Search Results for: Freelance

FREELANCE Interview on Newsarama

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Read on to discover what Andrew Wheeler, Vaneda Vireak, and I have planned for the new version of FREELANCE, one of Canada’s oldest original comic book heroes. The first issue arrives in January. Pre-order now!

FREELANCE Arrives in January!

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In January Andrew Wheeler, Vaneda Vireak, and I are bringing back one of Canada’s oldest original comic heroes – Freelance!

Chapterhouse Comics is expanding their publishing line with the Chapterverse, a line of comics that work on their own as complete stories but also expand the shared setting from Captain Canuck.

Freelance is a globe-trotting action-packed adventure story set in the modern world but delivered with a pulpy flare. Andrew and I have been developing the characters and their story for several months now and we’re pumped for readers to see what we have in store. Below is a link to our first interview about the series and the order solicitation info:

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FREELANCE #1
The CHAPTERVERSE launches with this brand new series!

Lance Valiant, John Cabot, and Tasha Kolchak are fearless explorers who delve into hidden secrets of our world and protect us from threats beyond imagination, but the greatest secret of all may be Lance’s own mysterious past…

Pulse-pounding action, wit, intrigue, and globe-trotting romance – One of Canada’s original heroes is reborn for the Chapterhouse era by writers Andrew Wheeler (Another Castle) and Jim Zub (Thunderbolts), and artist Vineda Vireak (51Hundred)!

Cover A – Alex Perkins | Cover B – Blank Sketch
Written by Jim Zub & Andrew Wheeler | Illustrated by Vaneda Vireak |
32 pages, 6.25/10.18 | Full Color | $3.99
Diamond Order# Cover A: NOV161365 | Cover B: NOV161365

Creator-Owned Economics: The Long, Long Game

It’s been more than two and a half years since I wrote anything about Skullkickers sales numbers. I didn’t avoid talking about it on purpose, I just felt that with the series wrapped up and Wayward still underway it should be the focal point for my financial analysis. Poring over the numbers takes time and so Wayward was the natural choice for that attention. Last week’s article about trade sales seemed to cover everything I needed to say about the current market.

Boy, was I wrong. I received my Skullkickers accrual statement late last week and the data in there kind of blew my mind. I had to put together a new financial article here to go over it.

Some back story for those of you catching up: Skullkickers was my action-comedy sword & sorcery comic released by Image Comics from 2010 to 2015. Co-created with Chris Stevens and illustrated by Edwin Huang and Misty Coats with lettering by Marshall Dillon, it was my “break-out” book, but mostly on a critical level. Fantasy can be a tough sell. Humor even more so. Put those two elements together with creators who weren’t known (at the time) and it was a challenge to make our mark. We had a wonderful and loyal core readership and good word of mouth, but never lit sales charts on fire.

Skullkickers wasn’t really profitable during its run, but it did get my name out to a much wider audience and opened the door for some of my early work-for-hire comic writing projects: 19 issues of Pathfinder at Dynamite, a Shadowman fill-in issue for Valiant, and a 2-part Legends of the Dark Knight story for DC. It was a way to show people what our team was capable of and build a body of consistent work.

When sales flagged, I ran contests, put together a ridiculous reboot parody promotion, and even started serializing the comic online for FREE to expand our readership. Each of those PR stunts helped us inch along and, in the end, we eked out 34 issues (six story arcs) and finished the story the way I intended. Skullkickers is now handsomely collected in 6 trade paperbacks or 3 deluxe hardcovers.

Every six months, I’d receive an accrual statement from Image that outlined how deep the financial hole was. They could see we were slowly digging ourselves out with digital and collection sales, but the numbers didn’t seem to be in our favor. When the series wrapped up mid-2015, I’d resigned myself to the fact that Skullkickers as a whole would probably never do better than break-even, even if it did propel me forward in terms of my writing career.

Cut to 2017. Check this out:

(Update: Image’s Accountant dropped me a line to let me know I that the way digital was shown on the latest accrual was being misinterpreted so I’ve made corrections. We are selling solidly on digital, but it’s a more reasonable percentage of our overall sales, not the gonzo spike in sales I thought it was. I’ve corrected the text and chart to reflect that change.)

Image has been smart about including Skullkickers in a lot of their digital sales, as well as putting the first 18 issues (3 story arcs) on comiXology Unlimited, a flat fee all-you-can-read service on the leading digital comics platform. Tens of thousands of new readers have discovered the series through Unlimited, and that led to more digital collection sales. The whole series is still available for FREE on our webcomic site, and yet we keep selling Skullkickers on digital platforms, month after month.

What does this mean? Well, here’s the accumulated debt versus sales chart, the one I feared would never balance out:

Thanks to slow but steady collection and digital sales, we are truly ‘in the black’. As of mid-2017, I can no longer say that Skullkickers is my lovable-yet-financially-forlorn creator-owned comic. It has finally climbed out of the pit and is holding the bloody detached head of its captor while letting out a triumphant roar.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be smoking hundred dollar bills or paying off my house with these profits. It’s quite slim right now, but it’s also open-ended; We still have print collections in stock (and our only expenditures on those right now are storage since they’re already printed and shipped to Diamond Distribution) and the digital platform never closes or runs out of copies. In six months we should make a bit more, and then a bit more, and then a bit more, hopefully ever onward into the future until every single person who reads the work I do over at Marvel realizes that the action-packed mirth they enjoy in Thunderbolts and Avengers was there right from the beginning with Skullkickers.

Image Comics (especially Publisher Eric Stephenson) deserves a ridiculous amount of credit for letting me make Skullkickers my own way, start to finish. 25 years ago, the company started with a desire to put creators first and they still do that every single day. I feel incredibly fortunate to have launched the series there and can’t think of another publisher that would have taken this on and let the long tail run its course this way.

Is Skullkickers a success? It really depends on how you measure it. This will sound dorkishly earnest, but for me it’s always been a success. We built a story I’m incredibly proud of, my love letter to Conan, D&D, and the fantasy genre as a whole, and got it out to a wider audience. It was a life-changing milestone in my creative development that led to a dozen other comic projects and where I am today. The dollars and cents are a crucial metric, of course, but not the sole reason for heading into a creative project.

Some words of warning: Please don’t use these charts as some kind of battle plan for your own comic-making dreams. Creative careers vary wildly and I’ve spoken to dozens of creators who have thrown inordinate amounts of good money after bad paying for art, coloring, lettering, printing, convention tables, and stomach pills for financial ulcers brought on by creator-owned comics. I was able to dig deep with Skullkickers because I had (and still have) a stable day job and solid freelance work paying the bills. I never put myself in a position where my day-to-day financial commitments were in doubt and if the series had never made a dime I still would have been okay.

The sales history of Skullkickers is very different from Wayward and Glitterbomb, my other two Image creator-owned series. Each series has its own unique sales history and, while this stuff is really interesting to analyze, it isn’t any kind of formula you could reproduce (and, with a 7-year bloody trek to financial sanity for SK, you probably wouldn’t want to anyway).

If you found this post interesting, feel free to let me know here (or on Twitter), share the post with your friends and consider buying some of my comics, donating to my Patreon, or buying comics from me in person if you see me at a convention.

Introducing the DANGER DICE GANG!

I’m happy to announce the arrival of THE DANGER DICE GANG RPG playcast with me and some pals!

I’m DMing this crew through some of my favorite 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons modules using 5th edition rules. First up is U1 – The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh!

Let me introduce you to our party of adventurers, going from left to right corresponding with the announcement art (illustrated by Kean!)…

Kean Soo (creator of Jellaby and March Grand Prix) is playing KETH, a young and headstrong Half-Orc Paladin.

Stacy King (writer/editor of UDON’s Manga Classics line) is playing ARLEN, a Human Wild Mage (with pyro tendencies) raised by dwarves.

Tory Woollcott (creator of Mirror Mind) is playing TUGRA, a Gnome Ranger (with violent tendencies) also raised by dwarves.

Andrew Wheeler (writer of Another Castle and co-writer of Freelance) is playing OLEG, a dashing Tiefling Rogue who studies plants.

It’s been a weird and wonderful ride digging back into old adventures, experiencing them with a fresh eye and new cast of players. We’ve never done anything like this before, so forgive the minor technical/audio hitches as we get up to speed.

Year in Review

As I’ve done in years past, I try to use this post to sum up the year that was. 2016 was such a strange and turbulent time around the world and that made it even more surreal as I personally had a banner year in my work and personal life.

In May, Stacy and I traveled to Japan for a 6-week sabbatical, mixing in a few work-related events with an extended stay in Tokyo along with a half dozen other locations. It was something we’d been planning for the past two years and really was the trip of a lifetime. So many wonderful experiences and such meaningful time spent together, it’s hard for me to even describe. It strengthened the bond between the two of us and got us thinking about future travel opportunities.

After the big course curriculum changes in 2015, this year was way smoother by comparison. It’s my tenth year as Coordinator of Seneca’s Animation program and so I have a pretty good feel for the hills and valleys that come up as each term rolls along. With a record number of applicants to the program, the current group of students is one of the strongest we’ve ever had the fortune of teaching. I’m excited to watch their skills develop.

Comic-wise, I thankfully had far more highs than lows. I finally had the chance to tackle a monthly superhero series at Marvel with the new Thunderbolts, and the repercussions of delivering on that looks like it’ll ripple into 2017 and beyond. More news on that as we head into the Spring.

Launching Glitterbomb, a new creator-owned comic series at image, was an especially wonderful opportunity. Pushing my storytelling skills with something unexpected and working with rock solid newcomer Djibril Morissette-Phan has been a blast. We’ve got fun plans for the second arc arriving later in 2017.

Wayward continues and the whole team has been so incredibly consistent and wonderful that I need to make sure I don’t take any of it for granted. In an industry where even Marvel and DC series can struggle to make it past issue 12 we’ve just sent our 20th issue off to press, which is a heck of a milestone. On that front as well, we’ve got exciting plans I can’t wait to share with all of you.

Dungeons & Dragons, Street Fighter Legends: Cammy, the upcoming Freelance series and Monsters Unleashed: Avengers – I feel like I’ve hit a good groove in terms of material that exemplifies what I do best and collaborators who I work really well with.

I feel so incredibly fortunate to be able to teach, write and create, working with and meeting so many amazing people. I know things look bumpy for the year ahead, but my fingers are crossed that we’ll all be able to weather the storm. Wishing you and yours a very happy and prosperous new year.

Year In Review

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Here we go again, a look at my year in review. I’ve been doing this on my blog for the past few years (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014). It’s a nice way to sum up my thoughts on the year that was and take in the ups and downs that came with it.

2015 was a bit bumpy in spots, but on the whole things are rolling along. It felt like a transitional year, building momentum for new things to come in 2016.

Stacy and I are doing really well. Having a bit of time over the holidays to step back and realize how fortunate we are was really nice. Our marriage is strong and that stability permeates so many other aspects of our life.

Throwing my back out in October (after struggling with aches and pains through August and September) was a wake up call on my health. Physiotherapy and regular stretching is helping a lot and it doesn’t look like I’ll need back surgery. I need to make sure I don’t ignore my body in the future. I’m turning 40 in 2016 so it’s something I need to pay a lot more attention to. Message received.

Over at Seneca we rolled out the biggest curriculum change since I took over as Coordinator of the Animation program back in 2006 and, barring a few equipment/technical glitches it seems to be going really well. The faculty are easing into the adjusted schedule and students seem to be enjoying the new options we have available to them. I’m teaching the new Portfolio Development course for the first time starting in January, so that should be a neat challenge.

On the creative front it was all about wrapping things up. The final issue of Skullkickers arrived in August (though it will keep serializing for free online until March 2016), completing a five year journey with Edwin, Misty, and Marshall that’s really changed my life. Building that body of work and proving I could deliver a professional quality comic has lead to dozens of other freelance opportunities and been an incredibly creatively fulfilling experience. It felt strange to finally finish it off, but also very satisfying.

Samurai Jack also wrapped up with #20. At the time it looked like that issue might be the last that people saw of the time-traveling samurai, but earlier this month Cartoon Network surprised everyone with an announcement of a new season coming next year. What that means for the comic stories or my involvement is still up in the air but, as both a fan and a small contributor to the whole, I’m excited to see what Genndy and company has planned.

Wayward continues at a good pace and all of us on the team are pumped for people to see what we have planned in the new year. The story is a roller coaster ride of ideas, the hardest thing I’ve written so far, and knowing that we’re building this without the safety net of an established property is scary and exciting. Although I have an end in mind as we work away on the series, I don’t have a set number of issues for the middle. Our fingers are crossed that reader support continues and we can have a long and healthy run.

I have a new creator-owned project that’s been percolating since September and is now gaining momentum. The story and mood are something really different from what I’ve done before and the artist I’m working with (a newcomer) is going to knock people’s socks off. I also have a couple work-for-hire commercial projects in development and I’m pretty sure one of those will be announced in the next few weeks. Good stuff coming in the spring and summer.

Otherwise, Stacy and I are planning a major trip for the summer. Every fourth year at the college I get a sabbatical term, four months to step away from teaching. We’re planning to head to Japan for over a month, doing research and working on our creative projects, but also settling in a bit and enjoying the day to day life in one of our favorite places. There’s a ton of work to get done before then, but I know in the back of my mind I’ll be quietly counting down the days.

Two goals for the new year:
Focus on what I can do instead of things out of my control. It’s so easy to get pulled into a whirlwind of frustration and regret wondering why things aren’t going the way I expect or wishing things were different, but it’s not productive. Next year I want to make an even greater effort to stay focused on my own growth and let the rest roll on.

Make sure my family, friends, and collaborators know they’re valued. I work and spend time with so many amazing people and it’s important to let them know how important they are to me. I always feel it but next year I want to make greater efforts in expressing it.

Creator-Owned Economics: The Changing Market

It’s been two and half years since I posted up my ‘Reality of Mainstream Creator-Owned Comics’ article that kicked off a furious online discussion about where money goes in the retail market and what creators are paid on small print run creator-owned comics. There’s rarely a week that goes by where someone isn’t linking to that article, tweeting at me about it, or otherwise asking for clarification about ‘how things work’.

Even when some people pointed to that article as ‘proof’ that Image Comics wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, Image stuck with me, kept publishing Skullkickers, and continued to make incredible strides in expanding the market for creator-owned comics. I’ve always been thrilled to have my creator-owned books published by Image because I knew why the company was formed and how it’s always worked: Creators are in complete control of their comics and they’re compensated based on its success.

The comic industry in 2015 is a very, very different place and a big part of that is thanks to Image Comics’s tireless efforts to show retailers and readers the strength of new ideas and new stories.

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SKULLKICKERS #1 (September 2010) and WAYWARD #1 (August 2014).

The Image model has always been about investing in yourself and reaping the benefits of that investment if sales are strong. I knew that going in with Skullkickers back in 2010 and, even when our sales were borderline unprofitable, I stuck with the series as a way to establish myself as a writer and show people our team could produce a high quality comic month after month. Now, four and a half years later, I’m seeing the benefits of that consistency and the growing creator-owned market with my new Image series called Wayward.

How much of a benefit? Well, let me show you…

ComparativeSalesFull

Wayward’s first five print issues have sold more than two and a half times as many as Skullkickers did over the same period 4 years earlier. As you might imagine, that’s an impressive jump and I think there are a bunch of reasons for that climb:

• Improved Visibility for Comics: Comics sales are growing in print and online, graphic novels are the buzz-worthy darlings of the book market, and comic-related movie and TV shows are more mainstream than ever. The ripple effect of that is a greater acceptance of comics from the general public and a more diverse fanbase looking for new stories.

• Image’s Success and Subsequent Growth: The success of the Walking Dead, Saga, Sex Criminals, and a host of other incredible titles have increased visibility and market share for Image. This is especially true with launch titles as readers and retailers look to these new series with excitement, hoping they’ll be on the ground floor for something special.

• My Career Growth: In 2010 I was practically an unknown creator in the mainstream comic market. Four years later I have quite a few other comic titles under my belt – Samurai Jack, Figment, Legends of the Dark Knight, Pathfinder, and a bunch of others. I’m not an industry powerhouse by any means, but the readers from those series seemed curious about what my next creator-owned title would be and jumped on board Wayward to check it out.

• Retailer Outreach: I’ve also done a ton of retailer outreach over the past four years. Having well regarded work is wonderful but only if retailers feel confident they can sell the books. As we headed towards the launch of Wayward, the crew at Image and I did a lot of communicating with retailers about the series, showing them exclusive artwork and previews, doing everything we could to prove to them that this was a series they could confidently sell to their customers. That lead to several comic shop and convention-exclusive variant covers for Wayward #1, bolstering our launch numbers by thousands of copies while creating extra interest in the series.

• Press Outreach: In the same vein, it’s a heck of a lot easier to get press coverage when you’re more established and we (Image’s PR crew and I) did a lot of press outreach as well to make sure Wayward was visible on every comic news and review site we could muster. The last couple months before the launch of issue one was a dizzying promotional tour of interviews, podcasts, exclusive sneak peeks, and more.

• The Series: Wayward is a very different series than Skullkickers. I love them both, but I’d be foolish not to note that Wayward as a concept is more inclusive and taps into a much larger potential readership than Skullkickers does. Cute supernatural teenage girls (surrounded by cats) kicking the shit out of monsters on the street of Tokyo plays to a bigger audience than a bro-centric slapstick violent D&D tale, especially in 2014-2015.

Okay, sale numbers are spiffy but how does that translate into relative profitability? Wait ‘til you see this…

ComparativeProfitsFull

I know you’re looking at that bar chart and can’t fathom how 2.5 times the sales magically turns into 7.5 times the profit. Trust me, I’ll explain.

Here’s the real beauty of the Image model when it’s running at full steam and, as far as I know, it’s something no other creator-owned publisher can match: Image has a flat administrative fee for soliciting and releasing each issue of a series. That amount does not change no matter how much the issue sells. On a relatively low selling comic (like back in 2010 with Skullkickers #1) that base fee can eat up most of what’s left over after the printer, distributor, and retailer take their cut but, on a strong selling comic that amount stays the same and the issue becomes a lot more profitable. A lot.

This is why that pie chart from my original retail post doesn’t scale well to different print runs and doesn’t perfectly sync up with the Image model. A 5000 copy comic has a very, very different money breakdown than one that sells 10k or more. Printing large quantities of something vastly decreases the cost per copy. The “price per unit” drops and the profitability per copy increases, but Image’s base fee doesn’t change.

Each issue and cover breaks down differently in terms of percentages/costs, but here is an approximate rundown of how our best one fared, WAYWARD #1 Cover A:
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As you can see, it’s a seismic difference from the chart I posted in 2012 based on a much lower print run/lower sales.

Skullkickers #1 went through three printings, but each one was a small run, which made the “per unit” cost quite high on each issue. Wayward #1’s first printing was a much, much larger run done all at once and, in turn, the profitability of that first issue was geometrically larger. A lot more copies printed, a lot more sold, and each one cost a lot less to produce, making us a lot more money when it was all said and done.

Cranking up that profitability even further, Image has been able to leverage their increased market share and larger print runs to aggressively keep their printing and shipping costs low even as their sales increase, leaving even more money for creators after the fees are covered.

You might look at that chart and imagine Steve Cummings (the artist and co-creator of Wayward) and I pelting each other with giant wads of cash, but it’s not like that. What those numbers mean is that we’re thankfully in the black right from our first issue, which is obviously where we want to be. Steve gets to make drawing Wayward his full time job (I’m still teaching at a local art college and freelance writing), and the color flatter, colorist, and letterer all get paid without me having to dig into my personal savings (like I do on Skullkickers). On top of that I can finally put some money into my “war chest” for convention travel and future creator-owned projects. If sales continue strongly I’ll make extra payments on my mortgage so I can be debt free that much faster.

It’s a solid start and miles ahead of where I was in 2010, but that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. Strong launch numbers are one thing, but finding a loyal sustained readership is our long term goal and that requires a lot of work. By the time our first arc ended, Wayward seemed to be settling into a reasonable sales bracket, now we have to do everything we can to try and stay in that stable sales range over the long haul.

Image is bolstering our chances by releasing Wayward Vol. 1: String Theory on March 25th as a value-priced $9.99 trade paperback. We’ll make less money per copy on that first volume, but it’s a very smart way to increase our readership as retailers up their orders, new readers give the series a shot at a sweet price point, and current readers ideally pick up the collection for themselves or buy it as a gift for their friends (Pssst~ Have you pre-ordered your copy yet?).

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Our standard TPB cover and the Emerald City Comicon exclusive hardcover.

We’re also releasing Wayward #6, the first issue of our second story arc, on the same day as our volume 1 trade paperback as a way to create extra sales synergy. Savvy retailers can bundle both together to get readers on board the new storyline, hopefully leading to additional subscriptions for their pull files.

On top of that, Steve suggested we create a series of connecting covers for our second story arc and I happily went along with the idea (leaving the logistics of that artistic monstrosity to him and Tamra, our kick ass colorist). We’re hoping fans will want to keep buying the single issues to create a sweeping 5 issue cover panorama. Here’s how the first three covers (issues #6-8) look when they’re connected together:

Wayward06-08Combined

Quality, consistency, and outreach. With a bit of luck those three things will convince retailers and readers to stick with us.

At the same time, Skullkickers is heading into its final story arc. Financially it’s always been a bit rocky but it’s proving robust with a long tail of digital and collection sales and has a strong audience online as a serialized webcomic. It’s the project that pushed my comic writing career to the next level and I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve done. Nothing else I’ve worked on since then would have happened without it.

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If we maintain our current production schedule on Wayward we’ll have two trade paperbacks out and be starting our third story arc in time for Christmas 2015. Skulkickers’ final arc, final trade paperback, and final deluxe hardcover will arrive before Christmas as well.

At each step we’ll be juggling solicitations 5-6 months ahead, scripting 3-4 months ahead, line art 2-3 months ahead, coloring 1-2 months ahead and letter proofing a few weeks before each issue heads to print. It’s a relentless game of “Scheduling Tetris” but, when the momentum is rolling, I actually enjoy it. There’s a constant influx of inspiration as line art and coloring samples pop into my inbox almost every morning. It reminds me that all of us on the team are working hard to create something that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for our efforts and the support of amazing retailers and readers like you. I love creating comics and want to keep this dream rolling as long as I can, learning more about the craft and business, year after year.

In the end, I think that’s what creator-owned comics are all about – charting your own destiny and growing creatively with each new project.

If you found this post interesting, feel free to let me know here (or on Twitter), share the post with your friends and consider buying some of my comics, donating to my Patreon, or buying comics from me in person if you see me at a convention.

Year In Review

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Here we go again, a look at my year in review. I’ve been doing this on my blog for the past few years (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013) and it’s a nice way to sum up my thoughts on the year that was and take in the ups and downs that came with it.

Stacy and I continue on our wedded adventure, juggling work and play, social time and alone time. It’s filled with challenges but, like everything else we’ve tackled, it always goes better because we’re together. Having Stacy in my life is a joy and an honour.

Between replacing the stove, the car, our porch and façade, and a new laptop it was an expensive year, that’s for sure. As Stacy mentioned, we’ve replaced almost every appliance in the house over the past 2-3 years so hopefully everything runs a bit better from here on out.

Travel-wise it was another busy time, with 12 conventions in total, but almost every location was somewhere I’d been previously while on the ‘ circuit’ (with Washington DC and Phoenix as the two exceptions), so it felt familiar rather than hectic.

Last year I scripted over a 1000 pages of comics and that was a hell of a milestone but I said I probably wouldn’t be able to do that again this year. Yeah well, it happened anyway. I had a slew of comic writing projects in 2014 and, once I realized how close I was last month, I hunkered down and made sure I hit the 1k mark again. Admittedly, I took it right to the line (finished the last set of pages this morning) but it’s done. Whew~

I know in the grand scheme of things it’s about quality, not quantity, but I’m incredibly proud of the work and feel like I’ve learned a ton. Pushing myself to meet intense deadlines and deliver stories I’m proud of both on time and as kick ass as I can make them is crucial.

Skullkickers, Samurai Jack, Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors, Figment, Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons, Munchkin, Conan-Red Sonja, and a bunch more, some of which won’t be out until next year… So completely crazy.

Oh yeah, and that other one – Wayward!

Working with Steve Cummings to launch a brand new Image creator-owned series and having it well received by readers and retailers alike was a complete rush. Everyone on the creative team is pumped for the new chapters we have planned. Can’t wait for people to read it!

2015 is shaping up to be another exciting year.

At Seneca College we’re making the biggest changes to our Animation curriculum and facilities since I took over as Coordinator of the program in 2006. We’re reworking the flow of courses, updating assignments, and incorporating more technology to match the changing industry. It’s a lot of work but the end result should make us more competitive and deliver even better education to our amazing community of students.

On the creative and freelance front I’ll be continuing with Wayward and wrapping up Skullkickers. I don’t want to get into the whole farewell thing with SK just yet but, suffice to say, it’s going to feel strange reaching the end. A bunch of my other freelance comic writing projects are wrapping up but I have a few proposals in the hopper I’m waiting to hear back about. It’ll be interesting to see if any of them pop or what other opportunities emerge as the year rolls on. I wrote a bit about my thoughts on the comic industry in 2014 over on The Beat.

Other meditations for 2015:
• Less stuff, more experiences: Stacy and I have been talking about the stockpile of ‘things’ we’ve accumulated. Having things is great but once you hit a certain threshold it just piles up in ridiculous ways and you stop appreciating what you have. We want to pare back on the rampant collections of things and focus on experiences – new places, great meals, and better time spent with people we care deeply for.

• Art for art’s sake: Although I did some drawing in 2014, it definitely took a back seat to my writing projects. I’m hoping to sketch more outside of school demonstrations and put more fun ideas down on paper visually in 2015.

• Empathy, honesty, and communication: Thinking carefully about others, reaching out to people who matter, staying in touch with those close to me and making sure they know how much I appreciate them.

I know 2014 was a rough year for many people and that the world at large was filled with tumultuous news and heartache. I hope your year was a good one despite any difficulties and that if it wasn’t you can close the book on the season and start fresh in 2015.

Thank you for your love and support. All the best to you and yours!

Creator-Owned Sales – Nov 2014 Update

Just over a year ago I put together a second pretty extensive post all about how long term sales were going on Skullkickers. I wanted to give people an understanding of the economics of what I’m doing without revealing the exact dollar figure amounts involved (that information is between Image Comics and the creative team).

Since then I’ve received two more accounting accrual statements from Image and also had a chance to dig deeper into the numbers and chart them a bit more accurately.

Here’s an updated look at where we’re at and some of my thoughts. I’m not going to repeat the same info from before, so feel free to check the earlier article for analysis of 2011 Q2-2013 Q2.

Here’s how Skullkickers has performed from our launch back in 2010 through to the first half of 2014:

2014-11-SalesChart2

2013 Q3-Q4: As I expected in my previous update, printing the deluxe Treasure Trove 2 hardback ratcheted up our expenses, but print sales are pretty much neck-and-neck, with digital keeping us slightly ahead.

2014 Q1-Q2: Reprinting our Volume 3 softcover built up some cost but we’ve been able to stay ahead with accrual sales. Digital sales are now becoming a larger factor overall as well. How much so? Well, let me show you in more detail.

2014-11-SalesChart3

Keep in mind the above is profit, not sales.

Digital sales continue to grow. Since there’s no print run or storage limit with digital they continue to build profitability over the long haul (particularly with the early issues as new readers sample the series during comiXology sales). Many issues that lost money in their initial print release have been able to make back their losses thanks to digital.

You can also see the effect our goofy reboot promotion (where we released five new #1’s in five months) had during issues 19-23. We’d never be able to do that sort of thing again, but it was a nice way to extend the life of the series a bit. I can see why Marvel and DC hit the relaunch button so often. Fans may say they’re sick of new #1’s, but the truth is that it can stir interest/sales.

Let’s look at the current state of the collections.

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In my update a year ago Skullkickers Vol. 1: 1000 Opas and a Dead Body and Skullkickers Treasure Trove Vol. 1 weren’t profitable but now, thanks to longtail sales and digital, they’re making some money.

Skullkickers Vol. 3: Six Shooter on the Seven Seas sold through its initial print run and needed a reprint, so it’s back in the red (but will hopefully recover over the long haul).

Skullkickers Vol. 4: Eighty Eyes on an Evil Island hasn’t been out very long so there are more copies in stock than have currently sold. Thankfully digital sales are helping.

The deluxe Skullkickers Treasure Trove Vol. 2 hardback is, like the first one, very expensive to print and will take quite a while to make its money back. Even still, with a higher cover price it’s a great archival item to have available. The deluxe volumes sell well for me at conventions and, although it looks brutal right now, I think it will climb its way out of the red just like Treasure Trove 1 did.

A year ago our print expenditures had finally popped into a tiny bit of profitability. How are things looking now?

2014-11-SalesChart1

Okay, so that tiny breath of profitable fresh air in the green was temporary, but that’s okay. Things actually aren’t as dire as it may look, given all the data.

First off, Image paid us an accrual cheque based on digital sales in 2013, so when they had to print Treasure Trove 2 and Volume 4 and reprint Volume 3 that put them back in the red. Keeping the series in print and available is crucial for our long term viability.

Secondly, notice that digital sales continue to climb and that profits from digital are actually keeping pace with losses incurred through print. Digital is keeping us skimming along the break even line. I’m still hopeful that, once the series ends in 2015, we’ll end up in the black.

Compare the current situation to the low point of the first half of 2012. I can’t state enough that Image has been a rock through all of this, making their base amount and sticking with us, paying printing/distribution bills while we looked towards longtail sales for the series.

Keep in mind this is just analysis of one creator-owned series. As interesting as it can be, I can’t speak to anyone else’s sales or their financial situation. This sales cycle does not correspond to all creator-owned books. Please don’t make your own financial decisions based on what I’ve done. Everyone’s risk threshold and situation is different. You may end up throwing good money after bad. Wayward, my new creator-owned series that launched in August, has a completely different sales/profit situation and, if I have time, I may analyse that as well once we have our first trade release.

Note that this is not the full financial picture. The above charts don’t include convention sales, which are still going strong. The money made from direct convention sales, sketch covers, commissions and selling original page art has helped keep us going and viable. I exhibited at 11 conventions this year and, even though it was exhausting, it paid off in terms of sales and visibility for the series. It also doesn’t include money made from web ad revenue generated at our webcomic site.

Also note that none of the above takes into account freelance work that’s come from working on Skullkickers. If you factor in money made from the writing jobs I’ve done for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, Valiant, Dynamite, and UDON since the series began, it has turned a substantial profit in that way even after paying the art team out of my own pocket (which is not factored into the above. The charts above represent only Image Comics’ profit/loss). Skullkickers has been the foundation where I’ve built a 2nd career as a professional comic writer over a relatively short period of time.

Most importantly, we put out a comic that stands favourably beside some of the best titles in the industry and I’m incredibly proud of that. As we head towards our sixth story arc we’re going to have over 30 issues, which is pretty rarefied air for a creator-owned series in this day and age.

If you find my sales and tutorial blogposts helpful, feel free to let me know here (or on Twitter), share them with your friends, and consider buying some of my comics to show your support. Thanks!

Time-Saving Tips for the Creative Crunch

After my previous post about my output in 2013 and some thoughts on writer’s block, I received a lot of wonderful comments and messages. Quite a few people asked about ways to be more productive/save time while they work, so I thought I’d cover a few things that have worked for me in case they’d be helpful to a wider readership.

Although creativity and writing can be driven by inspiration and there are more/less productive cycles, there’s also a lot of repetition that can take up undue amounts of time if you let it. Whenever I notice I’m doing the same kind of thing again and again during my work process I look for ways to automate parts of it to save myself time later on.


ScriptChunk

TEMPLATES and BOILERPLATES

When you’re constantly communicating with clients, publishers, other freelancers, and conventions you’ll notice that the same information is required over and over. Do it once, do it right, and save it so you never have to put that information together from scratch again. It’s easy to update and adjust once you have the foundation in place.

• I use a script template (It’s based on Fred Van Lente’s killer script format and the latest version was put together by the incredible Rob Marland, which you can download right HERE) that auto formats and auto numbers pages, panels, and dialogue lines so I don’t have to waste time doing it myself. It sounds silly and unnecessary but, trust me, when you have hundreds of pages of script and multiple panels per page it’s really helpful to just hit Enter→ and immediately roll into the next sequence without hitting Tab>Bold>and typing “Page” and “Panel” over, and over, and over again. The other nice thing with auto numbering is that if I take a line or panel out of a script, it cascade renumbers everything to match the new sequence, which is a real sanity saver. The technology is there, so I might as well use it to my advantage.

• I put together a standard intro paragraph about myself and my work so I can easily cut and paste it into an email and then customize it from there for introducing myself to new clients. The same goes for review copies and press contacts.

• I have a short 50-80 word bio and a longer 100-150 word one along with a recent photo of myself (both print and web-sized) so I always have them for conventions, signings, whatever.

• Publishers always need mailing information and that info tends to get lost so, as soon as I start working on a new creator-owned project, I get everyone’s updated contact info and put them in a text file ready to go. It’s also helpful for sending people I work with little surprise gifts or Christmas cards.

Basically, whenever I’m typing up information that seems generic enough that I may need it again, I’ll save it to my cloud storage with a self-explanatory title so I have easy access to it later. Speaking of which…


CloudOptions

THE CLOUD

I used to walk around with 3 or 4 USB thumb drives with iterations of my latest work and was in a constant state of ‘version madness’ trying to remember where I’d saved the latest document or cursing myself if I forgot to back-up a copy somewhere safe.

Now I have a set of organized folders on Google Drive (Dropbox or any other comparable service should work just as well) that automatically uploads the file I’m working on to my desktop computer, my laptop, my office computer at the college where I teach, and online to my Drive account. It’s goddamn magic. I no longer have to worry about losing my work or wondering if I’m working on the latest version of a story. All of them are current, all of them are safe.

Even if I do some writing on a plane or somewhere else without an internet connection, the minute I hook up to the internet again (at a hotel or a coffee shop while I’m on the road) it propagates the newest save and every version is up to date again. With small files like documents the process is practically instantaneous and, since they don’t take up much space, I can keep a full archive of every script I’ve ever written in the cloud so it’s easy for me to access old or new work wherever I am, whenever I need it. The same goes for pitches, outlines, contracts, logos, and key reference documents I use all the time.

I even have my email signature in a text file in the cloud with every email program (software or online) pointing to it, so if I ever need to change my signature all of them are the exact same and up to date. Anal, yes, but also very convenient.


Actions

AUTOMATION

Photoshop has a wondrous feature not enough people use – Actions.

When you’re producing 20+ page stories month after month you’ll end up doing the same things to art files time and time again. With Photoshop Actions you can set it to Record you doing the sequence once, then do it as many times as you want by clicking on the new Action you’ve created. You can even point an Action towards a folder and Batch Process the whole damn thing. Set it up and walk away while Photoshop chugs through the files. It’s glorious.

• Publisher needs cover art in 3 different sizes/formats for solicitation? One-click Action.
• I need to resize page art to a standard size and create a ‘floating’ line art layer before sending it to the color flatter? One-click Action.
• I need low rez pages with a watermark for reviewers? One-click Action.
• I need differently sized page files for the letterer? One-click Action.
• One of the colorists I work with has consistently dim colors? One-click Action.

Any time I can see that I’m going to end up doing something more than a couple times in Photoshop, I build an Action for it and automate that bastard. There’s no reason not to.


FAQ

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Funny enough, these tutorial posts here on my site are also, in part, a time saving measure. When people started asking me about how to break into the business, or how I write comics, I realized it would be something that would probably come up a lot. I decided to really hunker down and write up an extensive answer for each of those questions so I could easily point people towards it and not worry about brushing them off.

Everyone gets equal attention and a detailed answer instead of me ignoring the question or writing something vague and unhelpful because I don’t have time to deal with it when they ask. It’s a resource people can use and, if it’s helpful to them – great. If not – at least it didn’t take any more of my time.

Work time can be fleeting, especially when you’re trying to fit it in alongside a day job or other responsibilities. Working smarter with templates and automation can help you maximize your time and let you focus on the fun stuff – story building, art, and creativity.

Now, please enjoy the boilerplate finish to my tutorials below… 🙂

If you find my tutorial blog posts helpful, feel free to let me know here (or on Twitter), share them with your friends and consider buying some of my comics to show your support.

Feel free to share your own time-saving methods in the comments so other people can find and make use of them too!