Making Comics – Part 5 – Comic Conventions

Comic Conventions

Want to sit behind a table and promote your book to the foot traffic in Artist Alley? Artist Alley is the name for the section of a comic convention dedicated to lower cost tables for artists and writers to sell copies of the books, prints and merchandise. The price of a table is usually a lot less than an exhibitor booth, but the larger the convention the more they charge for a table. Small local shows are your best bet when you are starting out and learning what works and how to make the most of your investment. You need to consider your audience before jumping into a table registration.

Anime conventions work pretty much the same way as comic conventions, though you’ll find the attendees are much more open to independent comics. That is the drawback to comic conventions, the audience is a mix of families, teen geeks and older generation geeks, usually with a heavy investment in the Marvel and DC super hero universes. Few independent comics command the sort of loyalty from these readers of major titles like Batman, X-Men and so forth. If these readers have to make cuts to their comic book store pull list, then they are most likely going to prioritize their monthly fix of core Marvel and DC titles. Indie comics just don’t get as much engagement from this audience as they deserve. That’s why Anime cons are such a revelation for creators like Adam Whithers and Comfort Love, creators of Rainbow in the Dark and the Uniques. They were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and interest of attendees at these shows.

Utilizing Your Space

The table is usually about 6′ ft long and bringing a table throw is a simple way to improve the presentation of your work and improve your table’s appearance. It’s a good idea to raise the eye-line a little, for example with a display stand for your books, or signage on table stands. You can also buy a vertical scroll banner, or create a PVC tube display stand to hang your banner or display your prints. I personally think artists at anime shows get a little too carried away creating a wall of their prints to hide behind. Much better to have a table that stands out from the rest than tries to hard and just becomes a blur of color.

My advice, don’t stand there yelling at passersby like you’re some mad circus ringmaster. There’s nothing more annoying than a loud mouth salesman trying to rope you into some sort of purchase or forced conversation. Let your signage and display catch their interest (put in the effort in your presentation) and if they make eye contact with you, then engage them with a smile and greeting and gesture at your work on the table with a wave of a hand. No pressure, just a friendly and quiet offer for them to check out your table on their own terms. Sometimes its good to look busy, sort through your supplies under the table or talk to your neighbors. This also seems to help attract passersby to take a peek without the threat of an immediate sales pitch. In fact, try not to be a salesman at all. Instead engage attendees at your table in friendly conversation about whereabouts they’re from and whether they are interested in your genre. No one wants to talk to an asshole or an uber-nerd, so as Han Solo would say: “I don’t know… Fly casual.”

Cons have hidden expenses. Food, travel costs, hotel costs, merchandise costs. It can be hard to make your money back at a larger show. Sometimes it might be better to think of such shows purely as a marketing / promotional investment. Your job is to get your name and your comic out there. Free flyers or promocards from are one way to do that. There’s usually a table near the entrance where people can leave business cards, flyers and promo cards. Keep an eye on that table through the day as others will dump their cards over-the-top of yours as the table becomes full. You can correct this and makes sure yours are still visible by checking once or twice a day.

Hopefully, those people you meet will tell their friends and you will have tuned more people into your project for future online sales. Make sure you include your web address on everything.


After the show is over is often the best time to chat to fellow comic creators at the hotel bar or at dinner. It helps to get to know your table neighbors as well as other creators going through many of the same experiences as yourself. You can learn a lot and find ways to help each other. I usually like to get to the show to set up early and then have a quick wander through artist alley to see who else is there and what work they’ve brought with them. You usually get at least an hour or so to set up before the doors are opened to the general public. As for networking during the show, if you have a trusted friend who can watch your table for a short time (30 minutes to 1 hour) then you can scope out some of your fellow creator’s work and pick up a copy to support them.

Try not to leave your table for too long though. That one person who came to the show just to see you might miss you, plus it doesn’t look that great to leave your table unattended.

Survival Techniques

An easy way of transporting your gear (displays, table throw, art supplies, prints, books) from the car or hotel to the convention hall table is a wheeled-suitcase. However, as you become more experienced and ambitious you can buy a hand truck to wheel your supplies to and fro. If you have a table throw then you can hide the hand truck under the table when you’re done unloading. This is now just about the only way I can transport everything due to my spine issues.

Among those supplies, buy a six-pack, or larger, of bottled water. Also, bring snacks like crackers and cheese dip, cereal bars or sandwiches if possible. Convention catering is EXPENSIVE and usually not the best. Finding time to leave your table and run out to buy the food can also be difficult. Unless you have friends helping out, you may have to endure a very long day without a proper meal until dinner, so make sure you have those snacks.

Convention flu is real and often unavoidable around so many people. Let’s be honest, some of the attendees are going to have really poor hygiene and you just shook their hand. You can bring antibacterial hand soap along or just remember to wash your hands regularly. I know it sounds weird having to point this out, since most people seem to think they are immune, but having come back home with con flu in the past, you either heed the warning or learn it the hard way.

Part 1 – Introduction
Part 2 – The Harsh Realities
Part 3 – Making Webcomics
Part 4 – Promotion

I will be more than happy to answer any questions and ammend this article to help flesh out areas where I have been too brief. So feel free to comment or email me.

Making Comics – Part 4 – Promotion


Your work isn’t going to sell itself unless people know it exists. Promotion is hard work and usually not as much fun as creating and telling your stories. I usually find it frustrating to be pulled away from working on more story, however sometimes promoting the work can actually be fun.

For a quick word on getting your finished comic distributed to comic stores, I highly recommend Tyler James’ blog with Tips for Submitting to Diamond.

Social Media

I’ve talked a little about social media in the previous articles in this series, but there are many tricks to getting it right. Of all social media sites, Facebook is by far the largest and it has great tools to help you promote your posts and get exposure. I recommend setting up a Fan Page with Facebook for your comic.

Don’t swamp people with posts telling them to buy your comic. In fact, don’t swamp people with posts all day long either. The social media audience is fickle and selfish and most people don’t like to be drowned with your every whim and thought. Be just a little conservative. Instead engage them with trivia, competitions and content that you make exclusively for those followers. This applies to Twitter, Tumblr and any other social media network. Facebook allows you to SHARE posts by others, and if you can get your followers (all those fans that clicked LIKE) to share some of your posts promoting the comic then you are reaching a much larger audience. It’s the same concept with Twitter, only your goal is to post things that other people will want to RETWEET to their own followers.

Twitter uses hashtags to filter tweets by subject matter, allowing people who search for that subject the chance of discovering your tweet and FOLLOWING you. For example, #StarWars. You can tag other Twitter uses into your tweets by preceding their name with the “@” sign. This makes your tweet show up in their feed as someone who has mentioned you. Perhaps they will retrweet you to their own followers?

Facebook has a similar concept, you can tag friends and fan pages into your post by typing the “@” symbol followed by the name. So, I could be making a post about something to do with the Star Wars bounty hunters and tag the @Star Wars: Bounty Hunter fan page into my post. This alerts the admins of that page and lets them see your update. They can then share your post if they think their audience will enjoy it.

Although Reddit is relatively popular, I have heard so many complaints about the elitist culture there that you may want focus your promotional activities elsewhere.

Getting Listed

The more places you sign up to list your comic project with, the more notice your comic is going to get online. For example, if you print an on-demand comic with Ka-Blam, they have their own store, Indy Planet through which you can choose to list your comic for sale. There really is no good reason not to list your comic there unless, for some reason, you do not want to sell it right away. There’s also a number of comic book directories and comic book forums where you can either list your comic or consider banner exchanges or advertising.


You don’t have to spend money, but it helps. Things you can do for free are identify online communities with an interest in the genre of your book and find ways to reach out to them, even to help them. By building a good relationship with online communities you can go a long way in promoting your work without having to necessarily spend a single dollar.

Think before you spend. You want to make sure that any ad you might place online or in another publication is going to get seen by the type of person likely to be interested in your book. You can pay to promote your Facebook posts, but it is relatively expensive considering that it is hard to nail down a geek audience when you’re putting your trust in the automated filters you select. It is probably a lot better to pay to advertise on websites related to your comic’s genre. Think about the sort of ads you see online that actually interest you enough to click on them. They probably had something in common with the site where they appeared. It seems obvious, but it is very easy to chew up some money in the wrong places when trying to promote your comic.

For Webcomics you can do free banner exchanges via InkOutBreak , certainly the most innovative community in the medium. I also recommend trying to advertise on sites like Top Web Comics and The Web Comics List. These places have massive visitor traffic and I’ve had a big boost in website statistics whenever I’ve run an ad. Keep in mind that a lot of people want to advertise and only so many ads are allowed to run each month to ensure that everyone gets a fair share of exposure. This means that although you might want to advertise right away, you will find you are on a waiting list that can take up to 6 weeks before your first ad starts appearing!

Probably the smartest place to advertise in print for comics is comic convention programs / souvenir books. This costs a lot more money, but it is cheaper than most magazines and it is super targeted. Consider that everyone who attends gets a copy and almost all of them like comics. Makes sure your website address is included in the ad or I’ll hit you!

Part 1 – Introduction
Part 2 – The Harsh Realities
Part 3 – Making Webcomics
Part 5 – Comic Conventions

Making Comics – Part 3 – Creating Webcomics

Creating Webcomics

In Part 1, I gave an overview of different types of comic mediums and in Part 2 I discussed some of the hard realities of making comics. In Part 3, I talk about my experience with webcomics.

Whether you draw on paper and scan it to your computer, or you create it digitally in a program like Manga Studio or Photoshop, once you have some completed “pages” you might be ready to debut your work publicly. This means you’ll want to think about a website and domain name, as well as creating accounts with social media like Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and a Facebook FanPage. I have heard less attractive things about Reddit.

We host our own WordPress blog and have the ComicPress theme installed which upgrades the blog to work for graphical posts. Both are free, but require a degree of technical aptitude that might suit a professional web designer better. So we pay for our own domain name, webhosting and occasionally a little help from a webdesigner for the more technical things like backing up the site and making updates.

However, if you don’t have much of a budget or don’t know much about webdesign, it’s probably a good idea to test the waters using a Web Comics hub like You sign up with them and upload your pages to their server. You can customize the look of your page to a degree, but you are basically hosted by their site. This can be limiting aesthetically, but it can at least be a good place to get started quickly for free.


If your webcomic is newspaper strip inspired then you’re probably working with 1-4 panels. You have to think about the width in pixels of the strip for display on a user’s monitor or mobile device in a web browser. Keep a hi-resolution original of everything you do before you downsize it to low-resolution for the web. For Blue Milk Special I create the strip at 400 dpi at about 7.5 inches wide. When I downsize it for the web I reduce dpi to 72 dpi and adjust the width at the same time to 950 pixels wide. This works for our web page layout.

Whether it’s comedy or straight drama, the structure should still utilize the limited panels to effectively communicate the idea. Ideally, the first panel needs to establish the key character(s) and setting. The second panel clarifies the situation and the third sets up your curveball. The last panel is either a reaction or punchline. By the way, don’t title your comic after the punchline, and don’t promote/share the strip online by revealing the punchline in your write up. That would be spoiling your own gag.

If you’re making a more traditional format comic that is oriented more towards portrait page layout, then you need to follow the same sort of concepts you would for a print comic. One thing to consider is that if you want to publish your webcomic in print someday then you may want to be careful about cliffhangers and big reveals. Generally, you don’t reveal something massive half way down a page, or on a facing page because the eye will skip ahead and spot it before you’ve finished your sequential build up. A good rule of thumb is that any even numbered page is the place to have a big revelation and you should try to avoid anything major. This is just a guide. I slightly messed up on this with Once Upon a Caper toward the end of the book. The good thing is that it doesn’t matter online in webcomic format.

Promoting your Webcomic

Like the Billboard Hot 100, you can list your webcomic with a top webcomics ranking site like and climb your way to number 1 each month. Blue Milk Special peaked just on the edge of the top 10 before we felt we had hit a glass ceiling with that audience and decided to turn our energies to other mediums. However, by simply being on the list you are getting free advertising as webcomic readers can stumble across your comic. I already mentioned social media and you should not underestimate it. You can build a following by posting samples of your work and taking advantage of the internet meme craze by tying your commentary into current trends in pop culture.

With Blue Milk Special, we’ve always had a running gag where Darth Vader had a coffee mug that he carries around with him all the time, only it has a Star Trek Federation logo on it. When the new Trek films came out, we were able to share some of those strips along with specially created ones to capture new readers. Regardless of whether your webcomic is a comedy or serious, there’s always something going on that you can use to help expose your work to a larger audience.

Twitter allows your readers to connect with you and hear what you think about your work but also life. You can engage those followers and build that audience by creating exclusive content for social media to help promote your work. We recently started running trivia contests for our readers on Twitter to win an exclusive signed 11×17 print. The rules were that you had to be following us on Twitter and provide the correct answer to qualify. We will run similar competitions for other social media sites in the future.

The Webcomic Community

I can not stress how innovative is from a reader’s point of view. alerts its users whenever you have updated your site with a new strip or page. The reader can navigate between their favorite webcomics by a framed menu bar that tells you how many strips / pages you still have to read to catch up and jumps you from one site to the next on your reading list when you are ready. The reader won’t lose their place if they are still working their way through your archives.

Once you appreciate how beneficial the framed menu bar is for your reader, you’ll realize how revolutionary truly is. Because it is user friendly, it is a more inviting way to pull people into the world of webcomics and keep them engaged while exposing them to similar themed comics. You can cross promote your neighboring webcomics with banner exchanges. There is also a very helpful community forum where both creators and readers can intermingle and share feedback and new ideas. is an incredible way to approach reading online and every webcomic creator should be a part of it.

Part 1 – Introduction
Part 2 – The Harsh Realities
Part 4 – Promotion
Part 5 – Comic Conventions

Making Comics – Part 2 – The Harsh Realities

The Harsh Realities

Making a comic is tough. Especially at the professional level. I mentioned it earlier, but here are some of the challenges on your journey.


Actually working on a full color print comic is a real undertaking. If you are paying close to professional rates then you’re looking at the pencils and inks, for 22 pages, running around $2200+. Then you have to factor in a colorist which is also expensive. Don’t forget lettering. You may be able to do it yourself, but make sure it looks professional. Most free graphics software will not be up to standard. Lettering can be done in a number of ways, but the professionals use Adobe Illustrator or Manga Studio, and both cost moolah!

If you’re not doing on-demand printing, then you’ll have to pony up more money for a print run, and the smaller the run the more expensive it will be per unit, making it harder for you to make a profit. But if you get that far then the next essential is to get listed in the Previews catalog. This gets you into the system with Comic Book Retailers who can place an order through Previews. If your trying to get into Comic Book stores then you need to take Diamond / Previews seriously and build a relationship with them. You will get much more exposure and more orders than if you don’t. I know this from friends who made the mistake of putting off getting serious about Previews. Do it!


Ideally, you can do the art, colors and lettering all yourself and save a huge amount of money. That, or you can find a collaborator who will work with you for the reward of a percentage of the profit from the sales. But profit from sales from indie comics, even those that make it into Image comics are hard to achieve. As I mentioned, it is a really expensive business for a self-publisher, and working with Image you still have to foot the bill.

Building your team

When I put Once Upon a Caper together (originally called Sovena Red, and then renamed to Once Upon a Super Hero), I had to find an artist and colorist as Leanne was busy on other professional projects. I was impatient and it seemed like the only way to make something happen on my end that could benefit the both of us. I should have just waited.

Here’s what NOT to do: I knew a number of artists in the industry, but they were all committed to projects, so I posted a wanted message at DigitalWebbing and at PencilJack. My inbox was flooded with responses including several from fraudsters posing as legit artists. They were ready to run off with the first payment and never speak to you again. Josh Hoopes is one of the guys I dealt with. Fortunately I wised up before any commitment was made. That’s not to say that it’s just scam artists out there, there are writers / editors offering projects only to drop off the face of the Earth after receiving the finished art without paying. It’s a shady business on both sides.

I genuinely and honesty discourage anyone from posting an ad at such a forum. If you’re not doing the art yourself and need someone else, then REALLY get to know that person as a friend first. I’m not talking about a few emails and a phone call, I’m talking about over a period of months, or longer. Find out who else they have worked with and learn a little about their reputation. You might be so psyched for your project that you feel you are in too much of a hurry to do this research, but I’m telling you, DO THE RESEARCH. Do not rush in with someone new. Sure, maybe it will all work out beautifully for you because you are the Chosen One and nothing in your life has ever gone wrong, but when money is involved (and comics can be massively expensive) be sensible!

My advice, if you HAVE to pay someone, is work out a deal where you pay for each page as it is turned in to you completed. That way you aren’t risking large sums of money at once and you have a carrot to motivate a slacking artist.

For the earliest version of Once Upon a Caper, I did the lettering myself with some editorial help from Leanne. It worked out pretty well, but for the latest revision I actually turned to Leanne’s lettering friend, Bill Tortelini. He did a great job and at a generous rate. Again, friends. Don’t have industry friends? Go make them. Talk to the artists at the conventions. Get their advice, get to know them.

Working with a team

Working with team members can actually be a big obstacle for the comic. Personal lives, or a sudden lack of motivation from just one member of the team can be a huge spanner in the works and seriously set back your plans, especially if you had a deadline such as a debut at an upcoming comic convention. What I’ve learned very slowly is never believe that your team will achieve your deadline. You can set a deadline and work towards it, but have a Plan B and a Plan C, because somebody, somewhere in the production train is going to get sidetracked. Plus nobody likes a slave driver either, and you don’t want to be known as a dick. :-)

So, if you’re going to work with a team, try to keep it small, and try to work only with people that truly believe in the project. Money doesn’t buy belief or commitment as this is an industry full of artists, and as I mentioned earlier, artists can be inherently flaky. When money is involved this is potentially a very painful lesson for the creator who is investing into the project. And ultimately, is your goal to make that money back? Is it to simply have a portfolio piece to try and launch an ongoing series? Is it to help your resume and start a career on other books?

Build Meaningful Relationships

For writers, one way of getting published is to basically get to know creators and publishers, make friends and an opportunity might come up for you to write a backup piece for an established title. If your project is a pipe dream, then start getting to know artists now so that when you are ready to get it off the ground you have people to turn to for advice and help. Comic Conventions are great for that because they allow face-to-face contact, though I’m sure you can build those relationships effectively online too. Find creators whose work you like. Tell them what you like about their work, buy a copy and get their signature. Get their advice on how they got started. They will be more than happy to talk to you if you are supporting their work at the same time. Well, most of them. 😉

Part 1 – Introduction
Part 3 – Making Webcomics
Part 4 – Promotion
Part 5 – Comic Conventions

Making Comics – Part 1 – Introduction

This is part 1 of a 5 part series collecting much of my experience and advice. Whether you’re planning to make a comic, or already working on one, there are many things to consider and I can’t promise to cover them all.

All you need to make a comic is a little bit of creative storytelling skill and determination. How much money you need will depend on how much you can do on your own, as well as what sort of comic you are trying to make. If you need a lot of money for printing, there’s always Kickstarter.

A great example of that independent spirit of amateur comic book making can be found at Anime Conventions in artist alley where many writers and artists shop their amateur mangas. At comic conventions like Baltimore Comic Con and Heroes Con you’ll find a huge emphasis on the creators and a large section of the hall devoted exclusively to them.

It’s tough making comics on your own and even more challenging working with a team! The more ambitious the project, the tougher it gets. However, having your own printed comic in your hands is a good feeling, and knowing the story you wrote means something to a reader is even better!

Ashcans: A term for a do-it-yourself comic. All you need is access to a printer/copier and a stapler. Often, Ashcans are entirely black and white and with a smaller page count, but it is really up to you. Think of it as a sampler or preview issue for promoting your upcoming work. However, if you just want to make comics this way, what’s to stop you? A great place to sell these is by getting your own table at local anime / manga conventions (usually a bit cheaper than comic conventions and with a more receptive audience to indie comics). To save on costs, you can split the table fee with friends and share the space to promote each other’s works.

Print On-Demand Comics: Full color independent comics like Once Upon A Caper‘s early print runs were printed through on-demand printers like Ka-Blam and listed on Indy Planet. But you don’t have to go full color. You can have a color cover with black and white interior to save a little on print costs, or for aesthetic choice.

  • The down side is that you won’t get the sort of savings that you would if you were using a large printing company. This is how publishers like Marvel, DC, Image, IDW and Dark Horse can have a comparatively low cover price compared to your print on-demand book.
  • Although your profit margin is less, you don’t have to place an order for a huge print run either and worry about boxes of back issues you were unable to sell.
  • A lot of people who support indie comics will pay a little more because they are happy to support the little guy.
  • Black & White issues cost about as much as a full color book from Marvel. While full color on-demand issues cost a lot more, forcing you to bump up your cover price to make any profit. When I used Ka-Blam, Once Upon A Caper cost $3.50 to print, though I could have saved a fraction if I let them include one of their Ka-Blam ads. The Ka-Blam ad is a bit of an eye-sore, but it you don’t mind it, it can knock that printing price down to as low as $2.90. Although Ka-Blam and on-demand printing are no longer my preference, they are good in a pinch when you need a book quickly and without having to invest in a minimum quantity of 100 or more at a larger print company.
  • Indy Planet is Ka-Blam’s online store, however there is no quality control for the titles listed and there are thousands. The best way for people to find your book in their store is to point them right to it through your promotional activities. Indy Planet also has a massive drawback for the customer who has to wait up to 3 weeks for a the book to be printed and shipped. For some, that is too long. In the end, you’re likely to use Ka-Blam to print copies for your own stock to take to conventions than you are to sell many through their Indy Planet store. I created my own website to promote Once Upon A Caper and pointed it to their store, however I am not printing issues elsewhere and shipping them out myself. Quicker for the customer. Just something to think about.

Digital Comics: I offered Once Upon A Caper as a digital download in PDF format via for $0.99 cents. I offered it for so low because I figured the promotion I would get would be worth more than an extra $0.50 cents that might otherwise put someone off buying it. UPDATE 7.16.2013 – With the revised version of Once Upon A Caper I had intended to take advantage of Indy Planet Digital until I discovered how backed up the staff are. After my print edition went live on Indy Planet on July 3rd, I am STILL waiting for the digital to appear. Their response was that they are so backed up they won’t even give an estimate when it might be available. So I had no choice but to do it myself via once again. I upped my price to $1.99, giving me $1.50 profit off each sale. To date, my digital sales have been about 500% better than my print sales. So seriously, just do it yourself with Payloadz.

Comixology has been on the block longer and has an app that makes it available on mobile devices via iTunes and Google Play. It serves digital comics from the big publishers and as a consequence provides a considerable challenge for your comic to get noticed amongst the glut of industry heavy weights. I’m hearing that a lot of money is being made by digital comics sold via apps like Comixology so it’s something to consider very seriously. Apps however, cost money, and each issue is essentially converted to an app for a fee by a third party. This may have changed since I last looked into it. We’re talking in the hundreds of dollars per issue. Other options involve the third party taking a cut of each sale.

One of the big benefits of having created your own self-published independent comic is that it becomes a portfolio piece, both for writers and artists. It’s your show reel or demo tape. It says to any publisher or potential colleague that you can successfully put an entire comic together and that you have some professional experience. It doesn’t just have to be a vanity project.

Webcomics: Comics designed to read online in a web browser (almost always for free) that you either host on your own website, or via a webcomic hub site like You can list your webcomic with which allows readers to navigate through your many pages of story more easily as well as bringing in new readers from the webcomic reading community.

While many webcomic creators collect the online pages and print them in some sort of comic style publication, many remain exclusively online. This means that you don’t have to spend money printing anything if you don’t want to. Comics like Beast Legion hire and pay artists, but many webcomics are collaborations or written and illustrated by the creator.

Webcomics can be a good way to test the market and build a following prior to making the jump to the print medium, but you can stay entirely digital too. There is a lot of flexibility in webcomics, and the range of quality goes from very amateur to highly professional. Although there are a LOT of webcomics out there, some have become so successful that the authors are earning a living or finding massive success with KickStarter. That being said, Rich Burlew did not make over $1 million dollars via Kickstarter until his webcomic, Order of the Stick, had been running and building its audience for 9 years.

I’ll talk more about how to create webcomics and how I set up Blue Milk Special in Part 3 of this feature.

Part 2 – The Harsh Realities
Part 3 – Making Webcomics
Part 4 – Promotion
Part 5 – Comic Conventions