I was checking one of my favorite sites, Mangablog
, and from there I was led to a link of a recent blog post by Becky Cloonan
about floppies vs. graphic novels and how the whole Original Graphic Novel thing can't keep on the way it is. Too demanding, not enough pay, and individual volumes tend to disapear on the shelves with the rest of the masses unless they are lucky enough to receive a hefty amount of promotion. A lot of people have been discussing this on the web and many good points have been brought up.
As for my own perspective, I'm in a situation where I am not a graphic novelist- I work on a monthly book for Archie comics. When I first got the job 3 years ago, it was just the beginning of the "OEL" boom. Lindsay Cibos and Jared Hodges, the grand prize winners of the same RSOM I was in, were signed on by TOKYOPOP to create Peach Fuzz as a series, and many more artists soon followed in their footsteps and were being recruited by TPOP to create original graphic novels.
I admit at first, part of me was a little sad that I wouldn't get to jump into graphic novels right away - especially since floppies seemed to be a dying breed. Back then, it sometimes felt like TOKYOPOP was an awesome party that I wasn't invited to (although we often flirted!).
But now that I've been working on Sabrina for 3 years I can definitely see the advantages of this format. Not only do I get the gratification of seeing my work on newsstands consistently, I have a steady paycheck. Every week I turn in pages, and every 2 weeks I get a paycheck. It's nice! As long as I keep doing my work, I don't have to worry about when my payment will arrive (a rarity in the world of freelance!).
I've also been lucky in regards to getting fans and loyal readers. Rather than putting out one graphic novel, and trying to maintain my audience's attention for the next year until the next one comes out, I'm fortunate that new issues of my work are available at any given time, and that each month, I gain new readers. For every issue I get feedback - I can tweak a future storyline if I realize my fans aren't digging the direction I'm going in, or sometimes I'll deliberately do the opposite just to stir the fans up! (Hehehe) For example, if most of my readers claim that they want to see more of a certain character, I can arrange that. Or it the majority say they want to see Sabrina and Shinji get back together, I can bring in a third love interest just to make things interesting! It's this kind of interaction with my readers that I value. It's the ability to change my storyline and direction month by month. Of course, I have a "master plan" of major plot points, but it's nice to have some breathing room and the chance to be spontaneous with my stories. And now that I've already worked on close to 30 issues, there is more than enough material to make into graphic novels. (Archie already released my issues 1-4 in a mini trade
I'm not trying to sound like a braggart, it's just that floppies really have
been getting a bit of a bad rap lately. There have been times that I've felt that I don't get as much respect as a monthly comic artist as opposed to a graphic novelist, because floppies are "disposable" and temporary, while graphic novels have a more lasting appeal and are the "in" thing right now. Even I am to blame. I have failed at times to realize that graphic novels are not the only
or even the best comic format. Are there problems with the monthly format? Yes. There's a reason that sales are dwindling and that more and more people are saying "I'll wait for the trade". It's a problem that floppies just can't be found as easily anymore. One pretty much has to go into a comic store to get comics, (and comic stores are also dwindling), whereas graphic novels can be easily found in the comfort of your local Borders or Barnes & Noble. Then there's all the annoying ads that you have deal with in a floppy. There's nothing like reading a story only to turn the page and find an 8-page comic insert advertising goldfish crackers. And now with Diamond having so much say over what makes it onto comic store shelves, a lot of aspiring creators can't break into the business of producing their own floppies. The good thing is that TOKYOPOP has given a lot of talented people jobs who may have been ignored in the regular comics world.
And you know, it's always been one of my personal dreams to look on a shelf and see it filled with graphic novels that I've created or worked on. To have a hefty product - with a spine!
Something that gets to hang out with books
on the bookshelf and not over there
, wilting on the comic rack. I envy these Japanese creators who have 10+ volumes and multiple series on the shelves, and I marvel at how much work it must be to get to that point. I love reading manga because I get a satisfying chunk of story at once. Because I can sit down and spend a good hour reading a volume, as opposed to a floppy which I can breeze through in 15 minutes. There was a time when I would have given an arm and a leg to sign on with TOKYOPOP. Over the years I tried often to get something going with them. And, ironically, now that I've sort of stopped pursuing that, they've approached me about doing a one volume graphic novel. (Paperwork has not yet been signed, so I won't go into detail).
But I'm sort of glad that the last three years of my life have not been tied up creating graphic novels. I have several friends in the business, and I see how they struggle at times, how the workload and the payoff sometimes appear to be incongruous. I'm glad that I have had the chance to pursue my own side projects in addition to Sabrina - I've been able to put together Mangaka America
, and maintain a webcomic
as well as work on some other projects that have yet to be seen by the public. And hobbies! Yes, I even have some time for hobbies. Because I've always felt that it's really important for people to balance work with leisure. Too much of either is a bad thing, but if you can balance both, you'll be happier and less stressed.
But I digress. Now that it's possible that I'll be doing a graphic novel for TOKYOPOP, I am realizing how challenging it's going to be. To dedicate a year of my life - in advance - to this project, and then trying to balance that with Sabrina - and future volumes of Mangaka America - is a tough pill to swallow. Sabrina was my first gig and it's a good
gig. Because of that I still consider it my #1 priority. I'm not willing to let my work on Sabrina suffer because of other projects that may come along. But other projects are necessary because, let's face it, Sabrina isn't going to pay all the bills. As a result, I have let TOKYOPOP know that I'm going to need to find an inker and a toner for my book because there's just no way I can do the whole thing myself in the time frame they want. I know some artists may find it hard to let go of having that full creative control, but I actually feel very comfortable with it if I'm working with a team I feel good to be a part of . I guess that's another reason I'm lucky to have Sabrina. I get to work with inker Jim Amash, and colorist Jason Jensen, and a variety of letterers to put an issue together and, corny as it sounds, I've learned the benefits of working with a team. And this is the sort of thing I feel really needs to happen more with graphic novels. Like Becky pointed out, in Japan, graphic novels are rarely done by one single person. These artists have assistants - sometimes as many as 10! Contrast that with the young American artist - often just starting out, creating a 160 page graphic novel for a market that, while growing, is still nowhere near the Japanese level of comic-consumption, and then to expect that same artist to do everything from the script, the thumbnails, the pencils, characters, backgrounds, inks, and tones, and sometimes even the lettering- does
sound kind of crazy! Add that to the fact that they have to pretty much self-promote the hell out of their books, it's really amazing that any of them have managed to do it at all! Well, I'm sure they've learned a lot from the process, at least!
I hope with my own graphic novel I'll be able to enjoy the support of a small team, but the biggest hurdle will be finding one. The budgets for these projects are already so low, that there is hardly anything I could offer an inker, money-wise. And, unfortunately, part of having a happy team is making sure that everyone feels like they're being paid fairly for their efforts. It's just such a difficult thing to balance.
I find it so frustrating that this industry, one that provides good entertainment, that encourages kids to read, that inspires and gets imaginations flowing, that leads to blockbuster movies and merchandising, would have so little money to spend on the hardworking artists that are a part of it. I just did a 3-panel comic strip for a soft drink company and I got paid more for that one
strip than I do for a whole issue of writing and drawing Sabrina! They're not even going to end up using it and I still
got paid for it. Why is it that advertising has so much money to burn? That's a rhetorical question, of course.One just has to open up any floppy to see that advertising is probably the one thing keeping this industry afloat. (And it makes me wonder how much the people drawing those Goldfish cracker comics actually get paid...) That aside, I sometimes feel that a big comics union would be a good thing for artists... but that would probably be pointless anyway, since most of us are freelancers. It's not like we can start demanding higher "salaries" or "benefits".
Anyway, I'm not sure what I'm trying to say other than that I share Becky's frustration with the way things are going. I don't want to see this industry die, but I don't especially like where it's going, either...
Will this industry eventually drown under it's own weight? I think it's possible. I agree that there definitely needs to be changes made because it really can't
continue like this for the next 5, 10 years. Something has to give, or it will collapse. Now, I'm no expert on business. I'm definitely too right brained for that. But these are my sort of suggestions, or rather, "wish list", of what I'd like to see more of in the comics world. These are things I feel could potentially strengthen or even save comics (and the creators!) although I know people will probably come back and say that my ideas are un-realistic or there's too many potential problems, etc etc. I understand that nothing is ever as easy in execution as it is on paper, but nonetheless, this is what I'd like to see in a happier, healthier comic book industry:
I'm going to agree with Becky wholeheartedly on the concept of anthologies, or collaborative works where artists can showcase their work in a monthly format, which can later enjoy being collected into a graphic novel format. I actually wrote a column
about this a while back, as it's something I'd really like to see more of.
I always hear people say "but it's too expensive" or "it's too risky" or "it's not cost effective". But I guess I fail to see how this would differ from what TOKYOPOP has already been doing. It's just another way of presenting the material - one that I feel could be more successful. Let's say, for the sake of this example, TPOP decides to "take a risk" on 8 artists. Each artist signs a contract with TOKYOPOP to do at least one 160 page graphic novel, with the possibility of 2 more. TPOP isn't sure whether or not these books will pay off until they are completed and in stores, so it's a risk and an investment on their part. But lets say these same artists sign a contract to do 160 pages, but in 20 page installments. Every two months TPOP releases a graphic novel sized book with 160 pages, but with 20 pages from each artist. And two months later, the next one, and so on, until the 8th volume is complete. The stories which have received the best reaction could then possibly graduate to their own title, and new artists could be phased in from time to time to keep things fresh. Of course, this is a very simplistic view of the matter. I know printing costs and distribution are things that would make it difficult to release something like this every two months. But what if they lowered the "quality" of the graphic novel format and made it more like a magazine? TPOP was printing and mailing out free copies of their Takuhai magazine every couple months for a while there (I'm not sure if they're still doing this...). But that was a full-color magazine with new articles, activities, and comic previews, and printed on nice paper. If they could afford to do this and mail it out for free, why not make a b/w version, on cheaper paper with a few stories by OEL artists and charge a small subscription fee? Well, maybe there's something I'm missing, but I'm surprised it hasn't really been done yet. (Except for Drama Queen's yaoi Rush anthology - which has proved to be high quality at a reasonable price.)
2. Pay what it's worth.
Graphic novels have been often touted as the "savior" of the comic format. Many have seen them as a way to preserve what is perceived as a dying format, and it seems to be working so far. However, I strongly feel that if graphic novels are expected to take on this lofty task of saving comics, then publishers should put more money into making them. Especially with so many publishers jumping on this trendy graphic novel bandwagon, they clearly expect to gain something from it. If they're so confident about diving into the graphic novel arena as a way to tap into a hot trend, then they should show their enthusiasm with dollar signs and put more faith in their artists to put together a good product. If this means they have to be more picky about what they choose to print, so be it. At least quality standards will be higher, and readers appreciate a high-quality product - not something that appears rushed. And if artists get paid what they deserve to make a graphic novel, they won't have to go fishing for as many freelance jobs on the side to pay bills, so all their time, energy, and focus can go into making a great graphic novel. A graphic novel in itself is a huge chunk of work - it's a year of someone's life. And with more and more graphic novels gaining recognition and acclaim, their worth as a medium is growing, but the paychecks aren't. Bigger budgets would also be able to allow for more...
3. Team work
Graphic novels don't have to take a year to complete. Not if the lead artist has a team of assistants to help get the job done! I would love to see more teamwork and collaboration in graphic novels. Not only does this give more people the chance to break into the business, but it also provides a neat sort of mentorship, where the assistants learn the trade by doing
, and by following the examples set by the lead artist. But this is tied in to my previous suggestion, which is for publishers to invest more money into their graphic novels. If the assistants can get paid what they're worth, they're more likely to really do a good job, and this creates a better product overall. Also, publishers gain by having their product finished in less time so it can start making money sooner. And with volumes coming out more frequently, it is easier to maintain the interest of the readers and attract new fans. And when fans get to read their favorite titles with less downtime in-between, even better!
4. TOKYOPOP is not the only publisher
Are they the one's who sort of started all this? Yes. Are they the leading publisher of Global Manga? Yes. But they aren't the only
ones doing it. Del Rey is starting to experiment with Global Manga, and so is DramaQueen and a number of other smaller publishers. And then there's all the major book publishers. Graphic novels are "in" right now, and many book publishers are starting to get into publishing graphic novels, or are at least interested in getting into it. Some may not know the best way to approach it, but the interest is definitely there. Even my own webcomic, My Poorly Drawn Life
, has received interest to be printed as a graphic novel by a major publisher, and that was the last thing I would have expected! Memoirs like Fun Home and American Born Chinese have shown what is possible for this format. And the nice thing about big book publishers is that they often have larger budgets and distribution. You don't have to deal with Diamond when you work for a book publisher. Your book can be special-ordered by comic shops but are sold primarily in bookstores, not the other way around. They also have a close relationship with the major book chains and have strong marketing departments. Unfortunately, it is harder to get your work seen by a book publisher, since many don't accept unsolicited material. It usually requires some word of mouth or other creative device to get noticed by these big publishers. Which brings me to...
5. Self Publishing
Everyone knows that self-publishing is hard
. And few can expect to make a profit off it. But those who are persistent - really persistent, do get noticed after a while, especially if they have a strong web presence. Right now, comics pays so poorly that it's almost worth it to try self-publishing. You can expect to pay out of pocket for all of the expenses, but at least your material is your own
. And once you have a finished product, it is that much easier to get picked up by a publisher, because by having made your own comic you have proved that you can handle all aspects of the process and follow through with creating a complete package - story, pencils, inks, letters, etc. Unfortunately, getting your comic distributed is a whole other story, especially since Diamond has made it so hard to even get into their catalog. So I say forget Diamond and forget about self-publishing floppies because it's going to be too tough to get through those doors. Instead of floppies, self-publish graphic novels. Is this more work? Yes. Is it more expensive to print? Yes. But! If it has a spine, and if you buy it a barcode you can at least sell it on Amazon, and you have a better chance of getting it onto bookshelves overall. But how does one afford to do all this? This is where teamwork comes in again. What if 10 people got together to self-publish an anthology? These ten people could split the costs and if you still wanted to go the Diamond route, they might be more willing to take a product that has multiple artists involved. They can easily turn down a single comic by an artist they don't like, but if there's a graphic novel with a variety of art styles and content, they may feel it to has more potential to sell. And what about taking the teamwork even further and teaming up not just with your friends, but with other small self-publishers? Each company can arrange to have one portion of the book, and all the expenses and profits could be shared. Of course, this can also be tricky to orchestrate, and contracts would have be exchanged and all that. But again, once you have a solid, professional product, it's that much easier to show it to book publishers and try to get them to buy your idea and take over the printing and distribution costs.
It used to be that you could subscribe to almost any comic book and have it delivered to your door each month. You see how well magazines handle subscriptions - they can offer them at a fraction of the cover price, simply because they can avoid distribution fees that way. And not only is it harder to find comic stores these days, but I've gone into a shop looking for something only to realize it's not there. Then the shop owner will tell me "I can re-order it from Diamond" or he'll tell me to give him a list ahead of time of what to order, but that's really not something I want to do! When I physically go into a store to buy something, I want it to be there. I don't want to have tell the store to order X and Y months in advance. I don't want to order it after I find out it's not there. I'd rather save myself the trip and just subscribe to the things I want, and have them delivered directly to me. I know if subscriptions were more common then comic stores would suffer even more. But what it comic stores took the initiative to offer mailed subscriptions? I know Midtown Comics here in NY does that. That way they could still sell comics, but perhaps to an even wider audience. Anyway, on a self-publishing side, subscriptions is another way to get your book directly into the hands of readers, and bypass Diamond altogether. I think this could also work with magazine-style anthologies, sort of like Shonen Jump, but with original content, and released bi-monthly or even quarterly.
Phew! So anyway, those are my thoughts on the issue. This has been my longest post in some time. But I guess I had a lot to say! ^_^ What do you guys think? Am I living in a fantasy land or being overly pessimistic? Or do you also believe in change?