Comic books are kind of a big deal these days. Total revenue for the comic book publishing industry in 2018 was estimated to be $865 million, and that's not counting peripheral sources of income from merchandise, or high-profile movie deals. I probably don't even need to tell you that half of the top 10 grossing films of 2018 were based on comic books, and 2019 is already on the same track for comic-related film popularity (with no real end in sight).
That said, the average comic book fan or aspiring artist may not have much faith that their nerdy pastime could be worth millions of dollars. After all, it's challenging breaking into an already-saturated industry, especially if you don't have much experience. But if you think about your hobby as a business, and you're willing to invest in your personal success, you could transform your passion for comic books into an institution capable of earning you a slice of that $865-million pie.
During the week of SXSW, my attention is particularly drawn to the sheer number of amazing comic book media companies out there, and just how possible it is for someone with a great idea and an entrepreneurial spirit to become successful in that space.
It's easy to be intimidated if you're comparing your idea to the stories told by the long-standing legends of the comic book industry, DC and Marvel. These are companies with 85 and 58 years of experience, respectively, and they've earned their status as the industry juggernauts. But don't forget, every comic book legend started out as the scrappy underdog, and climbed to the top with good business acumen, brilliant ideas, and inspired marketing; just 20 years ago, even then-popular Marvel Comics was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Today, there's a diversity of independent and forward-thinking comic book publishers attempting to both make it easier for creative minds to break into the industry and keep their fans inundated with high-quality material. Take, for example, Dark Horse Comics, which launched back in 1986 when its founder, Mike Richardson, used funds from his own comic book store to launch Dark Horse Presents and Boris the Bear. Eventually, Dark Horse would pick up steam, adding now-well-known titles like Hellboy, The Mask, and Sin City to its lineup, as well as major existing franchises like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Wars, and Alien.
Self-publishing is expensive, and most people won't have enough idle cash to launch your their publishing company the way Dark Horse did. But there are ample resources available to the modern artist-turned-entrepreneur to make a comic book dream a reality. For example, Herowood Comics, launching in just a few days, shows it's possible to start a new comic label from scratch. And ComiXLore is a brand making that startup process even easier; it's an alternative to traditional publishing that helps new artists print and distribute their work.
Defining your role.
It's possible to make money with comic books in several ways, depending on your existing skill set and what you're hoping to achieve. For example, you could:
· Open your own comic store. Opening your own comic book storefront would require a significant injection of capital, but it's a viable option for the non-artistically-inclined who still want to make money on their favorite hobby.
· Attempt to sign to a major label. If you're an artist or writer, you could pitch your work to a major label, but be prepared for stiff competition and a high barrier to entry.
· Sign to an indie label. Indie publishers have a lower barrier to entry, making them accessible to newcomers, but you'll still need to show off a portfolio of your best work to even be considered.
· Start your own label. If you have the time and money for it, you could launch and market your own comics label. However, if you fail to generate ample support in the first few years, you could quickly go bankrupt.
· Take advantage of self-publishing and alternative publishing. For most modern emerging comic book artists, the best path is self-publishing or alternative publishing. It gives you access to printing and distribution without requiring you to compete with the existing industry titans, or requiring you to front your life savings for an independent label of your own.
In addition to these possibilities, there are many fields of specialty to consider. For example, rather than being a mere comic book "artist," you could be a penciller, an inker, a colorist, a letterer, or some hybrid of multiple roles.
Tips for success.
Of course, merely having a "cool idea" isn't enough to make you a millionaire. In addition to choosing the right career approach from the preceding section, you'll need to:
· Treat your comic like a business. That means writing a business plan, getting to know your target demographics, and being willing to make compromises for the sake of generating revenue.
· Do something original. Another high school teen mutating and getting super strength isn't going to cut it. Push the boundaries, and show people something they haven't seen before.
· Be flexible. Just because you think something's a good idea doesn't mean it's going to be a hit with your intended publisher or audience. Listen to feedback, and learn from it.
· Scale when you're ready. Being a hit in your home city is a great feeling, but it won't make you rich. Come up with a plan to scale to a wider audience over time, reaching new demographics in new cities, with a stronger, more loyal fan base.
It's a long and tumultuous journey to the top, but it's well worth it if you're passionate about your ideas. Be prepared to learn from your mistakes and from existing experts in the industry; like in any business, to be successful, you have to be willing to fail and continue growing.