target indie-friendly retailers by mail or phone; use the internet to garner pre-publication publicity (by sending out advance review copies and suchlike). There is much you can do, but it’s important to synchronise your efforts so that the publicity reaches its height when the listing actually appears in Previews. That way, the retailers and readers that use Previews to pre-order comics actually know what they’re ordering. And you’ll stand half a chance of selling a bunch.

Of course, you may end up spending more to advertise the books than print them – but unless you get big orders on the first issue of a title; it’s very difficult to increase orders on subsequent issues. More than likely, they’ll halve with issue 2.

Getting a professional to contribute in some way, like doing the scripting (as Alan Grant has done for Brodie’s Law) or perhaps providing a cover, can certainly help get additional attention for a new title.

Reviews in the comics’ media are essential. Overprint (when printing using litho, additional copies are usually very inexpensive) and send out copies to as many magazines, websites and journalists as you can afford. Good word of mouth is essential.

If your ultimate aim is to land a fat contract with one of the big publishers, then a successful, well-reviewed, independent title will definitely add to your credibility and deonstrate a certain skill and knowledge of the industry.

If you’re very, very good at what you do, extremely reliable, easy to get on with and fast – then you may find it easier to simply submit samples to editors and keep your fingers crossed.

Otherwise, if you simply enjoy creating comics, then there’s no shame in choosing to remain small press. Just don’t expect to make any kind of financial profit from it.

It all depends on whether you want to be a publisher, a creator, or both. I can’t help you with that, all I can say is to follow your heart and do what you really want to do.

Gary has been self-publishing his award-winning Strangehaven comic book series for ten years and his third trade paperback collection Strangehaven: Conspiracies was published last summer (I brought one and it was great – James) http://www.millidge.com

Donna Barr:

Diamond is ONE distributor. Go to them, too, but get everybody else.

I’m researching Pantheon or other distributors. Check out Lulu.com and Booksurge.com for larger books and final collections. Become a Barnes and Noble and Amazon Vendor.

I consult for $85.00 an hour or ten email messages (paypal upfront).

Yes, get all the reviews you can get, and make them post your website sales links! LEARN TO SPELL. What does “stay small press” mean?

Go ahead and submit work. Doesn’t hurt! Go to shows. Talk to people.

It’s all good.

Donna Barr has books and original art at www.stinz.com, webcomics at www.moderntales.com, www.girlamatic.com, and has POD at www.booksurge.com Nothing she won’t try, at least once…including writing a column for SBC at this link!

Jesse Leon McCann:

Since I’ve never been in your position (I’ve worked for a person in your position, and his company went under–but that’s a whole ‘nuther story,) I wouldn’t presume to give you advice, James.

However, asking questions is the key, and you’re giving it a good start by asking these folks here. Keep asking questions of other publishers, writers, artists, distributors and retailers. If you can bend the ear of Tony Caputo or Larry Young, get as much info as you can from them. If you admire what somebody’s done, try to get a sit down with them. We’re a small business, most of the people are pretty giving. The only restriction, really, is how much energy you want to commit.

Good luck!

Jesse Leon McCann is a New York Times Best-selling Author. He’s currently editing the fifth Simpsons TV Episode Guide and writing comic stories for Bongo Comics, DC Comics’ Looney Tunes and Cartoon Network Block Party, and Smiles for Diversity’s Scrapyard Detectives #3.

The Panel is a chance for you the reader to ask questions like this one – a chance for you to ask those questions that are bugging you. Questions you want the answers to!

My question this week was based on my desire to write comics, or to just write in general. It’s something I have always done, through School, College and University. Its something I love doing.

Am I any good at it?

I dunno – I still think I have a long way to go before I will be happy for with my work – maybe, and more than likely I never will be.

So the titles I have self published have had good reviews – Rob & Ducky has gone down extremely well with readers and I am very excited about two new series’ I have been working coming out this year – Elite and Violation. I have a lot to think about from the answers this week, as to if I decide to self publish or submit to an Indy publisher.

If you want to ask a question to The Panel please email me at j_redington@yahoo.com and mark the subject – Question for The Panel.

Next Week we ask The Panel, “Is it worth collecting Comics anymore?”

Tune in next week to see what they said!

All the best!

The views and opinions expressed on the panel are solely those of the panellist who has written them. They do not reflect the views or opinions of silver bullet comic books or myself. Freedom of speech is great, isn’t it?
– James

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