Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Seattlite Yankee in King Louis' Court

Page 5 first-pass color complete. Click to Enlarge. More below.

This page is... well, I'll come back to it later and figure something out.

I took some time off to do a pin-up for a real, live comic. It'll be my first-ever appearance in print. My rationale for breaking the no-side-projects rule was that Project Waldo might be taken more seriously by reviewers if it were perceived to have been drawn by a "real" comic artist. The theory was that I'd shed my hobbyist mantle by making an appearance in a well-known book. I'm not sure I should count that chicken before it's hatched, though, so I'll save the details for later.

Meanwhile, my initial enthusiasm for Ka-Blam has been muted by a spate of anti-POD comments. There are several potential drawbacks: first, I'm prepping all the art in RGB (Ka-Blam's format), but I may run into some major headaches if I end up switching to a publisher who uses CMYK (pretty much all of the big ones). Second, it's been pointed out that if I get an ISBN for my Ka-Blam run, it could prevent me from re-releasing the comic through a new publisher (I'm not exactly sure why this is, so if anybody has any thoughts on this, I'd love to hear them). Third, there's a guy over at the Gutterzombie forums who's had some problems with color profiles at Ka-Blam -- it sounds like their output may be a little inconsistent (though on second viewing, there may have been a miscommunication about CMYK profiles). Regardless, Ka-Blam's the plan until a publisher shows some interest.

I've talked to a couple of established comics artists about self-publishing, and they generally reject the idea out of hand. I can certainly see the disadvantages, especially when it comes to marketing and distribution, but I've heard so many horror stories about working with the big publishers that I'm not entirely convinced one way or the other. Other than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, can anybody provide examples of successful self-published titles (and maybe share some of the strategies they used to break through)?

As I've continued to troll the internet-sea in search of publishing alternatives, I've often been told to look to Europe. To North American eyes my art looks foreign, but I wonder if actual Europeans would interpret my style in the same way. Ever since I ran across my first Moebius comic, I've had sort of an inferiority complex when it comes to Franco-Belgian comics (I have a similar feeling about high-end manga). I have assumed that readers acclimated to the "real" stuff would dismiss mine as weak tea. My blog statistics haven't done much to dispel this fear: there's a fairly marked lack of interest from France (especially compared to Germany and the UK). I guess I'm the anti-Jerry Lewis of comics. It's too bad, because France is an awesome place to sell comics -- larger format books, more generous schedules, and robust sales. AND you're perceived as a real artist, as opposed to here, where comics artists are relegated to the same social stratum as mimes and puppeteers (who, come to think of it, are probably also cherished in France).

If any of you would be willing to pose as a French person and write me an encouraging comment, it would do wonders for my self-esteem. Spell "the" as "ze." That's how I'll know you're French.


  1. Nate, that page looks AMAZING colored. I'm really getting excited for this book, regardless of how or who publishes it.

    As for successful self publishers look no further than Jeff Smith and Bone. There's no shortage of interviews and stories online about his rise to the top so I won't burden your comments section with that. A google search should suffice.

    As for French publishing, it's not without it's problems as well. However, I think your book would be a perfect fit for some publishers over there. Especially if you're doing it in a larger format, as seems to be their MO.

    You should put together a proposal and send them out. If anything you'll get advice as to what works and what doesn't for publishers.

    Good work and I axiously await for more.

  2. The page is gorgeous, let it sit for a while without tweaking. :)

    I have a frank opinion about "established" comic artists who reject self-publishing out of hand: I think they're lazy and complacent. I can understand the whole "I just want to draw, I don't want to deal with business, marketing and promotion" philosophy, but that philosophy is what has led to the current comics industry situation... which is not a good situation unless you are working on a popular title from Marvel or DC. The business is slowly and surely imploding.

    The reality of comics publishing is that here in the US, it's in serious trouble apart from the Big Two, and even their future is uncertain.

    Self-publishing *within* the Direct Market comics publishing system, yeah, that you definitely want to reject out of hand. It's most likely a waste of time and money in the current climate.

    However, the publishing industry at large is far, far larger than the Direct Market. Don't limit yourself by ignoring the big world outside American comics.

    In contrast to what Jake says about Jeff Smith, I'd like to say (with respect) that although Smith is a great resource to learn about self-publishing (and I'd suggest reading up on Wendy & Richard Pini and Dave Sim, too), the comics market that Jeff (and Wendy and Dave) was able to succeed in was a *very* different market than exists now. While you'll get lots of great info from all of them, you'll have to be careful in deciding which bits are applicable to 2009-2010 as opposed to 1978-1984.

    I do agree that you should go after the French publishers, as aggressively as you can! And as far as your site not showing popularity in France/Belgium so far... heh, try publishing a version of the site and comic in French!! They're kinda picky about that sort of thing, I hear. :)

  3. Hi again Nate,

    Can't speak to your worries of French acceptance or Kablam, but on the subject of pin ups and self publishers...

    Like I said before, your art speaks for itself. Very smart move getting your name out there somewhere in a pin up. Best of luck with a lil extra word of mouth from that.

    Self publishers that come to mind, (just like Jake) I recommend Jeff Smith (Bone), but here are a few others... There's Gary and Rhoda Shipman (Pakkin's Land), Art Spiegelman (Maus), the grand daddy of them all, Dave Sims (Cerebus). If I think of more later I'll pass them on, but for now its bed time here in Turkey.

    Best of luck bro. Another beautiful product you turned out for page 5. I didnt even grasp that the bottom pick was from within a 'scope till I saw the color version. Nice.

  4. If my brother and not my lover looked at me this way I would be worried! ;-)

  5. The key to most self-publishers is publishing in black and white. All those mentioned thus far are/were black and white comics. The only full-color that I can think of that's had self-publishing success (with an original property) recently are the Artesia mini-series from Archaia. Archaia is no longer owned by Mark Smylie, but he started it as a vehicle to publish his own work.

    The closest you can get to self-publishing is putting out your book through Image and a great number of full color books have seen success via that route. Other options include the previously mentioned Archaia, Boom! Studios, IDW, and Dark HOrse.

  6. Jeff Smith is the pinnacle of today's self publishing but as already mentioned he started at a time when the comics market was extremely different. He is self publishing again with a new series called Rasl.

    I would also check out Terry Moore who had great success with Strangers in Paradise and is currently doing a book called Echo.

    Kablam is fine if you want to do small print runs for things like preview copies. But it wouldn't be cost effective to use them for a big print run.

    And if you do decide to go the self publishing route you will want to apply for the Xeric grant. It was established by Peter Laird of Ninja Turtles fame as a way to give back to independent creators.

  7. LOL I actually am half-French, so... ;)
    I have a possible lead for you, no getting hopes up of course, but it's a place to start. I had the privilege to meet Benoît Peeters this weekend, of Cités Obscures fame (look them up if you haven't heard of them, you may be surprised by the visual similarities with your work in terms of monumentality and astonishing detail). He's brilliant and other than being a writer, he now has a publishing house for both prose and comics. It's called Les Impressions Nouvelles and their website is http://www.lesimpressionsnouvelles.com/
    Yeah the site's in French, but "soumettre un manuscrit" gives an address where to send a submission. It says they read everything and respond within 2 months.

    Peeters had a lot of very insightful things to say, though (well no surprise, he IS considered an authority), and among them that young authors today shouldn't feel so pressured to look for publishers, with so many new ways of publishing and selling work both in print and online. That made me feel better, so I'm passing it on :)

  8. I'm not French, but Swedish which is kind of close - well at least our king is French.

    Anyway if it counts for anything, my first impression upon seeing your art style and fantastic imagination was a thrilling resemblance to the French comic book series Valérian and Laureline. I love the Franco-Belgian comics and wouldn't consider yours anywhere near "weak tea". Just my €0.02.

  9. Gorgeous work (again!!)...really like the slight color tint in your text bubbles too

    Perhaps an additional market will be digital releases:


    The exciting thing is...once a comic is released digitally for a device such as an iTablet it is just a step away from being a massive animatic: the whole thing could be alive -- even frames warping, moving, sliding across pages. Or maybe just a few well chosen elements: it would be so cool to see your colors used in a sunset, your hyper-detailed leaves blowing, clouds shifting color, very subtly in the background.

    Glad you have experience with After Effects -- wow, you are right about how time and labor intensive even the slightest animatics are. I'm working through my first...moving back and forth from Photoshop to AE...any tips? This is the coolest effect I've seen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3yIEAxxMZY

  10. Nate, have you completely decided against self-publishing online? Doing so instantly opens things up to a massive audience. I really feel we're right on the verge of seeing some very, very interesting and cool stuff happen online. Naturally, I'm not saying this is the easiest route - but it might be less expensive than self-publishing in print, plus you can retain ownership of your property in full.

    Just a thought if you hadn't considered it.

  11. j'adore le project waldo

    there, howzat? sorry the uk love isn't good enough.... ;)

    you might want to look into fundable.com, you could essentially set up pre-orders and see a base of how much money you'd get self publishing.

    great page, obviously. what font are you using?

  12. I agree that Image is a potential publisher that's worth looking at.

    Dark Horse... eh, maybe? See if they make an offer. I honestly don't think IDW is going to be able to afford the kind of rate that this work is worth - and I would be adamant in saying DO NOT go with someone who can't really pay you "just to get something published!" EVER.

    And whatever you do, ABSOLUTELY DO NOT, EVER, TAKE ANYTHING YOU DO TO BOOM STUDIOS. Their page rates are criminally low, in many cases far, far below minimum wage pay, and they don't pay royalties. Avoid BOOM at ALL COSTS.

    I've forgotten, how many pages is this story going to be when it's done? Is it intended as a full graphic novel, 96+ pages?

  13. Hi,
    First let me say I absolutely LOVE your work! Your style and colors are amazing! I look forward to seeing the whole book.

    I just wanted to clarify the rumor of ISBN's and Ka-blam. I'm going to post a link that will give everyone more information on bar codes and ISBN's for Ka-blam, IndyPlanet and ComicsMonkey:

    You don't need to have a bar code should you just want to print your books at Ka-Bam. You don't need a bar code if you want to sell your book at IndyPlanet. If you want to make your book available to retailers world wide via ComicsMonkey you will need to have a bar code.

    Having a bar code/ISBN in NO way limits you to seeking a publisher. This is simple to make it easier on retailers to carry your product. Also should you choose you are more then welcome to provide your own bar code and ISBN.

    I would encourage you all to read about the POS system.

    If you have any questions I'm MORE then happy to answer them.

    Jenni Gregory

  14. Jake - I'm following your advice -- I'll be writing my pitch letter tonight and sending it off to a bunch of European publishers tomorrow. Thanks for the encouragement and the advice!

    Jeff - Okay, I'll let the page sit (although I actually surreptitiously tweaked it just before you posted -- I wonder which version you were commenting on?). And you make a very good point about my blog not being in French. That's a very heartening notion! You've given me a nice pile of artists to research as well. Thanks for the beefy comment!

    capt_parsons - Thanks for the recommendations. I've got a nice big pile of new artists to check out now. And I'm glad you were able to grok that the last panel was the view through a looking glass -- I was a little worried I'd gone too abstract with it. Thanks as always for the insight!

    Lorna - That's a very good point. To my knowledge, they're just very close twins. But now I keep seeing the page your way... oh dear.

    ljamal - Yeah, I was wondering if anybody had made it with a color indie. I'll check out Archaia tonight. Thanks for the help!

    joshua - Okay, Moore and Smith are on my to-look-at list. That Xeric grant looks very interesting. I JUST missed the most recent deadline, though. I should have plenty to submit in March, though! Thanks for the leads!

    Joumana - As you already know, I've added Les Impressions Nouvelles to my contact list -- thanks for the recommendation! But holy cow, Benoît Peeters might be my new favorite -- my jaw hit the floor when I saw his stuff. Sure, it's detailed, but it's also flawlessly composed. Astonishing, astonishing stuff. Thanks!

    The Whiny Coder - I think Swedes are probably even harder to impress than the French, right? I'm quite flattered! And Valérian and Laureline is just beautiful (I'm seeing so much astounding new work today, it's making my head spin). Thanks for offering your €0.02.

    Slightly - Hello again, and thanks! I'm glad you like the bubble tinting -- I was trying to make it subtle enough that you wouldn't notice, but visible enough to harmonize with the stuff around it. Sort of an experiment-in-progress. You're the first to mention it, so I think it must kind of work! And dude, that Apple tablet might be just the thing. I'm curious what kind of resolution we can expect. And as to After Effects -- I never really learned any tricks. As with Project Waldo, I generally solved problems the hard, slow way. But yeah, I'm all for digitally-distributed comics, and I'd love to see my stuff animated someday. You've got to dream big!

  15. Jeremy - Man, your art is so, so nice. I love the way you draw skies. And everything else, really. I'm very excited about the potential of digital comics, but I'm still having a little trouble figuring out how to turn it into something that could pay my rent. Right now, I sort of see the digital approach as a gateway to physical sales, although when the viewer technology progresses through a couple of generations, everything's going to change. Have you tried publishing anything on the web yet? I'd be curious to hear your ideas about how to make it work.

    dnwilliams - Hey, I didn't mean to leave the UK out in the cold. But thanks for hitting me with some French, anyway. That was very sporting of you. Fundable looks both interesting and terrifying. The hard part would be figuring out exactly how much money I needed to raise -- but then I'd probably just feel guilty that people weren't spending the money on starving children (I mean "starving" here as an adjective, not as a verb). Hm. Anyway, the font is called Anime Ace 2.0, and you can find it at blambot.com (it's free until it sees print). I'm actually thinking of going with a more delicate font -- if you've got any recommendations, I'm all ears. Thanks again for the nice comment!

    Jeff - Your concepts are great. It's a shame the "9" game never came out -- it looked like it was shaping up beautifully. And thanks for the Boom warning! Advice taken! The plan for Project Waldo is either six 24-page issues or three 48-pagers. The run roughly corresponds to a 90-page movie script.

    Jenni - Thanks for dropping by and sharing some knowledge! For my part, if I go with Ka-Blam, I'll definitely want in on Comics Monkey (if you'll have me). Please feel free to weigh in on these discussions in the future -- I think a lot of us would benefit from some informed POD perspective. And thanks for the kind words!

  16. Hello, I'm one the few french visitors to your blog, and I'm quite sure your work would be well received here... Your lines, colors and sense of details are amazing, and I'm sure some editors would be fighting to publish you.

    I'm meeting soon with a friend who had some good/bad experiences in being published, I'll show him your work and ask him for some advice.

    I don't know how they work / pay, but maybe you can try with : http://www.soleilprod.com/
    They have many fantasy / SF stories, and your work is better than many of the already published comics.

    For the RVB / CMYK problems, as long as you keep a copy of your layered psd files (with colors and linework separated) there is always a solution. Some publishers have special requests concerning the color density and color profiles, and that can be adjusted with them before printing by tweaking the psd file a little bit. (the script palette is a great friend in that case)

    Either way, I'm eager to see your book finished, in print, digital or whatever good solution comes to you...

  17. Howdy. I was sent here by a link in Scott McCloud's blog. Man. You're a hobbyist? Not that I can tell. I worked in a comic store in Boston for 14 years that specialized in having things from Europe whenever possible. To my eye, your stuff fits right in and then some. Great perspective and your buildings, hardware and other fine details are all rock solid. I wish you the best with the European publishers. I think your work belongs in that corral.

  18. I'm working in the printing/prepress business and can give some tips regarding CMYK/RGB:

    1. Do all your work in RGB and keep all your work-psds in RGB too.

    2. Allways turn CMYK-Preview ON in PS, so you will notice when some colors/tones will not work with CMYK

    3. Separation to CMYK is allways the last step: convert your PSD to 16-bit color, flatten it down to one layer (the 16-bit mode sometimes helps with banding problems), separate it into the right CMYK-profile (should be your workroom CMYK-profile too) and convert it back to 8-bit. You could use a PS-Automation to do this ..

    4. Maybe best is to deliver RGB to the Printer and let them do the job (if they love their work they will do it right ... ;) )

  19. Moozoom - Yay, a French person! Welcome! It's so wonderful to hear that you like my stuff. I really enjoyed the work in your gallery, too. I'm a big fan of that retro, solid-color style! And thanks for the lead on Soleil -- they're on my to-contact list. I was humbled by the quality of the books they've already released, but I'll go ahead and shoot them something anyway. It can't hurt, can it?

    T' - I was on Scott McCloud's blog? Holy... Man, the world just gets weirder and weirder these days. In a good way! Thanks for all the kind comments. I'm especially happy that you still think my art measures up after seeing 14 years' worth of professional stuff. Not to mention, Tamino looks amazing. What a great, original style. Great color, great composition, great atmosphere -- I'm not sure I've seen anything like it before. Are we going to see Tamino in print anytime soon?

    Ronald - I love that you're telling me that I should keep working in RGB. I just breathed a huge sigh of relief. I will follow the steps you've described and hope for the best. Thank you so much for the help!

  20. Regarding the CMYK/RGB decision... remember that print only works in CMYK. If someone lets you provide RGB files for print it just means that they will be converting it themselves. Monitors only work in RGB, so it is great for the internet, but not for printing. The kicker is that although CMYK and RGB overlap, there are colors that you can only get with RGB.

    My advice, if someone is going to convert this to CMYK, it should be the artist.. so you can decide how your colors shift. You don't want to get the book and think the colors look wrong because someone who didn't care (or a machine) was in charge of the conversion.

  21. Cerebus is THE ultimate example in self-published comics: it ran for a record 25 years! :) This guy - beware, adult content - is also self-published and distributes thru Diamond Comics: http://clamnuts.com/

  22. Ian - Yeah, I knew that certain RGB colors were unavailable in CMYK, but I was unsure whether it went the other way. It sounds like in general it's safer to work in CMYK, since that'll guarantee a lossless conversion to RGB should a switch become necessary. Thanks for the advice!

    Leeann - Cerebus! I remember reading that back in the day. It's been such a long time -- I should go dig those out of the garage. And I LOVE the way the clamnuts site looks. I'm especially impressed by the page viewer he uses for Mister Amperduke. That's a great example of how a capable independent can actually outdo an established publisher. That guy shows a ton of hustle. Thanks for the link -- I hope he's seeing some success! (P.S. I really like the stuff in your Deviant Art gallery. Especially your ink work. It makes me wish I knew how to use real-life media...)

  23. Phil Foglio's Girl Genius is an example of a very successful online comic book. The comic is given away for free online; the profit (I think) mainly comes from the trade paperbacks, which are self-published in full color.

    Foglio produces three pages a week, which I doubt you could match. But the basic model of using free pages online to build up an audience, and selling self-published book collections, is one that could work.

    You might also check out Dresdan Codak by Aaron Diaz. For one thing, I think you'll love his drawing (look for "The Sleepwalkers" and "Fabulous Prizes" in his archives). But the reason I'm pointing him out to you is that he's making a living by putting out relatively few pages per year, and selling prints and books.

    So it's not impossible.

    Finally, in your case -- how married are you to drawing on the Cintiq, rather than drawing on huge pieces of paper? I love the Cintiq, myself -- but for work like yours, you're giving up a lot of potential income by not having originals to sell.

  24. Barry - These are all great. Dresdan Codak wasn't only beautiful, I busted a gut laughing. But YOUR stuff is just enchanting! Congratulations on your recent Friends of Lulu nominations. You totally deserve it!

    As to being married to the Cintiq -- I suppose it's a marriage of convenience, more than anything. To work in analog media would probably double my turnaround time on each page, which would probably offset whatever profit I might turn by selling originals. I do have really horrible crayon drawings from when I was a kid. I could sell those, right?

    Thanks for the links!

  25. Thanks, Dominic! Just out of curiosity, do you like the color for this page? In recent talks with a publisher, it was pointed out that my color on pages 4 and 5 is inferior to the color of the first three pages. I've been experimenting with different levels of saturation, and I've definitely been moving in a more vivid direction... Anyway, it's all on adjustment layers, so I figure I'll even it all out once it's done.

    Everybody go look at Dominic's blog. He's insanely good.

  26. I def like the colors on these pages , the warmer red / orange palette suits the interior environment. It esp works with the frames of the female character.

    The first three pages had more of a coolness , with blues and soft greens.

    The color shift from exterior to interior works for me , I assume that was your intention?

    I look forward to the next page.

    Thanks for the props ;-)

  27. Dominic - Yep, that was the idea! I think I may end up reworking some of the page 5 color, but for now I'm just going to leave it alone. If all goes well, the color will improve toward the end of the book, and I'll have to double back to implement some of the lessons I've learned. Thanks for the support!

  28. JazylH from DA here. WEll so far , everything I've got from Ka-Blam has been pretty consistent. I am new to the idea of having an ISBN required to have the comic sold via Ka-blam. Are you sure it's needed?

    Secondly you can simply have one copy printed over at Ka-blam to see the result, no need to have them sell it for you until you are ready. But i guess it's upto you.

    Still ery curious on the SBN thing, I've no clue what it is, but I plan to publish my comic there as well so would like to know how you can get one. I have my concept trademarked & characters patented though.

  29. 2-bad - You're absolutely right -- you don't need an ISBN to sell through Ka-Blam. You do, however, need to get one if you want to distribute through Comics Monkey (and if you're publishing through Ka-Blam, I can't think of a reason why you wouldn't try Comics Monkey, too). Apparently, CM provides the ISBN to you for something like ten dollars.

    Your character designs look like a lot of fun (they remind me of the golden age of 80's animation -- stuff like Thundercats and He-Man). I look forward to seeing your stuff up at Indy Planet!

  30. Hi Nate,

    As a Frenchman and artist I just wanted to state the obvious 1) the French would love your comics 2) unlike say our British friends they do not speak ZE English that well so you may want to invest in a French version to get that readership up 3) or you may just forget about France altogether which is fine too!
    Your work would do great in the French market, it is beautiful in line and color and the story has gotten me engaged from the very first page.
    Jean Tripier

  31. Jean - Your artwork is spectacularly, wonderfully gorgeous and I'm totally in love with your coloring style. Thanks so much for the kind words!

    As for releasing in French -- it is a major goal for me. French is definitely the first translation I want to do. In fact, I've kept all the speech bubbles and sound effects on a separate layer so that it'll be easier to adapt to the translated text.

    Thanks again for your comment! I'll keep an eye out for your work.

  32. hello Nate
    i have discovered your work a few weeks ago on this blog/website... and i simply love it. the shapes, the composition, the colors. i am truly amazed at(by?) your talent !
    i sure hope that you will find a french publisher that will like your work and your style
    i wish you Ze best

    maxime, from Paris, FRANCE

  33. Maxime - Thanks! I don't mean to play favorites or anything, but I get a special little thrill when a French person says something nice about my stuff. You're very kind.

    I'm talking to overseas publishers, so with any luck there will be a French version of Project Waldo before long! I'd love to have an excuse to go to Angoulême (though I'm terrified that Moebius might see my stuff there and not like it).

    You know who I just discovered this week? Benoit Springer! I think he might be my new favorite. And of course none of his comics have been translated into English -- he doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry (not even in French!!!). But he's amazing. So there's another person I have to meet if I visit France.

    Thanks again for ze comment, Maxime!