Creating the comic for the System Apocalypse was an interesting process. I had a lot of things to learn and even more that I had not even realised I needed to know.
I have to also start this post by thanking my Patrons. Without their contribution, I would not have dared to start this process. The entire cost of getting 1 comic up was in the US$3,000 range and they contributed to about a 1/3 of the cost.
Even though I had the story for the System Apocalypse, I did not have a comic book script. A comic script is very different from prose and requires information like the number of panels, what is inside the panels and the text within each page.
I did some basic research on writing a comic script and realised, I really had no time to write one myself properly. So, I ended up hiring Lewis Hefland to help out. He read the book, confirmed the proper ‘stopping point’ for issue 1 and then worked out the page breakdowns and, yes, the script.
Together, we then worked out what should be in the script. I think, after finishing the first issue, that the initial few pages are still too wordy. More could be done with the graphics, but for a first issue, I won’t complain.
Cost per page: $35 per page (so $770). Not including the cost of reading the book.
After that, finding an artist was the next step. So. Art is interesting because it’s subjective to some extent. While it is possible to find artists who are good (and relatively) cheap, it also takes time. As they say – good, fast and cheap, pick two of three. There’s also the danger of finding people who are cheap but either non-reliable or just really, really slow.
In general, I much prefer paying a decent sum for artists because (again, in general) those who are taking ‘recommended’ rates are professionals. They are much, much less likely to disappear or not complete a project.
Of course, references are very useful for that too.
Anyway, I ended up getting references to JC Grande from Lewis. I also hit up r/comicbookcollabs to look for artist needing work. Though, I realised later (when doing cover art); you’re better off doing a post asking for collabs and indicating its paid than browsing direct. You’ll get a lot more people that way.
Eventually, I got JC hired after some consideration and he started pumping out work. He did a great job overall, I had a couple of things I wanted to change and he did those without a problem. It still took longer than I’d like, but since I had no specific deadline, it was not a huge issue.
Something to note – in comic terms, there are numerous types of artists. There are the Penciller, Inker, Colorist and Letterer. Now, you can often find a Penciller & Inker together, and many artist will do all 4. Of course, specialists are better at their job (in general) than generalists, but in turn, you are looking at the same work 4 times with the appropriate time cost. In my case, I went with JC because he did it all.
Cost: $90 per page. (Total $1980)
About 95% of the way in, I realised I needed cover art. I eventually used JC’s cover art (and internal pages), but I also hired and got a few other pieces of cover art created by a couple of other artists. This was partially because I wanted to try to get something really cool (JC hadn’t sent his in yet) and also because I wanted to see what happened if I did it another way.
The new cover art was great, if a little too happy, so I ended up not using it for the actual comics. I might add them as additional artwork in the graphic novel version though, which would be kind of cool.
Cost: will vary. In my case, all the different colouring and multiple options ended up costing me around $400
Once all the artwork was done, I had to figure out distribution. Basically, my online options were Amazon, Comixology and a few other sites. None of them really have a lot of traffic, but I ended up loading up the comics on all the sites I could. That was when I found out that Comixology takes months to review and approve comics, a nasty little surprise.
At the present moment, the System Apocalypse online comic is basically on Amazon, Google Books, Kobo and a few other smaller comic dedicated sites. I’ve yet to see any sales on those other sites, but, again, Comixology seems to be the mainstay of income for comic creators. Not that I’m sure I’ll get approved but… here’s hoping.
One of the most painful aspects of distribution has been figuring out how to do print. Print-on-Demand is expensive and required quite a bit of finagling with the files. I’m pretty sure I burnt over 12 hours figuring it out over a course of 4/5 days. And even then, the cost of a single print copy is right now $7.99. Just print cost alone is nearly $4 (not including Amazon’s ‘cut’).
All in all, if I ever want to bring print cost down, I need to do a print run.
One of the biggest issues with pricing is the cost of distribution and the distributors cut. With anyone but Amazon, my % takehome is much higher. Amazon takes a ton and charges me a bunch due to the size of the image files. As such, while I’d love to lower the price, currently, $3.99 means I actually earn a little bit (rather than $0.20-.30 a copy).
Print pricing, due to PoD as mentioned above is high at $7.99. I’m not happy with it, but I doubt that’s going to change since producing a print run is going to be even more thousands.
Results & Thoughts
It’s been just over a month or so since I released the comic. In that time, I’ve sold 129 e-copies and 4 print copies. That’s a total revenue of approximately $215.
Even adding the $1000 something dollars I got from my Patrons, I have about $1215 compared to the cost of $3150. That’s a net loss of approximately US$2,000.
Obviously, this is only the first month and I can expect more sales in the future. But, as any author will let you know, on-going sales drop each month. So, I expect, I’ll see maybe $50 a month or so on average for a bit, before it dies off entirely in a year or so (without new content). All in all, I might make another $600 if I don’t do anymore.
So, this is an obvious loss. I kind of guessed that it would be – as I’ve mentioned to some people, this was as much a passion project as anything. Losing $2k is not the end of the world and I can write it off as a marketing expense. In fact, that’s pretty much how I see the comic.
Which leaves me with 2 options.
- lean into the marketing expense entirely and sell the comic for $0.99. That’ll mean that I earn… like $0.35 a comic. Or make it free (by telling Amazon I have it free somewhere else, like on this site). That’ll allow a lot more people to see the comic and hopefully interest them in reading the System Apocalypse.
- gamble with the idea that I might be able to do a little more with this by producing the remainder 5 comics to finish book 1. That’ll give me a 6 series issue, which could be consolidated into a 132 page graphic novel. The vague plans is to then do a Kickstarter to print the graphic novels. The negative of this is that it’ll cost me around $3k per comic, so an additional cost of $18k. Assuming I make back only $300 per comic release, I’m looking at a net loss of $16k. At that point, I’d have to net at least $20k from a Kickstarter to breakeven, so about a 1250 backers (assuming I have to add about $5k for shipping cost).
Thus far, I’m still debating what to do. Obviously, that above math in a straight line fashion doesn’t really work. More comics means more likely sales on back issues as well as the new release. At the same time, the graphic novel might kick off even more interest.
The ONLY reason I’m even considering option 2 is because of Patreon. Because of the added income from those patrons, I can partly off-set the production of these books. At the end of the day, creating the comic was fun, but spending $20k for ‘fun’ is not viable. It’s why I’m hesitating on getting issue 2 done, because I KNOW issue 2 won’t make me money back. The only path to making money that I can see is for the comic to become a graphic novel in print format which, as mentioned, is an $18k additional expense.
So, right now, comics are going to be on a hiatus till I figure out what I’m going to do. If Comixology lets me in and there’s a change in these numbers (which I expect there to be), that decision might change. I’ll also probably talk to some fellow writers later.
Would it be worth trying to fund the comics, or a complete adaption via IndieGoGo or Kickstarter?
It may require a fair bit of time, social networking, and getting the word out via interviews, or live streams, but it has been a successful route for others. Surely JC and Lewis, the artist and adaption writer would be keen for such an endeavour to be profitable and could looks at sharing the marketing load?
It’s definitely something that others have done. But one of the reasons why I’m leery about it is the time cost.
Time spent building up a Kickstarter / IndieGoGo is time not writing. Which is important. I have been considering getting a part-time employee to help with a bunch of admin stuff, so that might work if I gave them this option. But it’s still a bunch of work for potentially no return. We also need to figure out rewards (which might or might include physical copies). Then we have to figure out where we’d store the physical copies, the cost of storage and shipping, etc. The more successful kickstarter’s for comics generally do have printed versions.
So. The answer is – it’s complicated and a lot of time with no guarantee of a return. But yes, it could work out well. It might fit with some of my other plans in the future, but that’ll have to wait till I get back from my holiday / Dragoncon/etc.