Mar
13

SXSW 2013: For Graphic Novels, Unconventional is the New Conventional

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Courtesy of Publishers Weekly

By Jonathan Segura

The DIY and maker ethic runs through much of this year’s SXSW Interactive, including a panel called “Publishing Graphic Novels in the Kickstarter Era,” moderated by PW senior news editor Calvin Reid.

Comics have evolved from pulpy super hero books to supremely glossy long-form graphic novels often bankrolled by readers instead of publishers. Kickstarter has raised over $12 million to fund graphic novels (depending on how you crunch the numbers, Kickstarter is the country’s second largest publisher of graphic novels), and graphic novels published outside of the traditional model are garnering big sales and acclaim, Reid said.

Such was the case for The Lodger, a self-published graphic novel by two-time art school drop out Karl Stevens, which was nominated for the LA Times Book Prize in 2010, as well as for for Josh Frankel, a comics enthusiast fresh out of college who began his graphic novel publishing career with Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland. That title ended up being Pekar’s final work: he died two years after signing the contract with Frankel’s Zip Comics. Both Stevens and Frankel detailed their publishing experience and visions at the graphic novel panel.

Stevens and Frankel took remarkably different paths on their way to becoming publishers. Stevens drained his savings to fund the publication of The Lodger and isn’t well-versed in the business end of publishing. “I’m definitely someone who needs a publisher to take me by the hand and show me what to do,” he said. He also had a successful Kickstarter campaign recently, more than doubling his fundraising goal of $2,500 to help support his current project, “Imitating Life.”

Frankel, meanwhile, partners with “a Wall Street guy” and offers creators flexible contracts and profit-sharing options. He hasn’t yet dabbled in Kickstarter — “I think it’s kind of weird to use Kickstarter” as a publisher, he said — but thought it could possibly be used to help underwrite the distribution for certain projects.

But the common thread, no matter where a graphic novel comes from, independent publishers and innovative new funding options have upended the traditional comics and graphic novel model, which is a victory for creators, Reid said.

“Artists can step up to the plate and take their destinies in their hands,” he said.

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