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Chapter 143: A Cost Benefit Analysis of a Comic About Feral Children...
Hope you’re enjoying another lovely week here on Earth. Here in New York it’s raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock, as the saying goes. But I am deep in the comic mines so it doesn’t effect me much. I just hope the mines don’t flood.
I did come up for air recently and saw Comics Discourse™ getting into the old Price vs. Page Count debate, with a little Release Schedule vs. Healthy Workflow conversation as an opening match. All stuff that normal people shouldn’t really have to spend much time thinking about, but as a creator it on my mind constantly. Personally, I’m never excited to see fans get dragged into these arguments because I can’t think of a lot of other artistic mediums where you pay per pound to enjoy them. A ticket to Lawrence Of Arabia costs the same as a ticket to Dumbo. Anna Karenina isn’t some wildly expensive book. They don’t charge you extra to see Guernica because it’s big. (maybe they do actually? I’ve never seen it in person.) I worry comic fans spend too much time wondering how the sausage is made and not enough time being contestants in the Hot Dog Eating Contest. But maybe that’s not a fair comparison? Most art isn’t delivered on a paying subscription basis. We ask a lot of our readers and they should expect a lot. And obviously people have a right to feel a way about how they spend their money. But all of this got me thinking about the stuff we make. So I decided to do the thing I said I don’t like, and thrust you into this debate. You’re welcome.
With issue #14 of WHAT’S THE FURTHEST PLACE FROM HERE? in stores this week, I was thinking about our weird little guy of a book and the math that goes into making him. The balance of how to provide the best reading experience, making the best book, taking care of ourselves, and not ripping off our readers, is a constant in the back of my mind. So now you get to poke around in my mind and see the logic for yourself.
I don't pretend to know the right answer, or that there even is a right answer, for what works best for a comic. I will say that for Tyler Boss and myself, we made the decision to always try and give the reader more for their $3.99 whenever possible. That was a goal from day 1. Our thinking is simple. We've both been broke at times in our life. We’ve had to make decisions about what we could and could not afford, and comics was often a part of that math. Being broke sucks. We've also both worked at comic shops where we've seen people literally counting out the pennies they’ve scrounged so they could afford their stack. So, when given the option, we want to give people more content for less (or the same) money.
But more than just trying to give you more pages, we're trying to deliver the absolute best reading experience possible. It’s not just how long it takes you to chew the meal, it’s whether you like the taste. And that means sometimes scenes get extra panels, which leads to extra pages, which leads back to longer issues.
Comics are amazing, and it takes a herculean effort to make them at all. To me, making them every month is pretty close to a miracle. But one of the hardest parts of the job of the creative team is cutting. Good things are cut out of all the comics you read all the time, to save time and to save space. To get a book out every month, the 20-22 page limit is really close to the physical maximum of what the average comic artist can do. It's way over the limit for many. So comics tend to be 20-22 pages. And with that, the monthly chunk of story has to be squeezed neatly into an enjoyable little morsel that feels worth it but also makes you want to come back for more. Ask any storyteller you know- It's an impressive feat.
But Tyler and I decided early on the make our lives easier/harder by ignoring that 20-22 page guideline. WTFPFH? #14 comes in at a hefty 29 pages (plus ads, etc). Things like this make our lives easier because we don't ever cut things we love from the book. We allow ourselves to leave all of that in because we think readers will love it too. Harder because we have moved past what Tyler can comfortably do in a month. I will say this because he doesn’t read the newsletter so he will never see it- Tyler is as much of workhorse as anyone I have ever met in comics. He regularly pushes himself to go above and beyond, and can turn out a shocking number of gorgeous pages a month. He is among the most impressive artists I have ever met, and I am lucky to have him as a partner every day. But I can’t tell him that or his ego would be unmanageable.
But WTFPFH? is a large book, every single issue. Our actual average so far is 30.5 pages per issue. All for $3.99. And that's just the average. A few issues have come in in the high 30s. One in the high 40's. Again, we want to make sure you're getting a lot of comic, and a lot of GOOD comic for your dollars.
Good question. Even with Tyler's supernatural speed, we still sometimes have to take breaks to catch our breath. For him and for me. Taking a few months off in a comic sales is bad. It hurts sales. Many comic fans (and comic shop owners) crave consistent schedules. We knew this going in. But we made a choice with the book. We'd rather have a better book, and a cheaper reading experience, than a more consistently scheduled book. Since we launched in November 2021, we have put out 14 issues this month. 14 issues in 22 months may not seem like a lot, but consider this- We've put out 427 pages of comics. If we were sticking to the 20 page model that many publisher use we would have put out 21.35 issues in 22 months. Which is wild. (Now is when we bow to Fiona Staples for being a magical being of unfathomable power.)
And we could have done that. We could have put out 21 issues in 22 months and been out on shelves basically every month for 2 years. But we would have had to cut stuff we love and made the book worse for the sake of “efficiency." And that doesn't seem fun for anyone.
And not just would our sales be higher, but there would be more comics to sell. At $3.99 a pop that's $83.79 we’d have asked for the story we've published so far. Instead, by making the same comic larger, we've been able to charge $55.86 for the same number of pages. You pay less, we make less, everyone wins.
All of this is a weird way to think about our art, and this thing that we make that we love. But it's also this thing that we make that we need to pay our bills and feed us. So we have to make these decisions, even when we sometimes make them against our own financial interests. It's not just that we made the decision knowing we would sell more issues if we were out every month, but we would have sold more copies of every issue. It was a tough decision, to be honest. But we wanted to make the best book we could and the most affordable book we could. And we believed we could do both with the model we have. And your mileage may vary, but this is the proudest I've been of anything I've ever worked on. I love the story we are telling in WTFPFH?.
And yes, we lose some readers not being on shelves every month, but that's okay. We were happy and proud to have them for even a small part of the journey. Maybe they come back when the series is all in trade. Maybe they come back when it’s all in the $1 bin. Maybe they don’t come back. Either way, we appreciate everyone who gave us a shot.
In the end, we believe people will always remember a great meal they had, but not how long it took the chef to make it. We see how much so many of the readers who stick with us appreciate and care about the book, and that makes it all worth it for us.
Now I don't write all this to shame anyone for their book pricing or anything. Making comics is hard and expensive and requires massive teams of unsung people to get them on shelves. People do the math to make it work for them, and I support that. This was merely an explanation of choices we made on our book. And we hope they make sense to you.
For all of you who stuck with us these last 21 months, thank you. We make this for you and we appreciate you coming along with us on the ride. We couldn't do it without you and the best is yet to come. Issue #14 is in stores now.
In other news I’m going to be answering more questions here soon, so if you got ‘em you can email me here or leave a comment below.
It’s your chance to have your questions answered by an honest to goodness comic book person.
As always, I can’t bring myself to talk about my stuff without feeling incredibly guilty, so I am going to point out another cool comic you should be checking out that I didn’t make.
It is a bit of a cheat though. But it’s my newsletter so I make the rules. Our editor extraordinaire here at Ashcan Press Comics Corporation, Rachel Pinnelas, has a short story in the spooky TALES FROM THE CAVE anthology comic out this week. Rachel is an amazing editor with a great head for story, and now it turns out she’s a great writer too! Grab a copy of the book from your local comic shop today and get excited for Rachel to be writing cool new things for you to read in the future.
So run to your local comic shop and grab yourself a copy. And maybe grab some for the Trick-Or-Treaters who will be descending on you soon.
That’s it for me.
Stay safe. Take care of each other. This is a lot of damn rain.