Month: April 2012

Tips and Tricks for Aspiring Cartoonists

As a side amusement, before embarking on my next book project, I thought I’d whip out these silly cartoons in my sketchbook, based on various bits of advice I’ve received about trying to become a ‘known’ comics artist…. (and my personal trials…) I just scanned it roughly into my iPad and coloured it with Adobe Ideas.

Tips for the Aspiring Cartoonist #1:

 

First ever Comica Comiket festival

Just had some time to sit down and write about my experience at my first ever Comica Comiket on Saturday, 21 April. I had never attended a comics festival either as a casual visitor or exhibitor, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. A few years ago, I wasn’t even aware such events existed. Since I had a book published, it seemed like a great way to gain some exposure and maybe (fingers crossed) even peddle some books to the unsuspecting public. I booked my spot a few weeks ago, thinking a third of a table would suffice but when I arrived at the Bishopsgate Institute, I was a bit taken aback for it resembled a schooldesk, cramped up against another row of chairs behind it. It didn’t seem possible to lean back without colliding heads with the person sitting behind. There weren’t any spaces between the tables and the only way to get to my seat without climbing on the table or crawling underneath was to move the table out into the narrow aisle, squeeze oneself in and then gingerly move the table back again (without knocking anything over). It gave one the sense of being trapped all day.

On the day itself, I felt oddly nervous and woke up at 6am, my head buzzing with equal measures of anxiety and excitement. It had been a while since I had been back at Liverpool St station so early in the morning and it felt like little had changed. So hard to imagine that not too many years ago, this was my daily grind and I would work at buildings scattered in a tiny orbit around the Bishopsgate Institute without imagining that someday, I would be sitting inside there, earnestly flogging my books along with scores of other artists and cartoonists.

I was sandwiched between two long tables; to my left was John Allison, someone well known but unsurprisingly, I hadn’t the faintest clue who he was as I was an interloper in the comics world. To my right were the Mayburys, an affable couple selling an array of items ranging from T-shirts to multiple collections of mini-comics, ‘The Erotic Adventures of Space Babe 113’. I set up my stall quickly with a striking red table cover, my poster and a little stack of books. So it was going to be a pretty mixed bag, and indeed, judging from the range of customers who came past the doors, reading tastes were probably extremely varied too. The drawing parade started promptly just past 11am but it didn’t seem too easy to see the screen in bright light and the music as well as the constant din made it impossible to concentrate on very much at all. I did enjoy Maarten vande Wiele’s live drawing work though, very stylish and oh so Franco-Belgian in flavour, which has always been my artistic inspiration in comics.

A lot of people came by to browse but the middle aisle was so crowded that often, people had to squeeze past each other to get through, and my table did not get much notice. To avoid putting off potential customers, I tried to read a magazine or stared far off into the distance to avoid looking at anyone perusing my books, lest they get spooked that I was going to ask them to buy it. I don’t know if this tactic worked at all or if some potential customers found it off-putting that I didn’t seem to care at all if anyone looked at my table.

At the end of the day, I sold 4 books… not an impressive number, but I had set out expecting to sell fewer than that, so it wasn’t too bad at all and most importantly, a lot of people came by to flick through the book and comment that it was a really interesting idea. Yes, it wasn’t the best place to sell self-published books without any marketing, especially one as thick as mine, but I hope the book will intrigue more casual browsers in Foyles. After all, Foyles is where I hang out myself when searching for new graphic novels to read.

But I have a new book of short stories in mind with a railways theme; I just have to buckle down and work more diligently on it. More on that later! So Comiket was not a wholly spectacular experience but it was certainly very interesting and I learned many valuable lessons. I hope I gained some exposure as well, as it was my first ever foray into the big bad world with my offerings. Roll on, Comiket November….

 

The books are here

The books arrived exactly on schedule, auspiciously on Friday 13th! There were five very heavy boxes awaiting me downstairs and the delivery man was reluctant to bring them upstairs so I had to haul them up myself, box by box, in my creaking vintage lift. First impressions… the cover was matt, as I had requested, but the colours were very slightly off. I had saved my cover image in CMYK mode, but perhaps my iMac screen calibration was slightly out of kilter, as the tan colour had a greenish tinge while on my screen, it had looked rather more yellow. Inside, the pages were very white and the printing itself was deep black and glossy. This was the ‘satin’ sheen and the printer had assured me it would not be too shiny. I was taken aback by this and admittedly, this took some getting used to. I had hoped for a matt finish and slightly off-white paper, not glaring white. I was afraid that this sort of printing was rather more suited to a different genre of comics and this detracted from the pleasure of holding my finished book in my hands for the first time.

Eventually I got used to the glossiness of the pages and in daylight, it did not look too bad. Still, the paper felt a little stiff, the paperweight was 150gsm while I would have happily settled for anything between 100gsm and 120gsm. It made the book feel hefty but I suppose the weight also gave it a sort of gravitas. Happy and relieved that I finally had my books, I set about changing my Facebook status, like a good internet citizen, announcing the arrival of my books and telling my friends that they were ready for sale. I am grateful to have many good friends who are so supportive of my own scatty artistic ventures.

Which brings me to the prickly issue of … postage and other costs of selling one’s books online!

Royal Mail have been increasing their prices over the years and have just announced a dramatic price increase in 1st class stamps, beginning from 1st May. I think 1st class stamps were about 17p or 19p when I first arrived in England back in 1990. Price rises like these make it uneconomical for small-time sellers to do business via Royal Mail. I do not know how eBay’s small traders are faring with these price increases. To send my book to a buyer in the UK, it will cost £3.05 in postage. This means I will have to absorb the packaging costs to stop my book from becoming prohibitively expensive. Worse still, sending the book to the USA (where many of my friends are based) will cost £7.60 for simple air mail. This doesn’t even include having the insurance and security of Air Sure, so I am not sure what I’ll end up doing if one of the packages goes missing. I have no doubt that many of my potential sales will evaporate because of the postage costs, even after discounting the book heavily for friends. Then later, I found that Paypal also takes a 5% cut of any money transfers, which diminishes my margin even further. How does anyone make a living these days?

It makes me ponder where our future as artists/creators is heading; if it is so expensive for a product to move from creator/artist to his/her audience/buying public, with each party in the chain taking its (disproportionate) cut, then how is the artist ever going to make a living? Making a book is not quite the same as going through one’s daily work, delivering a parcel, fixing a car or painting a house. It will be the biggest companies like Amazon who will manage to survive and keep prices low because of their economies of scale and monopolistic tactics, designed to drive their competitors out of business. Is this truly good for the consumer? They will get cheap goods – but at a high price. Will the average consumer ever realise that, when mostly they just want the latest Playstation device or another execrable bestseller from Dan Brown? When independent publishers and bookstores can no longer survive because of spiralling costs and cutthroat competition, the end consumer will ultimately lose out. It’s not a level playing field, it must feel like being a helpless 5 years old again and being pounded into the ground by a 6-ft tall playground bully.

 

Comica Comiket poster

I signed up to attend my first ever comics/graphic novel festival, as either an attendee or an exhibitor. Not having been to these things before, I’m at a loss about what to expect and how best to get noticed if one happens to be flogging a book. I decided that one must have a poster of some sort to draw attention to one’s meagre table space. I’ve already ordered my business cards from VistaPrint a while back and they will be delivering sometime this week, as long as the postal service doesn’t let me down…. So after the Easter break, I sat down yesterday morning and used Photoshop CS4 to tinker around with and came up with this poster design, utilising similar colours to my book cover, but using photos of the actual paintings since I don’t expect any major copyright issues would arise from just this one publicity poster! The extra colours do make it look a tad better than my original book cover design, but alas not a lot can be done about that now. If I am lucky enough to have to order a reprint…. it will have a different cover! I went to FastFlow Printing, a fantastic little shop in the Covent Garden area and got a couple of nice, glossy, A3-sized posters printed ready for Comica on 21st April. I also considered doing a T-shirt but decided against it in the end. So the ball is slowly rolling. The books have yet to arrive from the printer’s but since I haven’t heard a peep from Rich, I can assume (against my usually neurotic vein) that all is well.

My publicity poster for Comica Comiket