(from ‘Self-Publish & Be Damned’ in Comic World #24, Feb 1994)
...for [the first] five or six years with Cerebus... I couldn't understand why everybody else wasn't doing it [self-publishing]. When I would talk with other professionals, every one of them has exactly the same horror story, or variations on it -- [the publisher] didn't pay for it, they didn't pay what they said they were going to pay, they didn't get the inker that they said they were going to get.
There's a phobia that sets in with artists because when they're going into a business office to sign a contract to start working for someone and they realise that it's just second nature to them to mess you about -- as you say over here [in the UK] -- that you think, "This is tough enough, this is just the editor or an assistant editor -- what would it be like dealing with a printer or dealing with the distributors?"
When you're a self-publisher, you're dealing with them on the same level they're on -- business. If they can make money off your title, you can arrive at an agreement and that's the same thing with the printer. You tell the printer what you want done... and if he doesn't do that then you go and find another printer.
There's also, "Okay, I'm ready for the cold hard truth: Am I crap? Am I completely unmarketable?" Well is you can write and draw it... and have it printed exactly the way you pictured it in your head and it dies on the vine, well, now you have your answer. If you put it out that way, and you're able to keep going, then you've got an answer as well.
Why don't you have enough confidence in your own work to say, "Why should I cut in a publisher for 90% of the action?" That usually sets the kids back on their heals when they're showing you their portfolio and y'know, "Would you be interested in publishing this?"
...What I think you end up with when you have self-publishing, is work that is closer to the real world mainstream: the self-published books tend to have a much wider readership that are not the die-hard comic book fans. They're usually either fans who got sick of all the traditional comic books, or they're people who have a friend who collects comic books, who's always trying to show them something to get them interested...
...So I think there's far more of a potential of comics breaking through with self-publishing and alternative works, because they're alternatives not just to other comic books, but they're alternatives to the crap movies and the crap television shows, which are the almost universal condition at this point. I mean, if I finish reading an installment of From Hell and try to watch television right afterwards, it just seems so transparently leeched of content: it looks like some curious little kaleidoscope box of some kind with strange sounds coming out of it...
...good comic book stores are all that you need. It's very easy to get discouraged when 85% of the stores -- whatever proportion -- are just doing the traditional superhero stuff. They'll order Cerebus, but if they’ve got three subscribers for Cerebus they order three copies.
But the stores that are really good, the stores that recognise that the old game has to come to an end, and that it's time to really find ways to get new people into the stores, not to just talk about it or put some crap Marvel co-op ad in the local paper, y'know, "C'mon in and buy this new series that's starting and it interconnects these twelve annuals." That's not how you're going to get a new audience.
With the budget constraints that stores have got, they have no problem with selling fifty copies of Kane [by Paul Grist], but they want to get them five copies at a time and as the big distribution concerns are getting larger and larger, all they can have available is what came out this week, what came out last week, and maybe what came out two weeks ago. But a b&w self-published comic, nobody's going to pick up issue three and say, "I think I'll check this out..." Same thing with the Cerebus reprint volumes, a store buys, like, one copy of Jaka's Story -- feeling a little reckless -- and they put it in with their graphic novels. Well you look on the spine, that's book number five or whatever: you’re not going to sell book five of a seven-book series to some curiosity seeker.
You have to get away from the usual comic store. The image of the comic store has to change.
I think it already is: again, it depends on the store. But having done the 21 city US tour, I sure saw a range of comic book stores. The best ones are the stores that do fit into the community -- that all goes back to whoever's working in the store. If they're outgoing, confident people, who like comic books and know when someone comes in who doesn't know what comic books are, that you don't try and sell them, y'know, the current Robin series with the hologram cover.
To me, it's a matter of saying, "I have no problem writing off 85% of stores if I can stick with the 15%." We're making a damn good living off of those people and there's a lot of potential for other self-publishers coming along now.
It’s the reprint book market that we're making the good living off -- if we had to live off the sales of the monthly comic book we wouldn't be here [laughs]. Having stores that are willing to stock reprint books and keep them in stock, that's where the difference is made.
The worst time is you've got four or five issues out... and you're sitting there going, "Oh no, now number two is out of print, how am I going to afford to print number six and number two!"
You just muddle through that time until you can get together enough money to put out the first trade paperback, and then suddenly you start seeing these really significant cheques that don't look like babysitting cheques anymore.
So yeah, there's a lot of potential with that. Gerhard is quite right that it’s a matter of keeping that material available so that the good stores have all the stuff right there and available.