Knowing Is Half The Battle: JOSH HICKS 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.

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 JOSH HICKS.



Josh Hicks is a cartoonist, illustrator, and animation director from Wales. His debut full-length book, Glorious Wrestling Alliance: Ultimate Championship Edition, will be available from Graphic Universe on October 5th. Josh is online at Twitter, Instagram, and his website. He also runs Carp Publishing Endeavours, a comics micropress based in Cardiff.



JOSH HICKS

Hello Solrad readers. Just a disclaimer: while I am now a committed freelancer, I worked a full-time animation job for the entirety of my comics career to date, and, even now, it would be disingenuous to say that pure comics work makes up even 25% of my yearly income. I also don’t know if you could class me as a success by any sane barometer, so please take all advice here with a pinch of salt. Thank you!

The main thing(s) I expect from a comics publisher is/are…

At a basic level, just putting the book out there, publicizing it, handling all shipping/stocking, and some kind of financial exchange in your direction. The specifics change depending on the project and size of the publisher — if it’s a big book you’d want some kind of advance; if it’s a minicomic with a small press publisher, some kind of fair profit split on the backend (if there is any). At the bare minimum though, I think a sense of enthusiasm about the work and a gut feeling that they are a trustworthy enterprise are key. I’ve worked with five publishers: Lerner Publishing; Good Comics here in the UK; Bazgrolle in Poland; Ioan Morris’ now-extinct Dry Comics and myself, and aside from me they’ve all been great.

My #1 advice for submitting to agents and publishers…

I have had zero success in submitting to agents, and have now made two book deals unagented. I don’t know if this is a good idea, but it is the hand I’ve been dealt. My first book, Glorious Wrestling Alliance: Ultimate Championship Edition (coming out October 5th), was picked up after it was essentially finished – I just coloured it and made some tweaks for Lerner – and they picked up my next book, due out in 2024, based on a pitch deck I put together with some sample pages, a synopsis, character breakdowns and a sort of artistic statement of intent. Something similar is what I would send to agents, although again, no success in that department.

A sneaky red flag or shady thing I would warn new creators to look out for…

All my dealings with publishers who have actually put out my work have, again, been great. I have been burnt a couple of times by people promising contracts and then ghosting me, and so I would consider somebody not replying to an email for four weeks a “red flag”. I’d also be loath to take on any substantial amount of work for free or cheap, just because it can be hard to estimate the energy required to do something to completion at the outset. I will probably contradict this advice later in this article.

I think it can be worth it to take a lower-paid illustration job in return for ___…

Here we go, contradiction time. If a job is for a friend, or looks really fun, or can allow you to try something you’ve wanted to do for a while but never had the chance, then maybe go for it. I’d avoid taking really low-paid jobs just on the basis of exposure or because the client is big — if the client is big you’d hope they’d pay properly. Still, what do I know? I’ve broken all these rules in the past — I think the best thing is you just trust your gut.

If a publisher/offer seemed too good to be true, here’s how I’d check it out…

If this were to happen, I’d probably just look for horror stories online and at their past output and history and see if you can decipher anything sketchy. Basic due diligence. I’d also get someone who knows about legal stuff to look over any contracts that come your way or, failing that, just do a lot of research and make sure you properly understand any document prior to signing it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions — if they are reluctant to answer then there’s an issue.

An organization I’d go to for support if I needed advice or if something went wrong…

I am extremely lucky in that there is a great small business centre here in Wales, Welsh ICE (Innovation Centre for Enterprise), that I’ve been peripherally a part of for years. It’s basically a bunch of small start-ups and sole traders working together; you get a lot of different kinds of businesses at a place like that, and so there are always friendly and knowledgeable people to ask about, say, web hosting, or tax, or contract wording, etc. I think if you’re approaching your comics practice like a business — which I didn’t for a long time because it wasn’t making any money — then affiliating yourself with some kind of small business network can be a good idea for a lot of reasons. If I had to restrict myself to just comics people I know for advice on this stuff I don’t know who I’d turn to.

My best tip for promoting your work online and at cons…

Even when I’ve had a great day at a con, I’ve never really made enough to substantially profit after taking out table fees, accommodation, travel, food, etc. — so I would try to disabuse yourself of any notion that you need to make those shows profitable — or that you need to constantly pretend to your peer group that those shows are profitable — in order to make them feel worthwhile. It will just stress you out. Do them to get your comics to people who might like them, meet other people making comics, to “get your name out there”, and to have fun. If you don’t get anything out of them, don’t feel like you need to do them. 

You can make money at those things though, I’m sure, but I haven’t cracked it and it doesn’t represent much of my cartooning income — which is mainly from advances, page rates, and online sales. Selling prints, bits of merch, and little tchotchkes can help cons go more smoothly financially, but just think about whether you actually want to spend your time making those things as opposed to comics. It took me a long time to get a semi-decent table setup; I used to just plop stuff down on the bare, dirty tables and let nature take its course. Just get a tablecloth, a nice stand to put your comics in, be friendly behind the table, and, eventually, people will come by. 

It’s also great to have a con companion. Me and Ioan Morris have run a hustle for years where we buy a half-table space and then squeeze both of us on it. A quarter-table is fine, one of us can watch the stuff if the other wants to walk around, and we have someone to commiserate with if things go poorly.

As for promoting your work online, I just use Twitter and Instagram to share work when I feel like it and try to just use it naturally. I send books to reviewers who’ve reviewed similar things in the past and that has helped a lot. I think a review of one of my minicomics is what first led my editor at Lerner to first get in touch, so it’s definitely worth doing.

To take care of your health / mental health as an artist, I recommend…

I would recommend all the things I don’t do properly because I know that I need to do them. Exercise, going outside, eating well. I would avoid comparing yourself to other artists, especially in terms of online following and whatnot, and just focus on what you’re doing. It is key that you enjoy the process, otherwise it will be a nightmare. Paradoxically, don’t beat yourself up if sometimes it feels like a slog because everything can sometimes feel like a slog if you do it enough.

I wish someone had told me ___ before I started working in the comics industry…

Don’t be overly critical of your own work, trust your instincts, get a tablecloth.


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