How comic books are created

I was recently talking with Carly about how comic books are created, among other subjects. I jotted down a bunch of notes for her that I figured you also might be interested in. My notes are based upon my experiences in comics in the early-90s, and are centered on a monthly comic book.

  • Create your comic. Professionals for the big companies break it down at about 1 week for writing, +1 month for pencils, +1 month for inks, +1 week for colors, +3 days for letters, +whatever for editing and such. Some of these things overlap, so maybe the total start-to-finish professional time ends up being 1.5 - 2 months per comic. Independent creators usually need to do it all within a month if they have a monthly book, but historically a lot of indie books are bi-monthly so they take 1.5 months to create and .5 months for catch-up, conventions and such.

  • Solicit your comic. You don't send your book to press yet. You send B&W copies to a handful of national and international distributors. They, in turn, add your blurb into their distribution catalogs and send those out to all the direct-sale comic dealers--there are about 1000 comic shops in the USA. The comic shops look over the catalog and place their orders with the distributors--two of these, one of those, three hundred of that. This process takes about a month, and this is considered "month 1" of the comic book business process.

  • Pre-sales and printing. After the distributors get their orders, "month 2" starts with them telling you how many books they want. When I was in the biz, 500 books was too low for profit, but an okay/expected number. 1000 was a break-even point. 1500 would make you start considering quitting your day job but you probably wouldn't get until your third or fourth issue. Now that you had your pre-sale numbers, you knew how many books to have printed. You'd probably want to print lots of extras, so you can sell them directly to readers via mail and conventions.

  • Distribution of your books. Distributors receive your printed books and send them off to the shops in month 3. Some shops promptly pay the distributors for the books. You probably are looking into getting into conventions for free as a professional or paying for a small table so you can sell your book.

  • Get paid. Distributors receive the rest of the shop payments, and then pay you your cut in month 4. You probably get 40% of the cover price of a comic book from distributors, which they sell to shops at 50% of the cover price. That 40% is a trade off for getting your book distributed so widely, as opposed to less-frequent direct-to-reader sales that get you a sweet return of 100% of cover price.

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