I try to stay out of politics with this site. Yes, the current trend of ideological preaching over good storytelling (thus in essence negating any positivity that can be had from trying to diversify the ranks) is annoying but for me it’s a symptom of a larger problem and better political commentators than I already cover that area better than I could. As I’ve noted numerous times there is a pecking order in media and anything not involving live actors or centuries old media formats like prose books are rather low on the list. This includes animation, video games, and comics, with the latter apparently willing to accept their place as an intellectual property engine for the “higher” media or trying to reach outside of comics to find an audience by hiring novelists instead of comic writers and doing all kinds of cheap marketing tricks to increase sales. The people behind comics seem to have no faith in themselves as a media format. Idealogues coming in and altering things in hopes of influencing the movies and reaching an audience who couldn’t care less about the comics no matter how many Marvel or DC movies and shows they watch is just part of the problem resulting from that mindset. As reviewers deeper into the statistics have gone over, the success of Black Panther hasn’t led to increased comic sales or The Boys leading to new readers. Comics just keeps shooting themselves in the foot and ideology is only part of the problem.
And yet it’s Eric July’s political leanings (officially Libertarian) and his constant calling out of actions both political and apolitical errors in the comics industry many of his defenders blame for the lack of discussion in the mainstream comic news sites, or in some cases outright negative, while being one of the biggest launches to hit indie publishers in a while. As I talked about after my July (as in the month) hiatus July (as in Eric) didn’t turn to crowdfunding for Isom #1 or hunt down investors; he started his own publishing company. Instead of going through Diamond or other traditional distributors for his first graphic novel he started a site and set up a campaign to get the whole company started. Additionally Reddit has blocked ANY discussion of the Rippaverse on their comic subreddit because of his politics and pushing back against the mainstream comic industry.
What July himself hadn’t counted on was how much support he had gained between his commentary and his music, bursting his $1,000,000 goal in a day rather than the months he thought it would take. As I write this on Monday (as I had the time, maybe scheduled for Tuesday) his current proclaimed revenue is $3,463,142.46 (admittedly I’m not sure where the 46¢ came from given that the prices are all in dollars) with 32 days left to go. There are comics, posters, trading cards the size of postcards, and a bunch of other stuff but this isn’t about promoting Rippaverse Comics. It’s about one set of comments by the critics of the Rippaverse and how it affects other indie publishers who may want to start out, which it seems to be the goal to stop and not give the big boys further competition. You know, like a department store squeezing out a mom & pop. It’s like an episode of The A-Team, except July is both Hannibal Smith AND B.A. Baraccas. (No version of Face and Murdoch though.)
Back in 2010 I took a look at the cost of publishing a comic to ask why DC and Marvel’s prices were constantly so high, and they’ve gotten worse since. Nobody complains about their price increase even though both DC and Marvel are now part of larger media conglomerates that could easily offset the prices a bit but they don’t care about the comic books themselves. For some reason this black-owned first-time indie publisher working out of his own funds is the hill they won’t die on. The current paper shortage hasn’t helped. However, to see if $35.00 really is too much for a first graphic novel that is launching an entire universe (not whether I can afford it…I’ve just gotten over medical issues that left me unemployed for years…I can’t afford anything right now that isn’t an emergency) I went to three different publishers this time. Not knowing what the stitching is on the binder, the size of the final product or the name of the quality paper used for the cover and interior pages I’m admittedly doing some guesswork. I’ll post all the data and we’ll see if the price of making the comic with a profit (you don’t start a comic company on posters and t-shirts) is in line with what’s being asked for. Just remember this is all guess work based on what I could find out.
I don’t know how the prices will change but you can check my math–especially since I admit I’m going with numbers I can find as I don’t have access to information even larger comic and media sites don’t even have if they asked. Nor do I know the final numbers he was charged for each stage of the project. We know the book is 96 pages using high-quality paper and covers that according to July can take more of a beating than your average trade without being hardback. We also know that this isn’t a trade. It’s an original graphic novel and presumably Rippaverse Comics won’t be doing the monthly or bimonthly periodicals. Sad, but I went over in the launch commentary why I understood the reasoning. I just miss the days when serialized storytelling was actually serialized. See also the current Doctor Who model versus the classic series. I ended up looking up quotes from four different publishers for self-publishers not starting their own huge company with warehouse, full-time employees, and a cargo van. Ka-Blam is the site I used in the previous pricing article, joined here by Morris Publishing, Comix Well Spring, and PrintNinja. So….let’s do some math!
We’re going with 8 X 10.25 for our size. According to all these sites that’s the size of a magazine or a typical graphic novel. From there a few other differences in numbers to run a gambit of possibilities and because each publisher doesn’t always have the same offerings. So here’s what I ended up with.
- Ka-Blam: I actually went with two attempts on this one. First is the standard magazine, manga, and comic quotes. Cardstock cover, full-color interior, but only 80 pages maximum. These would be stapler bound like your average comic or magazine…though I don’t know how that would work for a manga. I guess that would be good for a larger mini-comic. With no printer ad this runs $7.48 cents, but we are a few pages short, aren’t we?
- There is also one for “square bound comics and paperbacks”, also referred to as “perfect binding” among the others. This one I can get to 96 pages. 8 X 10.25 again, gloss finish 10 pt cardstock cover, full color interiors (no listing for the quality of interiors), spine width at 0.19999999999999998 Inches (60 Pixels @ 300 DPI–don’t ask me, I’m a writer), and we get $13.53 per comic.
- Morris Publishing: This one we only have one quote for. Again with the 8 X 10.25, this time actually listed as a graphic novel. Perfect binding, 96 pages, and full color 80 lb, gloss interior paper because it seemed like the most expensive. I also went with matte lamination for the cover, 30¢ extra. Why not? Now most of these publishers come with a minimum order. For Morris you have to order at 25 books, but thankfully the quote does tell you what each one is costing. $9.68 unit price plus the matte lamination comes to $9.98 per book. I’m also sending it to Lancaster, Texas because all I know is what state July is in.
- PrintNinja (graphic novel calculator): Okay, 8 X 10.25 with perfect binding. Let’s go nuts on this one because we can. 14 pt cover, gloss paper finish, 135 lb text with matte coating for the inside. Note that I’m not getting any hard cover proof sheets and we don’t have an option for publisher ads to offset the cost, which I haven’t been using anyway. Each unit here is $14.63. And here’s a helpful bonus: it has a checkbox for variant covers. There are three covers for Isom #1: two promotional covers for the launch campaign and the regular C cover that will be the regular cover going forward. This ups the count to $16.86 per unit.
- Comix Well Spring: Okay, we have two options again from Greko Printing’s comic offspring. Let’s stick with the 80 gloss for the stapled binding cover, though we could go to 100. No foil, no UV. 80 gloss interior full color, unfortunately tapping out at 64 interior pages, still shy of the 96 we know the book has. Standard turn around (14 days). This one requires a bit more math. The 25 minimum goes to the cart to give us a price with no single unit price. $134.75 divided by 25 units is 5.93, but again despite the same size we don’t have the right page count.
- So let’s see what happens when you use the square bound, which apparently is still the “perfect” binding. Same stats, with four cover pages both times because I don’t know. This time we’re told the spine width is .24 with no option to change it. With 96 pages now available to us we have $242 even, divided by 25 minimum units for a final total of $9.68.
Now let’s average the ones with 96 pages, even if admittedly the stats aren’t all the same because I’m an idiot and having extra time doesn’t mean having all the time in the world. I had to stop this article for supper. Not using the alternate multiple covers price from PrintNinja the average is $11.88, which is the price we’re going to go with…for printing the comic. Oh, there’s more. You need something to print.
Eric July wrote this comic himself so he doesn’t have to pay a writer. He didn’t draw or letter it though. For that he needs an artist, a colorist, and a letterer. So how much does that set you back? Well, I have a few different sources here, too. More bullet points! This one is a bit harder to properly put down. I’m going by industry standards but there are two notes here. Artist Cliff Richards, colorist Gabe Eltaeb, and letterer Eric Weathers (letterers handle sound effects and word balloons, presumably with the artist doing in-world signs and…say, some dude’s “born to die” t-shirt or something) have done top-tier work. Eltaeb worked for DC Comics before his infamous and public parting of the ways in protest of their treatment of Superman and Superjunior. (As in abandoning “truth, justice, and the American way” and the stuff I joked about in the last Jake & Leon, not the bi thing, and frankly Jon missed his formative years passing through hypertime to escape his crazy grandpa so he had less positive interaction with both men and women than Harley Quinn.) He has also worked for Marvel. The same is true with Richards, while according to Comicvine Mr. Weathers is mostly known for work with smaller publishers like Alterna. The art and coloring duo are used to larger pay rates and July has claimed to be offering more than DC was offering them and I’m guessing Weathers as well. I don’t know the specifics there but let’s look at the sources. Comicon writer Tito W. James writes about a 2019 comic convention panel on the cost of making comics, while comic creator Jim Keefe gave a list from equally outdated sources. Ultimately I’m just going to use the 2019 source since that’s the best and latest I could find if I want to go to sleep tonight. I’ve had less frustrating teeth pulls.
- Covers: Yes, covers get a separate price from the interior art. According to the panel article, indie publishers usually charge or are charged $200-$500 while mainstream publishers are more like $600-$700. Since July has said he charges more than the mainstream (again, to protect my butt and pretend to be professional I can confirm or deny nothing but it’s still more work than the critics have done) I’m going to use the high side mainstream numbers when I do the final calculation. Also remember when I do this that there were 3 covers but on the other hand I don’t know if the colorist gets the same cover pay as the artist. This is the price range to do the covers so this may affect the final number’s accuracy.
- Line art: This is for the interiors, as is the rest of the list. (I do not have the numbers for what July was charged to create the Isom logo.) It’s $100-$250 per page for indies, and we’re talking 96 pages. For the mainstream the rate is $200-$300. To use Jim Keefe’s numbers for clarity the penciler’s starting rate at Marvel and DC comes to $160-$260 per page with the inker at $75-$100. I’ll be using the $300 rate because the artist for Isom #1 did pencils and inks. That brings us to $28,800 (300 x 96). Now I really wish I could draw.
- Color art: The average rate for coloring an indie comic is $35-$100 per page, while the mainstream goes for $120-$150. Again, we’re talking 96 pages. $150 x 96 = $14,400. If you think these numbers are a lot I do a weekly comic strip and an occasional comic page. Even with my minimal art style (and skills) it takes a lot of time just to draw, color, and letter a panel for something I make no money from. (Ad revenue goes to the site host, not me.) Imagine someone with actual talent doing this professionally.
- Letterer: Probably the cheapest one on this list, though again it’s work to get the right sound effect and some letterers deal with artists who don’t leave enough room for dialog or writers who don’t know when to have their characters shut the @#%# up. Maybe we can get Owen Jollands to tell some horror stories at this year’s Art Soundoff? Anyway, indie rates are $10-$20 and mainstream rates are $20-$25 per page. 25 X 96 = $2,400.
Now, some other things to remember that I’m not able to add to the final tally, which is already a lot of guessing on my part. Shipping costs I could not get a per unit, especially from the 25 book minimum counts. From the profit Eric is starting a whole new company. He has to pay for the warehouse, the employees, the maintenance on the warehouse, whatever rules Texas has involving employees and workspace conditions, and a decent van to carry all those books around. If there’s anything left he might make money for himself, and he’s already paid a lot out of pocket since he is using no investors and no actual crowdfunding. It’s all pre-orders for completed work. These are also not collections of previously published work; it’s an original graphic novel. Luckily he has money to fall back on thanks to his band, YouTube career, and whatever other moneymaking operations he has going on. (In a recent stream he mentioned doing some ghostwriting in the past.) So let’s run the final numbers. Last bunch of bullet points.
- Publishing: $11.88 per book
- Cover Art: $2100 ($700 per cover, including the two variant covers, which I didn’t list in the publishing costs)
- Pencil/Inks: $28,800
- Color Art: $14,400
- Letterer: $2,400
- FINAL TOTAL PER BOOK AND THREE COVERS: $47,711.88
This is for ONE BOOK and no matter how off my numbers on (within reason) that was out of pocket. The goal for this campaign was $1,000,000. WIth no room for profit at all he would need a lot of books just to break even. At $35 per book we’re talking in the thousands to make up the out of pocket expenses alone. Again, as of this writing he received preorders of over $3 million but that’s also for the shirts of at least three designs, hats (demanded by fans), posters, lenticular cards the size of a postcard, and a limited edition art book, all of which he also paid for out of pocket before he received a single penny. Even with package bundles he still had to print MORE books, including new versions of the two incentive covers as an apology for the day one technical issues which he took feedback from in a livestream as they were working on it. Just by the two covers alone one book cost him $46,300. Obviously he’s not going to make only one book at that price, though the only repeat price for multiple books is the averaged $11.88 printing cost. Someone with better math skills can run the numbers and tell you exactly how many books he needs to sell to see a profit for the first book of a new company with no investors besides July himself.
Somehow I’m not convinced $35 isn’t a bad price when you factor all that, and later books may cost less (he’s stated the possibility himself) as the process is refined and he doesn’t need as much profit to stay in business. He also doesn’t have backers from some big media conglomerate to fall back on. It’s the ultimate gamble for the ultimate risk, as Beast Wars Megatron once said. Owning his own comic company is Eric July’s dream and he’s living that dream in a huge way, with many supporters of many races and perspectives, though apparently not all. You’d think in this culture celebrating a black man not needing white people beyond customers to be a success at his dream would be a given. I guess it depends on whether or not you’re with the right group, too. July isn’t liberal and he isn’t following what he feels is an outdated system of distribution, so the defenders of the status quo who are also of a certain political persuasion want to keep him buried. Good luck with that one. I don’t think that’s in his nature.