The great promise of the website Upwork

Near the end of July (2018) I parted ways with the company (a team of two) I had been working with, on-and-off, since 2008. My mistake had been letting a business relationship develop into friendship.

The last 4 years of our decade together had become more intertwined with the advent of the A4E Project. What had been historically singular task based  became a much broader array of deliverables. That change, I believe, was my misstep. 

I had originally hired the team onto the A4E Project to provide the layout, artwork and design for a 144 page graphic novel. Whereas, all their previous work for me had consisted of the likes of putting together a book cover.

While keeping within the cost budget, milestones were constantly missed resulting in final delivery having been pushed back a year. Admittedly, the final product was good, but, underscore, it was one year late.

Our friendship as well as (I had convinced myself) their ability to deliver a marketable product at a reasonable cost, prompted me to try working with them again. This time for a motion graphic series. I had begun writing episodic scripts in the fall of 2016 and by the spring of 2017 I had completed the first seven episodes and I was ready to have them animated.

Unfortunately where the novel had stretched them greatly, the series broke them.They were in over their heads and either weren't aware of that fact or wouldn't concede it. 

In short order, the per episode cost tripled and continued from there to spiral upward. The end result was that the original estimate for seven 20 minute motion graphic episodes became the cost for one 2 - 3 minute trailer.   

Out of pocket thousands of dollars, and with nothing usable to show for it, I severed the relationship.

It was in looking for a new team that I came upon the website Upwork. I'm very happy that I did. I setup an account and I put the details of project out to tender. In less than one hour I had twelve very reasonable bids. I chose that day. My fingers are crossed but initial progress is very promising! 

Vidme is Shutting Down Mid-December

This was the surprising, yet not so surprising, news that I received when I logged onto my Vidme account a few days ago. Vidme was never really competition to YouTube but it was an alternative and its absence from the marketplace will be missed.

From my perspective the corporate culture of YouTube is an enigma. Internally, and maybe to other outsiders more 'in the know’, it may all seem perfectly fine, consistent and sane but there is such broadness in the terms of use that it really comes down to corporate mood. The apparent arbitrariness of their content management methodology gives me apprehension.

Sure there is the like of Steemit and Dailymotion, but nothing is quite the fit that YouTube is, and Vidme was, for an episodic series.

There is only YouTube now and, without an alternative to go to, my concern has fully manifested. What if I offend the de-platforming algorithm/committee?

The 7 episode series which I am putting together is definitely less ‘edgy’ than “Family Guy” or even “Big Mouth”, but I’m not a network and that is a critical difference. YouTube has made it clear that, relative to networks/large studios, a stricter set of rules apply to small/independent creators. 

With YouTube I’m at risk of some committee member (the “algorithm”) being constipated or having had a tiff with their life partner the day they review my content because some random individual felt unsafe watching a cartoon.

All the time, money and effort I’m putting into the project could potentially be for naught. Ugh.

Cost: Graphic Novel vs Motion Graphic

Production costs for both graphic novels and motion graphic animation vary in the marketplace. However, what I did find was that there was more variance within each medium than between the two.

The result is that I am able to produce a motion-graphic episodic series that will run roughly 140 minutes for very close to the same cost as producing a 140-page full-colour graphic novel. (Given that a page of scripted dialogue equals a minute of film runtime the two are directly comparable.)

The caveat is that there is extra cost related to voice actors and musical scores, which, if you play your cards right, isn’t that much extra especially when compared to the overarching large expense of the animation itself.

In the end, I believe it will be worth it. Videos with decent production value, when uploaded to platforms such as YouTube and Vidme, are bound to get more immediate exposure than any graphic novel I could release ever would.

The A4EProject video channels began in fits-and-starts and in many ways are still in the fits-and-starts phase. However, we did manage to put together some beta testing in the form of a 5 part interview ( Playlist: https://youtu.be/uX5xkB78QQk) which represented a sort of soft launch for the channels and provides any future viewers of the eventual series with some backstory that, while not essential, might nevertheless be of interest.

Indie Comics: Is it better to go into animation?

The actual question that I asked myself nearly a year ago was: “How do I recoup (at least some of) the costs of production?” My intention is to elaborate on the personal ramifications of this question over the next few blog posts.

Marketing Hurdles:

As any real indie comic producer will attest to - the cards are stacked against success. It is difficult to be heard above the promotion machine of DC and Marvel and the best of times and the stark reality is that readers, and therefore shop owners, aren’t really that interested. Additionally, if there is interest in indie, most of the time what is being referred to as “indie” is actually any large publishing house other than Marvel or DC. (I’ve written about this.)

Production Hurdles:

Lacking any economies of scale this means that small run printing and shipping costs are prohibitively high. This leaves selling digitally which are very prone to theft. Once the digital file is downloaded there is nothing preventing that file from being copied at infinitum.

An entire essay can be written around the moral blur in today’s culture between the expectation of getting things for free and the technologically enabled ease with which intellectual property can be stolen.  In this environment, if you’re counting on recouping production costs through digital sales your business model is greatly flawed.

What, then, is a legitimately independent comic book creator to do?

With platforms such as Vidme and particularly YouTube, it is a least theoretically possible to recoup some production costs through advertising dollars. However, anyone familiar with these platforms would likely be aware of ‘adpocalypse’. This ongoing crisis of faith from vendors distils down to the bottom line that advertising revenue is no guarantee.

Alternately, these platforms also provide the simple opportunity to raise awareness, encourage purchases of products and seek financial support from patrons. That is my game plan.    

Phicno.com - friend of the indie community

It must be over a year ago now that Alex, the brains behind Phicno.com, contacted me via Twitter to see if I would be interested in selling and promoting 'Alexandra Forever' through Phicno, a platform he informed was tailored to help indie community.

I will admit that I didn't give it much thought at the time. As with many creators I hold down a full time job that pays the bills while being chief cook and bottle washer for the nearly full time hobby that is my passion. There's not a lot of spare time for exploring potential new avenues for distribution and promotion. My response was maybe, but I don't know when.

Alex was persistent, but not annoyingly so. Over the course of the next year, he would check in from time-to-time to see if I was ready to learn about Phicno. Very recently, that day finally arrived for me.

We chatted on the phone and he walked me through the site. It was obvious that he was proud and passionate about what he had created. His enthusiasm for helping the indie community combined with participation being free was enticing. I decided to work with Phicno. Alex provided a little technical support but otherwise my setup was very straight forward. 

Beyond uploading my promotional comic book onto the site I don't have any affiliation with Phicno or Alex. I'm writing this blog post simply to help bring awareness to a platform that is legitimately trying to help true indie creators.


Positive Vibes

Comic Crusaders did a thorough review of AF which was poisitve about everything but some of the dialogue, which was actually a make-or-beak deal as far as recommending the book. So we took the opportunity of the book not being printed yet and went back to fix some of those problems pointed out in the review. It was a case of "forest through the trees" I guess, and once a light was shone on certain issues it was impossible not to see them anymore!

So it just goes to show you, negative reviews of your work can be a positive thing, and help lead to a better product!


East Coast Comicon 2016!

Much like last year, East Coast Comicon was a blast. Met some old friends and made some new ones. If you love comics, Cliff Galbraith puts on one heck of a show, folks.

There was even a contingent of Ottawa people as Ron Sutton, Janet Heatherington, Geof Isherwood and his wife were also there! Party bus 2017, anyone?

Artist Alley

The very funny (and snacking) Paul Kupperberg and Carl Potts. Check out Carl's awesome book on creating comics and Paul's blog. About one second after this photo was taken, Paul was kind enough to share what he was eating for the camera.

Andrew was supercool and I think Alexandra Forever artist Steve Legge and Andrew's mothers are both named Martha. MARCH Book 2 was just nominated for TWO Eisner awards! "March" is one of the best comics you're ever going to read, so make sure to check it out! Book 3 comes out later this summer.

One of our favorite cosplayers with our friend Don McGregor and Black Panther artist Rich Buckler! (link nsfw. he's an artist, folks!)

One of the very few celebrity guests, the great Nichelle Nichols. Sam Jones aka Flash Gordon was also there and super friendly, although its hard to hear what he says when you have the Flash Gordon theme song running through your head whenever you see the guy!

 Flash! Ahh-aaaaahh!

One of our favorite people, Michael Golden. He got a laugh when he was shown his cameo in Alexandra Forever.

Rocket Girl's Brandon Montclaire and Amy Reeder. Steve awkwardly put Alexandra in their hands trying to suggest, "Hey you do a sci-fi comic with a female lead, so did I!". But only gobbledygook came out of his mouth. They looked at it anyway. Comics people are good people!

Also check out their new Devil Dinosaur book!

If you don't know who Bob McLeod is, you're a big fat jerk! Bob was nice enough to take a look at Alexandra while doing commissions at his table. Thanks, Bob!

Before leaving on Sunday, Alexandra Forever artist Steve Legge had a photo taken with Steve "the Dude" Rude, with whom he's been working with colouring the fantastic Nexus Newspaper Strip. Check it out!! Also, we're pretty sure the Nexus Newspaper has the tallest art team in comics!

Another great East Coast Comicon in the books, we hope to be back next year!

5 Reasons the poor box office performance of “Batman v Superman” does not mean the comic bubble is about to burst

All opinions aside about the movie’s artistic merit, what is clear is that it isn’t even close to the money engine that everyone involved had hoped. We’ve all seen the sad Ben Affleck meme, nothing more needs to be said.

That shortfall seems to have caused far more reaching concerns. There is speculation floating about the Internet as to whether or not the failure of the movie is a sign that the comic book bubble is about to burst.  Beyond jittery collectors (read: speculators) I’m not sure what is fueling this apprehension.

My 5 reasons the bubble is not about the burst:

  • There is no bubble. The circumstances now are entirely different then they were in the 90s. Of no small importance, comic books and graphic novels are far more main stream now. They are becoming part of the curriculum for high schools and universities.
  • There is an assumption in the concern that there is a strong correlation between box office performance of superhero movies and comic book sales. While I agree that there is obviously some interrelationship I don’t believe it’s that robust.
  • There have been ‘not so successful’ superhero movies that preceded it (anyone remember the Green Lantern flick) which were followed by blockbusters. I think what we are seeing with BvS is strictly a film (as a medium) specific lesson that Hollywood can’t seem to grasp – awesome CGI doesn’t compensate for a crappy story.
  • Superhero comic books are not the only type of comic books there are. Globally that is true and it is becoming more so every day.
  • DC Comics’ issues are not representative of systemic industry issues. What we are seeing is corporate Darwinism at work.
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