What You Need to Know about Comics and Zine Self-Publishing

11/16/2012 3:42 PM |

From left to right: William Cardini and Josh Burggraf at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival
  • From left to right: William Cardini and Josh Burggraf at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival

How do you escape the rut of going to Kinko’s to make your own zines with your own pocket change, and for the eyes of just your closest friends? I spoke with Queens-based illustrator Josh Burggraf who writes and edits Future Shock; according to the comic’s online distributor Birdcage Bottom Books, it’s an “astro-psyche-out sci-fi anthology”. It’s also a great, self-published comic featuring dozens of artists and writers in each issue. Burggraf and I spoke about how to get your comic or zine noticed and what’s better, Tumblr or Twitter.

How long have you been making comics and zines, and when did the idea for Future Shock come about? I like that Future Shock compiles work by dozens of different artists, and it’s not just your close friends who you publish.

I started making comics again in 2009. [After moving to New York], I was surrounded by really prolific people like Victor Kerlow and Sung Yoon Choi; I was jealous, but wholeheartedly motivated by their output. Still, it took awhile to find any kind of stride, or make comics worth looking at. I was lucky to have a big group of comics pals, and we all made an anthology called Supertalk. That was the first time I was published.

Soon after, I submitted a lot to the Philly-based paper Secret Prison, and those guys got me more and more excited about making comics on a consistent basis. I think it helps to see yourself in print, to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t.

In my mind, Future Shock is an extension of those anthologies. As far as the range of people in there, a lot of them are my pals. It’s been good, though, because Future Shock # 2 and 3 have included people I’ve never met, but whose comics I’ve seen and respected. With Future Shock, I’m just trying to make the kind of book I’m always looking for at a comics show.

What’s your advice for budding cartoonists to get their work in shops—like Williamsburg’s Desert Island—or to get their work picked up by an online shop?

Desert Island has always been really positive about taking zines; just walk in and talk to Gabe, show him what you’ve got, and see what happens.

Other places, like Bergen, or Time Machine, or out in Portland at Floating World, they all seem to want to cultivate small press, so it’s as simple as sending an email or showing up. There’s a ton of stores. Pretty recently, JT Yost posted a solid list of stores friendly to hearing from small presses.

Thousands of people—kids, teens, adults—make zines every year, but they do it with their own pocket change. Is there any way for “zine hobbyists” to alleviate the costs of going to Kinko’s and hand-stapling their own stuff by going through a publisher or distributor? Or is this a rite of passage that all cartoonists need to go through at one point in their lives?

Yeah, it’s insane to me how many people make zines. I don’t have any good secret tricks, but I do remember reading Re: A Guide to Reproduction: A Primer on Xerography, Silkscreening, and Offset Printing and it’s totally worth checking out.

It seems to me that if you’re not into assembling your own comics, you have two options:

1. Don’t make comics.
2. Work your ass off to find someone to publish you.

Or, I guess:

3. Only publish comics online.

More than distribution, how does a cartoonist find a publisher for their work?

I’m under the impression that people should just keep making things, through self-publishing and submitting to anthologies, and then also try and send out a lot of proposals to publishers. A lot of publishers have posted guidelines on how they would like to receive submissions. It seems like you should approach like-minded people, and see if they want to work with you.

What’s the most expensive publication you’ve ever made? Any sort of advice for “how not to do things”?

I haven’t done very many fancy books, mostly because I tend to make things that stay inside my budget. Pat Aulisio, Ian Harker, William Cardini and myself made an over-sized 3D book complete with glasses called Math Fiction two years ago. It wasn’t cheap, but it was reasonably priced, and it looked good enough to sell really well. I think it made all its money back.

How not do things? I know when I go to someone’s table and they have a book for more than 20 dollars, I almost never buy it. If you want to make a beautiful book and it’s going to cost you a lot of money, you may not make it back; be prepared. I’ve found that self-publishing isn’t a great way to make money anyway you slice it though, so, maybe make the beautiful book and take the loss.

When it comes down to details for publication, how do you choose little things, like what type of paper to use for printing?

That’s been more a process of elimination. Try one kind of paper, make a book, see if you like it, try another, etcetera. I currently print all my books on a somewhat shiny paper that sometimes has a static thing going on. I don’t love that, but I have access to a printer and a stock of paper, so I use what I’ve got—and that winds up being very affordable for me.

When House of Lithography in Long Island City still existed, I had books printed by them, and I would get very specific about paper weights and stock. Nowadays though, I do all the printing myself.

How important is the Internet for being a cartoonist? Even if someone still draws by hand, and not on, say, Manga Studio, why should they have a Tumblr and Twitter?

I’ve discovered a lot of really talented people through Study Group and on Tumblr, but I don’t have a strong sense of how Twitter works. I’m not big into social media, but I’ve got a lot of love for the potential of Tumblr. I’ve met people, I keep track of people, and sort of get to know them by their web musings. I know Simon Hanslemann who makes Girl Mountain really blew up through the Internet. He’s down in Tasmania or New Zealand I think, and very disconnected from the actual physical world and its comics show circuits. But with Tumblr and the web he seems to have gotten further than a lot of people have by handing copies to publishers in person. It also absolutely helped that he makes strong comics.

I suppose the downside of the web is that sometimes it’s awful to watch other people seem to do really well, but I’ve been reminded that most people seem to think the comics grass is greener in everyone else’s pasture.

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