The landscape has changed when it comes to publishing comics. From being listed in Diamond Previews and getting hundreds of comics printed on honest to goodness paper to simply submitting to Comixology and selling it digitally. A lot of creators go the Kickstarter route these days, but recently I had the opportunity to speak to a comic creator who self-published his work and used primarily digital means to distribute the book.
After reviewing his indie comic Track Suit Man back in August I sat down with Len Mihalovich to discuss what it took to distribute his comic, the process of pulling together artists and advice he has for anyone interested in self publishing.
AiPT: Hi Len, thanks for sitting down to talk to us about your comic. First off, Track Suit Man…what’s the elevator pitch you’d give to a movie producer if you were trapped in an elevator with them? You’ve got 30 seconds…GO!
Len Mihalovich: No problem, I do this all the time at comic conventions as people are walking by our table.
…I lived this story, it all happened.
I travel for work and took the same flight every week for a year and a half. There was this one guy who wore the same ridiculous track suit every Monday. He really stood out and would do anything to get on the plane first. He faked injuries, pushed passed wheelchairs, and much much more.
Being the pain in the ass that I am I thought this was too good not to post on social-media. Every week there’s another story, more likes, reposting, eventually friend requests from strangers, and many funny comments. So it’s all that in comic form.
AiPT: As I understand it you published this book yourself. How long was the process from script to published work?
Len: Longer than I thought. When I did [a] comic [like] this in the past, it was a more traditional approach:
Outline, Script, Layout, Artist, Letter, Color, done.
This 21st century approach was much more disjointed. Collect the social-media posts, pick the best ones, layout the page (panel by panel), send it to the artist, write the script, letter, color, layout, done.
All told I started doing this last November and finished the beginning of May.
AiPT: Wow, that’s a long stretch of time.
Len: I used a disjointed approach because I needed to maximize time and money. Getting artists to work in parallel saves time without costing any more. When producing a comic book the more work you can do yourself, rather than hiring out saves money. Also I did a “pay as you go” for some of the artists. In a given week I would have them do a page that contained more or less artwork (effort) depending on how much funding I had at the time.
AiPT: How did you find all these talented artists?
Len: Two of the artists, Michael Kelleher and Phil Miller, are very good friends of mine. We did some books together back in the 90s and these guys have since taken their art to bigger and better places. Using my limited powers of persuasion I was able to get them to join this project.
AiPT: What are their backgrounds?
Len: Mike works for Marvel, Dark Horse, and Dynamic Forces. He puts the Master in Marvel Masterworks.
Phil has gone on to do more jobs in commercial art. Toy Packaging, Stock Reports, and many many educational book illustrations. If you search him on Amazon you’ll find quite a portfolio.
The rest of the artists, except for one I found on the internet on various freelance sites. One of my super powers is that I pride myself on being able to recognize artistic talent. None of these people were comic artists in the traditional sense and didn’t even list that on their portfolio. I like to think that I’m specific enough in my direction vision, and revisions to help the process along. In saying that, I’m not taking away any of the awesome work these people have done, when we get to the point where I tell them I love it, I really mean it. But maybe, I am a pain in the ass to work for.
AiPT: Who was the last one?
Len: The one remaining artist was my daughter, April. She was doodling planes on her IPad one day. I took one of the drawings, put it in Photoshop, put some color and finishes on it and we ended up with the travel stamps you see on every page. She was thrilled to be able to contribute to the book, and it was better than the other artist I was going to pay to do them.
AiPT: You did the coloring on a story as well, can you describe your work process? Do you do it all digitally?
Len: Well, I didn’t do it all. I’ll say about half of the art that was delivered to me was already colored. That being said there was a fair amount of Photoshop wizardry going on to get where I needed to be. Generally the art came to me one panel at a time, I would have to resize, reposition, change certain colors to make things sit the way I wanted to on the page. Mike Kelleher gave me the royal treatment on his page, storyboards, layout, did all the grunt work himself. Then conversely I had to color the rest of it myself. Phil Miller being a more traditional Pen and ink artist, mailed me his B&W artwork, those were the only non-digital ones for the whole book.
AiPT: Were there any hurdles publishing through iTunes or Comixology that you wish you knew before you started?
Len: YESSSSSS…It was so much easier to publish a comic in 1997, but nothing compares to the technology available today. So here is my advice to anyone out there looking at digital publishing.
Read everything first. I went through the exercise of having 10 proof copies printed of Track Suit Man. I read it, made friends read them. I was amazed at how many spelling grammar and punctuation errors we found in something that I thought was perfect. Once the work is published digitally it is VERY hard to get it revised. Having a printed proof delayed my digital release from May to August but it was worth it.
Next: ComiXology. Read their guidelines, then read them again. They are very specific in what they require. It took us a long time to format things exactly right, but it all paid off because we got accepted on the first try, and from what I understand not everyone does. They actually take your submission and deconstruct, reprogram and reformat for the tablet. They spend a lot of effort on a comic which as you know time is money. So it feels great to get accepted by them because in a way they are partnering in my success.
iTunes was very difficult and honestly I finally gave up. They have a piece of software called iBooksAuthor that is free but only works on a Mac. I don’t have a Mac, but I know someone that does. We were not able to take our submission and convert it, from one valid format to another, it wanted us to start a new project. I gave up, Apple recommends services that do the conversions for you. I used one of those and it was fairly seamless. Also I had to change my price because Apple wants all of their prices to end with a 9.
All the other formats were easy; they took the same files I sent to the printer.
AiPT: Nuts and bolts time, what was your cut when it came to all these formats? I’m sure just creating the book cost something, so it’d be interesting to learn more on how much Comixology and iTunes takes out of your pocket.
Len: I want to advise all the aspiring comic creators out here. DO NOT QUIT YOUR DAY JOB. Maybe this thing will go viral and maybe it will pay for itself, but the majority of these projects lose money. Do it because you want to do it, not to get rich.
When it comics to creating a comic there are three basic costs you look at; Production, Distribution and Promotion.
AiPT: Alright, let’s start with production.
Len: Production: What does it cost to make a comic? What do you have to pay the artist, writer, colorist, letterer, editor, graphic designer, printer, formatter? Now the secret to keeping the costs down is you want to do as many of these things yourself as you can. That being said you need to recognize when you are not good enough or fast enough to do these things and need to hire someone.
Distribution: Paying somebody to sell your comics. All these digital offerings cost money, fortunately they are all percentages. Amazon charges a higher price point than everyone else, but all told I make close to the same money from every sale. Where the digital offering is $1.99 I will make just shy of $1.00 per unit. The print offering is $3.99 and I make $1.07 per unit.
AiPT: And promotion?
Len: Promotion: Getting the word out about your comics. This is the other thing that can cost you a fortune and can get out of hand very quickly. Things like social media ads, having a website, doing conventions, are all very important but not always effective. I do a little of this stuff but honestly I have yet to see it pay a huge dividend, especially conventions with travel costs can sneak up on you very quickly.
AiPT: Would you ever consider doing a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publishing of another comic?
Len: Kickstarter is an interesting concept. At first I thought of it as internet begging, asking people to fund your project, because you can’t do it yourself. This interview got me re-thinking it more and more. I came to the conclusion I would love asking people to INVEST in my project. Yes I make a comic but as investors they getting something (the specified item(s)) for showing their financial support but it goes beyond that. It is someone’s way of getting involved and being responsible for bringing a project to life. I know how fulfilling that is for me and being able to share that with others would be amazing.
AiPT: What’s next for Lenovations Press?
Len: We have too many projects and not enough days in the week. I guess there are worse problems to have.
The first obvious answer is yes, there will be an Adventures of Track Suit Man© #2. Due to a change in schedule, I haven’t crossed paths with the man in close to a year so there are no new incidents, but I have many other funny things to share. The other projects will come first so for once Track Suit Man will have to wait his turn.
The upcoming project I am most excited about is called Fan-Men. The Fan-Men characters consist of a writer, penciller, inker, letterer, colorist. It is the story of five friends who love comics so much they create their own. “Fighting Evil With Their Greatest Power… Imagination”. The book consists of two stories. The first is a done-in-one golden-age type comic story where the villain is evil because he is bad, rather than from poor upbringing or not getting honorable mention in his soccer league. The backup story is a different format; think of a Mystery Science Theater concept done for a super-hero comic.
Fan-Men is more than just a comic though, and hopefully it is the first of many. The creative team, Lenovations Press, is producing the first issue of Fan-Men, and then we plan to open the title up to include aspiring comic creators. Many extremely creative individuals are not producing comics because they don’t have an experienced team behind them. If someone was an aspiring writer and would like to create one of these comics using this framework that we have set up, Lenovations Press can do the rest (edit, illustrate, color, letter, layout, market, distribute, promote) as much or as little as you would like. I’ve made my dream of producing comic books come true and we would like to help others do the same.
Lastly, Phil Miller, Michael Kelleher and myself worked on a title in the 90s called Section 12. The series did well and had some original ideas for its time. We all loved working on it and have something like 120 or so finished pages that never saw print. I could just release it as a super-expensive graphic novel and be done with it, but it would read like something written in the 90s. I would rather take a good story and make it better. So there will be new art, COLOR and much much more story.
AiPT: Very cool. Thanks for taking the time Len!
You can purchase Track Suit Man on Amazon.