The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 226 | Notes from the 2014 Vancouver Comic Arts Festival, Part 1

Leaving Proof 226 | Notes from the 2014 Vancouver Comic Arts Festival, Part 1
Published on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 by
[UPDATED] In part 1 of this week’s two-part column on the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival, we discuss the most salient points raised during the self-publishing and webcomics monetization panels.

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Compared to the spectacle of last month’s Fan Expo Vancouver, last weekend’s Vancouver Comic Arts Festival (VanCAF) was decidedly more low-key and local. While the former boasted a grand setting in the heart of downtown—the Vancouver Convention Centre—and attendance upwards of 25,000 people (with maybe half of them in costume), the latter was more modest in its turnout and venue: By my estimate, VanCAF 2014—held at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre in Vancouver’s Yaletown district—probably saw somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 enthusiastic comics fans take advantage of the festival’s free admission. [Official organizer estimates, released May 28, place attendance at 8,000—ed.]

If we’re talking about the concentration of comics talent on the exhibition floor, however, VanCAF is just as, if not more notable than Fan Expo Vancouver. This year’s guest list featured seven Eisner Award winners, two Harvey Award winners, two Shuster Award winners, and six Xeric Grant recipients and the more intimate setting allowed attendees an excellent opportunity to talk and interact with comics creators, local studios and artist collectives, and fellow fans.

On self-publishing

The first VanCAF panel I was able to attend was Saturday afternoon’s “Pushing Print: Self-publishing your comics,” expertly moderated by Allan Stanleigh (USNA: The United States of North America) and featuring Alina Pete (Weregeek) as well as Xeric Grant recipients Jonathon Dalton (A Mad Tea Party, Lords of Death and Life) and Steve LeCouillard (Much the Miller’s Son, Una the Blade).

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The pitch for USNA: The United States of North America garnered some initial interest from publisher Dark Horse Comics, but Stanleigh and the rest of the graphic novel’s creative team eventually decided to go the self-publishing route.

The panel speakers talked about the factors—not necessarily related to the quality of the work and having more to do with marketing concerns—that led to comics and book publishers declining their pitches and led to them going the self-publishing route. They also gave practical advice on what image editing and desktop publishing software they use (Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign, respectively) as well as the various print-on-demand (POD) printing houses they’ve dealt with over the years. The relative merits and drawbacks of multinational printing outfits such as Lightning Source and CreateSpace, domestic printers like Transcontinental, Tristone, and Lebonfon, and offshore broker-printers like DiYA USA and MCRL Overseas Printing were discussed.

Stanleigh noted that CreateSpace offers aggressive pricing and extended distribution, although he pointed out that CreateSpace’s extended distribution benefits are available only to those books that carry a CreateSpace ISBN, and as any person familiar with the history of the contentious relationship between Amazon.com and retailers, CreateSpace’s status as an Amazon.com subsidiary means that many chain bookstores and independent booksellers will be hesitant to carry a graphic novel with an ISBN sourced from CreateSpace. Indeed, a feeling of unease over Amazon.com’s growing influence on the self-publishing scene hung over the panel, no doubt amplified by the latest news of the e-tailer’s bludgeoning of the Hachette Book Group over failed renegotiation talks.

The panel speakers were fairly unanimous in endorsing offshore broker-printers as the best option for the self-publisher on a budget, although they were quick to add that working with domestic printers, while generally more expensive, offers advantages in terms of ease of communication and shipping and distribution that may well be worth the added cost for the inexperienced self-publisher.

  • To learn more about ISBNs and why any self-publisher looking to sell their book through retail needs ISBNs, click here.
  • To read an informed comparison of CreateSpace and Lightning Source, click here.

  • To learn more about the government of Canada’s free Canadian ISBN Service System (CISS) for Canadian authors/publishers, click here.

On webcomics and monetization

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For many webcomics creators, merchandise sales continue to be a primary source of revenue. [Pictured: Wasted Talent, Vol. 3: Cubicle Warrior by Angela Melick, the most recent print collection of Wasted Talent strips.]

The self-publishing panel was immediately followed by the panel entitled “Webcomics CEO: The Business End of Webcomics,” moderated by Hiveworks COO and programmer Erin Burt (Metacarpolis) and featuring Sam Logan (Sam & Fuzzy), Angela Melick (Wasted Talent), and Sfé R. Monster (Monster Bones, Seven Stories From the Sea). The major lesson from the panel was that there is no single best solution to the problem of monetizing webcomics, and that having multiple revenue streams involving online advertising, merchandise sales (including sales of print collections of webcomics), crowdfunding outlets like Kickstarter and Patreon, and art commissions offers webcartoonists the best chance of seeing some sort of financial return for their freely available webcomics work. The use of Kickstarter as an improvised preorder system for print collections of webcomics and the importance of having regular updates and the value of self-promotion were also emphasized (Melick, on self-promotion: “[The ability to sell] something is a talent in and of itself just like writing and drawing.”).

The panel was also the first time I’d heard of Hiveworks, the company where panel moderator Burt works as the COO and lead tech (this says more about my relative ignorance of the contemporary webcomics scene than Hiveworks’ prominence). The company’s conceit as “an Internet-based collective studio that helps webcomic and online media creators turn their creative endeavors into sustainable businesses” by managing their affiliates’ website ads and providing networking, merchandising, and fundraising support strikes me as the kind of potentially disruptive, paradigm-busting business model that could turn webcomics from a hobby and creative phenomenon that is a viable, self-sustaining economic concern for only a select and established few to a stable New Media industry. It’s definitely a studio worth keeping tabs on moving forward.

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One of Hiveworks’ affiliate webcomics is Jim Zubkavich and Edwing Huang’s Skullkickers, which is also published as a monthly print and digital title by Image Comics.

Links to related articles:

TOMORROW: In part 2 of our look at VanCAF 2014, Ed Brisson (Sheltered, Murder Book, Sons of Anarchy) and Kurtis J. Wiebe (Peter Panzerfaust, Rat Queens, Debris) speak in their second comics-writing panel in as many months, this time alongside Frank Gibson (Tiny Kitten Teeth, the upcoming Amazing World of Gumball licensed comic from kaBOOM!) and moderator and Cloudscape comics anthology contributor Bevan Thomas.

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