By Dean Haspiel
Comics writer/artist/publisher, Jimmy Palmiotti, recently Tweeted, “Publish or perish.” Maybe it was end-of-the-year blues but I was feeling particularly bleak about my career and was struck by Jimmy’s charge and asked if we could discuss the origin behind those three ominous words and what I got was a pep talk for a lifetime.
Securing work from franchise publishers is harder than ever before and very few other publishers pay livable advance wages anymore. Most deals are made for royalties and back end rewards based on sales. Print is competing with digital and profits are questionable. Readers want archives and new stories but making money at publishing has become a challenging and schizophrenic mess. The risk for a corporation to launch something new has become greater and all the bean counters want to know before they gamble on your idea is the sales of your last three books and whether or not your comic book idea has multimedia legs and if you have a strong fan base. In other words, publishers hardly publish what they “like” and franchise publishers would rather update 75-year old icons every five years [which they’ve worked hard to maintain] than build and grow new ideas that inspire writers and artists today. I understand why that is but it’s paranoid, lazy, and shortsighted.
Frankly, pitching proposals sucks right now. What if you don’t have three books and your new idea doesn’t translate to a movie or toy? Worse, what if you do have three books and the numbers didn’t inform the zeitgeist and thrill Hollywood? Why does one thing need to yield the other in order to make a cool comic book? Because comic books don’t sell like they used to. I get it. While the internet leveled the playing field it also made everything a niche. However, the comix industry does have a strong fanbase. I’ve seen them and they are us.
Now is the perfect time for a cartoonist to manifest his or her own industry. We have the DIY tools. We have the social networks and viral know how. We have proof that crowd funding works and community is key. We have a cranky comedian like Marc Maron rise from the ashes of every bridge he ever burned and make his own rules with his WTF podcast, and popular acts like Radiohead and Louis C.K. making affordable, direct deposit products; offers no one in their right mind could refuse, and venues like Etsy and Kickstarter changing the ways we consume by supporting work with our wallets BEFORE it’s made so that it can BE made sans corporate fear and scrutiny.
But, what about us? Viva la Michel Fiffe for self-publishing ZEGAS, a print-only experience that reminds us why magical efforts like Los Bros Hernandez’ LOVE & ROCKETS were punk yet vital and stand the test of time. All hail Alex De Campi for recognizing the virtues of the old self-publishing model while implementing new rules with the understanding that in order to hawk your wares you must show up to the party and build sound relationships with the people who produce, distribute, and purchase your wares. Rock out with your cock out Jimmy Palmiotti for having the talent and acumen to keep your feet firmly planted in all ponds while knowing how important it is to be different.
Bottom line: I’m sharing these thoughts to rally myself, too. I count myself lucky to have been paid to make comix and I owe a lot of people my perpetual gratitude. I would love to continue to get hired and occasionally play with the toys I grew up with but I can’t allow over-worked editors to ignore me or my talented friends, anymore. It doesn’t champion creativity and it doesn’t pay the bills. Indifference only engenders ill-will and I won’t be banished to that bitter cabal of disgruntled cartoonists.
“Publish or perish?”
In 2012, I’m excited to see comix auteurs bring their A-game and step up to the plate with a hit in their mind and a home run in their heart.
[Read “The Last Romantic Antihero”]
PS — Curiously, I wrote “Dear Content Maker…” last year around the same time about the same thing.