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Playing to the Strengths of Black & White comics

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In my last column I announced that with my new graphic novel, American Terrorist, finally finished, I would be releasing a small print run of it in black & white for NYCC 2011, and then make the color version available digitally at about the same time.

The reason for splitting up these two versions mostly came down to economics, but one of the other motivations was that I also feel as if I’m playing to the strengths of both print and digital.

Clearly color comics look good in print as well as digital, but it’s the cost of printing these comics that becomes problematic, especially for small print runs. And this extra cost gets past on to the consumers in the form of higher cover prices. And this isn’t good for a small publisher trying to gain new readers, or for comic buyers hoping to keep their budget down.

I also think it should be mentioned that black & white comics are vastly underrated. When done right, the contrast of light and dark can really improve the graphic nature of the storytelling, and often I feel it increased the emotional intensity of the characters and the drama.

Recently during the production process of American Terrorist, while we were lettering the pages for print, I was able to look over the black & white artwork again. I feel as if it really holds up well. I was afraid at one point that the pages might feel to bare, especially since I prefer not to fill the pages with word balloons allowing Andy’s storytelling skills to do their work.

Here are a couple examples of black & white pages lettered and ready for print.

      

They look so good like this I almost start to convince myself I didn’t need to have it colored. But then I go back and look at Matt Wilson and Michael Wiggam’s beautiful color work, they way it compliments Andy’s art perfectly, and I realize it does add a new dimension to already incredible artwork.

The best conclusion that I’ve come to is that the graphic novel looks great both ways. And as much as I’d love to go and print large quantities of both versions, I know that this would not be a smart economic decision.

And that’s one lesson I try to share with new creators starting up a new comic: don’t over extend yourself financially. Being a comic creator is a long and arduous process. If you commit yourself too much financially into too many costs, things will fall apart before you’ve given it a chance to really get started. You need to be able to commit the effort into the creative process, improving your craft and moving forward, not trying to figure out how to sell off a large print run of your first work.

When talking to fellow, seasoned indie creators, we often bring up the fact that most of us have boxes of our first comic still sitting in our closets. Some of them have even decided to just throw them out, figuring it’s better to move on and not have that stagnant energy in the house.

I was lucky enough to eventually sell out of my first issue of Adrenaline; it’s numbers 2 & 3 that I still have a bunch of. And it’s not that any of us printed such at such a high quantity because we were convinced we would sell a ton of copies. We did it because when you print comics, you almost have to go with a high print run just so the cost per unit will be low enough that you stand to make some small profit between that cost and what we sell it for. And if we wanted it distributed, then we’re talking about selling copies at wholesale, which makes it even more difficult to clear a profit.

That’s why I’m not going to bother distributing this small print run of the American Terrorist graphic novel. I’m not printing enough copies to bring the cost down enough to sell it wholesale. I figured since I’m not going to sell a lot of my comics through mainstream distribution anyway, I might as well print an even small number that I feel comfortable selling myself. That way I can at least bring in the cover price, and I’ll do my best to keep that down because I want to encourage new readers.

And it’s not as if I’m limiting my audience. The color version will be digital, and the great thing about digital is that not only is there no cost for printing, but I also don’t have to estimate demand. There will always be enough digital copies available.

Once both versions of the graphic novel are released, I’ll have a better sense of the demand. If I managed to cover my basis on all audiences, digital vs. print, and black & white vs. color, then I’m all set. If there happens to still be a demand for a printed color version, well, then I’d be happy to oblige. That’s the key to staying flexible.


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Tyler Chin-Tanner started his own publishing company, A Wave Blue World, where he wrote and drew layouts for Adrenaline, its flagship series, Adrenaline and wrote its latest graphic novel, American Terrorist.
© 2011 Tyler Chin-Tanner.  All rights reserved.
Email: tyler@awaveblueworld.com

www.awaveblueworld.com

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