What follows is the second of two articles: the first article is here and talks about things I knew before I printed my first issue that could not be more true. This one discusses things we’ve learned SINCE we printed our first issue. After all, no matter how much you know, there’s always more to learn, more things to try and subsequently more mistakes you make for trying new things. It’s all part of the learning process, and here are three quick learnings.
1. Don’t try to time things marketing-wise, just create content
We sent Kodoja #1 to the printer in April 2012 and got it back just in time for an early June 2012 debut. Shortly after we had finished the art and story for Issue #2 but decided to hold off a bit: after all, why release Issue #2 when you want to get people excited about Issue #1 first? So we waited and worked, encouraging people in the press to give it a try, encouraged stores to stock it and encouraged people to get the word out. We waited some more and waited some more, finally releasing a limited-edition Issue #2 in October 2012. Then we did the same with Issue 3.
To me, in retrospect that’s too long. Taking a break in-between story arcs is one thing (we’re in the middle of one right now preparing for the graphic novel), but between issues I think the best cadence is something like bi-monthly or quarterly (especially if you’re smaller and/or self-financing, which is the case with almost everyone when they’re starting out).
The lesson we’re taking away is “keep the story going”, it’s great to keep putting stuff out there but really the best thing you can do is have story coming out regularly. If that means you need to work way in advance to generate a buffer and release it at a normal pace, do it. You’re in this to tell a story and don’t forget to do that! It’s easy to get lost in promoting something or holding off on releasing something until it’s “the right time” but really the right time to release something is when it’s done. People will like your story and they will want to catch up – why not give them plenty of story to catch up to?
2. Don’t go through Diamond Distributors
To be fair, there’s one thing I don’t know: the exposure soliciting in a publication like Previews could bring you as we’ve never done it with Kodoja. Maybe we’d be international pop culture sensations by now! What I *do* know is there is absolutely no way we can print up Kodoja as a comic, sell it through Diamond and make money. If you’re not aware, Distributors sell comics to retailers at a steep discount – retailers buy the comics from the Distributor and they’re not refundable. Retailers take on all the risk, so they get things at a good price. For the distributor to make money they need to get it at an even steeper discount from you.
We made a proposal to Diamond Distributors that included a HEFTY discount off cover price – we would have lost money on every issue! – and it STILL wasn’t enough. The bottom line is, the Diamond model works very well for big comic companies that print runs in the tens and hundreds of thousands of books per issue (thus giving them a very low cost per issue). For you, the independent publisher… not so much. You’re better off contacting the indie-friendly retailers and working with them directly. At least you have a shot of breaking even or making a few bucks, plus you get your comic in stores around the country!
3. Don’t sell individual issues to retailers, but consider trades
You will squander any potential profit on postage if you sell individual comics to retailers (remember, you’re still going to discount books to retailers, they’re still taking on all the risk), assuming said retailer wants more than two copies of your work. Take it from someone who’s mailed a lot of things: postage rates are high inside the US, and postage rates are so insane out-of-country I can’t warn you strongly enough to AVOID selling comics overseas.
The one way around high postage rates is to mail your work “book rate”, however the post office has made book rate a very narrow distinction: It only applies to books and graphic novels. Not stationery, not letters with writing on them and NOT COMICS. The USPS considers comics ‘a periodical’ and periodicals sell advertising in them and are therefore not eligible. I found this out the hard way, believe me! If you’re mailing one or two issues of a comic you can ship it cheap (like $2), but anything more than that will really cost.
The way around this is to sell individual comics at conventions or at local stores as you build a following, as well as anything online you can do (direct to people), then sell the collected stories to retailers. Retailers love having a complete story in one volume and are much more willing to go with that than individual, ongoing comics. Even better, graphic novels qualify for book rate shipping so you don’t throw away a ton of money on postage.
So, let’s say you have a cool idea to publish your own comic (or even better, you’re much further along and have a complete story, written and illustrated and you’re ready to share it with the world). Congrats! As a fellow self-publisher it’s great to see another person here at the self-publisher table (and there is always room for more). If you’re ready to take the leap, you’re in for a fun and surprising ride.
I’d like to share some ideas with you that you may know already but it never hurts to mention again. Maybe you’ll learn something and maybe you’ll learn nothing but get ideas reinforced even more, which is helpful in its own way as well.
A little about my experience: I’ve listened to a lot of interviews, talked to a lot of people, sat in on a lot of panels and digested as much information as I could before entering the fray of comics self-publishing with Kodoja in 2012. That being said, I’m just getting started in the larger scheme
I also have 15 years’ experience in the independent music scene as part of Big Pimp Jones; I’m happy to say we’ve released nine records so far on various labels (Funk Night Records, RecordBreakin Music, Freestyle Records UK) since 2006. Additionally I worked in the comic industry in the 1990s, first in comic shops and then with Capital City Distribution.
What follows is the first of two articles: this one talks about things I knew before I printed my first issue and the second one discusses things I’ve learned SINCE I printed my first issue.
So here we go! These are things I knew before I printed the first issue of Kodoja
1. Make sure you love it.
You’ve no doubt heard this before, and that’s because it’s absolutely true. To a person, creators do this because they love creating stories and telling them in the medium they love. In many cases we do it because we almost have a compulsion to do it. We can’t NOT do it! It’s that passion, that drive and that desire that will keep your mind focused in fighting through writer’s block. It’s that passion that will keep your head up and keep you thinking straight when you get a bad review (and you WILL get a bad review, no work of art is liked by 100% of the population. Your favorite story’s gotten MANY bad reviews and that author’s probably had even more bad reviews than that). It’s that passion that will keep you thinking of new ideas and new stories. And it’s that passion that will carry through in any conversation. Passion like that is contagious and it can’t be faked.
2. There’s no substitute for (polite) effort
While making sure you love it is the most important part of putting yourself out there creatively, giving great effort and being persistent is to me the absolute most important skill you can have *in life*. Your life and the good things that come out of it are nothing more than the sum-total of the energy you put into it. And yes, the harsh reality is you can put a ton of energy into something and not have anything really “happen”, but history shows that a lot of effort almost always turns into something good. If you send e-mails to people, they’ll send e-mails back. If you’re nice about it and respect people they’ll even help you along, offer advice and maybe even become a friend! And not to be all new-agey or anything, but the rarest currency out there is people you enjoy talking to, corresponding with or hanging out with.
I put ‘polite’ in the title because the phrase I keep in my head is ‘polite persistence’. There’s nothing wrong with being persistent, just make sure you’re being nice about it. If you reach out to someone, follow up in reasonable amounts of time, say one week or so and don’t be a jerk about it by following up every day or having an attitude about people not getting back to you. Back when Big Pimp Jones was first looking to get gigs I’d leave six, seven, eight, nine! messages for people a week apart – persistent but polite. More than a few times, I’d get a call from a booking agent saying they really appreciated not only that I kept following up, but that I did so nicely and briefly. We all have busy lives and we’re all doing a lot of things – and 99% of the time when someone doesn’t get back to you that’s the reason. Polite follow-ups go a long way.
3. Give yourself time to be successful
Yes, there are overnight successes every now and then and a few people every year even hit the Powerball lottery, but that doesn’t make it a bankable strategy. Good things take time – my personal rule is you should be willing to work hard for 3-5 years before even taking stock if things are going how you want (in fact it’s much closer to five years than three). Drawing on my Big Pimp Jones experience, we got our first big break when Freestyle Records contacted us in 2006 and expressed interest in releasing some tracks of ours on 45. I looked back through our own history and traced that contact back to an ad we placed in a funk magazine in 2001. That’s a five year lag!
I attended a workshop recently put on by Ethan (Axe Cop) Nicolle and a few other independent creators as well; he talked among other things about how Axe Cop was an ‘overnight success’ in one of the truest senses of the word (it literally went from ‘nothing’ to ‘I have an appointment to pitch this to a studio exec’ in seven calendar days, according to my notes)… except there’s more to that story. Axe Cop may have been a true overnight success, but Ethan worked at his craft for YEARS, self-published for YEARS, did work for publishers for years and kept coming up with new stories and new ideas that entire time. Even in this case, overnight success didn’t really happen overnight and was years in the making.
4. Learn from as many people as possible
Attend seminars. Go to comic conventions. Attend panels on creating / publicizing / marketing your independent comic. Find indie creators and ask them questions (I’m always ready to talk about self-publishing, at any time). Read articles, such as this one or one of the countless articles more well-written than this. All of these people (myself included) are willing to share things we do that work, things that don’t work and things you should NEVER EVER do. You know the line: if you don’t learn from history, you’re doomed to repeat it, dig?
5. Know your subgenre
Know where you fit. Know what you’re like! This is something I see a lot more on the music side, but it applies to comics as well – nothing’s more frustrating than people who think they’re created some alchemistic new concoction of story and characters and their story is therefore impossible to define.
I reserve the right to be wrong, but the odds are your story isn’t as special as you think, but here’s the thing – that doesn’t matter! There really are just a small number of basic stories in the world (the seven basic plots), and any panel you go to at a comic convention will have industry people that say this: someone has thought of your story already. Somebody’s probably writing a version of that story right now. But they can’t put your twist on it and they don’t have any of the thousands of nuances that make you YOU.
What does this have to do with subgenre? Well, it means there’s no reason to be shy about what your story’s like. You WANT to classify your story among similar stories. You WANT people to know the loose area your story occupies. For example, Kodoja is a Western take on Godzilla with a touch of HP Lovecraft and political drama thrown in. If you like that sort of thing then you’ll probably like this – and if you don’t… well you’ll love it anyway! Of course I’m kidding, and I take no offense if it’s not your thing.
The goal isn’t to have everyone in the world read your story, it’s to have the people you *think will like your story* read your story. Tom Clancy’s publicist doesn’t reach out to the Ayn Rand Appreciation Club for advance book sales (though maybe plenty of Tom Clancy readers enjoy The Fountainhead for all I know), so don’t be afraid to go after a small group of people that are PERFECT for what you’re doing.
-Keith from Kodoja
We are proud to announce the Kickstarter for Kodoja: Terror Mountain Showdown is live! Our goal is to cover the costs of printing Kodoja Issue 1-5 in a high-quality, hardcover graphic novel – and as you know Kodoja is a comic with a ‘giant monster funk’ soundtrack provided by Big Pimp Jones. We have some really cool perks lined up involving the music including a director’s cut version of the soundtrack and custom songs, so check it out! You can find it here:
I could not be more pleased about my decision to attend G-Fest last weekend (July 11-13), I was in attendance as a vendor (in Artists’ Alley). As it’s now Tuesday July 15, 2014 and I’m still wound up from how great the weekend was, the best thing to do is to bring closure to the weekend by sharing my thoughts as a first-timer.
- The thing that tipped my decision was the successful funding of a Kickstarter to play Ifukube music live in concert – ‘100 Years of Ifukube’. The program was nothing but suites from Godzilla films scored by Ifukube. The music went chronologically, with a natural intermission between the Showa (1954-75) and Heisei (1985-1995) eras of Godzilla films. The suites were masterfully arranged, condensing musical highlights from an entire film into a few short minutes. The bonus? The Godzilla theme itself showed up time and time again, allowing appreciation for the subtle variations in theme from movie to movie (all but obvious when playing them side-by-side).
- The program felt like (and likely is) a once-in-a-lifetime thing; when you look at all that went into it (time, people, rehearsals, and more importantly a lot of Kickstarter funding!), the timing with Godzilla’s 60th birthday and Ifukube’s 100th AND the release of ‘Godzilla’ earlier this year, a lot of things went right to make this happen.
- There were many special moments during the concert, but one specific moment I hope I’ll remember forever: when the first song started (Godzilla theme from Godzilla 1954), I closed my eyes, listened and just soaked it in, appreciating the moment. As the MC mentioned during the evening, concerts of Ifukube music happen in Japan, but not in the US. Sometimes you need to slow down and really appreciate what’s happening in front of you.
- Not worth more than a quick mention – it was great making new friends and talking about Kodoja with giant monster fans from everywhere. We sold out of almost every comic we had!
- When I say giant monster fans from everywhere, I mean it. G-Fest may be the last truly ‘national’ convention there is; more and more comic conventions spring up every year – and for a reason – comic cons themselves gain more and more fans every year! It’s great because it allows everyone an opportunity to get the comic convention experience, and we at Kodoja table at as many comic conventions as we can. However, the prevalence of comic conventions locally means you can get a ‘comic con experience’ close to home; with Godzilla there’s only one place to go. And boy do people from everywhere go! Chicagoans (host city) are a tiny portion of attendees; I met people from Canada, Florida, Kansas, Georgia, Texas, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, California, Great Britain and Japan. Pretty amazing.
- Holy crap, the Dealers’ Room. For those not familiar, the merchandise room (aka The Dealers Room) generates such interest that people line up for hours in advance before it opens, hoping to get first crack at vendor after vendor offering the finest imports, models and toys America can offer. It’s amazing! I didn’t walk away with any big-time goodies (while I definitely enjoy me some G-toys they aren’t entirely my thing by G-fan standards) but I did grab a few DVDs, shirts, music and comics.
- I also moderated a panel on Godzilla comics with Chris Mowry, Matt Frank and Jeff Zornow, currently the creative team behind Godzilla: Rulers of Earth from IDW. So first off, buy the damn comic and read it. Second, buy mine (Kodoja. I know you know that). The panel went well and I’ll get the audio posted at some point soon for people interested – for me it was apleasure to be able to talk about something as obscure (in the grand scale) as giant monster comics – G-fest is the ONLY place a panel like this can happen! If I propose a Giant Monster Comics panel at any other convention the response will be (to quote Matt) “there are giant monster comics?” So yeah, it was great to geek out on comics with fellow panelists and the audience for an hour.
- The most underrated thing about G-Fest? The G-Fest Channel! Yes that’s right, the host hotel opens up a TV channel, putting 4 days of solid Giant Monster (and related) programming for your viewing. Movies, trailers, video shorts, you name it. I didn’t know such a thing existed – I found out about while having a discussion in my room with it on, interrupting myself to ask “what the hell is this”? I was expecting my roommate to respond with the name of the DVD he was playing through the TV only to find out about THE CHANNEL. That channel stayed on the whole time – conversations, day, night, whatever. It was the perfect backdrop to the weekend – I saw the entire movies for ‘Spook Warfare’, ‘Sakuya Yokaiden’, ‘Daimajin 2’ and partials for many more, from Gamera to Godzilla to Ultraman. Completely fantastic. That cinches my attendance at every G-Fest I can get to in the future.
We’re pleased to announce that some of Kodoja artist Rory Smith’s work will be on display at Creature Features in Burbank, CA as part of the Godzilla: All Art Attack! show. Rory’s been known to draw other Daikaiju from time to time, so if you’re near the Burbank area swing on by and see for yourself.
Show runs from May 11 – June 1
Location: Creature Features, 2904 W Magnolia Blvd, Burbank CA
Opening Reception: Sunday, May 11 – 1:00-6:00 p.m.