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.
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. Today on KNOWING IS HALF THE BATTLE we’re featuring tips from ERIC KOSTIUK WILLIAMS.
Eric Kostiuk Williams is an illustrator and cartoonist based in Toronto, Canada. recent publications include Our Wretched Town Hall from Retrofit Comics and Condo Heartbreak Disco from Koyama Press. He contributes weekly comics to Now Magazine, Toronto’s largest indie newspaper. Eric is an Eisner, two-time Lambda Literary, and three-time Doug Wright finalist. You can visit Eric’s Webpage to find out more about him. You can also find him on Twitter and Instagram.
ERIC KOSTIUK WILLIAMS
The main thing(s) I expect from a comics publisher is/are…
I expect a publisher to believe in the book, promote it effectively, and to have a solid grasp on how to get it into stores. An advance of some sort is also nice!
My #1 advice for submitting to agents and publishers…
If you’re doing a cold call e-mail, read carefully through their submission guidelines and keep your initial e-mail concise and professional.
But, if you’ve got a solid idea and are feeling ready to go, I would also suggest — if you can — to just make the work and release it yourself online or through self-publishing. I’ve noticed that several comic publishers, for better or worse, prefer to see a work that’s already close to completion and receiving positive feedback from its audience. Publishing is tough and publishers want to see that you’re the real deal, walking the walk, as opposed to someone they’re taking a risk on (I wish they’d take more risks, though!).
As for agents, I can’t say I have any experience with that. If an agent is reading this, don’t hesitate to say hi! Help me, please!
A sneaky red flag or shady thing I would warn new creators to look out for…
For artists: beware of writers getting in touch asking to collaborate on a graphic novel. Chances are they do not have a sense of how many more hours it takes to draw one than it takes to write one. Consider doing it if they’ve thought ahead about paying you appropriately for your time.
With regards to publishers: if you’re thinking of working with one, do some online research/snooping with a few considerations in mind. How long have they been around? Do they seem to have long-standing working relationships with creators, or are they more of a revolving door? If you’re in the early stages of chatting with a publisher, how organized do they seem? Do they have a contract for you?
I think it can be worth it to take a lower-paid illustration job in return for ___…
I’ll take on a low-paying illustration job if it’s fun, and if I can tell they won’t micro-manage and ask for a zillion edits along the way. I spent a lot of my twenties illustrating nightlife posters, often for little to no pay or a few drink tickets. But I believed in the cause, and I had the freedom to get super weird and wild with it.
After a while, my portfolio had a ton of this stuff! And in the past couple of years, clients have reached out asking me to bring my own vibe to their project, as opposed to me having to adapt to the hot illustration trend of the moment.
If a publisher/offer seemed too good to be true, here’s how I’d check it out…
Do a Twitter search and see if anyone’s talked shit about them! Or, if you have any peers you trust, reach out (with tact and grace, of course) to see what they have to say.
An organization I’d go to for support if I needed advice or if something went wrong…
Fortunately, my experiences with publishers have all been positive (Koyama Press, Retrofit, Czap Books: thanks for being awesome!). I don’t really know of an “organization” per se — maybe cartoonists should unionize or something? — but I do feel like we have each other’s backs more and more. When a publisher is shitty to a creator, that’s gonna get around to the community pretty quickly.
My best tip for promoting your work online and at cons…
In my years, I’ve been very reliant on comic festivals, with TCAF often serving as my annual moment to debut a new project. In recent years, I’ve had great success with prints and clever/silly t-shirt designs.
But in the age of Cornova (as Wendy Williams phrased it), we’re kinda stuck with online promotion. Instagram is the devil, but is, unfortunately, a great way of reaching an audience. ‘Photo set’ posts lend themselves pretty naturally to posting comic strips.
In terms of actual monetization, peers of mine seem to be making it work by serializing their projects on subscription-based platforms like Patreon.
I can’t say it’s easy right now, or that I have any of it figured out in our new circumstances.
To take care of your health / mental health as an artist, I recommend…
Having parts of your life that don’t revolve around comics and art. Pre-pandemic, I worked part-time as a server. It wasn’t particularly fun or glamorous a lot of the time, but meeting coworkers from different worlds (many were musicians, actors, students, etc.) and engaging with the general public helped prevent me from getting too naval-gaze-y.
Getting enough sleep is also so important. At the end of the day, being an overworked, under-rested cartoonist isn’t romantic or noble. This is the one life we’ve got, and I doubt many people’s deathbed regrets involve wishing they’d worked more.
I wish someone had told me ___ before I started working in the comics industry…
How important it is to think of yourself as a business and to be on top of tax things! And that being in the biz never really gets easier. Many of the people you admire and perceive as successful are still struggling with money stuff and with imposter syndrome. I think “success” is just being able to stick around and keep doing it.