Product development for indie comics

August 25th, 2018

"Product development" might seem like a hefty phrase to throw at a creative endeavor such as "indie comics".

"Product development" conjures images of focus groups, marketing teams, profit margins, metrics, clipboards, accountants... and a cleaning chemical-like effect on creativity.
"Indie comics" is all about DIY, inspiration, immediacy, and passion. Creativity is the lifeblood of indie comics.

Here's the thing... creating a comic like Kun-ghur takes time and effort and support. What about you, fellow creators? How long did you spend on your most recent book?

If you treat "time" and "energy" as a form of currency, how much did you invest in creating your book?

I am primarily an artist, and (somewhat stereotypically) I crave validation from an audience. Validation is the richest, juiciest return-on-investment possible. Yeah sex is great, but have you ever been overwhelmed by a flood of validation?

I am primarily an artist, and crave validation from an audience.

Before you start delving into script-writing and thumbnails and linework and colours... wouldn't it be wise to know that I'm creating a book that people get excited about?
Join me as I explore product development for indie comics creators!

Product development for indie comics

It's common advice that it takes about 10 years for a comics creator to "make it". That's 10 years of "time" and "effort"... our artistic currency.

Assuming you're earning the US minimum wage (~$15) for a full-time 40 hours per week (~$600) for 48-working weeks a year ($28,000)... taking 10 years to "make it" as a comics creator is a self-investment of more than a quarter-million dollars.

I dunno... all of a sudden, being intentional about the comics that I create seems like good adulting.

Here's some thoughts from BJ Mendelson, delivered as a talk at Florida Supercon:

"I’m going to give you two quick exercises to do at home. The first is something Amazon and the ad agency CP+ B does and it’s very simple. Before you do anything, write a press release promoting the thing you want to create.

"Writing a press release isn’t hard. You can grab a template online. The point of this exercise isn’t about how well you can format a press release. The point is to sell yourself and your friends on your comic. Because if you can’t do that, then nothing else I’m going to tell you is going to matter.
In fact, if you can’t write a press release that gets people excited about your stuff, drop everything you’re doing and focus on this until you do. Don’t move on to the next step.

"Here’s the other exercise, both of these, by the way, was suggested by the author Ryan Holiday: In the third person, write a sentence, a paragraph, and one page explaining what your comic is, who it’s for, and how people should feel after reading it. That last part sounds silly, but it’s important. If you can’t provoke an emotional response in your readers, they’re not going to care enough to tell others about it. ”Good” isn’t good enough."

If you can’t write a press release that gets people excited about your stuff, drop everything you’re doing and focus on this until you do.

Real talk... I am so super incredibly proud of "Kun-ghur: Kuma's Hero". It's a great book. That said... I wonder... would it pass the press release test..? I'm not sure that it would. Anecdotal evidence from conversations and conventions suggests it's a tough sell. In hindsight, spending more time on crafting an attention-grabbing press release might have made conventions and Kickstarters an easier proposition.

An attention-grabbing hook means a better chance at a good return-on-investment. Not a guaranteed RoI... but definitely a better chance.

What does a solicitation look like?

As a starting point for indie comics product development, here is a selection of solicitations for September 2018. Solicitations are loosely press releases specific to comics retailers. It's worth remembering that retailers are actually the primary audience for comic book publishers. The paying customer picking up a handful of books from a spinner rack? They're the secondary audience for a publisher. Always understand exactly who you're marketing to.

alt text
Bully #1 | Credit: Image

Image Comics

"Rufus, the biggest bully in Rottenville since kindergarten, suddenly goes from bully to bullied on the first day of high school. He’s forced to make a shaky pact with his favorite geeks: Spencer and his twin sibling besties, Edith and Ernie. Together they’ll have to find a way to survive the Hunger Games-like contest known simply as the BULLY WARS—where the winner will rule the school!"

"A mutation in Toxoplasmosis causes menstruating women to turn into ferocious killer wildcats—easily provoked and extremely dangerous. As panic spreads and paranoia takes root, the fate of the world rides on the shoulders of one twelve-year-old girl. Part Cat People, part The Handmaid’s Tale, MAN-EATERS will have everyone talking. From the creative team behind the Eisner-nominated series Mockingbird: writer CHELSEA CAIN, artist KATE NIEMCZYK, colorist RACHELLE ROSENBERG, letterer JOE CARAMAGNA, and joined by LIA MITERNIQUE, KATIE LANE,and STELLA GREENVOSS. This September… the cat wants in."

"Teenage Ellie has always had romantic ideas about drug addicts. The tragic, artistic souls drawn to needles and pills have been an obsession since the death of her junkie mother ten years ago. But when Ellie lands in an upscale rehab clinic where nothing is what it appears to be, she’ll find another, more dangerous romance… and find out how easily drugs and murder go hand-in-hand. MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES is a seductive coming-of-age story, a pop and drug culture-fueled tale of a young girl seeking darkness—and what she finds there. "

alt text
Fantastic Four #2 | Credit: Marvel Comics


"What have Reed, Sue and the kids been up to all this time? What adventures have they been on? What strange new friends have they found along the way? What deadly new enemies have they made? And what are Franklin and Valeria’s new codenames? All these questions will be answered... just in time for ENTIRE UNIVERSES TO DIE!"

"Rebellion among the rebels! When M’Baku rises to lead the Nameless, he’ll advocate for a new strategy in their war against the Empire — one that goes against everything T’Challa believes. But M’Baku’s plan could save lives. And without his mantle, what power does T’Challa have to fight for what he knows is right?"

"Once, Black Bolt’s voice could shatter planets. Now, it cannot even break down the walls that hold him. The Midnight King is naught but a wounded prisoner — and his family but lambs to the slaughter. They will plea for help from a distant ally. It will not save them."

alt text
Wonder Woman Earth One Vol 2 HC | Credit: DC Comics


"For years, Diana of Paradise Island yearned to leave the only home she knew behind for adventures that laid beyond its shores. Now, after a fateful meeting with Air Force pilot Steve Trevor, the Amazon Warrior finds herself in Man’s World. And she is ready for anything that it may throw at her. But is the world ready for Wonder Woman? An American government, fraught with dissension and conflicts foreign to Diana, has deemed her a danger to society. How will Wonder Woman carry out her mission of peace and love in a world that can’t get out of its own way? That is, unless there are more insidious forces at play..."

"When a crack in the border between worlds releases an army of monsters from Mexican folklore, the residents of Devil’s Fork, AZ, blame the ensuing weirdness—the shared nightmares, the otherworldly radio transmissions, the mysterious goat mutilations—on “God-dang illegals.” With racial tensions supernaturally charged, it’s up to new kid in town Frank Dominguez and a motley crew of high school misfits to discover what’s really going on in this town torn between worlds."

"There is a place where stories are born. Today its walls lie slashed and bleeding. Dream has abandoned his realm, and until he is found, its residents must protect its broken borders alone. But the most senior storysmiths are tormented by invasive secrets, the warden Lucien is doubting his own mind—and beyond the gates something horrific waits with tooth and talon. Only Dora, the monstress, finds opportunity in madness, stealing dreams for the highest bidder. But she has no idea how deep the danger lies."

Five drafts of solicitation text

A plot for the next Kun-ghur book exists. It's good. I think it's got legs. But before I invest a truckload of time and effort into developing the plot into a story and a script, I'm going to write the solicitation text now. This means that if I change my mind, or heck, if the plot isn't an engaging prospect - then I can overhaul it. I want to develop my product as early as possible.

A routine mission to a seafaring vessel becomes a living nightmare for heroic flying courier Skylark. Injured during a pirate attack, she loses her power of flight. As she recuperates among the pirate crew, Skylark questions her relationships with her friends, her family, and her people. Has she found her new home and identity as a pirate?
I like this option

Skylark has never been at ease among her people. Their rules and restrictions leave the daredevil courier feeling trapped. When a devastating injury leaves her stranded on a pirate vessel, Skylark has a chance to find her feet with a new family. Led by the mysterious Fell Captain and her crew of misfits, the pirate life offers Skylark freedom from rules and restrictions. Now that's she's found the acceptance she's always craved, will Skylark leave her heroic life behind to become a seafaring criminal?
I like this option

Skylark has the gift of unlimited flight - so long as she never touches the ground! All it takes is just one moment, just one mistake for Skylark's entire world to crumble. Injured and alone aboard the notorious Fell Captain's pirate vessel, the heroic Skylark can either surrender and be sold as a zoo exhibit - or thrive as she builds a new life among a band of criminal misfits...
Also in this issue: See what happens when Kun-ghur and Skylark go on a date together!
I like this option

Designed for care and compassion in an ancient time, the robot nurse NTT ("Entity") wakes into a world torn apart by the evil warlord Purplex. Damaged, defeated, and directionless, all Entity wants to do is find people to care for. Instead, all Entity can find is a jungle full of mistrusting animals and a hovel of angry humans. Maybe it's time to shut down for good? Or maybe it's time to unite the jungle creatures, defend the family, and defeat Purplex's latest war machine...
I like this option

Deep in the oceans, a raging volcanic fissure just released three burning demonic figures who are now walking along the seabeds toward Etorea City. What doom do they bring? Prince Uis, the commander of ocean's armies, races against time to decipher mysterious flaming symbols etched onto the walls of his underwater cities. Desperate to prevent panic among his people, Uis rallies Kun-ghur and Babastyx to his side. Will they be enough to stop the march of the terrifying Imbil?
I like this option


Would you be so kind at to take a quick survey to let me know which solicitation text you like best?
Kun-ghur: Solicitation Options at SurveyMonkey

Take the survey now!

Become a Patron!