The webcomics blog about webcomics

Business Roundtable

One of the most fascinating discussions I’ve ever had with a creator was when Jim Zub were chatting off the record at NYCC 2011 and he broke down the numbers on making Skullkickers, with the somewhat depressing conclusion that it was costing him money to put out each issue. When I spoke to him after Skullkickers launched on Keenspot, giving away what he was already in the hole for, his readership was (comparatively) through the roof:

In our first week at Keenspot we had more unique IP visits (i.e.: new readers) than all three printings of Skullkickers #1 combined.

All those readers for free, instead of paying out of pocket to reach them! By SDCC 2012, while it still cost him out of pocket to put out the floppies (to those of us that needs our fix of mayhem), there was now an upside in trade sales:

I’m at a show and somebody says, “I love Skullkickers!”, so I ask them where they know if from, and it’s always online. So then I get to tell them, “Oh, we’re running pages from issue three online now … and we just released issue thirteen to stores.” Ten issues they haven’t seen, and there’s the trade collection sitting on the table and they have to have it.

The hard numbers are what make up the by now widely-spread blogpost that Zub put up yesterday on the economics of creator-owned comics, using a 5000-copy print run of a single issue costing three bucks. He’s adjusted some numbers to make it more accurate than in its original incarnation, which has had the effect of changing the money left over for the creative team (after distribution, printing, and publishing costs) from the pathetic US$31.50 to the slightly less pathetic US$37.50 per page on a 20 page comic. I’ve heard you’re doing pretty good in the comics game if you can produce a single finished page per day, so yeah — we’re talking well below minimum wage (split among all the creators, not just the artist), and approaching restaurant waiter with no tips territory.

For everybody who’s ever wondered, why webcomics? There’s your answer — the webcomics angle is what drives enough readers to the reprints to make this a not-quite-break-even enterprise; were Zub to abandon the monthly floppies and adopt a purely web+reprint volumes model (aka “Going Foglio”), he might even make a modest sum (in the future, well after paying his artists). We’ll have to wait until Zub shares the numbers on trade sales, convention sales (no distributor! no store!), digital sales, and website ad revenue to draw real conclusions, but for those who are wondering what kind of madman would go to all that work and not make any money:

Believe it or not, I’m not bitter about all of this. It’s the price of doing business in the mainstream comic industry via retail outlets and international distribution. That’s how it works. I just want to make it very clear so people understand what I mean when I say I’m not getting rich making my own comic. Skullkickers is the most expensive hobby I’ve ever had.

It’s that compulsion to create, even without material reward (and figuring out the slowest way to lose money on that creation) that also gets a discussion in Christopher Wright’s discussion of how he learned to stop worrying and love self-publishing. Wright found himself unable to Chucke aside the notion that self-publishing was for

  • Deluded authors who were being played by vanity press outfits
  • Failed authors who had more ego than talent

getting scammed by vanity presses. Even with more than a dozen years of producing Help Desk under his belt, it took a period of years to realize that webcomicking is self-publishing, and all of the arguments made against it (at least, where you aren’t paying a vanity press thousands of dollars to do things you could easily do yourself) are essentially the same as the arguments made against webcomics in their infancy. It’s an excellent companion piece to Zub’s thoughts, and well worth your time.

Awesome, I might get to use the naked wrestler guy graphic again! Longtime readers of this page may recall that Steven “Cloudy” Cloud, he of fiercesome beardery and hiatused comicking once drove to Mongolia from London in a Nissan Micra for charity and adventure.

Apparently, every half decade some webcomiker or other has to do this damn-fool thing this is now a tradition, and Pontus Madsen & Christian Fundin from Little Gamers will, with friends, be fielding two three-man teams in the 2013 Mongol Charity Rally This involves driving from Sweden to Ulan Baator, Mongolia in two tiny-ass cars via central Europe, Russia, and a series of countries whose names end in -stan.

Want to see six grown men do something incredibly unpredictable to benefit two charities? Team Venture has an Indiegogo page set up so you can kick a few bucks in and send them on the adventure of a lifetime and/or hurtling to their dooms. I suppose it depends on whether you like them or not.

Oh, and should you, like the members of Team Venture, ever find yourself at an ex-Soviet checkpoint in the middle of absolutely nowhere, being pestered by a man with a uniform and a Kalashnikov¹ for a bribe? Cloudy says the secret is to enthusiastically smile and nod and thank them profusely until they figure that you just don’t understand them and send you on your way. It’s possible at some point in the negotiation they just decide to shoot you, but I’m pretty sure that Cloud’s beard made him bulletproof, so maybe that’s why he made it home safe. Look, just don’t die out there and we’ll call it good, okay?

¹ Fun fact: Mikhail Kalashnikov is still alive.

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