Look upon my works ye mighty and despair

How to make a million in the comics business

simple…start with a billion.

Crude and well known joke, but truthful at it’s core.

Lots of you ask my advice about self publishing and getting into comics, and I generally send the same email with the same information…how to write a script, required reading, choosing your creative collaborators etc. Heck I’ll even talk about how much it costs to print a book.

But I’ve left out the biggest drain on your resources…the convention circuit.

I’m now one full year into being what some would call a serious comic writer on the self publishing/small label scene. I started off at DICE in my hometown, then flew to Dundee for the Dundee Comics Day. 3 weeks later I was en route to Thought Bubble in Leeds. Shortly after this I set North to Belfast for a Belfast Comics Fayre, then in Feb it was off to London and the London Super Comic Con. There was a con lull for me up until 2D in Derry in June, a guest appearance at Arcade Con in Dublin in July, and then I had another guest appearance at Dublin Comic Con in August. This brings me nicely back around to this years DICE, where I’m a guest alongside some outstanding talents…I guess a lot has happened in a year.

So first off, let me start by using the above to highlight that what people say on panels is really true, doing the con scene is vital to progressing in the industry. It’s a no-brainer. Top talent scouts, editors and creators are sat there more than happy to talk to you. Attendees generally go to several cons per year, so they get to know you and your work, and this is how you build a fan-base for your books. To anyone watching, it’s obvious that those at cons are progressing and those that don’t go have a minuscule chance of going anywhere in a business that is more about personal relationships than cold pitching.

So that’s the obvious about the con circuit, but now, lets look at how much this costs. If you think printing a book cost you money, wait until you start on the con circuit, especially from a little island like ours.

Let’s look at my year, and break it down into cold hard costs.

Printing Tales from the Void cost me just under €500 for 400 copies.

Earthruler promo edition cost me £150 for 100 copies.

(I won’t even count the cost of artists/colourists/letterers)

Flights to Dundee cost €160 due to being short notice. The train cost €30.

Flights to Thought Bubble cost €60. A hotel for 2 nights cost a further €105. My table cost £50.

Train to Belfast cost €30.

London flight cost €55. Hotel for both nights costs €120. No table and LSCC were kind enough to provide a complimentary professional pass.

2D, the bus cost €20, and the house we stayed in cost €30.

I’ll round taxi’s up for all trips(incl Dublin, thanks to our non existent early bus services on Sun mornings) to a conservative €200.

So a loose and conservative tot up puts my con costs at €1600 for the year. That doesn’t include the price of food, or the post con beers etc. So round that up and you are looking at €2000 to put some books out at minimal cost and get out on the con circuit.

Now, lets do a cost analysis. I recouped the flight cost to Dundee as we won the prize, and the prize money covered the flight price(I also slept in an airport in order to have some money left to pay to the other guys on the project). So we are back to looking at say €1840.

I have 600 books to sell. Tales from the Void sells at €4 each and Earthruler at €5 each. So if I sold 400 copies of Tales from the Void at that price I could make €1600 and 100 copies of the Earthruler at €5 then I’d make €500. So in theory thats €2100 and you’re making a profit IF you magically sell every book you have. 

HOWEVER, it doesn’t work like that. Firstly, you’re going to put some of these books into stores, and the stores will take a percentage of the price. Secondly, if you are serious about progressing in the comics industry, you had best be ready to dish those books out GRATIS to editors, creators, media and whoever else you think can help further your career. 

So best case, you’ll make a slight loss.

As it stands for me a year later, I’ve sold almost every one of those books, and that was damned hard work. I’ve also been lucky enough to have you wonderful kickstarter people fund the Earthruler trade, and am now at a stage where companies like Markosia, Arcana and Atomic Diner are paying to publish my work, rather than me paying to do it.

So I’ll give you some damn good advice about cons. Don’t see them purely in money terms. If you do you are going to lose faith fast. You never know how a con will go for you.

Laying it all out there, I travelled to Belfast and less than 6 punters walked through the door. I sold 4 books and it was embarrassing for me, the punters, other creators and the organiser. So I lost money, plus a day with my family at that one.

I sold less than half a dozen copies of Tales from the Void at Thought Bubble. I was really low after that con, as it seemed people had no interest in my book. However, when I looked at thought bubble from a different angle, it was a must do. I learnt a lot about what people want to buy, met a ton of great creators, made contact with the printer I use now and met some of comics top editors. Just getting 2 minutes with them made that trip a solid investment.

Arcade Con was a strange one also, not really a comics crowd and didn’t buy too many books, but I had a packed and interested room for a panel discussion I did, which was probably my favourite talk of the year.

On the flip side, 2D was outstanding for me. I sold more than 50 books and got to mingle with some outstanding people. So 2D was a definite win -win.

The final con I’ll talk about here was Dublin Comic Con. I’ll be the first to admit it, I didnt know what to expect and I wasn’t overly optimistic going in. The guys had a ton of props and fx displays, but seemed to neglect the comics side of things(In their defence, the other comic guest was Charlie Adlard, and they don’t come much bigger). Well the con blew me away. Most of these people came for the props but jumped on the comics. I sold 135 books, did 7 commissions and sold a lot of prints. I also met some wonderful people who came thanks to the Hollywood hero trend but suddenly realised they’d been missing reading actual comic books.

So, each and every con is different. More importantly, each con will be different for each creator…some will have a great time at a con where I will sell little, but the next con will see the roles reversed. It’s also not the fault of a con if you aren’t selling well at it. Do your research, find out who goes to the con you’re attending and hopefully you’ll have a book that is what they like reading, if not then maybe that isn’t the con you should be going to.

Also, as I stated earlier, don’t see the con purely in money terms. If you do, you’ll more than likely be miserable as you work out how many books you need to sell to cover that flight, hotel or table cost. But you are getting so much more out of the event, aren’t you? Did you meet creators you admire? Did you catch an editors eye? Did one person come up and tell you they enjoyed your book? Did you ENJOY your day?

Because for some people, they would see it as a waste of money, or a hard game to make it back. But those people aren’t comic people. They don’t get the fun and the buzz of the convention floor, the thrill of seeing your favourite creator sketching or maybe getting sage advice from a renowned writer. 

They wouldn’t appreciate the fun of seeing a 10 year old dressed as Deadpool, or the defiant sarcasm of a wheelchair bound person cosplaying as Professor X. But hopefully, you do, and that makes all the conventions and all the money and all the effort worthwhile for you, because if you enjoy it, then it should.

So, that’s a year on the con scene. Next year, the world.

I’ll be at DICE next weekend. Buy some books, or just pop by and say hello and remember, a con is what you make it.


  1. iesorno reblogged this from darrinotoole and added:
    Sheds some interesting light on the business side of comics.Costs of printing are interesting in themselves here. Pretty...
  2. quackhandles reblogged this from darrinotoole and added:
    It’s things like this that make excited for DICE.
  3. sonsofcorax reblogged this from darrinotoole
  4. darrinotoole posted this