Flying solo

You don't have to sign up with a big publisher to be an internationally successful cartoonist

Unless you're one of Dave Sim's 30,000 readers around the world, the name Cerebus won't mean much to you. Cerebus - short, acerbic, covered in grey fur - is the main character in Sim's self-published black-and- white comic, and also the name of the comic itself. Sim, a Canadian, and a collection of Britain's leading self-publishers met last weekend in Nottingham to discuss the future of their chosen medium.

Cerebus sells about 30,000 copies each month, roughly 10 times as many as even the most popular British equivalents. Sim has been smart enough to do all the book's publishing and distribution himself, ensuring that he and his publishing company get the lion's share of revenue, rather than seeing much of the profits creamed off by an outside publisher. This means even a relatively modest circulation can provide Sim and Gerhard, his collaborator, with a very healthy living.

He started the book in December 1977, announcing that it would be a 300- issue series, a claim no one took terribly seriously at the time. That would make Cerebus a 26-year project. The latest issue, number 211, is now out, leaving Sim with "just" eight years to go until the story's completion in 2004. Cerebus is Sim's shot at the big one - a 6,000-page work substantial enough in tone and page-count to call a "graphic novel" without embarrassment.

Sim says: "Most publishing companies are like an inverted pyramid, with a few creators at the bottom, and a lot of parasitic managers, administrators and bureaucrats at the top.

"Without the creator, nothing can happen, and yet the administrators and the bureaucrats all take their slice from the money his work has generated before he sees a penny himself. Not only that, but this mass of people - who have never had an original creative idea of their own in their lives - then try to justify their existence by making quite arbitrary changes to the creator's work at every stage."

As the book has progressed, Sim has dispensed with more and more of its early fantasy trappings to deal with adult topics such as politics (both governmental and sexual) and a meditation on the death of Oscar Wilde. Sim has ensured that all the back issues are available as collected volumes, providing him with useful extra income and ensuring that his work stays in print - another bone of contention between many cartoonists and the publishers they work for.

Sim has turned down lucrative offers to sell rights to Cerebus to a major comics publisher or an animation studio, again because he is determined to retain 100 per cent control of his work. He says: "I might be going down in flames. Maybe this plane won't fly. But, by God, this is the plane I want to go down in."

Sim is undoubtedly the father-figure in this particular world, and has inspired many British cartoonists to follow suit. Among the most successful are Paul Grist, who produces a comic called Kane, and Gary Spencer Millidge, who writes and draws his own Strangehaven. Like Cerebus, their books are distributed on both sides of the Atlantic and sold in specialist comic stores.

Grist is now approaching his fourth year of Kane, with 14 issues on sale. He subsidises his self-publishing work by accepting freelance writing and drawing work from larger comic publishers such as Marvel and Dark Horse.

Grist breaks down the economics of self-publishing like this: "In the UK, Kane sells for pounds 1.80. The distributor pays me 50 per cent of the cover price in UK shops. For the American shops, it's 38 per cent of the US cover price, which is $3.50. Out of that, I have to pay all my production costs." Assuming that the printing bill for a run in the low thousands is about pounds 1,500, that means you need to sell about 2,000 copies to stand a chance of breaking even.

Both Grist and Millidge's sales are comfortably above that level, but as yet nowhere near the 7,000-8,000 point, where it becomes possible to make a reasonable living from self-publishing alone.

Grist decided on self-publishing when a publishing company he was working with shut up shop, leaving a lot of his work unpublished. He says: "I decided that other people were letting me down, and that the best way of getting a book out was to do it myself. I thought, if I'm putting all this time and effort into it, it doesn't take a great deal more time and effort to actually do the whole thing myself. There were all sorts of problems that cropped up, but they were fairly easily sorted out."

Millidge turned to self-publishing after failing to attract much interest in samples of his work. He says: "I didn't get much reaction from actual publishers so, because of Dave Sim, I decided to give self-publishing a go, and it all just fell into place. Strangehaven has gone through the roof. It's far exceeded my expectations.

"The advance orders for each issue are 3,000. I've sold around 5,000 of the first issue now - the first three issues are in second printings, and they've all sold out. Obviously, I'm not making a living from it yet, but hopefully, in about 12 months, if I can get my circulation to about 7,000 or 8,000, and maybe get a collection out, I should be there."

Both Grist and Millidge agree that the aspiring self-publisher needs an entrepreneurial edge and the ability to enjoy not only creating his or her pages, but also all the production and administrative work that comes with it. It is also a great deal more practical - at least until you are in Sim's league - if you can do all the writing and art on the book yourself.

Another problem is illness. Because self-publishers are, by their nature, one-man bands, the whole operation comes to a halt if they get sick or have some family crisis. But Kane has managed to keep a regular bi-monthly schedule for the past two years, and Millidge has produced five quarterly issues in the past 18 months. This is important, as readers are quick to lose interest in a book which does not appear regularly.

The last word goes to Millidge. "I've had offers to publish Strangehaven from various companies, like Caliber Press," he says. "But I prefer to do it myself."n

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?