Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Challenge of Creating Indie Comic Books In Canada

Wow, that sure sounds like a fancy title for one of my blog posts, eh? Usually it's things like "Why I Like Cheeseburgers" or "Neat Things You Should Read".

Either way, it's accurate and what this post is about. 

This is not a knock against indie comics creators anywhere else- I know for a fact many of them face quite a few of the same challenges that we here in the Great White North have, but that's for them to write about, and this is what I am doing. I can say one thing- no matter what country you make indie comics in, you work your ass off to do so and you have my respect for that. As you should everyone else's that has ever made anything- the effort and time required to create is not something that you can quantify as anything more than "a lot". Even when things come easily, there' the journey that took you to that point. Alas, I digress. 

Creating comic books in Canada is full of many challenges that are unique to living here. First and foremost is that for independent creators, there are very few places where you can get your work actually printed. True, there are many quality printing companies throughout the country, but very few of them offer traditional comic book printing and those that do expect BASE print runs of 10,000+. Even at $1 each, that is far more money than most indie creators have. You're going to sit on most of that, even if the book sells well, for awhile and that is a ton of money to invest. 

Solutions to that come in one of three ways: don't print and stay strictly digital, find a different format (usually fancier and costing more) to print in, or go with a printer from either China (takes forever and quality is inconsistent) or the United States. Which brings us to the next challenge: paying in US dollars. 

Anytime you source out of Canada, whether for printing or for talent (aka artists), you pay in US money. Three years ago when I started making comics, it wasn't so bad- $1 Canadian was equal to $0.92 American. This has changed considerably since then, with the Canadian dollar averaging only 70 CENTS over the last year. 

What does that mean? It means when you pay an artist $300US you are actually putting out nearly $400 Canadian. 25-30% above the actual "cost" of what you are paying. If you average an indie comic's cost at $4000US (it's quite often higher), that means that, for a Canadian publisher, that book is setting them back over $5200. BEFORE it goes to print. 

Following that math, let's say we print with a US company, 200 copies of said book. Not a lot, but good enough for a decent selling convention. The average price for printing a 24 page comic book is $2.75 per book. US dollars. Two hundred books at $2.75 each, after exchange, comes to roughly $715 Canadian. Plus shipping. 

In the past three years, shipping from the US to Canada (and vice versa) has tripled in cost as fuel prices have gone up. Paying close to a dollar per book for shipping is not unheard of- and that's just regular no-frills shipping. With shipping thrown in, this single book has cost roughly $6000 for 200 copies. 

Unless you're able to sell those 200 copies for $30 each (good luck on that!), you clearly will not make money back this go around on it, and will have to continue to print books to start making a dent in the costs. Indie comics typically sell between $5-$10/copy, so assuming a price of $8 each means you will need to sell 1600+ copies to break even. 

Why so many? Why, that brings us to challenge number three! Getting the books out there. 

Many comic stores are run by awesome people who want nothing more than to help comics creators get out there and show off their stuff. Those same awesome people unfortunately work on very tight budgets with even more limited room to showcase their goods. What does that mean? It means that if you are lucky and have a great shop to work with, you may get a small space for your books and will sell them on consignment. If you are unlucky, you'll have to find somewhere else to sell your books. The most popular place to do so, of course being comic book conventions. 

Conventions are a great place to get your books out for people to see. Often folks are there looking for that kind of thing when they go there, though in recent years I, personally, have seen less and less people buying and more just checking stuff out as the emphasis has shifted away from comics and more to pop culture celebrations. I have a blast either way, but as a publisher, I want to see people spending money. Preferably on my books. 

There are always costs that are incurred in doing conventions- the tables, hotel rooms if applicable, travel to and from, and of course food and drinks. None of that comes cheap. Even if it's a local con, you can expect it to run you hundreds of dollars. Luckily these days we seem to have more and more conventions across Canada. I just got back from the fantastic SaskExpo last weekend and am very much looking forward to doing the C4 Comic Con in Winnipeg at the end of next month.   

The only problem with doing conventions in Canada, and it's also the same problem as generally getting your books out, is the distance. Canada is not a small country and getting across this great nation is time-consuming and expensive. It's also what you have to do if you want to build a following for your books. You might be able to get great digital sales (and more power to you if you can) but nothing sells a book like the creators getting to talk to the fans and general public about it. I've said it time and again, passion sells projects. Even more so than talent. 

So, so far we've covered the actual costs of making a book, the printing and shipping the book and the getting it out there. All of this is true of any indie comic book, all made a little harder due to the Canadian dollar these days, and I'm going to touch on one more; being a CANADIAN creator. 

As I said, I attended SaskExpo this past weekend, and one of the things I was able to do was take part in a Canadian Comics Creator panel alongside Justin and Donovan (my Canadian Corps creative partners) as well as Kurtis Wiebe (Rat Queens- great book, buy it) and Ed Brisson. One of the things that came up during the panel was about identifying as Canadian comic book creators and how, yes even though we're living in a global community now, that many creators don't make it a point that they are from here. 

In fact, many of them seem embarrassed to admit where they are from (nothing that is unique to comics, many entertainment industries seem like that) and yet some of the biggest names in the field are from Canada- David Finch, Marcus To, Jason Fabok, Ty Templeton, Fiona Staples, and many more. Jeff Lemire too, but he's from Toronto and well all know Toronto doesn't count itself with the rest of the nation. (I kid, sort of.)

Being a Canadian creator has a variety of challenges because people have certain expectations of what you should do or be- they want you to acknowledge your routes/where you are from but not in a way that is TOO Canadian (no Tim Horton's jokes apparently) but at the same time they want all the bombastic action and adventure one might find in an American production. It's a fine line to straddle. American enough for commercial success but Canadian enough that you aren't too American. Crazy, right? It's tough but it can be done. If you're willing to put the work in and if the audience is willing to give it a chance. 

A quick little story about that- at SaskExpo I broke one of the rules of selling as an indie comics guy. I had a guy come up and tell me how great it was that we were putting out this Canadian Corps book and how we were all-Canadian creators doing a book about all-Canadian heroes. He went on and on for about five minutes about how him and his friends are always saying that "this is exactly what we want and need more of" (I remember it very clearly) and I thanked him for his interest. 

This is where I made a mistake, however. It was clear that despite his supposed interest, he wasn't going to buy, and I made a comment along the lines that "lots of people say that they want more Canadian content but aren't willing to help support it". Without a doubt part of it was due to frustration, but part of it was merely stating a fact- there will be TONS of people who SAY that they want to support indie comics, but not actually DO it. 

Was I wrong to say what I did? Maybe. It was the truth, though I suppose I didn't have to say it. At the end of the day, all of these are challenges that any creator will face- be it comics, novels, music or art; only you can decide if it is worth it to you to do so. 

I know my answer and I look forward to seeing you at a convention sometime down the road. Maybe you'll buy something, maybe you won't, but maybe you'll have a greater appreciation for the hard work people put in to their projects. It's not easy but we think it's cool and fun and hopefully you will too. On behalf of all my fellow Canadian indie comics creators, thank you for your support.  

-Andrew

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