I have the first issue of my new comic – Ellipsis – launching this Friday at Gosh! Comics and I hope those of you in London will be able to come and celebrate its release with me. There will be free booze, some original artwork on the walls, the new comic for sale (which I can sign and sketch in), a wide-eyed slightly overwhelmed me, and people chatting awkwardly in corners of a comic shop trying not to spill wine on any of the books. It’ll be great is what I’m saying.
And you can watch the Danny Boyle opening Olympics ceremony on iPlayer later that evening anyway. Amiright?
It’s being released through Solipsistic Pop Books (which is my attempt at branching out the Solipsistic Pop anthology into publishing other comics – my own and many others – which essentially means this is self-published but just humour me) and can be pre-ordered here. All pre-orders receive a limited edition print incentive and you can pay a little extra to get a sketch in your copy.
There’s also an option to subscribe to Ellipsis. I have decided to talk a lot (a LOT!) more about this below so for now I will sign off and say I hope to see you all at Gosh on Friday! Continue reading if talk about sustainability models for comic production is your thing.
*waves goodbye to everyone*
THE SUBSCRIPTION MODEL
I’d been worried about two things with Ellipsis.
One, that any fans or those interested in my work would be looking at a minmum investment of £30 (6 issues at £5 each) with a possibility of buying a collected version of the book for £10 at some stage. Add to that, any postage and packing costs if they lived outside of a city which contained one of the few local comic shops that I’m able to stock on a regular basis and it was looking like a relatively large investment on a project for any casual fan. I didn’t like the idea of that. Of somehow financially punishing anyone who was kind enough to support what I do.
The second concern was that I went fulltime freelance as an illustrator and comic artist in February 2011 and while I was able to script the entire 150 page story of Ellipsis in my early months of being freelance, paying jobs had to take precedent and establishing myself in an industry that is notoriously precarious in less financially unstable times than these had to be my priority.
Then Solipsistic Pop 4 took over my life. Then finding a way to pay for Solipsistic Pop 4 took over. Overall, Ellipsis issue one took me around two months to draw but it was only February this year that I was finally able to devote that time to it. A fifteen month turnaround time per 22 pages is not acceptable (although I’ve drawn several other comics in that timeframe). So I had to find a way of making Ellipsis work financially for me so that I could justify spending my time on it without having to take on too many other commissions to support me. Essentially, I was looking at finding a business model that replicated the publisher advance.
Quick sidebar: I’m aware that it sounds like I’m complaining about how hard it is to make a living drawing comics. I’m not. I want to draw for a living. That’s my aim. I’m managing to do that – just about – and I know how lucky I am to be able to say that. It’s hard work to make this financially sustainable and it should be. It should be hard. And it’s worth it. This is just an overly detailed look at my thought process on possible new ways of making comic production an economic viability.
So I was looking at Becky Cloonan’s model for her self-published comic The Mire. You could pre-order her comic at a standard rate or order a premium version which would include a sketch. A nice system and one that made sense. As did Matt Sheret’s model for Paper Science which offered up a subscription for a years worth of the newspaper anthology. I liked the idea of subscriptions and when Matt wrote a blog about his positive experience with this model, it coincided with a history podcast I’d been listening to about the John James Audubon book The Birds of America. Audubon, as with so many 18th and 19th Century book publishers, had to rely on subscribers paying regular sums to help fund the book which took 12 years to completely finish (due to the detailed nature of the engravings that had to reproduce his paintings). The subscribers would receive the book in chunks during that time.
It was heartening to know there was precedent. That, in the early days of publishing these sort of models existed. It feels like now is a similarly “new frontier” time for publishing with a large question mark hanging over the current models and many more systems springing up for those who want to self-publish. Hence this whole subscription thing cropping up in this Guardian article here. So, I decided, why not create a subscription model for Ellipsis?
If you click here, you’ll see it’s now possible to pay £40 and subscribe. In return, a subscriber receives all six issues when they come out, the collected book, limited edition print incentives with each copy (also available to those who pre-order individual issues) and a sketch in every copy. Original artwork and other goodies will be offered up over time and a subscriber doesn’t have to worry about postage and packing.
The idea being that if 100 people subscribe, that early investment should be enough to see me through three months of having to take no extra work on. That would be enough to produce one and a half issues. Or a I could take limited work on and produce two issues over four or five months. Essentially, it acts as the publisher advance I was looking for. If it gets the right numbers.
There’s this chapter in Stewart Lee’s book How I Escaped My Certain Fate where he talks about (and I’m paraphrasing) only needing about 5,000 loyal fans who are willing to pay £10 to see your show each year. And if you keep doing a new show and touring it to those fans, that’s £50,000 per anum and that’s a workable living.
I remember reading that and realising that while it sounded good, that doesn’t speak to me right now. We’re talking about a comedian who has definitely had their share of bad luck with TV commissioners and religious zealots – but who has also had four series of a comedy show broadcast during the nineties. That’s a loyal fanbase built through the existing system. I don’t have 5,000 people willing to subscribe. I’m not sure I have 100. We’ll see. It’s highly possible that this subscription model will only work for artists who are already big names but want to produce work independently having reached a large audience through the more traditional publishing routes.
But if you like the look of Ellipsis and you have enough spare money (and not a lot of us do in this economic climate) to subscribe to it, you’ll be helping me make it come out on a regular basis. And making me smile inside. Which is not an easy thing.
For those of you out there who are interested in seeing if this works, I’ll blog about how the subscription model does in about six months time when I have a clearer idea of whether it is a success or a failure. I’m reminding myself that it’s just an idea. And one that doesn’t present a huge risk right now as I intend on finishing Ellipsis and honouring the subscription commitment whether I receive one or one thousand orders.
I’m really proud of the comic and the comics I’m producing at the moment (more on the other stuff I’ve been doing later this week!). I hope you continue to read them however I end up distributing them and I appreciate everyone who has helped me keep doing them this far.