Knowing Is Half The Battle: Ant Sang Gives Advice on the Publishing Industry

You’ve been working on your comic for what probably seems like forever and finally, you feel that you are ready to share it with the world. Of course, you can always go the route of self-publishing, but that carries with it a number of obligations and expectations — printing, shipping, marketing — that you may not have the desire or the knowledge to take on. Thankfully, there are a number of amazing small press comics publishers who are constantly looking to expand their catalog and bring new voices into the world.

Unfortunately, though, as much as there are ethical publishers who want what’s best for the artists they publish, there are also bad actors who prey on the talents of young and new creators.

How do I move forward from an idea to a finished book? How should I approach the licensing of print and digital rights for my comics? Who owns the copyright for my work? How do royalties and advances work? There are a lot of questions about the publishing process, some of which are unique to comics, and some of which are standard areas of concern for working artists around the world.

Part of the goal of Fieldmouse Press, the nonprofit press that publishes SOLRAD, is to advance the comics arts. We see the continued social and economic success of cartoonists as integral to that goal. SOLRAD has devoted and will continue to devote resources to this area of focus.

To this end, we are running an ongoing feature at SOLRAD called KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE where we both feature an artist every week and ask for their advice about navigating the world of comics publishing, best practices for the business of comics, and other general advice.

For the initial interview series, Sarah Wray from Astra Editorial, who has worked with publishers such as Avery Hill, Liminal 11, and Breakdown Press, reached out to a number of cartoonists that she has worked with and provided them with the following prompting statements:

  • The main thing(s) I expect from a comics publisher is/are…
  • My #1 advice for submitting to agents and publishers…
  • A sneaky red flag or shady thing I would warn new creators to look out for…
  • I think it can be worth it to take a lower-paid illustration job in return for ___…
  • If a publisher/offer seemed too good to be true, here’s how I’d check it out…
  • An organization I’d go to for support if I needed advice or if something went wrong…
  • My best tip for promoting your work online and at cons…
  • To take care of your health / mental health as an artist, I recommend…
  • I wish someone had told me ___ before I started working in the comics industry…

To add to the dialogue, we continue to reach out to cartoonists using this format. Today on The More You Know we’re featuring tips from New Zealand cartoonist, Ant Sang.

Brought up in New Zealand and Hong Kong, Ant Sang lived on a heady diet of comics, cartoons, anime, sci-fi, and Shaw Brothers kung fu films. In the mid-90s, inspired by the alternative comics scene, he began writing, drawing, and self-publishing mini-comics. Since then Ant has become one of New Zealand’s most well-known and respected graphic novelists. From his studio in Auckland, Ant has won awards for his graphic novels and character designs. His comics have been published in the US, UK, Canada, France, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand. Ant loves creating powerful, thought-provoking stories with a dash of dark humor. Although primarily known for telling stories in the visual medium of comics, he is increasingly becoming known for his writing and screenwriting. He now divides his time between comic and film projects. You can find out more about Ant and his work at his website and you can follow him on Instagram and Facebook.

Ant Sang

  • The main things I expect from a comics publisher are realistic deadlines/timeframes and a good team to work with. Working with editors who care about your project and are keen to support you are an immense help when you’re knee-deep in the process of making a graphic novel.
  • My #1 advice for submitting to agents and publishers? Try to create a pitch which would excite you, if you had nothing to do with the project. 
  • A sneaky red flag or shady thing I would warn new creators to look out for is… doing free spec work for a writer or creative in the hopes their project is a success. I’ve done this more times than I should have, and it’s tempting to do when you’re starting out, but really we need to be paid for our time if we’re working on someone else’s dream project (which let’s face it, likely isn’t going to eventuate).
  • I think it can be worth it to take a lower-paid illustration job if it’s for an organization or cause which you think is doing good in the world. 
  • If a publisher/offer seemed too good to be true, here’s how I’d check it out – I’d ask around my peers to see if there’s any goss on the publisher, to find out whether they’re genuine or if they have a dodgy reputation. It’s a small world (and within comics) an even smaller community – so someone is likely to know whether the publisher has burnt anyone in the past.
  • An organization I’d go to for support if I needed advice or if something went wrong… here in New Zealand, we have a writers guild. It’s aimed more towards screenwriting but can offer useful advice to writers in general. Find out if there are any local organizations which you can go to for advice; comic creators have a lot in common with other artists and writers so even though there may not be a dedicated comics guild in your area, lawyers who work in the creative industries are likely to be able to help.
  • To take care of your health / mental health as an artist, I recommend… taking care of your body, especially your back. Earlier this year I had a back injury which took months of physio to rehabilitate. It’s easy for cartoonists to spend hours hunched over the drawing board (or tablet) and the cumulative effect of this can put enormous strain on our backs. I recommend making sure your desk is set up ergonomically and that you take small breaks every half an hour, to stand up, stretch your back, and move around. I also reckon finding a good exercise routine to ‘strengthen your core’ will help in the long term. This might seem boring-as-hell to someone who hasn’t had back problems, but with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight is something I highly recommend to prevent it happening in the future. For your mental health, try not to compare yourself with the success or skills of other artists. There are so many incredibly talented creators out there, it’s easy to compare yourself unfavorable – there’ll always be others who can write better, draw better, be more successful than you. Try to travel your own path, and think about what success means to you (not anyone else).

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