Act-i-vater and agitator Dean Haspiel recently posted this at his blog and it seems to sum up a lot of what is fomenting at the moment. With his permission, we’ve reprinted it in its entirety here.

Dear, Content Maker–

Being published by someone else does not legitimize your hard work. And, the financial advance hardly pays the rent. Think about that the next time you sign a contract for your original ideas. I trust a firm handshake over most of the jargon they write into those binding contracts, anyway.

Sadly, the death rattle of print is shivering its way towards the way we currently package and distribute our wares, and marketing is a publishing luxury of the past. The good news? There is a new dawn on the horizon where the author will become the provider, publisher and publicist. Don’t let it daunt you. Continue to network, make strong allies, be aware, show up, and be gracious. The digital age was created by us, for us. If you can procrastinate one hour a day, you can certainly keep track of what’s what. Train your eye and keep tabs and make something new.

Bottom line: keep making original content and stop giving it away to publishers. If you’re going to give it away, then benefit from it. Meanwhile, hold on a little bit longer for the paradigm shift to settle in. Exclusive content, destination points, and perceived value is the name of the game. Meanwhile, watch how many publishers close shop in 2011 and know that we’re on the cusp of a publishing revolution. Be armed with your stories and get ready. People love to read.


Dean Haspiel

Consider this the morning session.


  1. Yes, we do love to read. We love good stories, strong characters and imaginative artwork. No matter what format the finished piece is, if it is printed or backlit pixels.

  2. I agree to a certain extent that we are in for a revolution, but will it be of such a size that it will wipe out traditional print media? I still think not. I think what the “digital revolution” will bring is more freedom for the creator(s) to profit more from the end-user and publish more personal and original stuff, but e-publishing certainly hasn’t wiped out print media to such an extent that publishing houses have shut up shop in droves. Granted that the newsprint media have certainly taken a, but as yet, not to such an extent that they’ve had to close down completely. Book publishers certainly don’t seem to be dropping like flies.

    No. I think that digital publishing will be another market to exploit, and by its very nature one in which comic creators have a very good chance of participating in to a much fuller capacity, as Dean stated in his post, than being hamstrung by publishers financially.

  3. Okay, great if you are established, but not so great if no one knows who you are. This is the same argument made by musicians who felt they could market their own work without a record company. It works for established acts, but no new or unknown artist has scraped the top 200 yet bypassing the label system. It will happen eventually, but it’s not the answer now, unless you can afford to build an infrastructure to market you and your product.

  4. Whether the Big Publishers or something else entirely, I think forms of entertainment will always need a sort of ring-master “P. T. Barnum” marketing focal point for artistic works to be experienced. So, even in this relatively new frontier of digital publishing, there will be new forms of aggregating creators into publishing units, labels, pods, or whatever new terminology emerges…many of which will (inevitably) perpetuate the corporate trappings we think we’re escaping.

    Some MAY escape those trappings…but most, I imagine, will happily trade the hard work of self-promotion and potentially fat profit margins for the exposure and security (whether real or imagined) a larger aggregator/publisher can provide.

    In other words: Meet the New Boss….same as the Old Boss.

  5. @Geembeast: Actually, there are a lot of from-scratch success stories with webcomics. Were Nicholas Gurewitch (Perry Bible Fellowship) and Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant) established before they started their webcomics? No, they built an audience from scratch, with their talent and a lot of hard work. And I’m pretty sure they make more money from their work than many people you’d consider to be “established”. So it can be done.

    @Dean: You know I love you, but a firm handshake is no substitute for a clearly-worded contract. (I think Alan Moore would agree.) Comics is full of well-meaning souls who give good handshake but are disorganized/lacking in business sense/legal savvy. It doesn’t have to have legal jargon to be legally binding. But it should be clear and transparent as to what everyone’s rights and responsibilities are. Just sayin.

  6. @alistair robb: “but e-publishing certainly hasn’t wiped out print media to such an extent that publishing houses have shut up shop in droves. ”

    Only because the iPad is still new. Only about 7 million exist in the entire world. They are expensive and have not truly impacted society yet. The iPad competitors are still on the horizon. That will change rapidly in the next year. Once iPads and other tablets get to sub-$200 models, they will be as ubiquitous as transistor radios, TVs, CD players, computers, stereos, VCRs, DVDs, and any other electronic game-changer in history.

    Also, book publishers won’t be wiped out, but merely migrate to new forms of electronic distribution.
    “Granted that the newsprint media have certainly taken a, but as yet, not to such an extent that they’ve had to close down completely. Book publishers certainly don’t seem to be dropping like flies.”

    Some actually have closed down completely — in 2009 well over 100 newspapers closed their doors.

    • In 2009 the 174 year old Ann Arbor News shut down its presses and went exclusively online. Same for The Seattle Post-Intelligence owned by the Hurst Corp. The Denver Rocky Mountain News.

    • Acording to a MarketWatch.com article in 2009, “E.W. Scripps & Co. (SSP 9.49, -0.19, -1.96%) shut down Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, while Philadelphia Newspapers LLC and Journal Register Co. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.” And “…Tribune Co., publisher of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Baltimore Sun and other major dailies, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The parent of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune followed suit a month later.” And the this: “The most spectacular year-over-year declines in daily circulation were seen at the New York Post, down 21%; the Atlanta Journal Constitution, down 20%; the Newark Star-Ledger, off 17%; the San Francisco Chronicle, down nearly 16%; and the Boston Globe, where circulation dropped 14%.”

    Borders books is circling the drain — and their bread and butter? Books and magazines. According to the Financial Times’ ft.com, “Bloomberg gave no details of the price it paid McGraw-Hill, but people familiar with the companies confirmed a Business Week report that the headline valuation was between $2m and $5m, above early estimates that the sale price for the magazine could be a nominal $1.” Newsweek magazine was also sold, along with its debt, for $1 to Harman International.

    Publishers of magazines, books, comics, as well as distributors and brick and mortar retailers of literature are mostly all on hard times. The system is shrinking if not collapsing.

    Dean is absolutely correct in trumpeting the paradigm shift. But he says it’s coming, I say it’s here.

  7. This is actually the rallying cry of the Open Access Publishing movement. Here in the libraries, our copyright office has been meeting with faculty and pointing out that they’re selling their intellectual property to publishers for a mess o’ pottage (if they’re lucky, frankly), and then the publishers turn around and charge them for the right to get access to it again.

    The first lesson is: never sign a contract that deprives you of the rights to your own work.

    The next lesson is learning more about open access. The monetization may not be that clear yet, but it will come. And at least you’ll still own your own work.

  8. I still see the big gate-keeper companies controlling access, for two reasons.

    One, I think, is that in 10 years mobile computing will be computing. Mobile devices can do everything most folks need a computer for, often better. Device makers, software makers and ISP’s will have the upper hand in this market (not everyone’s gonna jailbreak their phone.)

    Two, related to that, is that Apple, MSoft and Google (and probably Sony at some point) are going to control the mobile ad market. Using ads to drive people to your content will become prohibitively expensive. Mobile advertising (in apps and on devices) is going to dominate.

    (I think all this will start to defragment media, too, which will also impact independent creators.)

  9. Further consolidation at the top is emerging along with an endless defragmentation for any creator or creator owned property who aren’t working with or owned by the consolidating parent companies. Some see chaos and destruction in that endless defragmentation and others see opportunity.

  10. @Jim D – it seems a little spurious to tout Kate Beaton and Nicolas Gurewitch as having bypassed the traditional publishing system, when as a result of their web success they landed deals at publishers like Drawn and Quarterly and Dark Horse.

    It seems like web success is still only able to translate into dollars if people then go out and buy the physical book.

    People tout the iPad and other devices like that as ways to bypass publishers – but it seems like the digital author or comics artist who does manage to sell (rather than give away) his/her work online will be making less money than artists that sell in print. And who is getting that extra money the consumer puts into digital reading? Not supposedly evil or “behind-the-times” publishers – it’ll be Apple that makes the biggest profit selling a device to access all the free/cheap work online at $800 a pop.

    Sometimes it seems the size of the pie isn’t changing – the same amount of people will still read the same amount of stuff (more or less – I mean, there’s only so much time in the day, right?) – what’s changing is that Apple and Amazon have found a way to substantially profit by offering cutting edge delivery devices. They’re taking a large share of the publisher’s piece of the pie and I have to think that they’ll be taking a big chunk of the artist’s piece of the pie in the end, too.

    I think one of the biggest myths about digital publishing is that it will open doors to all sorts of new readers – when really the base number of readers isn’t going to change much, but it will open doors for all sorts of new corporations to profit off selling access to other people’s intellectual property. right? I probably sound like a luddite. Sorry.

  11. Print won’t disappear. eBooks and stuff are just going to be another venue.

    ” Comics is full of well-meaning souls who give good handshake but are disorganized/lacking in business sense/legal savvy.”

    Dennis Kitchen himself expressed this same sentiment. He used to do business with a handshake until his idol, Will Eisner, explained the importance of having a contract that spells out everyone’s responsibilities to each other.

    I’m not sure I understand the “Viva la Revolución!” attitude toward publishers. They’re in business to make money, same as the creators. And while there have been horror stories with publishers — like Siegel and Shuster — there have been success stories of people working with major publishers (though usually outside of comics).

    Likewise, I’m sure that for every successful self-publisher, there have been hundred (nay, thousands!) who are still holding down day-jobs.

    Digital publishing and self-distribution have opend up new avenues, but the bottom line is … depending on your particular skill set and talents, you’ll have to decide for yourself if you’re better off sticking to a conventional publisher or going alone.

  12. @Sean: how is my argument “spurious”? I was responding to Geembeast’s point about how naming your own terms only works for someone who’s a known quantity. The fact that Gurewitch and Beaton have signed deals with print publishers doesn’t invalidate the fact that they both built followings from scratch and earned money on their own terms through merch and advertising, without going through any kind of traditional gatekeeper first. I doubt either of them signed away the family jewels there, and I’m sure their negotiating terms were far stronger than someone sending an unsolicited submission without having first established such a following (again, under their own steam).

    As I read Dean’s post, his point isn’t that you HAVE to bypass the traditional publishing system, but that if you DO engage with it, do so with eyes wide open and on your own terms, mindful that you have other options. Geembeast seems to feel that that isn’t possible for unknowns, and I thought of a few examples that showed it was.

  13. it looks like the motto of self-publishing will in the end rule the day!
    Here’s to Elfquest, First Kingdom -and, of course, the creation from the Godfather of Selfpublishing, himself: Cerebus!

  14. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/defragment

    Main Entry: defragment 1
    Part of Speech: vt
    Definition: to reorganize or reallocate the storage on a computer’s hard disk by bringing together files or parts of files to optimize the machine’s performance; also called defrag

    I think you meant “fragmentation”, not it’s opposite.

    That said, I do hope that the smaller players do organize themselves. In publishing, there are the “Big Six” conglomerates, then quite a few successful medium publishers (such as Disney, Scholastic, McGraw-Hill, DC), numerous small presses, and the academic presses.

    The reader population won’t change much, but WHAT they read… that’s Marketing 101. How does a company gain market share? Perhaps that kid playing Telara on his PSP might want to read the comic from Wildstorm. You’ve just changed his leisure habits… time he might have spent playing the game is now spent reading the comic.

    Or maybe libraries buy more comics and graphic novels because they know kids will read them. New market, more sales. Or perhaps someone notices a graphic novel at a bookstore, connects it to a movie, and buys the book. Or perhaps, like I did today, someone sees an article about a public service Captain America comic that Marvel published, does a Google search, and reads it for free online, generating ad revenue and good publicity for Marvel.

    Publishers do offer services to authors (publicity, distribution, editorial, advertising, bookkeeping) which might be beneficial if the contract is fair and equitable.

    As for ads, I thought websites, like newspapers, set the rates, not Google. So I can advertise here, or on a webcomic site with readers who might enjoy my work, for a small fee. Or for free, if I run an ad for that website on mine.

  15. Just read about him in Wickepedia -certainly puts things in perspective. yikes. lol.
    Anyways, skimming through it: the title was never given to him as it was to Dave Sim (much to his chagrin)during the self-publishing movement in the 90s.

  16. a person who is regarded as the originator or principal shaper of a movement, school of thought, art form, industry, or the like

    The godfather of self publishing is Dave Sim.

    Jack Chick is a pioneer of self publishing, but his business model is more like that of Underground cartoonists (he started publishing in 1970), albeit from a fundamentalist Christian perspective.

  17. now now.
    in fairness while both do have a conservative bent personally: Dave makes high art, or as about as High as it get’s in comics (as you admit Heidi)and the other is happily propaganda. While one work transcends and illuminates and is not easily categorized, the other is pedestrian at best and in service of a mission.

  18. @CitizenCliff

    Ya know, I’ve been hearing that story for a while now. Borders is knee-deep in crap because of its trying to apply “McDonald’s” business plan to something that ain’t mickey dees. Yeah local papers have been shutting up shop but big nationals certainly in the UK sandhere in Brazilhaven’t really felt thepinch that much. as I said, I think it’s a new media to share the market, but I really don’t see as massive a paradigm shift as some are declaring.

  19. @Geembeest: “no new or unknown artist has scraped the top 200 yet bypassing the label system.”

    That may be true in America, but it’s certainly not true in Britain, where several people have made the top 40 on the strength of self-released records promoted on YouTube.

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