To kick off WonderCon's The Creators Role in the Future of Comics Publishing panel, Jimmy Palmiotti asked the crowd for a show of hands to see how many attendees were interested in publishing in the future, even offering to even talk one on one following the panel. "A lot of you guys were in the same boat as we all were," the creator stated. "I'm a big believer of failing, so I can learn things. But I like the idea of helping others so that they fail less than I have."
In fact, that's what much of the hour-long discussion amongst Palmiotti ("Queen Crab," "Retrovirus," "Sex and Violence"), Kraig Rasmussen (MonkeyGong.com), Brian Schirmer ("Ultrasylvania") and moderator Chris Brandt (film director/producer of "The Independents) consisted of: Kickstarter, networking at conventions and the overall sharing of learned professional experiences.
"The landscape of publishing is changing so much right now that there are so many avenues that people can go down," Rasmussen said. "An interesting discussion that I don't think is ever going to have an end."
Citing Schirmer and Palmmioti's success with Kickstarter with their respective campaigns, Rasmussen referred to the crowd-funding's site as a big part of the future of comics publishing.
"I hit everyone up in my family with an e-mail, and said, 'Hey, you're always telling me to do something besides superheroes. Well, I'm doing it now. So put your money where your mouth is,'" Palmmioti said, tongue firmly planted in cheek. He also stressed the importance of social media, which is something that Schirmer further backed up.
"If you want to do something on Kicksarter, and you don't have a social network -- friends on Facebook, Twitter or what have you -- get it!" said Schirmer. "Otherwise, you're done. Unless you get super lucky, and you got some super talented artist that will make people think, 'Oh, my God. I need to pledge this,' you're gonna fail."
The conversation veered to why a creator would choose Kickstarter over trying to go through a "proper" comic company. At that point, Palmiotti broke down the models of how a comic gets made at Image Comics versus his learned experiences going through his multiple Kickstarter campaigns.
"Say I do an Image book, and it sells 4,000 copies at four dollars each. Before you get a dime, Image takes out what it costs to print, a fee that covers the solicitation, shipping and all that kinds of stuff. It's a decent-sized fee, so you only get what's left after that. I've made books where I haven't made a dime on a book, and I've already paid all my guys out of pocket to do the book. I've been lucky on some of the books, and other times I take a big hit."
As for the Kickstarter model, by the time Palmiotti began working on his third crowd-funding campaign, "Sex and Violence," he learned to liken running a Kickstarter comics campaign to running some sort of store.
"If I can somehow guarantee there's going to be an audience that's going to buy this in advance, then all I have to do is figure out how to bring in the book for a certain amount. If I can hit this number on the advance sales, then I can pay everybody, and I can actually bring in a profit."
Of specific note, for the "Sex and Violence" campaign, Palmiotti learned to make pledge offers especially interesting.
"I had one called the hundred dollar pledge, which was basically a box of stuff worth more than a hundred dollars. That is literally what I put there," Palmiotti said. "We had over 80 people back the hundred dollar box. Which is hysterical, because for the last three months I've been putting things in the corner of my apartment, going, 'Okay -- that's worth something.'"
These items ranged from t-shirts to random odds and ends Palmiotti is given at conventions to signed comics from other notable comics creators.
"I had Darwyn Cooke over at my house, and I asked, 'Hey, can you sign these 30 'Watchmen' books for me?'"
"Just sign it."
Later in the panel, as one audience member stressed his difficulty in finding a collaborator, the subject of networking came about, Rasmussen shared some advice learned after going to four or five conventions a year trying to get his portfolio reviewed by any and everybody. "What I've noticed about my generation of comic creators is that conventions are sort of treated as a job fair, like an opportunity to get your portfolio reviewed and meet people. I think it's really important, especially now that we're all charged with the responsibility of making our own audience. You need to treat this as experience with good people, have good experiences. Don't treat this as if you're desperate to get work, but rather to share. After I stopped doing that was when I started making connections and building an audience. It's really great to get your art seen, but making that connection is the most important part."
"I was like a fly-paper. I networked like nobody's -- " began Schirmer, as he talked about one of his first experiences at another convention following his first Kickstarter campaign. "Y'know, networking is such a shitty term. You're meeting people, and making acquaintances who may one day may be friends."
Toward the end of the panel, an audience member brought up Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin's pay what you want digital comic "The Private Eye." The fan noted that Vaughan had said in a recent interview with The New York Times that he and Martin felt fortunate enough to be able to take this financial risk, and asked the panel if this tactic was something any of them would consider doing.
"I can't afford it," Palmiotti responded. "If I told you how much I make, you'll all start crying and leave the room. I don't have a luxurious lifestyle. I write two books with a partner, so it's like writing one book. I make a couple grand on those two books. It's not a lot of money if you're paying bills, and eating food."
Rasmussen discussed his attempts to structure a crowd-funding model in-house, allowing him to avoid Kickstarter. "I appreciate the fact that Kickstarter has a built in audience, but at the same time, I feel like my audience is so small right now that it might not even help me. If I have to build my own audience anyway, why not just do it on my own site and see if the crowd-funding model can work that way?"
Rasmussen further noted that while Kickstarter is great at getting rid of a lot of middlemen, it is a middleman itself.
What sticks out most as to why Kickstarter dominated much of the discussion during this panel is something that Palmiotti said. "Often times, companies don't want alternative ideas. Not only that, companies want to own everything you do. But Kickstarter means I'm owning it, or I'm going to own it with my guys."