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Monday, 29 June 2015

You Will NOT Earn A Living Wage Working In The Small Press




I mentioned the Small Press or Independent Comics as being the best area to look at the invest in comics but when I was doing the QRD interview a few of the questions made me think.

You see, buying short print-run titles from a Small Press publisher, or just one specific creator-publisher, might be a good investment if that is what you are looking for.  However, it does not do much for the actual creator.  You buy their book at £3.00/$6.00 and hold onto it a few years then sell it and make money.  The creator of that book doesn't earn anything other than that £3.00/$6.00 -unless they keep a couple of copies of each book back to sell when the value picks up -if it picks up because, remember, investment is a form of gambling.

And I knew I had written about this whole working in the Small Press because someone had asked that specific question.  So, here.  I hope it answers any questions!

Working For The Small Press -What's It Worth?

 I was thinking how things have changed over the years. Back in the 1980s/1990s, if I had a zine that was short of 3-4 pages I'd knock out a letter and send it off to other zine publishers/creators.  Within a week I could guarantee having enough material to fill 2-3 zines.  And, if contacted by other zine publishers looking for material, well, yes, I'd send something to them.

At no point did anyone ask "How much are you paying?"  It was simple fun -contributors got a copy of the zine their work was in. Again, no one asked: "If you make anything out of this what's my cut?"

We were selling our "end product" for 25 pence.  50 pence.  75 pence or, and, I tried and succeeded in never crossing this particular price barrier myself, £1.00.  Yes, £1.00 which back then was 50 cents? So, buy my zines and you got a lot of pages for little money.  I try to keep doing that still.

Although, via Zine Zone mail order or marts you could sell quite a few zines -in fact, it's odd but you would guarantee at least doing fairly well sales-wise back then where as now the attitude and expectation is that selling one or two books is a good day! In fact, zine publishers reported that they did far better sales-wise with Zine Zone than they did with Fast Fiction (which saw ZZ as a competitor though we never considered there to be any rivalry).

"Hey -I made £2.00!" Not bad -snicker-  now to divide that up between 10 contributors! Seriously, no one expected to make big money because it was all for fun. Also, a lot of the creators of the 1980s who made it into comics as writers or artists all started in the Small Press -it was seen as a place where you could hone your skills. It is interesting to note that a few of these creators when asked how they got started in comics tend to gloss over any mention of the Small Press!  It all seems to be "I started writing/drawing and used every opportunity to hone that skill and then DC/Marvel saw my work" I think that is actually shameful.

People ask me how I got started I'll tell them.  Putting together a school magazine (Greenway Boys School, Bristol, 1972) titled Starkers -The Magazine That Tells The Naked Truth which was a title suggested by our Deputy Head, Mr Wright. Getting everything together, drawing, typing on the stencils for the Gestetner copier and then....getting banned by the Head because one of the secretaries complained about the title (yes, there was more to it because I was seen as an "H-dropping" pain-in-the-ass by the snobbish head and his school kid cronies).

Then I got work with a printer.  I then started working with the early photocopiers.  I wrote articles on everything from nature to astronomy and history and then I decided I wanted to get into publishing so I got friendly with those folk as well as editors and distributors and even stupidly spent money buying rights to certain characters/publications (see one of my previous big posts -they are there somewhere).

Putting all of this together helped in making dummy copies of proposed titles to submit to publishers.  Some of those titles, such as Preview Comic got a few people into permanent comics work both in the UK and US.  Then there were scripts for London Editions, Fleetway/Egmont, Marvel UK and so on.  And even while doing my comic work (and the officially unofficial other job) I was writing comic articles for publications such as Comics FX and other publications promoting comics and particularly the Small Press which has never gotten even 2% of the publicity 'real comics' do.

Today, obviously and I never ever do this any other way, all art is (c) the artist. If the contributor wrote and drew something then it is all (c) the creator. Even if I lost out I made sure contributors got something.  But then you hit the big problems.

You learn, quite by accident, that an artist you have written a script  for and who then with no explanation break all contact, are actually trying to sell the strip with a couple of character name changes.  When found out and contacted over this there is either silence or "Oh, I thought you'd left comics" -right.  Then you have the artist who wants to have full control over the end product which includes changes made "to make it better" and believe me I have had artists change characters names, sex and even whole chunks of story because they feel they know better.  That just is not on.  The writer writes and the artist draws -perhaps making an odd change to make action flow.

I have had one artist ask me to draw character sketches because he just could not understand what I meant by stating the right hand side of a characters body was all robot while the left was wholly human.  Another had to have a sketch when I described a central tower in a city had, at the very top,  a clock face on each of the four sides...?

 


 
 
Then you get an email out of the blue "I don't want this published unless I get a 60% royalty deal, a page fee and creative rights"  hmmm.  Or, you publish after putting a lot of work into a book and the artist then says he doesn't want to be associated with it because it might affect his work prospects with Marvel or DC???

You will also get artists who email every single week asking about sales.  "You can't be doing enough to promote the book!" And then there are the artists who complete books and simply vanish.  They no longer answer emails and so the book HAS to be withdrawn.  Or the families of people you have worked with....don't even get me started on that.

There are no huge profits in Small Press publishing and Independent comics will not make you rich!  So, as a publisher you have to make decisions that affect your output.  Books are withdrawn. Decisions are made so that you no longer have to rely on other creators and all the problems associated with them.

Black Tower no longer accepts proposals from creators.  Everything is in-house and there are only two creators...and a very large selection of books to buy.  No distractions or problems other than those you get normally as the UK largest Independent comics publisher.

The small Press rely far less on collaborations these days.  There are some but more and more it's an individual thing with the creator writing, drawing and publishing the book.  No profit no problem. A profit -nice.

https://smearysoapboxpress.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/spce6.jpg 
 Above: If you remember this you are old...like me!
 
 
 I think the anthology titles of old with any number of contributors will eventually vanish because unlike the doing -it -for- fun days where publishing was smooth and creators did not scream out "I'm a star! Pay me!" 

If you ask what money you are going to get out of the Small Press as an artist or writer then the true answer is that you'll be lucky to make any.  And the proof is there if you don't believe me: publish yourself and see all the 'joys' first hand!

So if you go to this weekends Small Press event remember: no one there is getting rich!

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