WonderCon 2011, the third day: Will I ever find the Foglios?

Will I find the elusive Phil and Kaja Foglio before WonderCon ends?

Ever since before WonderCon, I had been hoping to talk with Kaja and Phil Foglio.  They are the creative team that produces the long-running graphic novel series Girl Genius.

When I told a friend about my new project, she suggested I find them at WonderCon and talk with them.  Later, the same friend loaned me her copy of the first omnibus edition of  Girl Genius to read.

And then on Friday at WonderCon, another friend I ran into, who really likes Steampunk, also told me to talk with them.  Well, that proved more difficult than I at first imagined.

The Exhibit hall was huge.  Did I mention HUGE?  And nowhere in the map were the Foglios listed.  Same for Girl Genius.  I looked and looked over that brochure each day.  At night, I searched online and discovered their umbrella name for all their projects is Airship Entertainment.  So I looked for that.  No good.  It wasn’t listed either.

So on Sunday, finding them was one of my top priorities.

As I came into the hall, I was distracted by dinosaurs.  No.  Really.  On the cover of a book.  It’s very easy to distract me with dinosaurs.  Big hint: if you want me to see your movie or read your comic, put a dinosaur in it.  I mean, of course dinosaurs are not always appropriate.  I really can’t see wedging one into Sense and Sensibility, for example, but they’re always fun.

Anyway…

I have questions, and James Walker II at Flesk Publications has answers!

I had stumbled upon the booth of Flesk Publications, and the enormously helpful James Walker II.  While I was lingering over some dinosaur book, he asked if I had any questions.  I told him a million, but I didn’t know if he’d have the answers.  He ventured to try.  I asked him where was a booth for Phil and Kaja Foglio, and he knew – it was just two aisles over, along the same open walkway.

Next I asked him about printers, for self-publishing.  I think he said they use Paramount Printing, in Hong Kong.  He also mentioned Brand Studio Press, and James thought perhaps they had a sliding scale.  I’ve looked over their site, and they mostly seem to publish art books and sketch books by various well-known artists.  In their catalog I didn’t see any graphic novels at all.  The descriptions of the printing and binding of the books sound wonderful:  primarily hardcover, with sewn pages: my favorite kind.

James Walker II told me that Diamond Comic Distributors was a big distributor for comics and graphic novels, and suggested that I could comb their catalog to find big name publishers.  I could look at what they’re already publishing and try to find a good match.  James briefly mentioned that Marvel and DC don’t take on newbies, and I quickly assured him that I had no intention of trying to get them to publish my story.  As little as I know about this whole comic-graphic novel universe, I know that they primarily publish superhero comic stuff, and my story isn’t remotely like that.  Although I believe my story will make a great graphic novel, just of a different sort.

James also told me about SCB Distributors, located in Southern California.  He said their catalog would be better for locating boutique publishers.

In addition, James Walker II advised me to check out The Anthology Project, which has published 2 volumes so far, with up to 21 different artists and their various stories in each one.  He mentioned there was a blog about their publishing, run by Joy Ang.  Their blog does have some really cool animations of the process of some of the artists, showing the art in various stages.  I think it may be worth checking out to see all the different styles and stories.  I think James was thinking I might try to be included in a future volume, or I might learn from their adventure in bringing it to print.

James said that Flesk Publications wasn’t accepting any new projects to publish for about the next 4-5 years.  I guess they must have so many good ones in the queue they don’t have room for more.

When I asked if there were any publishers in the hall that he could recommend, James Walker II pointed to the banner for Archaia.  They looked too big for me, and I told James as much.  He assured me they were a small publisher, even though they had a big presence here at WonderCon.  He really thought I should give them a try, so that became my new goal, after finding Phil and Kaja Foglio.

I thanked James tremendously for all his terrific help, and followed his directions toward their booth.

At last – Kaja Foglio!

When I reached the Girl Genius outpost, Kaja was in the middle of describing her wedding dress to a friend.  Seeing me, she graciously offered to interrupt this to talk with me.  Instead, I encouraged her to continue, as I love costuming, and this sounded beautiful: it was an art nouveau confection, inspired by Mucha, complete with an “Ozma hat,” as Kaja described it, meaning a big flower on each side of her head, as featured in several Mucha paintings.  In the case of Ozma, they look like poppies.  And there was beaded draping on each side of her head in this headdress.  It sounds fantastic.  I wish I could have seen it.  I mentioned a friend of mine had a recreation made for herself of a Mucha gown – to dress as the green fairy.

As with everyone else in this quest, Kaja Foglio was amazingly helpful.  She’s very enthusiastic about self-publishing.  They put out a new page of Girl Genius three times a week on their website, and then they also have printed book versions for sale.

She said they give away everything for free in their webcomic, which horrifies some other writers, but she’s very happy with it.  They have plenty of hard-copy sales (and ancillary artifacts for sale as well).  Kaja said that people say things all the time  like:  “I read it online all through college, and now that I can afford it, I want to buy the books.”  I saw several sales at their booth while I was talking with her.  At one point, Phil put some books in front of her to sign, and Kaja said: “I’m only Italian by marriage; I can’t sign these now; I’m talking.”  (And using her hands quite a bit for that.)

They use Courier Corporation for printing, this is the company that owns Dover Publications.  (I am completely mad for Dover.  I love them, love them, love them, but perhaps I ought to rave more about them on another day.)  Kaja said she really likes working with Courier, because they have good communication, and they notice mistakes.  They really seem to care about the quality and appearance of the books.  It sounded very impressive to me.

Kaja Foglio advised caution in size of print runs.  She said a printer will want to run more copies, because the per-unit cost is lower, of course, so they’ll offer you a better unit price for 1,000 copies than for 600, but she said, if you don’t sell those extra books, they’re tying up money you could use for other things and taking up space in your basement.  Good advice, to be sure.

As far as distribution goes, Kaja said Diamond Comics Distributors is the only game in town for comics.

In terms of the quickest way to get the story out there, Kaja Foglio proposed distributing on the web, as they do.  She said Alexa was a website that ranks websites, so I could find out which ones are popular, and which ones might be best to host my own site.   She mentioned Shutterfly is a good site that is geared toward photography, where you can “create your own free photo and video sharing website with a personalized web address. ”  Kaja said it should be easy to find a place where I can do a starter website, perhaps at Google.  Usually the basic one is free, and they you pay for upgrades.

With the idea of generating additional revenue streams, as it were, Kaja said if I had popular characters, I could use Cafe Press to sell customized coffee mugs and tee shirts and the like.

For marketing, Kaja Foglio recommended Facebook, because she said you can get lots of “likes,” which can show that your work has broad appeal.  She said you can use Facebook to direct people to your website, and to mirror blog posts, so that you can get double duty out of any posts and traffic.

I thanked Kaja so much for all her help and suggestions.  When I asked if it was okay to blog about our conversation, she said of course, and said that links are always appreciated.  So that is what spurred me to learn how to create links here at WordPress.

Kaja likes the freedom of self-publishing, she said no one is going to tell you to use certain characters more, so they can sell more toys.  Kaja was really gung ho about self-publishing, but she admitted that’s because that’s what she does.   And it really works for them.

ARCHAIA wants stories, and at least they’re easy to find.

After talking with Kaja, I strode directly to the Archaia booth.  They were really easy to find, because they were in the same general area, and they had a big logo banner hanging above their booth.

At this point, it was less than half an hour before the end of WonderCon, so I didn’t have much time left.   I looked around the Archaia  booth, scoping out various books.  I had a couple in my hands, when Josh Trujillo approached me to ask if I wanted help.  I explained to him that I want to adapt one of my screenplays into a graphic novel and that I’m potentially looking for a publisher and that someone had suggested Archaia might be interested.

Josh seemed very  enthusiastic about new stories.

He said they are looking for:

Crime.  All-ages Fiction.  Historical Fiction.  Horror.  High-Concept Science Fiction.  He said most of all they’re looking for good stories, and they’re not that attached to particular genres.

In fact, he said they had been talking, and their dream project right now would be a good, all-ages fantasy – a pure fantasy that is the classic, medieval, sword and sorcery style that could appeal to both children and adults.

Josh Trujillo said the submission guidelines were on their website, and that they accept open submissions.  He said to send a .pdf file of 5-10 completed pages, showing the tone and storytelling of my piece.  Of course I was very excited by his enthusiasm and the prospect that they would look at my submission.

Archaia was running a special: buy 2 books and get 3 free.  I thought that was an amazing deal, and I asked Josh’s help in selecting five books that would give me a good idea of Archaia’s range: what they do, and what they might be looking for.

Here are the five he chose for me: Mouse Guard Fall 1152, by David Petersen.  Josh Trujillo said it’s one of their most popular (and I love it).  I had already picked up Artesia, and Josh said that was a really good one to get, because it is by Mark Smylie, who founded Archaia to print his own work and that of others.  Next Josh picked up The Killer, volumes one and two, by Matz and Luc Jacamon, translated from French.  Josh said there was an incredible character arc between the two books, so that the guy at the end of Volume two is completely different from his character in the first volume, but that the change is believable and beautifully arced.  I took both of those books, but Josh suggested I put back Volume two and go for more variety to start with.  I agreed, and Josh perused the books, seeking other good choices for me.

Josh Trujillo  showed me Some New Kind of Slaughter, by mpMann and A. David Lewis; several versions of great flood stories from diverse cultures.  It was especially interesting because I like mythology, and because it was in a different format than most of the other graphic novels.  This one was wide and short, like a film frame.  But on the whole, Josh recommended instead Inanna’s Tears, written by Rob Vollmar, illustrated by mpMann, because it showed their historical fiction, and  mpMann was on the other side of the booth, signing, and Josh said I could get him to sign it for me.  For my last book, Josh chose Moon Lake, an anthology created by Dan Fogler.

Of course, I thanked Josh for his help, and then I checked out.  For $50. I walked away with 5 beautiful hardcover graphic novels: almost a steal.

I went around the booth and found mpMann, who signed my copy of Inanna’s Tears and made a little drawing of a pyramid and a man’s head with a Sumerian-style hat.  I asked him if the 5 for 2 book deal was an end-of-the show special, so they wouldn’t have to pack and transport back so many books, but he told me they had been running that deal for the entire show.  I was impressed, and he said it helps expose people to more of their titles and encourages people to try new stories.  I was really grateful, since it let me go home with a good beginning selection of Archaia’s stories.

Archaia’s books are gorgeous.  Solid hardcovers with lush colors on thick shiny pages.  I will be unbelievably fortunate if  they say yes to my proposal and publish my story.  According to various bits I’ve read about them now on the web, they might go for it.  In their own words from their submissions page:

“One of Archaia’s core missions is to constantly seek out new and exciting creator-owned projects in the adventure, fantasy, horror, pulp noir and science fiction genres that test the boundaries of the comic book medium.”

I just hope they like my proposal when they see it.  I would be beyond thrilled to publish with them.

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WonderCon 2011: the second day, part 3: Chris Garcia recommends Publishers for Graphic Novels

We catch up to our heroine in the cavernous exhibit hall at WonderCon, striding from one informative conversation to another.

Eric Shanower’s table in Artist Alley

After talking with Stephanie Lantry and Carrie Smith, who create and publish To the Power Against, I finally made it over to Eric Shanower‘s table. But he wasn’t there. He was over at the Marvel booth, for a scheduled signing.  I looked over his books, which were beautiful.   This was my first glimpse of any of his work.  There were many issues of the Age of Bronze series, as well as three collected volumes: A Thousand Ships in soft cover,  Sacrifice and Betrayal (part one), both available in hard cover and soft cover.  These are published by Image Comics and are also available at  Hungry Tiger Press.

There were some Oz books.  Eric Shanower is writing adaptations of L. Frank Baum‘s Oz books, and Skottie Young is illustrating them for Marvel.  The first one was there, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  I was more attracted to Eric’s original Oz stories in  Adventures in Oz, which he both wrote and illustrated,  but there were only two copies left,  so I bought one, with the plan to bring it back to be autographed later.

Chris Garcia recommends smaller presses for Graphic Novels (and gives other advice).

My next goal was to find  Chris Garcia, whom my costuming friend had mentioned.  Chris was volunteering at the Science Fiction Outreach booth, into which I had wandered first thing on arriving Friday, after picking up my badge.  Their booth was right near the entrance from badge pickup.  What caught my attention was that they were giving away books.  For real.

I stopped in to talk with a lovely woman there who explained their mission.  When I explained to her my mission in attending WonderCon, she helpfully told me that John Scalzi had serialized his first novel, Old Man’s War  on his website (which is intermittently hilarious, the website, I mean, especially the opening blurb on the canonical bacon page).  That got the attention of Tor Books, who then published the novel.  She allowed as how this was a traditional novel and not a graphic novel, but it was a good example of how to get something out there, and possibly published by another company as well.  She also mentioned that Ryan Sohmer and Lar deSouza had turned their webcomic Least I Could Do into several collected edition books.  I think they were at WonderCon, but I didn’t ever track them down.  I was so busy with everything else.

Since I had been to the Science Fiction Outreach booth,  I knew right where to look for Chris Garcia, and found him easily.  He was quite happy to help me, and was a font of information.

Chris felt that the best small press in the world is Slave Labor Graphics, and said they publish about 20 books a year.  I looked at their website, and they seem eager to welcome newcomers to the field, which could bode well for my project.  Of course I need to check them out more.  They do accept unsolicited projects, and I looked over their submission guidelines.  Chris did say that Slave Labor Graphics mostly publishes in black and white, and I think color would be better for my book, but it’s certainly still a good recommendation, and I’ll be thrilled if any publisher takes it on.

In the realm of smaller publishers, Chris also mentioned Fantagraphic Books.  They seem to be looking for very individualistic visions, steering clear of anything the major publishers would take.  I found their submission guidelines on their FAQ page in the About Us category.

Chris also mentioned Top Cow.   This is an amusing moment in the adventure, because I thought he said “Pop Cow,” (it was loud in the exhibit hall) and I just spent 20 minutes searching online for them, to investigate and link to, before I stumbled upon Top Cow, and its parent group, Image Comics.  Here are submission guidelines for Image Comics.

I read the Top Cow submission guidelines.  At the moment, they’re not hiring writers or looking for original story material.  They  are hiring artists of various sorts, but this is clearly not a possible publisher for my project.  They advise writers to self-publish, saying, “If your work is good a larger publisher will eventually notice you,” and “Publishers are always on the lookout for promising young professional writers.”  Over the weekend at WonderCon, I heard similar advice from various people.

Chris also mentioned two bigger publishers, and he advised that if I wanted to contact them, I should have my manager call.  One was  Vertigo,  which is a division of DC Comics.  I checked them out.  They also are not seeking new writers or original stories, but they are looking for new artists, through their Talent Search at Comic Conventions.  Here are the DC Comics Talent Search Guidelines.   Here is some further info about Vertigo, from DC Comics, and from About.com.  Since Vertigo is not looking for original stories, it seems it is not an option for me, either (even if I have my manager call, as Chris suggested), although my story is in line with the kind of thing they do.

The other, bigger publisher Chris mentioned was Tokyo Pop.   Since Tokyo Pop is primarily focused on manga, and previously-created franchises (like Star Trek and Sponge Bob Square Pants), and they don’t seem to be taking any submissions at this time, they also wouldn’t be an option for my project.

Other Advice – from Chris Garcia

In the realm of studying graphic novels, Chris Garcia also had a few recommendations.   He mentioned that Gail Carriger had written a manga called Soulless, but I must have misunderstood, because this book turns out to be a novel in her  Parasol Protectorate Series, which Gail describes as, “comedies of manners set in Victorian London: full of vampires, dirigibles, and tea. They are Jane Austen doing urban fantasy meets PG Wodehouse doing steampunk.”   Her website is delicious, full of Victoriana and Steampunk, and personality.  (Re: mistaking “novel” for “manga:” Did I mention it was loud in the exhibition hall – especially where I was talking with Chris?)  Anyway, I’m very glad to find her website, because it’s fun, and it may have useful publishing information.

Later update on Gail Carriger‘s manga: There is going to be one!   It’s a manga version of her novel Soulless, illustrated by Rem.   It’s going to launch officially at the upcoming Comic-Con in San Diego, July 21-14, 2011, serialized in Yen Plus, a monthly online  anthology, and as a full book next spring, published by Yen Press.  (I guess I didn’t mishear Chris after all.)

Chris also mentioned Scott McCloud‘s book, Understanding Comics, which everyone mentions (and I ordered right away, when I started this project).  But Chris Garcia was the first one to suggest another McCloud title about the business of comics, by which I think he meant Reinventing Comics, which contains a section on the business of comics and creator’s rights.  I discovered Scott McCloud has another book, Making Comics, that also seems like an excellent resource for anyone learning to create comics and graphic novels.

Chris Garcia told me that I should have only 2 characters talk at a time in a panel, although as I have continued reading graphic novels, I have seen exceptions to this, of course.

He also said I could find examples of comic book scripts in the back of one of the Sandman trade paper back collected editions.

When I asked about his recommendations of graphic novels to study, he said the best was Stuck Rubber Baby, by Howard Cruse.   It has won an Eisner award and bunch of others.  It got three stars in my notes as Chris talked about it, so I know he really enthused about it.

Another fellow was standing nearby, and now I don’t recall whether he or Chris Garcia also recommended Barnum!: In Secret Service to the USA, by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman, art by Niko Henrichon, and Kill Your Boyfriend, by Grant Morrison, art by Philip Bond and D’Israeli.

Of course, I thanked Chris so much for his time and suggestions, and headed back toward Eric Shanower‘s table in Artist Alley.