Define “Small Press,” Please

Ah yes, that small press book "Spawn" I've heard so much about.

A small moment today at Newbury Comics helped re-contextualize, or maybe just remind me, what we’re up against as self-publishers. Pictured here, you see Spawn filed under “Small Publisher.” Also found here: Transformers, Buffy, and a dozen other big franchise titles. If that’s small, what chance do we have?

If you don’t know it, Newbury Comics is a New England chain music/movie/novelty store that began life in the late 70s as a comic shop. They still devote a small section of each store to comics, though it must account for a very slim percentage of their business. The selection is decidedly mainstream and seems to focus on titles with good sell-through to other merchandise: Wolverine comics and trade paperbacks that link to the Wolverine DVDs & Blu-Rays that link to the Wolverine action figures that link to the bobble heads that link to the posters to the wrist bands to the drinking glasses to the keychains, etc. It’s pure show business wrapped in a faux punk ethos, akin to Spencer Gifts and Hot Topic.

I should note here that I dislike mainstream superhero comics. Not a seething, angsty kind of hate, just a bored sort of exasperation mixed with disbelief that they’ve managed to continue pushing these bloated storylines uphill for so many years. I also dislike Newbury Comics, which stems from me and others trying to do business with them as a small publisher.

As a result, I’ve never attempted to buy comics at Newbury Comics. I was just killing time, waiting for some soup, like you do, when I came across some bargain bins. When I flipped through the “small publisher,” I was shocked to find Image Comics (which sold five of the top ten selling graphic novels in 2010) along with Dark Horse (Hellboy, Terminator, etc.), IDW (Star Trek, 30 Days of NightG.I. Joe, etc), and one or two others. Not a single Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Ad House, or other publisher that I would consider small, or smaller, at any rate.

Yes, these companies are obviously dwarfed by Marvel and DC, who together control nearly 70% of the dollar share in printed comics. And that’s just printed comics, which are barely worth the paper their printed on compared to the true worth of these franchises. The real money is in the film rights, box office, and merchandise. Even these smaller “creator-owned” companies like Image must rake in millions in fees and licensing.

My point is simple, and probably moot. There aren’t that many places a small publisher can go to peddle their wares. If Spawn is “small publisher” material, it’s no wonder to me that Newbury Comics has no interest in developing local talent.


Fine. Let’s do this already, Facebook.

Call me naive, but for years I tried to compartmentalize Facebook into a small corner inhabited by a select group of friends. The benefits (or supposed benefits) of taking a more aggressive stance in social media were certainly not lost on me, but when I weighed the professional advantages against the loss of privacy, I always chose my privacy.

But now it’s time for a change. Like acknowledging the truth about Santa Claus, I know now that there is no true privacy if I’m to participate in this world. The alternative is to live off the grid, peddling my comics on the side of the road liked wilted, grubby roses. Facebook is here to stay. So I’m blowing the doors off. While I’ll do my best to keep my image private (surely another of my chimeras), all other cautions will be thrown to the wind. The world is my “friend.”

My website, theragbox.com, will be fed directly to Facebook. The comment system will mingle back and forth like a tide pool. The comics are no longer comics. They’re content. I will run my content across all channels. Blog, bam. Facebook, bam. Twitter, you’re next. iOS apps, just you wait. I will conduct myself like a man on fire, awaiting the cool waters of the internet to wash over me.

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Video Tutorial: Digital Lettering for Comics, Part II: Fitting Balloons to Panel Borders

Here’s part II of a tutorial that shows how I do digital lettering. Go to Part I, first.

For best viewing, change the resolution from 360p to 720pHD, then double-click to open it in full size.

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Video Tutorial: Digital Lettering for Comics, Part I: Basics

Here’s something I put together that walks through how I do digital lettering. If you have comments or suggestions, add them here. I’ve disabled comments on YouTube because, well, YouTube comments are the gutter of the internet. I got tripped up by the 15 minute time limit imposed by youTube, so I’ve split it up into two parts. Go to Part II.

For best viewing, change the resolution from 360p to 720pHD, then double-click to open it in full size.

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The Process [part 2]: The Ragbox, chapter 4

A finished copy of The Ragbox Ch 4This is a continuation of an earlier article. To read the first part of this article, click here.

Cover design

In the previous article, you read how the cover started to come together. Unfortunately, the first cover artist fell through, but by that point I had a good idea of what I wanted.  So I asked Joel Christian Gill, the artist for the interior art, to do a b/w line art of Mr. Davis sitting on the steps of a house.

I’m not a trained designer by any stretch. Fortunately, I am pretty good at zeroing in on an idea and pursuing it until I get close enough to what I want. There’s always a lot of searching about in the beginning for the right inspiration, but once I hit upon the vintage Blue Note album covers, I had what I needed. The colors that designer Reid Miles used are just incredible. I’ve owned a lot of these albums since high school. In college I had a jazz radio show for three years and spent a lot of time staring at the liner notes in a dimly lit studio.

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