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Interview: Box Brown on Retrofit Comics

While the rest of the world is going digital, Box Brown is heading in the other direction: Last month he launched Retrofit Comics with plans to publish 17 print comics by new and independent creators in the next 17 months. He got the seed money for Retrofit with a Kickstarter drive, and the launch comic was James Kochalka’s Fungus. All the books are by different artists, and most are one-shots, although Brown said he is open to creators incorporating their Retrofit comics into their ongoing series. This month’s release is Drag Bandits, by Colleen Frakes and Betsy Swardlick, which Brown describes as “kind of like The Scarlet Pimpernel, a woman dressed as a man and a man dressed as a woman, and it’s really exciting.” Comics by Pat Aulisio and Josh Bayer round out this year’s offerings, and plans for the future include an anthology in the spirit of the Japanese underground-manga magazine Garo, a project that Brown says was the brainchild of Ian Harker, editor of the free alt-comic newspaper Secret Prison. The comics are sold both in selected retail stores and by subscription, and Brown estimates he has 150 subscribers to the four-month package and a handful with six-month or twelve-month subscriptions.

While he is handling all this, Brown, who recently won two Ignatz Awards, continues to self-publish his own work, and Blank Slate will publish his graphic novel The Survivalist in December. We talked to him this past weekend about the genesis of Retrofit Comics and what it’s like to run a really, really small press.

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Tom Neely unleashes The Wolf: a preview and interview

from The Wolf by Tom Neely

from The Wolf by Tom Neely

There’s not much I can say by way of an introduction to Tom Neely that the above image can’t do better. Combining the gangly, jaunty character designs of classic comic icons like E.C. Segar’s Popeye and Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse with a take on horror that’s equal parts metal album cover, ’70s horror mag, and sexualized Surrealism, Neely’s comics, paintings, and illustrations wed a high level of craft to intense imagery that often literally tears its characters apart. It’s a style Neely has deployed with surprising versatility since the high-profile release of his self-published graphic novel debut The Blot in 2007; in that time he’s riffed directly on his influences with the Popeye reinterpretation Doppelgänger and the horror-mag cover collection Neely Covers Comics to Give You the Creeps!, adapted the songs of punk mainstays the Melvins in Your Disease Spread Quick, created a series of strip-format comic poems in Brilliantly Ham-fisted, put an alternative spin on the gag comic in the anthology Bound & Gagged, and most famously helped craft an ode to the timeless love affair of hardcore legends Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig in Henry & Glenn Forever. I’ve enjoyed all these comics. But The Wolf, Neely’s new self-published full-length graphic novel, is the leader of the pack.

It’s easy to enjoy (if that’s the right word) The Wolf as a thrilling, chilling onslaught of monsters, bloody combat, and graphic sex — and indeed I do. But beneath the werewolves and zombies and tree-headed monks is a moving exploration of couplehood, as our male and female protagonists deal with the pain of the past and the threats of the present in order to build a (literally) brighter future together. As with The Blot, The Wolf‘s wordlessness emphasizes Neely’s powerful images, with a clever use of single splashes and double-page spreads propelling us through a story that at any moment can toggle between nightmare, wet dream, and peaceful reverie. It’s like life with the volume cranked up.

With The Wolf‘s release party scheduled for this Friday, July 8, at L.A.’s Secret Headquarters (although you can already purchase a copy through Neely’s website), Neely has provided Robot 6 with a selection of preview pages from throughout the book, and took the time to answer a few questions about its origins, influences, style, substance, subtext, sex scene, and more.

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Faith Erin Hicks goes solo with Superhero Girl

Faith Erin Hicks is the creator of Zombies Calling and The War at Ellesmere, as well as the artist for Brain Camp, so she has already had quite a bit of success with commercial publishers. Now she’s reversing the usual order of things with her first self-published comic, a collection of strips from her webcomic The Adventures of Superhero Girl, which is sort of a slice-of-life comic about a semi-successful superhero. She plans to have it to sell at TCAF in a couple of weeks, and the comics shop Strange Adventures, in her home base of Halifax, will also carry it.

If you’re not already familiar with Hicks, start watching her now, because she’s on an amazing trajectory. She has a two more traditional projects in the works, including another graphic novel for First Second and a collaboration with J. Torres, and her blog is worth checking out just for her manga fanart (and the commentary that goes with it).

Check out the latest round of Xeric winners

We all seem to have missed this, but The Comics Reporter caught it: This year’s Xeric Grant winners were announced a little while ago. And they are…

Established by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Peter Laird, the Xeric Foundation gives grants to comics creators to finance self-publishing their work. Previous winners include Adrian Tomine, Megan Kelso, Jessica Abel, Linda Medley, James Sturm, Jim Ottaviani, Nick Bertozzi, Jeff Lemire, and Gene Yang, which suggests that the judges do a pretty good job of picking grant recipients.

Dylan Meconis on how she funded Family Man

Cartoonists don’t usually pop up on money blogs, but at American Express’s Currency site, Douglas Wolk talks to Dylan Meconis about how she financed the print edition of her webcomic Family Man. Basically, she says, “I asked the internet very nicely,” and her fans ponied up $11,000 to cover costs. Meconis explains why she didn’t use Kickstarter, and delves into nuts-and-bolts issues like health insurance, her next big purchase, and her other work:

What’s the biggest misconception people have about cartoonists’ finances? I’m sure some people think that we’re all just rolling in that sweet Internet money. But there’s a lot of background work that you don’t get to see as a fan, because it’s just freelance engagements: a lot of commercial illustration, a lot of educational comics and corporate comics, to explain a new business process or do a training manual or something. A lot of companies want that cool graphic-novel feel—to keep people awake during a PowerPoint.

John Allison comes out swinging with his Indie Comics Manifesto

Scary Go Round, Bad Machinery, and Giant Days webcomics impresario John Allison is throwing down the gauntlet. In his “Manifesto for UK Indie Comics in 2010″, the cartoonist offers some very blunt advice for aspiring comics creators, on everything from content to format to fandom to your personal demeanor as a creator. As is the case with most comics manifestos, there’s stuff in it I applaud, stuff in it that’s somewhere between a nasty rude awakening and a much-needed kick in the pants, and stuff that makes my skin crawl.

For example, I am generally speaking a diary-comics skeptic, and thus point #7, “Diary comics: stop it,” strikes me as advice potentially worth heeding, especially for new cartoonists looking for a way to channel their energies. On the other hand, point #3, “Make comics for people who don’t make comics,” though it sounds like a good enough idea, basically writes off vast swathes of the medium’s best work:

Why is anyone other than your comic making friends and a few select interested parties going to read an art-damaged visual tone-poem about the inside of your psyche? Learn how to engage and entertain people. It’s a profoundly useful skill.

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Comics economics

Marc Bernabe has posted a short video of Japanese creator Shuho Sato discussing (with subtitles) why he chose to publish his comics online. That may not seem like much of a jump to American readers, but as Bernabe explains in the accompanying blog post, manga creators don’t routinely include digital rights in their publishing contracts, so they can cut a deal for digital distribution that leaves the original publisher out of the loop. What this means is that publishers have little incentive to go digital.

Sato, the creator of Say Hello to Black Jack, blogged a bit last year about the economics of making manga, and Canned Dogs translated the posts here and here. Continue Reading »

Sam Costello’s Tales from the Cashbox

Split Lip creator Sam Costello has written a series of four articles for iFanboy about the publishing life, and they are all worth a look, but the last one is particularly compelling because he reveals the real numbers behind his publishing operation.

Sam is the writer of Split Lip, a horror anthology comic that he describes as “along the lines of the Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt.” He hires artists to draw the comic, and he pays them up front; it starts as a webcomic, then he collects the stories into print editions, which he self-publishes. How’s that working out for him? Sam figures he lost $7,863.32 between July 2009 and June 2010. Publishing is hard, especially when you pay your artists up front (unlike, say, Bluewater Comics, which does everything on spec).

Sam spends a bit of time debating whether he should simply regard the comics thing as an expensive hobby, but he decides in the end that it’s more of an investment.

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Sam Costello says: Just do it!

Split LipSam Costello, the creator of the horror webcomic anthology site Split Lip, is a busy guy these days. He just updated the site, with a cleaner design, a larger display for the comics, and a blog. And he has just posted the first column in a four-part series at iFanboy.com about his life as an independent creator. Costello promises to bare all, including his website stats and financial info, in the final column, but the first one is more of a motivational piece about the importance of makin’ it happen rather than waiting around—and he cites his own experiences, both positive and negative. His advice in a nutshell:

If you want to be in comics, be in comics. There’s no certificate to earn, no test to pass. Comics are easy and relatively inexpensive to get into on your own. So if you want to make comics, start making them.

And because he takes his own advice (well, eventually), Sam has just released the second volume of his print anthology, a slightly less fancy version of the limited edition he debuted at MoCCA.

John Porcellino sells, talks about comics

Don't YOU want to hear what John Porcellino has to say about this comic?

Don't YOU want to hear what John Porcellino has to say about this comic?

Wow, this is a delightful way to spend some time this afternoon. John Porcellino, whose quietly beautiful, self-published series King-Cat is the most influential minicomic of all time, has created a blog for his DIY distribution outfit Spit and a Half. And not only is he selling hard-to-find comics, zines, photography books, and manga by Alan Moore (!), Gabrielle Bell, Minty Lewis, Zak Sally, Dave Kiersh, Lilli Carré and many more, he’s also personally writing up insightful little descriptions of each of them. Whether he’s calling Moore’s underground magazine Dodgem Logic “a weird, bright, in-your-face blast of idiosyncrasy,” dubbing Kiersh “a Great American Artist — his art addresses a uniquely American flavor of loneliness and desire, with his recurring themes of suburban, teenage anxiety, lust, ‘romance,’ and desolation,” or explaining how Kazuichi Hanawa’s Doing Time was his “gateway” manga, his thoughts on comics are as worthy as his comics themselves. Check it out!

(via Annie Koyama)


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