Tuesday, January 05, 2016

NW Comics Talk, Show and Fest

Back in April of 2015 I was invited to speak at the first Northwest Comic Talks.  The premise of the event was fairly simple.  Seven different speakers were given the opportunity to give a ten minute talk on the topic of their choice.  For my talk I chose the topic of starting your own career in comics.  The talk centers around this topic as well as hurdles that I have faced being the owner of Darkslinger Comics. 
Due to time constraints and the fact that I am not used to public speaking, I did not cover everything that I had originally planned to.  This is the video for my talk:

Here is the original written speech, which goes into slightly more detail:
"For those of you that are not currently familiar with me, my name is Adam Watson and I am the owner of Darkslinger Comics as well as the writer of Ghost Assassin, Diary of a Dead Man, Chronicles of Van Helsing, The Pauper, The Principalities and El Bovine Muerte as well as several other upcoming titles.
            The most common question I get asked when exhibiting at comic conventions is how can I do this?  Tonight I would like to talk to you about that and hopefully answer some questions you may have or at the very least help you avoid some of the pitfalls I have experienced in my career.
            If you are interested in becoming a comic creator the first thing you must decide is what kind of a creator you want to be.  Are you a writer, an artist, an inker, a letterer or do you feel that you can do it all?  Do you want to self-publish?  Do creator owned through an established publisher or maybe you would prefer to work on preestablished characters?
            You can save yourself a lot of time and headaches if you clearly define your goals at an early stage.  When I first started out I did not have my goals clearly established and that cost me several years that could have been better spent working on my own characters and further establishing Darkslinger Comics.
            I have known for most of my life that I wanted to work in comics but it wasn’t until 2001 that I would begin to comprehend the exact career that I would end up pursuing.  From a young age I wanted to be an illustrator. Some of my earliest memories are of drawing Cobra soldiers killing GI Joes.  After discovering comics at around the age of ten it seemed obvious to me that this would be the field I would eventually go into.  I think that most children dreaming of a career in comics are dreaming about being an illustrator.  It seems to be a common thing for people, even comic fans, to not properly realize what it is that a comic writer does.
            Even after I discovered that comics often had more than a single person working on an issue, I still thought I could do it all.  However, at the age of seventeen I got into a head-on collision that caused me to receive a shattered wrist and lose the ability to draw as I could no longer hold a pencil correctly.  As it turns out that was for the best as I am a much better writer than I ever would have been an artist.
            I still wanted to work in comics in some fashion and at the age of 18 I thought I had figured out how.  I started my first business doing online comic retail.  That went fairly well until Nine-Eleven.  Like many things at the time, the comics collector market tanked and caused me to go completely broke.  On the plus side I had plenty of comics to read.
            I don’t remember the exact moment where I decided to try my hand at writing but it was at some point around this time.  I went back to work at a normal job and began writing at night and during my lunch breaks.  If this is something you are serious about doing you will always find the time to work at it.  I spent countless hours writing out stories and cover letters for submissions that I would send to Marvel Comics, Avatar Press and other established companies.  And I have an entire folder filled with rejection letters to prove it.  If this is something you really want to do you will need to get used to hearing the word "no."  There will be times that it seems that everyone in the industry has a job that consists solely of telling you that particular word.
            In hindsight I am glad that none of those submissions were accepted.  I do not believe that I would have been content to be the four-thousandth writer to tell a Batman story.  No offense meant if that is your career goal, we need writers to work on Batman, The X-MEN, etc….  That just isn’t what would make me happy.
            When you are first starting out you should always have someone who is objective to look over your work.  When I first started out the person who did that for me was a good friend of mine named Russell Roy.  Every time Russell read one of my stories he would point out that I spent more time writing about a character I had made up for it than I did on the pre-existing character that the story was supposed to be about.  He constantly tried to convince me to start my own company and to work solely on my own characters.  But to be perfectly honest at that time I was too afraid.  The sting of my first business failing was still fresh and if you are going to make your comics a reality you need to be as fearless as possible.
            In 2005 Russell died and that was the last push that I needed.  Life is too short to not follow your dreams.  Later that year I formed Darkslinger Comics, purchased a domain name and started the long process of deciding which of my stories would be the first to be published.  In February 2006 we published the first chapter of Ghost Assassin as a 12 page one-shot.
            The second most asked question I get at conventions from aspiring creators is “how much does it cost to produce something that looks like this?”  Unfortunately that isn’t a question that I can give an exact answer to as it would involve divulging page rates, prices that I have negotiated with printers, etc….but what I can say is that it costs over a thousand dollars to properly produce a single issue of a comic that looks like ours.  Keep in mind that there is no guarantee that you will sell even a single comic.  You should be prepared to lose money for at least the first few issues you release.  If you can manage to get preorders you may be able to cut the costs down dramatically but be careful not to solicit too early.  You don’t want people waiting for a year or two for a product they have already paid for.  A mistake we have made in the past.
            In my opinion one of the greatest skills you can have as a publisher is the ability to do basic math.  If the thought of working with numbers makes you queasy then you should seek out someone to help you before you start your first project.  In order to be successful you will need to be able to set budgets for your projects as well as estimating your costs for conventions you may plan on attending, gas costs to get to signings, marketing budgets, etc...Make sure to keep accurate records.  There is no way of really knowing how successful you are becoming if you have no clue what your profits and/or losses are.
            Before you can really begin you should figure out the specs of your project or at least have an idea in your head of where you are going.  Is this going to be an ongoing story, a mini-series, an 80 page graphic novel or maybe a weekly updated webcomic?  I made the mistake of not knowing where I was going with Ghost Assassin when I released the first issue.  In contrast I had a very good idea of where I wanted Chronicles of Van Helsing to go and have managed to produce almost twice the amount of issues in that series in a much shorter amount of time.
            The third most frequently asked question I get is from writers specifically and it is "How do you find an artist to work with?"  The good news is that the internet has made this a much easier process than it would have been in the past.  I recommend posting clearly written ads on sites like Deviantart, Digital Webbing and Linked In.  You may also be able to successfully network at conventions but do not pester anyone.  If you start to annoy creators at the show it will get around and no one wants to be that guy or girl.
            After teaming with an artist the steps will vary depending on what you intend to do with your project.  You may need to hire additional creative’s such as an inker, colorist and letterer.  If you are going the print route you will want to shop your project around.  Do not make the mistake of talking to only one printing company.  Learn printing terminology if you can as knowing the proper language will save you a lot of headaches.  A good printer will help you out in whatever ways they are able but remember their job is the printing part.  Yours is to make sure they receive the files formatted correctly the first time.  Most printers charge a fee if they need to do any major adjustments to your project before printing.
            Before you can decide on a print run size you will need to decide what type of distribution you want to do.  Do you want to offer your book through a distribution service like Diamond or would you prefer the do it yourself method? If your plan is to mainly use conventions as your distribution method you may want to try a print on demand method.  The per issue costs are higher but it will save you from having to store multiple boxes in your bedroom.  We used this method for Ghost Assassin and The Pauper, our first two titles.  Using this method helped me in building a reputation and a fan base while keeping my costs affordable.  If you are using conventions as your main method of distribution do not make the mistake of packing up every copy you have printed.  Take only what you think you can sell.  Trying to transport five hundred copies to California and back is the quickest way to damage your inventory.  I know several self publishers that have learned this lesson the hard way.
            The last piece of advice I would like to give you may be the most important.  After you have published your first work, take a look at it and recognize your accomplishments.  And then get back to work.  You will find that people will be more likely to come by your table at a convention if you have more than one thing on it.  In addition, people will start to skip over you if they assume they have seen everything you have to offer.  It is important to continue to market your first work, but recognize that your second, third, fourth, etc….are every bit as important.
            Thank you very much for your time.  I hope I have answered some of the questions you may have.  If you are interested in learning more about our books please visit www.darkslinger.com"

 Shortly after the NW Comic Talks the event's owner, Casey Ocupe, invited me to appear on his comic themed talk show titled "Northwest Comic Show."  The episode I appear in can be viewed here:
In addition to the Northwest Comic Show and the Northwest Comic Talks Casey also owns the Northwest Comic Fest which is an annual event that takes place in Salem, Oregon.  He is currently seeking funding through Kickstarter to make this year's event completely free for patrons.  If you are interested in learning more about this project please visit it at:
The Free Comic Conventions Project