The Reality of Mainstream Creator-Owned Comics

I’m absolutely thrilled to be working in comics. I’m even happier that one of my major projects right now is a creator-owned comic series I have control of. Writing/Creating Skullkickers and being published by Image Comics is a thrill and an honor. They give me complete ownership and stewardship of my creation and that’s a rare thing in this industry. I want to make sure that’s all up front and very clear.

(UPDATE: I posted an update in February 2015 about how the comic market has changed over the past two and a half years and the expanded potential for creator-owned comics. A lot of the information in this article is still relatively accurate for low print run books, but I recommend checking out the new article as well to get a sense of the whole picture.)

A recent discussion I had about money making in comics took a weird turn and I realized that a lot of people make assumptions about how the financials break down in the comic business. Being published isn’t an instant key to fame and fortune.

Consider this…

…on a $2.99 cover-priced comic ($3, for simplicity’s sake):

-$1.40: 40-50% of that cover price goes to retailers, the people selling the comics to customers. This amount varies quite a bit based on the publisher and the number of copies ordered by the retailer, but is a base approximation. Retailers deserve their share for selling comics to their local customer base. They buy non-returnable product and take great risk each and every week. In many ways, they’re the distributor’s actual “customer”.

-$0.80: Printing is substantial (and it varies wildly based on the amount printed, paper availability, and press availability so this is NOT an exact figure). 80 cents is a pretty good benchmark for small print runs. On very low print runs (sub 3000), printing can cost more than $1.00 per copy, which really eats into the budget.

-$0.50: 1/6 of that cover price goes to Diamond, the distributor who solicits orders and ships comics to retailers. This varies based on shipping, gas prices, amount ordered and who the publisher is but it’s a good approximation. Diamond deserves their share for soliciting, storing and shipping comics to retail outlets. They’re an international distributor with lots of expenses to keep the system running.

Printing varies wildly, but let’s say 80 cents per issue holds true. With the remaining 30 cents per issue, the following has to be paid:
• Advertising/promotion.
• Publisher operation/office expenses.
• Money left over for the creative team to actually get paid anything.
• Profit?

On a print run of 5000 comics (and many, many creator-owned titles sell less than that in the current market), it means $1500 remains for those 4 important categories. Guess how that breaks down?

If the advertising cost was ZERO and publisher expenses were ZERO, then the writer and artist of a 20 page comic would each get $37.50 PER PAGE. Oops, no money in there for the cover art, sorry. Add in more people (inker, colorist, letterer, etc) and the amount gets split even further, but this is a BOGUS number. The publisher has expenses/staff to pay for.

The reality is that once the publisher takes their share of what’s left (and they absolutely deserve it), there may be no money left for the creative team, let alone advertising.

Even if the cover price was $3.99 for that same indy comic, the distribution and retailer amounts are percentages, not flat rates. An extra dollar for the comic doesn’t suddenly put an extra dollar in the creative payment pool. It gives about 40 cents more per issue for those 4 categories listed above. It’s quite helpful and can keep a book afloat, but doesn’t magically solve the equation.

Lastly, none of the above considers copies lost or damaged in transit that cost money to print but make ZERO dollars. A small percentage of books don’t make any money for anyone in this chain (except printers) when they’re wrecked or lost. Accidents happen.

The above is simplified. Percentages vary depending on the publisher, special discounts and order volume. Please don’t use these figures to make an exact budget for your future comic project.

Believe it or not, I’m not bitter about all of this. It’s the price of doing business in the mainstream comic industry via retail outlets and international distribution. That’s how it works. I just want to make it very clear so people understand what I mean when I say I’m not getting rich making my own comic. Skullkickers is the most expensive hobby I’ve ever had. 😛

That’s why you should
• Support indy titles.
• Support creator-owned comics.
• Pre-order books you’re interested in from your local retailer.
• Tell your friends about books and help build support.
• Support Kickstarter campaigns for great independent comic projects.
• Buy direct from creators at conventions so that more of the cover price goes into their pocket.

Now you know.

There are other outlets and, when I get a bit more time, I’m going to talk about trade paperback collection/graphic novel sales, digital sales and convention sales. The above is the reality of small print run indy comics competing in the same sales space as mainstream pop culture icons like Spider-Man, X-Men or Batman. Mainstream retail production/sales relies on large volumes sold at deep discount. For every breakout Walking Dead there are thousands of titles that will never make a profit in the same space against that competition.

If you found this post 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.

Leave a comment ?


  1. Which is a shame since none of the other components can even happen without the creators doing their thing!

    ­Rod Salm
    Death At Your Door, a weekly webcomic about Death trying to live a life.

  2. Absolutely! The money breaks down in much the same way for print books these days, with the author generally making a penny a sale at most. Support Independent authors, artists, and creators.

    And, uhh… if it’s not too forward, I’m running a kickstarter to fund starting up a comic with an artist I’ve been working with on another comic for over a year. DisReality Gears take a look, pretty please?

  3. I’ve been very curious as to how digital sales through comiXology impact creators. Do you get a higher/lower percentage than print? Do you get royalties from out of print back issues? Just curious as to how that works for the creators. I hope digital is a good thing for you, since I’ve been buying digital only for about 2 years now.

    • Digital sales models like comiXology don’t fare much better right now.

      Once Apple/Google, comiXology and the publisher take their cut, creators are left with almost the same percentage left over, even when their digital comics are priced on par with the printed versions.

      • As I’ll probably add several disclaimers, let me start by saying:

        “Hi, we are a digital comics distribution platform.”

        Ok, now that that’s out of the way…

        One thing about digital is it has a very long tail, so while the margins aren’t much better (we’re working on that, but for now, reality is margins are tight all around) you have a MUCH longer time to make money from the book and you should have a much larger audience (since 20 years from now you can sell that digital book to a person who wasn’t born when it was originally created).

        With print, while you could print and hold copies for that long, storing and maintaining them is a problem and you can’t do trickle print runs profitably as print on demand is very expensive too.

        All that being said, we’re not convinced copying the current retail model into the digital realm is the way to go for the reasons Jim is pointing out, mainly the economics don’t change at all.

        We’re taking a different approach with a subscription model, exploiting and encouraging that long tail. Think Netflix for digital comics and you’ll have a good idea.

        I think one thing left out of this discussion are the opportunities to monetize your creations outside of printing comics. There are t-shirts and backpacks and plush dolls, etc. Or TV series like The Walking Dead where the creators will get whatever money comes out of it (Hollywood accounting can make Diamond’s cuts look like a non-profit 😉

        • I agree that digital has great potential because:
          – it runs 24 hours a day
          – It’s not limited by geography or retail outlets
          – There’s no ceiling created by print runs

          Having control of my property and its future potential, media or otherwise, is great but no one should ever expect/count on media money as part of their comic business plan. It’s a lottery win-esque bonus.

          • Yes, sorry, wasn’t implying that you are guaranteed a media deal of any kind. And as I implied, even if you get a media deal Hollywood has a way of keeping most of the money for itself.

            Just pointing out that the comic itself isn’t the ONLY option for making money, there are other ways to turn your creations into income,

          • jason, Which are exactly the “other ways to turn your creations into income”??

            I’m a creator (a newbie) and I’d be grateful if you offer some insight on it. Thanks.

        • Often the problem with all these alternative monetisation strategies is they can be a full time job unto themselves. It takes away from the work of just making the book/show or whatever project you are doing.

      • Just curious – what do Apple/Google take the cut for? I would have thought it would be a publisher/comiXology/creators split.

        • Apple/Google provide the app platform for mobile. If you buy the digital comic through your phone/tablet, they get a big fat cut of it.

          • Apple takes 30% of all sales through iTunes and their rules make it difficult (though not impossible) to get around paying their fees.

          • I’ve read somewhere (I want to say BleedingCool, but I’m not sure) that purchases made through the website get the creators a little more money then purchases made through the IOS/Andorid APP. Since then, I’ve never bought anything through the app again.

        • Apple and Google both take 30% of the money paid by the user (they then split the money up differently with Google paying some of the money in some cases to your mobile phone operator, but for you as a comics creator this doesn’t matter: 30% fee it is).

          But that’s it. So if you yourself sell your comic digitally using your own app for doing so, you get to keep 70%. I don’t know how much Comixology charges if you instead sell through them but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is a lot; many of the in-between digital distributors in tend to charge way more than they should, IMHO. So my advice would be to do this all by yourself: Publish your comic either as an app or as a ebook (Amazon Kindle store, iBook store, …) and you will pay at the most 30%, and this 30% means you won’t have to worry about handling credit cards, doing paybacks, distributing your comic, etc., and you get very good exposure as well.

          • It might make sense as an eBook, but if you’re building the app, you’re going to have expenses, and lots of them, if you want to make a good quality app. And you’re still going to have to market the books, etc. So you can put more money in your pocket, but you’re still not going to be earning as take home income all 70%.

          • Not true – international sales of books on Amazon are charged at a percentage of 65%, not 30%. Charges also vary depending on how little you charge, too.

      • Apple and Google take nothing from Comixology since Amazon took over and I highly doubt Comixology takes 89% (distribution, retail & printing cost). So I would think that Comixology is more profitable for creator owned comics. But what do I know, just a guess.

      • According to this article on CBR, Comixology submit takes %50. So that would leave profit to independent comic creators.

  4. I fucking hate hearing this shit from so-called indie creators. Boo-fucking-hoo. Speaking as a dude who does a hand-stapled silkscreen-cover comic which makes me no money, but I do because I love the medium, this shit is just ridiculously tiresome to hear.

    • Please go back and read Jim’s piece in its entirety, in particular the parts where he says that he’s thrilled and honored to be making comics regardless of the money. You’re pissed at him for no reason – he’s not complaining, just breaking it down.

    • “hand-stapled silkscreen-cover comic which makes me no money” *cough*hipster*cough*

    • So, you make a comic that makes you no money because you love the medium, and Jim makes a comic that makes him no money because he loves the medium, and you’re mad at him because… his comics are stapled by a machine?

  5. Great insight, Zub.

    The “math” of the direct market tends to stack against the creator-owned guys and gals.

    It’s worth noting that to get your printing costs down to that 50-75 cent range you need to be up in the 5,000s at least.

    Drop down to 2,500 or lower, and printing costs raise closer to $1.00.

    • This printing costs came up in a Twitter discussion a while back too.

      It is definitely worth looking at the printing costs and how much you can save by ordering more quantities and bundling orders with other creators into one purchase to take advantage of volume.

      In that discussion the numbers being kicked around actually made the total cost of printing lower for a 20k run than for a 10k run because the price break was more than 50%

      One thing you can consider in the whole cost is whether or not you can donate unsold print runs to charity for a tax deduction. It might seem a little crazy, but it could lower your total costs and is probably much cheaper than storing them forever.

  6. Doesn’t seem fair IMHO… I wonder if bullpen artists make more, just for being on a salary? Anyway, publishing and distribution costs are eating up all the margin- which begs the question: how does one make money from a free online comic?

    PS: come see me at New Orleans Comic Con this weekend 😉

    • Big two (Marvel/DC) books don’t have these kinds of limitations because they sell far larger numbers. Their price per issue print cost is much lower and they’re backed by very large corporations. That’s why they’re able to afford living wage page rates for creators and also why, in addition to working on recognizable properties, comic creators want to work for them.

  7. It’s important to keep this in mind also when fans ask for all digital comics to be $.20 or whatever it is they want.

    • Digital comics sold per issue will always have a floor they can’t drop below when you consider storage and delivery costs.

      That being said, you also have to look at the elasticity of the price. If price going down causes orders to go up, you should be looking at the total money you can earn over the lifetime. And digital comics can have a VERY long shelf life since the costs of storage are pretty low (and generally trending down).

      In manufacturing, when you’re looking at pricing you SHOULD be considering the incremental costs, NOT the total costs of production. Once you build the factory, that cost is lost so saying you have to recover the factory costs in your price can cause you to charge too much for the product. Producing the comic is similar, you have the sunk costs of making it, but that should dictate your price per se, especially in digital.

      That’s not to say you can keep sinking money into comics and getting no return, but you have to think about your pricing in terms of how much MORE does it costs to crank out each copy, because your customers are asking the same questions and they aren’t going to pay 400x the incremental cost just to pay off the production, that’s just not how muct buyers work.

  8. Hey Zub!
    Another great article. It really outlines a problem a lot of us have. I’d much rather buy comics directly from the creative team but supporting my local comic shop is important too. That’s why I urge self published creators to go to their local comic shops and make deals to get your books on the shelf!

    • Most times thats unfortunately easier said than done. Many comic shops seem afraid to order books outside of Diamond for fear of being penalized, which is a huge problem for those of us that cant afford to use or meet Diamonds print run requirements.

      • Totally understandable, I know of one self-publishing friendly shop in my area. Use your social media circles to locate them through your fans. Nothing works better to get a book on the shelves than having people ask for them!

  9. Outstanding article, highlights the many barriers that are out there. This doesn’t take into account self-publishing, with creators that are also paying their artists/editors/writers/etc, which makes the return even smaller (and the cover price even higher).

  10. Those are some really depressing numbers alright… But look on the bright side, if you were to run a webcomic, at least you don’t need to worry about paying for advertising.
    Nice article by the way.

  11. It seems that electronic publishing would eliminate or greatly reduce a few of those expenses, but unfortunately its not the same when you cant smell the ink.

    Plus the infrastructure to deliver electronically costs more than people think

    • I may do a follow-up post about trade paperbacks and digital if I have time later on.

      • Please do, I’d like to hear more on those. It seems like trades would have a higher margin on printing costs, but that may be stripped down by distribution. And of course, percentages are percentages…

        How do the costs associated with distribution to retailers like Barnes & Noble or Amazon compare to distribution through Diamond?

        • Diamond is the distributor, so Barnes & Noble or Amazon buys product from them. Diamond may give them volume-based discounts based on how much they order, but it doesn’t improve the amount given to publishers (and, in turn, creators). If anything, they may ask for deeper discounts to heavily carry a book and, if it doesn’t sell, will return product unsold, which can lead to damaged/unusable books and restocking fees. Comic retailer product is non-returnable, so the money spent is at least safe. Bookstores can over order and then mass return books, quickly sinking all profitability.

    • That’s the 1st thing that occurred to me too but electronic distro isn’t free. Think web-hosting costs, credit card processing fees and site development (software development isn’t cheap and just try saying “don’t need these” or “I can do that” when you get hacked).

      • Credit card fees are a huge hit in digital, although it gets better if you can bundle each customer’s transaction into a large block. In other words, it is much cheaper to run 1 charge for $10 than 10 charges for $5 (with most processors).

        Hosting and data costs are a pretty good chunk too, but they are currently trending downward, while the limits of the human body are relatively fixed (for now) Ie, at some point there will be no reason to add any more pixels to a digital image because our eyes just can’t see the added detail and even if you had them for zooming in there’s a limit to the zoom that it makes sense to apply. So there’s eventually a ceiling on data consumption.

  12. So… How does it break down for digital? I’m mostly curious about ComiXology, because that’s how I get my dose of Skullkickers, but if you have to be vague, I’m still pretty curious. At what price point are you breaking even or doing better than print?

  13. Electronic publishing isn’t a magic answer, it’s just different companies getting a percentage for distribution and production.

  14. I wonder how much money is made digitally? Say for instance, how much revenue is being made on issues sold through an app like comixology?

    • If I get some time I’ll do a follow-up post on digital sales and trades.

    • I know Jimmy Palmiotti made some comments in his Twitter feed about digital. Basically, and I am in no way speaking for him, just relaying what his fee says) his print numbers were much higher volume than his digital.

      From separate conversations I’ve had with creators about ComiXology, they don’t see a very big cut of the sale, but I don’t have specifics.

  15. I run a pretty small shop and our cut is more than 33%. We’re closer to 50-55% depending on the company… which takes even more off the bottom line.

  16. Please forgive the supposition of this response for I am not a fan of its implication. But doesn’t this financial breakdown favor the argument of the big two concerning creator rights? The page rate for all the in-house creators has to be substantially higher than the average creator owned comic. Since this rate is inflated compared to what one could produce on their own shouldn’t that burden on the publisher be counter balanced with the lion share of the rights to that creation. Considering on average that most of theses creations would be financially negligible with out the backing of either of the big two. In other words, a creators guaranteed page rate, regardless of the creations success or failure, is the compensation for any future profits. Especially considering any new creation, even in the secure arms of the big two, will most likely yield little to no profits via franchising or movie rights etc…

    • Trading media rights for a steady page rate is definitely a viable option for some creators. Everyone’s threshold for risk/return is different.

      • This whole situation seems like it could inhibit creators quite a lot. Some might fear ending a marginally popular series or killing off a somewhat popular character, thinking it might be too difficult to transfer a growing fanbase to a new book. It could effect your story-telling as well — don’t rock the boat, right? Sort of a self-imposed lack of creative freedom. Something to look out for, I guess. Don’t let it happen to you. The more you know…

  17. Fascinating read, Jim. I’d be interested if you could talk about how this works once you get to the collected editions. Since the content is already created, does that leave more room in the pie for the creators?

  18. Thanks for this. You’re dead right, which is why exists at all.

    • Thanks so much for popping by, Mark. Your writing is an inspiration.

      That’s exactly why I’m serializing my earlier issues online for free over here
      to open up avenues to new readers by broadening our reach without taking on additional print costs.

      • If you’d like to expand to another digital platform we’d love to talk to you about bringing Skullkickers to ComicBin. It is on my list of titles I would love to have on board.

        • I’m not sure whether Image is exclusive with comiXology or not. You’d need to talk to them about bringing Skullkickers to your platform.

  19. Very interesting breakdown here, I really appreciate the candor – it is rare from creators today!

    Now, if I may be so bold, I’d like to tell you about something I’ve been working on – it is a non-profit publishing company. I know, it sounds ridiculous. But I’m coming at this from a place of extreme sincerity, I promise you.

    The realities of the market place and the industry were not lost on me and after speaking to innumerable indie creators I thought – why not try something a bit different? So the idea was to create a publishing imprint that created small runs and tried to focus on publishing the work of first-time creators. We applied for and received non-profit business status (Business Entity Number: 6642227) and started putting together an inaugural release; an anthology project consisting of shorts from independent creators from all over the world.

    The overall goal is to cut out the publisher’s portion of the back-end profits and literally run it like a non-profit; passing all monies earned right back to the creative teams to help further jumpstart their careers and personal projects.

    Sounds great right? I’m doing the concept a great disservice and not fully explaining it – but you get the idea. ANYWAY – the point to all this babbling is that we decided to run a crowd-funding campaign to help push this first book out (in the future we are going to attempt to fund everything through arts grants – FML) – we talked up the idea with people and everyone seemed like they thought it was the bee’s knees, so we launch the campaign and what do we see? Nothing… no one gives a shit. People would rather buy another copy of Batman than help push the industry forward by giving new blood the opportunity to fund their independent projects.

    Now, now, I know what you’re all thinking: “what a bitter asshat”, but really it isn’t bitterness you’re seeing here, it is simply uninhibited depression. The kicked in the gut feeling of realizing that for all the proselytizing and trumpeting of the “indie” revolution, when it comes right down to it, people are… apathetic.

    Sure, it may have just been that the content of the first book wasn’t up to snuff – but that’s somewhat irrelevant, because what we are trying to “sell” is the idea – not necessarily the content of the first book. The “concept:” that a small-run publishing imprint can exist solely to help first time creators CREATE and fund future work. Therein lies the depression I feel at seeing this concept fail.

    What does it all mean, Mr. Zub? Is it a losing game, do people only care about Skullkickers because Image is publishing it (no offense, you make a fine comic, I’m just using you as an example) – is there an honest desire to see independent creators succeed or is it like a messageboard circle jerk of haters just hating on anyone that tries to rise above the ranks of the willfully stagnant?

    I’m really asking; what is the future of the industry? Is it all toil, sacrifice and no reward? Is it strife and subjugation to money-men? Or can the medium truly see a renaissance much like film and literature has via the means to create becoming democratized and easily available to all who have ideas dancing around in their heads?

    I hope it was not too gauche of me to vomit up this wall of text here, but as I began writing it seemed pertinent to the matter at hand. Again, I appreciate your candor and your site becomes more interesting to me as the months go on; you seem to actually care about creators and helping young people get their ducks in a row to really break down the walls of the industry they so love – for that I salute you.

    • I don’t have the answers.

      I posted up about the numbers and what I know about how the system works, but solving the print comic business is pretty way out of my wheelhouse at this point.

      Being published by Image was quite useful for increasing the visibility on our series, but it’s hard to know if that was the “only” reason why retailers ordered it.

      • “Sure, it may have just been that the content of the first book wasn’t up to snuff – but that’s somewhat irrelevant, because what we are trying to “sell” is the idea – not necessarily the content of the first book. The “concept:” that a small-run publishing imprint can exist solely to help first time creators CREATE and fund future work. Therein lies the depression I feel at seeing this concept fail.”

        This isn’t how consumers think or buy things. In general, we buy to satisfy a need or want. MOST consumers don’t NEED to support first time creators. Some do, but not most. What they do need is quality entertainment.

        If you look at Kickstarter, it is all about rewarding the consumer, giving them stuff they want. That’s why it works. Sure people like the added BONUS of supporting a new work, but mostly they want the goods.

    • Jon,

      I remember seeing your crowdfunding campaign, and while I’m sure your intentions were noble, I knew it was doomed from the start.

      There is little to NO market for work from first-time comic creators published by an unknown new imprint. Not from the public at large, and certainly not from retailers.

      Anyone who’s ever created a comic knows that one’s first efforts is largely rubbish, and isn’t something that could or should be expected to be commercially viable.

      “The work of first time creators” isn’t a selling point…at least not to the masses required to make it a profitable endeavor. So that was one mistake you made.

      Having “the product” be an “anthology” of shorts from around the world, was the next mistake — again, that’s not a selling point. It’s a very loose description of what a product might be. Anthologies without a strong, marketable focus are a TOUGH sell.

      Finally, as Jason mentioned, by and large people don’t buy comics for altruism…they buy them for entertainment. Perhaps if your publishing company had a long history of publishing success, this initiative of wanting to help first time creators would have been looked at as a noble one, with real promise. But as a new endeavor, without a track record of doing what you were setting out to do, you made it hard for strangers to have confidence you could deliver, even if funded.

      The “future of the industry” is the past and present of the industry…a lot of toil, sacrifice and no reward…

      …until you’ve created something truly remarkable, that resonates with a large enough audience. (And that’s not gonna happen your first time up to bat.)

    • Jon,
      What makes it even harder, and something Jim didn’t mention. He is doing this all the while existing inside of a different pie. The numbers show that his book is one of many that sit in a piece of pie so small, “how small is it, Todd.” Amazingly enough it houses The Walking Dead, Spawn, Savage Dragon, Star Wars, Hellboy, and Masks. that piece of pie is less than 2%. I live in Springfield, MA. and walked in a comic store for the first second time in twelve years (The first was to check out Odessy) just to check out Jims’ book. The owner who I’ve know since I was a kid, told me that his shop is the second oldest in the country. And, he believes he has three years left. The only shop you’ll be able to get your comics at will be a virtual one. If I were a kid, I would have teared up. Being a adult, I realize that these 25 long boxes that I’ve moved at least 15 times I truly have no use for. Putting my passions aside, I’m not a coffee shop, or a library, nor am I into ebay. I wouldn’t trade the time reading or entertainment I got from them for anything. I wonder what is next for them, I’m the only one that has seen them. The history thats there is down right amazing. The very first indie books from Aircel, First, Eclipse, Mirage, and others. Even the little guy doing it all by himself, Michael Zulli with Puma Blues, way before Sandman. So while you view Jims’ pie chart don’t forget the history that it represents. Image should be applauded for the avenue they give guys like him and others. When he says it’s hard, and he isn’t making a killing. Just imagine that without Image in todays climate. Truly, my message is this: IF YOU HAVE A PASSION FOR COMICS, INDIE BOOKS WILL NOT LET YOU DOWN. IN MANY CASES THEY’RE FROM GUYS LIKE JIM TRYING TO GAIN A FOOTHOLD IN THE BUSINESS. TRUST ME HE DOESN’T WANT TO STUMBLE EARLY OUT OF THE GATE. HE IS GIVING IT EVERYTHING HE’S GOT, HE’S HAD NOTHING BUT TIME TO GET IT RIGHT.

      Jim represents more than that small piece of pie, he represents hope. Hope that you can do it, that I can do it, that it’s possible for all us to do it. That the avenue is there, his insight can only serve to be helpful and educating. Todd

  20. uh, isn’t the real conclusion that comics should be shifting to digital-only formats like, y’know, all other forms of print media are? seems that knocks out $3.50 to $4.00 of cost and strain on wood pulp, or whatever strange polyesters comics are printed on these days.

    • also $2.50 to $3.00, maybe. single-digit math is hard!

      • Unfortunately, digital sales models like comiXology don’t fare much better right now.

        Between Apple/Google, comiXology and the publisher all taking their cut, creators are left with almost the same percentage left over, even when their digital comics are priced on par with the printed versions.

  21. It is always interesting to see these breakdowns and I know from experience that the model represented here is pretty accurate.

    Yet, I would like to take note of two things. The chorus to this songs is… and they deserve their share because of the risks they (pubs, retailers, Diamond) take in the supply chain. What about the artists and writers? They often spend months or years developing the actual content with NO direct line to having money return to them OR even getting material printed. I would say it is a huge risk.

    Second, The model may be the current one in use but it is an old model. It is a model based on stacks of comics being printed, shipped, stored, shipped again and finally showing up in local shops. It is also a model not dreamed up by content creators but by middlemen. The entire pie chart was devised to fulfill the economic needs of publishers, distributors and retailors and leave writers and artists with scraps, if that.

    This should be a call to arms for writers and artists to think of ways to cut out the bloated middlemen. If it doesn’t have DIGITAL written all over it, I don’t know what does. Thanks for listening. RICK

    • Unfortunately, digital sales models like comiXology don’t fare much better right now.

      Once Apple/Google, comiXology and the publisher take their cut, creators are left with almost the same percentage left over, even when their digital comics are priced on par with the printed versions.

      • I think one place where digital excels is that it can come up with new and different revenue models that can’t work easily in the physical world. It also makes it much easier for a multitude of outlets to carry the product so that creators can reach different markets.

  22. Thank you for very insightful comments and break down. I am a comic artist,creator,writer and colorist, looking to get into the industry and knowledge is power. Got to be a way to cut some corners,…. sweat shop or Good article.thank you.

  23. Jim, thank you!

    As for the digital side of things, I thought I heard a Webcomics Weekly once where (guest staring) Skottie Young talked about an IP he was selling for 2$. And it was my impression that he was making most of the money from that number.

    It was a PDF. Are PDF’s just not that big a thing at the moment, or was my impression wrong? (I’m wrong often enough that I’ll certainly question it).

    I was also under the impression that we could become our own store by purchasing a 400-something dollar merchant certificate, and do business with credit card companies directly. (That research was done a long time ago, so I fail to have any references on that, but my main crux still stand: We’re not helpless right? Inaction & ignorance are our only enemies, aren’t they?)

    Again, thank you very much for your industry insight.

    • PDFs are definitely an option, but it leaves the consumer with a big headache. If you have DRM you have compatibility issues, where some PDFs work on some devices, etc.

      Managing your own store has costs and hassles with it to. One of the reason middlemen come into a market is because they can efficiently provide services. Sometimes their role gets out of balance though.

  24. 😛 well i’m glad someone came up with this information.with my book almost finished,kickstarters seem’s the right way to go, although after you get the funding(if you do) then your on your sounds like this is a temporary fix to a future problem correct?i mean if your book get’s funded,what about issue #2 #3#4 you cant keep running back to kickstarters,so even at the start of all things the out come is failure the longer the book runs and is under 4,000 prints correct?
    thank you for taking the time to talk to us common
    Limitless Comics…………..

  25. A great business-side breakdown.

    I just self-published my anthology book FIGHT COMICS (AHEM AHEM) and ran into a lot of these issues, or I’m about to, since I’m the publisher as well as the writer.

    Often my collaborators would say ‘why don’t we do colour?’ I knew I couldn’t afford to print the book for conventions if I went for glossy pages or full colour.

    The silver lining is that I actually think our product has a nice, indie ashcan vibe (while hopefully seeming professional) that came out of those limitations.

    Basically, I saw my self-publishing cost in the form of creating a very expensive multi-page business card.

    My hopeful trajectory is to get this book into editors hands and hopefully work on a licensed-property book. If I can develop myself and my audience there, then I can always come back to a creator-owned work later. I don’t think it has to be an either/or subject. (Not that you’re saying this either…)

    Great post!

    • One thing I’ve always thought would be a good option for smaller publishers is to print a black and white run to get the comic into print buyers hands and do a color version digitally so that you can satisfy those that prefer color. If the book takes off, you can easily go back and do a limited color print run with much lower risk.

  26. Realidade dos autores independentes « Liersonews - pingback on November 27, 2012 at 8:57 pm
  27. You keep saying that digital sales are eaten by publisher/Apple/Google/comiXology, and dealing with Diamond for print brings no profit as well…

    Seems to me it only makes sense to self-publish, distributed direct through Amazon (and others if feasible) and sell less quantity. I’d rather sell 500 copies as a creator and split the 1/2 of the $3 amongst the creative team than 5000 and have nothing to show for it.

    That 500 figure will only grow as more visit your site, more conventions you attend, etc. Throw Kickstarter/Indiegogo into the mix and you can cover print costs up-front and walk with the majority of the profit.

    I see this industry’s traditional route as being a fool’s journey (unless you’re using it to build your name so your self-published project has greater initial following). The webcomic / convention / do-it-yourself route seems the best way to make any profit.

    • Amazon takes a pretty heavy cut too. I think they also charge per download of a book, not per sale, so if your customers download the book over and over again, you lose even more. I *might* not understand that correctly, as I don’t publish through Amazon, but reading the docs that seemed to be the case.

  28. The only thing Ill add or change is the creator-owned “self published” distributor amounts… For me to self pub and distribute my Banana Tail or Combat Jacks books thru Diamond… its 62.5% of cover Diamond gets… Its brutal if a self pub is paying near $1 per book to print on a $3 or even a $4 retail comic

    • Heya Mark,

      I’ve updated the figures based on more accurate data. I was over simplifying it. It doesn’t change the amount left over much, but the Diamond/Retailer split and print cost is adjusted.

  29. Well said, brother.

    AND nice work, btw.

  30. How does advertising revenue factor into any of this?

    I get the breakdown of where the book’s cover price goes. But how much many is made per book on the ad space sold on the ad pages? And where does that money go?

    • At this independent level there is no ad revenue generated by comics. Creator owned comics don’t have print runs high enough to sell ad space. No one would pay decent money for ads in 5000 comics. It’s not worth their while.

      If you look through non-Marvel/DC comics, they only have ads for other comics by that same publisher or, if they’re licensed books, ads for merchandise related to that particular license (ie. D&D ads in the Dungeons & Dragons comic), which is probably not paid for by the license holder.

  31. Hey hey, indie comic book creator here wondering if there’s any place that you’d recommend for printing, because $1.00/issue would be sublime. The best I’ve got right now is $2.64/issue from Ka-Blam.

    • I don’t arrange for printing with Skullkickers or Pathfinder (the two comics I write), so I unfortunately can’t advise you here. Publishers set up deals with printers and print thousands of their books on a regular basis through them, which is where the lower prices come into it.

      • Ahh, gotcha, great article by the way, thanks for the insight.

        • Have you tried to price the book with a local printer? KaBlam is more Print on Demand I think, so it is gered more towards very low print runs of a couple at a time. That’s great for not risking up front capital, but terrible for getting a decent price.

      • Many commercial printers offer high end digital press (not a laser printer at Kinkos…much higher end) solutions that are specifically geared towards low print runs. You are getting quality that is almost indistinguishable from offset and you can print runs as small as 10 copies. You have to design your art for it, and every printer is different but its an option that no one in comics is talking about, and they should be.

        Saddle stitched, stapled comic book is the simplest booklet a printer can produce, so getting low quantity at affordable prices with a digital press can be done if you work with a designer or someone who’s knowledgeable about printing.

    • Ian, a print-on-demand company I’ve used after a few recommendations is IC Geeks There’s pricing information on their site. I’d encourage you to get a physical proof if you’re interested.

      • Ian,

        I can vouch for ICGeeks as a more cost-effective alternative to Ka-Blam POD.

        In general, if you can get your print runs up to 1000 or more, POD is no longer a good option…go offset and reduce your per book cost dramatically.

  32. Great article!

    I’m not even slightly discouraged, which I know wasn’t the intent, but still.

  33. While some of your point is valid, some of your numbers are way off, and I see them misleading people elsewhere.

    Yes, it’s possible for a retailer to be buying comics from Diamond for just 35% off of cover… but that would be a very small shop or one that is just doing comics as a sideline. A shop that is ordering a couple thou worth of Image books per month would be getting them at 45% off, by $3000 it’s 50% off, and the discount slides up as high as 57.5% off (though you have to be ordering a metric crapload to hit that particular level.) The typical direct market copy sold is going to see much more of the cover price going to the retailer and much less going to Diamond than your diagram suggests. (You can check the discounts for the “Premiere” publishers here: )

    • That is true, though it doesn’t change the amount leftover for printing, the publisher and the creative team, which is at the heart of the discussion.

      • Nat’s right – your Diamond figure in particular is way, WAY off. I know the focus on your article is on how little money there is in creator-owned comics (very true) and not the numbers, but a lot of inexperienced people are going to come here and look at the math and think it’s correct when it really isn’t.

        The books Fred Van Lente and I self-publish through our Evil Twin Comics imprint sell at a 60% discount to Diamond, which they then sell to shops at a 40% discount. So fDiamond would buy a $3 comic from us for $1.20, and then Diamond sells it to retailers for $1.80. (Any retailers reading this please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). So Diamond actually nets 60 cents per copy – NOT a dollar as you said in your breakdown. That’s a BIG difference. Multiply that difference by 2000, 3000, 5000 copies and that ads up to more money to the publisher & creators than what you’re saying.

        Some of the other figures you threw out are similar skewed but rather than try and refute them one-by-one I dug up the hard numbers for one of my self-published comics. It’ anecdotal evidence that doesn’t paint quite as bleak a picture:

        Comic Book Comics #5
        $3.95 cover price, 32 pages, B&W interior, 4 color cover
        Published February 2011
        Wholesale price to Diamond – $1.58 per copy (60% discount)
        Number of copies ordered – 2049
        Diamond purchase total – $3237.42
        Total printing & shipping costs – $1499.75*
        Total operating costs of Evil Twin Comics – $0**
        Money made from initial Diamond order – $1737.67

        *(2500 copies from Morgan Printing Great people, great prices and the only printer that I know of that specializes in comic books and offers newsprint paper stocks. Highly recommended!)

        **(Fred & I don’t outsource ANYTHING – we do all the writing, artwork, lettering, design, editing, pre-press, marketing and bookkeeping ourselves all out of our tiny Brooklyn apartments).

        Plus we sold a lot of the extra copies at conventions at cover price, and direct-to-retail at 50% of the cover with us paying for shipping, so about $1000 on top of the profit made from the DIamond order, and a few hundred from digital sales to-date. So our take home pay so far has been $3000 for this single issue, or $90 per page. Not great (especially when you factor in how many hours it takes to write and draw comics), but not terrible either. And this was our LOWEST selling single issue ever (it was a re solicitation and the 2nd to last issue of a series) – most of our single issues sold in the 2500-3000 range, which of course made more money. So still bleak, yes, but not as doom-and-gloom as your numbers and skewed percentages make it out to be, and when you factor in TPB sales (which have MUCH higher profit margins) and the fact that the digital editions will always be available for the indefinite future, it’s really not so terrible.

        I’m not looking to pick a fight with you Jim, I agree with all your sentiments here, but the numbers you presented for your article are skewed. Even if you’re publishing color comics the printing costs only go up by a few cents per issue, and when you print 5000 or more you’re only gonna pay between 50 – 60 cents per copy in printing.

        Publishing comics can be a pain in the butt and the profit margins are frustratingly low but figuring it out is actually pretty easily. It’s the writing and drawing that’s hard!

        • I’m not offended in the slightest, Ryan. I really appreciate you questioning and clarifying based on data you’ve got. I need to sit down and make it more exact so people aren’t mislead in thinking this is some perfect calculation they can use to build their business plan/budgets around.

          I did mention that the percentages vary quite a bit based on which retailers are ordering the book, print costs and other factors. I obviously didn’t expect this blog post to go quite so crazy as it did, so my generalization/simplification is being quoted as sacrosanct, which wasn’t my intent.

          I also was focused purely on the metrics for selling single issues via mainstream distribution. I’m going to do another post or two about convention sales, digital sales, trade sales and other sales avenues. I didn’t want things to come across as completely doom and gloom, just to spotlight that competing in a mainstream retail market with extremely low print runs/margins is difficult and what some of those challenges are because of the overall splits.

          I really, really appreciate you taking the time to comment so thoroughly. You rock.

        • The breakdown and pie chart are now updated.

    • Thanks for the input. I’ve updated the percentages, pie chart and breakdown to better reflect the real numbers.

  34. Jim,

    Do you think it would be easier or harder to get the money we writers need for our books if we wrote more “mainstream” comic books? By mainstream I mean, things like superheroes. I ask because I notice that most indie books are NOT superhero books, which of course I love since that gives the industry that much more variety, but I wonder what it would be like to have an indie superhero book out there that could compete with the financial success of the Big Two’s books. Or, if that’s even possible….

    • I think you’re still barking up the wrong tree with that. People have superhero books, loads of them. If anything, you’ll stand out even less.

      It’s almost impossible to make a living wage by trying to sell indy titles through the exact same distribution/sales model as mainstream comic retail comics where you’re competing with mass market pricing and distribution, that’s true, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any outlets to make money in comics with your own work. Convention sales, self publishing, digital and webcomic models favor independent creators, but they do require some entrepreneurship. I’ll post another article about trades, digital and other outlets when I have more time.

      • I don’t entirely agree with Jim on this one, but I do think he raises points to consider.

        Competing with existing superheroes increases the direct competition that you face, so he’s right on that one. Standing out will be much harder.

        However, at the same time, selling kimchi-ginko soda in an American supermarket probably isn’t going to work out so well either. Selling a cola, while facing very established competition, may still be more profitable. You have to convince them to pick up your product, but you don’t have to convince them that they need your odd flavor.

        You have to decide if you’re in it to make money or tell stories you feel need telling, even if they make no money.

        Personally, I think there are still plenty of interesting superhero stories that are still to be told and a well written one (take Mark Waid’s Insufferable) can build an audience and compete with the big 2.

  35. thanks for that!!

  36. Thank you for posting this, though I have to admit, as an aspiring professional, I find this information incredibly depressing. I’m frustrated by the fact that, apparently, a comics artist doesn’t really have much of a chance of making anything approaching a living wage from his artwork unless he can get himself hired by one of the Big Two – which itself requires a considerable expense, since one now must attend a comics convention just to get a chance to have one’s portfolio looked at by one of their editors.

    …Why, oh, why couldn’t I have become a mechanic?

    • It’s almost impossible to make a living wage by trying to sell through the exact same distribution/sales model as mainstream comic retail comics where you’re competing with mass market pricing and distribution, that’s true, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any outlets to make money in comics with your own work. Convention sales, self publishing, digital and webcomic models favor independent creators, but they do require some entrepreneurship. I’ll post another article about trades, digital and other outlets when I have more time.

  37. Jim Zub Lays it All Out For You | Stumptown Trade Review - pingback on November 28, 2012 at 6:38 am
  38. Hi jim,
    It’s quite an eye opener to read your article and all the responses. This happens in a country where the awareness for comics is huge ( by that what I mean is the percentage of people who follow titles and literally she’ll out their hard earned buck to buy a copy of the comic).
    I’m talking from india.
    We have very little market for comics and whatever is available there are 2 month old copies of DC and MARVEL comics.
    The flat cut that the distributors and retailers are taking …it adds up same as the math that you have projected.
    The industry will never grow and we have no serious comicons.
    Not to say we don’t have ’em..but it will take time for those to evolve into sandiego or Newyork.

    Thanks for the truth.
    I guess indie publishers should travel beyond Europe to other countries.
    I’ve seen alarming sales of the old batman and Spider-Man titles( which otherwise are available on local stores ) in india at such cons.
    I know it’s expensive to travel. But I’m sure it will be worth it.
    If a bunch of creators tag along, then it might work.

    Just a thought.

  39. How come nobody was around to tell me this 10+ years ago when I self-published (Super) Hero Happy Hour ? Though, I don’t think it would have stopped me. And, I was in the game a while ago. It’s only rougher nowadays. Digital distribution is quickly becoming the only viable means to publish creator-owned comics.

  40. Comicsy Teams Up With Blurb | Comicsy - pingback on November 28, 2012 at 11:37 am
  41. The other thought I’ve been turning around is printing costs; maybe that can be controlled?

    A lot of major comics have high-quality glossy colour pages. What about going to something a little less fancy, though still sufficient to represent the art? Non-glossy lower-weight pages?

    I look back to, I don’t know, the 80s? Most of those were newsprint, I think. (I’m not sure at what level you start to run into colour problems in printing, though.)

    If we lower the production value of the single, maybe you can either afford to print more copies for the same cost, or pay less for the same print numbers.

    Also, that might help bring the single-issue cost down, though that screws with the math…

    What do you think? And would you have any input into those kinds of production costs with the publishers you’re dealing with?

    • I think you’d be surprised how little difference (if any) switching to newsprint paper would make. Just because it FEELS like a cheaper paper stock, doesn’t mean it is.

      While I don’t have the numbers in front of me at the moment, I had to price out a 5k print run for a comic a couple years ago and we looked at newsprint as a way of lowering cost. The price difference was pennies a copy, something like $200 over the run of 5k books.

      • Glossy (aka coated) paper does not always = expensive. In fact its very popular and common in commercial printing so its actually cheaper than say uncoated or newsprint in many circumstances. Paper is THE MOST complicated and expensive part of commercial printing though, so the variables are endless. You can save thousands on print runs by changing paper or printing outside of North America (but you have to add months to the process)

        Newsprint is difficult to print on when quality imagery is a factor. Especially for modern comics art, detail and coloring styles SO it takes more proofing, fine tuning, press time etc which = more cost for maybe less quality. Also, less printers are setup for newsprint these days as their are cheaper/easier to work with alternatives with low grade coated magazine/coupon stock (what most comics are printed on)

        • Good points, guys. And borne out by my own experience, too. When I did a small reprint of FIGHT COMICS, I lowered the page weight, and the total bill was barely different, maybe twenty bucks less.

  42. I’m just curious: how do you factor in a creator’s advance when signing a contract?

  43. Publishing and Retailing Insights - Comic Book Daily - pingback on November 28, 2012 at 3:57 pm
  44. As an information graphic designer, I’ve a few suggestions on how to better your pie chart:

    1. Never put a pie chart in perspective. It distorts the information. The whole point of a pie chart is comparative analysis…how all the pieces fit within 100%. Adding visual perspective makes the left and right slices appear bigger than they actually are.

    2. Label your slices in percentages

    3. Make a legend directly under the chart for slightly more detailed values (50% printers, 00% retailers, etc.)

    4. Place the pie chart and legend directly under “Consider this…”

    That said, thank you very much for this candid information. Too many talk about artistic inspiration and technique, very few talk about the money. Good luck with your venture.

    • Your tone is really harsh, but I appreciate the feedback. Consider it fixed.

      • Great article, thanks for sharing your views on creator compensation.

        Regarding David’s chart feedback: I learned in design school (NCSU-COD) to always lead with a compliment, then follow with constructive feedback, then conclude with another compliment. This will result in a much higher likelihood of the requested revisions being implemented. It will also make you look like a nicer guy.

        Here’s some shorthand to remember when criticizing other’s work: Pro, Con, Pro

  45. Just read through the comments. This “admin” fellow seems to know a thing or two.

  46. What’s the cost difference in printing between color and b&w? Assuming the 5K print run of the theoretical creator-owned Image book?

  47. Great article Jim, and hits the nail right on the head of the hurdles that can be overcome by some and totally block others.

    Since leaving Newsarama and trying my hand at getting into the game on the creative side (while working a full time job, teaching), I’ve literally or figuratively rolled my eyes at everything that creators ever told me about breaking into the business over the years in interview after interview, aside from the gut-level honest answer of “It’s all about who you know.” That sounds a little more cynical than I meant, but still, it holds a lot of truth.

    Again, great piece…but I knew you had these kinds of chops back in the days of “One Step” on Nrama. 😉

    • Thanks for the praise, Matt! I really appreciated having the opportunity to put together those Newsarama articles back in the day.

      I do think it’s a combination of craft, networking and busting your ass that works more often than not. There are other ways to break in, but they’re not the kind of thing that can be counted on or cultivated.

  48. Which is why indie creators should focus on the digital market and cut out the corporate middlemen…

    • There are still middlemen in the digital market (hi, I’m one) and while you can go around them, you’re not going to completely eliminate the costs that they represent. Doing it all yourself is not always cheaper.

      I used to manage contracts for a remodeler and friends of mine would do a project themselves to “save money” but by the time you incorporated their time and the mistakes and everything else, they weren’t saving much and often were paying more. Sometimes, because they didn’t know the territory, they’d tell me what a good “deal” they got on something and I would have to smile and think to myself I could have charged you the same and pocketed the extra $50 you spent.

      Same holds true here. How much do you know about server configuration? How about security? Credit card gateways. Cross site scripting attacks. SQL injection. And on and on.

  49. Why we do this. « The Land of 10,000 Things - pingback on November 29, 2012 at 1:48 pm
  50. Comic Dorks 03: The Cost of Doing Business | Comic Dorks - pingback on November 30, 2012 at 12:37 am
  51. As a very, very, very small retailer, I think you need to consider that Diamond Distribution is a huge part of your problem. Retailing discounts are calculated separately between Marvel, DC, and everything else. Since the top 100 comics are dominated by Marvel and DC, my discount on Indy books is much smaller. This makes me less likely to order Indy books which cost more, are less known properties, and tend to have less established creators. What needs to happen is for Diamond to level the playing and stop giving preferential discount treatment to Marvel and DC.

    • Considering that Marvel and DC make up such a huge percentage of retailer business, I wouldn’t expect Diamond to have any incentive to stop giving preferential treatment to them. It doesn’t make any business sense for them to do so.

      • I agree it makes sense for Diamond, but therein lies the problem. We can easily turn your statement around. BECAUSE Diamond gives preferential treatment to Marvel and DC, they make up such a huge percentage of retailer business.

        • But it’s a false equivalency.

          Marvel and DC make up a huge percentage of retailer business because they have incredibly popular and recognizable intellectual properties that have propagated over comics, books, TV, movies, games, etc.

          A new independent creator-owned book doesn’t have the same level of recognition from casual customers and isn’t as likely to generate sales.

          It’s okay to stock all kinds of different colas at a grocery store, but Coke and Pepsi are probably going to make up the majority of your cola sales because they’re Coke and Pepsi- Recognizable durable long term brands that people ask for by name.

          Diamond’s preferential treatment didn’t create Marvel and DC’s strong IPs.

  52. So I got a little lost going down that rabbit hole, but I’m curious just what that ? represents as a figure. Say there’s a letterer and a colourist (we’ll say its a penciller/inker), approx what does the writer make per issue? I’m not asking your income, just a range of values.

    • If you add up the percentages (and read the blog post) you’ll see that there’s nothing left over. In many cases there is no money left for any of the creative team. The range of values is slim to none. That’s what I explained in the blog post.

      There are other revenue streams (digital sales, trade sales, convention sales) and I’ll be covering those in a future post.

  53. I wish that there is a Diamond distributor local counter part here in the Philippines (because I’m the one personally delivering my comics to retailers).And a retailers that pays the distributor after delivery seams to be a pretty good deal even with a 40% to 50% cut. Most of the retailers here are consignment basis 🙁 .

  54. Where are the figures for graphic novels located? North America and International. I am creating a business plan but can’t find recent numbers. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Finding exact figures for graphic novel sales and distribution are quite a pain to find. Most of the final numbers posted are not coming from publishers, but instead from outside sources based on inaccurate breakdowns. You can try sites like ICV2, but the numbers there aren’t 100% accurate.

  55. What a great read that was and all the comments too! We are an Indie Comic creating company and our busy making our 9 series 🙂 If any of you could check out our work on FB and give us your opinion that would be amazing. We are going to be launching our own website by the end of this year to sell directly and avoid that 30% cut from Kindle and Graphicly. Although so far we are making ok sales on KINDLE.

  56. There has to be a way that independent comics can sustain themselves.

    I’ve spent the last few years, paying artists when I can, to get the material for a complete, 24 page, black and white comic. It’s been a few hundred dollars now, and that’s before I’ve even done a test printing. Along the way, I’ve picked up a few tricks here and there, and I feel like I have a product that finally looks professional, and that I’m desperately looking forward to seeing in print.

    I don’t want to sell lunchboxes or shirts or frisbees. I want to write a comic. I want to have a product that I can hold in my hands, with my name on it, that shows that I was able to start something creative, and see it through to the end. Then, with luck, enough people will be supportive of it that I can do it all again for a second issue, hopefully at a much quicker pace than the first one. And a third issue after that, and so on and so forth.

    But, after reading through countless blogs and interviews with first-timers and professionals alike, and all the replies here, I’m to believe that there is absolutely no way that even a comic like Skullkickers, with the support of Image, can support itself? How about Paul Grist’s books? Or Terry Moore’s? Because of the current business models, which are equally disheartening on the digital front, not only will I not be able to continue producing my own work, but it’s already a case of throwing good money after bad before I’ve really begun?

    So, let’s say I stick to my current plan. Avoid pitching to a publisher. Post the pages online, making them free for everyone to read, forever. Run a small Kickstarter/IndieGoGo campaign to get the first run printed, with funds leftover to pay artists for the next issue. Go through IndyPlanet or other sites to sell “official” digital copies. Repeat the process, allowing people to read the stories at no cost, and decide for themselves if they believe in what I’m doing, hopefully encouraging some to actually purchase physical copies. The only money I’m hoping to make is enough to print, and to pay for the next round, already resigned to the fact that a paycheck is not in my future. That’s not viable?

    Because that, as I see it, is a much better option than hedging my bets that a publisher might like what I have to sell, and I might earn pennies to the dollar back.

    • This article was solely about mainstream comic distribution through comic shops with low print run books. It’s only one avenue.

      I’m going to do a follow-up post about alternate revenue streams, digital sales and trade paperbacks when I have more time.

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  63. Thanks for the insight, it’s what a lot of us already expected – I don’t think it’s actually “news” to many people, but it’s good to talk about it.

    What you don’t talk about it how you actually are making a living. I don’t expect based on the numbers you posted that you are making a living wage with these comics. What else are you doing? I see on dA you were just picked to write a new comic, so certainly that must be part of it.

    • I make a living by juggling three jobs:

      – I teach art/animation courses at Seneca College in Toronto (where I live).
      – I help manage freelance art projects for the UDON studio (also in Toronto).
      – I do freelance comic writing (currently for DC, Dynamite and Namco-Bandai).

      Those 3 jobs get me far enough ahead that I can afford to pay the art team out of my own pocket to produce one arc (6 issues) of Skullkickers per year even if we don’t make any money on the issues. Digital sales, direct convention book sales and trade paperback sales pay some of that invested money back to me in the long run, but right now Skullkickers is still not in the ‘black’.

      I wouldn’t keep doing it if I felt that it would wreck my personal finances, but it is a lot of work to juggle all of it. It’s something I’m dedicated to and my hope is to complete the 36 issue (6 arc) story we’ve been building, bit by bit. Without trying to sound corny, it’s a labor of love.

  64. On Literature and Fandom « Inklings - pingback on January 4, 2013 at 12:23 pm
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  66. Wow. I’m coming to the discussion late, but great post and a great discussion following. I’ve long said comics need a revolution in order to save themselves as an industry. I think that revolution will be digital…but I don’t think we’ve figured it all out just yet. That said–it’ll take brave souls willing to work for mostly “thank yous” and “attaboys” to be the pioneers.
    Great post!

  67. Hi Jim,

    I’m not sure that I’m understanding your figures correctly, but — if you were paying your artist, would this mean you’d be in negative figures per page/issue/etc?

    Also, thanks for such a detailed post (and equally detailed follow-ups).

    • That’s correct. If you were paying the artist a reasonable page rate you’d almost certainly be in the hole if the only money coming in was from mainstream comic retail.

  68. It’s funny reading this article while Dresden Codak is just passing $350,000 on Kickstarter. And that’s a web comic! That’s free to read online!

    I don’t understand why any creators are going through production companies anymore. What “advertising” is Image really doing that you can’t do yourself?

    Form your own company. Sell your books on Comixology and other apps. Kickstarter print drive your paper issues. The end. I’m done with all these studios and Diamond and retailers trying to scrape money off of the little guy.

    Get yours.

    • From what I’ve read, it’s nearly impossible to fund your project on Kickstarter unless you’ve got an established creator attached to the project. Is this untrue?

  69. Nobody’s Job but Yours | K.B. Spangler - pingback on April 16, 2013 at 10:31 am
  70. This is a great article! I’m recovering financially after creating an 8 page pitch. When I do the math, taking into account the cost of poduction of the entire 20 page book and the money that will be taken out by retailers and distributors, the scene is pretty grim. It makes me want to consider self publishing and digitial. You can see my pitch at

    After reading this blog and many others, my thoughts about launching a comic book have changed. It is expensive. It is a labor of love. It is an investment. And you have to play the long game. Now I see it as starting up a small business. If you were going to open a cafe, you’d have to put down a great deal of money up front, hire staff who can do all the things you can’t (cook, accounting, waiting tables) and then do the marketing. And what percent of small businesses fail? You’d expect to be in the black only after a few years, not a few months. Same with comics.

    I’d like to know what impact Image has had on your book – how much does Image help sales and marketing? Why work with them at all?

  71. Moth City » Disposable is Not a Dirty Word - pingback on August 21, 2013 at 8:22 pm
  72. Hey, I have an idea! How about, instead of paying *HUGE* percentage cuts to retailers and distributors to send out my work, how about I do all that *by Myself*?! Especially now with the Internet and buying stuff online, I wish I could cut out the middleman like that and that extra 40+% goes straight to me. I mean sure, they have hearty upkeeps (like any small business who is trying to make enough money to buy bread and pay off land taxes) and all while also providing the service of making spreading the work easier (Now, marketing on the other hand…Maybe at best; although a famous critic’s endorsement will help tremendously), but us creators – the people who source their merchandise – deserve at least enough to stay afloat I think; ideally pay for essentials like food and rent, even if it must be a Spartan life with minimal luxuries.

    But at least you answer the question I’ve been looking for: A standard indie comic is priced pretty much like any other comic: $3-$4. The rest is very helpful for trying to avoid the minefield of breaking my bank over my passion.

    And yes, support us indies! Plus, if one of these titles takes off into the big leagues of popularity (and from what I hear, some already have), the money comes in by itself so long as the creator keeps creating. In short, indie pop culture is like a modern day “Gold Rush”: Yes, anyone can potentially strike rich and famous, but there’s a reason most don’t make it there. Other than that, I think you’re right in that the only way to make real money is if a person can sell in *huge* bulk (like hundreds or thousands per batch), and until that kind of following has been established, seeing any significant returns can take a *LONG* time.

  73. Regarding the last statement on this post, I have a Indiegogo campaign for my comic endeavors.

  74. So from what I’m seeing here. It’s next to impossible for a writer who isn’t an artist to make a go of it. If you pay your artist 200/page for pencils and inks, colorist 50/page, and letter 20/page. That will cost $5,100. Is it even possible to make enough to cover that?

  75. Sorry that should be 5,400

    • That’s correct. It will be very difficult to make that money back if you’re only selling your comic through the traditional comic shop outlets trying to compete directly with superhero and other well known brands. It’s the equivalent of setting up a fast food restaurant beside a McDonald’s and wondering if you’ll be able to sell enough hamburgers to pay your rent. Doing creator-owned comics and establishing your own original concepts requires extra commitment and looking at alternative ways of making money when you’re getting started – direct convention sales, digital sales, crowdfunding, etc. Expecting to enter the crowded mainstream comic market as an unknown and making money right from the start is a longshot at best.

  76. Hey all. I was wondering, if I write, draw, print, produce and distribute all by myself, what problems besides being a small fish, would I have. I want to keep costs really, pregnant ants belly, low.

  77. All of your comments have me thinking how would amazon getting rid of apple/googles 30 percent effect sales?. Im thinking about just putting my stuff on comixology rather than go print this time.

  78. The Price of Comics | DC Infinite - pingback on May 2, 2014 at 2:03 pm
  79. The Price of Comixology « The Nerd Cave The Nerd Cave - pingback on May 5, 2014 at 7:19 pm
  80. $37.50/page is something like $862.50 for a 23 page comic. So, about $800/month. Right? That’s still more than I averaged installing furniture. Is that before taxes? Do you have to put half that away for taxes? $400/month then. How much of that would go to the fees you described?

    What if the writer, penciler, inker, letterer and colorist (if there is color) are the same guy? $37.50/page x 2 = $75/page or $1,725 for a 23 page comic. But, of course, you’re going to be at least twice as slow doing all those jobs — turning out half as many comics.

  81. Thx for all this helpful info!
    I’m getting into comics publishing myself, and slowly studying the business part. Will check out Skullkickers, promise, as soon as I finish reading all these specialized books about marketing and publishing etc… 🙂

  82. I see the date on this article is some time ago, but I’m only now discovering it. If I could give two words to describe this article, it would be “Reality Check”. Many thanks for laying out this information in such an unapologetic manner.

    It’s not that I had any unrealistic expectations about the comic book industry, however it’s good to get the facts straight so one can make an informed decision about the direction in which they choose to go. So if they do make a choice, they can’t say they didn’t know. Thanks again for taking the time to share this.

  83. Great post. Remarkably similar to the breakdown for an indie film. Even a high end indie. ps last night I bought a copy of WAYWARD at Hi De Ho in Santa Monica. I LOVE IT. Can’t wait for more.

  84. Comical Musings Thinks That Image Wins Comics - pingback on December 1, 2014 at 6:21 pm
  85. So since you’re only making around 200 bucks a month off od doing a comic what is your full time job and your part time job to pay for getting the comic done?

  86. Thanks for taking the time to write this article, it’s very interesting and informative, not to mention sobering.

  87. We’re paving the way, to make sure that every INDY creator gets a fair share for their hard work.

  88. I am entirely new to the comic book spectrum. Having been shot down in the past by Image, Dark Horse, DC, Marvel, and even companies like Penny Farthing Press (IF they are even still around) I have up on comics for a very long time. Now, i’m 41 and finally back at it again with completely original work. MY OWN. I’m writing, penciling, inking, etc. It’s MY work. All of it. And here is the issue that I am having.

    I have contacted comic printing companies and others ranging from Diamond Distributers to Ka-Blam comics.. and the average cost to PRINT a BLACK AND WHITE book is roughly 1,200.00 for just 100 issues! SERIOUSLY…

    Divide that in reality. I would have to sell each issue for 12.00. I don’t know about you, but I would never pay 12.00 for a singular issue of anything (unless its a collector thing). Where is the profit in that? That 12.00 only pays for the printing cost… so if this is the reality that I am running into, how in the hell can anyone make any profit what so ever when they are selling full color comics for 2.50 to 5.00 each?

    Again, i’m in this alone. I am doing all of the writing, art, etc. ALONE… Please e-mail me your comments because I likely will not be able to check back to this. I found this randomly while trying to research into finding a way to DIY this whole thing.

  89. And I just now added this page to my bookmarks. I have read through an alarming number of posts and replies, and find that the vast majority of you are or have been running prints in the thousands. Me,i’m a poor guy working full time for 15.25 an hour. Married with an 18 year old kid. Why add this personal information? Because I love comic books. Always have. And, I am a dreamer and admit that openly. Throughout my life I had this dream of making and selling my own stuff. (Mature content but NOT porn). Now, I am back at it again. And the numbers are staggering.

    So, coming from the side of “I AM that little guy that no one knows about” how exactly is a guy like me supposed to “Make it” in the comics industry WITHOUT being published by a big name?

    I am that do it yourself guy. And, what I have to offer in comparison to a lot of stuff that is out there and making it today IS TREMENDOUS!

    I don’t have a story to tell. I have MANY that are all inter-connected and linked. Spanning over 3010 years of created history. I have strong characterization, strong characters, and character driven stories. I.E. I have a “Multi-verse” just waiting to open the doors to the masses and usher in FANS.

    So yeah, BIG dreams and hopes balanced by the reality of “My stuff may never see the light of day unless I can figure out how to make it happen.”

    The numbers posted here are terrifying to me. (read my above statement about trying to print a mere 100 issues to sell on my own). Figure than in with my car payments, rent, insurance, i.e. everyday bills. At 15.25 an hour working 10 hrs a day 4 days a week…

    I also sell my art. Let me rephrase that, I just started selling my artwork again. Admin please let this link stand:

    Each of the pieces posted on my facebook page averaged 20.00 to 150.00.

    I read a little about other methods to make money in comics. Stuff like creating T-Shirts, turning inked pages into coloring books, selling posters, etc. ALL of that also costs an arm and a leg to run. (I am talking in terms of realistically going to Staples and that like). But making T-Shirts as prints? Where do you go for that?

    Please forgive if I am rambling and not keying in directly into the numbers being discussed here. But, any and all information and or advice will always be accepted and appreciated from any and all of you who are out there DOING IT!

    • Tim,
      Another option is to take a year or two and really hit the art side of things with lots of study and lots of practice.

      Webcomics and self-published work can be whatever quality you decide them to be, but it will help you immeasurably in the long run if your art is at the next level.

      Nail down your anatomy, perspective and storytelling as much as you can by treating your art-study like a part-time job. Life-drawing is invaluable, and lots of places offer drop-in sessions. There are a couple of books that I would recommend: “Figure Drawing for all it’s Worth” by Andrew Loomis is a great one, and any of George Bridgman’s books teach a dynamic style that works really well for comics.

      All the while, while working on your fundamentals, write and draw challenging short stories. They should be 2-3 pages long, and are a great way to work on your storytelling, anatomy, perspective, world-building, and character acting. They don’t have to have a real beginning, you can start off in the middle of a car chase, or an argument, or a shootout. Pick something out of your comfort zone, and it will bring to light the things you need to work on most. Then go back, isolate your problem areas and work on them more.

      The more you learn, the more you will realize you need to learn, which can be disheartening, but it just means you’re improving.

      Like everyone else said, build an online presence. If you’re not on twitter, Instagram, tumblr and deviant art, get on them, start posting. Join in the conversation. It will take some time, but if this is your passion, you’ll stick with it.

      Best of luck!

      • Tim–
        Other people have given wonderful advice about how to be successful as a comics creator. I’m not a comic artist, but I part-own a small publisher that prints comics and novels in print runs ranging from 40 to a few thousand copies, so I have some insight about what it takes to print your own comic for a reasonable price.

        I’m not surprised that your first attempts at looking into printing landed you with a steep $12 per issue price tag (my first self-publishing attempt cost about $10/book), but even for small print runs, you can bring that price down. It will take a lot of research, and you have to be willing to compromise on many of the physical specs of your book, however. Without knowing much about your book, I can’t give you many specifics, but I can give you some advice about how to look for better prices:

        1. Don’t limit yourself to comics printers. There are way fewer comics printers than book printers, and although some of them do great work and are a good fit for certain projects, you can usually get similar work done cheaper elsewhere.

        2. For small runs of single comic issues, take a look at general printers–those places that specialize in business cards and other business printing. Most of them print “booklets,” which are pretty similar to what comics printers are providing–there are more options for things like paper weight, so you’ll have to experiment and do some research to get the book looking how you want it, but if you’re just looking for 100 copies of a comic to sit on your con table, draw attention, and make you a little cash, this can be a cost-effective option. Googling “booklet printing” brings up a ton of hits. Pricing varies wildly from company to company, but they generally let you plug your booklet specs right into the website and give you a quote, so you can research a ton of different options in an hour or two. This isn’t a magic bullet to inexpensive pricing, but you should be able to bring your price down to $6 or $7/floppy without looking too hard.

        3. For perfect-bound trades, look into print-on-demand printers like Createspace. Making money off of floppies is tricky even for big publishers, so collecting a few issues into a trade might end up being a more cost-effective option. You don’t have to wait until you have a ton of pages to put out your first trade–three standard-length chapters will do it–and people are more willing to accept a high price tag on a perfect-bound paperback than on a floppy issue.

        3.5. Most printers will send you free paper samples if you ask. Researching printers can be pretty confusing when you don’t know the terminology, so I’d really suggest getting some samples sent to you so you can see and feel the paper yourself before ordering anything.

        4. Standard comic trim sizes are not standard for the rest of the book industry. It generally costs a lot less to print something at 9″ x 6″ than the Marvel/DC standard of 10 1/8″ x 6 5/8″, for example. Once you’re printing thousands of copies offset, the price difference doesn’t matter, but when you’re doing small print runs, designing your comic pages to fit a standard book-industry size can save you a lot of money. Any booklet or print-on-demand printer will have a list of their standard sizes on their site somewhere.

        5. Unless you’re doing print-on-demand, price per book decreases substantially the more books you order. Depending on the printer, 250 copies of a book or floppy might barely cost more than 100. This can be dangerous–it’s easy to get tricked by the savings and order more books than you could possibly sell–but if you have serious plans to hit the con circuit or otherwise know you can regularly move a small number of books, increasing your print run by 100 or 150 copies can be worth it if it lets you bring the cover price down, even if selling through them takes a few years.

        6. Check out local printers, especially indie places. Their prices will probably be higher than what you’d pay online, but for some projects the lack of shipping costs will make up for that–plus, if they’re good, their staff will be knowledgeable and can guide you through the process.

        7. If your comic is black and white, there are ways to process your images so that they can be printed on worse equipment and paper without a loss of quality. I’m not a designer, so I can’t give too much info on this particular aspect of the process (bitmapping is involved…?), but our designers would tell you that understanding how to prep your files for print will save you a lot of grief when your proof comes back to you looking great and not like a horrible mess. Improperly prepared b&w files may have to be printed on a color printer, which means you miss out on the savings from printing in black in white.

        8. Merchandise doesn’t sell much unless you are extremely successful AND your story and art lend themselves to it (cute animal sidekicks, iconic symbols, funny memes, etc). But if you want to try it anyway, you can always put a few designs on society6 and see if anyone bites–they do print-on-demand prints and merch for no money down.

        9. Think long and hard before you go to print at all. Some kind of physical product is a must at conventions, but if you aren’t tabling at shows regularly, selling any books at all is going to be a huge struggle until you’ve built up a substantial audience. Maybe, for now, printing and hand-stapling your own $5 zines for shows, and investing in a nice banner or poster and some freebie postcards featuring your most beautiful art and directing people to your website, is the best way to do conventions. Maybe what you really need to do is build your readership online until you’re big enough to run a Kickstarter to print your first trade. Even if you start on page one with pro-level art and storytelling, building a sustainable audience for a comic online usually takes at least a year of regular updates–and you’ve got to get to that pro-level first. If you haven’t put in that kind of work yet, then no strategy is going to make this suddenly profitable for you.

        This is a tough business, and it can get really discouraging to work so damn hard and feel like you have nothing to show for it. You aren’t alone in feeling that way–literally every artist, writer, or creative I know, no matter how successful they are, has felt like that at some point. If you love comics, you just have to push through it and be patient–keep working, keep thinking of ways to improve your art or story, keep putting out pages, and make every little success you achieve into the fuel that keeps you going.

        Good luck!

  90. @Tim:

    You can’t make money selling things to an audience you don’t have yet. It doesn’t matter what the thing is, or how good the thing is. You need a market. As I see it you have several options:

    1) Keep looking for a publisher. Maybe somebody will cave in and take a chance on you, and sell your stuff into their audience.
    2) Post your work for free on the web, and grow an audience slowly online.
    3) Start networking at comic cons. Show your portfolio, talk to other creators, and look for opportunities. These opportunities may have nothing to do with the project you want to publish now, but they might involve drawing cool stuff for real money, and that’s a start.
    4) Spend big money on an offset print run, and then attempt to hand-sell hundreds of comics that way. (I don’t actually recommend this. It’s the best way to end up resenting your own work for taking up space in your garage without paying rent.)
    5) Give up. Lots of people do this. I’m not telling you that you SHOULD give up. I’m just acknowledging it as a valid path.

  91. Hey Tim.
    Jim Tweeted out calling for an assist on your questions so I thought I’d see if I could help out. I’ll try to keep it brief.

    I think a lot of your questions can be answered by where you are currently at with your art, comic book idea and ability to produce art on a regular basis. Unless you’ve got, let’s say, 50-100 pages of your epic comic book story already drawn it’s very premature to even think about printing or merchandising. Get the work done first.

    My first published work was nearly complete before I took it to a publisher. That includes full art and lettering. This was back in 1998 so the idea of publishing online was barely a gleam in anyone’s eye (though there was early talk of the death of print). It was something that I started to draw on my own time because my job at the time was very unfulfilling.

    If making comics is the thing you want to do you will be, and will have been, making them already. For yourself. To share online. There are many avenues to self publish digitally on the internet.

    Now comes the hard part — you didn’t actually ask for a review of your art. But I took a look at your Facebook page and what I’m going to say may be hard to read — but believe me I’m not typing any of this to crush your dreams. Your work is not professional level. Your handle on anatomy is not bad overall. What it lacks is a sense of style and dynamic. Right now it’s just functional. Perspective and composition are very flat and weak. Those are all skills you can improve with solid college level art education.

    You have no sequential pages so I can’t judge your storytelling abilities. Or even really your inks as the two images you do have in inks are very small.

    From what I see on your Facebook page you have enjoyed drawing commissioned art. There can be great artistic fulfillment in drawing art for friends and family while maintaining a non-art related full time job. But if you would like to pursue a full time career in comic book art some very serious education and a lot of very hard work is needed.

    Jim’s advice stands most important above all of this — Do the work! Make Comics!


  92. Tim —

    Publish to Tumblr. Build an audience. Then try to sell to them. That’s going to take at least a year, in all likelihood. AT LEAST. Use social media. It’s free and a potential audience is already there.

    Don’t spend a dime until you KNOW someone will put up money on the other end to buy your stuff. Kickstarter is an option, but as a new and unknown creator, your chances of getting funding on that are near zero.

    Printing comics doesn’t work financially until you can get a print run of closer to 3000 copies. (Maybe 1000 at the right printer; I haven’t looked into that in awhile.) You likely don’t want to keep those boxes in your garage for years until you recycle them to fit the car back in the garage next winter..

    Oh, and for goodness sake, lesson #1: Don’t start with your epic crossover spectacular. That WILL fail. Nobody cares. Nobody will stick around to see it work. Start small. Tell complete smaller stories. Learn as you go. Build an audience as you go. One day, you’ll be better, you’ll have people interested in your work (hopefully), and you’ll be able to tell that larger story. But not right now. Not yet.

  93. In my opinion, if you want to work for a mainstream publisher, you have to push your natural drawing talent to your personal limit with imitation, education and endless practice, and over years develop your own personal style. Make endless pitches, survive repeated rejection, and never stop.

    If you want to be your own boss, you should take business classes, and be willing to invest in yourself and be willing to fail financially. Waiting to “go viral” is not a realistic option. You have to pay for advertising, promotion, help of any kind. And never stop.

    Or, you can do what I do, which is draw comics every day, publish small print runs for the enjoyment of myself and hopefully growing fan base. And recognize and appreciate the joy and satisfaction that “creating comics” gives me. Notice I did not say “selling comics” or “marketing comics.” And, of course, never stop. NEVER STOP MAKING COMICS.

  94. Jim;
    Something I’ve been curious about with an upcoming project is how much I can show of it to build up hype. It will be a creator owned property, that we’re intending to pitch, or, failing that, Kickstart. Now, obviously, if it’s Kickstarter then that’s up to us. But if we’re planning on pitching to a publisher, do we have to keep everything 100% under wraps? Can you tease tiny tidbits of art? Can you even give a title? It’s something I’m unfamiliar with.

    The pitch is almost completely wrapped up (with a lot of help from your guides!) but the thing I’m unsure on, I guess, is the “etiquette” side of things. How long to give each person, submit to one at a time or multiple, how much you can talk about it, etc…

    Thanks in advanced for any response,

  95. Tim, I see a lot of illustrations in your facebook. If you want to build a strong portfolio and practice on your comics, you need to draw and post comics.
    Publishers want to see comic artists who can draw comics, not just pretty pictures. And do it before deadlines. As for publishing, everyone else has pointed out the important stuff.


    posted a link to my Facebook page that will be focusing on my graphic novels. hopefully this is ok.

    I read the feedback that has been provided and I wanted to thank all of you for taking the time to respond. I’ll appreciate the advice and information that you have provided.

    as not to divert from this blog further, please feel free to check back on my Facebook group. I’ll be posting more stuff there as time goes on.

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