“Self-publish or perish.” These words can be found on every original work created by indie comic superstar Becky Cloonan. It’s more than a personal motto—it’s a call to arms to every creative individual in the comic book community. Traditionally, most graphic novel professionals strove to work for a large comic publisher and devoted their writing, drawing, editing, or design skills to develop the company’s library of stories. Now, with the growing popularity of print-on-demand and web comics, there is a push to develop more creator-owned projects. The work of artists like Cloonan, David Petersen, Faith Erin Hicks, and their contemporaries has inspired a wave of new and original storytelling, unfettered by the dictates of corporate interests. However, with this new freedom, has craft become even more crucial to capture the attention of new audiences?
The comic book publishing industry is changing rapidly, and these changes have given new opportunities to a host of talented storytellers. New art and content is pouring out from every corner of the country and all over the world, gathering new audiences everywhere. Once there were three big comic and graphic novel publishers that determined what was on shelves, but they are no longer the gatekeepers to the publishing world. A creator now has the option to develop their story from beginning to final product, and the stigma of self-published work being “lesser than” the big publishers has all but disappeared. In fact, creator-owned self-published graphic novels are seen as some of the best in the industry. They are viewed as complete works of art, full of personal experience and passion, and not watered down by the horde of separate styles found in a major comic series like The X-Men. This puts all of the focus on the creators, but also gives them full responsibility to craft something special.
Decisions on layout, book size, and even paper selection for the final product all play a role in how the finished piece is received. Do you work with an online distributor like IndyPlanet, or a small local press to publish your book? Or, do you forgo printing altogether and make your story available as a serialized web comic? Every one of these decisions must be given much thought and consideration, not only because of cost and development, but also because of audience preference. Cloonan’s last three self-published works were all produced with a local printer in Denver, CO. Painstaking attention was paid to color selection, paper weight, and book size. The final works are beautifully crafted stories that seem to rise above common faire, and are more art than pure entertainment. This is what fans of indie publishing are looking for in their purchases—an individual and unique experience.