Friday, July 27, 2007

Top FIVE things Small Press Gets WRONG (and how to fix them)

This is my list of pet peeves!

Ok, From the bottom up:

5. "To be continued..."

It's an unfortunate side effect of working in small press that sometimes your ambitions over-reach themselves. Now usually this is a good thing except in one tiny area: the horrible 'to be continued'. If it's your first small press title then, for the love of god, don't make it an on going strip. I've lost count of the numbers of issue #1s of comics I have were the promising series didn't get beyond, well, beyond number #1.

4. Scale.

Ok, you have to work A4 - fair enough, but try to make the best use out of the space - have a look at a Commando comic, 2000AD and any US comic and you'll see that the number of panels grows and shrinks with the page size. Don't try and make a US comic at UK sizes - it just has the horrible effect of making the whole thing look overly large (and we all want our cool things to be smaller, right?).

3. Rubbish Reproduction.

Well, this could mean a lot of things, but really, what I'm getting at here is rubbish reproduction which you can do something about - ie, if you're doing a digital print, try and make sure the work is at least 600dpi at print size - smaller than that and you will start to notice jaggy bits.

2. Colour.

Don't include COLOUR! It usually pumps the cover price up and a bad colouring job can really make a comic look amateurish. in particular don't use either of the following in photoshop (or whatever your computer tool of choice is):

Lens Flare (ARRGHHH MY EYES! MY EYES!) or the air brush tool. Both have an instant 'Yuck' factor.

1. Lettering!

And finally, and, perhaps, the most importantly, lettering. Now I'm really rather of the opinion that lettering is FAR more important than almost any other factor (art and script included). Good lettering is a joy to behold and will instantly elevate your work - bad lettering will do nothing but totally detract from everything around them. The quickest way to spot quality is to look at the lettering. And you know, there are fonts other than COMIC SANS (for the love of the sweet zombified baby jesus, NOT comic sans!) - and they're not that expensive and will last forever.
(Oh, one other tip on lettering: whatever size you're lettering is? shrink it by about a third.)


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

How FutureQuake gets done

First off I need to say that FQ is not a one-man operation, but is a team comprising of myself, Richmond Clements and Mark Woodland. If I say ‘I’ during this it is because I am only writing about how I do my share of the work.

The best place to start is with the arrival of A SCRIPT!

Scripts almost always arrive by email these days, (in fact I’ve only ever had one batch of scripts arrive by post, and despite liking one of them I never heard again after asking for an email copy) so it is quite quick for a script to be received and logged into the first of the folders I use for organising myself- The RAW SCRIPTS file.

Depending on how many scripts are floating around this file can vary dramatically, in fact until we recently closed to subs we were getting more scripts each week than we could reasonable keep up with and have any time to read. Scripts are read in order of receipt, as I don’t like having anyone jump the queue so it can take quite a while for scripts to get read. However, once the script has been read by all three of us we will decide on the next step- either modifications or the script goes into the regular SCRIPTS file. There to lie in wait for an unwary artist to accept. At this point the script makes its first appearance on a spreadsheet- the imaginatively titled FQP PROGRESS spreadsheet. Carrying details of Writer, Title, pagecount, artist, letterer, status and note (which is normally a one-line description of the plot). This spreadsheet is my main record of the strip other than the strip Email, but that hasn’t been generated yet.

The next stage for a strip is to find someone to draw it. We’ve been VERY lucky here at FQP to have worked with some amazing artists, both pro and small press, and so I’ve got a rather useful database of who has got what script and what strips they have drawn for us in the past. This lets me see who is working on something and who is possibly available for work for us. I’ll also get art submissions every so often, and quite a few of the artists I like most have arrived that way. Anyhow- If, once the script is accepted, there is an artist free that would be suitable for the strip, I’ll ask them if they like it. If they turn it down then the script will go back into files to wait for a suitable artist. I try not to just give an artist any old script- as I want to get the best standard of work I can.

Once a script is accepted by an artist I’ll send out a proper commissioning Email to both creators, detailing when the deadline is, and any other bits of information that may be relevant to the script. This is also where I outline the conditions we use for printing the strip, as FQP only have rights to the first appearance of the strip- the actual work belongs to the creators. At This point I’ll also update my PROGRESS sheet with the artist details so that I can easily see who I am hassling for news as deadline approaches.

Then it is all down to waiting…. And more waiting.

Once a strip arrives, It will be formatted for the page space and lettered ready. A set of pages will be sent in a web friendly format for spell checking and a final once over before being logged into the last of my spreadsheets- the COMPLETED STRIP sheet (dead imaginative, me) This sheet will also remind me which comic this strip is being placed in.

Apart from the strips, the main thing to do for FQ is the cover. FQ has been lucky enough to have some astoundingly good covers over the years, but I am always aware that the cover has to be the main focus of attention when displayed. Sometimes an artist will come to us about the cover, but more often we will approach an artist specifically. Once we have an artist we send them some scripts that are due to appear in that issue in the hope that one of them will provide suitable inspiration for a cover image. Once that is sorted I know which strip is going to be opening the issue. We also like to have a single page strip on the back cover- which is a nice opportunity for us as it is the only strip that will get to be in colour that issue.

As I said, the first slot in each issue is the cover strip, so the last is normally saved for the continuing adventures of Neroy Sphinx- our only continuing strip.

The organising of strips for FQ is now largely a rolling process. The first strips to be placed in an issue are those that arrived too late for the deadline for the previous issue, those strips are locked in place. Newer strips are logged onto a spreadsheet that is set to calculate running page totals and has formatting to allow me to actually layout the comic for the printers. Normally I will find that once the deadline comes round I’ll have too many strips for the issue, so I have to do some apologising and pruning. The criteria I try to follow then is to see if any off the writers or artists have multiple works in the comic, and then it comes simply down to which ones fit the pages best and deliver the strongest balance of tales in the pages available. Any that don’t make it are automatically guaranteed to be in the next issue.

Once I have the available strips sorted I organise the last two pages to be sorted, the inside front and back. Usually the inside back is given over to short bios of all the creators involved and the inside front is for any news or interesting stuff we want to rattle on about.

Then the comic is assembled in InDesign (a lovely program) and packaged for the printers. We use a printer that is local to myself, where I am able to get small print runs done at short notice to keep my stocks of comics to a manageable level and reduce the amount of funds needed to be locked away in stock.

Then we sell them and it all starts again. As of the time I am writing this we are gathering strips for issue 09 of FutureQuake, the cover is done, and we have enough strip commissioned to fill two issues. I’ve also just organised the cover for issue 10, which is not due to see print till Spring 2008.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Planning your comic

Previously was a collection of reprinted material but the steps I'll list below are probably similar to how other people go about putting a book together. If not, please join in!

Step one: identify material for the book.

I just sat and made a list of strips that I knew I could reprint - this was done in two simple columns, the left column was the title, the right was the number of pages - a little like this:

TitlePage Count
The Tallyman#13
Broken Claw6

I basically included everything I thought I could get my hands on, excluding anything that would've been considered a second episode. At this stage I had something like 35 pages of material. Although I only needed 28. (You'll find comic page counts are multiples of four).

Step two: Identify what can fit and where.

The next step was to draw out a mock comic, a large A3 sheet with boxes drawn for every page. Then I got hold of some post it notes and wrote the comic strips out on them - each page of strip would get a single post it note. Then I was able to lay out on the mock comic exactly as I would like it.

Step three: Layout the comic in your dtp application of choice. I'm lucky, through work, to have access to adobe Indesign and was able to do a precise layout of the comic (including bleeds, etc). Which then allowed me to produce a PDF which was sent to the printers.

And that's it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Price Points

And now, some nuts and bolts. Price Points.

My current book, Previously, was designed as a simple collection of work and published using Small Zone (which was very simple and I'd encourage its use). The book cost £180 to print and then about £25 for postage to me. Knowing that I'd only intended to sell the book directly, I set what I thought was a reasonable cost for selling £3 - this meant that if I sold about 66 copies I would break even. As it happens, I was able to add a premium to the price by selling it with sketches for £4 and so I broke even at 50 copies. The remainder have been selling online.

Now that's great but when you need to place the comic into a comic shop you have to take into account that the comic shop will take 40% of your takings (unless you know them really well, in which case they might go as low as 25%). That means, that the £3 book is earning £1.80 for every copy sold, or, to put it another way - you're losing about 20p for every copy you sell. This is clearly unsustainable.

There are two ways to improve the situation, you can either increase the cover price (a £4 book will pay £2.40 - so you can recoup about 40p per copy, or a £5 book will pay you £3 - leaving a profit of about £1)

The other way is to increase the print run, 200 books will reduce the book cost down to about £1.50 per copy, making a £3 price point barely sustainable.

But why profit? Simple: wastage. Your aim will always be to have books in stock so you need to be able to break even as quickly as possible. Breaking even at 100% of your print run is a sure fire way to lose money (because not everyone sells 100% of their run).

So, there you have it. My current thinking on pricing. Of course, it's all open to change/debate. I'm learning this as I go...

Update: Bolt-01

Seeing as PJ is good enough to start this I'll join in.

I'm currently putting the inks down for a 5 page strip written by the ever talented SPROUT featuring a GI in the Quartz zone massacre.

I've also finally learned to use Illustrator for putting my panel borders down.


Monday, July 2, 2007

It beginith...

I have, for quite some time, wanted to start some sort of shared blog for small pressers. It would be place to post about new things they're doing, about how they go about what they do and about things they'd love to be doing. In short, somewhere for pencil monkeys to discuss the Nuts 'n' Bolts. (Also, I think PencilMonkeyNuts is funny, but that's just me).

I'll shortly be extending invites to people to this blog, in the mean time, I am PJ Holden - your host, and all around good egg. My small press credentials include this here website, drawing lots and lots of comic strips for the small press over the years and, most recently, publishing all of that material in one book called 'Previously'. I'll be letting you peak inside the processes, so, you know, if you wanted to go ahead and do the same thing, you could. Really, it's very simple.

Anyways. that'll do for now. I'm off to bed.