Blair: I didn’t have a chance to cut in on Mike’s last email, but I just wanted to add my opinion on the topic of you still enjoying comics after making them for all these years and Mike saying he has very little interest in movies and animation these days after working in animation for 14 plus years. I must say that I still have a real soft spot for animating and it’s probably one of my favourite things to do, art wise, even though I’d be a very happy man if I never had to animate for someone else again (just for myself). I’d love the chance to turn The Possum into an animated movie, (I picture it something in the vein of a Roger Rabbit, minus the live action… man that would look cool), but it would have to be done that way, and like Mike says, it would most likely require starting up a studio and getting private investors, because the chances of a big studio giving me anything close to the deal I’d want with the quality control I’d want is almost impossible. I actually have mostly storyboarded out a 2 minute short which one of these days I’ll get around to animating. I love the Dick Williams model of film making; working with a small crew over a longer period of time. I realize that’s not how most movies are made these days, but a guy can dream, can’t he?

You, Dave, were the first one to mention self contained stories to me back when I was working on The Possum #3, I think, but I was half way through a 3 part story spanning from issues 2 to 4 (I did feel very strongly to make issue #1 self contained, which I did, even if I had to make it 72 pages). When I met Sergio Aragones at the 2010 Wondercon in San Francisco, I gave him issues 1 to 4, and he read them that night. When I spoke to him the next day, the first thing he mentioned was that he loved the expressions in my drawings, but he said “how often are you putting these comics out? Once a year?” to which I replied, “pretty much”. He said “You’ve got to make them self contained stories”. I was already planning on switching to the self contained, stand alone story per issue format, but I figured if Dave Sim AND Sergio Aragones are both telling me this, I have no choice but to quit planning and start doing it right away, hence the next 3 Possum comics which I have loosely written are all stand alone stories (although, there is a greater story arc that weaves it’s way through all the issues much like Stan Lee did so well with Spider-man). Sergio went on to give me a half hour critique of my pacing, (telling me panels I could take out to condense the stories) and showing me examples of his own work where he’s done just that. It was a real eye opener for me, and hopefully I can implement his advice in all my future issues of The Possum, starting with issue #5. Mike told me how he asked you when all the inking techniques that you were showing him “clicked” for you, and you said, not until you were working on Glamourpuss. Mike here with an insert comment – Yeah, that blew my mind. I was expecting you to say Cerebus 38 or 86 but the fact it was so recent for you… wow. I was speechless. Back to you Blair. That was both reassuring to hear and disheartening at the same time. If after 300 issues of Cerebus, you still had things to learn, I’ve got a looooooong way to go, but at the same time, I can’t beat myself up too much if I haven’t learned everything after 5 issues. I know with animation, many things I’ve been told by very talented animators never sunk in until 5 years later, when I’d be animating a scene and then all of a sudden a lightbulb would go off in my head and I’d go “That’s what he was talking about!!” I’d go from understanding the theory of the idea, to actually understanding how to apply it properly and understanding why it was so important.

As for my process, the drawings don’t come to me nearly as effortlessly as Sergio Aragones makes it look, but I do keep my rough pencils very loose. I usually do sketches of 2 or 3 of the panels I’d like, in my sketchbook and then thumbnail out a very quick page layout so I know I can fit in all that I want to show on the page. From there I pencil straight onto my illustration board that I’m going to do the final inks on. As I’m inking, I’ll have a pencil close by so that I can fill in any details that I’m not sure about, or go over any poses that are a little tricky (pretty much anything that I can’t see clearly in my head what it’s supposed to look like). I tend to use a bit more perspective in my panel designs during action sequences than Sergio might use, so I’ve found it wise to figure the perspective out clearly before I go to ink as well. Usually in a 24 page comic, there’s 6 or 7 poses that I need to figure out on another sheet of paper and then transfer it to the illustration board. I think if I used the tracing paper like you and Mike do, I’d loose a lot of the life out of my drawings, so I don’t do it too often. Sometimes I feel guilty though, as if I’m being a hack and not spending the proper amount of time on figuring out my poses, so I’ll start pencilling a bit tighter, but I find it doesn’t make the drawings look any better. I’m getting to learn what parts I can pretty much go from stick figure pencils, straight to ink, and which parts I need to slow down and work the drawing out properly before I apply the final ink line. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have white out though. When I first designed The Possum, I consciously chose to work in a style that came naturally to me because I knew that I wouldn’t be making comics full time at first, so I’d have to be able to work quickly when I could work, and also, coming from animation, I was always drawing characters that other people designed, so I was always working in other people’s styles. I didn’t even know what my style was at the time, and most of the drawings I did was trying to mimic other animation styles. I was always a big fan of Groo the Wanderer, but I hadn’t read the comics in years and it was kind of a shock to me that what came out of me was in that style. Since I started drawing The Possum, it’s been really freeing for me artistically. I would never caricature people at work or doodle, nearly as much as I do now, because I was always trying to make my caricatures and doodles look like other people’s work. Once I just let loose and stopped thinking how my drawings should look and just started making them look how I thought was funny, drawing became fun again.

And as per your request, I’ll post a bit of Rochelle’s artwork here:

MIKE: Okay, my turn. In SPY GUY’s defense; SPY GUY: Bootleg was self-contained, SPY GUY : Minis was self-contained and SPUD & HARRY was self-contained, but at this point I decided to just dive in and finally do the three part story I had been itching to do with The Unlimited Series. I had been sitting on “First Strike” for a decade and I wasn’t getting any younger… my solution was always to try and bring each issue to it’s own mini-climax. The ending to SPY GUY #1 is; the bad guy gets away. There is some closure there, or at the very least, that was my intent. Of course if I’m being successful at it or not is a different question entirely. The ending to SPY GUY #2 is a little more open ended. So I am hearing what you’re saying. All of this IS at the forefront of my mind. Lots to think about. Okay, enough of me playing “Spy-Guy’s-Advocate”…

Sparked by yesterday’s discussion, here are two other thoughts I had about getting comics into reader’s hands: Creating micro-distributors through readers by selling five packs of comics at say a fifty percent discount and allowing those readers to sell comics to their friends. Then they get a comic they like and can make some money doing it. Would it work? I don’t know. Or maybe comic swaps with other self-publishers – Trade a box of SPY GUY for a box of THE POSSUM and then I can sell Possum comics for a profit and Blair can sell Spy Guy comics for a profit. Expand that to other self-publishers and you’ve effectively expanded your reach to different geographic areas and can infiltrate conventions that you personally aren’t attending.

I was also thinking that participating in an “indie-brain-trust” would be a great thing to do in order to spark new ideas. Taking part in discussions like this is a good step in the right direction. Great to get ideas flowing. With so many indie guys out there, you’d think we could come up with something.

Okay, answering today’s question!

The response to this comic strip was one hundred percent positive. At conventions I point it out to people who are flipping through Cerebus Readers In Crisis and it is always met with a good natured laugh. Of course I’ve also been told at conventions that I look like the mixed martial artist former UFC Champion Randy Couture, so maybe detractors are intimidated and simply bite their tongue. But then again, I’ve posted the comic online where all the internet trolls could have had a go at it, and even there it hasn’t received a negative response. Animation colleagues have told me that this was one of their favourite drawings I’ve done. Others have told me if I put it on a t-shirt they would buy it and wear it. Others have asked for it as a poster. Makes for a dull answer, I know. Would have been a lot more interesting if someone threw a hissyfit over it. Oh well.

Now I’ll ask YOU one…

So we talked a bit about distribution through Diamond, but now I’m wondering about self-publishing from a more macro view in 2011. I got thinking more about “making a living” self-publishing during your conversation with Steve Bissette over at MYRANT. As the discussion progressed I started looking for examples of guys who successfully self-published in 2010 and I was stumped.

Erik Larsen on Savage Dragon: As an Image Founder, would you consider this self-publishing?

I thought there were webcomic creators successfully self-publishing their own work, though it turns out many of them are being published through Image or Dark Horse or Del Rey etc.

David Petersen with Mouse Guard: That’s published by Archaia Studios Press.

Jeremy Bastian’s Cursed Pirate Girl: That’s published by Olympian Publishing.

Andy Runton’s Owly: That’s published by Top Shelf Productions.

Mark Millar seems to have the greatest success in comics these days, but his Millar World projects aren’t self-published and he seems to be going after the Hollywood cash infusions.

Mark Oakley is still self-publishing, but is he earning enough to support a family?

It sounded as though Jimmy Gownley was struggling with Amelia Rules! before Simon & Schuster acquired the publishing rights. Comparing Bone direct market sales to the 4.5 million BONE books in print from Scholastic is astounding. I found it interesting even that Cerebus: High Society was getting Spanish, French and Italian translations through various publishers! Which is great because all of these comics are getting into the hands of new readers, and the creators who own the work are able to make a decent living off their creator owned works. On one hand it tells me that people still want to read comics. On the other hand, it has me wondering “what’s a self-publisher to do?”

Are there any 2010 self-publishing success stories?

The most interesting 2011 example I can think of (for prose books) is the author Seth Godin who has started self-publishing his own work as “The Domino Project” in association with (I’m not sure exactly what “powered by Amazon” means, but when I asked, Seth told me he owns “The Domino Project”). I’ll be keeping a close eye on this one.

What about self-publisher with families?

Can you think of any successful self-publishers (earning enough to support a family above the poverty line) today in 2011?

Heh – I guess counting the question marks, there’s more than one question up there… but despite being somewhat of a scattershot question, it is one train of thought…