Women of Illustration: EP 12: How To Self Publish Your Own Comic Book

In this last episode with comic book artist Tatiana Gill we go over all the steps you need in order to make, print, and sell your first comic book.

We’ve reached the last episode in this spontaneous series on comic book illustration. Don’t lie, this is the episode you’ve all been waiting. Because is there really anything better than actually getting to physically holding your comic book baby? I think not!

Grab your beverage of choice and get comfortable because we’re covering everything from what format best suits your comic book to how to best produce it.

Have you ever published your own comics before?

Yes, I’ve published dozens! Anywhere between twenty-five to five hundred pages. Mind you the latter was the result of a daily diary I logged over the course of five hundred days. 

So what led you to create this comic diary?

I’d seen a few others do this and I’d always resonated with the concept. One of my faves whom I mentioned in a previous episode, Gabrielle Bell, also made one. Artists such as James Kochalka and Ben Snakepit have made comic diaries which span from ten to almost twenty years!

Ben Snakepit, especially, was a source of inspiration as he really gave you insight, in truly the simplest of ways, as to how his journey has transformed over time.

I kind of took this concept of recording one’s life and created a series on the worst things I’d ever done whilst blackout drunk, as I am a recovering alcoholic, and the transparency in these comics resulted in a lot of positive feedback. Though, in a sense, it did feel like it has been so well received was in fact, in direct correlation with being perceived as a “fun drunk”. This really served as the trigger to my daily diary as I needed to prove to myself that the current me was different and that I had something to say.

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Was the end goal to always publish it, or did that come after the fact?

The daily diary was truly something for me. It was fun being able to visualize and create my daily happenings, mood swings, and to honestly just capture this level of humanity.

Even publishing it was more for myself rather than anything else, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many people are down to see my every meal and lengthy tv-binges.

What was the first thing you ever published?

I am going to take you back to 1997 when shrinking your pages in the photocopier, glue sticking them to a masterpiece of paper, photocopying that, folding it in half, and binding it was the norm.

Then you’d have to do the rounds of hitting up record stores and maybe some bookstores to see if they’d be willing to carry it.

And how many would you usually make?

I’d usually aim to make a hundred or so. To this day, I’ve seen that there are still people that are still self-publishing in this format as they enjoy the process, but I always found it such a drag!

You mentioned going door-to-door to see if there’d be any comic book stores or record stores willing to carry your comics. What was that experience like?

Actually, most places would take you on a consignment basis, so you’d have to go back and pick up your earnings, but a lot of them had zine racks or some shelf space to take on local artists.

Even today I go by comic book stores or indie record stores with my products and most of them are down to support.

How do you usually come up with the concepts behind your comic books?

For the most part, my comic books are compilations of my work. Usually, five to ten-page stories, though there have been cases in which I’ve done longer comics in partnership with a write.

Does the format of a comic book matter?

I think you need to look at who your customer is and decide on the format of your book from there. If you’re familiar with comics and they’re a part of your daily digest, then, universally you might gravitate more towards comics such as Marvel. Single and lengthier stories.

Whereas recently, I encountered a woman who was extremely feminist in her beliefs, like myself, and I was able to connect with her over one of my comic books geared towards female empowerment. She wasn’t someone who was well-versed in comics and my book was an easy collectible of short stories totally digestible for those comic book newbies.

What format would you say is easiest for those just starting out?

With comics, I find that it really depends on the story you want to tell. Stay true to your style and what comes most naturally to you, after which you can then properly review what format fits best!

How do you market your products, tell us what that process looks like?

I’ll be honest in saying that this isn’t where my strength lies, but my method is to usually send out a PDF version of the comic to some industry connections in gathering some feedback and reviews before doing anything else.

After it’s been officially published, I’ll most likely organize a release party of sorts with some of my local comic book stores. Generally, there’ll be some original prints up for grabs, the book obviously, and a signing.

And you notice that it’s a two way street in that you’re bringing people to the store, and store goers who have perhaps never heard of you, are now familiar with your work.

Then there’s the usual go-to, posting all over your social media outlets!

Though perhaps an area I do need to improve on would be to actually announce the product and share more of the behind-the-scenes of its creation beforehand, rather than waiting till it’s simply ready for release. By doing so, I’d have already built up a hype surrounding the product as well as having given it more substance by allowing insight into the backstory of its production and purpose.

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What’s been your most successful comic book so far?

My bestseller has to be the comic I touched on earlier about the things I did whilst drunk. It’s called “Blackoutings”, and that’s definitely the comic book that generated the most notoriety for me.

How did “Blackoutings” affect your career?

If it’s not you, it’s someone you know. It’s a subject that speaks to addiction and we all relate to that on some level. There’s a lot of black humor, and even though it’s addressing the consequences of addiction, I expressed it in a way that’s not super preachy, yet still speaks to the truth of it.

And to be honest, the level of illustration skill in this one isn’t the best either. My addiction is something I am ashamed of and it’s almost like I was puking it out at the time. I hadn’t exactly come clean on the specifics of being an alcoholic to the immediate people in my life to creating this book almost served as my confession.

I think that the reason as to why it was so well received is because I touched on that level of humanity within all of us by initially being vulnerable with myself, and that’s what created that connection with my audience.

What do we need to watch out for if we’re self-publishing?

Look at what distributors there are because I’ve gone through certain means of distribution and barely break even. You want to make sure you’re getting a return on your investment!

We recommend a fifty percent profit margin wholesale, fifty percent retail, and then you’re obviously earning a hundred percent through your own platform.

Going through a third party platform may seem like the easier option, especially when starting out, but you could end up getting less than a twenty percent profit margin and you really want to be receiving somewhere between fifty to seventy percent.

And even if you’re using a third party platform, you can always provide the product through your own platform as well so you’ve got two avenues of income going for you.

Have you ever had a client who wanted to have exclusive rights in the work they commissioned?

I’ve been approached about it, but upon providing a quote they never got back to me.

This is just one of those instances that underlines what it means to be taken advantage of. Artists don’t always have their head in the game when it comes to business and some really struggle. Don’t be easily swayed by the dollar signs or the fact that you’re even receiving a proposal from some big player name. It’s easy to cash out on someone when they don’t have the business know-how or believe in their own worth, so make sure you know your stuff!

Being knowledgeable about the ways in which your work can earn you money is a must if you’re serious about yourself as a brand and the goals you want to accomplish.

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So what service are you using to print your comics?

I am using Amazon’s createspace which really saves me from having to invest a lot upfront. For example, sitting next to some people at conventions, I compare our prices, and their comics come out a lot pricier than mine as their overhead was so much more than what I am paying.

I would really like to get behind my local businesses here in Seattle as there are so many amazing indie printing presses, but financially it’s just not feasible for me yet. The products they print are pieces of art within themselves never-mind simply being a format to exhibit the work. And we’re talking beautiful risograph and spectacular inks, so definitely get behind your local businesses if you’ve got the means to do so.

Another cool online printing service to try out might be Blurb as they do a pretty seamless integration with the Adobe interface and distribution channels like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Aside from printing your comics, have you ever tried selling them digitally?

I haven’t, though I know that Gumroad is a pretty big player among some of the artists I follow.

Merch like pay-what-you-want PDF’s and various such products of that nature are definitely something to explore and add to the to do list!

Even just repurposing my work, as Dina suggested, and compiling various digital products in this way, would be an interesting means of further providing my community with content, further giving insight into who and what I am about as a creator, as well as getting the most out of my work!

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TATIANA GILL

COMIC BOOK ILLUSTRATOR


THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN AND EDITED BY OUR AMAZING VOLUNTEERS

Aftri Marrisk
Editor & Lettering Artist
Pontianak, Indonesia
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Rachel Campbell 
Illustrator and Animator
Based in Amsterdam
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