Comics are a business. That’s the one thing I overlooked as I started out on my creative journey. During college, I always looked down on marketing majors as people who exploited the ‘real’ art of others. What I didn’t learn until much later on was that marketing is 80% of a product’s success. Just look at the last three Star Wars movies.
(By the way, did you notice that the last movie could be abbreviated as SW: ROTS? Telling, ain’t it?)
One key element in this saturated market is that the book has to stand out in the first issue. Some of the more successful books are what are called ‘one-offs’ or ‘stand-alone’ books. These are small story arcs taking up one to three issues that tell a good, short story. If the reader gets hooked, then you have a ready-made audience for an expanded story. My book, while distinctive, was going to take a loooong time. By the third issue, I had a reader at a convention tell me “I don’t know where you’re going with this, but I like it so far.” I thought the story was a thing to sit back and enjoy. This is true of a novel or even a movie, but not a comic book. People only have about five minutes to devote to a comic book story; fifteen if it’s written by Kevin Smith, who tends to ramble. I figured my story would start taking off by oh, say, the tenth issue. This was not good business sense.
Each print run was over $1,000 bucks for 1,000 books. One thousand books that didn’t move, didn’t sell well, didn’t grab interest immediately. It had lots of talking, no real action, great scenery but no ‘hook’. In retrospect, it reads more like a movie storyboard with about the same pacing. Diamond Distribution wasn’t interested in it, so I had no way to get it out any farther than I could drive. I drew six issues, but by the third book I was out nearly four grand and made back less than $150. Those boxes are in storage now, slowly being eaten by crickets, I imagine.
I suppose I could have done ten or more issues and printed them as one big book, hoping that someone would like it, but that seemed like a long way off. I averaged about an issue every six months, so I estimated that to finish the story to my satisfaction it would take nearly fifty years. Not good. If I had approached it like a one-off, I might have hooked an audience willing to hang on for several years while I cranked out more books. Instead I drew a movie that was unfolding in my head, expecting others to be as excited to see it as I was. Never mind that the first fifteen minutes were a little slow and they took a year and a half to make.
But enough about my failures as a human being. Next time I’ll delve into the creative process and talk about what went into making the graphic story of Passage.