Monday, December 21, 2009

V3 Sneak Peak #8: Purgatory

Purgatory. I'm trapped in art purgatory. I'm paying for my creative sins, and cannot move forward until all of my past wrongs have been atoned for.

...So, yes, the book corrections are significantly more work intensive than I'd estimated. The 104 pages of Volume 2 fixes are finished, but Volume 1 is still in the works. Although finalizing Volume 1 for digital sale remains my priority, there have been windows of time where I've been able to splurge on sanity-restoring V3 work.

Over the last month, Chapter 8 has gone from a story outline to a script second draft. I'm extremely excited about how the narrative is shaping up, but it's difficult to share examples without giving stuff away. ...I have to at least share a tiny bit - "Ravat". There! That's the tidbit - ask for no more, the treat jar is sealed tight.
In addition to scripting the next Chapter, we've been making some progress blocking in the colors for the establishing shot of the strip club from Chapter 7.. That single page had enough coloring in it to stretch out over a few days' work all on it's own. Those establishing shots are endlessly pretty, but enormous production-time hogs.

And in other news, we made our first seasonal Christmas Prelude! We wanted to try something a bit new with this one, so there's actually some animation included in the comic.
Nothing major - and nothing in the direction of the 'motion comics' that some companies have been trying to push in recent years. Whenever I saw one of those 'motion comics', I always felt like I was just watching an extremely cheap incomplete animated show with no sound budget. I think by crossing the media border a little too far, they lost the appeal unique to comics, and had nothing to offer alongside the competing full-motion animation out there.
Our experiment is really more of a small flourish layered on top of a traditional static comic format - a little falling snow here, some blinking lights there... Feel free to check it out, and we'd definitely welcome any feedback about what you think!

It's certainly been awhile since I rolled out the animation skills... Getting a bit rusty, even the simple 5-frame snow effects loop had me scrunching up my forehead in effort. Apparently the brow-scrunching friction in the skin somehow directs kinetic energy into the brain cavity and helps speed up the ol' head engine. At least, that's the theoretical framework I'm working within at this point. I may want to use caution with any increasingly ambitious animated endeavors, lest my face implode in upon itself.

And leaving you with that thought, I hope everyone out there has a very fun and gratifying holiday season - take care, and enjoy the seasonal Prelude!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

V3 Sneak Peek #7: Final Calibrations

Welcome to the latest behind the scenes sneak peek at Volume 3! One question you may be asking yourself right now: Why is there no actual Volume 3 progress in this update?

What, exactly, is distracting Dave and Liz from working on the next book? Halloween is over, so the contest is no excuse. Did a circus camp outside their apartment? Did the 'shiny and sparkly' merchant roll into town? Or did they decide to kiss this cold, cruel world goodbye once and for all, and start playing World of Warcraft?

Don't panic, I promise you. We would never do something that drastic.

Still on the same web design crusade that saw the 'Battle of the Dreamworld Pages', we've come to our final and greatest remaining objective:

Digital Book Sales.

Predominance is being placed on the web design right now because of our big-picture Vivid Publishing strategy. The greatest barrier to success is our lack of cash: no money equals small print runs, equals virtually zero profits on book sales. And Mace is demanding a bigger cut of the revenues. (I think Whip gave him the idea.)

So we aim to build our 'Dreamkeepers' audience larger while creating Volume 3, hopefully pushing Pre-Orders into (finally!) the range of profitability.
Building an audience means marketing - and with our budget, not one single cent can be permitted to go to waste. (We're not the government.) That means the website must be as appealing as possible to fresh new visitors, so that any advertising expenditures we make have the maximum possible customer retention rate.

(So, if this nice block of text didn't drive the point home, I HAVE AN EXCUSE! Volume 3 is going slow, but I have all sorts of reasons! The more words I use, the more justified I clearly am. Why, here's some more words now!)

Once digital book sales are in place to offer a lower pricing tier to new readers, the site will be ready to roll.

Of course, there's some work to do before we can finalize digital sales. Over the years of selling graphic novels and checking through them for misprints, we've compiled a rather intimidating list of quirks and inconsistencies in the art and text... Now, the normal person (As opposed to the occasional godlike-fan who knows all and sees all) wouldn't notice any of these snafus during a casual read-through. But they are there, and before immortalizing the pages online, we're fixing them.

Now, don't fret that your book is suddenly going to be obsolete due to a feverish bout of revisions on our part - we're not changing anything major. Plot isn't shifting an iota, the narrative remains identical, zero additional visual clues appear, and Lilith won't suddenly have a third katana-toting arm. As much as I argued for it. We're just correcting visual consistency issues (buildings, minute character detailing, etc.) and the occasional grammar error.

Compounding the task of corrections is the headache that, during production, I didn't have finalized references for several characters and settings - Notably Scinter. That bastard changes more often than a chameleon in diapers. In addition to writing out the history of the Dreamworld and finishing the website, we've been compiling a belated binder of detailed, official character and location references. Better late than never, right?

But summing up, I know it may seem right now as though our progress is frozen in place. And in terms of new Volume 3 art, it is. But we're making final preparations to launch Vivid for the long haul, both business-wise and creatively, and under the ice the currents are surging. These calibrations have been shifting into place over the entire last year or two, and are just now culminating in the exclusion of focus that brings completion.

Excuse complete!

Unless I can find some external source to blame, blame is always the best. If anyone can help me brainstorm some stuff to blame, let me know.

Just bear with us, we've almost got the last piece of this monster bolted down - and once it gets rolling on the right track, I don't think it'll stop.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lost in the Dreamworld

Yeah, um, about that little smidge of history I was gonna post in the 'placeholder' Dreamworld page...

Well, I got to thinking (a rare but potent risk), if I'm going to slap some history up, the least I could do is include links to the old website' 'ryuu-neko' and 'flo-wood'' etc. pages.

A lightning fast addition - couple of old links, done deal. I'd pull the job off and be outta the vault before the cops even got the call. But... Well, if I'm going to post up the old pages, I could just as easily move their text and images into the new website format while I'm at it, right? Totally innocent. And as I was working with the text, I realized it really needed some brushing up, and - ooh! What if I made rollover images to use as the links from the Dreamworld page? And Fort Knox - how hard would it be, really, to clean them out? They're right next to the ATM machine, after all.

I know I'm only supposed to be doing drive-by web design on the way to glorious Volume 3 completion, but that's exactly what motivated me to do a thorough job on the 'Dreamworld' page. I realized that whatever I finished here and now would be staring accusingly in my face for the next year or longer, so I might as well make it pretty. Nobody wants to be glared at for years by a skunk-ugly web page.

So things snowballed out of control, I did not pass 'Go', and I spent two solid weeks finishing the 'Dreamworld' pages with Liz. Voila! Go check it out! Interactive map, technology pages, ryuu-nekos, and a big pile of Anduruna history. Especially in a fantasy story, it helps to have some context for the events, so I'm hoping these pages will help people anticipate the scope we have in mind for Dreamkeepers.

Still on my plate are the corrections and fixes on the old Volume 1 and 2 files, a necessary detour on the way to digital book sales -although with the Halloween contest coming up, I wouldn't look forward to those being ready for another month at least.

Working on the graphic novel 'characters' page has been scrapped for now, because I really need to get cracking on V3 again once those digital sales are set up.

So, yeah! Dreamworld pages up yesterday. Oh, and that same day I insulted a stranger while wearing a striped tie and a bright red fedora. And then I was given his sandwich as a reward. And then the Venture Brothers season 4 first episode premiered online. And I got to paint Halloween beads and watch Beetlejuice.



It was a good day.

Friday, October 2, 2009

V3 Sneak Peek #6: Totally unrelated.

It's been awhile since the last Sneak Peek for Volume 3 - sorry about the delay. Kidnapped by a Mexican drug cartel during a discrete fact-finding trip to Latin America, I wasn't able to post an update until I'd fashioned a lock pick from a chicken bone, and surreptitiously made my way back to the States disguised as an illegal immigrant.

Well... Perhaps that story is only partially true - in the sense that it's not at all. But admittedly, it does sound cooler than my actual excuse - and it certainly carries more machismo.

...I was working on my web-site. HTML FTW!

There, I said it. I hope you’re happy. I was content with the ’escaping from drug lords’ storyline, but you had to have the “facts“. Well, persnickety one, prepare to be entertained.

I switched gears in September to focus on web design, and the effort was more work-intensive than anticipated. With the Halloween Fanart contest coming up again, I realized that it would be roughly the one year anniversary of the new gallery pages of the site... And correspondingly, the one year anniversary of nearly every gallery being labeled as ’Under Construction’. Fearing the truth would be revealed, and my fallacious usage of the phrase ’under construction’ exposed for the lie that it is, I figured it was time to get some web pages done.

The Fanart, Commissions, and Tutorials galleries are now open for viewing. I’m also finishing up the Prelude cast & storylines pages, more placeholder history for the ‘Dreamworld’ page, and I hope to get the digital book sales (finally!) set up in October, as well as a primary ‘characters’ page on the website.

Once all of that is accomplished, I’ll have - for the first time ever - a relatively complete and functional website for Dreamkeepers. I’m rather looking forward to it! Then I can jump back into Volume 3 production, with no diversions. And even though my penciling has stalled out over the last month, the colors are still moving forward in that 1st half of Chapter 7 - so once I’m back on task, some fully shaded and completed pages won’t be too far off.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Yes, furry stimulus package. Find out why it really would be the salvation of the global economy.

That, plus 'Flying Coward Man', and more are all just a click away: in the latest Anthropodcast by Flain.

Liz and I were invited to be guests on this episode, and it was a blast! In addition to chatting back and forth about general nonsense, we also got to talk about the graphic novel series, and how progress on that has been going. So for any who may take an interest, give it a listen, and have a good time!

Disclaimer - I didn't have much sleep for this.

In other fun news, somebody in the Dreamkeepers forum recently made a quiz! It's fun - go look! Find out which Dreamkeeper you'd wind up being, if you were to wake up one day and find yourself far too chromatic.

Well that's it for now... But remember to eat your vegetables, and read your weekly Prelude comic.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

V3 Sneak Peek #5

I'm working with Mace and company again, which really feels fantastic - it's been a long time since I drew them for the graphic novels! I find that I have to be cautious on their proportions, since I'm so used to drawing their childhood Prelude versions. Namah's got longer hair and horns, Lilith is taller and has styled hair, and Mace... Well, he didn't really grow all that much. But he is in a different outfit, so that's something. And, of course, Whip's got a much deeper voice in the graphic novels. Big, booming bass squeaks. All important considerations for me to bear in mind as an artist.

The scene returns virtually where it left off, in the foothills of the Starfall Mountains. Finally, after 2 books worth of lurking at the back of the narrative, Bast is coming into play. I've been looking forward to his entry into the story. It's a lot of fun from a writing standpoint, because the earlier group of 4 characters (Mace, Whip, Lilith, Namah) had a very stable and cohesive dynamic going for it. Bast's entry into the equation changes things, and creates the opening for interpersonal conflicts to come into play as another layer to the narrative.

A few more pages of pencils, and half the drawings for this chapter will be finished. Half the drawings of one chapter, for a 3 chapter book, which will be in color, may not necessarily be a harbinger of imminent completion... But powering through a marathon of work, I need those psychologically boosting milestones.

Plans? Spooky.

Halloween is coming! Just a reminder to any who are interested, we're bringing back the Dreamkeepers Halloween Fanart Contest for its 4th year. The past few years were an absolute blast - lots of spooky art and fun entries, and a lot of prizes too! This will be the first year we've had a forum to complement the ceremonies - I'm planning on creating a special Halloween-themed area for people to come in, chat, and post any and all things Halloween related. Costume photos, real-life creepy stories, urban legends, links to bizarre seasonal pics or videos, and of course feedback and reactions to the Fanart contest itself. Prizes and rules are yet to be announced, but we plan on using last year's general categories: The handmade bead prizes will be returning for certain, along with free Trick-or-Treat stickers mailed out for every single entry. It should be a lot of fun, so spread the word, swing in for a visit, and feel free to contribute some art if the mood strikes!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Double Barrel Reviews

If you like to read reviews of the Dreamkeeper graphic novels as much as I do, then get ready - you're gonna love this. 8 )

There's a new professional review posted online covering Volume 1 - Check out 'From the Tomb', an online magazine celebrating horror comics through the ages: The site just looks like fun in general, especially for people that enjoy creeptastic horror type stuff, so enjoy! 8 )

Topping off the review news this week, we've had a particularly nice review come in from a reader just lately, which I've added to the Volume 1 reader review scroll box on the site: It's in the scroll-box right next to the paypal buttons, and right below the page samples. Nothing like subtlety, I say.

In other news, there should be a new 'Behind the Scenes' update for Volume 3 appearing on the site within a week, and a new shipment of graphic novels from our printer will be putting both V1 and V2 books back in stock shortly!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

V3 Sneak Peek 4: More Pencils

Anthrocon went fantastic this year - our car made it there and back! Thanks to everyone who stopped by our table in the Dealer’s Room for the encouragement and support. Although admittedly, it was a bit intimidating how many people were swinging by to inquire about Volume 3... Yep, that Volume 3, the one that isn't remotely close to being finished yet. Yikes!

Fortunately I had new sketchbooks at the table to hurl forth as shiny, defensive distractions -but if V3 isn't ready by next year, we may have to upgrade to smoke bombs and cattle-prods. And, with the hefty page-count of this story, it's looking as though we have at least a year's worth of production yet on our hands.

Negotiations with the devil proved to be fairly pointless - it turns out my soul isn’t actually worth a fully completed color graphic novel. The most Beelzebub was willing to offer was 8 pages’ worth of Archie comics. On newsprint. Deferred over a 3-year trial period upon receipt of my soul... not worth a graphic novel, not worth start-up capital for my publishing efforts... jeez, souls aren’t worth crap. It’s like I have to work for everything I want.

That said, V3 production is currently humming along at full clip. Liz’s color blocking is suffusing the first scene with pre-shading detail, and now that I’ve moved beyond the circular-architecture-hell of the strip-club (It’s remarkably time-consuming faking all that perspective!) the pencils are really moving. I’m on page 14 of Chapter 7 currently. Here are some sample pics:

The sharply dressed Siamese cat dreamkeeper is making his first speaking scene in the saga - but, as noted by several sharp - eyed readers in the forum, this is not actually his first appearance. In the grand tradition of ‘Where’s Waldo and Why are you Doing this to your Readers you Prick,’ this character can be spotted intermittently in the festival riot scenes of Volume 2.

In addition to the bare-bones book pages, the occasional concept sketch is necessary to flesh out background and side characters:

The next major scene slated for pencils finally returns to our primary characters - Mace, Whip, Lilith, Namah, Bast... I’m really looking forward to it. Plus, the end of that scene will mark the penciling halfway point for the 40+ page Chapter.

One drawing at a time!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sketchbook Experiment

It's that time of year again, when the streets of Pittsburgh are flooded with unofficial autonomous mascots - Anthrocon! And though Volume 3 is still far from completion, we actually do have a new book to sell at our table. What's it about, you ask?

Well, nothing really... Literally. Literally nothing. The pages are all blank... I dare say, it's the easiest book I've made so far. It's a sketchbook!

It's not much different from your average art-pad sketchbook, except it's bound in a really pretty glossy hardcover which I designed myself. I figured, if people are going to collect drawings in a sketchbook, maybe they'll want one with more of a themed cover.

Now, will there be any interest in our new sketchbooks? I have no idea. But I wanted one! So I made a batch, and we'll see if anyone else wants the other nineteen. Based on how well they sell, we might wind up printing more and offering them online, too.

Before you get too excited about our new sketchbooks however, I want to point out an excellent alternative I've recently discovered;

Having sent the hardcover files to the printer, I felt knockingly clever at being the first to offer custom sketchbooks - when , at the Furry Connection North, something caught my eye:

Another table selling custom sketchbooks - and with a fun variety of covers! Some were pop-culture related, and others were actually tactile and fluffy - they are the sketchbooks custom created and sold by Neko2. Neko2’s sketchbooks have other noteworthy features, too: They're bound on detachable rings, so you can shuffle the order of the pages however you want - plus, for those collecting commissions at conventions, you can keep your sketchbook with you and drop individual pages with multiple artists at once! The books include a plastic backstop to prevent ink-work from bleeding, and the paper quality is superb.

Now, to be clear, my Sketchbooks don't have those features... They just have nice looking covers, and paper inside. If you want more of a traditional-styled book to draw in, our Vivid Sketchbooks may be of interest to you - but check out Neko2's products too!

Check out his work here:
Or here:

Why, you ask, am I pimping someone else's product alongside mine?

Well, heck - I don't want someone to buy a sketchbook from me if there's another option that would fit their needs better. With the Dreamkeepers graphic novels, we can offer something completely unique - but a sketchbook is just blank paper, after all.

KAZAAAM! After such a blindingly persuasive sales pitch as that, it suddenly occurs to me that perhaps I should stick to drawing. I ought to get this guy to sell my stuff for me:

He could coin such phrases as 'NOW with 20% more Igrath included in every story- COMPLETELY FREE! Your life will be EXCITING!'

Sunday, June 21, 2009

V3 Sneak Peek - Striptastic

Volume 3 work has been moving ahead at half-sail due to the focus on web design upgrades the past few weeks. That's not to say progress has stopped, though -we've been developing the pages in the next scene, and designing one of our more elaborate settings to date...

Our current efforts take place in an underground dance/strip club decked out with elaborate Aztec-inspired decor... Think if Disneyland went to the effort of designing a themed strip club. It’s got everything except the animatronic pirates and screaming stroller-bound 10 year olds.

With all the time spent drawing fountains, engravings, statues, tables, structural perspective, and paraphernalia, it seems by comparison the actual strippers come into play almost as an afterthought.
Now, don’t get consternated that striptasticness will be completely devoid on the pages - just be sure to appreciate all the freakin’ detail behind the girls!

Aside from an opportunity to draw cartoon divas with a tepid attitude towards attire, the scene does serve a purpose in the actual story. Seriously. This is not a contrived indulgence. Or, at least, not just that...

In our story, this particular nightclub is allegedly a cover for illegal activity and trafficking related to ‘Scinter’s Mark’ - and that’s more than just a reputation. It’s scenes like this that make me grateful we publish ourselves, so that we can handle adult situations and scenarios without skewing towards the kid-bubble-compatible spectrum of pap.

I will say, I’m also looking forward immensely to the lighting in this scene - think very moody, with the fountains and liquid displays done up in neon.

I especially like the Mickey sketch here, and think it actually holds up on it’s own humor-wise. I posted it on Deviant Art and Fur Affinity.
Obviously I won’t be using Mickey in the final scene, because Disney has more lawyers than I have hairs on my body, and an inversely proportioned sense of humor. Try bringing your own wild-eyed Mickey costume to Disneyworld with a plush bloodied hammer included, and chase kids in the park while wearing your hilarious custom outfit, and you’ll see what I mean.

...Completely off topic, but I just thought of another entry for my ’Before I Die’ list.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sparkle Power ACTIVATE!

After a few weeks of effort, and the obligatory 'David vs. technical competence' overtime round, new website pages are at last live!

If you're like me, obsessively fixated on turning Dreamkeepers into a viable career, then you'll want to dash over to the site and assess the new pages immediately. If not, well... They are pretty! Sparkly, with rollover buttons and... Sparkles. Did I mention sparkles? Whatever site you were thinking of hopping to today, I guarantee mine will have more glittery stuff, or your money back. That's right - all of it.

I'm especially pleased with the visuals on the 'Graphic novel' Volume 1 & 2 pages, and their nifty little sample page viewers.

'Shiny Factor' appeal aside, the site now actually has updates worth checking on aside from the weekly comic: Our Twitter feed (Yes, we have fallen victim to the fad- It's easier for Liz to throw a drive-by into Twitter than for us to actually sit down and formally update the web page constantly) is streamed onto the new 'news' page, so for those wishing to avoid the frivolity of a Twitter account, you can still check on our occasional updates. Also, there's a status sidebar indicating book stock and commission status, links to book reviews online, and 'Behind the Scenes' now doubles as a convenient online hub, linking to various Dreamkeepers accounts, articles, videos, and groups online. Also makes chili and fries.

Although I'm very pleased with the current round of upgrades, the site has a few lame pages, dead galleries, and renovations pending... And I'm still trying to think of some way to get subliminal messbuyages into the design. The next major tweak will be to enable digital graphic novel sales, hopefully by August. My time estimate here is a tad iffy, since I have utterly no idea what in the hell I'm doing.

But first, I'm refocusing my efforts on Volume 3 progress. Collecting all the reader quotes and reviews for the new web pages was tremendously encouraging, and is motivating me to make some strides producing the next book.

Not that I've been completely neglecting Volume 3 lately... I've been working steadily on the next scene, which involves designing and assembling a very complex interior setting... Think if Disney were designing an Aztec themed dance / strip club. There should be a Sneak Peek behind the scenes with concept development sketches soon.

*Sigh* yes... Themed strip clubs. My noble aspirations drive me incessantly to ever greater heights of artistic and literary achievement.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lackadaisy Volume 1 Review

Now I'm not exactly much of a critic, and the only reviews I've ever written were to get my brains organized enough to pass a school exam. But ignorance never stopped me before, so why start worrying now?
Besides, a book this exceptional is a rare thing to come across. Its unparalleled execution quietly but unavoidably demands notice:

Lackadaisy Volume 1, by Tracy Butler.

The premise seems simple enough at first glance; a prohibition-era gangster story, with a cast comprised of cartoon cats. For the uninitiated, this may not be enough to draw them in for a closer look... But passing this story by would be a regrettable mistake.

A quick flip through it's pages, and anyone with an iota of appreciation for animation will be hooked by the art alone. The stylization is a work of beauty: simplified, dynamic shapes are imbued with magnificent dimensionality and detail, bringing the characters to life with magnetic appeal. We get the best of both worlds: the vibrant expressive attitude of well done cartooning, combined with the weight and tangibility of naturalistic art. The result of this potent brew gifts us with alluring, marvelously emotive characters who interface seamlessly with the detailed settings gilding the pages. The carefully drafted props (Including the featured arsenal items) are convincing enough to inspire concern for the safety of the cast as they gallivant through the story.

And what a cast! Every character is powerfully individual, resulting in a well - balanced mix of disparate three dimensional personalities. No two are alike, from the slick-talking mischief factory Rocky, to the shy-yet-explosively-psychotic Freckle, the brooding brutish Viktor, the coldly calculating Mordecai, the perky Ivy Pepper - the list goes on. When an author takes the time to breathe life into their characters, to fully and truly understand who they are and what drives their actions, it shows. And it makes for one hell of a good read.
In addition to a brightly balanced character ensemble, the dialogue itself sparkles. There's enough wit on display to fill any ten normal books, with memorably distinctive lines popping up non-stop throughout the story. Not only are the lines well - crafted and impactful, but they possess the enviable trait of perfectly suiting the personality of the speaker, every time. Not a single syllable feels contrived or artificial. It almost seems as though there isn’t an author working here at all - everything is coming straight from the characters hearts, every step of the way.
Despite the fact that the characters are clearly in the driver’s seat, the plot moves forward at a good clip, developing into a captivating account of a struggling speakeasy marked for death by it’s competitors. As if all of this weren’t enough, the book is imbued with assiduous attention to historic accuracy and detail, in everything from the costuming to the culture to the props and architecture. One could arguably market this book to schools on the pretense of exposing students to American history. Whether or not it would be a valid replacement for a textbook is debatable, but one thing is certain; The kids would read it.

Not just kids, either - in fact, any particularly finicky parents out there may want to consider reviewing this book themselves before allowing it into the bubble, as it has a ‘teen & up’ rating. Although this book would appeal to a younger audience, it presents a gratifying read for anyone, from teen to adult, providing they’re not too self conscious to be seen reading a graphic novel.

If I’ve managed to spark an interest in Lackadaisy, you can read the pages for free on the website -

But I’d strongly advise ordering a copy to own - aside from being beautifully manufactured, the volume is loaded with extras - illustrations, concept work, bonus comics, even art tutorials.

In closing, and considering its subject matter, I’d have to compare Lackadaisy to a shot of high grade liquor... You’ll want to take your time and really enjoy yourself, because you’ve just found one of the finer things in life. Its carefully crafted art style has been brewed to a fine maturity, and culminates in a beautiful amber richness. The reading experience is something to savor - distinguished, yet filled to the brim with scintillating pizzazz and punch. The aftertaste lingers satisfactorily, leaving a patina of nostalgia, and the sense of having visited a time long past, and of having been welcome there. So the next time you need a good yarn, crack open the covers of Lackadaisy - and enjoy the mayhem.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

V3 Sneak Peak 2: Drawing Monsters

At long last, I'm tackling the next edition of Dreamkeepers in earnest... And let me tell you, it feels good. I've been away from my cartoon crack for far, far too long.

Now pencils are really rolling forward on Chapter 7 - I've just finished drawing the first scene of the story, which ran about 6 pages. The opening involves monsters - lots and lots of monsters. Big, small, pointy, flabby, grim, goofy, humanoid, animalistic, hideous - I was really trying to convey a wide range of morphology. The goal is to distinguish each beast as being it's own individual, as possessing particular physical features. Who needs more monotonous orc armies? It's been done to death, and I want to have unlimited options and deformities available to me when creating beasts.

I have such a good time drawing creepies... It really reminds me of my artistic roots, my first major project when I was four or five. Up until then, I was just doodling whatever came to mind, without much real direction... And then I saw “The Real Ghostbusters“.

I was enamored with the cartoon immediately, and rather than draw Venkman or Egon (ever) I scrawled page upon page of monsters and ghouls. No scrap of paper was safe - junk mail was promptly flipped and transformed into a canvas of horrors.
Not only was I fascinated with illustrating creatures at a tender age, but I was also led closer to the spectrum of publishing... With the help of my Mom, my irregular stack of monster drawings was bound with twine between crayoned cardboard covers, and there was my very first book.

It sucked - the drawings were pretty terrible. I doubt I could have gotten it published. Plus the obvious copyright issues. 'Ghostbusters, by David Lillie age 5' - Hello, lawsuit. Heh - actually, I would love to read a news story about a company suing a toddler for copyright infringement.

As I sit here drawing monsters and making books, and look back on myself age 5, drawing monsters and making books, it does stir the thoughts a bit:

Do we really change that much, essentially, from who we are at birth?

Is it possible that we really do have pre-determined paths?

And, most importantly - why in the hell did I blow all that money I didn't have going to college? Absolutely the stupidest decision of my entire life... But that's a whole other blog.

Here are some sample pics and sketches:

Now I'm starting pencils on the next scene, but I'm taking a break to get a few web pages on the Dreamkeepers site revised. The old 'Graphic novel' page is so sad, it makes weathered steely-eyed assassins cry when they see it. Must reduce the suck.

Also, check back here soon - I'll be posting my review for Tracy Butler's new book release 'Lackadaisy Volume 1'. It's worth reading! The book, I mean. My review's okay, but you could probably miss it and live to see another day.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Progress Posterity

Six articles later, and I think I've exhausted my supply of hot air. With nothing left to fuel pontification, it's time to get back to work. I'm finally poised to begin serious production on 'Volume 3' of the Dreamkeepers series! Cue applause.

But considering 'Volume 2' released just about a year ago, it may be natural to wonder... What exactly have I been up to in the interim? (Besides penning reactionary megalomaniacal articles about the funnies.)

Well if you're curious, I'll lay it out below. But considering my resolute personal need to make headway, this catalogue is as much to bolster my own sanity as anything else. Enjoy!

* Volume 2 came back from the printers in April of 2008 - Liz and I spent the next solid month hand-burning custom paper sleeves, signing & numbering books with custom sketches included, and packaging them for trips to the local post office. By the middle of the second month, we'd officially earned the 'Oh God not them again' look from the mail clerks.

After mailing out all the pre-orders, I had two basic tasks on my mind: Make the website no longer suck, and start Volume 3!

* Liz and I finalized the story for Volume 3, and went through script drafts for Chapter 7. Meanwhile, I realized that technology is my enemy.
* After failing spectacularly to learn PHP on my own, I was fortunate to receive lessons from the talented Ed Mason - bringing my competence level from 'I like Trix' to 'So that's the code viewer!' This transition took some time, and superhuman teaching ability.
* Scripting completed, I drafted page thumbnails for Chapter 7, which Liz and I reviewed and revised together. By this time, things were going along well, so it was necessary to get distracted.
* Suddenly realizing I wanted to make something out of leather (sniff sniff - maaanly!) I opted to create a really, really unnecessarily cool prints binder for the Anthrocon - along with a few new art prints to add a little life to the old lineup. I sacrificed a coat, and spent a couple of weeks with an exacto knife and a hot glue gun.
* After the Anthrocon in July, Liz and I started getting ready for our wedding. This involved a lot of me being on my best behavior, so that she wouldn't have second thoughts until it was too late... Mission accomplished.
* Our wedding was absolutely fantastic - the best I've ever had!
* After the wedding, I finalized some more website pages, and celebrated by opening commissions in August, with what I confidently believed to be prohibitive prices.
* Woops.
* My original intent was to crank out the commissions at a nice brisk rate - but I'd keep stopping and saying, 'Oh, well, this is a really neat idea - I have to take a little more time with it.' On every one.
* In October, I took a quick break from commissions to create the web page and prizes for the annual Halloween fanart contest. That was exceptionally fun in every dimension, and a lot of really cool work came in. But, curiously, I had more commissions pending in early November than I'd had back in October. People were still ordering more.
* After Midwest Furfest in mid NO!-vember, I finally had to close commissions. I was swamped. Initially expecting like ten or twenty orders back in August, I think the final came to over 50 - and most of them were 'full background' commissions, to boot! I now realize a great truth; Most of the world is not as cheap as me.
* Commissions kept me occupied through the winter, and early spring. It was a lot of fun creating them, and I had the privilege of working with some original and interesting material. But I was increasingly getting twitchy about the standstill on Volume 3 and the website.
* In late February, with commissions nearly done, Liz and I took some time off to finally go on our honeymoon. To Disneyworld! Turns out I like Disneyworld. It’s even better than Ohio. Who knew?
* Returning in March, we completed and mailed the last commissions - and just in time for tax season!
* By this point, the old war-horse (My computer) was having some trouble. Enduring years of (looking back, increasingly pointless) college projects, my year of freelance and CG animation, and two high-res graphic novel projects, the half-decade-old thing was about as twitchy as a tegu on taurine. We backed up our files, re-organized things into some semblance of order, and finally replaced the workstation.
* Capping April, we attended the Furry Connection North, and I spent this last week assassinating the surviving stragglers on my 'to-do' list.

Annnd, that less-than fascinating catalogue brings us roughly up to present! Also dispersed within the above timeframe, I was busy researching marketing options and writing articles, drafting a specific business plan to pull Vivid into a profitable range of production, creating video tutorials for local library presentations (and YouTube), drafting a new look for the Vivid Publishing website (which mainly serves as a placeholder until I earn more capital), keeping up with Prelude every week, filling orders and ordering small-runs of the graphic novels, and solidifying our Dreamkeeper backstories and character arcs into a writing bible with a consistent timeline, which resulted in improving and polishing some parts of the story.

So although visible progress is nil, a lot of necessary foundation has been laid; both on the creative and business side. At least, it's consoling to entertain that notion.

Now my plate is cleared, and I need to focus on the two linchpins of my future; Volume 3, the revenue from which will launch Vivid at a professional scale, and completing the website, the hub for all my planned marketing efforts. For those who've been waiting patiently on the next book, thanks for sticking with me! Next blog update, I'll have some Sneak Peaks at the new work being done on Chapter 7... Meaning pictures. Meaning more fun than what you just read.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

ARTICLE #6: Action - The Road to a New Market.

Enough complaining - time for action!

Not that I haven't enjoyed the whole whine-a-thon, or the cheap 'n easy potshots along the way. Some of that stuff was just too sumptuously ludicrous to pass unscathed. And passively complaining about 'the system' is a cherished tradition of our generation.
But as riveting as whining may be, it's even more fun to shake things up and watch the pieces fly. Have you ever seen a hand grenade go off in a chicken coop? ...Me neither, but that hasn't stopped me yet. I'd rather kick ass than mope - so let's get down to business! It's time to stop glamorizing the Creator Revolution, and start making it a reality.

We've established that the establishment cares about the creator-owned movement, much in the same way that windshields care about butterflies. But now comes the truly pertinent question: Do you care about it? Your answer determines the future of an entire medium. What's your stake in this endeavor?

Any aspiring creator with a unique, exciting story to share - this article is for you. Come on in. If you enjoy reading comics and want to see more & better books, then this article is for you, too. Welcome, good to have you with us. If you never really liked comics that much, but have the capacity to appreciate dynamic art and entertaining stories - then this article is for you, too! Seating is to the left, just file on down. And if you love hardcore bondage but can't find any that involves vintage grammaphones, then this article is... Well... No, actually, it's not really for you. Where'd you come from? Google's that-a-way, bucko.

To kick things off, let's reiterate one last time what the Creator Revolution is:
Comics are a long underestimated medium with massive potential for fun and relevance, a medium that deserves a niche in mainstream culture. The Creator Revolution is about putting control of comics back into the hands of creators and readers. With genuine taste and imagination unfettered at both ends of the spectrum, comics can finally bloom, offering more diversity to more consumers, and a healthy, viable market for aspiring talent.
Fundamentally, the Creator Revolution is focused on serving the needs of creators and readers.

So practically speaking, we're talking about building a market together. We have people with the talent and desire to create, and there's a huge population of potential readers out there. All we need now is some clever way of sticking these two groups together. The current Direct Market for comics performs this task with all the aptitude of a novice neurosurgeon howler monkey who doesn't take your insurance. We've got a square peg, and a square hole - the only thing lacking is a connection. The effective connection between a seller and a buyer is a marketplace.

That's our Holy Grail - a New Market.

We need a system that doesn't choke out good work as it sprouts, but instead lets it flourish. A system that's attractive and inviting for potential customers, one that makes it easy for them to find something they like.
So, something unique to the world of comics as we know it.
The hardest part is starting. (Except with drugs, of course.) Starting with nothing takes a lot of grit, and a lot of hard work. After that, it's an upward spiral that results in surfing on waves of cash. Waves and waves of cash! Guaranteed! Surfing along without a care in the world! Look, I can prove it with maths: (Watch, as my honors high school math courses pay off in SPADES!)

New Creators + Sacrifice Time = Different Work.
(Different Work + Marketing effort) = New Readers.
New Readers = $$$
$$$ = (More [Different Work] from New Creators + Newer Creators) = Even More Different Work
(Even More Different Work + Marketing Effort )*(New Readers + Word of Mouth) = $$,$$$,$$$
$$,$$$,$$$ = (More Creators^2) + (New Readers*Comics visible in Public) = Actual Mainstream Market
Actual Mainstream Market(AMM) + Creator owned work + $$,$$$,$$$ = Diverse Quality Comics.
Diverse Quality Comics * AMM = Surfing on the blood of the innocent.

Oops. Well, slight miscalculation - but you get the idea! Nobody likes innocents anyways, they're so boring. About the only thing they're good for is blood, and potlucks.

So the functionality of our New Market is pretty straightforward. We need someplace where creators can get a chance to be seen by readers, and readers can pay for what looks good. But how, exactly, should we make that happen? Vague idealistic notions are great for politicians - but if we're going to accomplish something (Besides plunging a nation irrevocably into a black abyss of mind boggling debt), we actually have to know what direction to head in.

Why not kick things off with some brainstorming? Just because it hasn't been done, doesn't mean it can't be done! (Except for cloning cats with thumbs. I mean, duh. Obviously that can't be done. Who wants a thumbs-up from a cat, anyways? Not me.)
What if Deviant Art set up an online store where subscribers could sell and buy books? What if developed a ranking system and site exclusively for comics? What if people could subscribe to digital comics on their i-phone? What if we could magnetize comics so that they shot through people's windows and stuck across their TV screens? How about comics on toilet paper? Yes? Yes?

Not every idea will be a gold nugget - but we need to get some new ones, and start acting on them!

“It is not a successful formula to keep doing things the same way because it worked in the past. If you want to achieve a competitive edge, you'll focus on creating something that will strike a nerve tomorrow.”
-Donny Deutsch

Whatever form the new market takes, it needs to perform one task surpassingly well - serve the customers, both veterans and especially the uninitiated. The experience must be easy, fun, and uncomplicated. It has to be inviting and entertaining - Like a comedy troupe with a mansion for rent. Simulating the perspective of a potential customer, new to comics, here's what I would want:


Customer Service Requirements:

#1: Lazy Compatible.
Like I'm going to get up and move around over stuff I don't want yet. Right. If I'm going to start getting into comics as a customer, it has to be convenient for me. How about a website? That's easy.

#2: Pretty Colors.
The website has be appealing, of course. I don't want to spend time in a clunky website that hurts my head to look at, and I certainly wouldn't feel safe spending money there. What if I'm robbed by internet gypsies? Or that Nigerian guy that won't stop e-mailing me?
I want a site that's appealing, fun, and inviting to the eye. Boobs wouldn't hurt either. Not a requirement. I'm just saying. You could make them buttons or something.

#3: Free Stuff.
Pour out your effort, your hopes, your sweat and talent to me - for free! This isn't really asking all that much. I mean, listen. If I'm not a comic fan yet, am I going to rush over to a site just to buy comics? I need something to entertain me - something fun. If there's no free entertainment, I can always visit, I don't know... A bazillion other websites. Keep that in mind - you're competing with cute kitty videos on YouTube, You'd better have something damn amazing.
And I don't mean a couple of measly page samples. Give me something quality, and a decent, engrossing stretch of it. I won't buy your story until I need to read more of it.

#4: Easy Browsing.
So, I'm at a retail site - maybe Amazon, maybe IndyPlanet, maybe Haven's got an online store, maybe something totally new from an ambitious creator. What activity would I, the customer, cherish more than anything else?
If you answered 'scroll through countless pages of cover thumbnails that all look bland', then your response was WRONG! Open bear trap, insert head.
If anyone and everyone can offer their wares in this new market, let's face facts - they aren't all going to be keepers. And prospective customers aren't going to laboriously squint through screens and screens full of mediocrity in search of the gems. (See Requirement #1).
I want a way to find what I want, fast. A few genre tabs are only the start - I want to have control in narrowing down my browsing, so I can zoom straight to what I'm interested in. So how about a reader ranking system? With multiple categories, too; Art Quality, Concept Originality, Story & Writing, Character Appeal, Humor level, Action level, Drama level, Sexaciousness, Overall Score, etc... And having a reader review box would be nice. Speaking of readers...

#5: Add Friends.
Hook us up! An online customer community, be it a forum or whatever, is essential to the experience. I want to chat about my purchase, and read about what others are saying. If I feel like I'm part of a group, and can enjoy interacting with others, there's a much better chance I'll return to the market for more.

#6: Add Stuff
If I find something I like, and I'm a consumer, odds are I'll want to buy some related stuff. Look at how many band - related t-shirts are out there. What do t-shirts have to do with music? Nothing. But they accent the culture, by showcasing a person's individual taste to others. Shirts, or other merchandise, allow me as a consumer to extend and enjoy my experience with your product.


So, that little fantasy session gives us a nice picture of just one idyllic venue for the new market. If something like this were set up with good content, and the creators put some elbow grease into marketing it, I guarantee that readers would come. And if you’re a Direct Market store owner fuming over this competing service concept - well, who says that’s not the website for your personal store? You need to shift gears upstairs.

This is a neat idea - but how do we accomplish it? How do we bring comics back to mainstream level readership, with creator owned content? By all means, brainstorm some ideal scenarios. We need to have something worthwhile to aim for. My personal favorite is the comic strip-porium, where Vegas meets cartoons, and white tigers with pencils for claws prance about on the paper-stage, live. But we’ve all got to start from where we are right now - reality. (I can only afford one white tiger.)

Nobody’s going to hand this to us. We can't conquer the world from our couches - it'll take applied persistence, innovation, and effort. The new market is for Creators and Readers - both are integral to building it. Each has their own crucial role to play:


Your future career is literally on the line. What do you want to spend the rest of your life doing? How much do you love your craft? Perhaps you’re content to enjoy your art as a side hobby, while working in an unrelated career - there’s nothing wrong with that.
...But not everyone can relegate their endeavors to a side-bin. There are people out there with a story burning inside of them. Individuals who love to create, who devote themselves to honing their talent, who must pursue their passion or live unfulfilled. For those of us dedicated to our chosen form of storytelling, there’s no other option. The current situation is sterile - we must forge a new market to have even a chance at success. It’s do or die!

...Let’s discuss the ’do’ direction.

To build a new market, creators must accomplish two tasks - and the first of those is to craft stand-out quality work.

Task 1: Make Something.

Creators, your unique work is the crucial foundation of the new market. It’s pretty hard to build a market selling nothing. We're not Wall Street. And you can’t merely make comics - you have to make great comics! We’re not just reaching out to comic fans, remember - we have to offer something irresistable to the millions who have no interest in the current selection.
Make something compelling! Something of quality, something of substance! Something that will resonate with the imagination and taste of readers! Something that surpasses the standards and preconceptions of the industry! And, most importantly...
SOMETHING DIFFERENT! Don’t offer more of the same - no matter what, find a way to stand out! After all: If you’re not creating something unique and different, something that only you personally could envision - then why make it? If it’s been done, go pick it up, read it, and enjoy it. But don’t echo it.

“If you're just starting out, being different is your only edge. You can't compete on experience or size. Unless you can strike a fresh nerve, you can't win. I'll take it a step further. I don't care what you're doing, if you can't honestly say that you're bringing something new and different to the marketplace - something that adds value - what's the point?”
-Donny Deutsch

Don’t forget - comics give you, the sole creator, the liberty to make anything you can envision. There’s no board room censoring your jokes, no focus panel picking out your characters' traits. In comics, you have the freedom to do anything, the freedom to be different and honest and better - use it!

So, let’s say you’ve accomplished Task #1. After the most inspired creative effort of your life, you’ve rendered the best graphic novel in the world, ever. Using glow-in-the-dark silver ink on pages of pure platinum.
Great job! But guess what?

It doesn’t matter. Nope- not at all. You may have just pwned Shakespeare by summoning forth the crowning artistic and literary achievement of the human race, but all of that effort and love was wasted. Unless, of course, you follow through with your next task:

Task 2: Market it.

If a gold asteroid falls in the woods, and nobody’s around, what sound does it make? Answer - it doesn’t matter. Because if nobody knows about it, then nobody cares.

You thought making your own entire book was tough? The hard part is still coming - you have to learn to effectively market your work. If your story isn’t being heard, then you wasted your time in making it.
The better your creation, the more you owe it to yourself, and your potential readers, to spread the word.

Now, I’m not saying you have to purchase a full page spread in People Magazine and start running 30-second ad slots during prime-time. Buying mainstream advertising is probably the least cost-effective technique you could use for growing a readership.
Marketing is a scary word, but there’s no secret magic (Or secret shortcut) to it. Marketing is anything you do to attract attention to your work. It could be as simple as joining a forum, or giving out some postcards. You don’t need a thousand-dollar budget, or a publicist. But you do need to learn what options you have, which ones work for you, and make sure you apply them on a consistent basis.
That means research - read library books about marketing, hit the internet, do whatever it takes. But remember one thing - Unless you learn about marketing, inside and out, and use it to promote your work, then your work isn't going to matter. You must learn to market effectively - nobody’s going to do it for you.


You really need to do some marketing for the creators.

Oh, wait, I got that out of order... I’m supposed to make you care first, hold on.

I suppose it's a valid point to bring up... Whether or not you have an obligation to care about this stuff. You’re the customer, after all. You’re here to find what you like, and enjoy it. It’s not your job to be a salesperson! Besides, don’t salespeople get paid?

Well, here’s the deal... It depends on how much you want a new market, and all it entails. A new, revitalized comic market means more new creators with careers, which means more variety, diversity, and quality in comics. There are brilliant stories out there right now, in the process of being created, or in the early stages of conceptual formation. If there’s no market for these potential treasures, odds are they’ll wither and disappear before they see the light of day. They’ll vanish forever as though they never existed, the talent behind their inception wasted and forgotten.
Other entertainment industries have mainstream support and funding - comics, as discussed, have been crippled and marginalized for decades. The business powers in the Direct Market won’t help - quite the contrary. They see original upstarts as competition to be crushed.

There’s nobody else to turn to - and literally nobody else that cares. Just you. We can build a new market together, and achieve these dreams - but the creators can’t do it alone.

Aaaannnd - DING! According to my calculations, you have now been guilt-tripped into caring. So what exactly am I suggesting that you do, anyways?
Well, anything and everything you’re willing to do - but why not start simple? Find comics that you enjoy - you’re already doing that anyways. Then, share your favorites with other people.
...That’s about it. Relatively painless - yet this small habit is utterly vital to the survival of independent creators.
I’ll share a little secret with you. The most effective form of advertising in the history of earth is also the cheapest - it’s word of mouth. I mean, think about it. What are you going to place more trust in - a random banner ad flashing in front of your face, or a friend's recommendation? We trust real opinions more than expensive ads - and for good cause. A good half of the stuff being advertised to us is guaranteed bullshit. When it comes to politics, both halves. But if the product is endorsed by someone we know - someone who is sharing their positive personal experience - that connects.
If you’re enthusiastic about a story you just read, share it! You are the outside world's guide to comics! Remember, the vast majority of people haven't an inkling of what comics can offer. You're a reader - you have some familiarity with the terrain out there. Explore! Find what's good, and bring the exceptional titles to light. This is the simplest and most effective thing you can do to help generate a new market - casually, naturally introduce people to what you like. And some of them will like it too.
Now, let's say that you enjoy sharing your favorite comics with those who might be interested - but you want to do even more to help promote that series! What then?

Well, first off, you're a glittering gift from above for whatever lucky creator you're a fan of. Bless you, and bless your children.

If you want to do more, the sky's the limit. It's your turn to be creative - you can help in any way that you choose. Make up something fun! It can be gratifying and entertaining to get involved promoting an under-recognized story. Here's a brief brainstorm of ways to go above and beyond in helping promote your favorite comics:

1) Write to comic reviewers.
Do you read comic reviews anywhere? Drop that reviewer a line, and tell them what you think of the series - and that you'd love to hear their review of it. You're their audience, after all - they should have a healthy respect for what you like. Let them know what about the series appeals to you, and why you think they should take note.
2) Write to other book reviewers and publicity venues.
Same deal as above - it wouldn't hurt to clue in some mainstream reviewers that their readership has an interest in graphic novels. Write to bloggers, podcasters, magazines, newspaper sections, radio hosts - anything that comes to mind. Heck, write Oprah. Why not? You're the audience, after all. If you give them a heads up on an emerging trend, they should count themselves fortunate for your input!
3) Ask for the title.
Go to a Barnes & Noble, your local bookstores, your comic shop, your library, and ask if they stock your favorite title. If they don't, ask them to do so. Now, if you already own a copy of this comic, don't get them to stock the title and then bail when it comes to purchasing, that doesn't really help anyone in the equation much - storeowner, creator, or you. If you can convince a local place to invest money in a title, try to ensure it pays off for them.
4) Promote the title.
Post a few flyers around town, or near the shops that should be carrying the book. If you're in school, post flyers or hand out copied ads in the halls. Stick a flyer on the bulletin board at work. Write a personal note on the flyer, mentioning what people may find interesting about the book. Send a personalized e-mail, or talk up your favorite book in an online forum. There are other ways besides posting flyers, too - don't limit yourself!
5) More stuff.
Start a fan club. Make an online group. Dress up for Halloween as your favorite character. Wear a t-shirt featuring the series. Hire a sky-writer. Give books out as gifts. Wrap them in candy and throw them at children. Be creative, and have fun!

Now, one caveat... I’m not asking you to rush around and promote all independent comics... Only promote work that you actually like and think is good. Remember, you’re a customer - not a charity for the hopeless. You are the market’s quality control! Nothing will turn off new readers faster than having a crappy product foisted on them.
If you don't like a particular comic, then don't buy it, and don't feel obligated to support it. That goes for my work, too. It may sound a bit harsh - and it is. It's reality, the most honest and valuable feedback you can ever give a creator. Most artists have friends and family that care about their feelings (Or about the risk of pushing their offbeat companion over the edge), so they tend to sugarcoat feedback. That's helpful for an uncertain artist's immediate emotional needs. But for long term improvement and success, nothing is more helpful than candid reality.

Well, creators... Readers... that's about the long and short of it. We are nearing the end of my long, long winded ramblings.

You may notice, however, that although I exhort a general direction for both creators and readers to take, I didn't mention a lot of details and specifics about exactly how to proceed.
I left the details out, because things are so much more interesting when freedom and originality run the show! Of what value would it be for me to state one static 'formula' to follow? You can think of ideas that wouldn't ever have occurred to me - That's why there's two of us. The details are up to you.

And I do mean you - you, sitting there, reading this blog right now. How many other people do you think are browsing this alongside you? Millions? Hundreds? Ten? Newsflash - As of the writing of this article, I'm still pretty much unheard of. You're one of the few people on the planet reading this right now. So, it really is a question for you, personally - what are you going to do? What do you want to do?

For the record, here's what I'm planning to do:

I'm going to work hard with my partner Liz, making the absolute best books that we can. I want 'Dreamkeepers' to be a truly exceptional series, filled with character, color, story, and danger, a series that can hold its own and endure on a crowded bookshelf.
Using our story, I'm going to launch my upstart publishing company, 'Vivid: Independent Publishing'. I'm raising the capital for this venture by selling short - run editions of Dreamkeepers right now, while I work a night job to pay my bills. It'll take time to earn my way up - but I'll get enough for professional scale print runs sooner or later.
Once I can operate at a professional, profitable scale, I'll promote Dreamkeepers as far as it can go, and turn it into a mainstream success. Readers have compared its appeal to Harry Potter, and I intend to fulfill that potential. (Although, just between you and me, the climax of Dreamkeepers is going to make Potter's finale look like a baby shower.) And being the owner of Vivid, I can ensure the books are released with integrity and creative control intact.
And of course, owning a publishing company will have other advantages - like the opportunity to publish other stand-out independent creators, and give them the same creative freedom and ownership which I so value.
Throughout my endeavors in reaching for these goals, I'll share my failures and successes here on this blog. Because what could possibly be more entertaining than me? …Me with blue hair? Hmmm… I’ll see what I can do. No promises.
Hopefully others out there can learn from my efforts. I'm going to spill the beans on everything, from the creative end of things, to business advice and mistakes. Tutorials and notes will be mixed in amongst my progress updates.

And on that note, here are the links to my first video tutorials:

'Then and Now' introduces my tutorial series, and compares my highschool art to my current stuff.
'Basic Photoshop Shading' is just what is sounds like.

Mainstream success, a new market, being able to feed myself with my life's work... This stuff is a long shot, of course. All I really have right now are dreams. Is it actually practical to focus all of my career efforts on these unfounded aspirations? Can we really create a new market, and bring vitality back to this wayside medium? Am I crazy to think I can actually do this?

Maybe. I guess there's only one way to really find out.

"The best way to get started is to stop talking and begin doing.”
-Walt Disney

Here's a list of resources that I have found helpful to date. For those looking at where to start, here are some good choices: (Note for those that share my operating budget - libraries are free.)
1001 Ways to Market your Book - John Kremer
Understanding Comics - Scott McCloud
Reinventing Comics - Scott McCloud
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen Covey
Guerilla Marketing - Jay Conrad Levinson
How to Make Webcomics - Scott Kurtz, Kris Straub, Dave Kellett, Brad Guigar
How to Publish Comics, not just Create them - Josh Baylock
Think Big and Kick Ass - Donald Trump
The Big Idea; How to make your entrepreneurial dreams come true. - Donny Deutsch

Websites: (This is only a tiny sample of all the useful, free information available on the web.)
Note - for those on a budget starting small, I highly recommend Ka-Blam's print on demand services. I've had great products and great customer service from them.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

ARTICLE #5: STOP THAT! (Step away from the internet!)

TOP 6 WAYS to identify an individual who is NOT COOL according to the standards of mainstream modern society:
6) - Their value system does not fit into either of two pre-defined categories.
5) - Their cell phone remains starkly un-personalized and is older than 1 year.
4) - They know more about their own thoughts than they do about Oprah's.
3) - They believe in any kind of 'movement' involving 'comics'.
2) - They enjoy music played less than 17 times a day on the radio.
1) - They remember information and events that are not currently being marketed.

How many of these banes apply to you? If you've been keeping up with my articles, you'd better watch it... I'm trying to shove number three down your gullet.
For those who haven't taken a peek at my first four articles, here's the gist; The medium of comics has been slowly crushed into obscurity in America, mainly as the result of an unwieldy spandex-obsessed monopoly rising to power - and staying there. We're on the verge of change, however, and a Creator Revolution is happening. What you're reading now was to be the article where I discuss how to pragmatically facilitate the Revolution.

I told you... Revolution? Comics? It's number three.

So, what exactly is this 'Revolution' about? Will we need guns?

Ridiculous, it does not require guns - they are optional. The Creator Revolution maintains that comics are a great, largely unrealized form of art and storytelling; and instead of being rigidly manipulated and dictated by tactless business monoliths, stories belong to two groups of people only: the storytellers, and the audience - the creators, and the readers. These are the only people who have a valid stake in the equation, and these are the groups that should be guiding the future of the medium. That's what the Creator Revolution is here to accomplish. And it's already beginning around us - comics are blooming online, conventions are thriving with more and more small dealers serving crowds of readers, and print on demand has opened the gateway for all to see their hard work in print.
But before I jump into all the details, ideas, and exhortations of how to start carrying the movement forward, I think there's a question we all need to ask ourselves first...

Who cares?

I mean, really. We're talking about a bunch of wanna-be artists trying quixotically to peddle their wares. How much does it really matter? We've got TV, after all. TV!

I can tell you one thing - someone sure cares about the Creator Revolution... They care about stopping it.

The following may give pause to some readers... It sure surprised me when I discovered it. I think I logged about 42 consecutive incredulous blinks - yet reality, bizarre as ever, remained. Who, pray tell, could possibly have a grim vendetta against unheard of artists and their fledgling efforts? Isn’t that unspeakably petty - and retarded?

Prepare yourself, intrepid reader... You’re about to enter a world. A world of the strange, of the twisted, of the surreal. A world where every corner hides labyrinthine inanities, where business monopolies flounder in the face of absolutely no competition, and where gamma radiation renders health benefits. You’re about to enter... The Direct Market Zone!! Where the enemy - is you!

‘How can this be!’, you ask? ‘Me - enemy? What could I have done?’

Time to find out - with this scientifically formulated test! Just answer the questions below with ‘yes’, ‘no’, or uncooperative silence;

Question #1: Have you ever gone to a comic book convention and bought a... comic book?
Question #2: Have you ever discovered a new artist online or at a convention?
Question #3: Have you ever ordered a comic book online or viewed a webcomic?
Question #4: Have you ever sold a comic in any manner where Diamond didn't get a cut of the profits?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, then according to organizations in the Direct Market, you are... the problem.

No, that was not supposed to be a joke. I’m actually serious. The Direct Market has a problem with people enjoying comics beyond their own monopoly-fed system. And this is no vague attitude of jealous hostility - it's an explicitly expressed agenda.
Keeping lock-step with Diamond's dominion, 'brick-and-mortar' retailer groups 'ComicsPRO' and 'CBIA' have issued statements condemning anyone selling books outside of their own organization's stores. Sound just a touch unlikely? Heck, don't take my word for it - read their own press release:

"ComicsPRO asserts that direct-to-consumer sales of material prior to their release to retailers adversely affects potential sales in Direct Market stores belonging to our membership. When customers have already purchased products directly from a publisher before the retail channel is even able to stock these items, the cash flow and bottom lines of Direct Market retailers are noticeably impacted."

So, to paraphrase; Anything in the entire world of comics should be sold through their stores, first and only; AFTER they've had their fill of sales (theoretically - we are talking about those meccas of popularity, comic shops), the actual creators and publishers of the book may be granted permission to sell their work through other, less universe-centric venues. But if it's not on their shelves first - they think it shouldn't be anywhere.
Not at conventions, not on the internet, and certainly not in the hands of readers. In the Direct Market Zone, the most important component in the intimate relationship between creator and reader is... The monopoly-integrated middleman.

Yeesh, talk about your entitlement mindsets! These guys could write a book on the subject! ...Well, no, they actually couldn't, they don't 'work' to 'make' books... But they could sure sell the book! (As long as nobody else on earth were allowed to sell it first, leaving them as the only option remaining in our galaxy.)
Bear in mind the fact that, for all practical purposes, these stores obediently suckle from the catalog of Diamond and Diamond alone. If you're not a financially endowed member of the monopoly, odds are they're already uninterested in working outside their comfort zone with you. And if you're not on their shelves, then evidently they want you to quietly stop existing... Saving them the effort of closing their eyes and humming.

My first reaction upon reading ComicsPRO & CBIA's stance was incredulity... They can't really be that myopic. Clearly, I'm misunderstanding the situation. It's like that time with my Boglin in the public restroom, all over again... I needed to see things from their perspective!

"...It's my hope that in the future when you and others are reporting on matters such as this and find yourselves reacting to someone with such incredulity, and the first thought is to belittle them, that instead you will stop and do what you've done here. Present some well thought-out questions and opinions and ask for the same back. Education and respect is how the comic industry will move forward, lack of it is how it will die."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA (Comic Book Industry Alliance)

Well, there's a breath of fresh air! This guy sounds pretty reasonable - education and respect? Big helpings of both, thanks! And he's the founder of the CBIA. Let's hear some more from him. (And what better way than to haphazardly paste his out-of-context statements across this article?) Understanding how an insider thinks is just what I need in order to dispel my zany notion that the Direct Market and its monopoly are out to get us little guys... Time to take off the aluminum foil hat. There won't be any insane, unjustified entitlement mentality with this fellow:

"I do believe that publishers owe it to me, and other retailers who support them, not to usurp our efforts, especially by taking unfair advantage of their ability to sell direct, uncontested and without notice, to the consumer."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA

Oh, well... You know, cut him a break. He does work in a monopolized market after all, we can't expect him to latch onto the whole 'competition is healthy' idea right away. But the point is, the CBIA and those it represents are real, thinking people. They want comics to grow, and to surpass the limited market served by the Big Four. Especially after the huge success of 'Bone' and other fresh comics, they understand the value of diverse, new, creator owned ideas, and their potential in attracting new readers to-

"The most important (misconception) being, that increasing creator owned work is somehow going to "save comics", whatever that means. It makes good sound bites but that's about it."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA

Hmm. O-kaayyy.... Not a big fan of creator - owned work... Well, assembly-line spandex certainly does have its place in the monopoly system. But, working first-hand in the industry, surely he at least agrees that the Direct Market isn't doing so hot with its current fare?

"No, I don't think the DM is functioning well."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA

Thank you. There, you see? There is some common ground! It's hard to argue with the devastating effect that decades of stagnation under a monopoly has created. Now that we've established there is indeed a problem, we can all work together to-

"...the fault lays almost exclusively with these small press publishers. I am at a loss to think of any other industry where companies regularly form to create product that there is no demonstrable demand for, and whose chances for survival (not success but survival) are firmly attached solely to their ability to leech customers away from an existing consumer pool."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA

...Leech? Wait, no... No way... I'm getting this wrong. He can't really be implying that Marvel and DC customers are drying up because... Marvel and DC, with their exclusivity deals and corporate backing and unquestioned shelf space, aren't selling well... Due to unheard-of fledglings outside the Big 4? Are these Direct Market loons really blaming the acorns for deforestation?

"...The biggest problem with hobby publishers is that it promotes unprofessional creative efforts and keeps potentially successful efforts from being successful with professional for-profit publishers."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA

Oh. Oh, my... I think I hear it... The theme music is starting up- DEAR GOD! We're still in - the Direct Market Zone! Aieeeeeeeee!!!
The land of the strange and illogical; where reality meets expectation - and is warped to match it! Stay, brave reader - and marvel! Welcome to the Direct Market Zone!
Where 40,000 superhero fans comprise the sole souls who would ever consider picking up any comic - and millions of Bone readers mysteriously do not exist! Where if mainstream superhero titles don't meet with success - it's clearly because there's no demand for unprofessional independent comics!

Try wrapping your mind around the thought process justifying this - it's like one of those nifty brain teaser games! I'll spoil the surprise for you, though; there's no way to win and have it suddenly make sense. But if you're bored somewhere, give it a go anyways! It's right up there with trying to break the '4 Color Theorem'. Let's delve deeper into the abyss, shall we? Strap yourself in - things are starting to get interesting!

"If I were creating a comic that was not super hero centric, I would invest all of my efforts at reaching out to readers of my particular genre of choice, NOT super hero readers and the retailers who love them."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA

Okaay... It looks like we're witnessing a lucid moment here. Nobody make any sudden moves. He seems to be saying that... if you're creating a different genre of comic, marketing to superhero comic shops might not be the best option. I'd have to be in agreement there. So - carefully, don't shatter the moment - it should therefore be alright to... Promote our projects... elsewhere? Like... (slooowly now!) ...conventions?

"Stop debuting projects at conventions AND use conventions for what they are really for, OUTREACH... You should know what conventions you're attending in advance, create a flier listing all known area retailers who support your product line and in conjunction with these retailers develop a bounce back reward program that will drive these motivated buyers into those shops."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA

And the moment is gone.

Finally, we have the inside scoop on what conventions are *really* for! Pay attention, any readers or creators out there planning on attending a con - you may be getting it wrong! Conventions aren't about meeting people, browsing new work, or enjoying a community. That's an easy misconception to have - even I was fooled! But now we know conventions are really about... finding maps!
Heh, what had I been thinking? These ideas I get. Conventions are actually around because that's where people can go to get a map to somewhere else! Conventions are big traveling map kiosks; free, obligatory advertising outlets invented just special for local retailers. Why else would somebody attend a con? They show up so they can find directions to you, Rob!

"Publishers selling directly to consumers has some controversy attached. A lot of retailers in the comic book direct market take a very dim view of direct sales to consumers, especially at conventions. While it may not be a realistic view, it is not uncommon for retailers to view attempts to sell to the consumer as a direct attack on their store, regardless of whether they actually stock the product or if the sales generated actually come from their zip code."
-Todd Allen, Publisher's Weekly.

So, in the 'Direct Market Zone', there's no significant room for small press in Diamond, and no valid place for them in conventions... I guess that leaves the internet.

"I will not... support a business model (online only) that I feel is harmful to the industry as well as one that the CBIA was founded to help brick and mortar retailers fight."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA
(Bold font emphasis gleefully inserted by David Lillie)

So the CBIA is here... To fight the internet.

...To Fight...

...The Internet.

I... I don't know what to say. What joke could top that? Rob, I'm sorry... But I think the battle is lost. Unless you were planning on sending a T-1000 back in time to kill Al Gore, it's too late. The internet wins.


Let's just ignore, for a moment, that creator - owned webcomics are luring readers of all ages back to the medium of comics by the millions. Let's forget the affordability and effectiveness that the internet brings to marketing capacity. Let's not think about the enhancement to a readership that online community involvement fosters. Let's overlook the sheer artistic value of having a barrier - free venue for new talent of every stripe. Basically, let's forget the virtually indisputable fact that the internet is the best thing to happen to comics since Gutenberg.
Let's just say, for now, that the internet is bad for comics. Bad, bad internet! Even so, why try to 'fight' it? Shouldn't the Direct Market be expending its efforts trying to adapt to, and grow with the internet? Shouldn't the focus be on moving forward constructively? And even if they're determined to sit back and play victim to the changing times, why not just blame the changing times - why specifically blame independents? When their industry is all but closed to small press, why express hostility towards novice efforts outside the system? Why don't they just literally, you know... mind their own business?

There's a very obvious reason, and one that confirms the gist of my past articles... Their sales suck. They're feeling desperate. Pressured. If their stores were stuffed with customers, and their registers brimming over with cash, they'd be more than happy to mind their own business! They wouldn't care about 'unprofessional' efforts outside their walls. But, they do care. Comic shops haven't magically reversed their long, slow drag into obscurity - collectively, they're still struggling.
And of course they're struggling! They're working under a monopoly being force - fed the droppings of licensing operations, which have no appeal beyond a narrowing range of aging anachronistic readers! They've utterly fumbled the chance to engage a new generation in comics, and missed the train on manga because it fell outside their preconceptions! Their business is so dysfunctional, it's almost more as though the customers are serving their needs, rather than the other way around, with a buying trip to the comic shop being seen as an exercise in charity!

"...this system is screwy, old and broken. It’s almost being run the same way it was run in 1989, with very few improvements. So there… again I have complained or yammered about what a stupid system it is. I’ve used it, I’ve put up with it– but the bottom line is it doesn’t serve the consumer, publisher or retailer at all. Especially in 2009."
DJ Coffman

"I am at a loss as to why the comic industry has allowed Diamond to have a monopoly on its distribution. Geppi can scream that he doesn't all he wants but anyone that owns or has ever owned a comic store knows he is lying... ...As a retailer at the time, I noticed Diamond's customer service was the worse I've ever dealt with in any business and from what I understand, it hasn't changed. Why should it? You have to take what they dish out to stay in business."

That's right - I'm quoting from rock8334. Only the highest standards of journalistic research and integrity with my articles!

So, there are problems in the Direct Market. I think we've beat that horse into a pulp by now. But rather than deal with the elephant in the canoe who's making them sell that pulp, CBIA and ComicsPro have valiantly leapt to action and decided to blame...

Those damn little guys.

For any psych undergrads looking to write a thesis on the mechanics of collective denial, look no further.
The Beat of Publisher's Weekly comments on the topic:

"They (CBIA & ComicsPro) can’t rail against Amazon, B&N, B&T, the internet, libraries, manga or anyone else, so they just lashed out at the nearest person... New publishers arriving on CBIA are inevitably met with suspicion and the equivalent of a “Are you now or have you ever been a publisher who might have sold a comic outside the direct market?” threshhold that just isn’t logical in today’s day and age."

Dealing with deep rooted problems, innovating, and coping with the changing times are all hard work. But finding a scapegoat? Easy and fun! Especially if it's a small defenseless scapegoat. With leukemia and big sad eyes. And a limp.

So here's a question - with the denizens of the Direct Market Zone screeching at any progress being made which doesn't drag them along with it, what's a young creator to do? Forge ahead through another route, and the gatekeepers of the Direct Market may mark you as an 'outsider.' Should we, the next generation of storytellers, grant the Direct Market precedence above every other potential avenue of sales and growth? Is innovation worth the censure? Is it worth an uphill struggle to try and fit into their limited, rectangular monopolized walls? And, considering the sad state of their market, do they merit the effort?

"Ultimately they don’t owe us anything but the reverse is true as well. If they don’t feel that the DM is an area that they need for their success, trust me, there are plenty of books out there for us to sell.... Have you seen (Diamond's) Previews lately? Its not getting any thinner. "
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA

"I think we will see a thinner Previews, yeah."
Bill Schanes, Diamond Vice President of Purchasing

Editing can be so, so fun. And evil. And fun.

To maintain even the pretense of equity, I need to emphasize how out-of-context all of these Robert Scott quotes are. He's a lot smarter when I don't dice his thoughts into slivers and rearrange them. In fact, he's actually an example of a comic retailer who's doing everything right; His store Comikaze intelligently incorporates manga, is effective at drawing in new customers, and has a layout and genre selection which offers something to everyone, especially to the new buyer. I'm using his quotes to make a point, but don't think that he's actually a clueless caricature outside of my rigged article. I am a storyteller, after all. (I never made any promises of journalistic integrity in here - Er, did I? ...No? Excellent! Forward, ho!)

Back on topic - It appears that Diamond's solicitation magazine, Previews, is slated to lose some weight. Just what's going on? And how does it relate to the Creator Revolution?

Well, strap yourself in. Because pondering whether or not it's worthwhile to placate the gatekeepers just became irrelevant... The gates have slammed shut and locked - from the inside. And there is a tiny Frenchmen perched at the top. Giving you a raspberry.
On January 19th of 2009, Diamond Distribution announced its new "DIE INSECTS!" business strategy. (I think they may have titled it something different - but I'm going for accuracy here.) And if their intent was to wipe small publishers and independents from the face of the earth, they couldn't have drafted a better plan... Unless of course it involved large quantities of sarin gas. Don't hold your breath waiting for that though, I doubt Diamond would ever truly be willing to use... I take it back. Hold your breath.

After years of pushing Marvel and DC crap into the Direct Market, and watching it wither and gag, Diamond's cunning new strategy is... To push even more Marvel and DC crap into the Direct Market, and erect massive financial barriers to blockade access from smaller publications and upstart creators.

Nothing like taking the long view into account.

Cartoonist DJ Coffman predicts the shift will “spell doom” for many current and future titles from small publishers.
So what exactly did Diamond do, anyways? Short answer - doom. Boring answer:

They raised their 'minimum profit benchmark' from $1,500 to $2,500.

Now, I know what you're thinking. 'Minimum profit benchmarks - finally, this article is getting juicy!'

Damn straight! But bear with me - there may be a few straggling, lost souls out there who are sadly uninitiated to the glittering magic of minimum profit benchmarks. Lets share our joy with them, shall we?
So, what exactly is a 'minimum profit benchmark?' Basically, it's an arbitrary quantity of cash that Diamond demands to achieve from every title it carries. If the minimum benchmark were zero, then Diamond would be covering all of its operating costs, shipping expenses, and vendor invoices just fine - but there'd be no extra profit. Those poor shareholders!

To avoid such a disaster, Diamond decrees minimum profit sums, or 'benchmarks' that each individual title must meet. Any titles falling short are dropped and cut off -effectively eliminated from every comic shop in America. Except, of course, for Big 4 titles - they have guaranteed exclusivity deals, don't forget. The rules don't apply to them, only to us little guys.
And with the recent dramatic benchmark increases, the rules have dramatically changed the game, by ending it.
How much of an impact does a $1,000 increase in the benchmark really make, though? For anyone who's not involved in publishing, these numbers and dry conversations about margins can seem a little abstract. To better convey the impending results of this business maneuver, let's hear from some other publishers and industry professionals - the ones without exclusive back-room hookups:

Jennifer de Guzman, editor-in-chief of SLG Publishing, asserts the rising threshold “puts all smaller publishers in a difficult position, and probably means the end of independent serialized comics.”

"What this signals to me is that in defiance of the trends of the culture towards smaller, more creator-owned work, Diamond is just interested in propping up already popular works. They’ve given up fostering the next Dash Shaw or Yokoyama — they’re essentially cutting off the potential for growth or surprise."
Dan Nadel- SLG Publishing

Johanna Draper Carlson, of 'Comics Worth Reading':
"The most likely result is the end of the independent series... I suspect we’re never again going to see something like a Bone or a Strangers in Paradise, a long-running series by a single creator.
Or as non Diamond-exclusive publishers told us in private emails (a sampling):
“It is going to be rough for us Top 20 publishers. It will be epic for anyone smaller. Lots of folks will vanish due to this, even some bigger guys.”
“I expect the new threshold to annihilate many of the smallest publishers and keep a lot of new ones out of Previews.”
“This is the single biggest event since Diamond became the monopoly that ruled comics.”

Tom Spurgeon quoted Publisher Dan Nadel as saying- (cover your ears, children!); “If true, I’m fucked.”

Also on Diamond's 'shit to fuck up' list: Shelf life. Simultaneous with their tycoonish benchmark hike, they've announced that they refuse to distribute or deal with any title once it's been released for 60 days. They won't let retailers order more copies, they won't sell editions to customers, and they sure as hell won't order more from publishers. The book is, quite simply, done. And if that title didn't meet their draconian benchmark within the ticking time limit - then it's the last title of that series that Direct Market customers will ever see.

If it's not an instant hit - it's an instant death.

Great news for the soulless speculation collector's market. Bad news for any young artists or creators who were hoping to ever have a place in comics. If your book isn't already at the apex of popularity upon the instant of its release, there's no chance of working up to that point through a quality effort. Strike one - You're out.

"...The amazing, long running successes of books like Bone, Strangers In Paradise, Mouse Guard and many more would be impossible under this situation... These books all generated readers and numbers through word of mouth, eventually becoming best-sellers. But these Diamond numbers effectively stop any possibility of a slow burn success. And of course, less publishers is a bad thing. Less variety means less potential interest from new readers. Which means a shrinking customer base. And that’s always bad news.”
-Richard Bruton

Well, I think that about covers it... Does anyone care about the Creator Revolution? Well, it seems that the entire Direct Market, from Diamond, to the Big 4, to retailer organizations, are doing their damnedest to put a stop to it.
They've collectively blockaded new artists and storytellers from distribution, are lobbying to prevent the sale of comics at conventions, have expressed a desire to 'fight' the internet, and done everything in their power to effectively gag smaller publishers. Except for the whole sarin gas thing... Don't stop holding your breath.

"Imagine a publisher who recognizes that the way to attract readers is to give them quality cartoons... and that the way to get quality cartoons is to offer artists a quality format and artistic freedom. Is it inconceivable such a venture could work?"
-Bill Watterson

Sadly - in today's Direct Market - yes.


Storytelling. Using art, to tell a story, with words and pictures. Simple, innocent, and sincere... It takes a special soul to transform something so pure and straightforward into a twisted clusterfuck of crushing greed.

Thank you, Diamond.

It's enough to make me pause and reflect on why I've dedicated myself to comics in the first place.
This wasn't my only artistic option, or a last choice, or something I settled for. I could have been a rodeo clown. A destructive mad scientist. There's my skill at juggling invisible, silent steam shovels. Or, I could have been an animator. I've turned down recurring offers for continued freelance work, as well as an offer to move out for a full - time studio job. (I don't know how on earth they found my resume'... Evidently, there are still some demo DVDs floating around out there from my college days.) I've created professional 3-D and 2-D animation from scratch, had my work on television commercials selling cars, and in concept pitches for prospective TV shows. Whoop-dee-doo.
None of that ignited my imagination. I don't want to spend my life working on what's handed to me. I don't want to be a replaceable cog. I want to tell stories, without limitations, and without business considerations co-opting. In animation, the sheer cost of quality production demands business involvement. But in comics? What could get in the way of a clear fresh story there? In comics, creation is private, untarnished, and potent. In comics, I'd have no barriers to what I could create - only limitless possibilities.
Additionally, there's something intrinsically appealing in the medium of comics... There's a quiet sense of value in personally handcrafting an artistic tale, and delivering that story directly to a reader's eyes. There's something intangible there that even the more sophisticated entertainment forms, like platform gaming or big - budget animation, lack. There's an intimacy, a quiet magic to comics. There's no other medium I'd be happier to work in.
In short, I was drawn by the lure of freedom to make the business of comics my home.

...And then I find this god-awful mess.

A monopoly squatting on everything, new talent brushed to the wayside like garbage, sniping retail lobbies squawking at movement outside of their walls, and the 'mainstream' comics plastering those walls are so stuffed with advertising pages, that their story potential languishes even below their limited physical capacity. And when culture begins to shift, fueling the potential for a Creator Revolution - the established parasites rush to stomp it out.

So, what now? Should we call it quits? Accept the limitations on the business? Bow to the current circumstances? Give up? Abandon our dreams? Go home, forget our stories, grit our teeth, accept reality, and start learning to draw Batman?
Let me see... How to couch my sentiments within the proper context of propriety...

*Author's note; A paragraph has been removed at this point due to innovative and terrifying profanity, duration, and excessive gesticulation. We now return to our regularly scheduled article.*

...From the ass end of SATAN! With a CHERRY on top!

Whew... Sorry if I got a bit carried away there - but there can be no other answer! Quit!? What kind of schmoe quits just because the going is tough? What kind of a choice is that?
Quit.... Kick Ass. Quit.... Kick Ass. Quit.... Hmmm.

"If you don't hurry up and let life know what you want, life will damned soon show you what you'll get."
-Robertson Davies

From my brief endeavors to this point in comics, I know two things for a fact. One - there are talented artists and creators out there with something tantalizing to offer, something that doesn't fit the mold. And Two - there are readers - lots, and lots of readers out there - who are looking for exciting new art to enjoy. They're craving something fresh, something of quality, something original.
Those two ingredients (and coffee) are all we need to launch a creator revolution. They're small - but powerful, pure, unwavering - driven by the limitless force of creative aspiration. There's an inherent magnetism at work that no convoluted industrial conglomeration can smother. No matter how rigid their control over the channels of business in comics, no matter how long they've been calling the shots, the monopoly cannot control what we choose to create, and cannot dictate what will appeal to readers.

"I am drawn to people who choose to zig when the world zags. It is the ultimate form of freedom, and in that place of freedom, greatness happens. If you're locked into convention, if you're constantly measuring yourself against rules someone else has imposed, you've put a ceiling on what's possible. The most successful people in the world are those who separate themselves from the pack and dare to be different."
-Donny Deutsch

And wait just a minute! Is it really disastrous news that Diamond and the Direct Market are rejecting new creators and smaller publishers? Is this really a gloom - and - doom development for comics... Or is it something else? Is this a moldy old leftover squash - or a delicious slice of poundcake?
If you look at it from the mindset that the Direct Market Zone is the only outlet in reality for a comic book to exist, and that they shrivel and dissolve to ash outside of their 'proper' place, then yes. The news from Diamond is a disaster within that meek paradigm.
But the simple fact is... The Direct Market isn't the only place for comics. Not remotely. They'd love for you to think so. They'd like you to forget about the rest of the world. They don't want us to remember Barnes and Noble, independent bookstores, Amazon, conventions, small-town shops, mall stores, mail-order book clubs, libraries, schools, Europe, or webcomics.
Are we really losing the only game in town with Diamond? Or are we being relieved of a misrepresented distraction from true progress?

"For most of the new books we publish these days, the direct market accounts for about one-fourth of our initial sales. Over the last five years, our sales have gone up everywhere but the direct market. We are not costing the direct market sales — the direct market is costing itself sales (whether it be due to Diamond’s increasing inability to stay competitive with the rise of wholesalers and book trade distributors also selling graphic novels, or the 3000+ Diamond accounts out there that still don’t have any interest in diversifying their inventory and customer base by ordering outside of their own narrow tastes for the usual mainstream stuff). Interest in literary graphic novels has grown just about everywhere (in general bookstores, amongst the public, amongst the media, on the internet, etc.) over the last five years except in the direct market. We simply can’t afford anymore to make decisions out of fear of alienating such an increasingly small segment of our market. We could not survive in solely the direct market anymore: Marvel, DC, Image, etc. all ruined that possibility ten years ago with the exclusivity wars (which we fundamentally were opposed to from the get-go, a position which has probably hurt our standing in the D.M., but I have no regrets on that front. It was the right position to take)."
-Eric Reynolds

"...Hot Topic outsold the direct market by a wide margin on the titles it carried. Not only that, but if the chain merely chose to sample a title (carrying it in an unknown portion of its stores), it would still double the sales of the entire direct market. If you figure there are something like 2,500 direct market comic retailers and Hot Topic has somewhere in the vicinity of 700 stores, you can argue that Hot Topic was a lot more successful at placing Vado’s comics with customers. You can also speculate that if sampling a title doubled the direct market numbers, formally carrying a title should have been at least four times the amount of the direct market."
Todd Allen – Publisher’s Weekly.

" one weekend at the BEA, the book trade ordered three times as many copies of 'Blankets' as the entire direct market."
-The Comics Reporter – Tom Spurgeon

"This is not to say that there aren't publishers working hard to take chances in attracting new readers, but the smart ones have learned that doing so in the Direct Market is a sucker's game"
-Dirk Deppey

We're living in an exciting time for comics, standing on the shoulders of giants like Will Eisner. For the first time in nearly a century, society at large is ready to accept comics and graphic novels as a serious form of entertainment. They're ready to look past the spandex and see what else is out there.
Libraries are buying up graphic novels with assiduously growing interest. Chain bookstores are servicing growing crowds of manga readers, with entire sections devoted to sequential art. Welcoming comic, anime, furry, and other conventions are growing in popularity, size, and proliferation. And the internet is literally bursting with new comic art; webcomics and more flaring up in a growing starburst of activity - a starburst that is destined to expand along with the reach of the web, invading our phones, our i-pods, our picture frames, our television networks, our personal profiles and communications, in short, everywhere.
The horizon of potential directions for comics to grow has exploded. The limitations have dropped away. There are so many choices for artists of our generation, that quibbling over Diamond's actions is utterly pointless.

Who cares if the Direct Market is difficult to work with? There's the entire rest of the world out there! Including girls! Since Diamond's crushing business blow, the Creator Revolution has become our last viable option - but it can go anywhere!

Now, a brief note before ending this article... Is the Creator Revolution necessarily 'Anti - Diamond' and 'Anti - Comic Shop'? If an artist gets their work distributed through Diamond, are they suddenly a 'sell out', is their work somehow less valid than it was before?
Of course not! The Creator Revolution isn't an invitation for exclusionary snobbery, so we can turn our noses up at the mainstream while sipping frothy cappuccinos and wearing tiny circular shades during the day. (Or, at least, it shouldn't be just that.) It's about moving forward, not about pointing backwards and frowning.
I don't have a problem with comic shops - I mean, I love the medium of comics, so what's not to like about a store full of them? I think the idea of a comic store is great! Intrinsic monopoly difficulties aside, I certainly wouldn't deny comic shops the chance to carry my books in the future. Sure, why not?
I'd even be up for working with Diamond, in theory, if it were ever technically feasible in the real world. It's certainly not my first or best choice at this point... But if Diamond ever made it possible for more readers to enjoy my art, then why not? I'm not going to deny them the chance to do business with me. (I certainly wouldn't give them exclusive distribution rights, because that type of wheeling - and - dealing is how we got stuck with a monopoly. But I'd let them take a shot at competing in the marketplace with other vendors.)

So, despite the inanities of the Direct Market, I'm not drafting plans for a protest outside of Diamond's headquarters, or a march screaming that they should do business more fairly. They can do business however they want. What's it to me? It's a free-ish country, they can conduct themselves in any manner they choose. I hope comic shops find a way to prosper, and pull out of their slump - I hope everyone prospers! But I'm not going to slit my throat in more plausible arenas if that's what it takes for them to glance my way. They shouldn't expect the next generation of comic creators to jump on board their sinking ship, especially when they won't stop drilling holes to let all the water out.
The Creator Revolution is about successfully serving the needs of creators and readers. Entrepreneurs take note - any business that effectively aides in that process will find itself a profitable place in the world. And any business that fails to serve the needs of the market, while demanding arbitrary insertion into the process, well... Best of luck!
I'd advise other young creators out there - don't get worked up about Diamond or the Direct Market, or any of the nonsense I've highlighted in this article. Read it, and be aware of how things work in there... But focus your energy where it will make a difference. After all, it's not like they can actually stop us. Focus on what you're going to do right, not on what someone else is doing wrong.

...Which brings us to the final article in my series.

Enough about problems, obstacles, and limitations. It's getting tiresome talking about things that can't impede us. Now it's time to talk about success - and what we're going to do to create it.