GO FOR THE EYES!
More details next week!
The new Exalted one-shot comic story I wrote for White Wolf/Onyx Path for the Exalted 3rd Edition Kickstarter is now available to non-backers via DriveThru RPG.
The young warrior known as Visiting Flare wanders Vaneha in search of the answers to the jumbled broken puzzle that is his past.
In times of stress he catches fleeting glimpses of a time when his power reshaped history, but he does not know whether those visions are real or what they mean. When the truth is revealed to him, his past and present will collide and legends will come alive once more.
I’m pretty damn happy with how it all turned out. Hanzo and Melissa did a wonderful job on the artwork and Marshall delivered the goods on the lettering, as always.
The Exalted mini-series for UDON was my first “pro” writing (well, co-writing actually) gig back in 2005. It was fun to dip my toe back in the Exalted waters again 9 years later.
If you’re an old school tabletop RPG player you’ll be delighted by Jason Thompson’s incredibly detailed and delightfully well thought out Walkthrough Maps on the official D&D website. Here’s a run through of all the ones he’s done so far:
I need to get this down before I forget the details…
Eating lunch over at the mall and the young student sitting next to me has a thousand yard stare as she picks at her food, swirling her french fries in ketchup but not even really eating them.
I glance over briefly at the motion and there’s that awkward moment as we both see each other and pause as one of us has to decide if it’s been too long an interaction to leave it without saying something.
I start to look back at my newspaper but she stammers out the start of the conversation.
“Hey… uh, can I ask you something? I mean, if you’re not busy.”
“Okay, I guess. Ask away.”
“You know guys, right? I mean, you’re a guy, so is it okay if I ask you about a guy… about what he’s doing?”
“Tell me what’s going on and I’ll try, sure.”
She thinks about it for a sec.
“There’s this guy. We’re not going out or anything but he calls me up every couple weeks for… I guess like a hook-up or whatever. It’s fun sometimes and other times it’s weird.”
“I bet that would be.”
“So I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore and I told him in December, so he stopped calling.”
“I know, right! I like him though. He’s nice to me when we’re together and stuff but then just nothing. Nothing.”
“That sounds manipulative, not nice.”
“But here’s the thing. So I saw him on the weekend with other friends of ours and I just said ‘Hi’ and walked on and it would’ve been okay, but then he runs up after me and says ‘Is it okay if I call you? We need to talk about stuff. I want to see you more.’”
“It’s brutal. It’s brutal ‘cause I like him and think maybe he’s done some thinking or whatever. So part of me was excited that he was going to call and we could work things out.”
“He didn’t call?”
“He didn’t! And I’m stupid and I texted him and he texted right back and said he’d call and he still didn’t! What’s that?!”
“I think you’ve got your answer right there. If he can’t even communicate then you can’t work with that…”
She eats a few fries and takes a big bite of her hamburger.
“I don’t even eat this stuff normally. I don’t eat burgers. I don’t know… I’m just being impulsive and dumb.”
She glances over and sees my wedding ring.
“Holy shit, you’re married! That’s so cool.”
“Heh. It is actually.”
“Almost four years. It’s great. She’s wonderful and supportive. Nothing’s perfect but we make it all work.”
“Cool… I’m Nadia, by the way.”
She just shakes her head and sighs as she takes another bite of her burger. I decide to keep the conversation rolling.
“How old are you?”
“Already 21… almost 22 though. You?”
“How old do you think I am?”
She’s looking at me and I can tell she’s embarrassed as she tries to figure it out.
“Oh god, I don’t know… 35?”
“Good guess. 37.”
“Ha! What’s your wife’s name?”
“Jim and Stacy…”
“I met Stacy in college but we didn’t get together until later on. We both had to grow up and figure out who we were going to be before we were right for each other.”
“Yeah. I don’t know this guy and I don’t know you, but I do know that communication is the least you should expect in a good relationship. It’s the ground floor. If that’s not happening then it’s not a relationship and you’re not going to be happy.”
“Yeah… you’re right. I kind of know that, but it’s good to hear it I guess. It’s hard to figure out people, y’know?”
“Yeah, I do.”
I turn to face her more directly now because I want to make sure this point sticks.
“I know it feels like time is vanishing but you’re young. You’re good. Don’t settle for that.”
“Okay, I won’t.”
She takes a long drag on her soft drink.
“It’s hard to figure out people, right?”
“It is, but you’re here at the University meeting tons of people every day so you’ll find better people to spend your time with… I mean, what’s your major?”
She pauses for a second and, even as she’s saying it, she starts to turn red with embarrassment.
“…Oh, you know… Psychology.”
We both laugh so hard that tears roll down our faces.
2013 has been an incredible year, but it sure as heck didn’t start out that way.
Wrapping up 2012 I thought I had a firm sense of where ’13 was heading. I’d accepted a contract to take over DC’s Birds of Prey with issue #18 and was working away on scripts, excited about my first writing gig for the “Big Two” of comics. When the new year began and the whole thing fell apart, I did my best to bow out gracefully and retreated for a while.
I haven’t spoken publicly about it before but, honestly, the whole thing shook my self confidence to the core. January and February were a slog of frustration and nervousness. I dreaded convention season and people asking questions about it or wondering if I’d screwed the whole thing up. I didn’t want to dwell on it, but I couldn’t stop thinking – What if I’d somehow missed my shot and that was it?
I wanted to burrow and hide. I felt like the year was going to waste as I watched friends and colleagues kick ass and take names on new projects. I’ve had setbacks before, but this one pushed a bunch of unexpected emotional buttons and brought me low in a way I haven’t felt in a long time. A lot of those feelings of frustration informed the post I wrote last month about jealousy.
Stacy was my rock through all of this. She listened, she advised, she kept me going. She knew other opportunities would present themselves and helped me look towards those instead of beating myself up over things I had no control over.
I’d turned down a project with IDW in November so I could focus fully on Birds of Prey, but thankfully had kept close ties with the editor. Even though the original project we talked about was already spoken for, he asked if I’d be interested in pitching on something else they had coming down the pipe – Samurai Jack.
Between Jack and Skullkickers I started to regain my focus. I knew I could do the work and wasn’t going to give up. Each month got a bit better and my productivity kicked back into gear-
Skullkickers, Samurai Jack, Pathfinder, Legends of the Dark Knight, Makeshift Miracle, Shadowman, ShiftyLook, and a whole lot more. I’ll talk about this in more detail in another post but, in brief, in 2013 I scripted 1000 comic pages while still working my full time day job. If I was compensating for feeling like a failure, then I think that did the trick.
Last year I said I finally felt like a writer and that 2013 would hopefully be the year I become a good one. In many ways that came true. I learned a lot about what it takes to be a professional, in both word and deed.
2014 is looking incredibly exciting, with great things happening at Seneca College where I teach and new comic projects coming down the pipe, both creator-owned and work for hire. I’m not making any predictions about how it’ll all go, but I think I have a better understanding about how to stay focused and keep plugging away.
I know it may sound corny but I’m serious when I say this – Don’t give up. There will be lost opportunities and frustrations, regrets and anxieties. Do everything you can to focus on what you can control and keep your integrity intact. Do all you can with what you have. That’s what the year represents to me.
Thanks for sticking with me. I hope 2013 was a good year for you and yours and that 2014 is looking bright.
Comic writer Ron Marz is doing his annual ‘Toys For Tots’ Christmas charity fundraiser and I sent him four items that are now up on ebay as part of it. If you want to get a unique gift and to support a great cause at the same time, please consider bidding:
This Wednesday (Nov 20) will see the release of three different Zub-written comics at your local shop.
PATHFINDER SPECIAL #1 An over-sized one-shot swashbuckling caper with Merisiel and Kyra as their relationship is tested by troubles from Meri’s past.
SAMURAI JACK #2 The ‘Threads of Time’ story continues as Jack encounters a pair of martial artist twins who fight in perfect unison.
SKULLKICKERS TREASURE TROVE 2 This 320 page deluxe hardcover collection reprints Skullkickers #12-23 and is jammed with extras.
Woke up to the news that Joey Manley passed away last night from complications of pneumonia.
He was 48.
In 2002 Joe was the first person to treat me like a comic professional and the first one to pay me for my comic work. It’s hard to put into words how important that was early in my career. If there’s a metaphorical ‘Zub Shop’, his money is there in a little frame by the register. I won’t forget that.
After I left Modern Tales to pursue other freelance work we didn’t stay in regular contact, but every time we corresponded he was a force of positive energy about art, comics, and storytelling.
My condolences to his loved ones. The industry has lost a friend. I’ll miss him.
SDCC 2002, The Modern Tales Gang
(left to right: Dirk Tiede, Derek Kirk Kim, Me, Jesse Hamm, Chuck Whelon, Joey Manley, Lea Hernandez, James Kochalka)
Three years ago I married a woman who has brought me immeasurable joy, and endless support.
There was a time long ago when I could never have imagined myself being a husband.
Now I have a hard time imagining anything but.
Our love makes everything else possible. It’s the solid foundation on which a wonderful future is being built – Day by day. Year by year.
I love you, Stacy.
Each year is better than the last.
Seven months ago I put together a 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 amount figures involved (that information is between Image Comics and the creative team).
Since then I’ve received a new accounting accrual from Image and also had a chance to dig deeper into the numbers and understand how to chart them more accurately. If I were to print the accounting statement out, it would be more than a dozen pages of columns filled with numbers, so there’s quite a bit of data there to parse out. There are a dizzying amount of categories, debts and credits applied based on sales, printing, shipping, storage and book orders for conventions. Thankfully each section is broken down with a current loss/gain total and those totals are carried over from previous accruals.
So, without further ado, here’s an updated look at where we’re at and some of my thoughts.
Here’s how Skullkickers has performed from our launch back in 2010 through to the first half of 2013:
2011 Q1-Q2: We dug into the red aggressively overprinting the first trade paperback to keep it in stock and profits gained from the issues, trade and minuscule digital sales didn’t cover the difference that early into its sales cycle. All in all, we dug down 27% more than we made in the first half of 2011.
For most creators that would’ve been the end of it and that’s totally reasonable. Even with Image covering costs so we didn’t have to spend our own money to print or distribute, the complete lack of profits for 6 months would have sealed the series’ fate. Thankfully, Edwin, Misty and I all have day job income and stuck it out for the long haul.
2011 Q3-Q4: In the second half of 2011 we turned things around, actually making 8% more than we spent for that half of the year. It wasn’t enough to pay back the debt incurred from the first half of 2011, but it showed some promise. Most new businesses have to go into debt to start something new. The fact that within 6 months we were able to reverse that trend and start paying it back was encouraging.
2012 Q1-Q2: Printing a hardcover deluxe collection of 1 & 2 together cost a lot, but we were still able to stay narrowly ahead. Digital made a huge sales jump here compared to 2011 and that corresponds with us starting to serialize Skullkickers online for free. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Our web visibility exploded and digital comic sales followed. Digital wasn’t a large percentage of total sales, but helped keep our head above water.
2012 Q3-Q4: Now we’re starting to see the benefit of the back catalogue and digital sales as our overall profitability goes up on the series. It wasn’t enough to pay off the original debt incurred in 2011 but the overall trend was a positive one.
2013 Q1-Q2: In my previous post I mentioned that we had the potential to continue to sell our backlist of material and build up greater digital sales. That’s exactly what happened in a big way. Our earlier trades have kept selling and we’ve expanded our reach with more digital sales while not incurring as many new printing costs. Digital sales accounted for 22% of our profitability, helping us hit a new high.
With new trades being printed in the future and the second Treasure Trove deluxe volume being released we probably won’t have such a magical profit/cost ratio in future, but the overall trend is still looking really good.
Last time I had a profit chart also broken down by issue. Some of the numbers I plugged in to that chart were incorrect, so I’ve put together a revised/updated one:
Keep in mind the above is profit, not sales.
The bad/good news is that some of the issues I thought were profitable actually went into the red, but there were others that performed better than I’d originally thought. What is consistent is that profits generated from digital have helped even out or exceed most of the losses incurred in print.
Issue #13 and 18 look worse here than they really are. We printed sketch variant covers for those two issues and I sell them direct at conventions, so they’re counted against our costs but aren’t reflected on the profit side.
Our fourth story arc was built around a ludicrous “reboot promotion” I came up with. We released five new #1’s in five months.
The Uncanny Skullkickers #1 (a.k.a. Skullkickers #19)
Savage Skullkickers #1 (a.k.a. Skullkickers #20)
The Mighty Skullkickers #1 (a.k.a. Skullkickers #21)
The All-New Secret Skullkickers #1 (a.k.a. Skullkickers #22)
Dark Skullkickers Dark #1 (a.k.a. Skullkickers #23)
It generated a lot of sales hype and put us back on the map for readers and retailers alike. We saw a big increase in digital sales and trade sales as well. There’s a good reason why publishers hit the ‘reboot’ button when sales are low. It can give readers and retailers a fresh jumping-on point to build sales from. We mocked the trend, but also benefited from it in a big way. I don’t think we could do it again, but it was a solid booster at the time.
I don’t have the full data for issues 22 and 23 just yet, so that drop off looks more severe than it really is. From all indications we’ve leveled out well and are poised to continue the series in a slightly profitable way instead of the rocky economics of arc 2 and 3.
You can really see the importance of digital sales here. On issues that have long been out of print the digital version keeps selling 24/7 without any additional printing or shipping cost. That build up of digital sales over 3 years has put issues like #8, 10, 11, 15, 16, and 17 into profitable territory even though the print versions lost some money.
The growth in our collection sales, both in print and digital, looks very promising:
Skullkickers Vol. 1: 1000 Opas and a Dead Body is value-priced at $9.99 and has to stay in print otherwise people can’t get started on the series. Keeping this first volume in print at that price point is tough, but we use it as a loss leader to grow our overall readership. Over the long-long haul it pays off if people get on board and pick up other full price volumes. With 6 volumes planned we want the bar to entry as low as possible.
Profitability on volume 1 fluctuates a lot due to larger print runs and the wider push it gets as the entry point for the series. It’s still not profitable on its own merits, but it’s done a great job at bringing people on board the series and, with 6 volumes planned in total, as long as the other volumes sell well it will have done its job.
Skullkickers Vol. 2: Five Funerals and a Bucket of Blood is now quite profitable and continues to chug along. I’m hopeful that all our trade paperbacks will move into healthy territory like this.
Skullkickers Vol. 3: Six Shooter on the Seven Seas did well, as I theorized it would in my previous post. Given that it came out 10 months after Volume 2 it’s seen a big spike in orders, which is exciting. We recently ran out of stock and had to order a second printing, which also bodes well (but will incur added printing costs on the next accrual).
Skullkickers Vol. 4: Eighty Eyes on an Evil Island came out in July 2013, so it’s not shown on this chart. I’ll see that in the 2013 Q3-Q4 accrual. Fingers crossed.
Skullkickers Treasure Trove Vol. 1, our 1+2 combined deluxe hardback, is an expensive book to produce. It hasn’t sold like crazy through comic shops but over the long haul it seems to be working out because of the high cover price. It’s also a sales dynamo for me at conventions so I want to keep it in print and keep selling it directly to fans.
I was shocked at how much Treasure Trove digital sales have jumped over six months. The digital profits have surged, almost evening out the cost of producing and distributing the expensive deluxe volume. I wasn’t expecting that at all. Between that and the healthy direct sales I get at conventions, I’m thrilled to have Treasure Trove available.
I theorized that by the end of our 6 volume series (late 2014/early 2015) we had the potential to be ‘in the black’. How’s that prediction looking?
I was wrong.
We’re doing way better than I expected and in the first half of 2013 we hit profitability!
It’s not a tidal wave accrual payment by any means, but it is a huge confidence booster that gives us financial momentum to carry through to the end of the series. I can’t tell you how surprised I was when I opened up the new statement and saw that we were (by my original estimation) over a year ahead of where I thought we’d be.
Image has stuck with us. They believed in our quality and long term potential, letting us ride out the lows of 2011-2012, until we could build a healthy backlist of material to leverage over the long haul. They were able to make their base amount and keep us rolling. Most other publishers would have cancelled the series after that initial drop off.
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. I don’t think this sales cycle corresponds to all creator-owned books. Please don’t assume every money-losing comic will bounce back over the long term and 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. My next creator-owned project will have a completely different sales cycle.
Note that this is not the full financial picture. The above charts don’t include convention sales, which have more than doubled from 2011-2013. 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 10 conventions this year and, even though it was exhausting, it really 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, or money from licensing Skullkickers to the Munchkin card game series.
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 UDON, Bandai-Namco, Valiant, Dynamite, IDW and DC Comics since the series began, it has turned a substantial profit in that way even after paying the art team out of my own pocket. 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. It represents the professional quality and work ethic of our creative team.