I recently ordered and received the latest issue of Tozo: the Public Servant from David O'Connell...
O'Connell has been serializing the story online for free, but then selling printed copies once he has enough pages together for a 'standard' pamphlet issue. A not uncommon practice for webcomic creators. Because he's doing the printing and distribution and whatnot himself -- and I'm sure not at the volumes you'd see from Marvel and DC books -- the cover price is a tad higher than average, but there's absolutely zero ads. Furthermore, O'Connell has been putting several pages of extras in his books that generally speak to the culture and society in which the story takes place. The first issue, for example, had several pages of an in-story newspaper with articles on the latest gossip, sports and weather. O'Connell clearly has done a lot of world-building for this comic, even if a good chunk of it remains in his head. Well worth the extra buck, in my opinion.
But that's not the cool part.
I opened my copy of the latest issue to find...
That's O'Connell's autograph on the inside front cover of the book, and an original inked sketch of one of the story's significant characters. Awesome!
Now, I don't know if O'Connell does a sketch for every order or if he's being extra nice to me because I've been a pretty big supporter of his work. (It is really good, after all!) But that's the type of attention that's hard to put into a comic that has to go through a larger publisher. O'Connell is creating a very personal work, and that extends through the production and distribution process.
"The production process? Sean, surely you can't mean that he's putting the staples in these books himself!"
Well, not the staples but check this out: one of his extras is a look at a 'standard issue' espionage kit for the rebels in the story...
The top two "ten tribuno" notes (the local currency) were printed separately on a special semi-transparent paper and glued in place. The fold-out waterbus map was also glued to the page and then folded shut. That's manual labor. And when I asked O'Connell about it, he said, "I do stick the little paper extras in myself but I deliberately designed them to be easy to print and cut so I can get a little production line going and assemble everything pretty speedily." That means that EVERY copy of the book that goes out was literally put together, in part, by O'Connell himself.
Now, that's not to say other comic creators don't put their blood, sweat and tears into their books as well, but I get a deeper sense of connection with the creator when I see something like this. It's a story that can only be told by that one creator, and it's a story they feel strongly enough about to really put their heart and soul into it.
Several of us designers were talking today at work, and one of them expressed some frustration in dealing with one of our clients. Their visual identity is what anyone trained in any sort of graphic arts might call a train wreck; from a graphic design perspective, they do just about everything wrong you could possibly do. I told him that you do the best you can, given the graphic limitations that are being imposed on you and, in cases like this, you just have to emotionally divorce yourself from the work.
That happens in comics, too. Just because a writer wants to use Batman in his story doesn't mean the editors will let him. Just because an artist doesn't like the current version of Iron Man's armor doesn't give him permission to redesign it. Those stories, ultimately, are a job and a creator has to make some concessions in order to continue getting paid for that job. Heck, even when Frank Miller totally overhauled Batman for The Dark Knight Returns, he still had to cater to DC's prerogative -- Miller didn't want to use the yellow bat-symbol on Batman's chest, but DC effectively said, "Use the bat-symbol or the project is dead."
Ah, but indie comics! That's where the dialogue occurs. That's where guys like O'Connell can say, "Here's my story; here's what I want to say." And when people respond positively to it, there's a communication there. O'Connell can put in clever extras and signed sketches and whatever as thank yous. He can respond more directly to obscure questions like, "Wait, what is that extra land mass on that one tiny little map in the back of issue #1?"
I'm not saying the folks at Marvel and DC don't do that at all. One of the reasons I love comics is precisely because there's more of a direct dialogue with the creators than most other mass media. And there's indie creators who don't care one whit, and think you're all a bunch of pricks anyway so just buy my damn book already! But that intimacy, I think, is more possible and more prevalent with indie creators. and that's why indie comics rock!
By the way, did I mention that O'Connell drew me into this issue? :D
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