Why would anyone want to self publish?

  When I tell people that I am making a comic book, the first thing that most artists say to me is that I should send it to Image, or try to get it published by a publisher, as though that is what you are supposed to do.  When I tell them that I paid for the printing out of my own pocket, they almost offer their condolences, like it is a horrible thing.  I would much rather have boxes of my own comic in my basement, waiting for me to sell, promote, or even collect dust, than to wait for DC or Marvel to allow me to make my own comic.   For some strange reason, so many artists are horrified at the thought of investing in their own ideas.  They feel like they need someone with money to tell them that it is OK for them to carry on with their vision.  They complain that no one will invest their money in their idea, when they aren’t even willing to invest in it themselves.  I don’t get it.  Why would anyone want to give their project away to some big studio or publisher?  As an artist, we are in the perfect position, because we are capable of doing the work ourselves.  We don’t need to hire someone to draw the pretty pictures for us.  We just have to sit down and do it.  Everyone is spending countless hours on pitches so they can see if some executive will tell them that their idea is great, and then they sell it to this executive for nothing, lose all creative control, and walk away from the deal making millions for some company, and maybe a fraction of that for themselves.  After 5, 10, or 30 years, what do most artists have to show for the countless hours they have invested into their own, or other people’s projects.  Not a heck of a lot.  Why do you think publishers publish?  Because they care about the artist’s vision, and they want to see the looks on little girl’s and boy’s faces as they enjoy the wonderful art and stories that are produced?  Or is it because there is a lot of money to be made off of insecure artists and their ideas? 

  And you know what?  My comic book may flop.  I may be stuck with 5 thousand dollars worth of black and white comics in my basement collecting dust.  At least my grandchildren will have lots of colouring books to colour.  Or maybe I’ll be able to sell a few.  Maybe if I work really hard, I can save up some money to publish a 5th or 6th issue.  Maybe people will actually like it, and I can take 3 or 4 months off of my day job a year and make a few more.  Maybe I can make it to issue 50.  Then maybe the comics that are sitting in my basement will be worth a couple bucks each, and I’ll actually have to do a second printing.  Success doesn’t happen over night, and the first investment most people make doesn’t always triple or quadruple.  But with a lot of persistence and a lot of work, who knows what will happen?  Who better to invest in than yourself?  Unless you don’t think your idea is any good, but then why would you expect anyone else to invest in it?


Drawing by Dave Sim.

  Now I’m not saying that you should put a second mortgage on your house, and foolishly drive yourself into bankruptcy.  Some common sense is required.  What I am saying is that you should start out small, and grow at a comfortable pace.  Instead of making a 40 page bible with character designs, story synopsis’, locations etc., why not make a 40 page book, telling one of those stories.  Or maybe a 4 minute short film.  Test it out, and see if it sparks interest (not from executives, but from audiences).  Get a small following first, before you try to make a feature film.  Sell your book, and make another one with any profits that you make.  Once an actual product such as a book or short film is made, if you wish to go to a studio or a publisher, at least you have something solid to present to them, and you can actually sell a product rather than an idea that can easily be changed and manipulated by executives that “know what the kids want”.  I’m new to all of this myself.  I haven’t self published 300 comic books like Dave Sim, or made my own feature film or anything.  I have self published one comic, with a second one on the way, and I have invested $4000 dollars in my company and have made about $400.  Maybe I won’t make that money back.  If I don’t, I’ll live.  I would much rather take a shot at something than complain that Image discontinued my comic after 4 issues…. just as I was building a fan base and getting somewhere with the story.  Logically, you shouldn’t expect to make any money off of the first comic, or the second, or the third.  But once you have 10 comics in print, each one can start making a little bit of money for you.  When you have 50 comics self published, a little bit times 50 could be a lot.  It is called investing because you put in your own time and money into something that you believe in, not because money magically appears in your bank account without any sacrifice on your part. 

  Maybe I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about.  Maybe I am just being naive.  I don’t think I am, and I’m going to give this a shot.  If you don’t try, how will you know? 

  Amid Amidi (Cartoon Brew) and John Kricfalusi had some really interesting things to say about pitches and executives on their blogs, and Mike Kitchen posted about the direct comicbook market a while back on his blog.  Check them out on the links below.

Cartoon Brew’s Amid Amidi: Comentary: To pitch or not to pitch.

Joh Kricfalusi : Why rock stars should be animation executives.

Mike kitchen:  Times they are a’changing.


14 Responses to “Why would anyone want to self publish?”

  1. M Kitchen Says:


    Sketchbook doodles, an essay size self-publishing rant, and Dave Sim pic…. it’s a good day in blog land. Very nice post. You speaketh the truth my brother.

  2. M Kitchen Says:

    ps. You should post this over at the Creators Rights Forum: http://www.creatorsrights.com

    It would be the perfect place to continue the discussion.

  3. Vi Says:

    So true!

  4. craig Says:

    Heartfelt and inspiring my friend. Here’s to issue #50

  5. murray Bain Says:

    Blair, your so wise, and I admire your indepedent spirit . The animation festival re-opened my eyes a bit, these weren’t shills, these are FILMS.
    I think the obsession with SELLING an idea to some bigwig comes from:

    1 validation. “the big shots like my idea” “the whole world will see my idea”

    2 money. hey come on, I’ll be honest. But this can be a slight altruistic goal; such as getting a bunch of your buddies jobs to work on a cool idea together.

    3 speed. hey its a tough road to go it alone, these things could be easier if you could have a bunch of people work on it… (money, again)
    4 rules of the game, hey this is how its done right? you don’t wanna rock the boat.
    5 service is, service does. We creative types work on other people’s ideas all the time, doing freelance service. It seems like OUR ideas and projects get the same treatment, “your the boss Chief, made to order.”

    so something is in the air, because this was all that producers were saying at mipcom(could have something to do with google buying youtube for 1.6 billion) everybody was whispering “screw the broadcasters, lets start our own distribution channel, someway, somehow”
    Comic books, definately one way to go. short films another. Comic books are like a storyboard for an eventual film, and you can do ’em yourself!

    HEH, Selling a lame show idea and making your own cool show on the side could work.Lets brainstorm the perfect executive/commitee show idea, sell it and bankroll the profits into a cool show. Any ideas on the perfect execubait? think “synergy” and “toyetic” EXTREME URBAN ANIME CGI REALITY SHOW SMURFS!(ew I just creeped myself out)

  6. Blair Kitchen Says:

    Hey Murray! I’ve got a million bucks laying around. Maybe I’ll option your EXTREME URBAN ANIME CGI REALITY SHOW SMURFS concept….. Then I’m going to tell you how to make it, change the extreme to luke warm, and take out anything that is different than what is on TV already…… Oh crap. Rochelle just claimed that million bucks and has headed to the mall. Maybe next time.

    I think all of the reasons you listed are why people go that route, but some of them just don’t make sense to me. Take money for instance. There may be a quick bit of money for you once you sell the idea, but why do you think these people are buying it from you in the first place? So that they can make even more money. Artists are just scared to deal with money. Maybe some can’t deal with finances and would rather just make cartoons. Why not get a partner who takes care of that stuff? Why do you need a stranger in a suit to do it?
    The one area where a big studio or publisher gets you is distribution because of their name, but like I said earlier, sell them a product rather than an idea. If you are selling an idea, most executives see what they want to see, then it becomes their idea. Keep the rights to your project and let them distribute it for you. I don’t know. There has to be a better way than just handing over everything to the big studio executives. I think most artists just know how lazy they are and don’t trust themselves.
    I’m jealous of you Murray. You have a studio. When you have down time, make the most of it and make a short film or a pilot. Then when you get the perfect deal to make 4 seasons of your show, (no questions asked), tell me how you did it.
    I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about. My brain hurts because I’m tired, and I’m frustrated because out of 9 years of working, I’m not really proud of anything I have worked on. Lots of projects were close to being good, but someone is always making stupid decisions…… At least with my own project, if someone ruins it, it will be me.

  7. Lord Snelgrove Says:

    Blair, this is very level headed and inspiring at the same time. I’m a lifer in features and have been guilty of some of the cop-outs above. The head trip that the business plays on artists leaves them begging for permission to create–from people they usually don’t even respect (often with good reason)! I’ve been lucky to work on some great projects, a number of so-so ones and a few stinkers, but I try not to fool myself: I have a family and a mortgage and no longer expect every income-earning assignment to challenge my abilities and meet my personal artistic taste. The place for that is self publishing and I am currently working on a simple short subject of a personal idea that I will tailor to suit myself. If it fails, at least I will be failing on my own terms and have something to learn from. Some young animators recently discussing this asked me what I hoped to do with said short and I said I;d think about that when I get it done. Maybe post it on the web, maybe nothing at all. They were astonished to think I wasn;t gearing it as a TV pilot or at least a film festival entry. The mania of the market is ruining inspiration and sapping creative energy from the very folks who should be channelling that into personal work. Look at TRIPLETS OF BELLVILLE and HOMESTAR RUNNER. They may not be making the megabucks, but that is the tradeoff. P.S. Let me know where I can buy your comic!

  8. Paul Mota Says:

    I agree with everything you’re saying Blair. I’m glad I was able to get a copy of the Possum, looking forward to issue #2. So true how artists don’t think an idea of theirs will do anything because of the huge hurdles in front of them. Working on my own short film has taught me a hell of a lot I would have never learned working on other people’s stuff. But in the end, I’ll have a product as opposed to a pipe dream.

  9. Rachel Willis Says:

    Hello Blair, I stumbled into your post via Cartoon Brew, and I cannot agree with you more! My husband and I, recent animation grads both, decided to take a deep breath and produce our own web series. We’ve just started, and there’s only four of us, but DANG if we aren’t excited to see this finished! It’s a story I’ve worked on for years, and I cannot wait to see it done. What a rush it is! I don’t understand why more animators don’t do the same. There’s a whole world wide web right here at our fingertips, and our stories can go as far as they are good. Who needs TV? Sure, our audience might be limited because it’s not on TV…but then again, it might be wildly popular and seen the world over. The sky’s the limit! And at the end of the day, if hardly anyone likes it, who cares? It’s MY baby, right there in moving colour. That right there makes it all worth it. Sure, money has to be considered. But as you say, start small and grow from there.

    P.S. – Can I get a copy of “The Possum” too? 😀

  10. Murray bain Says:

    because out of 9 years of working, I’m not really proud of anything I have worked on.
    I think your too hard on yourself ! your “piece of the puzzle” is always stellar.

    2 movies this stuff reminds me of:
    The Fountainhead -starring Gary cooper
    examines the life of an idealistic young architect, Howard Roark, who prefers to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision by pandering to the prevailing taste in building design.

    Dont save anything for the swim back, no matter how far the other shore seems.

    Stay the course, Blair. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing, would it? I look forward to the next issue, and down the road I bet lots of other people will too!

  11. Blair Kitchen Says:

    Some great comments. Snelgrove and Paul: Making your own short films is very inspiring. That’s a lot of hard work and dedication. I hope good things happen when you are finished them! I also don’t think that there is anything wrong with cashing in on your work. If you can make a million bucks, then make it. You just have to know what you are willing to sacrifice for it. I also think that there is more, (and better) ways to cash in on an idea than to sell it to an executive. I personally would rather sell it to fans.
    Murray: You are a good man.

  12. Blair Kitchen Says:

    oops. Rachel squeezed in there without me realizing it.
    I agree with you Rachel. There is something about doing your own thing that is so rewarding. With that said, there is also nothing wrong with working for a studio and learning a craft, whether it be animating, designing or storytelling. These skills are invaluable when you are working on your own project. And in a studio you are surrounded by many talented artists who can inspire and teach you. It’s just a shame that in most studios, the actual project gets destroyed by bad executive decissions. In a perfect world, studios would be ideal for developing projects, but this isn’t a perfect world, and money, greed and egos get in the way. (I think I’m rambling).
    Good luck with your animation! If you are doing something you love, then you are a step ahead of most people!

    Oh yeah! I’d love to get you a comic. My website has a store that you can order some from, or give me an e mail and we’ll work something out.
    My website is http://www.possumpress.com

  13. the HAMMER Says:

    Hey Blair, very well written post, and excellent responses from all of the above artists. I think that maybe some people are starting to realise that making a million dollars on their ideas may mean compromising some of their good artistic intentions to make the product palpable for the masses.

    Once upon a time there was a movement called D.I.Y. that is Do It Yourself, and somewhere along the way this ethic has been lost. Hopefully more artists will start believing in this again, and will do it for themselves and their fans, instead of creating something that big business says what the general population want.


  14. Troy Little Says:

    Having gone the self publishing route for 7 issues on my own comic, plus managing a Xeric AND Diamond disribution I have to tell ya, I’m glad to see I’m not alone in my willingness to beat my self silly with this business. DIY is the way to go so long as you’ve got a day job it would seem.

    I’m taking a stab and shopping my OGN around to the major indy publishers, I’ll let you know how it goes. As for the 7 issues I’ve published, I don’t think I’ve broke even on that yet (6 years and counting), but it’s a great way to learn the ropes and get your knuckles dirty.

    In the end, if no one decideds to pick up my book, I’ll self publish it. So good luck with your book Blair, we few must stick together!

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