Good Afternoon Dave!
I forgot to mention how much I appreciated the Cerebus Tv Episode. I enjoyed the old music and the shots of the box. That was pretty nice. My favorite scene had to be the transformation of issue 172 of Cerebus to Straw Man #9’s exclusive SPACE con cover.
I agree that design plays more into, will I pick this up, will I buy this? When I started Straw Man I certainly wasn’t a designer, and I wasn’t thinking like a designer. I had a lot of trouble as a designer figuring out what color scheme would work for the cover. I tried a lot of stuff and nothing seemed right. It wasn’t until the second issue did I discover the first essential color choice to Straw Man’s design, that being his PINK stripes. Around the time issue 3 was coming out I was taking color theory in college. Over time a lot of the essential elements to Straw Man – logo, cover dressing, and his costume have solidified. In fact all new and re-issued issues are going to have the standard logo and cover dressing. I remember reading through the first Cerebus trade and I was thinking about how evenly Cerebus’s design had changed from issue 1 to 25. By the end of the book it was beginning to look more like Cerebus the character and less like an aardvark.
As unfair as it is, people do judge a book by it’s cover. So I wish that first cover was “perfect” before printing. Granted it should have been “perfect” within my means and capabilities of 2003 David Branstetter. I agree that this should be the first thing about the design that you should be concerned with. How well does this show up compared to other books on the shelf.
That was one of the things that I was concerned with when I started looking at the shelves with Straw Man next some random DC book. Which one would I rather buy not knowing anything about Straw Man? Obviously the “prettier” cover. The one with 12 seasoned guys spending a lot of time on it. They do it that way because it works.
The biggest thing I learned from SPACE con was presentation. I don’t know if you can remember Eric Adam’s Lackluster World, but his presentation alone made me buy his first issue. Eric seemed like an intelligent guy, his banners were beautiful, he was dressed well, and the art looked great. Instant sale. I could care less about the content of the book. Don’t get me wrong, it was a well told issue. The point is, the packaging was essential to my purchase. I’ve since decided NOT to buy the book because of the creators attitude towards Christianity. Not because his dislike and mistrust of it, but because of his constant need to point out the “stupidity” of it to others. That crosses the line for me. I don’t walk up to perfect strangers and point out the stupidity of atheism. Nor would it garner me any friends.
This leads to my next point. Attitude. Not only are you selling artwork, you’re also selling an idea. If I love the way something looks and I think it’s a stupid idea, I’m not going to buy it. Maybe “Straw Man” is a stupid idea. Maybe that’s a big deterrent in addition to the lack of eye candy. But even a positive attitude can turn someone’s opinion around. I know that if I have a good nights sleep the day before my convention, my sales are significantly better. If I’m telling everyone with my body language that I think I suck, who would want to buy into that?
I bring those things up first because really… most displays are dull and most guys don’t have the chops to make comics. It’s hard to make that call. It’s a personal one that you have to make tempered with how well your books sell.
Another advantage to having just one book out, besides being the #1, is that your customers choices are limited. If possible, it’s best to limit your display to just one issue. Keep your desk free from clutter and let them ask you if you have more. You don’t want to overwhelm them with choices. It sounds counter intuitive but it works. Also have a jar with money in it. It makes people think you have a popular book. I was getting a lot of donations when I was giving out free copies of Straw Man #9 at Space con. So that just lead to more donations. You have to be willing to ask.
If you’re working on artwork, inevitably people will start to ask, what are you doing? And if you take a moment to talk to them, it makes them feel important and it makes them feel like you are giving them something with your time.
I’d say if you can’t get them with your artwork what seals the deal for me is gimmick packaging. Am I going to pay 3 dollars for a simply drawn 8 page story or am I going to pay 3 dollars for a simply drawn 8 page story with 3D glasses? Duh– go for the 3D. Offer something unique and people will be intrigued. In 2009 I was sitting next to a guy who couldn’t draw worth a lick (self admitted “I can’t Draw comics #1”) and was actually moving books because the girl at his table was also selling these homemade hand crafted stuffed beanie toys. This really went over well with the non-comic buying spouse. So if you target that audience you might do better than all your comic book making friends.
You could also have the wrong packaging to sell your comic. The best example of this is probably Max Ink’s “Blink”. Max was selling his comics in a mini-comic format that would have been better in a full size format. I know because I passed up Blink 4 years in a row. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just didn’t seem like anything substantial. As soon as he compiled them all into “So Far” I was able to really appreciate the beauty of his work. That was the right format for Blink and I think Max will agree. He’s already started on his next graphic novel, So it Goes, which I’m eagerly awaiting. This is a natural effect of the #1 rule. Make a great looking comic.
You mentioned Plastic Farm. I bought their issue 5 because of the free music cd and because of the proximity to Dave Sim. Now granted over the years the inmates have started running the asylum and it’s less important to have that hot artist next to your table. This is speculation because I haven’t actually set up next to the hot artist. I did just as well when Dave Sim was 10 feet away from me and as when he was across the room. I also don’t “get” Plastic Farm, even though it’s well done and it’s amazing that they are continuing to work on the book. It might be another case where the trade is a more satisfying read than the standalone issue.
Tom Scioli, Jack Kirby impersonator extrodinaire, was set up across from you in 2004. I didn’t start off being a Kirby fan so the Kirby impression was not going to sell me. What did sell me was the fact that he took time to talk to me about my work and because he had an Erik Larsen drawing in the back. If Erik Larsen thought it was cool, it had to be good.
Sometimes the underdogs will get together and just have fun. By the end of the day we’ve all been friendly towards each other so we end up trading or selling each other books. That networking, even though it doesn’t lead to immediate sales, might eventually do wonders for your book. I got to go back to Max Ink again because it was through his facebook page that I was able to see his full on illustrations. It was the fact that he was posting new, good looking work that caught my attention. Max was friends with Steve Peters and Bob Corby and so I was seeing his work all the time.
I got to think about, would I buy this if I didn’t make it. That seems to be the best test I can do on my own. I’ve learned a lot to ask a few people where they can see improvements to my work. Mike Kitchen helped me make some changes to Straw Man #2 so that the story made a lot more sense. On issue 9 I asked Gary Scott Beatty to color the cover. I tried doing it myself and the final product just didn’t sell the drawing that well. I think the difference his work made was well worth the extra 50 bucks I paid for the colorist.
I would probably try to do something more traditional so that people weren’t scratching their heads saying, what is this about? I have an idea for reviving the golden age character “The Heap”. I’ve got a great hook for the series and I’m seriously considering doing one issue in color, make it a stand alone story, and deliver the best package I can. I think that sort of thing may end up getting more attention than doing Straw Man.
Regarding a re-boot of Straw Man. I probably won’t do that. Essentially issues 5 and 9 are reboots. I took what worked and what didn’t work from previous versions and reconfigured them. I also made it so the audience can enjoy the book without reading anything before it but they all work together. If anything I’ll dramatically change the direction of the series by introducing a new element. I have to speak in general terms because I may end up spoiling some information.
Anything post 12 will be stylistically different from 1-12, playing up my strengths and perhaps working in color. A lot of the built in problems of Straw Man will be gone. I can give an example of what I’m talking about with built in problems. In issue 1 it’s established that Straw Man can’t see women. From a writing point of view it’s a nightmare. I essentially need women to tell a good story. I found that out the hard way. So at the end of 3 I did a small course correction with the hypnotists scene and fixed that problem. I’m not sure of how well it worked. I thought it was kinda shoe-horned in there, but I knew the sooner it was out the better it would be.
It would be interesting to also try doing something simpler. I haven’t tried doing minimalism (even though I’ve achieved it several times whether I like it or not). There’s a certain style of art, let’s call it the fantagraphics style, that’s a little wonky but not a big departure from traditional comics. I might try doing something more like this, something more texture based. I think I’ve hit the glass ceiling as far as my traditional technical skills are concerned. It would be fun to try something over the top that emphasizes cartooning or something that more basic than what I’ve previously attempted.
I might also try to do something more autobiographical as well. People have really expressed that “Winter of 89” my second 24 hour comic and “Death and Rock ‘n’ Roll” were some of my best material. I think my openness to express my limited world view is more compelling than my superhero stuff. I will probably do something like “Dim-Light Graphics Presents’ and show case a few ideas as they come. If something sticks I might pursue that.
I don’t know, but when Straw Man is done expect to see a few experiments before I quit all together. I can’t envision not having something on the drawing board.
Now I’ll Ask You One:
Do you have reactions to the stuff I’m talking about in this reply and the “what would I do differently about Straw Man” Answer? Anything you would agree with or disagree on?
Can you tell me about the story you told Mike Kitchen about the thirty bags of leaves on the curb? He said he would mess it up if he told it.