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LESSONS LEARNED #2

By Chris Gumprich. (Originally appeared May 1, 2005)

Last time I started telling you about my first minicomic, a little eight-pager called Recriminations that was going to be my key to fame, fortune, and the Tall Comics Dollars. It didn't quite turn out that way, and the fault lies with myself and the mistakes I made. Listen and learn. I screwed up so that you don't have to.

Recriminations was the first script I wrote after making the decision to seriously pursue a comics career, back in 2001. It was an eight-pager with what I thought was a neat little twist at the end. Needing an artist, I found one through Digital Webbing. She agreed to draw and letter the script for no money, and in exchange I would do my best to see that the story was published. Two years later, I made the decision to publish it myself as a mini-comic.

Not wanting to spend a lot of money, I did most of the work myself - paste-up, a collage for the cover, title and credits - using my computer, printer, scanner, scissors, and glue. If this sounds not unlike a grade two art project, then you have a pretty good idea what the end result looked like. In my eyes, it was a little rough, but hey, it was only a minicomic. Most of the problems won't show up in the final version. (Important Point #1, which I will be going back to many times over the course of these columns: If it looks funny in the roughs, it will look ten times worse in the finished version. Everybody, and I mean everybody, will notice.)

Flushed with adrenaline, I went down to the local 24-hour copy center. With me I had my finished pages, a mock-up copy of the comic, and a clear idea of how much money I wanted to spend. After standing in line behind three students getting their theses bound , I greeted the girl behind the counter with my widest smile. She was barely awake.

"Hi, I'd like to get these printed. Here are the originals, and here's a mockup showing exactly how they should be laid out. I've labeled all of the pages showing what should go where. Do you need anything else?"

She took the originals, examined the mockup, and shook her head. "You want these in a booklet form?"

"You bet."

"How many copies do you want?" I had done the math before I arrived - three sheets of normal paper, double-sided, would cost 6 cents a side if I ordered 100, 4 cents a side at 250, and 2 cents a side if I took 500. But 500 seemed to be pretty high, and if I ordered 100 I would sell out too quickly (heh). 250 copies would set me back sixty dollars plus tax, well within my budget.

"I'll take 250 copies, please."

"If you want, we can assemble them for you. It will (something) five cents a copy."

Wow, this was getting even better! Here I was worried that I would be spending a few hours folding and stapling - a nickel more a copy and they'll do it all for me. A quick calculation. $72.50 plus tax. My budget was safe.

"Sure!"

"Okay, you can pick them up tomorrow and pay for it then."

I left the store, went to the nearest bar to celebrate my birth as a publisher, went home for a good night's sleep, and returned bright and early the next morning to pick up the comics. The shift had changed, and it wasn't the same clerk I had dealt with before. He brought out a box of comics for me to confirm - and they looked, well, okay. There was a white border around all of the pages - even the wraparound cover. And it was clear that I had put the cover together with scissors and glue. Who cares, it's my first comic!

"Looks fine," I said, pulling out my bank card. "How much do I owe you?"

The clerk checked the invoice and hit a few buttons on the register. "One hundred two dollars and fifty cents."

My jaw hit the floor.

"Are you sure? That sounds higher than I had expected."

The clerk showed me the invoice - 250 copies, four cents a side, plus booklet assembly at twenty-five cents per. That was when I realized Important Point #2: Pay close attention when discussing cost. Recriminations, with its cover price of $1.00, had cost 41 cents to make. After deducting the cost of postage and sundry, I would be left with a profit of around 25 cents per issue sold. After considering the costs of the freebee copies that I was planning on sending out to reviewers, pros, and my artist, I would have to sell every single copy to have any hope of not losing money on this run.

I pulled out my credit card, paid the bill, and tried to stay optimistic. It wasn't the end of the world. As soon as the reviews started coming in, I was sure to sell every single copy.