Josh Frankel is the co-publisher of new comic book publisher, Z2 Comics. He writes – alongside process art for the cover of Legend #1…
What's it like being an indie comics publisher? Let me start by setting a scene: it's 6:15 AM in my hotel in downtown LA. Thanks to a serious case of jetlag, I can't fall back asleep. Taking out my phone, I start fiddling around — check my e-mail, some websites, my Facebook — the usual morning routine. Then I decide it's time. My hand starts shaking, sweat starts pooling on my brow. I am going to check the orders for issue one of our new comic Legend. Clicking on my vendor's info site, closing my eyes, taking a deep breath I finally look…..AND THE ORDERS ARE GOOD! That story, my friend, is a monthly occurrence for a small comics publisher.
We live and die by the orders of our issue ones. To give you a bit of context: for periodical comics we get our orders a full month or more before the book comes out. The ordering process is complicated, and unless you have FOC (Final Order Cut Off), which you don't get until you are an larger comics publisher, once orders are in, they are in and done. So every month is a hustle to make sure comic shops pre-order our titles.
If that is not tough enough, the life of a publisher is riddled with stress, craziness, and problems. The aforementioned paragraph is all about the nerves and jitters when something goes right. It is one hundred times worse when things go wrong, which they will.
Here are some of the biggest difficulties of being an independent comic publisher:
1. Too Much to Do, Too Little Time – On any given week there are three types of days. The first is where I work a normal amount, 6 to 8 hours of solid work. The second type is where I have a light amount of work and can relax a little. The third is where I have an insane workload and spend 90% of my waking life in front of a screen or on the phone. From Spring to Fall, five out of seven days are the third type. There is literally so much to get done between emails and scheduling, marketing and mailings, that some things will slip through the cracks. Oh and on a lot of weekends, I have comic conventions to go to. I had my first day off in three weeks this last weekend. The question then emerges: why not hire some help? Well, the next issue will answer that a bit..
2. Money – The great thing about publishing comics is with all of the hard work, you're going to see a huge profit …said no one in the history of comics ever. The truth is that publishing comics is a tough business with tough returns. Of the three years I have been running Z2, 2016 is the first year where we are looking at making a healthy profit. Not only have I put my blood sweat and tears into the company, but sometimes I have to finance parts of it myself. So, a lot of the time it's running the company by the skin of my teeth.
3. Personalities – Comic artists are crazy, shop owners are crazy — to be truthful everybody is a little bit crazy. That said, as a publisher, your main job is to navigate peoples' personalities and in comics there are a lot of them. On a good day dealing with all of these characters feels like being in a carnival; on a bad day it's like being in a carnival prison.
4. The Buck Stops With Me – Lastly, despite all of this craziness and stress I have to stay calm and deal with it. At the end of the day I am the Publisher. I'm the one people turn to for a calm guiding hand. I'm the one comic creators have entrusted their creations with. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, but I have to appear to be lighter than air.
Given everything I just listed, why on earth would I keep going? Why not just peace out and get a job at a tech start-up? Well there are many reasons, but the simple one is that the Comics are worth it. When I saw those orders for Legend, I was punching the air for 10 minutes straight. Not because it means I made a ton of money (which I didn't) but because it means that this amazing story that Sam Sattin and Chris Koehler are telling can see the light of day. That's the way I feel about all of Z2 Comics. Knowing that without us no one would read Carver, or that otherwise Welcome to Showside would just be a twinkle in Ian Mcginty's brilliant brain fills me with a sense of pride and joy that nothing else matches.
I am going to leave you with a personal story. My childhood and teen years were filled with a lot of sadness and strife. However, one of the things that I always looked forward to was New Comic Day. No matter how bad the week had been, I knew that come Wednesday there would be new comics and I could sit down and read some of my favorite stories, and it helped keep me going. The fact is that despite all of the stress and headache knowing that the books Z2 Comics makes could be doing that for some other 15 year-old somewhere is more than enough fuel to keep me going till I can't go no more.
So if you ask me how am I doing at a con or in passing: I'm: stressed, tired, exhausted, and panicky, but despite it all I am happy and fulfilled — not because making comics is fun — but because it is necessary.
LEGEND, the comic-book debut of acclaimed novelist Sam Sattin (THE SILENT END, LEAGUE OF SOMEBODIES), with art by award-winning artist Chris Koehler, is due out May 4th from Z2 Comics. A post-apocalyptic animal story, LEGEND explores a world ruled by our once-domesticated cats and dogs. Though LEGEND tackles some of the important issues facing us today — religious conflict, opposing political systems, and the environment — it is an engaging tale told through the eyes of our own best friends. Since dogs actually see the world differently than we do, Chris' use of color echoes Sam's subtext, bathing the canine world in a chromatic, saturated glow. Sam who was Chris' student at California College of the Arts and is an artist himself, and Chris, whose illustrations have appeared in The Atlantic and Wired, have collaborated for a comic that recalls beloved stories while creating something entirely new.
And check out what he's up to with these Diamond codes…