Thursday, December 30, 2010
I've just been consolidating my online presence and Tumblr has won out. I like the way it works with Twitter and Facebook better than Blogger.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Publishing Part 3 - Printing Problems?

(you can find Publishing Part 2 HERE.)

I want to step back from the numbers involved in publishing for a minute and talk about some of the technical aspects. Particularly, a problem that I encountered twice and how it was finally solved.

First, let's step back to 2007 when Nothing Better Vol 1 was published. I was pretty excited - I'd won a Xeric grant and was able to spend a little extra money on putting some classy French flaps on the book cover. It was going to look really nice! Files were sent off to the printer and I soon received my proofs. They looked awful. The art looked like it had been run through a copier multiple times. The line work looked fuzzy. I asked my rep at the printer about it (this was at Quebecor/Lebonfon). She stated the poor quality was just the proofs, that the final art would look just fine. I was a little leary. I hadn't had this issue with my previous books. The proofs I got for those looked just like the final art, as they should. But I also knew that Lebonfon was going through some changes, that maybe they had changed their internal workflow and so on. So I listened to my rep at the printer. I should have listened to my gut.

The production on the cover of NB Vol 1 looked fantastic, but the interior art looked fuzzy in the same way the proofs did. I talked with the printer right away and asked for an explanation and a reprint as I was not happy with the quality. I double-checked my files and the proofs I had sent. They were all fine. The pre-press department at Lebonfon couldn't find any issues. After a lot of hassle in which I stressed how unhappy with the quality I was, I finally got a letter from the pre-press manager stating they didn't know what had happened but that the quality of the books wasn't poor enough to merit a reprint. My rep ended up offering me a %20 discount. I got almost $1000 back. So that was kind of good.

                                   fuzzy                             not fuzzy

I should stress that this issue was not the end of the world. Few people even noticed the problem unless it was pointed out and they looked closely. But as someone who's day-job involves print-related technology, I take a little pride in *occasionally* knowing what I'm talking about, especially when it comes to printing books!

I honestly would have preferred a reprint instead of the discount just because that first NB collection felt like such a big deal to me, especially with the Xeric grant. But the discount did prove to be a bit of a blessing. When it came time to print NB Vol 2 (which I discussed in Publishing Part 1), I took that refunded money from the first book and used it to pay for the printing of Vol 2. So that was kind of nice.

But the thing is, I ran into the same issue of fuzzy art with Vol 2 at first. The outcome was completely different though and I am confident it was because I dealt with a small, local company who was willing to work with me to solve the problem. With the first book at Lebonfon, I was just a small-time customer. Even though I was paying them ~$5,000, it wasn't enough to merit the best customer service they could provide. They took my money, printed my books and that was that. The nice folks at Bookmobile listened though.

So what was the problem? When you save or export files to a PDF there are a few default presets for Web, Screen or Print. And all of them have a setting for compressing text and lineart and it is ON by default. The thing I'd learned though, was that when you compress lineart, it looks like crap! The point of using compression is to cut down on file size, but if it compromises the quality of your work then it's not worth using.

I didn't think to ask the printer about it until Vol 2 because the files I sent to the printer both times were full-res PDF files with *no compression* and yet for some reason they were coming out looking like they'd been compressed. It occurred to me this time around (mostly since I've seen the issue at work more and more in the last few years) to wonder if the pre-press workflow at the printer wasn't set up to use default PDF settings. (And oddly enough, I did not have this issue with the test books I had made at

When you submit files to a printer someone in the pre-press department opens the files, makes sure everything is there, looks good, and then sends it through an automated workflow to properly set the files to run through their system for print and generate a proof. Part of that workflow would include re-saving the PDF file. And it was then that I thought they must just be using those default PDF settings, including the default compressions settings. I was on to something!

I asked my rep at Bookmobile if this might be the case and she passed that on to their pre-press/setup department. Sure enough, I was right! They generated a new PDF and proof without the compression settings and it looked just great. How I wish I had thought to ask the people at Lefonfon about this, but I also wonder if it would have really made a difference. As a small-time customer they seemed relatively indifferent to my problem and to them, that first book was still 'good enough.'

From my perspective, I'm glad I got to the bottom of the problem because I knew it wasn't something I had done wrong. When you're in a situation like that you feel like you can't rest until you've figured it out. I'm also glad I found a printer to work with who was willing to go that extra step and provide really good customer service. 

Even though my problem was solved, I've noticed a lot more professionally published books over the years with this same issue and it's because people don't pay close enough attention and it's always 'good enough' for them. Larger publishers who carry more weight with their spending dollars stand a better chance of demanding reprints or fixes, so this was also a lesson in the dollar being the bottom line with a lot of companies. Unfortunately that's how it works in the world of business and production goods. But it doesn't have to be.

It's also a great lesson in the world of commercial printing that your proof should ALWAYS look exactly like the final product. If it doesn't, don't sign off on that proof until you're %100 satisfied. And if your printer isn't able to deliver the quality of work you want then take your business elsewhere and let your dollars speak for *you!*

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Publishing Pt. 2 - How Much is This Going to Cost Me?

(here is a link to Part 1 for reference)


When I first started looking into the reality of self-publishing the financial aspect of it seemed within my grasp. But printing books isn't the only thing you have to spend money on. It wasn't until I was a few years into publishing that I looked back and saw how the expenses creep up as you spend a couple hundred here, a couple hundred there and so on.

I read accounts of people who tried self-publishing only to call it quits because they'd already spent $20,000 or $30,000 and really couldn't risk any more. So in deciding to talk frankly about self-publishing comics I knew the financial aspect would be important to discuss.
I've detailed below my expenses for each year since I started publishing in 2002. Within each year I've called out the cost of any books printed that year, miles driven (if any) to conventions, and which conventions I attended. The total for each year then is the sum total of expenses derived from: printing, travel (car/air/hotel/food), art supplies, convention registration fees (table fees), promotion, office supplies, shipping and so on.

Here's the breakdown:

$5512.11 for 2000 copies of Stylish Vittles: I Met a Girl
total expenses of $10,283.80

drove 11,117 miles (I elected to drive to San Diego so I could see the western US)
went to Wizard World Chicago, Comic Con, Mid Ohio, Kansas City, FallCon

$5811.60 for 2000 copies of Stylish Vittles: All the Way
total expenses of $13,233.10
drove 7530 miles

con expenses
CCI = $1156.41
MoCCA = $1061.97
SPX = $882.58
Pitt = $565.38
Philly = $517.58
APE = $428.64

total expenses of $1734.25
no books

drove 2625 miles

$11,518.02 total expenses
$3613 for 1000 copies Stylish Vittles: Fare Thee Well
$1517.20 for 2000 copies Nothing Better #1 (32 pg pamphlet)
$1856.23 for 1000 copies Nothing Better #2 (24 pg pamphlet)


$1123.56 total expenses
no books


drove 813.18 miles

$7462.37 total expenses
$4912.61 for 2000 copies Nothing Better Vol 1: No Place Like Home


$484.50 total expenses
(daughter was  born ~ no cons)

$1079 for 300 copies Nothing Better Vol 2: Into the Wild
rest of the year's expenses not totaled yet.
(EDIT: total 2009 expenses = $3829.63)

As I noted above, the grand total of all my business expenses from 2002 through the printing of Nothing Better Vol 2 in late 2009 is $46,918.60. Yes, that is a lot of money. It is. But it's important to realize that was spent over the course of 7 years - it's not like I dropped it all at once. I also tried to be as thrifty as possible in my spending when I could, especially when traveling. I found the cheapest flights (I once spent a night in the Detroit airport to get a cheap flight to Pittsburgh), cheapest hotels (we stayed at the -relatively nice YMCA in Manhatten when we went to MoCCA), and cheapest food I could but spent what needed to be spent in order to produce a good product.

I should point out that this is only the majority of expenses involved in publishing. Cori traveled to most conventions with me and displayed her illustration work and so paid for a portion of expenses which are not listed here.
In the end it wasn't the cost of printing books that really rang up the bills - it was the traveling and conventions. The printing costs of each book was eventually covered through sales. For SV 1 I took out a small business loan and after that I used a business credit card in an attempt to earn bonus miles/points and such. A table at a convention can cost between $200 and $500 in addition to the cost of getting there and staying there for a few days, as well as feeding yourself. At most conventions I was able to make back the cost of the table but I think there may have only ever been a few shows where I did so well as to cover all costs and turn a small profit. But those were the exception rather than the rule.

I currently still have approximately $10,000 of credit card debt incurred from publishing expenses - from conventions and traveling. That should help put Part 1 of this essay into perspective, regarding how I did not want to incur any further significant debt in order to print Nothing Better Vol 2. I make extra payments and take on extra freelance work where I can to help pay that debt down and to cover any current and future business expenses.

I work in Higher Education and earn a very modest salary and have about $57,000 of student loan debt in addition to a mortgage and the costs associated with having a child. I'm not complaining - we get by - I'm just trying to put this all in perspective. If I were debt free we'd have a nice little cushion but taking risks is what life is about. All of that money spent wasn't for nothing. No, I'm not a superstar but I've managed to make a small name for myself in the comics world and even get a little high-profile recognition here and there (Eisner nomination and Xeric grant). Someone else might have done things different, smarter.

If I were to start all over again today, fresh from high school or college I would definitely do things differently. But that's another post altogether.

Up next: Printing problems!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Publishing Pt. 1 - Print on Demand? Really?! Well, sort of...

I tried something different when printing and publishing Nothing Better Vol 2 and it got me thinking about the other things I've experienced as a self-publisher. It got me thinking about the things I didn't know in the beginning and the sort of information I continue to wish I had access to. So I thought I would start sharing.

I'm going to start by talking about what I did differently in publishing Nothing Better Vol 2 and why I did what I did.

My goals when I started to think about putting out Vol 2 were heavily influenced by the fact that I now have a family. My concerns were mainly financial. With the books I'd previously published it was really only myself I was putting at risk. But due to those efforts and my student loans I'm sitting under a sizeable, but manageable, mountain of debt.

I continue to produce Nothing Better because I enjoy doing so and there are people out there who enjoy it as well. I wanted to be able to offer readers Vol 2, but I also didn't want to take on any more debt while doing so. That was my goal.

Goal: Publish Nothing Better Vol 2 while limiting or eliminating my financial risk.

Printing books is expensive. The previous books I've published, in quantities of either 1000 or 2000, cost anywhere from $3000 to $6000. There are a lot of other costs involved too but I'm going to save the numbers and money stuff for later. For right now lets focus on the fact that I didn't want to saddle myself with another few thousand dollars of debt - I couldn't really.

So I realistically began thinking about print-on-demand (POD). In doing so, cost was only one of two major factors. The other factor aside from money has to do with the publishing and distribution side of things. Diamond Comics Distributors (the main distributor to comics shops) had recently changed their policy on order minimums. Meaning that orders on any listed title had to clear a certain dollar amount for them to cut a purchase order. I was right on the border of that limit with NB Vol 1 and as anyone will tell you, a second book will always see fewer orders. I knew I wouldn't make the cut for Diamond, but I knew there were people out there who wanted Vol 2. Yes, there are other smaller distributors, like Haven, for comics shops, and I get listed to bookstores and libraries through Baker and Taylor, but without that hefty initial order from Diamond to help pay for a printing bill, it just wasn't worth it. This also meant I was planning on selling the majority of books direct through my website so my profit margin had a little more room as all the money from those sales goes right to me - there's no middle man. So I was also considering doing a smaller, more manageable print run.

The most books I've sold in a given year were around 800 (and again, I'll get to numbers later) but I knew that wouldn't be the case here. Yes, over the course of several years I could move 1000 copies of Vol 2, but I didn't want to have to sit on that cost or store more books in my house. Was POD really an option?

The problem isn't the quality as much as the cost - POD is more expensive per book than traditional offset printing. The reason this matters is because as a publisher, you sell your books to a distributor or store at a discount - up to %60 off the cover price. And if your book has a cover price of $15 and it cost you $5 to print, you're not really making any money once you factor in shipping and such. Could I find a quality, "cheap" POD option? is kind of the big player in the POD market. Back when I published Stylish Vittles Vol 3 I had a test book made at Lulu just out of curiosity. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't awesome either. I think POD is better suited to prose publishing than something that is graphic-heavy. On the sample I had made the toner in all black areas would rub off and in general, because it was run on a laser printer, the toner had a shiny, hard look to it. Outside of that concern the print quality was good. Laser printers delivery sharp, crisp images. But it wasn't for me. It felt too much like I'd just printed off my book on one of the printers at work and bound it.

But that was a few years ago. Lulu has grown more dominant and now offers discounts for printing large quantities. So I thought I would at least look into the option. Had things changed? Vol 2 was completely laid out, just waiting for me to finish the cover. So I mocked up something quick and upload a file to to get a test book made.

The test I got back was actually pretty nice. The halftones were nice and crisp and the toner didn't feel like toner on the page. I suspect they were using a higher quality digital press than they had in the past. The only thing I wasn't thrilled about was the glossy cover being the only cover option. But if going through Lulu meant getting the book out to readers I could live with it. Lulu seemed like a real option. I put in a quote for bulk pricing. They offered me $4.48 per book for a quantity of 300. Hmm. Not great, but better than their per-book price which was somewhere north of $7. Which, in and of itself, still wasn't awful if those were direct sales - I'd still be getting somewhere around $7 in profit per book, and Lulu would handle all of the fulfillment.

(Fulfillment means that when you order a book through's website, they print it, ship it, and collect the payment for you. Then they pay out on a quarterly basis. That was also attractive, to a degree, as it would relieve me of having to pack and ship off books.)

I finished designing the cover and the few remaining touches on the book and ordered another test copy. This second test was disappointing. The backside of each page was 'smudged.' There had obviously been an issue with the imaging drum on the printer this book was run on. Without getting technical about the problem, it pointed out a huge potential problem: if I was having someone else print and ship books without me ever having seen them, how was I to know that customers wouldn't be getting messed up books like this? It was the issue of quality control that knocked Lulu out of contention (which isn't to say that they're not the right choice for someone else's project - as I said before I think POD favors the prose work as text means much less coverage on the page).

Oddly enough, this entire time I had another option staring me right in the face that was practically in my backyard. But I didn't think of it until after I decided I couldn't go with Lulu. I had started thinking I was going to have to postpone publishing Vol 2 until I could raise money for offset printing. And then I remembered a company here in Minneapolis called Bookmobile, who specialized in digital printing, POD and book galleys. I had known an MCAD alum who had worked there, and a few MCAD students who had had short runs of books printed with them. And I'd even gotten a quote from them years ago for an SV book to see what their prices were like.

Working with Bookmobile was a lot like working with a regular printer - especially when compared to Lulu. I ran into a couple issues (that I'll go over in a separate post) but they were handled professionally and quickly and it made all the difference in the world working with a local company and being able to speak with a person.

The cost still wasn't as good as offset printing, but it was definitely better @ $3.60/copy and honestly, dealing with a professional printing company in my back yard really appealed to me. The per copy cost is low enough to make a tiny profit from each copy when sold at a discount to distributors, but remember, the goal at this point is to simply not lose money.

The customer service at Bookmobile was great and my books were printed within a week. I picked them up, they looked good, and I have enough to sell on my website, at conventions and a few through distributors all without spending a huge chunk of money. Goal achieved.

I know there are people who will point out that I could have saved money in the long run by paying more upfront to do a larger initial run on offset, but in addition to not spending a lot of money I also wanted to minimize the already large stacks of books in my basement. Printing through Bookmobile was a solution that seemed to satisfy all of my needs for right now.

Up next: numbers!

(PS - It's worth noting that Diamond just announced a modification to their policy stating that as long as an item was listed in their Previews catalog, even if the initial order was under their new minimum amount, they would still ship product on that initial order. If that had been in place when I published Vol. 2 I might have given more thought to doing offset printing.  But honestly I'm happy with how things worked out - I was able to keep things affordable and also not have a ton of boxes sitting around.)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

nb "strip" format???

I had a crazy idea last night. For a while now I've formatted/laid out most of my Nothing Better pages divided into thirds horizontally. It developed naturally from a storytelling perspective and once I realized I was doing it, it has provided a nice structure/constraint to work off of. I also think it greatly helps set the pacing of the story. Last night I wondered, "could I chop the pages into thirds for online posting?" This post is a good example of what it would look like.

Bad idea? Good idea? The "plus" being that I could update three times a week versus one, but with the same amount of material. Would you rather have three little chunks like this over the week, or a whole page at a time??? Hmm...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

space rock

for some reason I can't quite figure, I really love the drawing I posted for Page-A-Day today.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

OMG here they come!!

I've kept a pretty low online profile over the summer because I've been busy finishing the Nothing Better Vol 2 collection and guess what - it's finally done!! got it back from the printer last week. and that's not all - I've got another new book to put out too. that's right - TWO NEW BOOKS!

that second book is Stylish Vittles Vol 4 Behind the Page: The Saga of Rob Harvard. that's right - I finally went back and finished the Stylish Vittles storyline. this fourth volume contains the amazing and absolutely true story behind the Stylish Vittles graphic novels and is not to be missed. this will be a limited edition book - it is hand-printed and hand-bound and there will only ever be 250 of them. EVER!

I will have both of these new books at FallCon this coming weekend so if you're in the Twin Cities area, come pick them up! they will be available through my online store soooooon. STAY TUNED!!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

bike'n stuff

been neglecting my various online homes. recovering from the school year and finishing up the script/layouts for Nothing Better 14. resuming regular posting. here's some bike-related sketches from a while back...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

recent sketchbook page

"gombah gombah" is a term cori recently coined for an eating sound.