Tuesday, December 02, 2008

More Staggering Genius - Creating Comics

Here we go, part 2 of my adventures in comic-creating.

In May of 2003, my 4+ year-relationship ends and my ex makes it her mission to ruin my life. She nearly succeeds. Though I won't admit it, the lure of writing funny books isn't there. John begins to grow tired and use the skills developed by doing the comic to get actual work in the comic industry, through correspondence with Chi. SM becomes a secondary interest for everyone. As a last ditch effort to see our hard work bear fruit, we call in our friend Jay Penney to redesign our website, with a store and a forum and a WYSIWYG editor so I can write my own posts and take the burden off John's shoulders. For most of 2004, this is what I do. The hits are moderate, the sales minimal. Even Wizard World Philly doesn't generate interest. The whole industry has changed in the couple years since we started this. The web has given license to everyone with the slightest creative bone to make a comic, and the market becomes diluted with poorly-made fluff.

We have some creative conflicts as well. John sees the writing on the wall and just wants to throw every issue on the site and forget trying to print and sell them and just have fun. My ex girlfriend has left me with immense debt, so I would still rather try to make money. Jay feels that we shouldn't go back to fake letters and made-up SM Animated Series Episodes Guides because we'll fool the readers, of which there are few. My hopes continue to wane.

We fall in with Ian Shires, who "runs" a website for indy comics and wants us to be the flagship of his new imprint. Through Ian, we are put in touch with some lawyer, who claims that he has put comics back into Walmart, and he can sell our book by the thousands. It is suggested we reprint issue #1 for a newer, bigger audience. We are convinced that SM will be on the cover of this guy's catalog, due in April, so can we draw him with bunny ears? The more I listen to this guy ramble, I have my doubts and begin to wonder if we would be putting in some money for nothing, which I am tired of doing. Or worse, would we lose the rights to our own character? I ask John and Jay what they think. Ultimately, it is left to me to decide our fate, and I nix the deal. The irony being that the guy who has the least creatively to do with any of it made the final decision. it's just as well, because I'm pretty sure he was a shyster.

The interest wanes more as time goes on. We still decide to print issue #1, since we were on our way to doing it anyway. John removes the bunny ears and uses that catalog picture as the cover. We try a new creative direction with Secret Monkey Vol 2 #1, with less focus on crime-fighting and more just bizarre, Family Guy-style weirdness. It lasts three issues. The deal with Ian fizzles out, and I think he sold maybe $20 worth of comics. Our website, Secretmonkey.com, dies a slow death, and John and Ray (whom we brought in back in '03 to help write some funny stuff) start Turbocomics.com, an off-shoot for SM and the skads of other strange characters we created over the years. I have one hope left; Wizard World, one of the biggest shows of the year, will be in Boston in September of '05, and I plan on getting our own table.

Sadly, it is one of the smallest Wizard World cons ever, and even though we sell most of our wares over the three days (including giving a bunch away), between paying for the table and all the other expenses, we take another financial hit. Also, it's not very fun because we are way in the back corner and nobody really pays much attention unless you throw the comic at them.

On Sunday afternoon, the last day of the con, John and I have a pseudo-heart-to-heart, and confess that the book hasn't been fun in a few years and we should move on. I apologize for trying to hard to make lemonade out of a lemon. We endeavor to make Turbocomics.com a fun place, and we do, for awhile. Dursin's Dungeon, my regular rant column, returns. Fake letters and a fake intern get space on the site, as do all the comics we ever did. No store, no printing, no selling.

Eventually, however, life gets in the way. John makes real strides in the industry thanks to his skills developed working on SM and his contacts through Chi, so it did do some good. Jay lets the site expire, having lost some money and precious time developing a site that became a cautionary tale. Benchcomics faded away. Ian is apparently still in business, selling comics and giving indy creators a place to go. John and I are still working on getting our own comic rolling, except it's for a company instead of self-publishing it. So far, we are waiting for the artist to get drawing.

The real irony? Well, printing your own comic these days is cheaper than ever, as is maintaining and paying for a website. For his birthday, I just bought John a five-issue Secret Monkey trade paperback, the only one of its kind, printed at Lulu.com for only $7.00. And you can print them on-demand and sell them through Amazon or Barnes and Noble, with your own ISBN and everything. And webcomics are more popular than ever, so you can even clean up that way. I keep going back to that line by the Joker from The Dark Knight:

We weren't crazy. We're just ahead of the curve.

No comments: