Mail Bag – Chris answers your questions

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So for today’s Webcomic Alliance article, instead of writing about just one topic, I thought it might be fun to do an article that addresses a lot of different topics. The best way to do that was to see what topics you guys wanted to have addressed.

Below is a random selection of various questions that were sent to me from the last couple of days. The questions cover a wide range of topics such as convention commissions to social media to generating ideas for your strips. Hopefully, you will find all of my answers just as informative and interesting as you find the questions.

I didn’t know if the people who volunteered the questions below would be comfortable with the full name being displayed so I capitalized their last name and highlighted their name in blue. All of their questions are bold. My answers follow each question.

Let’s begin…

Jean L.V.: How do you build an initial audience for a web comic. Is it a matter of self promotion? Does social media make it easier? And when did you know that it was ok to start “asking” for money for what you were doing? (As an illustrator this may be dumb questions, but as someone who’s not in either business it’s always been something I wonder)…

Jean, these days, I think one of the best ways to try and build up an immediate audience for your comic is by budgeting a certain amount of money and doing a Project Wonderful ad campaign. That will get you immediate eye balls but that doesn’t mean those eyeballs will stick around. Any time I have done a Project Wonderful campaign, I have seen huge spikes in my numbers – but those numbers can be fleeting.

For me, personally, the best way for me to build an audience for Capes & Babes has been the theory of “slow and steady wins the race”. That means doing local conventions, creating relationships with local comic books stores so you can do in store appearances and participate in events like Free Comic Book Day. I also do things outside of typical “comic book venues” such as dog festivals and local holiday craft fairs. I’ll go more in-depth about that in Adriana’s question below.

As far as asking for money goes, every single artist is worth something. How much is that though? Well, that’s something every individual artist tends to struggle with a bit though. One thing that helped me get over this hurdle was by going to conventions. Once I started paying for tables at a show, it was a lot easier for me to put a price tag on my art and not feel self-conscious about it. I have also found that through patience, hard work and a lot of experimentation, once people see you at the same shows every year, you become recognizable and people are more willing to pay for something they are familiar with a little bit more than someone they don’t know. At least that seems to be my case, anyway.

But as a professional graphic and web designer, I never had a problem with charging money for my work. The difficulty has always been “HOW much do I charge?”. Some artists like to set up an hourly wage system while others just like to put a dollar sign on a piece based on perceived value or what they think it might sell for. That’s where the difficulty comes in to play and I don;t think anyone has a definitive answer for that since we’re all individuals and we will almost always come up with individual methods that work best for each of us.

Rodney F.: Hey Chris, do you find a particular size of commission sells better at shows or is it just completely random? I’ve kinda gravitated to the 9×12 size lately which seems to be pretty popular. Just wanted others feedback on this issue. Am I cheated myself outta potentially making more money by going larger, or, or, or. lol

As long as I have been doing conventions, it seems as though 9×12″ has always been a pretty good standard. That’s what my current commissions are and what they’ve always been. I know some people like to work a little bigger but they also charge a lot more as well. Usually, though, those bigger commissions are either pencils or straight inks. Very rarely have I seen a full-color commission larger than 9×12″ – unless it was for a very private commission sale or for a charity auction piece.

So, the short answer is yes, you’re perfectly fine staying at 9×12″ for your commission sizes. If you’re worried about possibly losing money staying at that size, you have to remember that if you go bigger, it might take you more time to complete that particular commission. Yes, you could charge more but if you’re doing a commission at a show, that means you’re also going to spend more time with your head down drawing and that means potential sales going by the wayside since you can’t meet and greet potential customers as they walk by your table.

I think one of the reasons why the 9×12″ size works so well for commissions is because:

  1. They are easy to carry around the convention floor once they are done
  2. 9×12″ Bristol tablets take a lot less space than say 11×17″ tablets
  3. They are easy to convert into prints
  4. If you have a commission portfolio, a 9×12″ portfolio takes up a heck of a lot less space on your table than an 11×17″ portfolio
  5. If you offer colored commissions, you don’t have to worry about killing all of your markers by coloring an 11×17″ background

Those are just some of the many reasons why I think 9×12″ is a perfect size for commissions.

Jim D.: Do you pull situations from your friends or are you pulling it from thin air?

I pull situations out of anywhere and every where I can.

Now, I have put some of my friends in Capes & Babes based loosely on events or discussions that might have taken place in real life but in every case, those events are highly exaggerated in order to fit my own purpose or sense of humor. But, I tend to keep those situations reserved for “special strips”. Capes & Babes isn’t a diary strip so if I do that too much, I run the risk of turning Capes & Babes into something that it isn’t meant to be. I still enjoy putting various people I know in my strip and every time I have done so, those people have enjoyed being put into cartoon form.

Of course, some might dispute that and say Capes & Babes is entirely a diary comic but filtered through my very distorted and exaggerated brain. Those people might not be entirely wrong since one of my creative writing professors in college use to always tell us “write what you know”. Many times I will do that with Capes & Babes – especially when it comes to any convention-related strips – but once a real life event goes through my twisted brain, what comes out will be so far fetched and exaggerated, it’s usually very unlikely any one can discern what the “real life event” was that I based a Capes & Babes strip on.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, one year as I was traveling to Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina and looking at a thick wooded area I was driving by, it reminded me of the wooded area seen it that classic Big Foot clip. As I kept driving, I started thinking about how funny it might be to have Roy end up in the woods somehow and be mistaken for a Big Foot – even though he’s only about 5 feet tall. Once that idea was in my head, an entire story arc of ideas started to spring up.

So, I took a totally mundane, real life event, and completely twisted it for my own insane purposes. That will happen a lot for Capes & Babes.

Eric K.: How you have adapted to a changing media climate through the years. I find every 6 months or so everything I know about webcomics has changed. That constant need to reinvent you business model is something unique to the internet media business in my opinion.

Well, if we’re talking “social media”, I really haven’t changed anything with Capes & Babes in that regard. There are a TON of social media tools one can use… Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook… the list goes on and on. I think, though, it’s very easy to drive yourself insane if you’re concerned that you have to try to use EVERY social media tool that’s out there. For me, Twitter and Facebook work just fine when it comes to Capes & Babes.

Now, as far as commission work goes, I have actually found Pinterest to be a great tool and have garnered a lot of commission work by creating my own Minion mash-up board and posting all the various Minion commissions that i have done. that’s about the only other social media tool I have put into my creative online arsenal.

As far as Capes & Babes goes though, the two biggest tools that I have come to rely on in the past year has been my Square and Paypal Credit card readers and my most recent purchase, the Your karma personal wifi hotspot device.

The Square and Paypal card readers are, essentially, the same thing. Usually I use my Paypal credit card reader because it goes directly into my Paypal account. My Square device should do the same thing but I need to get some banking paperwork done first before that happens. In any case, sometimes Square works faster than Paypal or some people would just prefer I use the Square device since they have an unwarranted Paypal dislike.

But the Your Karma wifi device has been a huge improvement to my convention sales. For more information about it, check out the Your Karma review article I wrote here not too long ago.

Michael C.: How to put together a digital book for sale. Where to sell it (gumroad ect)

Michael, if you lay your books out using any of Adobe programs – but specifically InDesign – creating a multiple page PDF is as simple as pie. Using InDesign, it’s simply a matter of laying out your book page by page and then exporting your document as a high resolution PDF.

If you are going with a traditional paper or POD printer, you may have to do some minor adjustments to your output settings depending on their specifications though.

But as far as creating a PDF book, that’s pretty easy to do with the proper tools. InDesign and QuarkExpress make this process incredibly easy. If you don’t have InDesign, you could look into possibly subscribing and using InDesign for a month through Adobe’s online subscription services since all of their programs are now on the cloud. Going into the pros and cons of an online subscription service for design programs is probably worthy of its own article (or two) so I won;t go into the ins and outs of that.

Once you have your PDF created though, I don’t see why you can’t simply offer it as a download on your site or online store.

If you get your book printed through CreateSpace, they offer a service where they will convert your finished PDF so that it is Kindle-ready and can be purchased through Amazon.com – that might be something for you to look into. That’s about all the information i have about that though, as I have not yet tried converting or selling any of the Capes & Babes books as PDF downloads yet.

David D.: Do an article about super low-cost swag and promotional printing for cons or comic-shop appearances. I can’t find a guide that fits my budget, which is extremely tiny.

That might be a great idea for a future article, David. That being said, I’ll try to give you some immediate suggestions you might find helpful…

Some very low cost swag on my table includes the following:

  1. Free full color front and back 4×6″ postcards.
    I get all of my postcards printed at www.gotprint.com. They are worth checking out.
  2. Full color, 72×34″ pull up banners from www.buildasign.com will run you in the range of $50 – $70 depending on holiday sales.
  3. Buttons and/or key chains. I recently got a batch of key chains made at www.purebuttons.com that turned out great.
    This is something new I’m trying but I got buttons from them in the past  that were really inexpensive and turned out great.
  4. I got a bunch of blank 9×6″ cards made at Got Print.
    I use those cards to draw really quick Sharpie sketches of people as werewolves simply for tips.
    That has worked out fantastic the last handful of shows I have gone to. Inexpensive to create and you’ll be surprised at how much
    you can make simply with a tip jar on your table. Plus, it’s a fun, super affordable thing for kids too!
  5. I don’t have these but full color bookmarks are also really popular.
    I believe Got Print prints those as well.
  6. Stickers might be a good idea too. You may have to do some searching but you can find some POD stickers printers online.
    I have used UPrint.com in the past and they do good work.
  7. Lots of people sell sketch cards at conventions. I make my own sketch cards. Check out my sketch card article here on
    Webcomic Alliance to find out how I make my own.

You should be able to use all of the ideas above with a very reasonable budget that won;t break your bank.

Adriana B.: I’d be interested in some ideas on how to help the not-typically-comic-reading people to discover/read comics. Assuming most people who go to comic cons are already comic fans, how do we expose those who might like our work, but wouldn’t discover as easily because they’re not con-going people (or whatever)? Just a thought…

Adriana, I have found that trying to branch out beyond the typical “comic book” arena is a great way to get people to discover your comic strip or book.

Last summer, I went to a Beagle fest – an event where people adopted beagles. I did caricatures of people and their beagles all day long and got a bunch of people interested in my strip and books. I was going to go again this year but inclement weather caused the cancellation of the event.

Last year – and in a few weeks – I will be doing a couple of holiday craft fairs at two local elementary schools. That’s another great way to introduce people to your work – you just need to make sure you ONLY have age appropriate material at these shows.

Another great way is to talk to your local library and see if you can set up a weekend workshop where you teach cartooning to kids for a few hours. I did that for a number of years before I started Capes & Babes. I keep meaning to do it again but find that I’m way to busy these days.

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Posted in Business, Conventions, Featured News, Helpful Hints, Tech, Writing.

3 Comments

  1. Has anybody tried Scribus for book layout and design? It’s and open source program meaning it’s free. I was going to try it before paying for Adobe products.

    “Scribus is an Open Source program that brings professional page layout to Linux, BSD UNIX, Solaris, OpenIndiana, GNU/Hurd, Mac OS X, OS/2 Warp 4, eComStation, Haiku and Windows desktops with a combination of press-ready output and new approaches to page design.
    Underneath a modern and user-friendly interface, Scribus supports professional publishing features, such as color separations, CMYK and spot colors, ICC color management, and versatile PDF creation.”

    • Hey G Louis Johnson,

      Thanks for the suggestion. Personally, I have yet to try any open source design programs – including GIMP. I’ll have to ask my daughter what she uses on her laptop… it might be GIMP because I know she doesn’t have Photoshop.

      Anyway, it should be noted, I don’t have an Adobe subscription to their recent Cloud program. I’m still using my older iMac and all the CS3 versions of Adobe’s products. Those still work well and do exactly what I need. My machine’s a bit slow with higher end graphics (such as pull-up banner artwork) but it gets the job done.

      I don’t have any problems with Open Source software. If you find something that works for you, there really isn’t much need to change as long as you get the results you want. In the end, that’s what matters the most. 🙂

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