Making Comics: Should You Ask People To Buy When You're Starting Out?

I was at De La Salle University this afternoon, invited to give a short talk at the Student Media Office Comics Convention. During the talk, I said something that I'd like to elaborate upon here, because it could easily be misconstrued.

I basically said that, personally, I feel it's really important for Pinoy comics creators to learn the principles of story, to be good at the craft, and try to make the best possible comics they can, especially if they intend to sell their works. We're asking people to give us money, and so our works--essentially consumer products--need to have worth.

There's one thing to consider here, which I think is very important to note: what may have worth for some people can be seen as worthless to others. I personally don't find a lot of value in a Louis Vuitton, but many consider LVs great investments. In contrast, one man's trash has been proven to be another man's goldmine.

An article over at Business Insider reveals the success of some authors in the realm of monster porn, with stories that detail intimate encounters between humans and, well, non-humans. The general public may scoff at the genre, but who could argue with one author's earning US$2,000 a month in royalties? Not to say that we should all explore the many possible combinations and permutations of human-monster interaction, but it does show us that value is relative.

For the comics creator who's just starting out, trying to find what works and what doesn't, it's not a bad thing to ask people for money in exchange for a comic book in whatever genre, whether it be Western superhero-inspired, manga-inspired, or pure indie, with quality that may need improvement. Because somewhere in the vast sea of humanity is someone who will find value in what we produce. In this age of "likes" and :fans," it doesn't really matter if we become the biggest sensation in comics, or rake in widely-circulated positive reviews, but more of finding a good number of people who'll like our work enough to shell out money. Then it becomes a matter of giving them what they want on a regular basis.

But my statement stems from the kind of comics creator I want to be, which isn't someone who banks on luck. (In other art forms like singing, dancing, or acting, even those who have natural talent still undergo training.) I mentioned once in a magazine interview that I'm my own worst critic, so I continuously find the ways and means to further educate and improve myself in both writing and art. I want to make my work as "valuable" as I can, by telling stories that I'd like to think are unique and entertaining, and at the same time laden with some meaning. So, at least, when I put out a story that I want to sell, I can safely say that I've done my homework.

So if you're just starting out in this crazy little adventure of making comics, by all means ask for money. Find your audience, build it, and give it what it wants. If they really like what they see, they'll be curious to know what else you have. But it's always prudent to keep your expectations in check. If you're not seeing the numbers you'd like despite moving mountains, maybe it's time to try something else.

Ultimately, you define what success means. Like value, success is relative.


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