Friday, August 30, 2013

Baltimore Comic-Con 2013 part 2B – more preparation

When last we met, I briefly discussed preparation for exhibiting at a comic convention, with a focus on your table display.  Now, let’s talk about the books, specifically mini-comics and chapbooks, as simple as one with little artistic talent can get.  We will look at this from the point of view of the writer, as that’s where all my experience lies.

(an aside:  if you have ideas of creating a comic that looks like a comic book check out the Ka-Blam! site; they can help you with that)

So, you’ve written your stories and need to find someone to bring your masterpiece to vivid, delineated, inked life.  Easier said than done.  First you need to find the artist.  You can check websites like Deviant Art or Digital Webbing (though I’ve heard DW isn’t the go-to place it once was, but that’s where your due diligence comes in) or do a search for “comic book artist.”  Keep in mind the tone of your story and seek out an artist who best fits that without breaking the bank (yes, you should be paying them in monetary notes and not the promise of “exposure” or “back-end money,” as those are as ethereal as your dead gramma’s ghost).  A generally accepted rule of thumb is that it takes a comic artist a day to create a single comic page.  From there, as Dennis Culver noted on his twitter feed, the bare minimum page rate can be extrapolated from the “norms” of an 8-hour work day at a minimum wage of $7.25/hour, which comes to $58 per page.  Of course, it’s all negotiable.  Be up front with your artist and do not short-change them.  You will also want to discuss ownership of the story.  A best practice, in my opinion, is to share creation and ownership evenly with your collaborator(s).  But, again, it’s all negotiable.  Just do your homework, be up front with your collaborator, and don’t take them for granted.

Once you’ve found an artist and negotiated a fair price, prepare for the wonder of finished art pages in your inbox.  I can almost guarantee every one will be far better than what you pictured in your head while you typed away in the dark.  Once the art’s done, you’ll want to get high-resolution, print-ready scans from the artist – at least 300 dpi.  And if your artist doesn’t also letter, you need to find someone to do that or, better yet, learn how to do it yourself.  There are numerous tutorials and fonts available from places like Comicraft’s Baloon Tales site and Nate Piekos’s Blambot site.  These sites have everything you need to get the job done.  From here, it’s time to begin formatting your book.

Most likely, your mini-comics will have smaller dimensions than the typical comic book.  With my chapbooks a single page is 4.25” by 5.5”, or half the size of a standard letter-sized piece of paper.  Since my chapbooks include a lot of text, I use Microsoft Word to format my books.  If I were only including comic stories, I would use Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop for formatting, since they are image-based programs, but why bother doing anything simple, right?  But I digress

Once in your formatting program of choice, you need to layout the pages so they have a nice flow, while keeping in mind that any “reveals” in the comic pages need to land on a page-turn, or an even-numbered page (of course, this only applies to those creating books with multiple stories, but really, the text that follows is so scintillating, you’re going to want to continue).  First, you should plug your stories into a single word document in the order you want, using the same layout and margins as the final product.  Understanding that a half-letter format requires a total page count divisible by four (because you have four pages to a single sheet), you can now see how many story pages you have along with the number of blank pages.  At this point you can move things around to make the page turns (even-numbered pages) and story opens (preferably odd-numbered pages) work.  From there, if you have blank pages, you can decide what extras to include – an introduction, script pages, background on the stories, character sketches, or nothing at all.  With the layout finalized, you can begin placing each individual page into its corresponding page in the final print-formatted document.  The diagram below shows the first two sheets – front and back – of a 9-sheet, 36-page chapbook:

Having done a number of these, the page layout seems obvious, but it took me a few tries before I was confident I was doing it right.  Paginating your mini in the manner above relieves you of any need to re-order the pages once they print.  Just pull the sheets from the printer at Staples – or, if you’re lucky, the one at your place of employment – and fold them in the center to create your mini-comic.  Of course, you’ll need a long-arm stapler at this point, but they’re relatively inexpensive, especially if you’re in this for the long haul. 

Now, let’s backtrack a step, before moving onto the final step.  If you decide to number your pages and you’re working in Word, as I do, then it takes some work to get it right because the program wants to automatically number pages according to your initial header on page one.  You need to separate each page to create individual sections (that’s important, you’re not inserting a page break but a section break for the “next page”).  Once you’ve created your sections, you need to sever the header links to the previous sections.  Double-click the header and look for the “link to previous [section].”  Uncheck that box – depending on the system and version of Word you’re working with, it could be in any number of spots.  Now you can create a header with page numbers distinct from the rest of the document.  But be careful if you’re placing text and images into the main body of the document after doing this because if pieces in the main body are copied in and bleed into the following page, all the work to separate the headers could be deleted, and you’ll be forced to do it all again. 

So, you’ve got your mini formatted, page numbers are in place (if that’s how you roll), and you’ve printed off the interiors of your books.  Now you need a cover.  I’m certainly no artist, but I’ve gathered some good advice from friends who are, and the two main things I’ve taken to heart are:

1 – use a single, bold image for your cover
2 – incorporate a singular image to brand yourself (more about that in the following paragraph)

The first mini-comic I ever put together had a powerful and evocative image on its cover, thanks to Sergio Martinez.  I was so impressed with it I modified it slightly to use for my business cards, my online avatar, and, when I conceived my Mainelining chapbooks, it became the cover image for each volume, with varying color schemes to differentiate them.  As Baltimore approaches, I have six volumes of Mainelining that will be available for purchase at our table and am finalizing the contents of a second volume for editors and artists with whom I would like to collaborate.  These latter two volumes are my writing portfolio and include only stories published outside of Warrior27 – stories other editors have deemed worthy of publication.  As an aspiring comics writer, you need to be able to show what you can do, and the best way to do that is have a collection of finished comics, and/or short prose, to share (and they needn’t have been published elsewhere, they just need to be completed).  Because the reality is no editor has the time to read your script, especially if it’s your 200-page OGN masterpiece.  So, you write short stories, you get them drawn, you print them, and you share them.  Not only are finished stories easier for editors and artist to assess, but they also exhibit a seriousness that a vast majority of your peers lack.  And that can make all the difference in the world.

Once more, I’ve gone on at lengths unimaginable for the internet.  So I will cut it short here and continue with convention preparation in the next part, where I’ll discuss what I’ve learned about standing at the table and “hocking my wares.”  Until then…

{You can (and should) read more from Chris at Warrior 27. -Matt}

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