Saturday, June 19, 2010

Graphic Novel Conference



Just got back from the first ever Graphic Novel and Comic Writing and Illustrating Conference sponsored by The Loft Literary Center and the Hennepin County Library.

It began with an entertaining keynote by Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Prime Baby, Animal Crackers). He mostly talked about his own experience breaking into comics and his experimentation with self-publishing and mini-comics before pitching to a small publisher and finally landing the kind of big-publisher deal that involves an agent and an advance. I'd already heard some of that story in a short comic he did for the Animal Crackers collection, but it was much funnier the way he told it today. And very inspirational too in his accounts of how he kept looking for new ways to make and publish comics throughout his life.

He also reinforced what I've learned from Cownt Tales: that you can't make money self-publishing your own single-issue stuff. It's cheaper today with POD, but when Yang was doing it, he was spending $3000 to publish a single issue and only made about $400 back on the first one. By the third issue, he was barely clearing $200. Again, it's inspirational that he had that kind of passion to save that much money to put towards his dream, but from a business standpoint, it never paid off. He didn't even make money once a small publisher picked him up. All of that was for love and experience.

What else I learned, after the break.

I didn't spend $3000 on Cownt Tales, but I spent a good deal more than $400 and I've long given up on the idea of ever making that back. It was worth it though, because we all had a fun time doing it and I know I've learned a lot from the experience. I'd do it again, but I'd do it differently (though I'm still processing exactly how I'd do it differently, as you'll see below).

After Yang's presentation, the conference broke out into smaller sessions and I attended Zander Cannon's (Top Ten) on writing. It was good information; a bit too basic to be revelatory, but he reminded me of some principles that are always worth recalling. Like marrying your coolest moments with your most important story beats. That makes the plot twists and act changes more exciting, while also ensuring that your awesome fights and robots and stuff are relevant to the story.

At lunch I met and had a nice conversation with Marty from Read Comics, a review blog and podcast. I got a lot of creative inspiration from the conference, but I was also inspired to connect more deeply into the Twin Cities comics scene. I have to be careful about how much I commit myself to, but one of the things I'd like to do is hook up with the Read Comics folks and join in their monthly Comic Book Book Club podcast. First I'll need to get over how my voice sounds recorded. I can barely listen to myself on voicemail.

After lunch was the second break-out session. This time I chose Barb Schultz's presentation on webcomics. We had to sign up for sessions when we registered about a month ago and I picked Barb's for two reasons. One: she's a friend of mine. But more importantly: I've been thinking about the idea of webcomics for a while now. I've never been an early adapter, but the webcomics industry has finally gotten to the place where most of the kinks have been worked out and people like Barb can give classes on how to do it correctly.

I've got a couple of projects brewing that I think would be perfect for that format and Barb showed us the basics. We learned about the various hosting platforms and formatting features as well as the advantages and drawbacks of each. We learned how often to update (consistency being more important than a particular frequency), which days are best for web traffic (Monday, Friday, and then Wednesday), how much of a head-start on the strips to have before you start posting (thirty, which gives you a great buffer and also an idea of whether or not you really want to do this), and the best way to launch (five posts all at once before starting your regular schedule). And of course she discussed how to make money from the whole thing and how many hits you need to be getting before you can even start to think about money (3000 unique hits per day gives you a decent enough audience to start selling to, assuming that only 10% of them will actually buy anything).

All of this - plus Yang's talking about the money-losing prospects of self-publishing in print - have made me interested enough in webcomics that I feel like I really sort of have to play around with them now. Not to make a million dollars or become the next PvP or anything; just to fiddle and learn. I wonder if the Cownt might not make a good test subject. And if I can figure it out with him, maybe an adventure series could follow. I'm not making concrete plans yet; just thinking out loud. But I love that the conference got me doing that.
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