Category Archives: Skullkickers

The End of Skullkickers

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SKULLKICKERS #100 (aka. Skullkickers #34) arrives in comic shops today and I’ll be celebrating the end and signing at The Beguiling tonight from 6:30-8:30pm. Some thoughts about wrapping up the series:


Done.

Yeah, it feels really weird even typing that.

Five years ago Edwin, Misty, Marshall, Chris, and I launched SKULLKICKERS. Since then it feels like the entire world has changed and, at least for me, it really has. Back then I wanted to prove that I could write a professional-quality comic and show people my storytelling skills. That unleashed hundreds of pages of comics for Image and a host of other publishers, meeting readers, peers, and lifelong heroes, travelling the convention circuit in North America and abroad and a whole new career as a comic writer.

“Comic writer.”

Even just seeing that in front of me on the page, it seems impossible and surreal. People ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I’m a “comic writer.” For real.

It sounds dramatic, but Skullkickers has changed my life. It became my own creative Crucible where I learned how to open myself up to new ideas, push through my fears, and carry through on my professional commitments. It’s a rambling and childish yarn inspired by tabletop RPGs and the fantasy stories I grew up on but it’s also a representation of me in the here and now as a creator. My creative journey doesn’t end here, but this milestone is incredibly important to who I am as I look ahead to challenges still to come. Saying “thank you” for that kind of thing doesn’t seem adequate, but I’ll try.

Edwin Huang is one of the most professional and hard-working artists I know. His eagerness, energy, and dedication to this book that didn’t even start off as his is staggering. No matter what ridiculous visuals I asked for, Edwin hunkered down and found a way to deliver it. Watching his art grow issue by issue, arc by arc has been one of the most rewarding aspects of working on the series. Whatever he works on next, it’s going to be something special.

Misty Coats took Edwin’s line art and made it explode on the page. Her animated color sense was always on target and she delivered her best right up until the very last page. We couldn’t have done the book without her taking it to the next level each and every time.

Marshall Dillon is a rock. Solid, dependable, unflappable. His lettering took a whirlwind of disparate ideas and brought them together in a way that made even the most ludicrous things I wrote flow across each page. They say good lettering feels invisible because you’re too busy enjoying the story to realize how effortlessly the captions and balloons guide you across the page and that’s exactly what Marshall did. Great flow, unforgettable onomatopoeia.

The rest of the pitch hitters: Kevin, Ross, Mike, Espen, Chamba, Royce, and all the wonderful writers and artists who lent their talents to our Tavern Tales short stories – you rock. You made something fun even better and helped forge lasting friendships.

Thank you to Eric Stephenson and the rest of the Image Comics crew. Your unshakable support for this book has been wonderful. I can’t believe we were able to take it this far. Thank you for your expertise, your guidance, and good humor. I should probably also thank all the far-more profitable Image creators whose successes helped create Image’s stalwart cash flow reserves for printing and distribution.

The readers who stuck with us, the retailers who helped push the book, convention promoters who brought us out to shows, the people who have shared the book with their friends… There are too many people to thank and I wish I could high-five you all right now.

Chris Stevens asked me if I wanted to make a short comic story with him back in 2007. Eight years later it’s become the foundation of my creative career. Thank you, Chris. Your stunning artwork put this series on the map and I’m thrilled you were able to contribute the final cover to wrap it all up.

I hope that if we’ve all learned anything this issue, it’s that stories are eternal. We’re closing this particular book but I’d optimistically like to think that out across the infinite these characters and their foolishness will live on.

-Jim Zub


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Skullkickers Treasure Trove 3 Arrives in October!

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Arriving in October, pre-order now!

Skullkickers Treasure Trove, Vol. 3 HC
story: Jim Zub
art / cover: Edwin Huang & Misty Coats
October 14 / 320 pages / Full Color / 12+ / $34.99
The fan favorite SKULLKICKERS story concludes in this gorgeous oversized hardcover edition collecting the fifth and sixth story arcs along with lots of spiffy extras and rarities.
Collects SKULLKICKERS #24-33, and our ridiculous #100.


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Skullkickers Treasure Trove 3
Deluxe Hardcover

(issues #24-33, #100, plus extras)

Beer, blood, and battle! The brawl to end it all! The Skullkickers are going out with an epic sword & sorcery war for the ages! The fan favorite Skullkickers story concludes in this gorgeous, oversized, hardcover edition collecting the fifth and sixth story arcs, along with lots of spiffy extras and rarities.
PRE-ORDER
Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Chapters-Indigo

Wayward #7 and Skullkickers #32 Reviews

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Wayward #7 arrived in stores last week. It’s my favorite issue of our series so far. Cover to cover content as our dramatic story continues. Let’s see what reviewers thought of it…

Big Glasgow Comic Page: 9/10 “The art is, as always, one of the strong points of this already brilliant series. Every character, every object, every frame has been brilliantly drawn, inked and coloured”

Black Ship Books: “Wayward remains a ‘must buy.’ It’s consistently been one of the most entertaining books to come out from Image over the last year and the art itself is worth more than the cover price.”

Comic Attack: “Cummings and Bonvillain have done excellent work in this series that has had fine attention to detail in both scenery are characters that transports you to Japan.”

Comic Book Bin: ” This seventh issue of Wayward is, so far, the best issue of the new story arc.”

Comics: The Gathering: 9/10 “Wayward has yet to slow down with seven excellent back to back issues. This is a story that could go down as one of the best if it keeps this consistency up.”

Comix I Read: 5/5 “I am heavily invested in the plot and characters and cannot wait for what’s to come. I 100% recommend this issue.”

Fandom Post: B+ “A very solid issue all around that again brings Japanese locales and cultural aspects in a great way to North American readers”

Geeks of Doom: “Wayward has quickly become one of my favorite comics, with its mix of exotic setting, interesting characters, and an unfolding mystery that makes me want to come back each issue to find out the next part of the story.”

Moar Powah: 5/5 “Wayward uses all of its pages to its advantage. The tantalizing ending seems to signal they’ll need all the new-found willpower they have.”

Nothing But Comics: “The art is outstanding, the characters are fun and the stakes are high.”

Omni Jer Bear: “One of the best storylines I’ve read in 2015. It’s like X-Men without the school.”

The Read Pile: “I love the characters and I love that they’re all kids in Japan.”

Shadowhawk’s Shade: 9.5/10 “The time away from the series doesn’t seem to have had any downsides for the art team, and all the supernatural stuff feels as vivid and engaging”

The Telltale Mind: 4.5/5 “Great dialogue, story and utterly captivating artwork help this book make its way to the top of the read-pile every month.”

We The Nerdy: 8/10 “…the comic looks stunning like always. I love how fluid Ohara’s powers are, how they move, and I’m impressed at these still images can convey their motion so well.”

TM Stash: 10/10 ” I find myself completely immersed in every issue, drawn in by Jim Zub’s script and amazed by the beautiful artwork by Steve Cummings (with colors by Tamra Bonvillain).”

Under the Comic Covers: “Steve Cummings art is really spectacular and this issue is no exception. I love the artwork and the story flows so well.”

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Skullkickers #32 also hit stores the same day and the brawl to end it all continues.

Comix I Read: 8/10 “Writer Jim Zub ups the ante in this issue, bringing the Demon Lord of the Dwell onto the scene to fight Thool for supremacy.”

Inside Pulse: “Lots of characters from earlier in the series are showing up, as the bar gets more and more full, and the mayhem increases exponentially.”

Skullkickers Vol. 6 Solicitation

Arriving in July, pre-order now!

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SKULLKICKERS VOL. 6: INFINITE ICONS OF THE ENDLESS EPIC
STORY: JIM ZUB
ART: EDWIN HUANG & MISTY COATS
COVER: EDWIN HUANG & ESPEN GRUNDETJERN
JULY 8 / 144 PAGES / FC / T / $16.99

In this volume the SKULLKICKERS story comes to an end, but it’s not going out without a fight!
Beer, blood, and battle collide in the ultimate brawl to end it all!

“If you like action or humor, no one is doing it better than these guys.” -The Weekly Crisis

Collects SKULLKICKERS #31-33 & #100.


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Skullkickers Vol. 6
Infinite Icons of the Endless Epic

(issues #30-34)
Introduction by Joe Zub

The Skullkickers story comes to an end, but it’s not going out without a fight! Beer, blood, and battle collide in the ultimate brawl to end it all!
PRE-ORDER
Amazon.com
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Chapters-Indigo

Newsarama Interview About the End of Skullkickers

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I talked to Chris Arrant over at Newsarama all about the impending end of Skullkickers and what it feels like to wrap up five years worth of work. Give it a read!

Wayward #6 and Skullkickers #31 Reviews!

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Wayward #6 and Skullkickers #31, both the first part of their respective story arcs, arrived in stores last week and the response has been wonderful! Let’s see what reviewers thought…

All-Comic: 4/5 “…with the masterful art team of Steve Cummings and Tamra Bonvillain at the helm, the story couldn’t be in better hands.”

The Beat: “While there is a hefty amount of Japanese culture depicted in the story, there is also clean lines and bright coloring that move this story closer towards American comic book art standards.”

Big Glasgow: 9/10 “The detail in which Japanese culture is depicted in Wayward is fantastic.”

Black Ship Books: “Wayward #6 is the perfect jumping-on point for new readers, so if you have any interest in Japanese folklore or teens fighting the supernatural, this is the book for you.”

Brittlejules: “If you enjoy Japanese supernatural stories and monsters, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ghosts, cats, and troubled teens with strange powers, then you should definitely check out Wayward.”

Comic Book Bin: “This comic book is like one big enchantment that draws me into the story. I guess I am not the only reader who wants to live in the world of this series.”

Comics the Gathering: 10/10 “This art team lays waste to so many other books. I can’t wrap my head around how they’re able to produce pages of this quality so quickly.”

Comix I Read: 4.5/5 “The new arc started very strong and I am very excited to conitnue reading WAYWARD for its Wayworld.”

Fandom Post: B+ “The book is definitely a welcome return to my reading schedule as Jim Zub handles the narration very well, making it engaging and interesting”

Horror Talk: 4/5 “Writer Jim Zub has an incredible talent for character development. Each of the students in Wayward feels like a real person.”

The Latest Pull: 8.5/10 “I went in to this book with a bit of cautious scepticism, but was pleasantly surprised by this new beginning and I expect good things in the future.”

Major Spoilers: 9/10 “Wayward #6, in particular, is a treat for readers of the series. We get to see the world, characters and magical elements we are familiar with, but through a fresh pair of eyes.”

Moar Powah: 4/5 “Wayward #6 brings in teases of what’s to come. We wonder what’s to become of our new and old protagonists.”

Outright Geekery: 10/10 ” So long as Jim Zub and Steve Cummings continue to deliver a great series, I will continue to recommend this series.”

Reading With a Flight Ring: “the characters and characterization is simply superb and demonstrates why I’ll follow Jim to whatever he writes”

Telltale Mind: 8/10 “With an ending to the story that can only be called mysterious, Zub and Cummings draw you back into this world and all that can be said is that it is good to be back.”

Third Eye Spotlight: “It’s great storytelling, great writing, and we can’t get enough.”

TM Stash: 9/10 “I have trouble deciding what impresses me more with this book – the exceptional script or the beautiful artwork”

Under the Comic Covers: “Another wonderfully paced issue. A great mix of mystery and action.”

We The Nerdy: 8.5/10 “The art too, is still fantastic. The battle at the end looks great, and some of the strange paranormal events that Ohara experiences are all great looking.”

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Comic Bastards: 10/10 “You have no excuse why this book isn’t in your life.”

Comics Alliance: “Skullkickers has been one of the great dark horse stories of the last few years, and it’s fantastic to see that it’s been able to go so long and maintain the fun”

Comix I Read: 4.5/5 “Skullkickers #31 channels the energy of a drunken game of D&D with your friends. It takes everything you love about the fantasy genre but throws in a laugh every half a second.”

Newsarama: 8/10 “This issue of Skullkickers, like those before it, makes a great example of how comics can be just fun and still be completely successful.”

Panel Culture: “Edwin Huang is just fantastic on these fight scenes. They’re dynamic, they’re fun, and Misty Coats’ colors are vibrant.”

Unleash the Fanboy: 9/10 “Equal parts lore, story and fun, Skullkickers #31 is a well-rounded stable issue that eagerly kicks back into the swing of things.”

Mega-Zub Comic Release Day!

Thanks to the shipping strike that happened in California and a couple printing delays a bunch of my comic titles have synced up, leading to the craziest new comic book day of my career so far:
6 new books from 4 different publishers all arriving in comic shops TODAY!

Yeah, it’s ridiculous.

Click on any of the covers below to read preview pages from each of the books:

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As always, thank you for your support!

Arriving in June: Skullkickers #100?!

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In June, Skullkickers comes to an end with the wrap-up of our sixth and final story arc “Infinite icons of the Endless Epic”. We didn’t want this momentous occasion to go unnoticed, so we decided to do what the other comic publishers do when they want to celebrate a big story event – we bull$#@&ted a big number on the cover because we could.

Here’s the June ordering solicitation:

SKULLKICKERS #100
story: JIM ZUB
art: EDWIN HUANG & MISTY COATS
cover: CHRIS STEVENS & ESPEN GRUNDETJERN
JUNE 24 / 40 PAGES / FC / T / $3.99

“INFINITE ICONS OF THE ENDLESS EPIC” Finale

ISSUE 100?! Hey, if other publishers can just slap any old number on a cover and call it an anniversary, then we want in on that action for our final issue.

Yup, this is the big finish. All skulls must be kicked.

Join us in sending off the series in style with a big 3-digit number and tweet with the hashtag #SK100 to let us know what happened in the 66 issues in between. The best entries get a place in Skullkickers history.

That’s right, we’re jumping straight to #100 to finish the series and are letting our fans fill in the 66 issue gap with the Twitter hashtag #SK100. Tell us in 140 characters a summary of what happened in an unpublished issue of Skullkickers (from #34-99) and the best ones will be listed in the back of our final issue. Anyone could be one tweet from their first Twitter comic writing credit.

So few creator-owned comics ever have an issue 100. We’re feeling quite honored to share this rarified air with Spawn, Savage Dragon, Walking Dead, and Invincible. It’s a milestone for creator-owned comics and we couldn’t do it without Image Comics and our dedicated fanbase.

Thank you for 34 100 issues of love and support.

Forces of Geek Interview: Conan, SK, and D&D

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The gang at Forces of Geek asked me all about Conan Red Sonja, Skullkickers, and Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur’s Gate, so we talk fantasy fun.

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…

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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…

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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:

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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 or helpful, feel free to let me know here (or on Twitter) and share the post with your friends. Please consider buying some of my comics online, from your local retailer or from me in person if you see me at a convention.