Ken Eppstein discusses the challenges of funding a self-published comic book in the latest installment of Indie Insights!
Ken Eppstein is the editor, writer and publisher of the independent comic Nix Comics Quarterly, a small press anthology.
I just got back from a short vacation in Memphis.
(For the record: I Loved the Talbot Heirs Guest House and its owners Tom and Sandy, the National Civil Rights Museum, The Stax Records Museum, The Sun Records Studio and the Ernest Withers Museum. Look 'em up! Not thrilled by the bars and crappy souvenir shops on Beale Street and felt that the ribs at Charles Vergo's Rendezvous failed to live up to the Food Network hype. Our local Columbus guys at Ray Ray's Hog Pit do a much better job!)
Anyways, normally when I go on a trip, I try to schedule an extra day off of work for vacation recovery. It's not that I'm an exceptionally "Party Hearty" kind of person who needs a day to flush the toxins from his system, but I do walk around as much as possible when I'm visiting a new city to take in as much of the view as possible and its nice to have a day off my feet to recover. Unfortunately, this time around I took a day off to work on my vocation. I had to lay the groundwork for funding issue #3 of Nix Comics Quarterly.
I think years of working for non-profit corporations has prepared me for what I can't help but dub my quarterly "money grub." While its true that in any job your employment is usually dependent in one way or another on a regular stream of revenue, non profits have a particular air of desperation as the staff hangs on the results of the next round of grant applications and donation solicitations. Real white knuckle stuff unless you work at a particularly well set organization.
Funding your own comic book is much the same thing. It wasn't long after I published issue #1 of Nix Comics Quarterly that I had a heart-in-my-throat panic attack over how I was going to pay for the issue #2. Similarly, I laid out all the money to get issue #2 and immediately realized that I needed to start stuffing the coffers for issue #3.
My thought on that is to always take care of my rabble first and worry about getting the actual hard copies of the book out second. What's the use of having money to print if you ain't got nothing to print? In that spirit, I budgeted an amount from each and every one of my paychecks and socked away enough money to pay for the artists for the upcoming issue.
That just leaves the approximate $2.5K to print the comic in the quantity and price point I want. That's too much to expect to from one source, so here's a glimpse of what I plan on putting together funds wise:
Comic Sales: This seems like the most obvious and the easiest method of raising cash for an on going series, after all that's the basic idea isn't it? To sell enough comics to make another issue, or perish the thought, make another issue and pocket a little profit? Well, I ain't there yet, so I'll take what I can from this funding source and move on.
Ad Space: Selling ad space in a comic book is a time honored tradition that's largely been abandoned by indie guys like myself. The hard part of the problem selling ad space is convincing would be advertisers that its worthwhile. Who's going to see the book? It helps that I have some distribution and a strong local presence, but even then I don't think that I'm established enough to be aggressive with my ad rates. At this point in my publishing career, offering ad space is a way to start building business relationships as opposed to a method to put a serious dents in printing costs.
Kickstarter: I have serious mixed emotions about kickstarter.com. I have successfully run two small kickstarter campaigns to date and will likely run a third. The mixed emotion part is that while I appreciate each and every penny that has been given to me by my supporters, but I don't much like the way the site is set up. The people who run the site are pretty upfront about how little they do to promote individual projects: Essentially, they rely on the artists to bring their social networks to the party and only promote the projects that strike their fancy. I get it, but c'mon man: Grousing of an undiscovered creator like myself aside, even more acclaimed artists, like friend and Nix contributor Michael Neno, end up sweating hitting funding targets without some sort of support from the host.
I will say one thing though... And this is advice I hope all kickstarter users take to heart... Preparation is the key to a successful campaign. Shoot a video. Take the time to fully describe your project. Offer nice rewards gifts. The thought occurred to me that it'd be good post a quickie campaign to coincide with this article, but came to the conclusion that a slapdash listing could in fact be detrimental to my cause. (Hey! lookit me! I'm a curmudgeon! "You can do it fast, sonny... or you can do it right...")
Ebay: Its how I started Nix Comics and there's no good reason not to go back to the well. I still have a 1000 or so LPs and 7" records left over from my previous business, Evil Empire Records. If most of them sell at or around cost, I'll have enough to print issue #3. The only part of this method that's kind of a drag is the consuming nature of the beast. Just like I'm not into posting a kickstarter campaign willy nilly, I put a considerable amount of prep work into listing records on Ebay. Each of my ebay items will include a track listing, grading with notes on defects and record label info like catalog numbers. The time I spend doing all that ebay prep work, and then with the adventure of shipping the darn things after they sell, is time that I would much rather be spending writing and working with my artists.
Circling back to Memphis, I luckily came back from my trip with renewed inspiration for my own artistic endeavors, including the business of doing business. Part of what made ventures like Sun Records and Stax Records so remarkable was the hustle of their founders. Jim Stewart started what would become Stax Records using money his sister Estelle Axton got by mortgaging her home. Sam Phillips sold his contract with Elvis to RCA for $35K, which he used to the cash to pay for records by Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and... well... to pay off a legal debt that arose from the copyright infringement Rufus Thomas's "Bear Cat" single. But you get the idea. Those guys were always on point for digging up funds. It wouldn't have mattered what artists came in through their doors if they hadn't been.
In their spirit, I think that I can spend some time on ebay listings and live with my misgivings.
For more information about Ken and Nix Comics Quarterly:
Written or Contributed by: Ken Eppstein, Outhouse Contributor