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Independents Flex their Muscles at NYAF
Writen by Tectonic
Posted on January 20, 2008 at 05:18:30 pm

            While attending the New York Anime Festival (NYAF), I immediately noticed something that set this convention aside from others: ‘Artist alley’ was spanning the merchant room’s right side.  Frequent con-goers can tell you the artist alley tends to be a series of tables tucked away in the back of the convention.  Being their first year, the management seemed to want to employ a bit of fiscal conservativeness and the convention was hosted in a very small section of the Jacob Javitz Center.  As a byproduct the independent artists were mixed in with a larger pool and boy were they up for it.

            This kind of opportunism is not uncommon to indie comic artists; it comes with the territory.  No ad department is going to bring them viewers.  They have to catch them the old fashioned way: bait and tackle.  It’s harder, and there’s no guarantee of a decent paycheck, but there’s nothing like being your own boss.  It wasn’t too long ago that we could count the amount of professional independent artists on our fingers, but it’s apparent now that the web’s not done growing.

            People like Charlie Spike-Trotman, creator of Templar, Arizona and founder of Iron Circus Comics, are case-in-point of the magical chemistry between elbow grease and PHP.  She’s been her own boss for 10 years, shows no signs of ever needing a (dear me) ‘day job’, and has acquired a pool of roughly twelve thousand fans who are making sure she stays in business:  “My readers kept bugging me for a printed version of the comic, so I said to them ‘I can’t pay for it but I asked for a quote from a publisher and he said $3500, so I’m opening up preorders and we’ll see what happens’.  In 13 days I had my $3500”.

It would make sense that if you release your comic for free on the web, nobody’s going to want to buy a published copy, but Spike’s story is no anomaly.  Professional cartoonist and illustrator Dirk Tiede runs Paradigm Shift, a free web comic about two Chicago detectives who deal with the paranormal.  He, like Spike, publishes a comic book once he’s done with a chapter of his story, and is currently selling books one and two with number three not far down the line.  While fellow Chicagoans love reading about fantastical mysteries right in their home city, fans across the US are just as intrigued by what Dirk’s imagination can project onto the city’s landscape.

Tiede’s attendance record boasts around 15 cons a year, some even a 12 hour drive from home.  Why so many?  “Cons make the most sales … Ad [revenue] on my site is mostly used for buying ads on other sites.”  Thankfully when you do what you love, business tends to naturally mix with pleasure.  Most artists use the extra travel time to visit family or friends.

Web store sales, ad sales, and con sales add up when put together, but a newer practice is opening up that could give web artists some more stability: Diamond Comics Distributors was a name passed around a lot on the convention floor.  Dirk uses them, but likely no one there depends on them as much as Rich Bernatovech, founder of Drumfish Productions.  He only gives previews of his comic online, so no ad sales, only attends 6 cons a year and doesn’t have a web store (though he will sell you a comic through email if you live in, say, Cold Bay, Alaska).  Retail sales are healthy enough for Rich to operate just like Darkhorse, only on a smaller scale.  In fact his original comic, Sentinels with art by Lucciano Veccio, has been so successful they’re working on a new comic series, Neverminds, alongside artist Jamie Fay.

Despite success stories with Diamond, conventions remain invaluable in the eyes of the indie comic artist.  Michael “Mookie” Terracciano, creator of the well known Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire, remains convinced that cons are “vital” to expanding your readership: “Fans can attach a face to the work”.  And Mookie practices what he preaches, attending roughly a convention a month if not more, to sell copies of Seer’s Digest, the first printed collection of his web comics.  “Most of my sales are done at conventions.  Orders [online] come in spurts.”  Cons also give Mookie an outlet for one more thing: the sale of Dominic scarf replicas lovingly hand-knit by his mum.

Something all indie artists seem to have in common is gratitude.  While the pro web artist club has opened its doors a bit wider in the last few years, they have by no means forgotten their grassroots heritage.  All artists in the Alley seem to love being approached and complimented by their readers.  Most of these artists’ success stories were founded on the support and compassion of their readers, only proving that while the internet can bring out the worst in people (just hit un-mute on X-Box Live), it can also bring out the best in them.

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