Originally published in June 1999. Most of my interviews had been with well known creators and editors. I learned of a local creator self publishing a comic and thought it would be interesting to get a different perspective. Marc provided that with hard numbers and harsh reality. To my knowledge, only 2 issues of his comic came out and nothing else after it.
Jamie: For those that don’t know, explain what your book John & Cori to us.
Marc Fleury: Well, let’s see. It’s a humor / adventure comic along the lines of classic Warner Brothers animation. It’s suitable for all ages, but a lot of the gags will go right over a kid’s head. It’s a little like Tintin meets Calvin and Hobbes. Or maybe the Monty Python version of Muppet Babies.
Jamie: I noticed in John & Cori #1, you added a prose story, and games for kids (colouring page and spot the difference panels). Why?
Marc Fleury: The target audience for the comic, really, is me. And I enjoy stuff like that. I think that there are a few people out there who have roughly the same interests and senses of humor as I do, so producing a book that *I* would enjoy seems like a reasonable idea.
The prose stories add a little more substance to the book, and the games are just for fun. I tried to make the games a little more interesting than those you see in, say, Archie, because those are pretty boring for us older “kids.” So John & Cori #1 has a game for kids, and a game for experienced puzzle solvers as well. (Nobody has solved the hard one, which is pretty much what I expected.)
Jamie: When did you meet up with artist Giorgio Giunta and what propelled the both of you to do your own comic book?
Marc Fleury: The series existed in my mind first. I was interested in publishing a comic, and this one seemed like a fun book to do, so I started looking around for artists. Giorgio was one of the people to send in samples. He had a style that worked well with the ideas I had for the book, and he is very dependable, so I signed him up for it.
Jamie: Will you be making John & Cori TPB’s?
Marc Fleury: The short answer is yes. The long answer is . . . I’m not sure that it’s possible to produce John & Cori at a profitable level in the direct market. I have a number of ideas for the future of the series, but most of them involve spreading outside of comic book stores. Right now, it looks like I’m going to repackage it as a children’s book. It will still be a comic, but squarebound, and distributed through stores instead of comic shops. The market is much bigger, and the interest in this kind of material, I think, is much higher.
So, yes, I’ll be doing trade paperbacks, but they won’t be collected editions (they’ll be originals) and they will mostly sell outside of the Direct Market.
Jamie: John & Cori is a very kid friendly comic, why did you opt to this instead of more mainstream type comics.
Marc Fleury: It’s just one of my interests. At any moment, I have a number of projects in development. At the time that I decided to take the plunge into publishing, John & Cori was the series I was most deeply into developing.
It seemed like a good idea, because the book was different than everything else out there I figured that I could fit into a niche that nobody else was taking. Unfortunately, it seems like the current comic book market is too small for such a strategy. The reason that those niches are unfilled is that the people who are interested in that material simply don’t read comics.
It’s a bit of a vicious circle. There aren’t enough all-ages comics being published. Those that do start up don’t sell very well, because not many kids buy comics anymore. And those kids don’t buy comics because there’s nothing being published that interests them.
Jamie: Will Abdo Entertainment be doing other titles? If so can you tell us about them?
Marc Fleury: Yep. One advantage is that I have many interests, so if something doesn’t work out, I have tons of stuff to fall back on. There’s a comic called On The Lamb that will be coming out through Abdo next year. It’s another odd little book, this time aimed at a slightly older audience — teens and up. It’s about Jesus. If Jesus was a teenager today. It’s a comedy.
Jamie: Do you plan on getting another artist for your other titles or will Giorgio be able to do them?
Marc Fleury: I’ll be working with others. I enjoy seeing my writing transformed by various artists, and I’d like to work with as many artists as possible. On The Lamb, though, will be illustrated by me. I used to write and draw a comic strip for a local entertainment magazine, and I’ve really missed that. So I decided it’s time to go back and draw my own stuff. I was just waiting for the right project — I can’t draw very well, so it has to be something where the humor carries the comic. I figure that I can draw as well as Sam Henderson or Matt Groening.
Jamie: What are your long term plans for Abdo Entertainment? Do you plan to build it up into a full fledged publishing company or are you hoping to make a reputation as a writer and get work in corporate comics.
Marc Fleury: Both. I’m still working and developing stuff for other publishers. And I also plan (in the long term) to publish the work of others through Abdo. If James Kochalka told me he had a comic for me, I’d publish it.
The company is more than just for publishing comics, though. That’s why it’s Abdo Entertainment and not Abdo Comics. I’m developing a store on the web, I have my Writing for Comics column, my brother and I are making short films (we won some dinky award at some dinky film festival last year), and there’s a bunch of other stuff that it’s too early to talk about. Basically, Abdo Entertainment is the company I set up to deal with all the entertainment-related, hopefully-profit-making stuff that I do. Right now, the main business it publishing John & Cori, but it’s growing.
Jamie: Where did you go to find out how to self publish a comic book?
Marc Fleury: Dave Sim’s columns started me off. I asked a few questions on the comics-pro mailing list. I got a book called How To Self-Publish Your Own Comic Book by Tony Caputo.
Actually, it’s pretty easy stuff. There’s not enough to fill a whole book, which is why Caputo’s book has a lot of information that most self-publishers will never use. Everything you need to know is on the web, and anything that’s not clear can be cleared up by asking about it in a relevant forum (the comicon.com boards, the rec.arts.comics.misc newsgroup, or one of the mailing lists for comics creators).
Jamie: With the comic market is the shape that it is, why did you decide to do a comic book at all?
Marc Fleury: I’m insane.
Actually, I think this is a very exciting time for comics. I’m glad to be working in the industry right now, because the *real* mainstream is on the rise — comics designed to appeal to the general population. It’s going to take a lot of work, and even more sweat, but I think that the medium will come out of its funk in a few years. I’m thrilled to be a part of the transformation of the industry.
Jamie: I understand you had some difficulty getting Diamond Comics to distribute it. Can you tell us about that?
Marc Fleury: Oy. Way back in July of 1998, I printed up thousands of copies of John & Cori #0 — an 8-page promo comic — and mailed them out to hundreds of retailers. In big letters on the back cover, it says “Issue 1 comes out in OCTOBER from ABDO Entertainment”. At the same time, I sent out the solicitations to Diamond.
A little while later, I hear back from Diamond. They aren’t interested in carrying the book. I was stunned, and rather crushed. Not only were they saying that my work wasn’t good enough, but I had just wasted a couple of grand promoting a book that would, essentially, be unavailable to most retailers.
I then recontacted all the retailers that I had originally mailed out the promos to, and told them they could order from Abdo directly.
A few months go by, and then I get a call back from Diamond. It seems that they passed the book on to their retailer review board, and the retailers said they *did* want to carry the book. So Diamond was calling back to change their mind — they’d carry John & Cori after all. They ran it as a February release. Four months after I had announced it would come out. I have no doubt that the low orders on #1 are related to that delay. The retailers that I had contacted were told that the book was coming out in October, but Diamond forced me to ship the book 4 months later.
Jamie: I know you are using FM International to distribute John & Cori, how much does smaller distributors help overall sales?
Marc Fleury: For me, a lot. I did an informal survey of some other publishers, and sales through FMI are about 5-8% of those through Diamond. For John & Cori #1, FMI’s order was 35% of the size of Diamond’s. I’m selling seven times more comics than I should be through FMI. It doesn’t make sense. Until you take into account the screw-up with the initial release date through Diamond. It’s not that I’m selling seven times more than I should be through FMI, it’s that I’m selling seven times LESS than I should be through Diamond. I’m certain that, had Diamond been able to see the quality in John & Cori that their retailer review board obviously did, then they would have carried the book when it was first solicited, and the sales would have been seven times what they are now.
Now I have to scramble to bring up the sales before Diamond drops the book for selling poorly.
Jamie: You have made a webpage that gives previews and ordering info for your comic. I’ve always wondered how much does that help?
Marc Fleury: Although I have information posted on how to order direct, the real hope for the site is to give people a taste of the book, and then they can order it through their store. Unfortunately, I don’t have any real way to measure the site’s success on that level.
Jamie: Promotion and buzz is very important to getting retailers and readers to try your comic. What did you do to try and get the word out about your book?
Marc Fleury: I sent out those promo copies, which turned out to be a disaster. Although, I still think it’s a good way to get the word out (and I got a lot of positive feedback from that issue. I know that some people ordered #1 on the strength of the promo issue). I wish I had made sure that Diamond was carrying the book before printing up all those promotional copies.
Other than that, I try to mention it in relevant discussions on the internet. I would have liked to get out to some conventions, but it’ll have to wait until next year.
Jamie: Can you give us an idea of how much it costs to self publish a comic book and where those costs come in?
Marc Fleury: Printing is the big thing. You can shop around, but the best deal I found was Preney, in Windsor Ontario. The paper isn’t great, but I’ve never much cared about that. And they printed my #1 for 50 cents a copy, which includes shipping and taxes. (Those are Canadian cents for you Americans. About 35 cents US at the current exchange rate.)
Setting up your business is pretty cheap. Hiring the talent can be expensive, but if you want to avoid that cost, either draw it all yourself or agree that people only get paid if the book turns a profit. (Put it in writing, so that everyone is clear about what is being agreed to.)
Jamie: Can you also give us an idea of how much money one could expect to make by self publishing, and how that money comes in through distribution?
Marc Fleury: You sell the book to Diamond for 40% of the cover price. A $2.95 cover price pulls in $1.18 when you sell it to the distributor. If you figure that it costs a bare minimum of $1000 for 2000 copies after you add in all the incidentals, you see you need to sell 850 copies to make back your investment. Unfortunately, in this market, that’s not necessarily easy.
Jamie: What do you think is the biggest barrier in the comic industry for selling indy comics?
Marc Fleury: Retailers are afraid to try new products because they’re non-returnable.
Jamie: If you had to do this all over again what would you do differently?
Marc Fleury: A bunch of stuff. Luckily, I *am* doing it all over again, with my next series. I’ll be fixing the problems that have plagued my first attempt.
1) I’ll build the audience for the book before it gets released, by running a strip on the web for a few months.
2) I’ll make sure my distribution deals are in place before sending promo material and
3) I’ll cut down on my costs by drawing it myself.
Jamie: Has publishing your own comic changed your opinions about the comic industry?
Marc Fleury: It’s easier to publish a book than I thought it was, but it’s harder to make money at it than I thought it was.
Jamie: What advice can you give to people thinking about self publishing?
Marc Fleury: Ask yourself this: Is the publishing part as important to you as the creating part? If designing letters pages and indices, dealing with distributors and retailers, promoting your work and yourself, and handling orders and balancing the books doesn’t give you as much pleasure as writing and drawing comics, then self-publishing probably isn’t for you. You have to be both a creator and an entrepreneur.
That, and make sure you have at least $10,000 to risk.
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