Comix Engine 1

It is that time of year again, where I find myself haunted by Ideas. I get restless, insomniac, and spend hours trying to capture the tsunami of thought in scribbles, notes, and sketches. This is a recurring state, and possibly the closest thing I get to a “Manic State” (other artists I’m sure can relate). The important thing to remember is not to act upon said Tsunami of Thought, and instead realize it is a phase of idea-development, not idea-implementation. Idea implementation comes later, after you’ve had enough distance from the heat of the idea’s inception to consider it rationally, and think through the facets of its realization. Of course, it depends on the idea. Certain ideas are only capable of being done in heat. This however isn’t one of them.

Because what this is, is not a one time thing. It’s a long-term thing that would require a sustained and very regular flow of production, and that is something that requires careful planning as opposed to sheer dependence on a singular spark that lights up in the dead of night (essentially not unlike the difference between a one-night stand and an actual relationship).

Backstory: Whenever I step away from something for a while, I get the strongest itch to get back into it with vigor. So, for example, if I step away from contemporary art and the exhibition circuit and spend some time invested in working on comix, it’s only a couple months before I wanna get back into contemporary art again. Right now? I’m very excited about comix again. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

So, somewhere in the back of my mind I’ve been thinking about a structure that would allow for a sustained production of All The Things! The Art, the Comix, the Design, and the Writing!

And I think I’ve found it! A publication. Or rather, more like a publishing model. Or more accurately, a little bit of both.

(This of course is not surprising to anyone who actually knows me, as the dream of self-publishing has been a very long one—for publishing is itself a creative act—and I’ve been toying with a variety of ideas in that regard for a long time now.)

It’s clear to me now that the format popularized by American Corporate Comics is quite simply… insane. Assuming one has a life beyond making comics and only works 5 days a week (hahahahaha), one would have to produce about 22 pages of comics in a mere 20 days. So that’s a little over a page a day. Of course, it’s a little more doable within the assembly line system of Corporate Comics, but if you’re a very independent maker of comix, that would mean writing, penciling, inking, lettering, and assembling all on your own (color is obviously not even an option here), and doing all that work on a page-a-day basis is simply impossible.

(There are of course exceptions to the rule; Ditko, Byrne, Eisner…)

This realization naturally led me to consider the format Warren Ellis invented for his collaboration with Ben Templesmith, FELL: 16 pages of comix in a 24pp unit. That left 8 pages; 2 for the cover and backcover, and 6 for some backmatter: a bit of script, some sketches, and random thoughts connected to the installment at hand. On top of that, the series was very episodic, with each episode largely self-contained. Prrrreeetty genius if you ask me.

But… and this is no small but, producing 16 pages of comix in 20 days is 0.8 pages a day, which… y’know, is still about a page a day (and remember, I’d be writing the thing too), so it still doesn’t quite shave enough off.

But then, Warren (who is the cause of all my sleepless nights) recently mentioned another format that’s been nagging at the back of his head: 48-page graphic novellas, 3 times a year.

That, ladies and gentlemen, entails producing no more than 12 pages of comix a month. About half a page per day, which is very very doable.

But because I’m interested in more than just comix, I began to expound on the idea a little bit (I may very well backtrack and start to re-simplify, but bear with me for now). Before I get into the non-comix stuff though, I think it might be nice to divide the monthly comix output into two features instead of one (helps keep shit interesting). Three of those 12 pages can be assigned to a self-contained short, along the lines of say… SLICES which Andrew Dabb collaborated on with a wide range of artists for the long defunct (including, by the way, the aforementioned Ben Templesmith and other would be comicbook professionals such as Brett Weldele of THE SURROGATES fame—Opi8 also featured the early work of Molly Crabapple and Kieron Gillen, a testament to the importance of “anthologies” for the development of any creative field, even in the “Cyber Age”.)

(Hey, it was the early 2000’s.)

So: 3 pages of self-contained comix + 9 pages of comix towards a longer story.

I imagine I could manage to also work in about 4 pages of prose fiction and 4 pages of non-fiction. And maybe even 4 more pages of other art: painting, collage, graphics, Stand-alone art things that can be sprinkled throughout the publication (there go my weekends).

Which puts me at a total of 22 pages of material per month.

Now, I wouldn’t print the thing monthly. It’d come out 3 times a year, collecting 88 pages of content, plus a couple of pages for frontispiece and index. So say, 90 pages in total.

(Although, maybe digital-only for the monthly installments?)

A 90-page perfect-bound paperback journal of comix, writing, and art, printed in black and white save for the cover (which would be in color). At 6”x9” I can probably manage to price it at around 10 bucks. Not dirt cheap, but not obtrusively expensive either. Of course, only 48 pages of that 90-page volume would be comix. 36 of them dedicated to one single comix story, and 12 assigned to four self-contained 3-page comix.

36 pages would be too short for a graphic novella though, so let’s say that 36-page comix story isn’t a complete story, but is only Act One of a story. By the end of the year, you have all three acts finished and collected in their very own 144-page hardback without any of the other stuff (that stuff only appears in the journal). Still black & white, but on nicer paper. This would likely end up on the pricey side, around $30 or so (rough estimate).

So to summarize, I would only publish two types of things:

A 90-page paperback journal of mixed content—3 times a year.

A 144-page hardback graphic novel—once a year..

(And maaaaaaaybe a collection of all the prose stuff every… 3 years?)

Still, if one was to play it safe, you ideally want all the material for at least 2 journal editions in the bag before you actually print anything. So that’s essentially 8 months of work in advance without pay. And then you want to account for the likelihood of not turning a profit for… at least 4 issues (if you turn a profit at all), which means best not attempt to even start anything like this at all without 16 months worth of expenses set aside. A conservative estimate I’d say is… maybe $68,000.

Which y’know, isn’t impooooossssible, but still, not something you wake up in the morning and just decide to do. Not a bad target to set and plan for (while fully acknowledging that it still may totally flunk in the end, which is always the most likely scenario, and that’s okay).

So if I do in fact sustain the necessary madness to actually embark on this ridiculous idea one day, it wouldn’t be till a few years after I’m done with THE SOLAR GRID (keeping my fingers crossed for 2020), so no way before… 2023-24, if at all.

(This post was first published on December 1st in Restricted Frequency no. 140)