Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gold Dust Revisited: Reflections of Self-Publishing a Comic Book

Next month marks the sixth anniversary of Gold Dust # 1, a comic book published by Golden Sleeve Productions.  Never heard of Gold Dust?  Or Golden Sleeve?  Few have.

Gold Dust was a self-published effort that was available at only a few bookstores and comic book shops in the KC and St. Joseph area.  Gold Dust was written by me, drawn by artists Mike Sullivan and Peter Cutler, and published by me under the Golden Sleeve name.

Last Saturday, I was a featured guest at Pop Culture Comix in Overland Park, KS, during the annual  Free Comic Book Day event.   I gave away copies of the ashcan edition of Gold Dust and sold copies of the regular comic.   If anyone who picked up a copy of either is visiting this blog, welcome!  I hope you enjoyed the comic.  Please feel free to leave your comments below.

In case you’re wondering how to go about self-publishing your own comic book, here’s how to do it in four (not so) easy steps.

First Step: Network 

In 2003, I joined the Kansas City Comics Creators Network, a rather loose organization of local comic book creators.  The KCCCN (or CCN, as it later became) held regular meetings, discussed comics, shared their work, and published three volumes of an anthology called Show and Tell (each one featuring a short story by yours truly).  Through the CCN I met talented local creators such as Travis Fox (the first artist I ever collaborated with), Shawn Geabhart, and my eventual Gold Dust collaborators, Mike and Peter – many of whom I am still friends with today.

The most important benefit of networking, though, was being around other people whose goals were similar to mine and who were actively pursuing those goals.  They encouraged me to make my dream real and showed me how to do it.

Second Step: Collaborate

I did not want to create my own comic by myself.  Comics have always appealed to me because it’s a collaborative medium, involving writers, artists, editors, production staff, and publishers.  I always wanted to focus on writing, which meant I needed at least an artist to work with.

Mike Sullivan had similar interests as mine.  We were both nurtured on the Marvel and DC heroes of the ‘60s and ‘70s (though he leaned more toward Marvel and I leaned more toward DC), so we saw eye-to-eye on what we wanted this project to be.

Mike turned out to have the skills not only to draw the comic but to assemble it on computer.  He also lettered it and designed the logo and all of the characters. 

Collaboration can be tricky for comics creators, many of whom are used to working alone.  In a separate article, I wrote guidelines for successful collaboration, but when you have the right person to work with, miracles can happen.  Mike’s enthusiasm drove my own and resulted in a finished product that far exceeded my expectations.

Third Step: Patience

Mike and I were both working full-time jobs (and, in the middle of our collaboration, I switched careers), so it took more than a year to complete the comic.  This is slow by most self-published standards, but we were both feeling our way around the process, which was new to us (though Mike had already self-published his own comic,Virtual Infinity Presents).  Besides, we were in no rush.  We wanted to get it right. 

One advantage of taking our time was that I had the opportunity to write a second story to fill out the issue.  The main Gold Dust story is only 17 pages long – not knowing how long I wanted a self-published comic to be and using other locally published comics as models, I deliberately made it short.  But as the project evolved into a full-sized comic book, I knew it needed something else.  So, I wrote a second story and asked Peter Cutler to draw it.  The result is a comic with greater artistic variety and story depth than originally planned.

One disadvantage of taking one’s time is that it’s easy to get side-tracked.  Mike, Peter, and I all had other projects going on.  (In addition, Peter moved to Georgia shortly before completing his artwork.)  It would have been easy to let the project fall away, as I’ve seen many other projects do, but we were clear on our goals and dedicated to accomplishing them.

Fourth Step: Printing

There are a number of printing companies in the Kansas City area which can print comic books.  The trick is to talk to several of them, find out what they can do, their time frame, and – most importantly – the cost.  This is also where networking came in handy:  many of the CCN creators had already worked with different printing companies and could offer guidance.

In the end, it cost around $400 to print 200 copies of Gold Dust.  The price was actually reasonable since we wanted a splashy full-color cover and high quality interior paper so the comic would look sharp and last long.

So that’s how you turn an idea for a comic book into an actual, physical comic book that you can sell and sign at events such as Free Comic Book Day.  Perhaps in a future post I’ll discuss the next step—marketing your work and getting it into to bookstores and comics shops. 



Kristi's Book Nook said...

Wow, I wish I had known you were giving away your comic. Collaborating and networking is very important. I am glad it was a successful experience for you.

Greg Gildersleeve said...

I gave away the smaller ashcan editions (of which I am now out of) and sold the regular comic for two bucks. Amazingly, people bought it even when a free version was available. (And special thanks to those who did.)

Thanks for stopping by, Kristi.

Dennis Young said...

I enjoyed the comic, Greg. Having collected comics in the mid-70's to 80's I thought yours was better than a lot of the stuff published during what I considered a break-out period for comics, when many were digging their way out from under the Comic Code restrictions.

Greg Gildersleeve said...

Thanks for the feedback, Denny. I'm glad you enjoyed the comic.

I will say that some of the Marvels and DCs (not all of them, unfortunately) aimed for an older audience or a more sophisticated form of story telling. They informed my own choices as a writer and my love for the super-hero genre.

SmearySoapboxPress said...

Do you find it a good use of your time to promote old projects at events like FCBD? I often have a hard time summoning the enthusiasm to talk about past work when current work is obviously where my interest and energy is at...

Oh, and I quite enjoyed Gold Dust - it was a well-done comic all around!

Greg Gildersleeve said...

Dale, I have not been attending events or cons for some time--it was really a fluke that I ended up at FCBD this year! And since I don't have any other comic books to promote, it makes it easy to focus on this one.

My philosophy, though, is that anything that grabs a potential customer's attention is something I should promote.

Glad you enjoyed Gold Dust.

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