Category Archives: Tutorial

Zub Hosting Master Seminar on Comics Experience


I’m thrilled to announce that I’m working with Andy Schmidt at Comics Experience on a Master Seminar session all about organizing and managing comic and other creative projects. Discussion will include financial analysis, budget-building, finding collaborators, putting together an effective pitch, and approaching publishers.

There are many resources available for creators when it comes to art and writing, but understanding how to effectively build a project and carry it through to completion without losing your mind or your savings, that’s not something I’ve seen as much of, so when Andy approached me about hosting a session covering that hard to find material I agreed.

Past Comics Experience Master Seminars have been with industry luminaries including Brian Michael Bendis, Christos Gage, and Klaus Janson. It’s a pleasure to be brought on board to talk about the pitching and production process.


Click here for all the details, but here’s a bullet-point rundown of how it works:

• Held Saturday, October 29, 2016 from 10:00 AM Eastern Time until approximately 4:00 PM Eastern Time with a one-hour break for lunch.
• You will learn from both lectures and demonstrations presented by Jim Zub.
• You will be a part of a private Q&A with Zub and host Andy Schmidt.
• You will learn about financially planning a comic book project.
• You will learn how to find great collaborators.
• You will learn how to be a great collaborator.
• You will learn about the different avenues to publication.
• You will learn how to prepare a project to pitch it and how most effectively to pitch a project.

This Seminar is $295. For Creators Workshop members, a $50 discount is offered on the forums.

You’ll have access to a recording of the seminar for two full weeks after it’s held—including the Q&A portion.

Online registration only: To attend the Master Seminar: Building Your Comic Project with Jim Zub, you must register online. Enrollment is limited!

Creator-Owned Economics: Grabbing The Long Tail

Nine months ago I posted an update on how Wayward was selling in the market and compared it to a similar release period for Skullkickers, my breakout creator-owned series that launched in 2010. I wanted to get this update pulled together sooner, but things have been busy, in a very good way. Lots of great new work-for-hire projects on tap along with a small break to clear my head. But now that the summer is well underway I’ve had a bit of time to dig back into the numbers and, as always, I think it’s interesting to look at how it’s developing.

The comic market is jam-packed with product. There’s a cornucopia of choices for readers every week, with more titles fighting for shelf space and a sense that grabbing market share requires constant reboots, renumbering, and controversy in order to move the needle.

Keeping a creator-owned title consistent and making it successful without the marketing muscle or global movie icon status Marvel or DC have is tough. Wayward launched quite strongly and by the end of our second story arc it looked like we’d found a relatively stable sales level. Let’s see how that’s continued with arc 3:


Wayward #11-15 follows what a lot of industry people would call ‘standard market attrition’.
The start of each story arc sees a small boost and then the numbers continue to settle a bit lower each month after that. You’ll see a similar curve for a lot of superhero titles, which is why there’s a tendency to hit that ‘relaunch’ button more and more frequently. Raising awareness on a title and doing a round of press is expected for a new #1, while it’s much-much harder for readers, retailers, and reviewers to take notice of a #11 or a #16.

Still, that bar graph doesn’t look too bad. It’s a graceful easing after issue 1. What does that mean for our single issue profitability?


Yikes. Okay, that definitely doesn’t look good. In Wayward arc 3 we started skimming along the threshold where printing and distribution costs start to really eat into profitability. As I’ve talked about before, the cost of creating a product like a comic varies depending on your ‘price per unit’. The more you’re able to print (and sell), the cheaper each one costs, vastly improving your profitability. Once you dip below a certain key threshold, that balance between production cost and profitability starts to work against you. Even though our sales in arc 3 only dropped 21.2%, the profitability on those single issues dropped 67.7% because we fell below that ideal balance.

So, you look at that and it seems pretty obvious – Wayward’s days must be limited. We probably shouldn’t even be producing a fourth story arc because we’re going to drop right off that chart into unprofitability. At best we should wrap our story up by issue 20 and call it a day, right?


Let’s look at our trade paperback sales and you’ll see why.


Since the first Wayward trade paperback launched in March 2015, we’ve seen explosive growth in our collection sales. Unlike single issue sales where initial orders define the health of a series, trade paperback sales have the potential to be ‘long tail’; They continue to grow rather than shrink. In fact, in Q3-Q4 2015 we sold more trade paperbacks than we did at launch. Wayward is consistently picking up new readers and quite a few of them are moving on to buy Volume 2 and 3 or our Deluxe Edition hardcover (which includes volume 1 + 2 + 80 pages of back matter + poster all in one spiffy over-sized package).

Let’s compare cost versus sales:


In late 2014 Image invested in a large print run of Wayward Vol. 1, confident the series could continue to sell as long as we were consistent with our release schedule. With each subsequent sales period you can see how that’s working: the collection back stock continues to move, making each six month block more profitable than the last. By Q3-Q4 2015 we’re making more than double what’s been spent on printing, shipping, and storage while digital sales continue to grow, increasing our overall readership.

Skullkickers had six month periods where the collections made more than was being spent on printing and distribution, but early expenditures dug a deep hole we had trouble getting out of and the overall margins were much thinner. We finished the series, but barely broke even when it was all said and done.


If all you saw was analysis of monthly single issue sales, Wayward would look like a middle-of-the-pack Image title with unremarkable numbers. It has a small but dedicated readership in single issue format (and they mean a lot to us), but the bigger story is the success it’s seeing in collection sales.

Wayward does really well in comic shops, book stores, libraries, online retailers, and conventions in a collected format where people get a chunk of story all at once and then anticipate what comes next. Our ‘Buffy in Japan’ sales pitch mixed with high quality art/story, good word of mouth, YALSA recognition, and our ability to balance on a shaky tightrope between American comics and manga is working for us.


I would love for our single issue sales to be higher (and I’m hoping more of our collection readers will get impatient and subscribe at their local comic shops) but right now our trade paperback sales are strong enough that we can continue to push forward. Steven can continue to make Wayward his full time job, Tamra, Marshall, Zack (and now Ann who is helping with Irish lore research), and our alt cover artists all get paid, and I get to keep building this supernatural adventure series chapter by chapter, arc by arc.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, tracking the life or death of one creator-owned comic series isn’t an accurate barometer for the industry as a whole, but I do think Wayward is following several trends worth noting:

The Long Tail:The importance of trade paperback collections for the long term viability of a series is undeniable and I think that trend is going to continue as the market keeps expanding beyond traditional comic shops. Image has done a masterful job at leveraging the visibility of The Walking Dead, Saga, Sex Criminals, The Wicked + The Divine and many other hit series to build trust in the book and library market for their collections. Every Image title has benefited from that rising tide.

Digital Is Growth: As many people have noted, digital isn’t killing the traditional print market. Yes, there are people switching to digital, but the majority of digital comic readers seem to be “additive”, new or returning readers supporting work rather than pirating it. Digital may only account for 11.28% of our sales, but profit-wise it’s a valuable addition that helps keep our series running.

Single Issues Matter, But They’re Not The Whole Story: Single issue sales still have a place in this market. Serializing stories over months builds an audience, builds market awareness, and gives readers more options even if trade paperbacks are the go-to choice for more and more fans. That said, I think the emphasis placed on single issue sales to determine success/failure is short-sighted and damaging. Right now it feels like the Diamond 300 chart and the New York Times Best Seller List for Graphic Novels are the only two metrics people follow and neither one covers a broad enough picture of sales and growth. The ‘single issue success’ mentality leads to the kind of boom-or-bust speculation and variant cover glut that has destabilized the market before and could do so again.

The Middle of the Pack Is Important: The prose publishing world has slowly eaten away at the idea of “mid-list authors” and I think comics should be careful not to slip into a similar mindset. Comic sales continue to grow in a market where many other categories struggle and the best way to keep those gains from being clawed back is by continuing to build out the market with variety rather than sinking all development into a narrow field of “hit-makers” or Hail Mary-style events/ controversies/ reboots/ renumberings.


Wayward #16, beginning our fourth story arc, arrives in late September. Glitterbomb #1, my new Hollywood horror series, launches earlier that same month. I’m hopeful for my own personal growth and the continued strength of the industry as a whole. Tell people about the books you feel are worth investing in and support the kind of industry you want to see now and into the future.

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.

Promotion: Building Retailer Trust

I’ve spoken before about how important it is for independent creators to reach out to retailers even if they have a publisher. Building a healthy dialogue with the people who are on the ground selling your work can make a huge difference to finding an enthusiastic readership and, of course, future sales of your book.

Comic retailers in the direct market have an incredibly difficult job. Each month they comb through the Diamond Previews catalogue and decide how many copies of HUNDREDS of different line items they’re going to purchase for their store. The key word there is “purchase”. The vast majority of items ordered by comic shops are bought on a non-returnable basis. Essentially, the comic store is your actual customer and they’re selling comics to their customers at a mark-up to cover the items that don’t sell, pay their rent/bills, and ideally actually make some kind of profit on their investment.

Think about that for a minute. Put yourself in their shoes. You invest thousands of dollars buying comics based on a postage stamp cover image and brief description of the contents from a catalogue, multiplied by several hundred times every single month. Order too little, your customers are annoyed and you lose out on important purchases. Order too much you’re stuck with product that takes up space and loses you money.


Here’s all retailers have to go on when they decide how many copies to order of WAYWARD #15.
Imagine trying to accurately order like this for hundreds of different comics per month.

When you realize how difficult ordering non-returnable comics are, a lot of retail behavior that may seem obtuse suddenly makes perfect sense. That’s why pre-orders and pull files are so important. That’s why books coming out when they’re solicited is so crucial. That’s why well known publishers, characters, and creators are such a priority. At every turn a retailer is trying to minimize variables to make sure they can sell through on what they order. The more inventory they’re unable to move, the harder it is for them to stay afloat.

If you want to increase your orders through the direct market, you have to prove your work is something a retailer can count on. One of the ways I do that is by sending my retail email list a complete PDF of my creator-owned comics before Final Order Cut-Off (the final date where retailers can adjust their order numbers before we set our print run).

I want retailers to know exactly what they’re ordering and feel confident in terms of who they can sell it to. I remove the unknown about the contents from their ordering equation so they can make a more accurate assessment of its worth to their store.

Here’s an example of the retail preview email I send out through Mail Chimp (a great web-based email list organizer), with the download link redacted:

Some common questions I get from other creators about this practice:

Q: Do you send the entire issue or just a preview?

A: The whole thing. Like I said above, I want retailers to know exactly what they’re ordering and to be informed so they can bring their customers on board the work I’m doing.

Q: How do you add retailers to your email list?

A: Whenever I meet a retailer at a convention and I get their card, I ask if it’s okay to add them to my list. Same with any retailer contact I have online. It’s a slow build but works a lot better than spamming random retailers hoping they respond.

Q: Aren’t you worried retailers might reduce their orders when they read the whole issue?

A: It’s possible, but I’d rather have a shop order what they can sell than have unsold copies hanging around for months and months on end making me look bad. I think the quality of what I’m producing is worthwhile, but either way I respect the stores who are ordering my comics and want them to be fully informed about what they’re getting when they place that order.

Q: Aren’t you worried about someone pirating the PDF you send out to retailers?

A: I’m sending this advance PDF out about a month before release, so it’s possible they could pirate the work, but that would also cannibalize their possible sales as well, which seems counter-intuitive. I respect the fact that they’re my retail partner and have to trust that they’re not trying to hurt the comic industry. So far no one has screwed me over on this, and my fingers are crossed that it remains that way moving forward.

Q: What if they ignore the email and don’t read it?

A: Then I’m in the exact same boat I was before, but at least it’s there if they ever want to dig in and see what I’m producing.

When publishers try to pull a fast one on retailers by artificially inflating sales or not delivering what they promise, it breaks trust and leaves retailers in a difficult spot. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely want to sell as many copies as possible because that enables me to keep creating, but I also want to make sure those copies are reaching excited readers. When retailers know they can rely on my work, they’ll order more copies, promote it better, and help me build an audience that comes back for each new project I announce.

If you’re a retailer who isn’t already receiving advance PDFs from me, please contact me with your store site and contact info so I can make sure you’re on my retail email list. I want to work with you and keep making great comics.

If you found the above tutorial helpful, feel free to let me know here (or on Twitter), share the post with your friends and consider buying some of my comics to show your support.

Tutorial: FAQ Round-Up

With my current work schedule it’s been difficult to put together the kind of tutorial articles I did a year or two ago. Even still, I try to keep up with questions from aspiring creators on my Tumblr page. If you’re not following me there you might have missed some interesting information or helpful advice.

I’ll use this post as a hub to paraphrase the best questions and point you toward my answers:


Q: For email submissions, what format should I use?

Q: Is it better to submit a mini-series or ongoing series?

Q: Is it better to release one graphic novel or a mini-series and trade collection?

Q: Is it okay to pitch a book you already self published?

Q: Once you get a ‘green light’ on a comic project, then what happens? What’s the next step?

Q: Do you worry about a publisher rejecting a pitch and then stealing the idea?

Q: How many “no’s” did you get before finally getting something published?

Q: When did you realize you’d “made it” in the comic industry?


Q: How do I get started making my own comics?

Q: What are the most common mistakes you see from new comic creators?

Q: Did you go to school for writing?

Q: What do your comic scripts look like?

Q: How long does it take to write a comic?

Q: I’m having trouble getting my ideas down and organized. What do you suggest?

Q: How do you come up with character personalities and develop them? Any tips?

Q: What advice would you give to someone working on their first ongoing title?

Q: What things make up a great first issue?

Q: Do you have any advice on how to make a comic book adaptation of a novel?

Q: How do you come up with titles for your stories?

Q: How do you structure a short comic story?

Q: How many panels should I put on a page?

Q: Do comic writers have to use sound effects?

Q: How do I get feedback on my comic writing?

Q: How do I critique my own work?

Q: Do you have advice on co-writing a story with another writer:

Q: How can I improve gender-racial equality in my writing?

Q: How do webcomics differ from print comics?

Q: I want to be a comic writer but I feel like I’m running out of time. Should I call it quits?


Q: Is it better to buy single issues or trades to support a creator-owned series?

Q: What’s the difference between self-publishing and being published by Image?

Q: How much money do creator-owned comics make compared to working for Marvel/DC?

Q: Could you provide any advice on copyrighting or trademarking your work?

Q: Do I have to pay to print my own book if I’m published by Image Comics?

Q: What’s the proper percentage breakdown for profits between a writer and artist?

Q: Do creators always control their work with creator-owned comics?


Q: How much flexibility are you given on work-for-hire projects?

Q: How much interaction do you have with the art team when you write work-for-hire?

Q: is it normal for DC/Marvel to approach you instead of you approaching them?


Q: How can I find an audience for my work?

Q: How do you work on multiple projects at the same time?

Q: How do I get involved with the social side of the comic industry?

Q: Is there anywhere I can see what a professional contract looks like?

Q: If someone had a great comic story idea and you liked it would you consider co-writing it with them?

Q: I hear about writers needing other jobs to make a living. Is that true with writing comics?

Q: Do you get invited to comic conventions you attend? How does that work?

Q: How do I become a comic colorist?

Q: Have you ever had a comic or project you were involved in turn into a disaster?

Q: What do you think of the diversity trend in mainstream comics?

If you found the above Q&A links helpful, feel free to let me know here (or on Twitter), share the post with your friends and consider buying some of my comics to show your support for me answering all these questions instead of doing paying work. 😛

Creator-Owned Economics: Wayward Oct 2015

Just over seven months ago I posted a financial/sales article letting people know how well Wayward launched in the current comic market using Skullkickers, my previous creator-owned series, as a comparative benchmark. Now that Wayward’s second story arc is complete and I have more sales data to look at I thought it would be good to post an update.

I’m happy to say that Wayward is doing well in a very, very competitive market. With both Marvel and DC putting out a ton of new #1 issues and Image on an incredible roll with new creator-owned series, the shelves at comic shops are absolutely jam-packed and it can be hard to stand out. Every series goes through periods of attrition, and that’s to be expected, but my biggest fear has been that we’d get completely lost in the shuffle and our readership would plummet.

Here’s how initial sales have held up through 10 issues:

Wayward arc 2 stabilized quite well and it looks like we may have found our ‘level’. The drop between issue 7 and issue 10 for Final Order Cut-Off (when comic retailers finalize their order numbers) was less than 500 copies and the gap between each one has gotten smaller and smaller. The variance between issue 9 and 10 was less than 50 copies. What doesn’t show up on that chart is that we’ve also been getting steady reorders on earlier issues and, once you factor those in, the series has even more stability at this point in time.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t have any concerns. Creator-owned books are always vulnerable to market fluctuations and even small drops that accumulate over the long haul could push us into a situation where the series isn’t financially viable. Arc 2 was stable but we need to make sure we keep readers around through arc 3 and beyond. My fingers are crossed that we’ll get a small post-trade bump on Wayward #11 (have you pre-ordered your copy yet?) to keep us rolling.

Okay, so sales look good, but how does that translate into initial earnings:

You can see that even a slight variance in sales can have a larger effect on profits. Again, we’re seeing overall stability, but there is some drift there as it moves along.

By this point in its life cycle Skullkickers was already struggling to turn a profit in single issue print sales while Wayward is covering its production costs. What that means is that the art team (Steve, Tamra, and Ludwig) gets paid, our letterer (Marshall Dillon) gets paid, our back matter essay writer (Zack) gets paid, and Image gets their base fee without me having to dip into my personal savings to cover any of the bills. The small amount of profit leftover month to month isn’t much but that’s okay. I’m in for the long haul with convention book sales, digital/print accruals, and co-ownership. I was also able to sock away some money from our big first issue for my “future project war chest.”

Let’s look at the latest issue breakdown of who gets what:

As you can see, those percentages have moved around compared to Wayward #1 Cover A (which had a massive print run compared to issue #10, skewing the numbers quite a bit). With Image’s flat rate fees and the changing price of printing, shipping, storage, and distribution each issue will vary, but this seems to be a more “normal” breakdown for our series. It’s also a more of a balance as the creative team, distributor, and publisher have a stake in the series. As I mentioned before, being with the 3rd largest comic publisher in North America during their current renaissance has been a huge benefit. Image has been able to leverage their hit series to bring down printing costs and negotiate terms that leave more money for them and the creative team.

Let’s look at accrued sales and digital:

If you compare these to the first chart you’ll see that reorders have helped some of the issues level out. As an example, Wayward#2 has sold an additional 7% of its initial order numbers in reorder copies.
I was surprised to see that Wayward is primarily a print-heavy audience right now. Digital sales (the vast majority of which are through comiXology) only make up 9.1% of our current sales totals (and I didn’t count issues 8-10 in that calculation since I don’t have digital data for those issues yet). I was expecting a higher percentage of digital, but now that many of our early issues are sold out at Diamond that number will almost certainly increase.

Okay, so how about trade paperbacks?

In short, Wayward is kicking ass in trade. Image printed a very aggressive number of Wayward Vol. 1: String Theory books and in the past six months we’ve moved a big chunk of that stock thanks to great word of mouth and a $9.99 cover price. Although convention sales aren’t reflected in that chart, I can anecdotally say that Wayward Vol. 1 sells very well for me at shows. I usually just tell people “It’s like Buffy in Japan”, mention it’s only $10 and they’re in.

I know a few other creators I’ve spoken to have been wary of the $9.99 first volume price point, but so far on Wayward it’s working well. Image printed enough copies that our price per unit is incredibly small and that means it won’t take long to get that book into the black. Most importantly, the $9.99 pricing has paved the way for a lot of new readers to try it out. It’s a loss leader to build our overall audience, banking on the fact that they’ll come back for Volumes 2, 3, and beyond. I’ve been able to sell multiple copies to people to give as gifts or buy again even though they have the single issues. $10 feels like a reasonable price to spontaneously try something new, especially at a convention. I don’t think the value pricing is useful on a mini-series collection or short run, but for an ongoing series like Wayward it seems to be helping.

Skullkickers has always had a trade-waiter readership and I’ve been happy with our TPB sales but Wayward is gaining ground at a ridiculous rate. In six months Wayward Vol. 1 has sold about 90% of the lifetime sales of Skullkickers Vol. 1 from the past four and half years. Yeah, that’s kind of nuts. Initial orders on Wayward Vol. 2 were almost the same as volume 1, so I’m also curious to see how it’s selling in six months time.

Now that Skullkickers is complete it moves into new territory for me. Over the next year I’m going to see what the long tail sales are like for the six trade paperbacks and three deluxe hardcovers that encompass the series. Will more people try it out knowing they can read it all or does the finality of it and lack of new issues make it less visible? I genuinely don’t know.


On the deluxe book front, the first year of Wayward is being collected in a spiffy oversized hardcover called, appropriately enough, Wayward Deluxe. It’s a bit mind boggling for me to realize that in one year we put together enough material for a 320 page tome, but we did and I’m hopeful that it makes it onto some comic buying gift guides and sells well through the holidays.


As I mentioned in my previous article, I think Wayward’s success has been a combination of Image’s growth, my increased career visibility, and an engaging concept coupled with Steve and Tamra’s knockout artwork. The audience I’ve built up over the years through working on Pathfinder, Samurai Jack, Conan Red Sonja, Dungeons & Dragons, Street Fighter, and Figment have come together along with Skullkickers readers to give Wayward some wings. If we can keep that grassroots interest going I’m hopeful the series will have a long life.

If you’ve bought Skullkickers or Wayward, as a retailer or reader, you have my deepest thanks. In an industry with giant media companies and world-beating superhero brands I’m doing my best to carve out a little spot for my creations and I couldn’t do it without your help.

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.

The Full Script for WAYWARD #1!


A year ago WAYWARD #1 arrived in comic shops nationwide so, as a special thank you to all of you, I’m posting up the full script for the issue. If you own the issue or our first trade paperback you can compare the script to the final printed version page by page and see how the collaborative process of making comics works.

Please feel free to share this post and link far and wide.


All of us on the Wayward team deeply appreciate your support. Keep telling people about the series.

(PS: Back in 2011 I posted the full script for SKULLKICKERS #1. You can find that over HERE.)

Wayward Vol. 1
String Theory

(issues #1-5)

Rori Lane is trying to start a new life when she reunites with her mother in Japan, but ancient creatures lurking in the shadows of Tokyo sense something hidden deep within her, threatening everything she holds dear. Can she unlock the secrets of her power before it’s too late?
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Cheap GNs
Forbidden Planet
Instock Trades
Midtown Comics
Third Eye Comics

How to Color for Comics?

With so many tutorials on my site about how to write comics, I occasionally get asked about good resources for other parts of the comic creation process. Well, I’m happy to point people toward this one, and that’s not just because it has a Skullkickers pin-up in the example. 🙂


K Michael Russell has put together an extensive online course that walks through professional comic coloring techniques step-by-step. If you check out the course outline you’ll see an exhaustive number of subjects covered, all broken down into bite-sized pieces that make it easy to understand and refer back to.

There are two versions of the course offered for sale. One is streaming video off the site and the other one is downloadable so you can have the files stored locally on your computer and reference them any time.



When I was going through art school Photoshop was just coming into its own as production software and I had to learn a lot of these techniques through trial and error or by cobbling together tutorials from a variety of sources while asking friends for help. I wish I had something as clearly laid out and well organized as this course when I started digitally coloring my work.

Needless to say, I recommend it for people who want to produce pro quality comic coloring.


Wayward – The Original Pitch, Redacted

Several people have asked me to post up my pitch document for Wayward like I did with Skullkickers. I’ve avoided doing that because the Wayward pitch is filled with story spoilers, but Rob Xara suggested I redact all the bits no one can see yet and that sounded fun… so here’s the original Wayward pitch with big spoiler sections blacked out like a classified military document.




You’ll notice the whole thing is only 6 pages and the core of it is really just this one summary page. Yeah, it’s lean and mean. As I’ve said before, keep pitches short and focused. If a publisher likes it they’ll ask for more.





Normally you’d also include finished comic pages with a pitch package, especially if you’re new to the industry. In this case both Steve and I were established with a solid body of work and the publishers we were pitching to knew we could deliver pro quality so that wasn’t required.

If you’ve never read Wayward before and the pitch material above has you intrigued, find out more about it by clicking HERE!

Wayward Vol. 1
String Theory

(issues #1-5)

Rori Lane is trying to start a new life when she reunites with her mother in Japan, but ancient creatures lurking in the shadows of Tokyo sense something hidden deep within her, threatening everything she holds dear. Can she unlock the secrets of her power before it’s too late?
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Cheap GNs
Forbidden Planet
Instock Trades
Midtown Comics
Third Eye Comics

Conventional Wisdom – Part Two – The Experience

I’ve talked about a variety of different subjects related to creator-owned comics- writing craft, networking, promotion, and economics, but one of the areas I haven’t focused on (until now) is a big one: selling at conventions. Last time I covered getting prepared, now let’s talk about interacting with people at the show.


I’m happy to report that the past two years at conventions have been my best in terms of sales. Part of that is because I have a lot of books at different publishers going at the same time, but that’s not the only reason I think my sales are up. Doing well at conventions is an alchemical mix of visibility, product, fan base, price point, and salesmanship… and it varies from show to show.

Each convention has its own feel. If you want to make the most of the convention ‘circuit’ you have to figure out which types of shows work best for you and try new ones to expand your reach and engage new readers. Convention culture changes, it evolves. Unfortunately you can’t do the same thing each time and expect the same results. With the growth of fan culture and the expansion of conventions all over the world, a very large and different crowd of people are now attending and if you’re not a major creator doing high profile work you’re going to have to adjust with the times in order to succeed.

Everything is changing quickly thanks to technology and the nature of our collectible culture (of which comics are smack dab in the middle of) is undergoing massive upheaval. It alters the way we consume media and you need to understand that when you’re sitting behind a table trying to sell your wares to strangers.

When we were younger, having a collection was a big deal: music, books, movies, whatever. It was part of our geek identity. Now we all have massive digital movie, book, and music collections at our fingertips and it’s changed the way we value and obtain media. Some people still collect whole hog, but many fans are far more focused/selective than they used to be. Selling entertainment is tougher than ever because it’s plentiful and cheap.

What cuts through all of those difficulties is the value of an experience. People in 2015 don’t just want to buy “stuff”, they want something special. They go to prestigious restaurants with unique menus. They throw elaborate theme parties. They travel to far off places and make sure they snap a photo to prove they were there. More than ever before the experience is just as valuable (maybe even more valuable) as what they purchase.

If people can buy things cheaper online (or for nothing if they pirate it) or more conveniently at their local comic shop, you have to give them an experience and offer something unique they can’t get anywhere else in order to consistently make sales at conventions.


Here’s how I do it: I offer me; the interaction, the signature, and my genuine appreciation of you, the reader. The experience is enthusiastically getting a comic from the person who makes it. I do everything I can to make that connection and give people a positive convention encounter.

When someone comes up to my table, it’s not just a cold “purchase and go” scenario. It’s a social interaction and it has to be genuine. They might buy something but they’re also having an engaging conversation, something personal and hopefully memorable. I have a handful of seconds to make an impression and, if it goes well, they might be a loyal reader from then on.

Whatever you do, don’t just talk about yourself. Ask people about their day, where they came from, what they’re most excited about at the show. Listen just as much as you speak. If you see that they have an Exhibitor or Pro badge, ask about their work or how the show is going for them. Make it a two way interaction instead of a one way sales pitch and you’ll be surprised how much more receptive people will be to hearing about what you do and possibly supporting it with a purchase.

Don’t stereotype the people looking at your work. Some of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve had at shows were with people who you wouldn’t peg as “fans” in the typical sense. The convention experience is broader and more inclusive than ever before and with shows like The Walking Dead doing record numbers on TV and movies like The Avengers crushing at the box office people are more open to reading comics than they have been in a long time. Talk to everyone and you’ll be surprised how many might be receptive.

Does that sound obvious? Sure, but I still see dozens of creators, new and old, putting their stuff on a table and ignoring people unless money is coming out of their wallet. They make the whole thing commerce first, and it’s a real turn off for most attendees. Worse still, if sales are poor at the start of a show their attitude worsens as the weekend carries on, creating a negative feedback loop that’s almost impossible to pull out of – People suck because sales suck and so the show sucks.

For me, interacting with people is part of the joy of doing conventions. I get to leave my solitary workspace at home and meet people who enjoy what I do while also encouraging new readers to jump on board and read the stories I create. That enthusiasm carries through in how I interact with the people who come by my table and it’s helped me do well at conventions near and far.

When I finish a day at a show, my throat is hoarse and my brain is fried. I push really hard to be ‘on’ at conventions. Ask anyone who’s met me. I genuinely love it, but it can be exhausting. I totally understand if that approach is not for everyone, especially if you’re not normally socially gregarious. I don’t have a foolproof way of generating sales for everyone, just a bit of advice on engaging the audience that’s worked well for me.


If you have something of quality and want to make an impression, think about the people you’re selling to and make it an enjoyable experience for them instead of focusing solely on the monetary transaction that benefits you.

Going to conventions has proved to be a big boost for my career. Many of the comic projects I’ve done can be traced back to the wonderful people I met at shows and the conversations we had there. A great convention reminds you about the energy and excitement that comes from this industry and, ideally, puts a few bucks in your pocket at the same time.

In future articles I’ll talk about setting up your table, pricing, and travelling to other countries for shows.

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!

Comic Art Portfolio Critique

Art critique is hard.

We create art as a form of expression and, because we put ourselves into the work, receiving critical feedback is a difficult process. Everyone wants to be complimented on their hard work, especially by working professionals in the field they aspire to be a part of.

Part of my job for the past 15 years has been to give portfolio critique. I’ve done it as an art instructor (teaching at Seneca College), as a project manager (when I organized creative services projects at UDON for ten years), and now as a comic professional (looking for possible artists to collaborate with on future creator-owned projects).

In that moment when you’re looking at someone’s artwork and they’re waiting for feedback you have to make a crucial value judgement:

What kind of feedback is going to be most useful to their development?
Does this person need kind encouragement or intense critique?

I’ve gotten pretty good at making that snap second decision but sometimes I still get it wrong. Every so often someone comes up to my table excited to show their work and they leave frustrated or angry at me. It’s pretty demoralizing for everyone involved.

The safe bet would be to just happily encourage everyone (even if that means they’re left with a false impression of the quality of their work) or refuse to give feedback at all (they can’t get angry at you if you don’t criticize their work) but I feel that’s disingenuous. I understand what it’s like wanting real evaluation and hoping you can use it to better your skills. I want to help artists improve their work.

At this point I try to limit myself to giving critique in person at conventions. It’s way easier to get a sense of what the right approach is when someone is right there in front of me. Also, if I tried to give proper feedback to everyone who asked online I wouldn’t have enough time to work on my own projects or have a social life (what little social life I have right now thanks to cascading deadlines).

All that said, I’m going to show you an example of an online critique I recently gave because I think the advice applies to a lot of comic art portfolios I see online and in person. The mistakes made were pretty common. This person has formal art training and isn’t a beginner. They specifically asked for critique so I didn’t hold back.

(Note: Everything I cover below relates to a portfolio built around modern/big two-style comic art. I don’t think every artist should draw the same or needs intensely detailed artwork in order to be considered professional, but the basics I talk about are helpful for almost any style, especially when you’re first getting established.)

• On many pages you’re not leaving enough room for dialogue or sound effects. Adding lettering would make those pages claustrophobic and cover up important elements that are part of the storytelling. Always draw pages with dialogue in mind and, whenever possible, work from an actual script rather than just illustrating silent scenes from your head.

• Your use of shadows and light is inconsistent from page to page, which comes across like you don’t have a strong understanding of light direction and volume. Your light sources are all over the place (except for when they’re coming from a very clear source like magic or a superpower) and your use of thicker or thinner lines has very little consistency. For many of your pages an inker would have a difficult time translating the pencils into any kind of a consistent look. You’re using lots of pencil shading to add texture and cover up weak drawing but that doesn’t help an inker who usually needs something more substantial to work with.

• Your anatomy looks like it’s kit-bashed from reference material (especially other comic artists and body builder photos) instead of being informed by actual drawing from life and a knowledge of anatomy. In some panels you’re exaggerating anatomy and other times you’re using photo ref or different comic artists as your inspiration and it shows. There are some panels that look good, but the other weak ones make it clear that you don’t have the innate knowledge or, if you do, it’s not coming through in your drawings.

• Your backgrounds are also quite inconsistent and I don’t get the sense that you have a strong understanding of perspective drawing. Don’t get me wrong, you have some perspective in your scenes, but it’s basic with a bunch of random detail-texture lines thrown on top of flat boxy walls. You’re rushing through the backgrounds and because of that most of them look poorly defined, both in terms of construction and a sense of depth. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all about the characters. You’re adding all kinds of inconsistent shading to try and cover the page in ‘stuff’, but the actual sense of space is not clearly established. I don’t get a solid sense of the environments because, as far as I can tell, you don’t have a clear understanding of how they’re constructed. When I want to tell the difference between an amateur and a professional most of the time I can see it in their backgrounds. Yours aren’t coming across strongly.

• Watch out for line tangents, parts of a drawing where lines at different depths intersect and they look like they’re interacting with each other when they shouldn’t be. They confuse the viewer and flatten the sense of depth in your drawing. The best explanation/tutorial I’ve ever seen on line tangents was put together by Chris Schweizer. Read it!

• Leave more space on the edge of your pages. Storytelling should never be pushed right to the edge since it may end of up getting cut off during the printing process. Even if the sample pages you sent already have the bleed cropped and there’s extra breathing room on your originals I’m not seeing here, some of your panels are crushed in far too close to the page edge.

• Your page layouts are flashy, which is not necessarily good or bad, but accompanied with inconsistency it looks like you’re breaking panel borders and using odd panel arrangements to cover up a lack of understanding of the basics. That said, your left to right reading flow is pretty good. My eyes move through each page in the proper order and I know what’s happening, so your overall storytelling is okay.

I can tell you worked hard on these sample pages and most casual observers would be impressed with them but, in my opinion, they’re not professional quality. I don’t think they’ll move the needle at a larger publisher and you still have a lot of work to do to get to that level.

That’s comic portfolio feedback focused on intense critique rather than encouragement. Hopefully the person receiving it doesn’t want to punch me in the face or burn all my comics.

In broader terms, here are the most common problems I see with comic art portfolios:

PERSPECTIVE and VOLUME: Learning to visually ‘build’ with proper perspective, draw characters, scenes, and objects with a consistent sense of volume, and showcase a thorough understanding of depth and form is tough, but it will make a huge difference in the quality of your work.

ANATOMY and CONSISTENCY: Understanding how the human body works and being able to draw from life with a sense of gesture, structure, and clarity is a lifelong pursuit. A lot of beginners think this doesn’t apply when they’re drawing stylized figures but I, and most art directors/editors, would strongly disagree. Even when you’re stylizing your work there should be a consistent approach to the figure, even if it doesn’t conform to realistic anatomy.

CLARITY and COMMUNICATION: Comics are about storytelling. If the reader can’t follow the action and the story isn’t coming across clearly then the artist isn’t doing their job. Well defined panel to panel flow, good staging, clear storytelling, and strong body language are an important part of the craft.

I know there are exceptions. Yes, there are artists who ignore the above and still get work. Showing me dozens of examples of artwork that ‘break the rules’ doesn’t change the critique I’d give and here’s why:
If you want to consistently impress with your work and stand out in a field where thousands of other artists want to break in and ‘go pro’, concentrating on improving your perspective, anatomy, and clarity will always be beneficial.

If you want to get a better sense of how much/little detail is on a professional comic page, take one of your favorite comics to a local photocopy place and get them to blow up a few of your favorite pages 150% on to 11″ x 17″ paper. That’s approximately the size the artist was originally working at on most North American comics. At that full size you’ll get a better sense of how large each panel really is as its drawn, how much space is left for dialogue, how detailed the figures/environments are, and overall line thickness/line quality.

As you work to improve your skills, understand that it will probably take years and lots of mucked up pages before you approach anything resembling ‘professional quality’. There’s a term in animation we use called ‘pencil mileage’. No matter how many tutorials you read or critiques you receive a good chunk of your learning in art takes place by putting in the time and creating thousands of drawings.

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. Also, please don’t ask me for a portfolio critique if you’re not prepared for critical feedback.