Sparky Taylor and Abby Mac at the Microcosm Publishing booth
With the economy still tanking, I often wonder how small publishers who are trying to make enough money to put out their next book, or just break even are weathering the storm. This year at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art festival (MoCCA), Sparkplug Comic Books sponsored a panel on Making Comics in a New Era that addressed this concern. Small press publishing and DIY self-publishing have been essential components of the alternative comics movement since its inception in the 1960’s. In this tradition, at MoCCA 2009, comics creators and small publishers were selling works that were reproduced on everything from their home computer printers to copy machines to outsourced offset printers. Today, people have greater access to mechanical reproduction than ever before, even if this access is exclusive to those who can afford it. Smaller print runs are not uncommon any more; I usually make 20 to 50 copies at a copy shop of my own zine, silk-screen the covers, and give them away to friends and people I meet. The economics of my work is understood to be ‘in the red’.
This panel was more focused on reproduction at a bit of a larger scale, and, though they were clearly performing a labor of love and had other jobs on the side, could not afford to just sink the cost of every book they published. The panel consisted of Alvin Buenaventura (Buenaventura Books), Mats Jonsson (Gallago), Tom Neely (cartoonist), Brett Warnock (Top Shelf), Julia Wertz (cartoonist), Dylan Williams (Sparkplug Comics) and was chaired by Heidi MacDonald (The Beat). For the most part, those on the publishing side acted like the economic crisis had not much affected their sales. One panelist reasoned that their confidence and satisfaction was mostly based on their own realistic expectations of how well a book was going to do. None of the publishers were in the business to get rich on underground comics, and everyone seemed to agree that internet stores and conventions like MoCCA were increasing their scale of distribution.At the same time, the traditional distribution of comics has been centralized in Diamond Comic distributors, which has recently raised its minimum orders and consequentially excluded some smaller run publications. Panelists agreed that the rise of alternative comics stores, like Desert Island and Bergen Street Comics in Brooklyn, New York, and the need for an alternate distributor and indie sales representatives like Tony Shenton could make a positive change in their sales.
Between the other panelists’ silence, Julia Wertz took the time to somewhat randomly and comically berate her co-panelists, saying “I just want to point out that my work was rejected by at least two of the editors on the panel, but now my publisher is Random House, so you can suck it!” I suppose for some, moving to a traditional book publisher is another way to get around the current problems in distribution.
Pictured above are Sparky Taylor and Abby Mac tabling for Microcosm Publishing, who put out about twelve books and zines a year. Since the change in the economy, they have started following the strategy of putting out more books at a lower price in hopes of increasing sale volume. Sparky said she felt like their sales at the convention had been a little slower than previous years.