Frequently Asked Questions.

(Currently standing at a lonely two questions. More may be added in the event that they are asked sufficiently frequently.)

Q: By what process do you create your comics? I imagine computers are involoved in some way, yes?

A: I begin by typing up a detailed plot summary (or "treatment") for a story. Once this is revised to my satisfaction, I begin -- in Quark XPress -- laying out the panel borders and balloons while simultaneously writing the dialogue. The lettering is done using a font I made in Fontographer based on a specimen of my hand-lettering. As each page is finished, I print it out at 8 1/2 x 11" and rough in the pictures with a graphite pencil. This continues until the story ends, at which point I again revise heavily. Once I'm satisfied with the rough version, I scan each page into Photoshop, and enlarge it and print it out at 11 x 17", and print out the corresponding Quark page at the same size on bristol paper. Then I lightbox the rough onto the bristol with a Colerase light blue pencil, improving it as I go. Then I ink the figures with an Aitoh fountain brush, and ink the backgrounds with Micron pens. The finished drawing is then scanned again into Photoshop, where I add the color using a Wacom stylus-and-tablet. Sometimes kindly student interns assist me with background inking and rough color. The finished pages are saved as Tiffs, and then assembled into a book in Quark. I use a PC, feeling that the cartoonist's simple needs do not justify the more expensive Macintosh.

For more information on making computers do your bidding, consult Kevin Tinsley's Digital Prepress for Comic Books.

Q: How does one go about applying for the Xeric grant for comic book self-publishing? Do you have any advice for the budding self-publisher?

A: Visit www.xericfoundation.com for information and an application. A plethora of additional information on self-publishing for cartoonists can be found on the Web by searching using the terms "self-publishing" and "comics". Since my experience as a self-publisher lasted a mere one issue, I only have a few bits of advice I can pass on:

1. For how much money should one ask?

Ask for exactly the amount you need, but mention that you'd be willing to accept a lesser amount. Get quotes from a number of printers, determine cost for warehousing, shipping, advertising, promotion, mailings, etc. One should never guess randomly about how muchone needs. In the Xeric literature it says "most awards are in the amount of $5000", but if you need more, ask for more. Some black and white self-publishers are able to stretch that 5000 bucks over two or more issues. I asked for about $6500 since my book was in color.

2. What do I say in the "artist's statement" on the application?

Don't be daunted by this requirement. The Foundation realizes that talented cartoonists are not necessarily talented expository writers. Just be yourself and explain what you hope to achieve with the work, whether it be "my goal is for this comic to be a template for the next wave of expressionism," or "I intend for this comic to make the reader laugh until he or she urinates". The comics will speak for themselves, so you shouldn't fret about having to explain them.

3. How does one deal with a printer?

Imprimerie Quebecor in Montreal printed my book, and my experience with them was entirely agreeable. However, you should shop around for the printer that can best meet your needs. My advice for a low-stress printing experience:

Always make everything idiot proof: don't ask the printer to scan your pages for you, add page numbers, or anything like that. The more that you leave in the printer's hands, the more inadvertent errors can occur (pages out of order, etc). Scan the pages yourself and give them a nice tidy Quark file, fonts included.

Always include a printout, or better yet a dummy of the finished book, so they can see what it's supposed to look like. That way the printer can't claim, for examle, that you sent them low-resolution files when your printouts are obviously at high-res.

Always order proofs for all pages: blueline proofs for black and white pages and 3M proofs for color. Better to spend money on proofs than to be shocked and dismayed when the finished book comes back looking terrible. You will need to sign off on the proofs before printing can begin; do NOT sign proofs that are unsatisfactory. Tell them what to change, and request another round of proofs. Do not yield to scheduling pressure on this; better a beautiful late book than a ruined book. If you have to delay the book's convention debut to the next convention, so be it.

Make sure all communication with the printer is in writing, so that if the book comes back misprinted you have legal leverage to demand a reprint at the printer's expense.

4.How does distribution work?

Plan to distribute to comic shops through as many distributors as you can, but at the very least make sure to try to distribute through Diamond (www.diamondcomics.com). They are the largest and most powerful distributor, and have something of a monopoly on distribution -- at least of the mainstream material, which makes up the bulk of business. Once you've secured the grant, tell them that you're a Xeric winner; I believe they're under some obligation to distribute you even if they are unconfident about your sales potentianl.
    Here's an efficient order of events to utilize when working with Diamond: in, say, January, solicit your comic in the Diamond catalogue. Retailers will then place orders for your book, and then Diamond will pass on the number of comics ordered to you. Arrange with your printer to have your print run match your Diamond orders, printing maybe 25% extra to account for the other distributors and future re-orders. Warehouse these printed comics at the printer's, but have them send you a couple of hundred to send out to journalists in the interest of generating buzz. Then, when the time comes, have the printer ship the comics to Diamond for April distribution.
   Make sure to budget for a full-page ad in Previews, the Diamond catalogue, as it is easy for your tiny solicitation notice to be buried in the massive catalogue.

5. Can I get a publisher to distribute for me?

The above advice is for self-publishers who take the standard route of soliciting independently under their own publishing company. An alternative, however, is to forge an alliance with an existing publisher under which they will deal with the distributor for you in exchange for a cut of your sales, usually 5-10% of cover price. This is good for you in that you are relieved of the burden of having to interface with Diamond, plus your chances of being noticed by retailers browsing the catalogue is improved if you are among already known books. The downside is that the learning experience of interacting with the distributor is lost; some might argue that the whole point of the Xeric grant is to create a learning situation. So my advice is that if you think of self-publishing as a necessary stepping stone to working with a publisher, then work with a middle-man. But if you see yourself as being a self-publisher for the long haul, learn how to do it yourself sooner rather than later.

One final bit of advice: make a pact with yourself that if you are rejected by the Xeric Foundation, you will save up a couple thousands of dollars and finance the project yourself. There was a time when the Xeric grant functioned as a sort of minimum threshold of professional competence, but lately the grant has been going to more and more established talent. So use your own feelings as a gauge of your readiness rather than relying on external encouragement.

2005 by Jason Little.