Lexington, KY – When it comes to media distribution, the Internet has indubitably changed the game over the past decade – creators now have more options than ever to more directly deliver their product to their audience, whether it’s music or films or books. As for whether or not this is ultimately advantageous to the consumer, the artist or the various industries that have made a business out of distributing … well, that depends on whom you ask. Few would deny, however, that it is indeed a landscape that is changing – if not already
Lexington comic book artist J. T. Dockery, who self-published his graphic novel “In Tongues Illustrated” in 2008, admits that self-publishing has its drawbacks – publishers possess a set of very important skills, including marketing and distribution, and the learning curve (not to mention the time involved) can be a challenge for writers and artists. However, the ease and affordability of print-on-demand (POD) technology -
a web-based service that allows writers to submit their manuscript online and pay for a small run to be printed and shipped to them almost immediately, without having to commit to the same kind of investment as you would a commercial printer – have rendered the process an increasingly popular way for authors to get their product out there, without being at the mercy of a publisher’s timetable or editorial stronghand.
“Self-publishing, for better or worse, frees the creator from editorial interference,” Dockery said. “He or she can control every aspect of a book’s design.”
“There’s a right-of-passage that happens when you self-publish, and it makes you a stronger creator,” said Justin Stewart, another Lexington comic artist. “You take something that you conceptualized, and you see it through from beginning to end. That’s an incredibly rewarding feeling.”
This month, both Stewart and Dockery will take part in a new local event geared toward independent creators who are interested in learning more about the realm of self-publishing, primarily those involved with comics or sequential art. The Up! Fair, which takes place Saturday, Nov. 20, at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, will feature a full day of programming (workshops and exhibitors), preceded by a panel discussion and gallery exhibit coinciding with Gallery Hop the night before. Exhibitors at Saturday’s event include comic artists and graphic novelists from around the country, and workshops ranging from the early stages of creating a compelling character, to the ins and outs of print-on-demand publishing.
Carnegie Center executive director Jan Isenhour jumped at the chance to host the event, which she said falls right into the Carnegie Center’s mission to create and support programming that fosters lifelong learning for people of all ages. Having read comics as a child, Isenhour was pleased to notice several years ago that comics had made a “sophisticated comeback,” as she puts it.
“A good graphic novel or sequential artwork is another way of presenting a story, of telling a truth about life-in the way that a good film or poem or painting illuminates something for us,” she said. “Graphic novels are being used with great success to reach readers of all levels, particularly reluctant ones.”
Both days’ Up! Fair events are free and geared toward a diverse range of ages and skill levels, with all-ages workshops focusing on drawing animals, robots and monsters, and professional development workshops focusing on topics such as personal storytelling and presenting your comic online.
The original intent of the event was to include prose writers and comic artists alike, but local organizer Sara Turner reports that nearly 100 percent of those who applied to participate happen to be comics artists – likely because it’s a realm that the organizers themselves are steeped in (there are eight organizers, hailing from Kentucky, Michigan, Georgia and Oregon).
Turner, the only organizer from Kentucky, is perhaps best known locally as one half of the printmaking duo Cricket Press. She has been making a name for herself in the underground sequential art circuit, however, with a handful of self-published books under her belt (she calls them graphic novellas), including collaborations with fellow organizer Jerzy Drozd. (Links to Turner and Drozd’s online stories, which are intended for all ages, can be found at the website of their self-publishing company, Make Like a Tree Comics -
Though she is a proponent of self-publishing, Turner stressed that she is not opposed to going through a professional publisher – if one approached her, she said would likely jump at the opportunity.
“But if you don’t have that, it shouldn’t stop you from trying to get your story out,” she said. “It shouldn’t stop you from creating.”
While a large component of the event, which is funded in part by individuals donating online in small increments via the “crowdfunding” source kickstarter.com, is to present a diverse array of work by independent creators from across the country, it was important to Turner and the other organizers that the event have an educational component. All of the exhibitors, who hail from states that include Texas, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oregon, Florida and California, were encouraged to conduct a workshop of their choice.
At the heart of the event is the hope to inspire attendees to create, and to educate them about the various options for getting their work out to the public.
Turner likens the current landscape of indie publishing to the early days of indie rock.
“In the early days of indie rock, people thought, ‘Oh, if it’s on a small label, it must not be very good,’” she said. “That stereotype was quickly kicked away.”
Hap Houlihan, who co-owns the local book store Morris Book Shop and has had years of experience working in the publishing world, finds the fact that creating a book is both cheaper and easier than ever before to be both good and bad news.
“The consumer now has to sift through more dreck to find the diamonds,” he said, “but there are indeed more diamonds than before.”
On the plus side, Houlihan added that with many local authors being self-published, the local section of his store has been greatly enriched by the rising trend.
The event is geared toward two demographics of people: those who are passionate about comics and maybe even making comics, but who are maybe just beginning and seeking guidance or support; and those who might not know a lot about comics or independent publishing at all. Event participants hope to dispel any notion that comics as a subculture is intimidating, or geared only toward a particular niche.
“Comics, graphic novels are just as diverse as any other art form,” Dockery said. “There’s something for everybody.”
“Whatever your taste, there’s a comic out there for you,” Stewart added. “It’s a rich and artful world – explore it.”