Continuing my series of Comics Academy posts where I write about the process of making comics (most of the stuff I’m learning right along with you), I put together a few reviews of some common places to publish your comics once it’s ready to make a public debut.
So, once a comic book has been created, where does it go?
If you're talking about digital comics, it doesn't get any bigger than Amazon-owned Comixology. They're the name in digital comics and probably the largest retailer of comics out there. Because of how monstrous the platform actually is, getting on Comixology can get your work in front of a lot of readers. A LOT. Titles that perform well there can even lead to getting published by traditional comic publishers.
The Comixology submission and acceptance / rejection process from what I can tell is just as shrouded in secrecy as most other tech company platforms. They have specific guidelines and rules that need to be adhered to in order to be accepted and they also appear to have their own view of "quality". Now, I haven't personally submitted to Comixology yet, although I plan to and when I do I'll write a detailed review of the process, but Comixology is the final judge of whether your comic is worthy of publishing on their platform. All I'm saying here is that indie creators who may not necessarily adhere to the "traditional" art forms or formats and methods of comic creation might run into an issue here as opposed to other platforms. Comixology has a specific kind of image that they want to uphold and I can understand why that is and I certainly think they know what they are doing when it comes to publishing comics because look at what they've built. I think what they've done for the comic book industry by dramatically increasing the reach to all kinds of readers is fantastic, however…
There are some pain points in dealing with Comixology. For one, the sales reports…
From what I can tell, there aren't any, so you don't really know how well your book is selling. The seller payment system also can be difficult. As opposed to other platforms, Comixology pays on a quarterly basis, 45 days after the quarter has ended, if you've reached the $100 threshold, in the form of a mailed check. So for all it's advantages of exposure and reach, depending on Comixology as an income stream can be very challenging for independent creators.
The fees for selling on Comixology are also not insignificant. While free to publish your work on the platform (provided your book is accepted) you'll get 50% of the cut after transaction fees and taxes. Oof.
Formatting for Comixology, by that I mean size, image quality, layout, and lettering should be something you consider as you create your comic. There's nothing worse than working for weeks and months or even years to finish your book and then realizing the panels are going to get cut off or your DPI is screwed up. Doing a simple internet search for comic book formats or templates is like having one thousand people screaming back at you their own opinion and telling you how they're the ones who are right. I've been hard-pressed, to find a format and layout requirements that are agreed upon by everyone. With that said, Comixology has their own recommendations for formatting and layout and I think indie creators with an eye towards eventually publishing on Comixology should get used to using them as a standard so that when you do make the eventual jump to submitting, you'll avoid as many headaches as possible.
Standard US Comic Book Page Print Dimensions (According to Comixology)
File type: PDF
BLEED SIZE: 6.875” x 10.437”
This is the TOTAL SIZE of your page files including a 0.125” bleed on all sides. The bleed will be trimmed off so artwork that goes to the edge of trim should bleed off the page. Make sure all artwork fills the bleed area.
TRIM SIZE: 6.625” x 10.187”
This is the actual page size of the book when trimmed, folded & stapled.
LIVE AREA: 6.125” x 9.687”
Also known as “safe zone.” This is the area that your lettering should be contained within, to ensure it’s not too close to the trim.
Double Page Spread:
BLEED SIZE: 13.5” x 10.437”
TRIM SIZE: 13.25” x 10.187”
LIVE AREA: 12.75” x 9.687”
To ensure your art/lettering doesn’t get lost in the gutter, leave a 0.5” type gutter down the middle. This is especially necessary for thick collections.
Fees: After processing fees, 50%.
Publishing on Comixology for indie comic book creators can definitely be seen as the "end game." That is, it should definitely be where you see your work eventually being published, but not necessarily right out of the gate. There's just too many gatekeepers and requirements for me to endorse aiming for this at the beginning of your comic making career. For those who have had a few projects under their belts and are looking for the next plateau, definitely start investing your time in the platform.
Madefire has a special place in my heart. They're the plucky digital comic book startup that have kept going while the talking heads of comic book-dom have doubted their staying power pretty much since the get-go…if they mention them at all. While Comixology has been soaking up the limelight, Madefire has quietly been busy building a digital comic book platform with all the potential to rival them. While they were lacking the big name publishers for several years, recently they've added DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, and Image to their roster bulking up their offerings. They're also platform ubiquitous which even includes virtual reality. If you want to know what the future of comics looks like, you'll want to keep an eye on Madefire.
Their standout feature? Motion. Comics on Madefire can take advantage of their unique platform to make books where panels jump out at you with music, movement, and sound effects to create an immersive reading experience. They have a ton of free motion comics to download so I definitely recommend seeing this for yourself and imagining the potential of your own work in a motion comic format.
Now, publishing with Madefire...is a different story.
I'm honestly a little perplexed by the whole process and I think it's a barrier they should work on going forward if they want to provide a viable platform for indie creators.
Firstly, you'll need to use their Motion Book Tool to create your book whether it's motion or not. This runs in a browser using Flash (yuck) and is generally hard to understand how to use. You'll need to upload your image files and if you do a motion comic; text bubbles, sounds, FX, etc that they refer to as assets. They provide a handful of premade assets in a quick start guide that you can use, but you're pretty much on your own after that. I've found the Motion Book Tool to be a bit buggy and dated-looking (like much of their website). Using their 41 PAGE "JUMP START GUIDE" (p.s. 41 pages is NOT a jump start) I attempted to create a motion comic of my short comic, Gemini. After an hour or so of frustration, I gave up. Either I don't possess the design chops to sit through the laborious task of motion comic creation (quite plausible) or the tools provided just need some work, simple as that.
I love what Madefire is trying to do and I think they certainly have a place in the world of digital comics. They're also the non-Amazon choice that lets you buy all the big name comics in-app, if those things are important to you. For those reasons I've included them, but they may not be your first choice for where to publish your comics. At least until they've streamlined the submission process. Here's to hoping.
Gumroad is one of my favorite online marketplaces to sell your goods. For one, it's very simple to use, both for sellers and for buyers. You don't actually even need to make a Gumroad account to purchase something, you just need an email address. You can even offer your digital products for free. One of the biggest features of Gumroad is that it can also function as your email funnel. Every purchase (even free ones) collects the emails of your customers which you can then update via Gumroad itself in a simple interface or export your list for use on another platform. I can't overstate it enough that this is INCREDIBLY valuable to creatives for growing your business. I can't think of any other platform that allows you to directly contact your customers about new or updated products.
Fees: (Free Version) 8.5% + $0.30 (USD) per sale, (Paid Version / $10 per month) 3.5% + $0.30 (USD) per sale.
Since Gumroad sells your work, however you make it, there are no restrictions about formatting dimensions or anything like that. It’s incredibly open. Which may mean that yes, the comic reading experience may be inconsistent between different creators, but I think as an entry point to putting your work out there, Gumroad is the way to go.
Hosting your comics on your own website gives you the most control over how your comic is presented and will probably let you keep the most profit of a sale than any of the other publishing options. For most websites though, you'll have to know at least a little bit about how to set one up.
I personally use Squarespace for my hosting and as user-friendly as it is, there's still a learning curve. The other hurdle is getting people to find your comic. While the main marketplaces have name recognition and a wide user-base, you will be doing the heavy lifting on your own site of pulling in eyeballs. For this reason I recommend using your own site as a good jumping-off point to your creative projects, but not the sole location of where they reside. Unless you're one of a handful of well known webcomics, you just don't have the web traffic to be successful. Let someone else who already has created an infrastructure to offer, sell, and deliver your comic do the dirty work so you can back to the job of actual comic book creating.
Those are the main avenues I have to suggest for putting your comic out into the great wide world. Now get to creating so you can start publishing!
Have any other suggestions? Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know!