Think different Should more artists consider using indie publishers to get their work out there, wonders Tom May
Could small-scale publishers be the answer for artists keen to see their art in print?
It’s great to see your artwork online. But let’s be honest, there’s nothing like seeing it in print. So do you pursue a traditional publisher, with the likely loss of creative control that entails? Or self-publish your own work – then hit a wall when trying to bring it to the world’s attention?
Well, there is another way: the indie publisher, aka the small press. Small presses aren’t highly visible, mind, and you probably haven’t heard of most of them. So why are so many artists keen to work with them?
“I view my small press work as an apprenticeship every aspiring artist should go through,” says Jim Lavery. “It’s helped develop my discipline, technique and attitude to deadlines. It’s also resulted in a catalogue of published work I can refer to and learn from.”
Jim’s work has been published in two indie comics: Little O Productions’ Horrere, and Madius Comics’ Papercuts and Inkstains. “The editors allow
me a tremendous amount of freedom,” he enthuses. “On the downside; money, specifically the lack of it.”
Shouldering the burden
Alisdair Wood, the founder of Horrere, admits that cash is tight in the indie world, but believes it has a lot to offer artists. “An indie publisher can take away a lot of the stress of preparing work for print for the artist, as well as the cost,” he says. “This gives them enough room to show off their talents without committing a huge amount of valuable time.”
Patrick Mulholland, who’s worked with US indie publisher Broken Icon Comics, tells a similar story. He responded to its advert seeking an artist to work on graphic novel The Cowboy Gauntlet. Patrick initially accepted the role unpaid, in return for exposure; the publisher was so pleased with the artist’s work, though, it later agreed to pay him for it.
Indie publishers can help with the stress of preparing work for print…
“One of the best things is the chance to build your own world and stories,” Patrick says. “If you’re starting a new series or pitch with a writer, you can have a lot of influence on the look and feel of the book. You can put more of your personality into it.”
Indies can be great for artists starting out, he adds. “You’ll gain experience in working on scripts and taking notes on your work,” Patrick says. “You’ll learn to work in collaboration, taking ideas and giving them.”
That was certainly the case for Neil Ford. “I’ve not worked for a big publisher yet – I’m very early in my art career,” he explains. “But Horrere asked me to do the art for a script by Rob Jones and Mike Sambrook, entitled If You Go Down to the Woods.
“We had a great time assembling the comic,” Neil says. “Long Facebook group chats every night were both hilarious and inspirational. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would definitely recommend getting involved in small press.”
Neil’s collaborators agree, and see indie publishing as a growing scene within the digital art landscape. “People who were unable to get their work out there before have way more options now,” enthuses Mike Sambrook. “I’m incredibly positive about the way that things are looking.”
Rob Jones is equally upbeat. “At the comic festival Thought Bubble, held in Leeds, England last year, New Dock Hall was wall-to-wall indie publishing,” he says. “It was incredible to see: this huge swathe of people who had taken a half-formed idea that they may have had in the bath, then turned it into this dream. As well as Horrere and Papercuts and Inkstains, there’s amazing stuff from Redshift Press, Raw Edge Comics, Insane Comics, Fifth Dimension Comics and others coming out over the next few months.”
indies can be fun
And it’s not just about new artists. Paul Williams, aka Sketchy Magpie, is a full-time illustrator of five years and has had work published by the likes of Macmillan and Oxford University Press. “But generally, those experiences have felt a lot more like ‘work’ compared to drawing comics for FutureQuake, which is always a hoot,” Paul explains. “I feel a lot more freedom to experiment and be creative, and that’s where the most valuable development comes from.”
The indie publishers themselves have similar motivations – creative passion trumping the desire for big money. Take Dani Hedlund, editor-in-chief of F(r)iction, a literary journal featuring sci-fi stories and bespoke digital
artwork. “Whenever I go to a publishing conference someone will say: ‘Dani, what the hell are you doing? This is not a viable business plan!’” she laughs. “And yes, we’re all living off ramen noodles and working out of coffee shops.
“But F(r)iction has this emphasis on weird work that would never otherwise see the light of day. These artists are pouring their heart and soul on to the page and we believe that should be represented as beautifully as possible.”
But while the indie publishers aren’t obsessed with money, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t money to be made. At a time when social media and crowdfunding are disrupting the old publishing models, artists are looking beyond traditional publishers and establish their own new wave of indies. Creative director Jon Schindehette is one of them. The author behind the ArtOrder blog is planning to launch a new initiative, ArtOrder Publishing, in the first half of 2016. “I got the idea when I met an artist whose art book had been created by a well-known publishing company, but he’d made less than $1 off every book sold,” Jon says. “With ArtOrder I’m working to cut out as many middlemen as possible to reduce costs, offer a wide spectrum of services, provide transparent pricing, leave artists’ rights intact, and put as much money back into the pocket of the creative as possible. I’m taking my last 30 years of experience, networking, and know-how to create new opportunities for all of the artists I know.”
Jon will only take projects where the project is owned and driven by creatives. “I have no desire to work with companies that are run by a bunch of suits and just freelance out art needs,” he explains.
So far, ArtOrder has a number of projects underway, including table-top games, art books, a poetry book, an artist/writer collaboration, and “some innovative apparel/toy development.”
Creative freedom and a decent amount of money – is this the future of indie publishing for artists?
These artists are pouring their heart and soul on to the page and we believe that should be represented as beautifully as possible
Above: Tommy Arnold’s cover for Hold-Time Violations by John Chu, published by Tor.com.
Madius Comics’ Papercut and Inkstains issue 2 features artwork from Jim Lavery and
Philip K Dick’s Variable Man, as visualised by Tommy Arnold for his collection of the author’s short stories.
Illustration by Ian Hinley entitled Scrolls From The Silent City, which appeared
on the cover of F(r)iction issue two.
Patrick Mulholland has created artwork for Todd Mitchell’s graphic novel Broken Saviors.
Just some of the artwork by Neil Ford for Horrere Comics’ story, If You Go Down To the Woods Today.
Between his full-time assignments, Sketchy Magpie created this fan piece of The Evil Dead.
Commissioned covers for F(riction), as painted by Alyssa Menold (left) and Daniel Reneau (right).
Issue three of F(r)iction featured Alyssa Menold’sWitch, by illustration Christian InterstellarAlzmann, Space, whoforasaysshortthatstorycreativeofthe block same
name by Scottis “inevitable.” O’Connor.