Sunday, June 29, 2014

Revisiting The Notion of the OEL Mangaka

Almost a year ago, I had a discussion on Twitter with several artists whom I greatly respect on the topic of OEL Manga, manga influenced styles, and how this works (and doesn't work) in the American comics marketplace. After this discussion, I sat down and wrote a post (link) while still heated that's gotten me a fair amount of attention and a larger helping of flak than I'd counted on.

Since writing that post, I've published my comic, 7" Kara, in a perfect bound form, and offer it at two price points- the $20 combo that includes a sketch, and the $15 bare bones edition that's just the book. I've taken my comic to several conventions and have mixed success, and so it's from that position that I'm writing this post.  I also offer my comic online in my shop, and I've sold a few copies on consignment to comic book shops, an option I need to better explore in the future.  Recently, I sold out of the first order of fifty I placed right before MoCCA-fest in April.

When I wrote about selling American comics with an anime aesthetic at anime artist alleys, the comics I'd offered up until that point were all garage print minis, or the large, full color garage print issues of Chapter 1 and 2. I suppose I was still a bit bitter that I hadn't yet found my convention groove yet, and I really wanted my comics (the thing I'm passionate about) to be what I did for a living.   Then, and now, my biggest sellers were $5 sketches and mini watercolors, and I really wanted to see my comics move more.  At the time, I had some difficulty even getting people to pick up and flip through my comics at anime conventions, which I found frustrating and humiliating at the time.

Comics will always be a difficult sell at anime conventions, and part of this is that some of those kids don't even read manga. Many of them won't read subtitles.  A lot of the audience aren't comic fans, and those who are tend to read webcomics and scanlations.  The thought of spending money on a printed comic in person, especially when it's available for free online, is out of the question for many of these kids.  This makes anime conventions much different from indie cons, where most of the people there do consume comics, if not draw comics.  This is also what may make anime cons a better market place for original work- you are not selling just to the vendors around you, but you're potentially selling to a huge audience you've never met before, an audience that isn't busy trying to shill their comic back at you. The vast majority of my sales at anime cons are commissions- $5 sketches and mini watercolors, and I'm happy with that. People are still avidly consuming art I've created, they're becoming fans of the same aesthetic that I draw Kara with. They love my watercolors, my goofy chibis, and they're becoming familiar with who I am as an artist. I'm slowly building an audience of people who love the same things I love, and that's pretty exciting.

So far this year, I've had more luck selling 7" Kara at anime cons than I've had selling it at indie comic cons like MoCCA-fest or SPACE.  Part of this is better crowd control- people can actually get to my table and feel comfortable flipping through the book.

Hard at work at MTAC 2014.   Even with this crowded half table, I still give 7" Kara the price real estate.

Of course, I have to splay the books out, make signs encouraging people to read, and vocally encourage people to pick up and flip through anything on my table.  I'm still working on my Kara pitch, trying to find that 'short but sweet' spot that at least gets people to look at it.

 After some table adjusting, I had a much easier time getting people to pick up my comics and read them, but this meant devoting A LOT of table space to the comic.  Since it's currently my most expensive item, and the item I want to see move the most, I have no problem devoting the space, but artists who make their money selling prints may not feel like they can justify that much real estate. I can't owe uptick in sales just to this increased table space though.

 Part of  why my comics seem to sell decently at anime cons is the fact that the people at anime cons are there for the anime aesthetic.  To them, I'm not so much a copycat wannabee artist who can't get her act together and find her 'own' style, as another artist offering something we both already like.  At MoCCA-fest, I had a hard time getting strangers to come over and even LOOK at the book, because they'd already decided that it was a bad manga clone (I overheard this comment time and time again at MoCCA-fest), and rather than give me the benefit of checking it out, they'd just sneer and walk on by.  At MTAC, people eagerly looked at the book, even if they didn't necessarily buy it, and expressed an interest in the art and the content. I also found that when I stepped up my offering from garage prints to more professional (and expensive) perfect bound books, I attracted older customers who had the money to spend on comics.  By focusing on creating comics for kids, I was able to attract parents as customers, and parents are the ones with the money, not the kids.

What helps Kara sell at anime cons
  • It's obviously anime inspired, but it leans more toward 'post anime', especially with the fact that I use a traditional, time consuming media like watercolors and lean toward a muted color palette, which is more common in traditional children's books than in anime
  • It's aimed toward children although it also appeals to young women who dabble in nostalgia. It's not trying to be cool, and it's not trying to be American manga.
  • It's set in a location that is deeply personal to me, a place that's uniquely American- Hahnville, Louisiana.  It's not set in Japan, nor in a place I've never lived.  By setting in an authentic location from my life, it helps the story seem more real.
  • It looks really inviting as a large format perfect bound book, and makes me seem more professional, since I've gone to the trouble of sending it out to be printed
  • It's a niche that I personally care a lot about, and this allows me to connect with other people who really like this niche

What I had to change

  • Offer something that appeals to them while still showcasing me- the mini watercolors are fanart of characters that I like that the audience may already be familiar with, at a very affordable price point that lets them enjoy original art. Once I started offering these, I saw a huge uptick in sales, since it drew people in.
  • Having a wide, rotating selection of examples for my $5 sketches demonstrates that I'm able to do in a short amount of time, and has definitely increased the number of people interested in commissioning me
  • Including promotional material like postcards and business cards in my packaging helps people remember just WHO they bought that commission from
  • Attending conventions that better reflect who I am and where I'm from.  Southern cons like Mechacon, AWA, and MTAC are GREAT for me, because this audience is predisposed to 'get' me, and they're typically a nerd audience that's been denied access and acceptance.  The feminine anime aesthetic is popular in the south, although it isn't necessarily catered to.
  • Stop trying to cater to the general anime fan and just focus on catering to the sort of fan *I* am.  This shift in focus has brought in customers who are more attuned to the sort of work I want to sell.

Sales Figures

This is what everyone's reading for, right?  While I'm not necessarily going to bring up sales figures, I will share a few numbers.

At MoCCA-fest, a large indie con in New York, I debuted Kara at the $20 pricepoint.  I sold 12 copies, almost entirely to friends and fans. 
At SPACE, a small indie con in Ohio, I think I sold maybe 4 copies total, two of which I sold wholesale to a local comic shop to sell in their store.
At MTAC, an anime convention in Nashville, TN, I sold around 5 copies, most of which at the $15 pricepoint.
My fantastic mother bought 6 copies for her nieces.  She wouldn't let me cut her a deal.
I've had about 6 online sales, to both far away friends and fans, at the $20 pricepoint plus shipping (thank you guys so so so so much by the way)

At smaller anime conventions with younger demographics like Hamacon and LouisiANIME, it's much harder to sell 7" Kara.

So does OEL manga and manga inspired comics sell to anime kids and anime fans?  Yes and no.  Being an unknown artist, it's a little harder for me to push my relatively expensive book when customers can purchase a custom sketch of themselves for $5.  And I've had to work harder to move the book since it's self published- I don't have a publisher to promote it for me.  But I think selling 50 copies of an unknown comic is pretty fantastic, and I have enough faith that I ordered another 50 copies.  And the strong positive reaction I've gotten from people who've enjoyed the comic definitely encourages me to keep working on it. 

So why am I revisiting this?

Things've changed, both with me, and how I approach the audience, so I thought I'd share that for other anime-inspired artists who've had difficultly selling their comics at anime conventions. The reason I thought critically about this topic was Queenie-chan's recent post in a long series of most excellent posts about OEL manga.  This newest post happened to mention my original article. Her additions are really spot on in a way that I was too emotionally attached to hit on calmly at the time, and something that really struck me was that she mentioned that we don't decide whether we're OEL manga or not, the publishers do.

Until you guys've tried to present your work to editors, you don't realize how true this is.

When I started SCAD, I'd tried really hard to divorce myself from manga and make myself more indie. I was working on a slice of life webcomic about a college girl, and though I kept current on favorite manga titles, I read many more indie comics. I'd spent two years hating on anime in that way that only an ex-weeaboo can do, and I really didn't consider myself to be manga-styled at all. For the first year of SCAD, I did what my professors told me to, pushing my aesthetic in some ugly directions in an attempt to be someone I wasn't. My first Editor's Day was pretty surprising, since my work was still overwhelmingly manga to every editor who saw my work, despite how far I'd pushed away from my orignial aesthetic.

I tried to fight it for awhile by morphing my style, but the critique was still the same-'too manga'. As a joke, I started including some jellybean eyed characters (the only aesthetic change) in my pages, and those were far better received than the comics that featured characters with larger, detailed eyes. For a long time, I battled with myself over it. I could attempt to change my style, my aesthetic, and what I found attractive in an attempt to woo editors, but it just made my art ugly and conflicted, and I blamed myself for the failure to please. I realized I could either do the sort of art and stories I loved, unabashedly, and publish on my own terms, or continue to change and fail to impress anyone in an attempt to reach some nebulous standards.

Kara was born when I finally decided to do what I wanted to do. All the things I like best- stories about rambunctious children, watercolors, heavy inspiration from children's books, stories about tiny people, stories about girls- all these things went into Kara, even though most of these were things I had been told don't sell. While I'll gladly draw in another style for another story for pay, this is a work that's 100% mine, and will succeed or fail on that merit.  This is something I can live with.

That doesn't mean Kara hasn't been criticized heavily by editors. It just means that it didn't hurt as much. These were people who'd admitted they'd never publish my work anyway, so it's fine if Kara didn't meet their standards aesthetically or commercially. To be honest, these companies don't really appeal to the sort of audience I wanted to cater to, and I was presenting my work to them because that is how SCAD SEQA functions.  At SCAD, you show your work to as many editors as possible, at any occasion possible, regardless of whether or not they publish anything you'd want to work on, and regardless if their advice/criticism is at all applicable to what you want to accomplish.  If you have a manga aesthetic, this is especially true, because they want kids to learn the harsh reality that faces their work.

So as the industry is right now, my long form stories in my house style will probably never see publication by a publishing house.  I had to accept this, become ok with this, and move on.  I'll probably never have the opportunities my former classmates will, because the way I draw is overly girly, overly doe-eyed, and I'm too tied to the aesthetic that first inspired me to draw.  People make assumptions about what I'm capable of with out offering me the benefit of a test first, and assume I'm not as flexible as other artists. If anything I draw will ever reach national acclaim, it will be through my own efforts, not because I had the benefit of an editor, a letterer, a graphic designer, or a book deal, and having self published, I can tell you it'd be so much easier if I had access to those things.  This isn't a surprise to me, just as it isn't surprising to anyone who's in the same boat.

The reason I wrote the original post was that if anyone is going to decide our success, it's going to be the audience we create both online and in person.  And if the majority of the cons you attend as an artist are anime cons, then the majority of your audience will be anime kids.  And most of the anime kids who are interested in the Artist Alley also plan to make comics.  And sadly, most of these kids don't realize that if they don't support the current crop of artists, if they don't help us prove publishers wrong about sales, then the market will be even worse for them.

Of course, it doesn't help that we're catering to a perpetually broke audience.  By the time they reach us, they've already hit the dealer's room and can't even buy themselves dinner, let alone a comic.  They don't have the money to buy comics and commissions online, and have become accustomed to giving artists in the Artist Alley the lowest financial priority, since most of the media they consume is available online either free or rent-able in bulk.

One of the solutions I've come up with is education, but that has its own problems.  Heidi and I have applied and been solicited by numerous conventions to present comic panels, but we have difficulty getting staff to respond, even when they originally solicited us.  We know the interest is out there, as we're both constantly barraged by interested teens at conventions, and I always tell them to let the convention know they're interested in having us present panels on the topic.  Unfortunately for us, many anime conventions don't believe in compensating panelists, choosing instead to benefit from the free content without truly acknowledging the artist's contribution to the convention.  This seems to be a sad trend with many anime conventions- the artist alley, and the artists themselves, are often the lowest attendees on the totem pole for convention staff.  This disrespectful treatment only further exacerbates the problems artists tabling in the artist alley face.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Guest Post: Joseph Coco: Spyder3 vs. ColorHug, Colorimeter Showdown

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For digital artists, color accuracy on their monitor and printer settings can be vital in the creation of digital art.  Although different monitors display colors uniquely, a color-corrected monitor helps the original artist make informed decisions in regard to color.  Even traditional artists may find a color-corrected monitor to be an important tool in their arsenal, especially artists who digitize their pieces.  For me, a color accurate monitor is essential in the creation of my comic, 7" Kara.  7" Kara is a watercolor comic, and for it to be reproduced correctly, I need to make sure that every step of the digitization process is the best it can be.  This means investing in a decent monitor, a computer that can handle large file sizes, having a good large format scanner, and making sure my monitor is color accurate, so I can correct color inaccuracies in scans.  Joseph Coco kindly wrote this post after adjusting my monitor for me, since we both thought other artists might find the information within to be useful.


Gamut Coverage and Backlighting

Color is important to artists, but monitors are notoriously bad at reproducing accurate color and staying in a reasonable price range. Their color gamut is simply too small to accurately show an artist what they are actually creating. That being said, not all monitors are created equal, and you should consider looking at parameters other than size, max resolution, and refresh rate next time you're in the market. As far as color goes, most monitors will cover all the sRGB colorspace, but higher end models, such as IPS panels, will often cover the sRGB colorspace as well as a significant amount of the Adobe RGB colorspace. This is not a hard and fast rule, and I don't pretend to understand all the features which go into covering a colorspace. But generally speaking, LED backlit IPS panels cover more of the spectrum than TN or VA panel, and I believe outperform most CRTs. TN panels (the most common LCD display) do have advantages over IPS, so you should weigh how important color accuracy is over refresh rate.

Source
The majority of LCD displays are poorly lit by two, or maybe even just one  light source. This not only creates inaccurate intensities of colors, but across the plane of the monitor colors are inaccurate to different degrees. So viewing an image on one part of the monitor could appear different than on another part. So ideally, a monitor would be evenly lit by many consistently bright, consistently-spaced sources of light. That being, full array LEDs. As far as I understand, white LED back-lighting is the most common, but RGB LED is considered superior, but more expensive. But LED isn't black and white. There are some monitors which are edge backlit by LEDs, which suffer from the same issue as having only a couple sources of uneven lighting--especially for large monitors. While other monitors have locally-dimmable full arrays of LEDs, which I imagine can create much deeper darks and brighter whites.

Source. Single backlight, in all its glory. Unfortunately this is common in the realm of laptops.

Land of Defaults

Just because a monitor can display a lot of colors doesn't mean it is doing it accurately. In other words, if it's configured wrong for your lighting environment, you may have the full range of colors possible, but no color being displayed is what someone looking at the same image in real life would see. So you would think color calibration would be absolutely vital to artists. So that they can ensure people see their art the way they created it. But in the world of technology, default is king. And the average consumer isn't going to have a wide gamut. And they're not going to color calibrate their displays every two weeks to accommodate for subtle light changes. So it may sound counter intuitive, but it often helps to dumbify the perfectly colored image you just created when you're putting it on the internet for all to consume. You can bet corporations do this before dumping images onto their sites. Because the satisfaction of a perfectly crafted image isn't going to make sales. No, that image needs to look good on grandpa's display.

The way most artists accomplish this is by using two displays. That being, one monitor with all the bells and whistles which is color calibrated regularly, and another out of the box, as cheap as possible monitor plugged into the same computer, with default settings and no software installed.

The alternative to creating a color-inaccurate 'web-ready' image is to embed the ICC color profile you've created for your calibrated monitor into the image, this way a modern web browser or image viewer can accommodate for the differences between the two monitor profiles.

Photoshop saving for web viewing and embedding a color profile
The reason it's important to keep that properly colored image as a base is not only for archival purposes. Printers also often wallow in the land of defaults, but they have some nifty calibrating features. A medium- to high-end inkjet printer is chock full of sensors to accommodate for things like humidity, air pressure, and temperature to achieve a consistent electrostatic spattering of ink onto your paper. So while printer calibrators exist, and I recommend you invest in one if you're regularly printing at home and already have a monitor calibrator, they aren't as necessary. So the image you see on your monitor, if it is indeed color corrected, will be more or less what is printed. I've seen countless people blame their printers for printing far too dark when their monitor's brightness is cranked up to 11. In other words, you won't be able to achieve consistent printing results on a mis-calibrated monitor, and it's very difficult to diagnose a printer without an accurate monitor.

I can't speak to laser or dye-sublimation printers, but I imagine the same principles apply.

Becca's Monitor


After some research, I advised Becca to purchase Achieva Shimian Lite (QH270-Lite,) which covers roughly 75% of the Adobe RGB colorspace. Which is quite a feat given its price, response times, size, and resolution. You've probably seen the panel before as it is also in Apple's Thunderbolt monitor.
QH270-Lite doesn't quite fill the AdobeRGB spectrum, it's obviously missing small portions around the edges and a significant amount of the blue-violet spectrum.



I took a couple snap shots of the monitor's colorspace as recorded by the two colorimeter devices. These 3D LUTs were produced by Gamutvision.
If the two calibration devices were equal--given that the lighting was the same during both calibration cycles, then the colorspace should be equivalent. But the devices obviously have some variability.

Lighting

I've mentioned a monitor needs to be calibrated for lighting, and that you should change your lighting as little as possible. But while sunlight, with a color rendering index of 100, has the highest ability to accurately represent colors, it is extremely inconsistent. The properties of sunlight are constantly changing throughout the day, and to a greater degree, throughout the seasons. So while you should have some sunlight in your studio, you should also aim to have artificial light sources to get up to roughly 8000 lumens in your studio space.

Tungsten bulbs have a high CRI, but a poor temperature for color accuracy. There are many types of bulbs, but I can only speak to Tungsten, compact fluorescent, and LED. Generally speaking, if a bulb has a neutral temperature, full-spectrum CFL have a higher CRI than standard CFL, which have a higher CRI than LED bulbs. So next time you're shopping for bulbs for your studio, try to check the temperature and CRI stats.

Apparently 3 of the bulbs Becca is using in her studio have a CRI of 74, which is a bit on the low end, while one has a CRI of 82. With a total of 5300 lumens from lamps, and the rest coming from the one large window.

Spyder3

I bought Becca a Spyder colorimeter by Datacolor as a Christmas gift some time ago. It's graded to calibrate CRTs, LCDs, and laptops. I read about and wanted to use a color calibrator since I was experimenting with digital art in high school and was trying to convince Becca it was a good investment. I also wanted to show Becca I supported her career, and at the time she frequently worked digitally. Regardless, she does some work digital, regularly references digital images, and always scans her final product.

I chose to get a Spyder second hand because many people believe you have to calibrate your monitor once and then you're good to go. While this is mostly true, if any natural light is entering your room, or your light sources move or degrade with time, it's wise to recalibrate.

I went to install the software for Spyder since it has been a while and it requested a key. I'm positive I have paper sleeve it came in buried under paperwork, but it's not worth searching for it. I attempted to get the key emailed, but apparently I never registered the product. So I decided it would make the match between ColorHug and Spyder3 even if I used the same open-source software to calibrate it. That being DispcalGUI.


The Spyder came with a suction cup, but everyone advises against using these on LCDs as they can be destructive. I opted to rubber band it to the monitor in stead.


DispcalGUI 2.1 recognized the Spyder and was ready to go as soon as I turned it on. I didn't try to flash the firmware since that would likely require me to dig up the key they insist I have. Nevertheless, the results looked good. It took ~2 hours which seems unusually long, though I did not watch it. It ran through 3 iterations. On the third it took 309 measurements and had an average neutral error of 0.307448 deltaE. As I understand, the human eye can only differentiate 1-2.5 deltaE. So it seems the calibration was a success. You can view the entire log if you're interested in the details.

This shows how much the values which are to be displayed on the monitor were affected by the Spyder calibration.

ColorHug

I can't recall how I came upon ColorHug, but I'm a sucker for open hardware and it was cheaper than a Spyder. Now, why, you ask was I in the market for a colorimeter considering the Spyder was performing well?   I opted to purchase the ColorHug to support the project itself and for review purposes. I thought an affordable colorimeter would be a fantastic addition to any artist's arsenal, and Becca was extremely excited at the idea of reviewing competing models.


The ColorHug has a smaller form factor than the Spyder. It came with a strap rather than a suction cup, but I already had the rubber band, so why bother. I did flash the firmware... after I ran it once. The process was nearly transparent. I clicked a button and waited a minute, then went on with the calibration. But rerunning the calibration with ColorHug was probably for the best anyway because I took pictures of the ColorHug while it was actively being used which I believed botched the results. It is worth noting that the screen caps may have had some small effect on the calibration as well.
Initial adjustment of brightness and temperature to allow for easier color matching. You'll find you monitor is likely too bright, but temperature is all over the chart.

You'll see this a lot.


You should probably just walk away from your computer for an hour. But don't turn off the lights!
Ah. Complete, but with little fan fair. Out comes the ICC and a barrage of other files. If you want to better understand the ICC output you can read the 130 page ICC specification.
The first thing I noticed was that ColorHug had more options for the type of display I was calibrating. This may be because the developer worked with DispcalGUI directly rather than creating a propriety tool. The two main options were LCD (generic) and LCD (white LED backlit). Now here's where things got complicated. I knew the QH270-Lite was LED backlit, but I had no idea if it was white LEDs or RGB. I couldn't find the answer to this on the internet, so I assumed they were white LED because of the price-range of the monitor and went a head and calibrated. Unfortunately, the type of LED is not advertised if it's white because it's considered inferior. But upon looking at the above picture, it looks like the X in the photo was caused by the reflection of the flash of my camera and illuminated the LED backlights. They look like RGB... but to be honest I have no idea and I doubt it effected the calibration much.

The second calibration with the 1.2.1 in stead of 1.18 firmware of the ColorHug was a success. It took roughly an hour with 3 iterations, the third taking 328 measurements. The average neutral error was 0.320086, which is far below what the human eye can discern, but slightly higher than that of the Spyder. You can view the entire log if you're interested in the details.

This shows how much the values which are to be displayed on the monitor were affected by the ColorHug calibration.

Showdown

Spyder3 left. ColorHug right.
So which device fared better? Or more importantly, does it make a difference and should you just go for the cheapest colorimeter you can find?


I chose to include the botched ColorHug run just for completion's sake, but it wasn't an actual contender. All the images' colors were simulated using IrfanView's color correction configuration. In other words, I didn't change the monitor's profile and photograph the monitor. I don't have the original in front of me, but I remember the colors being vivid. To me, the ColorHug updated looks the most Copic-like, which is what was used to produce this scanned piece. But honestly, there isn't a significant difference between Spyder3 and ColorHug, especially considering the price difference between the two.

Looking at the dump of the stats from the ICC profiles, it seems like the only significant differences between them are the phosphor/colorant chromaticity, the metamerism index, and whatever DevD, CIED, and mmrod stand for.

Obviously different people will receive different results. It's possible your monitor is perfectly configured for your lighting, but unlikely. Or if you work on a laptop in different spaces all the time, it may not be worth the investment. I would recommend you borrow a colorimeter from a friend if you are concerned about the reproducibility or printability of your images. If you get positive results from it, and have around $100 to drop on a new art toy, definitely check it out. Or you can go in with some friends on one. I love the ColorHug, but Spyder and X-Rite are also options.

Price Breakdown:


ColorHug (http://www.hughski.com/buy.html): Approximately 85 USD. It can be purchased via Paypal or Bitcoin, but the site itself is not set up to directly accept credit cards.
Spyder3 (http://www.amazon.com/ColorVision-S2EL100-Spyder-3-Elite/dp/B000X4X35C): $111.11

I personally think the ColorHug did the better calibration job, although Becca disagrees and says it's the Spider. She does concede that the ColorHug did an excellent job, and the difference is almost unnoticable- she could only tell the difference because she's familiar with the original piece as a marker render, not just a digitized scan. Both are a huge improvement over the default.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Guest post: Joseph Coco: Big Ads, Little Comic

If you enjoy my reviews (or guest reviews!) you should consider donating to my Paypal.  Donations go directly toward paying for materials to test or to rewarding those who've written reviews for Keep on Truckin' Nattosoup.  Donations also offer incentive to post more often, and offer a variety of content.  If there's something you'd like to see reviewed, you can always send me a line via email or comment, and if there's something you'd DEFINITELY want to see reviewed, you can contact me for how to donate the product itself.--Becca

I've heard Google AdWords ads were affordable and could help reach a broad audience and Facebook ads were effective at reaching a particular audience. GoDaddy, a terrible service, offers $100 AdWords and $50 Facebook ads coupons. So I figured it couldn't hurt to take out ads for 7" Kara, Becca's charming children's comic.  Although she's advertised it on this blog and sells it at conventions, she wanted to expand her potential audience, and we thought a trial with both advertising services might be an excellent way to do that.  Since the ads were free, there was little to lose besides time.

Google AdWords

I started with Google AdWords because I knew it would require less effort and copy. Using the coupon was a bit finicky. I created an AdWord account assuming I needed to in order to redeem the offer. Unfortunately, this invalidated the offer on said account. So I used another Google account and was on my way.


I know a lot of people make purchases from their phones, but I personally don't. So I choose not to optimize the ad for mobile. Google has a good system to demo the ad, mostly because it's similar no matter how or when it's being used.

With the majority of online ad systems, there is an option to pay per click. But online ad networks are not cut and dry. It's a complex, split second decision which ad to deliver and what that particular spot will cost given what is known about the user and what the ad is. I opted to pay per click because it's the most natural to me. My goal was to sell books, not familiarize people with the book like Coke-cola might want to remind you of their product.

The first thing I did was to add a few hundred keywords I believed someone who would be interested in a comic like 7" Kara might utilize. This is distinct from someone looking to buy comics. For instance, someone searching for Studio Ghibli may be inclined to purchase this comic since there are a lot of similarities between Becca's work and the movies produced by Studio Ghibli.  I decided to override some of the maximum amounts I was willing to pay for particular searches for the ad to be featured. This not only has the affect of making the ad a top ad more often, but ensures it is displayed for that query more often. On average I was 'paying' $1.20 or so a click for these high profile searches such as 'girls comic'.


I later realized setting high maximum purchases for primary keywords was not necessary. So I reset those words back to auto maximums which fluctuates with the market by time of day, frequency of search, etc. The large dip in the center of the graph above is a result of resetting this. I realized that, much like search results, Google is more likely to display an ad if some of the keywords of the search are within the ad. Thus I changed the copy as follows which is reflected in the creative copy above:
  • Headline changed from "7 Inch Kara Comic" to '7" Kara Comic'
  • Description line 2 changed from "Becca Hillburn's watercolor comic" to "An adventure comic for girls"
After this, the ad was receiving roughly as many clicks and views as previously with the high payouts, but now 'paying' roughly $0.70 a click. In addition, I added keywords here and there as they came to mind, but they didn't seem to affect the ad much. Other than this mistake on my part, the service was quite transparent and easy for me to use.

Facebook Ad

Creating copy for Facebook ads is quite difficult if you're new to it. Their tool did not guide me in what type of imagey would be used, how and where it would be displayed, and if I could switch out different pieces of artwork on the same ad. Nearest I can tell, most of the Facebook ads are roughly the same ratio, but some images are displayed the width of the Facebook page, while others are displayed at a mere 105px or so. The troubling part is that it appears it has to be the same image. So there was no option for placing text within the ad, because it would simply be unreadable and look bad at smaller resolutions.


I could not find an option to alternate/cycling images, so I found something which met:
  • recognizable face at small resolutions
  • portrayed the comic and art style
  • clear action
  • would down scale well
  • brightly colored
There were several options for varying lengths of text attached to the image, dependent on where it was being rendered. Luckily I had ample copy and could finagle it into the character limits.
Once the ad was created, I could toggle between previews as users would see them on different devices in different areas of the site.



But getting to this point was frustrating and not nearly as transparent as Google AdWords.

Once the copy was settled, Facebook shined. It displayed hundreds of options to target specific types of users. The beauty of Facebook is that so much is known about their user demographics. Users feel like they're defining themselves online by liking products they use or adore, and they are more than willing to enter information such as if they are a parent. So if you known your audience, Facebook can open the door just wide enough to let only your exact audience in to see your ad. It is really a great marketing system.


I don't mean to off-put anyone who does not meet the criteria I defined above. I was simply trying to best capture what an archetypical customer who has bought 7" Kara might be. Becca has certainly had older men (almost always fathers or uncles) purchase her book, but I thought it would be best to use the Facebook ad campaign to target the people I believed to be her potential customers who may have not heard of the book.

All in all, I 'spent' roughly $1.60 per click. Nearly all the interactions with the ad came from mobile news feed. Considering Becca's website does not have a mobile version, or a responsive design, this may have impacted some potential sales.

Turnover

Other than a few hiccups with Google and Facebook's creative side frustrating me a bit, everything went smoothly. But despite more than 120,000 people seeing the ads, and more than 200 clicks, she didn't get any sales of 7" Kara through her website. This isn't to say she didn't get more blog and social network followers. Nor that people didn't purchase the book through Amazon in order to take advantage of prime (though I receive less profit from Amazon).

I definitely think it was worth it to take advantage of the Facebook and Google AdWords free offerings, but I simply can't justify continuing to run the ads right now. If you're running a KickStarter campaign, releasing a new online product, or have a push in commissions, I would highly recommend giving both Facebook and Google AdWords a try. That being said, consider that Becca didn't profit from the endeavor, and weigh this option appropriately with the many methods you can use to promote yourself.

Sales Results

Despite our efforts, I (Becca) saw no increase in comic sales that could be attributed to either Facebook ads or Google Adwords.  Perhaps the copy we wrote was not effective, or perhaps consumers are fairly immune to both ad services and glance over those offerings.  In the future, I'm thinking of taking out sponsorship ads on blogs (probably mommy blogs and possibly comic review blogs) and possibly buying Project Wonderful ad-space.  Finding and targeting an audience is difficult, especially if your intention is to sell something rather than just attract people to your free service.

$1.60 per click is fairly expensive, and may be far out of the budget of most self-publishing artists.  In addition, there have been allegations that Facebook pads their clicks and likes with bots, meaning that some of these results may not even be real humans.

Monday, June 09, 2014

LouisiANIME Convention Announcement

Doesn't it seem like I JUST announced a con)?  If you can't make it to Hamacon, and you're in the Lafayette, Louisiana area, hopefully you can make it to LouisiANIME.


Even though I'm a Louisiana native, this is my first year actually tabling at LouisiANIME, but considering how good Mechacon and my fellow natives have been to me in the past, I'm really excited to add another Louisiana convention to my list.  I'm even MORE excited about the panels Heidi and I will be presenting, because I know what art education in Louisiana is often like, especially if you aren't in talented art or attend a special school for it.  I ALSO know what the general sentiment towards art, especially commercial art, is like in Louisiana (hint:  it's a huge part of why I left), and I want these kids to know that there are other options available.

The panels we'll be running (which aren't yet on the Panels page, d'oh!) are:

  • Artist Alley 101 (similar to the panel we'll be running at Hamacon, but hopefully even better)
  • Introduction to Watercolor
  • Introduction to Self Publishing


I don't have times or dates yet, but I'll let you guys know as soon as I do.

Heidi and I each have our own tables for LouisiANIME, and won't be closing our tables during our panel presentations, since we SHOULD have some help (unless LouisiANIME staff disregarded my requested times and booked us on Saturday, when we won't have help), so even if you aren't interested in sitting through hour and a half long panels, you can still get your fix.  LousiANIME hasn't listed a panel map yet, so I can't tell you where I'll be, but if you look for the Nattosoup logo, you'll surely find me!

I'll be offering convention favorites such as


  • Sailor Scout Ribbon badges (freshly restocked too!)
  • Buttons (1.5", in either regular or 'fancy'.  2.5" glitter buttons decked out with rhinestones and ribbons)
  • Stickers 
  • Charms (available three ways- as necklaces, cellphone charms, and keychains)
  • Volume 1 of 7" Kara
  • Ready-to-go mini watercolors
  • $5 sketch commissions
  • Mini watercolor commissions



Since my mini watercolor commissions are so popular, I'm opening up pre-orders.  I'll be in Louisiana the week before LouisiANIME (driving straight there from Hamacon in Huntsville), so I'll be working on pre-orders from LouisiANIME then.  By pre-ordering, you insure that your watercolor commission will be ready and waiting for you in the Artist Alley all weekend long, for you to pick up whenever you like. If you're interested in preordering, just send me an email including a description of what you want and any necessary reference, and I'll let you know which Paypal to send the money to.  If you don't want to pre-order, that's fine too, since I'll be offering watercolor commissions on Friday and Saturday.  On Sunday, I'll be taking money for mail-in commissions, but I won't be able to complete any watercolor commissions at the con on Sunday.






Friday, June 06, 2014

Guest Post: Joseph Coco: Cowboy House Correspondence Review

Cowboy House is an independent comic collective based out of Ohio. It’s been running Cowboy House Correspondence Club, a snail-mail mini comic subscription service, for about a year now. It is reasonably priced at $25 for 6 months at Cowboy House International.

I met Jeff Gibbons, one of the members, at SPX and was interested in his work. So I interviewed him (bottom of the page). He told me a bit about S.P.A.C.E. which Becca and I attended and I got to meet some of the other members and subscribed to their comic mailer.


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What am I getting each month?


It includes one zine a month as well as other goodies such as newspaper illustrations, stickers, buttons, etc. I opted to start my subscription that month, because I figured it would save them one month of shipping costs, and they dumped a ton of books and goodies on me.

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I may have missed some things as all of my SPACE comics got mixed together and I haven’t had a chance to go through it all.


A month later I got this in the mail. The religious theme caught me by surprise but I enjoyed it. The short stories are laid out like children’s book rather than comics and focus on a single person’s tale. Two of the four books were in color and each came with a hand-written artist explanation/reflection card. The first thing I read was the post-card, which did a good job setting the tone of the stories. The packaging design was cute and did well in tying everything together.

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Overall I’m pleased with this month’s haul. I feel like if I were to buy these books at a convention I would have spent $4-$5, which is roughly what I paid if you divide over the months. I haven’t put the decal on anything, but it’ll probably end up on a reusable coffee cup. I think people are starting to think longer term about media now between Netflix, Hulu, GameFly, KickStarter, and Patreon. So hopefully it will give people an open mind to try it out.

Why the mail and where is this headed?


I asked Fred what the comic creators’ motivation for starting a mailer subscription service. With the near-ubiquitous acceptance of webcomics, and the rising sales of mobile-optimized comics, how much audience is left for such a service? You can probably guess the answer. People who were children shortly before the internet became the mammoth it is now reminisce of times when they would get magazines in the mail. Mostly gaming magazines, but also computer hobbyist or other geekery. There's just something exciting about having a surprise at home for you, especially in the age when most mail is bills or mass mailer ads. And I'm not talking about the surprises you get from forgetting what you ordered on Amazon. But something made for you by an artist which you're helping support. I can't say I often seek out such experiences, but there's a stronger feeling of connection when you know an artist in person or are receiving something physical made for you from them rather than just leaving comments on a webcomic.

I also asked the Cowboy House if there was intent to scale their comic mailer service, and possibly get the attention of independent comic publishers. Now that I've received my first batch of mini comics / zines, I could see this becoming a full time job for them at some point, but it just wouldn't be the same thing if became too large because it would be too much work to have a personal feel to it any longer. Inviting comic guest artists / writers every edition would also change the service, but it would have a similar feel.

Cowboy credits


All the members of Cowboy House contribute to the Correspondence Club. They regularly release collaborative projects and rotate out who edits the works and design.



Fred Frances is an artist, illustrator, and writer. He creates mini comics and prints.

Jeff Gibbons is a comic artist and illustrator. He recently released Ghost Hunters and his web comic, Helper Bot (http://helperbotcomic.com), starring a small-fry assistant robotic helper who is working for a robot-for-hire agency. Jeff also writes and illustrates Pretty Jeff (http://prettyjeff.com), a semi-autobiographical webcomic.

Mike Madsen is an artist and designer. He creates mini comics and t-shirts.

I didn't get to meet Matt Glove, but I believe he often does design work for the group.

You should definitely subscribe. Just head over to Cowboy House International or try to drop by their tables at Appleseed, Zine Fair, GenghisCon, or Glass City Con.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

My First Free Comic Book Day

Besides being a comic artist, I am also a comic fan.  Although my main priority in attending comic conventions is to sell and promote my work, I also buy a lot of comics and talk to a lot of artists.  Much of my reading is either comics or comic related.

With that said, I don't like comic shops.  I really don't.  There's been one, in my entire life, that I liked- Planet Fun, and it was more of a nostalgia shop than a comic shop.  In my experience, from New Orleans to Savannah, from Savannah to Houston, from Houston to Nashville, comic shops have little interest in supporting local artists, in catering to women, or in branching out when it comes to clientele.  In my experience, narrow as it may be, comic book shops are still boys clubs, where if I'm not outright ignored, I'm still casually talked down to.  Even shops like Great Escape in Nashville, shops that also sell records, games, and movies, employ clerks that feel the need to rudely comment on my purchases.

Therefore, shameful admission that it is, I've never been one for Free Comic Book Day.  I first became aware of FCBD while living in Savannah, attending SCAD.  Most of the participating comic shops in Savannah participated in that they offered SOME (a scant handful MAYBE) free comics, but I had no idea prior to this year that many shops also offer local artists free table space to promote themselves and sell their comics.   By the time I found out that this is common practice, AND that a shop local to Nashville was participating, it was too late for me to secure table space.

This year, I had a reason to be excited for Free Comic Book Day, and a reason to brave a traditional comic book shop to check it out.  Way back in February, I was informed that the spread I did for the Bravest Warriors Seek and Find book was going to be included in Perfect Square's free comic book day booklet. How amazingly cool is that?  Pretty darn cool, I'll say. 

Sorry for the dorky face, I'm just really happy.  I was sent some advanced copies of the Perfect Square Free Comic Book Day sampler, which was a pretty big feather in my little cap.


Sorry for the blurry!  It's the spread I did for the Bravest Warriors: The Search for Catbug seek and find book I announced a few months ago~!  Guess which kid liked that boring board game Candy Land a whole lot?  This gal, right here.  This is the first time I've actually be able to share this image, and I can't wait to see the book itself.  So, so, so excited at the opportunity to do watercolors for Perfect Square.

So even though I was pumped that something of mine would be hitting comic stores across the country for Free Comic Book Day, my plans for FCBD only included popping into a shop for a brief moment to see the book in its natural habitat.  It wasn't until the very last minute that I found out that Rick's (link) was fully participating in FCBD, including offering artists table space.  I shot him an email of inquiry, and was informed that though he thought they'd be fully booked, I was welcome to come by and try my luck.

I had some misgivings about tabling at Free Comic Book Day, mostly because I'd be leaving the next weekend for River City Comic Expo, and felt tapped out.  I didn't want to go through all the effort of a convention style wake up or set up, and decided that if I was going to participate in FCBD, I'd take it easy, rather than risk burn out.

Although the doors opened at 10:00 for setup, I felt lazy that Saturday and didn't roll in until around 1:00.  When I arrived, I noticed that Rick's seemed to be divided into two spaces.  Next to Rick's Comics was an empty store in the strip mall, and this is where the artists' tables were located.  Outside this shop were two large tables filled with Free Comic Book Day comics.



Outside was a sizable crowd of kids and families, which I thought boded well for the tables and artists inside.

Once Joseph and I entered the building, we noticed two things.  One was that all the tables were taken, usually by single persons who could've condensed down to half a table.  That's cool, it's my fault for showing up late.  Secondly, these guys were taking their setups a little more seriously than I thought they would, but not as seriously as I have to when I'm flying for a con.  Thirdly, it seemed like the majority of audience interest was centered on rifling through the boxes of old superhero comics located on tables in the center of the room.

While I was looking around at the comics, Joseph snapped photos of the attending artists.


















For me, as an artist and as a comic loving customer, I didn't see a whole lot this year at Free Comic Book Day that encouraged me to buy.  Although I usually try to buy directly from the artists, most of what was sold at FCBD was superhero in nature- bulky muscle bound guys fighting baddies.  Just not my scene.  The vast majority of tables were held by male artists, with a sole female artist in attendance, another thing that sorta breaks my heart.  I can only assume that other female artists, like myself, not being into superhero comics or comic shop culture, don't visit comic shops often enough to realize that some shops offer table space to local artists.

After browsing the Free Comic Book Day selection and making our purchases, we headed next door to Rick's Comics, to see what sort of comic shop it really was.






 Rick's has a fairly sizable selection of comics extending far beyond the superhero genre.  There's a large selection of indie comics and a modest manga section.  The shop is clean, well organized, and the staff friendly.  Rick's is a bit of a drive (40 minutes) for me, but I could justify making the occasional trip to get caught on up favorite series, especially since it's a far better alternative to both Nashville Great Escapes.

Although I wasn't able to table at a Free Comic Book Day event this year, I fully intend to do so next year, and I plan on promoting my presence and encouraging other female artists to apply for table space.  If reading this post has made you interested in tabling at your local shop, you should definitely contact them to see if they participate in the event, and if they don't, strongly encourage them to do so.