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Whoa, This Morning Came Waaaay Too Early

Lots of people, lots of crowd on the floor at the San Diego Convention Center yesterday, although it was a weird sort of “lots of crowd”. The announcements that the doors were open lacked the usual Voice From Above panache, and the floor remained eerily quiet for a good 15 minutes afterwards — surely related to the massive crowd outside jockeying for position in the panel rooms.

Unlike Preview Night, when the hardcore fans come to spend, the crowd seemed slightly frugal, circling endlessly, deciding where over the four days of the show they were going to drop cash now, and where to do so later. There’s a feeling of anticipation in the massive hall, as if the attendees haven’t entirely made up their minds about their budget and how much it’s going to stretch.

In the meantime, there was a panel featuring a collection of reprobates and some guest ne’er-do-wells, which was moderated by some hack webcomics pseudojournalist.

Big news from the panel: Meredith Gran has signed a contract with a major publisher (the name will have to wait another week or so — the legalities of such deals can be rather random) and is expected to produce an omnibus edition of Octopus Pie (featuring some new art to make the styles more consistent and some extensions to the story) around this time next year. It’s welcome news, although those who both already have OP 1-3 (Hi!) and are obsessive completists (Hi, again!) may be slightly grumbling about having to make room on the shelf for another version. Dang, our lives just suck.

In other happenings:

  • Robert Khoo is hinting at really interesting stuff from the forthcoming Penny Arcade anniversary book (which will be a history of the strip and the creators, rather than a collection of material). Due next year, a certain subset of webomics fans (I said hi, dammit!) are likely to find it terribly interesting.
  • His panel duties done, Scott McCloud is wandering the halls and deciding what to attend and who to hang and talk with. Both of us fear the immensity of the room and the madding of the crowd that fills Hall H, but the talk today that features Hayao Miyazaki, John Lasseter, others from Disney/Pixar, footage from Ponyo, and moderated by Patton Oswalt may pull us in.
  • The Indy Cartoonist Survival Guide panel was a mixed bag — with seven people on the panel (moderator Keith Knight, Lark Pien, Jim Mahfood, Paul Friedrich, and Miriam Libicki, Stephen Notley, and our own Dave Kellett) there were a lot of experiences and perspectives to be shared, but also a tendency for the conversation to slow — while Knight did a great job of always turning the questions to somebody new and keeping the flow going, so many voices on a serious topic that requires long answers can turn into a series of unwieldy moderator + one person talk, everybody else looks thoughtful moments.

    But the ideas were pretty good — the key thoughts can probably be summed up as Variety, Ownership, and Support. Let’s hit them one at a time:

    Variety: There was pretty much consensus that to be any kind of cartoonist, you have to do a variety of things. Whether it’s in the sense of finding income from multiple sources (prints, originals, books, shows, teaching/lecturing) or in the sense that you have run your business (hustle your jobs, manage all aspects of your career), the chances of you being able to merely sit in a room and draw, pass your finished work to other people to take care of the details, and then cash the check? Doesn’t happen anymore. Kellett talked about long-time syndicated cartoonists that have taken that approach to the extent that — decades later — they aren’t able to adapt and don’t even know their way around Photoshop.

    Knight, Mahfood and others took up the idea that cartoonists can do lots of thing; as Mahfood put it, Living in LA you can bullshit your way into a lot of situations. He spoke about pitching ideas for cartoons, getting option deals, how a graphic novel can be your calling card in the movie/TV world, and how he wound up painting a mural next to Banksy — because when asked Do you want to do X in exchange for money? he said, Yeah, I can do that instead of No, I’ve never done that. Also? Europe. They’re really into indy/comics artists over there and love Americans whose work is novel and not well-known. Somebody invites you to a show or a gallery, take it.

    Ownership: This was maybe Kellett’s key point: Own everything you produce. It’s no surprise that every year the con circuit brings news of another Golden or Silver age artist that needs funds raised to take care of a serious medical condition; years of work-for-hire got them a paycheck, and that it. No insurance, no originals to sell, no royalties, because they didn’t own what they worked on. Riffing on the theme, Knight shared how he had to buy back the rights to his own early strips when he realized that he was doing the work to make the sales, and somebody else was keeping the money.

    Lark Pien also hit this theme on the topic of pricing: too many artists don’t price their work appropriately (or as Knight put it, Nobody’s going to value your work unless you value it first). Sure, she sells prints in the $5 range, but also original art that’s gonig for more than $500 — going soft on the price points doesn’t make sense, but having a wide range of costs means that the fan can buy (i.e.: give you money) at a point that they find appropriate.

    Notley chimed in that finding those appropriate price points can be a little tricky, but that market forces can be made to work for you. Several times, he put a blank piece of paper up on eBay, with the auction winner getting the right to specify what would be drawn on it. After a couple auctions went in the $150 – $200 range, he had an idea what his fans would pay for originals and priced accordingly.

    Support: You have to manage your career, but you absolutely can’t do it alone. From the importance of the spouse/partner that’s bought into your artistic career to utilizing the fanboys and fangirls with skills, time, and dedication, this is a key driver for success. Kellett spoke about the challenges of living in a home with two artistic people, and how the solution was that one of them would work on the arts stuff for a few years while the other covered the bills, then swap and repeat as necessary — in each case, the artistic partner got the career to the stage where it could be the bill-paying career while the other developed the arts to the next stage.

    Libnicki talked about her husband being “a numbers guy”, and how he’s jumped into the organizational end of her career — keeping track of show sales, inventories, opportunities, and the like. Freidrich made a point about how being a cartoonist can let you choose how much support your career requires by the simple choice of where you live: I moved from LA back to North Carolina where I could make half the money and live four times as well. If you’re working as a webcomicker especially, as Knight said, you can live anywhere that’s got got high-speed data and regular FedEx pickups.

    Finally, there are people out there that you can find to help where you lack skills (although as Kellett put it, always try the task yourself first, to find out how much it’s worth to you to pay somebody else to do it). Whether it’s finding a fangirl to run his newletter (as Mahfood did), or snagging an intern, or (if you hit the right combination of successes and lack of successes) finding a Robert Khoo-like person to be the business guru, there are people out there.

    Maybe the best point was Knight’s final thought — there’s a lot of niches that your work can fit into, there’s lots of small sources of income that a company won’t find worth pursuing, but an individual can find lucrative in the aggregate. In other word, Indy cartoonists are too small to fail.

Today, the aforementioned Miyazaki panel (12:45, hall H), and hopefully the Kazu Kibuishi panel (5:30 in room 3; rumor is that Amulet‘s been extended from two books to five, with an option for up to ten!).


Phil Foglio appears to have annoyed somebody in the Victorian era, who has sent their bounty hunters to correct his ways. Meanwhile, the Cardboard Tube Saumurai figure has apparently got on the human growth hormone. Those at the Dumbrella panel appear to be slightly unfocused and prone to photographic artifacts (maybe — that blur in the second photo is right where Scott McCloud and family would suddenly be sitting a moment later, and nobody saw them walk in — magic!).

You know, I didn’t realize until today that I /depend/ on this blog. Thanks for the excellent update.

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