28 September 2008

Ethics, Copyrights and Commissioned Works

At a recent convention, I found myself involved in a conversation about ethics, copyrights and commissioned work. Basically, Luis (an artist named changed to protect the innocence) does convention sketches for $20. He was approached by a con goer and asked to do 4 small sketches. Luis and the con goer agreed to a price and Luis began to work. While in the midst of the commission, the con goer mentioned that he planned to use the sketches for online banners for his web site which was withheld from the previous price bartering. Luis finished the commission, but the entire transaction left a bitter taste in his mouth. When speaking about this later, a would be self-publisher (let's call him Hap) didn't understand why Luis was upset. Hap has been going around having artists draw his character planning to use them as pin-ups in his book at a later date. Hap wanted to understand Luis's issue, so that Hap was not inadvertently angering artists.

Luis asked me for my opinion and this is the result.

The difference between commissioning an artist to draw something for publication versus drawing something to add to your original art collection is wholly a matter of copyright. When an artist (or anyone) draws something that drawing automatically becomes copyrighted by thing. No matter who owns the subject of the drawing, the copyright (and thus all print rights) belongs to the creator (the artist) unless otherwise negotiated. Ideally, these negotiations should take place before the image is created.

When you are approaching an artist at a con to do a sketch, you are commissioning them to produce a piece of art for your collection. There is no other negotiation and thus you walk away with an original piece of art and nothing else. You paid for a product (the original art) and thus the copyrights to the image still belong to the artist.

When you are approaching an artist to do a drawing for publication, you are paying them for the right to use the image for reproduction. What you are paying for is the copyrights of the image. Exactly what rights you receive should be negotiated up front, in writing and signed. This is a simple contract and should be kept in your records.

So how does this affect you as a self-publisher? Generally, you will find that artists do original art commissions for far less than they do work for publication (especially at conventions). This may seem like a great time to get a pin-up done, but you must realize that for publication you need copyrights, but at a convention you're only paying for the physical art. So instead of attempting to save a buck, be honest with the artist and give them the chance to charge you more for the physical art and the copyrights to the image. What you may find is that being honest, you may not spend any more money AND you will get exactly what you want without being sleezy.

A perfect example is the alternate cover to Warmageddon Illustrated #1. I was sitting next to Uko Smith at Wizard World Philly and he was doing 11x 17 pencil sketches for $25. During a slow period, I asked him if he'd be willing to do a sketch of Tiegre from Warmageddon and he agreed. What I paid him for was the original art and that's what I walked away with.

Later, when I was in the process of printing Warmageddon Illustrarted #1, my local comic book shop wanted an exclusive cover. I gave them a selection of art to choose from and they choose the Uko pencil sketch (which was later inked and colored). Now, I could have taken the money and never told Uko about it, but I think honesty is the best policy, so I contacted Uko. He had no problem with me using the piece as the cover, so we got the piece inked and colored and it was used. After all was said and done, I made sure the Uko, Ed Eargle (the inker), and Garry Henderson (the colorist) all received copies of this limited edition cover.

Should you find yourself in the position of having access to a piece of art that you don't own the copyrights to, then you should do the same. As a comic book self-publisher, you may not have an endless supply of money, but your greatest commodity is often your integrity. Be honest with your talent and build a relationship on trust and respect. That will still be intact after everything else is said and done.

05 August 2008

From the Forum: Creating PDFs

The Question:
I want to put my comic in a PDF. How do I make a reasonable sized PDF. I've tried, but the file size is too high or the image quality is poor.

My steps for making PDF includes 2 or 3 pieces of software.
- Adobe Photoshop and/or Illustrator
- PDF Split-Merge

Keep in mind that I use a PC.

If I'm starting from Illustrator, export the file as a high resolution TIFF (at least 300 DPI). Open the TIFF file in Photoshop, do any image manipulation required, and then flatten the image.

For online distribution, I suggest saving your PDF file at 100 DPI. This is enough to provide your users with a decent file for viewing and personal printing without giving them a print quality file that they can use to mass produce copies of your work. Be sure that black and white files are saved in grayscale mode and that color files are saved in RGB mode.

For your print needs, you want to save the PDF file at, at least, 300 DPI. (I use 450 DPI). Consult your printer for color mode requirements.

Save this file again as a TIFF (for storage) and then as a single file PDF. Repeat these steps for each one of the files for your project.

NOTE: Photoshop allows you to record actions, so that you can reduce repetitive steps down to a simple mouse click. As a comic book self-publisher you should become familiar with this aspect of Photoshop.

Once you have all your single image PDF files, it's now time to merge them into one single multi-page document. I do this via PDF Split-Merge. With PDF Split-Merge, it's a simple as selecting the PDF files you want to merge together, setting the order of the pages, naming the new file, and clicking RUN. This will create a single multi-page PDF file for you.

Black and white image should be more than 1-2MB per page. Color files can be 10 times that size.
With my sample book (Warmageddon), the final size for the 32 pages with full color exterior covers was around 50MB. That's 34 pages (32 pages plus the 2 interior covers) of black and white files and 2 pages of full color (the exterior covers).

28 July 2008

From the Forums: Preview Books and DPI

I spend a fair amount of toe on Digital Webbing answering questions, so every now and then, I'll run some of those answers here (when they relate to comic book self-publishing). Today, those questions involve preview book pricing and DPI.

Question #1
I'm heading to the convention. This will be my first show behind the table. I want to sell a 32-page preview book along with other stuff like posters. Ka-Blam charges about $1.98 per book with the Kablam ad inside the back cover. The book will have a color cover and B/W interiors.

My questions are :
How much should I charge for a 32-page comic book and 11x17 prints?
Does placing a Ka-Blam ad in the back cover of the book make it less professional?

My Forum Response
I charge between $3-5 for a comic book depending on the number of pages. I have a 32-paged black and white book that I sell for $2, but it's a sampler book used to encourage people to buy the more expensive $5 and $15 books. If it was my only book, I'd charge about $3-$4 for it.

11x17 prints, I sell for $10 or 3 for $20. These cost me about $1 each so they bring in a nice profit.

If placing the Ka-Blam ad is the difference between profit and loss, then place the ad. However, I would place it on the inside back cover (at best). You have time now, so take advantage of Ka-Blam's pricing break for slower shipping and drop the need for the ad. There are also other printers out there that may have better pricing without the need of ads.

The Long Answer
When pricing comic books, I look at what the market will bear and price according to my cost. Additionally, I keep an eye on being able to make money wholesaling the comics. With the standard 24-,28- or 32-paged comic, the most common prices are between $3.00-$4.00. This price is pretty standard for black and white or color. This means, I want to wholesale these books between $1.50-$2.00, so I want to keep my costs below that point. I sell most of my comics direct to the customer, so I don't worry about my wholesale costs covering anything more than my printing costs, so in this case, if I'm pricing at $3.00 then my want my print costs to be no more than $1.25.

Keep in mind, that your printer has a lot to do with your final price. Let's use Ka-Blam (since it was mentioned in the example). A 24-paged black and white book with 4:1 covers (that full color exterior and black and interiors) without an ad can be printed as low at $1.98 (with the back cover ad, it will be as slow as $1.40). Let's print 25 and ship via USPS flat Rate for $4.80. That brings our total price to $54.30 or about $2.17 each. Let's make 23¢ on wholesale (at 40% off cover), so the wholesale cost is $2.40 and the retail cost is $4.

I think that's a bit high for a 24-32 paged comic, so I would be looking for ways to reduce costs. I'm not a fan of the back cover Ka-Blam ad (although, I've used it myself). Not because they are unprofessional, but because I think you can get a better deal on advertising by contacting other businesses. However, let's do that math. [(25 x 1.40)+4.80]/25 = $1.60, so you save about 57¢, so wholesale at $2, retail at $3.50 and retailers get a 43% discount. Not bad, but it could be better, so keep looking for cheaper printing and maybe a better advertiser.

FYI: Another way to save on Ka-Blam printing is to link to them from your site. This will give you and additional 5% saving. So that drops the price about another 10¢ on the $1.98 price. That makes your unit cost around $2.07. You have to metion the link when you order to get the discount.

For prints, I'm happy with my current printer (www.catprint.bz). They allow you to mix and match prints and as long as you print around 50 prints, the price including shipping makes your unit cost for full color, full bleed prints around $1 each. These prints sell easily for $5-$10, so after you sell 5-10, the other 40-45 are pure profit.

Question #2
I have photoshop 7 and I need to resize files. Can you change the DPI via photoshop? If so, how? Additionally, I have theA3 1200pro scanner from Mustek, the resolution says normal, fine, and super fine. Is there any way to know how much dpi each one is?

My Forum Response
Lucky for you I know exactly where it is in PS 7 as that's what I use.

When resizing, the most important thing to remember is that you want the number of pixels to be EQUAL TO or LESS THAN what you began with.

I'm not familiar with a Mustek, but the best way to figure it out is to scan something small at each setting and open it in PS, to see the resulting DPI and/or pixel size.

Follow Questions to #2
Q: What happens if I scan it in 300 dpi at 11 by 17. Change it to 500 dpi, save it, and then downsize to 7 by 10.5. That way the final is 7 x 10.5 and 500dpi. Will it come out messed up?

A: 300 dpi at 11 x 17 produces a file that's 3300 pixels x 5100. At 500 dpi that file should be no larger than 3300/500 x 5100/500 or 6.6 x 10.2. 7 x 10.5 is close enough that you will not see a huge difference in quality, but in an ideal world you'd start with a higher DPI scan. Going forward, you need at least 3500 pixels x 5250, for a 7x10.5 file at 500DPI. So you're looking at scanning a little over 300 DPI (318DPI to be exact). I would suggest scanning even higher at 450 or 600 (if your scanner allows) because you never know when you need higher DPI images.

How many pixels are there in 300 DPI. Does DPI mean dot per inch?

A: 300 dpi is simply dots per inch and is the same thing as pixels per inch. 300 dpi means 300 pixels will be in every inch. 1 inch is 300 pixels. 2 inches is 600 pixels. 2.5 inches is 750 pixels.

Q: If the image is 11 x 17, how do you figure about the pixels at 300 DPI?

width in inches x DPI = pixels for width
height in inches x DPI = pixels for height

Using that at 300 DPI, 11 x 17 is :
11 x 300 = 3300
17 x 300 = 5100
and thus the pixels of the image will be 3300 x 5100.

More about Scanning and Image Manipulation
Some scanners scan everything in at the same DPI and increase the number of pixel at higher settings. With these scanners, for a 1 x 1 square you may get 75 x 75 at low setting. 150 x 150 at medium. 300 x 300 at high. If you look at those files in Photoshop, you will note that the DPI is all the same (usually 72 or 75), but the physical size (in inches) is different ( about 1 inch, 2 inches, 3 inches, respectively). In cases like this, when you change the DPI, you also need to change the physical document size (in inches) to match what you desire for the final result. The key thing to remember is that you never want the final number of pixels to be more than what you started with.

14 July 2008

Print on Demand: What I Look For

After my experiences with Digital Webbing Presents (17, 18, 26) and Warmageddon Illustrated #1, my desire was never to print more comics than I absolutely needed. I still have close to 700 copies of Warmageddon Illustrated #1 that I continue to store to this day (several years later). With a growing family, my storage space gets smaller and smaller, so Print on Demand is the right solution for me. Only you can decide if it's right for you.

Here's what I look for in a POD service.

I try to respond to every one as soon as possible, so I like to get a response as soon as possible. Whether it be via phone or email, I expect any business that I'm working with to respond to my needs within a reasonable amount of time. Usually that means I expect a response within one business day. If a company can not provide that, then they will have to make up the difference via pricing in order for me to stay with them.

I like the process from receipt of my files until receipt of the final product to take 10-14 days. Once the turnaround time has been established it should not vary by more than 2-3 days. My goal is to keep as little inventory as necessary, so that means I need to be able to depend on my printing partner to deliver within a reasonable amount of time. If they can not, this means that I have to carry more inventory and thus have more storage space.

The entire point behind POD is the ability to print as little or as many as you need without incurring significant differences in cost (other than shipping). I like to keep my print runs o 25-100 depending on the book and it's expected turnaround. First issues tend to sell faster so I keep more of them in stock, but otherwise, I like to keep about 2 months worth on hand. A POD printer that forces me to stock more than 2 months worth is tying up my cash and storage resources.

I set the prices on my products based upon my costs. For comics I try to keep that cost down to about 3 -4 cent a page. That means a 32-page comic should in around $1-$1.25. This is why I very rarely venture into the realm of color POD. Most POD provide some type of discount for increased quantities, so be sure to ask about where the first price break occurs.

If the best price comes only as a result of inserting ads for the POD, then I try to use that POD only as a last resort. I consider ads as endorsements of the product. If you see an ad for something in any one of my products, generally that means I support that product. That's not always true for PODs, so I avoid placing ads when possible. The first books, I printed using ComixPress and Ka-Blam both had their ads on the back cover. If I had it to do over again, I would not have done so. With the savings, I received from that, I would have been better off contacting my local comic book shop and asking them to buy the ad space.

All printers use a different combination of shippers. My choices should be the United States Postal Service (USPS), UPS and/or FedEx. There should be the ability to decide which service I want (Priority, Express, Ground, etc) and I should not have to pay a premium above the shipping costs for the faster shipping method.

I don't expect my comics to be collectible. I have no desire for my comics to be treated as collectibles, but I do expect them to arrive from the printer in salable condition. Any printer worth using as printing partner should be able to deliver product to your door with less than 5% of the product damaged in shipping. This means that package would be:
1) protected against shifting during transit
2) minimally protected against water damage
3) protected against damage caused by dropping
Even if the package is insured, the shipper should provide this minimal amount of protection for you because it can take weeks to be reimbursed.

What the minimum quality you are willing to accept is ultimately up to you. I look for:

1) trim quality - I expect the cuts to be clean with no extra debris left behind. I expect the product to be square. I expect the book to have uniform page length when in a closed position.

2) print quality - I expect the cover colors to be evenly distributed. I expect the blacks to be uniform. The final product should not be pixelated (unless that's the desired effect).

3) uniformity of product - I expect each individual unit to be an exact duplicate (within reason). This means the size should not drastically change and there should not be drastic shifts in color.

And that's what I look for.

28 June 2008

Selling Comics Online: the Basics

There are 3 basics ways of selling items online.
1) Web Pages Linked to a Payment Method
2) Hosted Solutions
3) Complete Solutions Hosted on Your Server

This option is you having a web page with your product and a buy it now or add to cart button. Generally, clicking this button initiates the buying process by either direct the user to purchase the product and/or adding the product to a cart provided by a payment gateway.

A payment gateway is web site like PayPal.com or 2Checkout.com where you (the seller) have an account and they collect credit card (and other payments) from your customers. Gateways usually charge a fee per transaction, a percent of the transaction (including shipping costs), and/or a monthly fee. In return, they collect money for you, disburse the money to your account (when you request or on a schedule), and/or provide you with a means to linking to there payment systems.

Linking to a gateway in this manner is the most basic manner of selling online. It's quick, simple and easy. Most can do this by simply following the instructions laid out that the gateway. While being quick, simple, and easy, it's also the hardest to maintain. As you get more and more product, it requires you to maintain more and more code. As product is sold, it requires you to keep track of your stock and remove products when unavailable. This is a great solution if you only have 3 or 4 products that are always in stock. Once you grow beyond that it's time to look at the other options.

Hosted solutions are solutions made available to you on a another business's web server. Leading the pack in hosted services are eBay (with eBay stores) and Yahoo! (with Yahoo! stores). Hosted solutions are generally a one size fit all solution. They supply you with an e-commerce solution that fits the needs of most people and you make the best of it. Generally, there is a monthly fee associated with most hosted solutions. If you're interested in this path, then I suggest going to your handy-dandy search engine of choice and searching for hosted e-commerce solution. You'll get a plethora of results and hopefully one will be right for you. I'm not going to spend too much time talking about hosted solutions because ultimately they are too varied.

With hosted solutions, you want to avoid those that are just tie-ins to a payment gateway like PayPal or 2Checkout.com. These payment gateways offer their own carts, so you are paying for a service you can get direct from the gateway for free.

You also want a service that will bring additional traffic to your store. Think of a hosted solution as a mall. Retailers want to be in a mall because malls have significant foot traffic. Someone is out to buy one thing, but stumble upon your store because it's there. What you want from a hosted solution, the web equivalent of foot traffic.

You also want
- inventory tracking : product is removed as it is sold
- options : the ability to list one t-shirt with 3 colors (red, green, blue) and 3 sizes (S,M,L) instead of 9 different shirts. (Ideally, the options has inventory tracking as well)
- integration with PayPal and at least one other payment solution

Avoid (if possible)
- monthly fees
- per product fee

Complete solutions are packages that you can buy and download for installation on your web server (or web hosting account). These solutions are generally a series of database driven pages that allow you to:
-add, edit and categorize your products
-receive orders
-calculate shipping costs
-manage customers and orders
-keep track of inventory
- connect to a payment gateway

Think of this option as you own little Amazon.com. There are other options out there, but I like CandyPress (for ASP web servers) and OsCommerce (PHP web servers). ASP is Microsoft's Active Server Pages which is available almost exclusively on Windows web servers. PHP is available on almost any web server (including Windows servers).

This option is really for those control freaks (like me) that want to be able to tweak every aspects of their online presentation. They take having someone that is capable of maintaining the code and making required updates, and allow you to have infinitely more control over your products, customers, and order receiving abilities.

I got a little ahead of myself when I talked about CandyPress in an earlier posting. You can read more about CandyPress in my earlier review of it. You can see it in action at my online store (BullCityComics.com). It's versatile and easy to edit if you (or someone you know) have moderate knowledge of Microsoft's ASP technology (which I do) this is the best $80 you can spend.

OsCommerce is an open source e-commerce solution that utilizes PHP and MySQL. There is an active community of developers and lots of templates (free and for sale). Oscommerce will do everything that CandyPress does and is free. I prefer CandyPress, but that's really just because I've spent the last 10 years as an ASP web developer. If I was a PHP web developer, OsCommerce would be my solution of choice.

30 March 2008

Convention Essentials: Rock N Roller R2 Micro

Convention sales are one of my many revenue streams as a comic book self-publisher. I try to hit at least 3-4 different conventions every year. Most are the same every year, but I always try to hit a new one every year. Usually, it's me and my significant other at every convention, but every now and then it's just me. With such a small convention force, it's important for me to minimize labor and the most important labor saving device is my Rock N Roller R2 Micro.

The Rock N Roller R2 Micro is a folding cart that can transform into 8 different modes. It can handle up to 350 pounds and weighs only 17 pounds. Most importantly, it folds down to be about 6 inches tall, 26 inches long and less than 18 inches wide. The cart functions as a standard hand cart, a dolly, a platform cart, and a stackable cart.

This is by far the best $100, I've ever spent and saved me from multiple trips to the car and from carrying 30-60 pound boxes across convention centers and hotels. My back and legs thank me.

If you are planning on establishing a convention circuit presence, then this little cart shold become your best friend. I've tried standard luggage hand carts and even the heavy duty hand carts. Between the carts and the bungee cords needed to secure the boxes on the carts, I spent at least $40-60 only to have the hand cart overturn and spill around corners at least once at every convention. Since I purchased the R2, I've had no spills and no worries. In fact, the only problem I've had was one convention center wouldn't allow stacked platform carts in the elevator. So, I unloaded the R2, configured it into a hand cart, and was allowed on the elevator with no problem.

Buy one today and save yourself injury and frustration.
In the off season, your kids (if you have them) can even use it to haul each other around (like mine do ... with supervision).

22 March 2008

Overnight Prints: 10% off all printing

Checkout code SKYHIGH will get you 10% off all your printing at OverNightPrints.com from now through 4 April 2008.

14 March 2008

From the Mailbox: Copyrights

When I began this blog, I didn't really have a agenda or even more than a vague idea of sharing my experience self-publishing. My goal is really to just hit topics as I deal with them. If you have a self-publishing question that you want answered then feel free to ask me. You can post at Digital Webbing (see my links), here in the comments (that I just enabled), or send me an email (ljamal@ljamal.com).

Today (as the title says), I'm going to dip into the mailbo. So let's jump right in....

From LG in Illinois
I came across your blog on making your own comic and the advice is great, especially on printers and scanners. I have a couple questions in regards to copyrights? A friend and If are making a series of graphic novels. I want to know:

1) Does the complete series have to be all done to get published or can we submit book by book?

2) Should I have an attorney handle the legal side?

3) Should I have my work copyrighted?

I'll answer these questions in the order they are asked.

1) This isn't really a question about self-publishing, but more pitching a series to publisher. However, I will answer this question in multiple ways.
a) If you are planning to submit to publishers, I recommend being familiar with the publisher's current body of work and finding their submissions policy. Once you know their, submissions policy, following it. Usually, you'll only need a premise, a synopsis and 5-10 pages of finished art.
b) If you're self-publishing and talking about submitting to a distributor, then it's best to have as much finished as possible before orders come in for that first issue, especially if you have a limited series planned.
c) If you're being published by someone else work at a pace that allows for editing. If you finish the entire series and then the editor wants to make changes in issue 3 of 6, then you've painted yourself into a corner.

2) Attorneys are not entirely necessary, but if you're not comfortable reading and understanding legalese, then you should have an attorney. If you're putting together contracts, then you can save money on an attorney by just having them look over the final contracts after you've written it. If you're lucky you know an attorney personally who may be willing to help you out. If you're not so lucky, then you should look for a contract and copyright attorney.

3) Once you put any information in a fixed format, it is automatically copyrighted (not copywritten because that's not an English word). If you want legal protection, then you need to file with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress (if you're here in the US) and pay the fee. This isn't a necessary step, but improves your chances of successfully winning a legal challenge (is you find yourself in such a position). There are many different forms to file, so be sure that you file the correct form for your work. The basic cost is $45, but if you file online you can save $10 (and the cost of a stamp).

11 March 2008

Overnight Prints: Get Brochures Folded for Free

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The offer code is FOLDFREE08

Offer is good for any quantity.

02 March 2008

E-Commerce Options: CandyPress

CandyPress is an online shopping cart system. It's ASP/VBScript based software designed to be used on Microsoft Internet Information System (IIS) web servers with an Access or MSSQL server database. If you didn't understand any of that chances are you're not a web programmer. I am, so I'll walk you through this e-commerce option.

In order to use the CandyPress e-commerce system, you must have a site hosted on a Windows based server capable of running ASP applications and have ability to connect to an Access or MSSQL database. If you don't have such web hosting, I recommend Hostexcellence.com (which I use to host all my web sites) or CrystalTech.com (which JLSMedia [my day job] recommends).

You can visit the CandyPress website it will detail everything that the software does for you. This is the software that I use for my store and for me it came down to the following features:

Payment Methods and Gateway Integration
A payment gateway is based how you receive payment from your customer. The Candy Press system ships with integration with all the major online methods including PayPal, 2Checkout.com and Authorize.net. This means all you need is to add your account information to the Candy Press system and BAM! you're ready to accept payments online via any of the available gateways. If one of the many gateways is not for you, then you can also add custom programming to integrate another payment option.

Inventory Tracking
Candy Press allows you to enter the inventory for any product that you place in the store. If you enable the inventory tracking feature, Candy Press will update your inventory as items sells and even send you emails when inventory levels start to run low. This is very useful if you are a self-publisher using Print on Demand.

Live Shipping Rate Quotes
Candy Press ships with the ability to allow your to calculate shipping by any method you wish. You can do it by price, by weight, offer free shipping etc. You can also enable live rate quotes from UPS, FedEx, Canada Post and the United States Postal Service (USPS). Enabling live quotes requires you note the weight of each item and then totals the weight for each item in the cart. It then fetches the correct shipping rate for each one of the services you have available.

In my store, I use USPS and my cart returns shipping quotes for Express Mail, Priority Mail, First Class Mail, Parcel Post and Media Mail. This coupled with PayPal allows me to quote rates based upon weight AND print postage without leaving the house.

Easy Modifications

Anyone with a little experience with ASP and VBScript, can easily modify the CandyPress cart to do almost anything you desire and wholly integrate it into any site. In fact, that's pretty much what I spend 40 hours a week doing at JLSMedia. This can be simple modifications such as changing the way that products are displayed to more complex modifications like adding a buy back program.

My buddy, Mike Hawthorne, has a web site that includes modifications that allow him to have a weekly updated feature (Dirty Girls) and weekday comic (Hysteria) and even a daily feature (Monster a Day). There is also his blog which is completed integrated with his Blogger.com blog and, of course, the fully featured shopping cart.

I've been involved in e-commerce since 1997 and have built e-commerce systems that have handled 300-400 orders a day. Candy Press is the most versatile and easily modified ASP shopping cart that I've come across.

If you're in need of an e-commerce consultation, contact JLSMedia and tell them that Jámal sent you.

27 February 2008

Overnight Prints: Special Offer on Business Cards

From now until 18 March 2008, OvernightPrints.com has a special offer for 100 FREE business cards. These are high quality, full-color offset business cards printed on 15pt premium cardstock AND they don't add anything to your card. No advertising their services, no URL, no nothing, just pay shipping and you get the free cards.

The offer code is 100FREE. Just place the code in the cart at checkout to receive the free business cards.

24 February 2008

Why the Big Post Dump?

You may have notice that there are lots of new posts that are in fact old posts. The reason for that is I generally write 3-4 posts on the weekend and then set them for a future date without posting them. Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't have a time system where you can post in the future, so I have to remember to come back and make the post active and I simply forgot.

As a result there are about 5-6 new posts from the last 2 weeks and a couple more still in cold storage. I'm working on a system to remedy this problem, but until then catch up on reading.

23 February 2008

Back-ups the L Jamal Way

Regular back-ups are probably the one thing that most computer users just don't do. For a comic book creator of any type, back-ups should be one of the most important things that you do and they should happen as often as possible.

I do back-ups on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
Daily - I back-up all my important drives. This includes mainly my work files and email.
Weekly - I archive the files that I completed during that week and back them up to CD and upload them to my storage web site.
Monthly - I back-up everything.

I don't have some fancy back-up program or anything like that. What I have is computer that I bought off of eBay for $100. I then bought a really large hard drive (at least 350 GB) and installed it into the computer. This computer serves as my file server.

I'm a Windows user, so I then wrote a simple DOS batch file that copies the mission critical drives to my file server on a daily basis. On a monthly basis, that same machine simply copies all the hard drives from my other 3 computers to my 4th computer. That's it. Done.

In addition to my file server I also utilize my web space. Web space has become extremely cheap and if you're like most people, you don't use more than 10-15% of the space that your web host allocates to you. I've signed up for what my web host (www.hostexellence.com) calls the Unlimited Business Account. For about $200/year, I get unlimited web space and I have decided to use some of that space as storage. So as I finish projects, I RAR then into a single file and I upload them to a special storage account on my hosted machine. This includes my self-published work as well as other work. I store my self published work permanently. All other work get deleted once it's 2-3 months old. This is what I call my off-site storage.

My off site storage takes up about 2.5 GB.
Most of this takes place late at night or other times when I'm not actively using my machine and if you're really clever, you can schedule all this to occur without you needing to be present AND have it email you when it's completed. I don't go to those extreme ends, but I've lost enough email and have had to redo enough work to know that you just can't ever back-up enough.

18 February 2008

Comic Book and Shipping Supplies

As I've said before every self-publisher will end up shipping products. If you're going to ship product then you're going to need comic book and shipping supplies. If you need them, then you're going to need a source to buy them. Ideally, you want to find wholesale sources for these items, but you may not being buying at a high enough level to qualify for wholesale purchases.

Here's my list of places to look.

Comic Bags and Boards
For comic book supplies like bags and boards, I always go to my local comic book shop first. Comic book stores don't usually make a huge amount of profit on the sell of these items, but most always have some in stock. If you're buying more than 1 or 2 sets of bags and boards at a time, then talk to the store manager/ owner to see if they will give you a better discount. Explain to then that you use them to ship the comics you produce and not only will you likely get a discount on the supplies, but you may also get a new direct customer. Even without a discount, your local comic book store is the ideal place because these items are heavy and you save in shipping costs.

Other sources for bags and boards include eGerber.com, BagsUnlimited.com and any online comic book store. If you are doing a standard sized comic book, I suggest purchasing Silver Age bags and boards.

Other Bags and Boards
All my original art and print sales leave my presence in bags and board.

The board isn't really a board, but just a slighly thicker sheet of paper. A online search will net you a good source at a good price.

My bags are slightly larger than 11" x 17" and have an adhesive strip to seal the bag. My source is clearbags.com.

My envelopes are 9" x 12" manila (or white) catalog envelopes. You can find these almost anywhere. I suggest buying in quantity of at least 100 or 250. Sets of 20-25 take up much less space, but cost about 2-3 times more than the larger quantities. My current set came from OfficeDepot.com.

For larger envelopes, generally a online search and a little research will net you the best prices. The only large size I use is about 12" x 18". Again, buy these in the largest quantity that is useful to you. Most of my prints sell at conventions, so I only buy these in sets of 25. It's been a while since I bought any, so I don't remember my source. However, I found them by doing an online search.

USPS Supplies
USPS will ship Priority and Express Mail supplies to your door at no cost. I don't ship too much via Priority or Express Mail, so I order a one set each of the Flat Rate envelopes and boxes. Once I get down to 5 or so, I place an order to refill my supplies. In a pinch, you can race down to get supplies from your local post office.

You can never have too much tape. For shipping I have invisible tape, clear packing tape, brown packing tape. I even have duct tape and multiple types and dispensers for each and they all get used. If you absolutely can only get one type of tape then get tje clear packing tape as it is the most versatile.

Cardboard Flats/ Pads
I ship almost everything with 1-2 cardboard flats. I fine them essential to protecting the products during shipping. It's much cheaper to ship well once than to replace a damaged shipment. Even if only 1 package out of 100 gets damaged that's easily $15-20 in product and shipping costs. I get 100 flats from Uline for $20 plus shipping.

The extra 25-50¢ per package is worth the extra peace of mind and besides, you pass those cost to the recipient by...

Recouping Packaging Cost
Now that you've purchased all these supplies it's time to recoup that investment. With some products (like prints) the cost is built into the price. All my items ship bagged and boarded, so it's easier (and simpler) to just absorb the cost into the price of the item. I know that 25-30¢ of every sale is the cost of the bag and board. This is ok to me because if I'm shipping an item bagged and boarded that means I'm making the full retail price which is about 100% more than than I make via a distributor.

Of course, there are then the costs of the envelopes, flats, tape (yes the tape). The cost of these items get passed on as the handing fee. I calculate it buy finding the unit cost (including shipping) for each portion of the packaging.
Envelopes: 250 for $25 (including shipping) = 10¢
Cardboard flat: = 100 for $25 (including shipping) = 25¢
Tape (I assume each roll is good for 100 packages and I use 2 different rolls): 100 for $5 = 5¢
That's a total of 40¢ for costs. I then tack a fee for my time to get total a total of $2.

Remember the handling fee is in addition to your shipping cost. I use the handling fee so I always charge the exact shipping costs. Occasionally, the shipping fee that my online store charges is more than the actual shipping costs. When that happens, I either issue a refund or a store discount for the difference. This is just good customer service as it let's the customer know that you care more about being fair to them than making that extra buck and ultimately they return to you again and again.

11 February 2008

Do's and Don'ts of Naming Your Comic and Choosing a URL

Two of the most important things you will do as a publisher are naming your comic and finding a URL for your comic. Here a quick list of dos and don'ts for both.

Dos and Don'ts of Comics Naming
- Do research to discover if anyone else has used a similar title recently. You don't want a title called Wormwood when there's a title called Chronicles of Wormwood. It creates brand confusion and makes is hard for your readers and retailers to find (and order) your book. There are a few online comic book databases that can be helpful. I suggest the Grand Comic-book Database (GCD) or ComicBookDB.com. When in doubt, you can always Google the keywords in your title with comics or comic book to see what out there.

- Do choose a title that evokes the subject matter of the series. Don't call your romance title The Forbidden Zone.

- Don't choose a title that suggests a frequency like Warmageddon Quarterly, Action Comics Weekly, or Omnibus Bi-Monthly. As a self-publisher things will go wrong and things will get delayed and the last thing you want to do is have the title of your book remind your audience that the book is late.

- Don't choose a title that is too long (or too short) as it will create problems when trying to develop a logo. It's much easier to create a logo for Warmageddon than it is for Warmageddon Illustrated or Warmageddon Quarterly.

Dos and Don'ts of Choosing Domains and URLs
- Do choose a domain that is related to your comic. If your comic is called Warmageddon, then www.warmageddon.com is a better domain choice than www.gladiatorbattle.com. Having a title and matching domain helps establish your brand.

- Do use a generic name over a totally unrelated name. For Warmageddon, it would be better to use gladiatorbattle.com than webandprintcomix.com. gladiatorbattle.com gives you a better idea of the content of the site than the latter and you want to convey as much information about your project with as few words as possible.

- Don't choose a really long domain name. www.thisisthegreatestcomicbookintheworld.com is too long and when it appears in print material no one will type it.

- Don't use slashes. When typing most will not go beyond the first slash. If you have www.ljamal.com/warmageddon then most will type in www.ljamal.com.

- Do use subdomains to redirect to slash URLs. If your web site is www.zudacomics.com/node/250/ then using thomas.ljamal.com is a more memorable URL that also includes branding.

- Don't use the dubs. Most web hosts automatically assume that www.ljamal.com and ljamal.com point to the same web site. If your web host does not than any good web host should be able to correct the problem with a short phone call. Dubs just make your URL longer without any added benefit.

- Do use .com. I never suggest owing a .net, .biz, or .anything but .com. If you are using any top level domain (TLD) other than .com, you ARE sending someone traffic.

- Don't use hypens (dashes) unless they are part of your logo and even then you should own the hyphenless domain. It's okay for Chik-Fil-A to own chik-fil-a.com because the dashes are part of their logo and that increases brand awareness. However, they also own chikfila.com. Don't go out and buy agent-of-chaos.com because agentofchaos.com because at some point some is going to ask you what your domain name is and then you're stuck saying agent dash of dash chaos dot com.

- Do avoid beginning the domain with the, a, or an. If you must own the a,the or an domain then also get the domain without the articles. Local gourmet market place, A Southern Season, owns asouthernseason.com and southernseason.com.

- Do use initial caps to separate domain names with multiple words. LongBox.com rather than longbox.com. DigitalWebbing.com and not digitalwebbing.com. The initial caps help the eye identify the words quicker which means the end user is more like to remember the URL.
It doesn't always help a lot (that's why we have other rules). thisisthegreatestcomicbookintheworld.com is still difficult to read as ThisIsTheGreatestComicBookInTheWorld.com.

Shipping and Packaging: the Basics

As a self-publisher, even with a distributor, you will be involved in shipping most of your product all around the country and the world. Here are some keys to making your shipping life easier.

Use USPS and PayPal.com Shipping Center
I use PayPal for all my shipping needs. I ship almost exclusively via the United States Postal Service (USPS). The USPS only allows packages up to 70 pounds, so if you ship heavier packages, you will need to split them. Most of my packages are less than 10 pounds, so I bought an 11 pound scale from OfficeDepot ($30). This saves me from going to the post office unless I'm dropping off stuff or shipping internationally.

I use PayPal.com because I already had a PayPal account and PayPal allows you to ship via all the USPS methods (including Media Mail) AND it make it easy to search for shipments AND it stores the Delivery Confirmation Number AND allows you to purchase insurance. PayPal is your own shipping center and unlike Stamps.com or Pitney-Bowes, PayPal doesn't charge you a monthly fee for using the service.

NOTE: USPS does not have point-to-point tracking. They can tell that the package was delivered, but not allow you to dependably locate the package. If you need point-to-point tracking, then I recommend UPS or Fed-Ex.

Non-USPS Shipping
If you want to ship via other shippers, then I suggest signing up for an account online. This will allow you to get cheaper pricing and give you access to everything you need for shipping (including local drop off points). When using Fed-Ex, you should know that all Fed-Ex locations do not have all shipping methods (like Fed-Ex Ground) available.

If you have to have tracking from the shipping point to the delivery point (for items like original art), then I suggest UPS or Fed-Ex.

Shipping to your distributor
When shipping to your distributor
- Count and recount the quantities
- Never ship more than they ordered. They (especially Diamond) will only pay you for what you ordered. Any extra will be sold with no benefit to you.
- Package your items well to protect against normal shipping wear and tear.
- Don't use excessive packing material. I suggest crumpled newspaper and not peanuts. Most cities have free local papers. Feel free to use them and save yourself some packaging costs.
- Include a PO/ Bill with the shipment. Make sure that your distributor knows who, when and what when it comes to payment. There should be no confusion.
- Include a list of contents. Always note what's in the box and the quantity.

Shipping to others
Most other shipping you will be doing is direct to the end user. My philosophy for this type of shipping, is to ship once. This means, I attempt to protect the product as well as possible. For this type of shipping I :
- Include a packing list that includes the shipping address and the inventory of each order.
- Bag and board the products. This offers an extra layer of protection to the product and generally protects against water exposure and most shipping damage.
- Use envelopes that are the correct size for your packages. I use 9"x 12" manila catalog envelopes for comics and magazine sized products. For larger products (like prints) I use larger 12.5" x 18.5" envelopes. I also use the Priority Mail Flat Rate envelopes and boxes. I don't use boxes very often, so I don't keep boxes on hand. When I need a box, I visit Wal-mart and pick up one or ship via Priority Mail (I keep Priority Mail supplies on hand). Note that it's illegal to use an unused Priority Mail for anything other than Priority Mail shipping. I try to keep used Priority Mail boxes on hand.
- Secure the bag and boards to a stiff backer. I use 1 or 2 cardboard flats and tape the bag and board into a single unit and then secure that unit to the cardboard flat.
- Wrapping paper can be used. I use kraft wrapping paper to cover previously used box. It's extremely cheap and make for a nice looking package.
- Use peanuts to protect items in boxes. I keep a 18"x18"x18" box filled with peanuts that I get for free. My peanuts come from packages shipped to me and/or from a local company that receives weekly shipments in peanuts. If you find yourself shipping lots of boxes, ask around to local companies and secure their extra packaging peanuts.
- Keep your packaging costs low. My average packaging cost less than $1.

Shipping Original Art
As a former art collector, I am anally retentive about shipping original art. For original art, I:
- Bag and board the art. This will protect against water damage. Be sure to include a packing slip with addresses.
- Sandwiched between foam core. Foam core is light and rigid and yet flexible enough to protect most shipping damage. I get large 3 pack sheets for $10. These are large enough to be folded in half and still have about 2-3 inches of clearance all around the art. The bagged and boarded art is then taped down to the inside of the foam core. This secures the art to the middle of the package.
- I write my shipping address on the inside of the foam core (directly on the foam core).
-Tape all the edges of your foam core sandwich. The tape seals the package making it very water resistant.
- Write the address on the foam core.
- Secure the postage to the foam core.
- I ship via Priority Mail in the US with Delivery Confirmation. Generally even with packaging costs shipping to the US and Canada is less than $10-12.

Shipping Prints
Print shipping is closer to shipping books than shipping original art. I bag and board and then use a cardboard backer and an envelope. This protects the print from normal shipping wear and tear without being excessively expensive. I suggest shipping prints flat.

Shipping Internationally
There is no longer a cheap method to ship internationally. USPS which was the cheapest method (via Surface Mail) now only ships via Air Mail. Without international distribution, the cost of shipping items internationally can often exceed the costs of the item themselves. I recommend checking all shipping options and evaluating the cheapest method.

Shipping Via Priority and Express Mail
The USPS will deliver Priority/ Express Mail supplies direct to your door for free. I make sure that I have ample stock of the Flat Rate envelopes and boxes. This is a great way to reduce packaging costs for Priority/ Express Mail items. Remember that Priority and Express Mail material should only be used for the correct service.

- To avoid writing my address as a return address, I've purchased a self inking stamp. 2 self inking prints from www.iprint.com cost me $29 including shipping.
- Include your web site's URL on all material you send out. I also make a point of including a business card.

04 February 2008

Other Computer Equipment

In addition to the basics that I listed earlier, here is the second tier of my essential computer equipment.

The Stylus/ Graphics Tablet
My stylus/ graphics tablet of choice is generally whatever is the cheapest Wacom tablet available. In past this has been the Graphire and now it's the Bamboo. I have the Bamboo. In addition to being the cheapest, it's also the stylus that is the closest in size to the standard mouse pad. This is important to me because space is always an issue for me. With the Bamboo and/or the smallest Graphire I just switch out my mouse pad for the tablet and there is no loss of space.

Once you get used to it, you'll finds that the stylus and tablet is a much better pointing device than the mouse. I use my mouse for most of my everyday computing, but when it comes to making comics, I use the stylus for layouts, inks, image editing, lettering, coloring ... just about everything other than writing. Of the optional peripheral equipment, this is the one that I just can't live without.

The approximate cost of a Bamboo is about $90. I recommend that you get it locally rather than online. That way, if you don't find it as useful as I do, you can return it without much effort or loss.

The Printer
I have 2 different types of printers. One is an HP laserjet 6L. The other is an HP Deskjet D1420.

The HP Laserjet 6L is a black and white printer and is no longer being made. You can find refurbished machines on eBay for about $50 (including shipping). I've had one since 1998 (when they were close to $300). It's uses toner rather than ink. The toner cartridges costs about $60, but are good for about 2 years of normal usage. It will print anything from postcard (4" x 6") to legal size (8.5" x 14"). This is a parallel port printer and will not print anything much smaller or thicker than a postcard. If you can find one in working condition, it's a very smart purchase.

The HP Deskjet D1420 is a full color printer. It costs between $40-50 and you can find one at Wal-Mart. This is a USB printer and it uses ink cartridges which cost about $14-$18. If you wish to do just black and white priting, then you can purchase the black ink cartridge which I recommend. Just like the Laserjet, this will print sizes from post card to legal sizes. I need to buy new ink cartridges every 4-6 months.

Why 2 different printers?
I use 2 different printers because I print to both regular and glossy paper. I've found that printer that use ink are fairly inexpensive, but the inks stay a long time to dry on glossy stock (like postcards). The toner based print uses heat to fuse the toner to paper. This means that there is no drying period and this is excellent for printing custom messages on the back of postcards.

If I need printing on sizes larger than legal size, I visit my local copy shop (Kinko's). I don't very often need such printing and often when I do it's for some type of merchandise. For me, it's not work the cost and space to have printer to print these larger sizes.

The best thing about these printers, is they take very little space. They are about 18"in width. The Deskjet is about 18" x 6" x 4" when closed (18"x 8" x 6" when fully open). The Laserjet is about 18"x 12"x 9" when closed and 18"x 12" x 12" with paper. If space is a concern for you (as it is for me) then you can get stackable racks and place the Deskjet under the Laserjet.

The Scanner
My scanner is the HP Scanjet 3400C. This is a standard legal sized (8.5"x 14") scanner and cost about $99. I don't really do a lot of scanning, but it is useful for archival scans of business documents (like contracts) as well as scanning art for comic book usage. It can be use to scan and print (like a copy machine) and also has a feature to scan and attach to email. I very rarely use either of the latter uses, but it's nice to know that I can with just a touch of a button. Other than scanning comic book pages, I find myself using the scanner most often in place of a fax machine. Instead of faxing a document, I scan and email it.

Now you're saying, "If comic book pages are larger than you scanner, then how do you scan these large pages?" We'll I either:
1) Go to the local copy shop and shrink the original art down to letter size
2) Scan the page in pieces and then place them together in Photoshop.
Neither solution is ideal, but I scan original art very rarely and quality tabloid sized scanners (11" x17") cost over $1000. (although if you're lucky you can be a A3 Mustek for about $150... if you can find it and it's still in working condition).

Stylus ... scanner ... printer... those are the additional peripherals that you need.

02 February 2008

POD: ComixPress.com

Comixpress.com was the first Print on Demand printers dedicated solely to comic books. They currently offer saddle-stitching and perfect binding in color and black and white.

My first experience with them was back in 2004 and the very first job, I had them do was a simple 8-paged black and white book with a full color cover. Since POD was new to comics, these 8 pages were designed to run ComixPress through the paces. I had received the sampler that they sent out and production quality wasn't what I expected. I suspected that some of the production problems were due to pre-press and not actual printing, so I devised this sampler booklet as a test. As it turned out, I was right. The problem that I had with the sampler all turned out to be pre-press problems and the sampler looked much better than I expected AND I received 10 copies of the sampler within 2 weeks of placing the order.

This led me to use ComixPress when I needed to print Warmageddon: The Art of Sengkry Chhour. This was back in October 2004 and I needed the books ready from the Mid-Ohio Con in late November. ComixPress delivered and I was very happy with the results.

Unfortunately some time in 2005, ComixPress became victims of their own success and soon have way more orders than they could fill in a reasonable amount of time. This led to 3-6 month delays between payment, printing and delivery. These delays also extended to email responses and since email is the only means of contacting ComixPress, this meant that you could go for months without hearing a response from ComixPress. This problem was not only in printing, but also in fulfillment of orders placed via their online store. Sometime, in late 2005, I placed an order to refill my W:tAoSC supplies, the results were great when I finally received them 3 months later.

Fast forward to Oct 2006 when both Logan (the gut in charge of ComixPress) and I were both at SPX. Logan and I were back and forth between our 2 tables talking about the past and future of ComixPress. I found out about the launch of the new line of graphic novel services. Logan went into depth about what they do at ComixPress and the reason for the set-up fee. Even though, I have experienced the delays and poor response, I walked away from SPX full up hope for ComixPress and hoping to be able to promote the service.

Sadly, the same problems still plagued Logan and crew at ComixPress through the remainder of 2006 and into 2007. I last spoke with ComixPress in early 2007 in effort to find out about the performance of W:tAoSC and the process for removing books from their store. Their responses were once again delayed (2-3 weeks between responses).

Overall, I think ComixPress offers a great quality product in both color and black and white. They probably have the best quality product between the 2 major online comic PODs (ComixPress and Ka-Blam). ComixPress, however, still struggles with customer service, fulfilment, and delivery.

My advice for those that want to use ComixPress is to follow their guidelines exactly and plan 6-9 months in advance. Doing this will almost guarantee that your printing will be delayed as little as possible. If you can't do that, then you are better off exploring another option.

01 February 2008

Coloring Basics: Flatting

As I mentioned in my first post, I'm a comic book jack of all trades. However, my very first paid comic book position was that of a flatter. I've flatted for John Rauch, Val Staples, Chris Blythe and a couple others. It paid the bills for a short period, but I positively hate it.

Why do I hate it? Mainly because it's not a creative job. Flatting is a production job. As a flatter, it is your job to make the job of the colorist easier by creating a layer of easily selectable color blocks from the lineart. Your job is to make it easy to just select the hand or the face or even the iris or the eyeball. This mind-blowingly dull and tedious job is necessary to allow the colorist to quickly lay down colors and color effects and if need be quickly make changes for the editor.

A flatter changes this:

into this:

so that when put together, it looks like this:

which ultimately becomes this:

Depending on the page and the amount of detail, flatting can take anywhere from 1 - 5 hours. I consider myself to be a fairly slow flatter, so most pages are in the 2-3 hour range. When flatting, I try to get 3 pages done in 8 hours. A good flatting tutorial by Mark Sweeney can be found here.

As a self-publisher, you should not have to worry about the job of a flatter. Most colorists have a flatter (or a team of flatters) that they use for most of their work. Me? I don't use a flatter for most of my work unless I'm under an extreme deadline. As long as the deadline allows me to churn out 1-3 pages a day, I don't need a flatter. However, when I need to get 5 or more pages out a day, that's when I seek out a flatter.

If you do find yourself in need of a flatter, good flatters will cost you about $10-20/page. It should be extremely easy to find a flatter in that price range. The best place to find flatters on short notice is GutterZombie (the colorist message board). Of course, Digital Webbing is a good back-up should you not find someone at GutterZombie.

All images that appear in this post are from MegaStar: Opening Night. MegaStar is copyright Mike Exner, III. This panel was pencilled by Jake Bilbao, inked by Stacie Ponder, flatted by Eagle Gossner, and colored by L. Jamal Walton. The story appeared in Digital Webbing Presents #34. More pages from this story can be found in my online portfolio.

28 January 2008

POD: Local Copy Shop

If you want a very quick study in desktop publishing, then I suggest you visit your local copy shop (YLCS). I use Kinko's because they are the closest and I've used them for so long that most of the employees know me by sight (if not by name).

YLCS is not the most cost effective means of creating merchandise, but as a publisher you will have need of flyers, postcards, prints, and a variety of other swag. Often, you will need this swag in a very short time. It is in this time of need that YLCS will become your best friend.

I use my local Kinko's to create ashcan preview editions and black and white prints.

The ashcans are generally 5.5" x 8.5 (8.5"x 11" folded in the half and stapled). These are usually no more than 10-16 pages (5-8 pages folded) plus a cardstock cover. Generally, I do these in print runs of at least 25 and the cost per unit is about $1.50.

My black and white prints are generally 11" x 17" on cardstock or some variation thereof. I, generally, get 10-20 copies for an initial run and continue to reprint as needed. These cost about 25¢-50¢ each.

When out of town for conventions, I always make a mental note of the location of the nearest copy center. I always keep my storage web site up-to-date with my most recent prints, so that at any time I can grab a print and replenish my stock.

My first self-published item that actually sold out at a convention was an ashcan preview edition of Warmageddon Illustrated #1. I had a print run of 50 and debuted at the Wizard World Philly 2005. They sold for $10 each and more than paid for the entire cost of the convention.

21 January 2008

Computers and Essential Computer Programs

As a modern comic self-publisher, you will need working knowledge of a computer and a few key computer programs. If you use a Mac or a PC, this will be no different. At bare minimum, you will need a functioning computer with the following program types:

1) word processor - for writing and editing scripts.
2) image editor - for creating and editing art, and lettering
3) desktop publishing - for putting it all together and getting it to the printer

Some may suggest that you run out and get the best machine, fully loaded with the latest versions of the most popular industry tools. Some may, but I'm not. I'm here to tell you what I use and what works for me.

Let's start with my computer. I'm a PC guy. I'm a PC guy because I like being able to take apart and put together my computer. That's just me, you may be different, but I'm telling you my way and I'm cheap. My computer in a 450 Mhz Pentium II machine with 768MB of RAM. It cost me $100 (including shipping on eBay about 2-3 years ago)plus another $100 to max out the RAM. My current monitor is a 17" CRT it cost me less than $100 (including shipping on eBay). I also have an HP Deskjet D1420 printer, an HP 3400C scanner and a Wacom Bamboo tablet. Those were about $250 combined and while nice, they are not really necessary, so I mention them only in passing.

My operating system is Windows 2000 Advanced Server. I'm a web developer by trade so it's nice to have a local web server for web site development. The side effect is that I learned that the server operating system requires less RAM and it less processor intensive than Windows XP. This leaves more RAM and processor power for my other programs and means that I can invest the money saved elsewhere.

My word processor is Word 2000 because it does it's job. Nothing more and nothing less. As a word processor Wordpad works just as well and ships (for free) with the Windows OS. Having Word in most cases, will allow you to easily open and create a wide ranges of document types. This becomes very handy when you are working with lots of different creators. Google also offers a free word processor at Google Docs.

My document type of choice for writing and editing is RTF (Rich Text Format). This format maintains all the formatting that you really need (bold, italics, tabs, etc) without all the unnecessary junk AND it's readable by most other word processors. This makes it extremely easy to pass documents back and forth. Google Docs also takes care of file compatibility and file sharing.

My image editors of choice are Photoshop and Illustrator both made by Adobe. I use Photoshop 7 and Illustrator 9. They both work well for me. I use Illustrator mainly for lettering and I use Photoshop for almost everything else. I recently discovered that Photoshop 7 does not always work with Windows Vista, so if you're using Vista, I suggest you check invest in Photoshop CS3.

I don't really have a program that's designed exclusively for desktop publishing. All the printers that I use accept TIFF and/or PDF files. For those that accept TIFF files, I use Photoshop to export files as TIFFs and I'm done. For those the require PDF files, I use Photoshop to create single page PDF files of each one of my pages and then I use PDF Split-Merge to merge the pages all together into a single file that gets sent off to the printer.

And that's it. Those are all the programs that I use on a regular basis to produce comics.