Self Publishing and Printing Comics -The Basics

This information is meant to provide enough knowledge on publishing to feel comfortable talking to publishing companies. By no means does this post cover all aspects this complex endeavor, but I hope it helps build confidence.

Comic books are steeped in tradition. The way a comic feels in your hands, the colors and even the type of paper used in traditional comics are important. For instance, if you create a comic using a thick heavy paper stock the tactile feel will be all wrong.

Your book may be beautiful, and it may feel expensive, indeed, your comic may be a much higher quality than all the others on the shelf, but if it doesn’t feel like a comic book it’s not a comic book. They say that if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck then it’s probably a duck. If you want to publish a traditional comic, first you must understand what makes a comic book…a comic book.

Components of a Comic Book.

A traditional, or standard comic book is comprised of three simple parts: Size, binding and paper stock.

Size/Page Count

6.625″x10.25″ 32 to 52 pages. 32 is the norm.

Comic creator, Adam Swan explains the size of a comic book on his classic site hoboes.com, “comics are printed in ‘signatures’ of 16 pages. This means that a comic, for economy, should be either 16 pages long, or 32. This is because a standard printing plate is 2 comic pages tall, by 4 across (2×4=8 known as a ‘flat’) and comic pages are printed on both sides (8×2=16, 16 pages in the signature.) Most comics are 32 pages long with 4 covers.”

 Binding

Saddle-stitch bound, which means stuck together with staples.

Paper Stock

40lb to 50lb paper for the interior pages
40lb to 80lb glossy paper for the covers.

Shopping around for a printer takes a lot of effort. It helps to understand what the printing company is talking about. Gianluca Glazer, former Director of Marketing at Radical Publishing, offers some insight on paper stock and the language professional printing companies use.

“regarding paper stock, the weight is actually determined by the what kind of paper the printer actually uses. For example, 50-pound stock of paper for one printer may be different from 50-pound stock from another printer because they use different qualities of paper. Most, if not all printers, will send you a sample of the books they have printed and you can determine what you want. The key is to make sure the paper is thick enough to avoid any watermark like ripples in the paper caused by the ink. All paper should have a gloss to it and you can either do a self-cover or plus cover for the book. A self-cover uses the same stock as the interior page and a 32-page book would have 28 pages of interior and 4 pages that comprise the cover, inside front cover, inside back cover and back cover. A 32 page plus cover is 32 interior pages plus a cover page (usually a thicker almost card stock weight) used to comprise the cover, inside front cover, inside back cover and back cover.

A number of comics use plus cover though not as many as self. It doesn’t have to be cardstock and could be the same stock as the interior but most would use something slightly thicker. A 48-page prestige bound (prestige is a square-bound book without staples) book is a plus cover and if you look at the cover and the interior, you’ll notice a difference. The easiest way to tell is to count the interior pages. If there are 32 pages (not counting the inside front and back covers) then it’s a plus cover. If it’s 28 pages, it’s a self-cover.”

Finding a printer

Dave Sims who self-published 300 issues of Cerebus knows a bit about self-publishing, his advice on finding a printer may help.

“To find a printer for your self-published comic book, you can refer to the yellow pages of your phone directory. Provide them with a copy of a black-and-white comic with color covers and ask how much they would charge to print 2,000, 2,500, 3,000, etc. This is the way that printers work: if you just ask how much they charge, they’re going to ask how many you want to print. Expect the quotes to vary from around 40 cents to 2 dollars a copy. Let them know that the cover stock and interior paper do not have to be exactly the same and that you are concerned about keeping the cost per unit down. Sometimes they will have a supply of paper from another job or remainders lying around that they can give you a ‘deal’ on.

The difference in price will depend on what the printer specializes in. If they do mostly wedding invitations and fliers, a comic book is going to be a very big job and it’s going to cost you. If they do mostly newspapers and advertising supplements, it will be just another job. It they do mostly coffee-table-style art books and labels and promotions for Coca Cola, Exxon or other multinational corporations, your job is going to be too small and it will cost you.”

Offset Printers

Offset, is the traditional process for printing comics, it uses giant professional printing presses, and is great when it comes to the price you pay per book. If you are going to have thousands of books printed, then offset printing is the way to go. The problem with offset printing is that if you don’t have a lot of books to print, then your tiny run probably isn’t worth a printing companies time.

If you want to print 200 books, traditional offset printing is probably not for you. Think of it this way, printing 200 books on a tradition press will take five minutes. The effort to prepare your measly 200 isn’t worth their time. Most of these companies won’t even talk to you unless you are printing 2000 copies or more. That’s not to say you can’t find someone to do it, it just won’t be easy and will be cost prohibitive.

Dave Arhar, Penny Dreadful Press, offered his experience on printing runs.

“Because our funds were limited, and so much was invested into the quality of the product, we elected to print only around 225 copies each of both Gothic Romance #1 and The Faustians #1. I’m extremely proud of the value the books offer, but ultimately this has had very little effect on interest or sales. I’m not promoting that first-time publishers should sell their work on newspaper print, but as for my investment, I wish I would have focused less on presentation, and more on promotion.”

Toner Printing (think laser printer) 
On-Demand-Printing

Full-color print-on-demand can’t compete with an offset on price. On-demand-printing uses industrial laser color copy machines. These machines do pretty much what you would expect them to do in the way you would expect them to do it. The advantages of laser printing include crisp colors and a printer’s willingness to produce small batches since there is very little set up. The disadvantage is the cost the per book can be quite high, $1 to $3 per issue depending on the company. With print-on-demand, you can purchase as few as a single copy. Companies like lulu.com specialize in on-demand-printing and others can be found easily with a simple Google search. I get the feeling that the independent comic world will gravitate toward on-demand over the next couple of years. As the cost comes down and the quality improves on-demand will eventually receive the lion’s share of the self-publishing business.

In Conclusion

Hopefully, this article points you in the right direction. It certainly doesn’t answer every question but then again it is impossible to answer every question. If you have anything that you would like to add to this article or some experience that is relevant please leave a comment. I would especially like to hear about your experiences with self-publishing.

Special thanks to Gianluca Glazer, formerly of Radical Publishing, and Dave Arhar of Penny Dreadful Press, for helping me out with some of the finer details.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Great site! I’ve posted a bunch of articles on internet marketing and distribution for comics books. Thought you might be interested: http://www.matnastos.net/comic-book-marketing/

  2. I have a small comic i want to do.. 19 pages… some good advice here…thankx


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