Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Leveling Up: Making Comics for Subject-Matter Experts

In the previous post, I proposed a way for indie comics creators to get an initial boost in self-promotion by creating short comics based on their favorite podcasts. It can be a mutually-beneficial arrangement. The podcaster benefits from the relatively unique content format, a departure from the usual blogpost, audiocast, or video. Though I'm not aware of how effective comics can be in the long run, there's no harm in trying it out.

For the comics creator, making comics for podcasters can help in lead generation and even customer acquisition for the creator's own work. It can also help the creator stretch the creative muscles in a different way.

But this can go further, a "leveling up," if you will. And this kind of leveling up has already been demonstrated in the past.

Comics as "Infotainment"

My former boss in the magazine company I used to work for gave me a book--a graphic novel, specifically manga ("comics" in Japanese). The title: "Warren Buffet: An Illustrated Biography of the World's Most Successful Investor," by Ayano Morio, translated by Mark Schreiber. Yes, it's a graphic novel about the life of Warren Buffet.

But it's also a guide on investing.

Then there's the book, "The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need," by Daniel Pink and Rob Ten Pas. It's a graphic novel about a guy, fresh from college, who navigates the professional world.

It's presented as entertainment, but it's also a career guide. Though it was released in 2008, it's still ranking quite well on Amazon.

A recent example is "Health Care Reform: What it is, Why It's Necessary, And How It Works." Written by Jonathan Gruber and illustrated by Nathan Schreiber, it's a straightforward guide on the controversial subject of health care reform, and it tells its story through characters representing different sectors of society. Released in 2011, it ranks fairly well at around the 50,000 mark on Amazon's bestseller list as of this writing.

In the Philippines where I'm based, a small company recently released a comic book on personal finance. The publisher isn't a big-name company, and yet their book has been on the Philippine bestseller list for a few months. Their next project: a comic book on customer service.

Joining Forces With Subject Matter Experts

Despite what others might say about comics being "just for kids," there's a lot of value in presenting information in comics. Comics is a storytelling form (and where there's storytelling, content marketing can't be far behind), and it's a great way to convey information because of its visual nature. When done right, comics are easier to digest.

So if you're an indie comics creator and you want to go beyond doing short comics stories based on podcasts, creating a graphic novel on a topic of general interest can provide an additional career boost.

If you don't have access to the big names, you can always go back to your favorite podcast. Many podcasters are open to creating their own books to highlight their expertise, and you can offer some kind of arrangement with them. You can help them make a graphic novel in exchange for promotion, a guesting stint, and perhaps an advance on a share of profits.

If you like the experience, you might consider getting into this as a business. You can be an "expert in infomation comics," with industry experts as your clientele. Because, honestly, finding work with the huge comics companies is difficult enough. Better to start your career, plump up your portfolio, earn extra income, and make a name for yourself as early as possible.

How Indie Comics Creators Can Get An Initial Boost

How do you start building an audience? This question has been asked so many times by indie creators, and the answers are the usual: build a website, add content, promote on social media, build a mailing list. But this doesn't directly answer the question.

How do you start building an audience?

One of the basic principles to bear in mind is: people are attracted to what interests them.

The reason why you subscribed to that blog, or followed that Twitter account, or liked that Facebook page, is most probably because these channels promised and delivered something you've been looking for, anywhere from specific information to images of cute cats.

The same principle applies to you, the indie comics creator.

But, with so many comics creators out there trying to capture an audience, how do you stand out?

Here's one way. It's not the only way. But it's a place to start.

1) Choose a real-world subject you're genuinely interested in, apart from comics. It can be anything--cars, alternative medicine, sports, fitness, entrepreneurship etc. A topic you'd have some knowledge in, or have taken the time to research about. The more general, the better.

2) Find a podcast that talks about your subject of interest, particularly a podcast that's focused on service. That is, the podcast helps people by giving expert advice. If you're a subscriber to a podcast that does this, then great! The more popular the podcast, the better. (If you're not a podcast subscriber, go to Stitcher or iTunes and get into the habit.)

3) Make a two- to four-page comic based on the most recent podcast episode. Your comics should be either a) helpful, b) entertaining, or c) both to the podcast audience. Post in on your blog or website.

4) With every (or every other) new podcast episode, make a comic. This will be a great exercise for you as a comics creator, and it might even challenge you creatively, but it will help you develop and/or improve your working methods.

5) Go for five or six comics stories.

6) Send a friendly fan email to the producers of the podcast, along with a link to your comics. Or, tag them in a social media post. You can even ask other fans of the podcast to check out your work through a comment in the producers' blog. Important: don't do this all at the same time. You're not promoting, but simply sharing your appreciation for the podcast.

7) Whether or not you get a response, continue making comics. If the producers don't notice you, the other podcast fans might.

When the other podcast fans visit your website, they should be able to see links to your creator-owned comics.

Okay, you could say that this method is riding on the success of other people, which can be icky. But here's the thing: don't do this if you're not a fan of the podcast. You have to be a fan. The key is sincerity and genuine appreciation. It's no different from creating fan art of your favorite superhero and sending it to the comics publisher.

Plus, making comics on a topic you're not really interested in will definitely burn you out.

You might ask if I've tried this. Honestly, no. But here's what I've learned from listening to numerous podcasts--they need constant promotion. They need to know that people appreciate what they do. Moreover, they will appreciate those who go out of their way help them spread the word about the podcast.

So there's a good chance that they'll notice you. If you play your cards right, there's a good chance they'll tell their audience to check out your website. Who knows? Maybe in that new influx of visits, you might just get some new fans.

Friday, June 13, 2014

My New Play: The Missing Peace (Virgin Labfest 10)

I was content with my play "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady" being accepted in last year's Virgin Labfest, with the big bonus of it being chosen as one of the three to be restaged, but that didn't stop me from trying out for this year's festival.

I got in again. Wow. Thanks sooo much to the selection committee!

Here's a brief description of what my new play, "The Missing Peace," is about:

It is the year 2045, and the world is teetering towards explosive widespread conflict, the likes of which it hasn't seen in almost a century. But that won't stop the Miss Universal Empress beauty pageant from taking place in Barcelona, Spain. The pageant is of particular importance to the Philippines, as the South East Asian nation has so far won four of the world's top five beauty competitions. A grandslam seems inevitable, but then there's, well... the prophecy.

I almost decided not to finish it. While I was in the middle of writing the script, news about the conflict in Venezuela was at a high, and a local beauty queen was shot dead during one of the protest rallies. That piece of news disturbed me that I felt it wouldn't be right to see the script to completion, since "The Missing Peace" has a parallel--albeit very slightly--to that real-life event. The plot of the play has a darker tone compared to "...Leading Lady," despite its bits of comedy.

"The Missing Peace" was fortunate to get an acclaimed director, Marlon Rivera, who directed the film festival-trotting feature on poverty porn, "Ang Babae sa Septic Tank." I've attended a couple of rehearsals, and it's always fascinating to witness an expert at work.

Playing the three characters in the play are experienced thespians Noemi Manikan-Gomez and Rem Zamora, as well as theatre newbie Hannah dela Guerra, who has actual beauty pageant experience. I hope this play gets her noticed for more acting roles.

Anyhoos, "The Missing Peace" will be part of Virgin Labfest 10's Set B, which also includes Raymund Reyes' "Ang Naghihingalo," and Ricardo Novenario's "Wendy Wants To Be A Housewife." Set B will perform on the following dates:

June 26, 2014 - 3:00 PM, Thursday
June 26, 2014 - 8:00 PM, Thursday
July 5, 2014 - 8:00 PM, Saturday (SOLD OUT)
July 6, 2014 - 3:00 PM, Sunday

You can get tickets via the Ticketworld website, or through Ticketworld outlets.

And for those who want to see "Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady," here's the schedule of Virgin Labfest Revisited (which also includes Herlyn Alegre's "Imbisibol," and Liza Magtoto's "Isang Daan"):

June 29, 2014 - 3:00 PM, Sunday
June 29, 2014 - 8:00 PM, Sunday
July 3, 2014 - 8:00 PM, Thursday
July 4, 2014 - 3:00 PM, Friday

All plays will be staged at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. 

I will be attending all shows in case anyone wants to have their books signed. And copies of the "...Leading Lady" book will be available at the venue.

See you at the theatre!

Monday, June 02, 2014

Knowing Your Limits: Being efficient as an Indie Comics Illustrator

I'll admit: I've gotten slow in the past few years when it comes to drawing. It may be because I've been dividing my time between practicing writing and drawing. Or it may be because I've noticed my previous drawing mistakes and now consciously try to correct them with each new panel I do. Plus the new drawing tricks here and there I've been adding to my repertoire. So my reduced drawing pace should be for the better because I've been trying to improve my craft.

Or maybe it's because I'm older, and my body is starting to cry "uncle" after a number of hours. Or maybe it's because, as an adult, there are more responsibilities on the plate due to "real life."

Whatever the case, it's always a struggle to be efficient, especially as an indie creator who's not being paid a regular wage.

This, I think, is a common conundrum indie comics creators have to face--the lack of time. We want to make our comics stories, bring to life our own creations. But somehow, somewhere, there's always something that pops up that takes us away from the drawing table longer than we'd like.

When this happens, our personal deadlines get pushed back. Our perfectly planned-out commitment to our personal project gets thrown out the window, and we end up apologizing to our audience for delay after delay, and sending them heaps of gratitude for their patience. While we sulk.

But there may be a way around it.

Is it possible to measure our pace?

What if we test ourselves, how fast (or slow) we can really go given the rest of our real life responsibilities, and let our speed dictate the kinds of comics that we make?

So take a comics script--any comics script--and commit to spending one month on it. Draw as many of that script as you can in one month, from pencils to letters, without radically disrupting your day-to-day living. Don't set a target number of pages--just take whatever extra time you have, whether it's 30 minutes a day, or every other day, or three hours on weekends, and enjoy the process. You should be getting enough sleep, too.

At the end of one month, how many pages can you do?

If you can do two pages a month, then you can conceivably do 24 pages in a year. You can then decide, "I'll do an annual comics story with a maximum of 24 pages."

If you can do one page a week, then your annual comics story can have a maximum of 52 pages.

24 pages? 52 pages? For an annual story? That doesn't sound like a lot for an annual release, but it has advantages.

1) You can assure your audience that you can do an annual complete story with X number of pages. Even if you do a comics story every year, it still makes you reliable. It's something your audience can at least expect from you.

2) You can assure writers that you can deliver X number of pages. You don't risk overpromising.

3) Doing complete stories is better than doing a series, because your audience won't have to wait a long time before the next issue comes out.

4) After doing these annual stories for a number of years, you can opt to produce a compilation with extras, maybe even a bonus story.

5) Your annual commitment does not weigh you down, schedule-wise. There's little pressure on you.

6) Doing short complete stories allows you to try different genre, using different styles, and helps  you to determine, without stress, what style you'll be most comfortable with.

Most importantly, you're still making comics. Complete comics. And for us, comics artists, I think that's what we really want to do.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

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