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Wait, What? Ep. 68.2: Startkicker

Jeff Lester


It’s the conclusion of Episode 68 and our last episode for 2011! (Hopefully, it was be as carefree and as easy to find and listen to as part one was an epic tragedy.) Join Graeme McMillan and me on a speedy 75 minute tour of the highlights and lowlands of the year (of which the former is the career of Kate Beaton, whose book is represented above, and of which the latter is the career of, oh, I dunno, me, probably). The Kirby trial outcome! The layoffs at Marvel! Superhero movies! Kickstarter! Watchmen 2! Feigned excitement! And much, much more, of course.

I pray to god the miserable son of a bitch is on iTunes but if not, you can listen to it here, there, and everywhere via the handy link provided below:

Wait, What? Ep. 68.2: Startkicker

We hope you enjoy and plan on joining us for future episodes in 2012.  Either way, however, we wish you for the very best for the new year!

24 Responses to “ Wait, What? Ep. 68.2: Startkicker ”

  1. Re: the ending question

    Whatever gets me the podcast quicker is better with me.

    Also, I’m kinda disappointed we (probably) wont see Mark Millar’s Watchmen 2. Its going to be a disappointment whoever does it, why not make it a huge disappointment.

  2. Just to clarify the Vertigo issue: Vertigo has often released new titles in groups. I have a promotional poster that announces the launches of DMZ, Testament, Exterminators, Loveless, and American Virgin, for example. I believe that they launched one a month instead of all at once, though, but I think if you go back through the history most every new Vertigo book was part of a “wave” of new books that were launched together.

  3. Don’t really care too much about the length… more rambling is fine by me, and I’m not picky about whether the show is broken up into segments.

  4. Previously in mindblowing…

    Listening to a lot of the casts all out of whack and you guys missed the boat by not having some Christine related humor re the seeming sentience of this series of casts.

    “A love triangle involving 17-year-old misfit Arnie Cunningham, his new girlfriend and a haunted 1958 Plymouth Fury.”

    The cast itself is the car. I’ll leave you two to sort out the rest.

    Anywho, you’d mentioned Habibi so looking it up on Amazon I was stunned to see that sans shipping cost gentle readers can pay as little as .027 cents a page for this 672 page HARDCOVER behemoth. Good Gravy, indeed.

    Please discuss the foolishness of the poorly thought out $4 monthly comic.

  5. I think as interesting as the big stories are the big things that weren’t reported or fell away. Like many of my generation of comic readers age, based on a completely informal poll of me saying “hey, what got you into comics?” to my friends, we all mention the GI Joe commercials in the 80s. Not the ones that advertised the toys, but the ones that advertised the comics. That was a Marvel book. So Brevoort would say 20+ years later that advertising doesn’t work is kind of mind-blowing, and like Jeff, I agree and wish there was further follow-up to remind people that comics come out monthly and get them back into the shops.

    On an unrelated note, I don’t mind the length, having a long walk to the bus after work, and the commute home as my prime listening times, I enjoy Graeme’s dramatic readings and will take them in whatever form.

    As for Bendis leaving Avengers after he wraps up the Hammer story line, just because the trade he’s currently writing in segments is about Osborne and Hammer, that doesn’t mean it will end there. I figure Osborne will be the reason for the Ultron war and it will drag out 2 issues of content over another 2 years.

  6. Also,

    Does anyone in comics have the balls / clout to pull something together Louis C.K. style?


    Actually invert the kickstarter model and offer a fully finished product for a very reasonable price. I’m thinking 48 pages for 4 – 5 bucks. Digital – obviously. Build some steam for it through advertising on mainstream entertainment sites. Release it and then talk about it frankly and openly come what may. Full disclosure with sales numbers, pirating stats, upfront costs – the whole nine yards.

    I’d be super interested because I think so much of the outlay for anything is eaten up by middling costs that have crept into the system.

    If you have a few minutes it’s the difference between a REAL market product and an EXPECTATIONS market product.

    See the following related reading


    And then – without knowing about it – Roger Ebert dissects what’s wrong with comics as well as he does the movie theater industry.


    If one of the big companies could deliver this kind of simplified model of entertainment by cutting out all their bullshit then we have true capitalism. You’ve got – largely – Stan and Jack and the bullpen guys. They were in the business of comics to create new readers to sell more comics.

    Instead people are in the business of comics to develop IP and cross market with Animation and develop a unified authorial voice for a homogeneous product that sells toys. It takes marketing departments and office staff and meetings and travel budgets and blah and blah. Is it nice that those people have jobs, sure. But the RIGHT people could have jobs if more people did it themselves made what they could and worked with a staff of three people instead of 50.

    The internet allows for that.

    Listen to the Louis C.K. podcast with Bill Simmons. He talks about taking less money to make a show because it meant the network couldn’t say shit about the finished product.

    How many of these creators are blinded by the easy check? I don’t mean to be insulting but if I were Matt Fraction and I just danced that Fear Itself jig on puppet strings and had my name all over a shitty super hero book that I had no idea how to write I would take my ball – go home to Cass and write it – pay somebody to draw it – and then sell it to the 50k or so people who are willing to buy it at whatever $ I could figure out to make it work.

  7. @J_Smitty_: (to address your second post, not the first, although weirdly enough I was just thinking of Christine the other day–I wonder if ol’ big Steve King will try and do a haunted podcast one day?)

    I think all the dudes you list above (including Fraction) would say that they’re doing some iteration of the Louis CK experiment by working at Image and/or the Icon model with print with digital being the secondary market. They may not be posting their numbers openly and talking about what they’re getting but…they are deferring paydays to see money further down the line. I know at least one of the writers has talked about how they don’t take a payrate so the artist can get one. I’m 99% sure they’re not the only one.

    Because of the economies of scale, I think only Kirkman (because of the Walking Dead TV money) and Millar (because of the Wanted/Kick-Ass money) really have enough capital to be able to pay the rest of the creative team, set up the servers, pay the advertising, and really go for it. Everyone else, no matter how great their page rates are, may not be that far ahead on their mortgage and their kids’ medical insurance to take those risks.

    Also, I do want to put out there a very important part about Louis CK’s experiment: he built the freedom to walk away from the TV offer because he has a career in stand-up that he knew he could fall back on. And I think it could be argued he knew he could fall back on stand-up and his TV show money (now that the DVDs are out) to risk eating it on the concert. That is 100% to his credit and shouldn’t diminish his bravery in any way. But it’s not the same thing.

    It’s a long way from Matt Fraction’s paycheck in comics to, I dunno, Frank Santoro’s but it’s a much longer way from Fraction’s check to the money Louis was making even before his show went on the air.

    Anyhoo. There’s a lot more to talk about and kick around but that’s what came to mind right off the bat…

  8. @ajpursell: That’s a very interesting piece of anecdotal evidence and it doesn’t surprise. I can’t think of any other mass medium that doesn’t advertise outside itself (except, I dunno, radio?).

    I really think advertising, returnability, and judicious over-printing were big keys to the New 52’s shocking success. I’m super-frustrated people are going to completely ignore those tools to go back to the hammer of the 1:25 variant cover.

    @DJ_Convoy: Thank you for the two cents there. I’m getting the impression people who listen prefer one big thickish slab. And I’m starting to think there’s nothing we can do to get the people who don’t listen to start.

    @RJT: Yeah okay, that jibes with what I remember. I must’ve compressed the time period (as I do) but promotional waves makes a lot of sense.

    @dacl: I think I’m not going to be able to get ’em to everyone sooner than Tuesday morning. Though if you subscribe to us in iTunes, they usually pop up there at some point Monday (usually late evening, sometimes earlier).

  9. @J_Smitty
    Scottie Young did exactly what you suggested with a short comic called ‘Bernard’ which he offered in pdf form for $2.
    I tried looking for a link but it doesnt seem to work anymore, but I found this http://2dollar.tumblr.com/, check it out

  10. “I know at least one of the writers has talked about how they don’t take a payrate so the artist can get one. I’m 99% sure they’re not the only one.”

    Yeah. Unless you’re looking at a big Image hit, the writer is probably not getting any money from the singles. Or even the trade.

    On PG, Jamie and I actually split the money 50:50, but Jamie gets money up to a certain level first. The idea being, whatever initial money comes goes to Jamie so he could make rent and similar. Clearly, it didn’t work that way.

    In short: I’ve finally started getting my 50% earlier this year.


  11. @Dacl
    Thanks for that! I found the work available in his digital store after a little looking. I’ll probably just ask him outright if he made any money on it and how he set it up.

    Ok, breathe deep

    Economies of Scale don’t really apply in this case. If they did they would certainly favor self published digital. The way I understand it is that economy of scale is realized when operational efficiency minimizes production cost. While big companies sell millions of copies in total those big numbers are mitigated by the cost of print, staff, management, lawyers, corporate offices and on and on. Things we don’t even realize exist these companies have to pay for.

    True Economy of Scale is achieved when you have an audience or output of product that is enough to outweigh and outpace the cost of production. It doesn’t matter how big the dollars are. Currently creators take a small slice out of a big pie. What I’m saying is that they can easily take a bigger slice out of a smaller pie.

    If the internet hypothetically = infinity (and my weird collection of diplo remixes says it does) that means that the potential audience is there and can be reached with relative ease and minimal outlay of front end cost.

    To put it another way – and I stress these numbers are just for illustrative purposes – say my donut shop has annual sales of $250,000. I take owner’s share (not a paycheck), pay two employees part time, cover my rent, supplies and utilities. At the end of the year I’ve taken home 60k because I do most or all of the actual work. It’s a stupid amount of work and I will most likely die young, but whatever.

    The Dunkin Donuts two towns over has annual sales of 2 million dollars. Dunkin has all my costs but higher due to size, location and operational variables. They also pay a team of largely disinterested hourly staff, slightly less disinterested managers, and very interested corporate office team members. These middle layers are MURDER on the bottom line. Training expenses – regional managers – it never ends. IF they are lucky, both well positioned and well run they can HOPE to take 30% to the bottom line. The 70/30 cost/profit percentage is standard across corporate restaurants. I put in a decade with three different restaurants, I know.

    Anywho, what is 30% of 2 million? That’s right – that same 60 f’n K.

    What do they do with that 60? They put it away to launch another of these bloated monstrosities.

    So the truth of it is that production cost limits profitability and that scale does not alter that part of the system whether it’s comics or hamburgers.

  12. About Product and sale of said product:

    Even Image – which touts itself as creator owned – still has huge costs to cover. You’ve got printing, convention presence, marketing department, sales analysis, and lawyers. Then you have to pay colorists and inkers b/c you’re kidding yourself if you think those guys get creator cuts. (My ink wash was essential to the character, damn it!)

    At any rate, it’s still a HUGE amount of risk for that same – relatively speaking – 60k (or whatever their bottom line profit is)

    Creators create – It’s what they live to do. Jeff Parker and Erika Moen put out Bucko for a year twice a week without successfully monetizing it. And, from the look of it, they’re still pretty happy about it. Scott Raab, a guy I admire hugely, recently put up a short piece about what it takes to be a writer that states that at 40 years old he was selling feature articles for $40. Read it, it’s fucking great.


    Everybody has something to fall back on. How much risk are you willing to take to control your life? How much insecurity are you willing to live with? Are you willing to work a day job as a beverage warehouse order checker? Or work for hire at DC, Marvel, and Image? Aw, life is hard.

    If the Internet is Infinity then I think a reasonable goal for a paid Internet comic book if marketed intelligently and with restraint is as follows:

    6 issues a year – 5,000 buys ea issue @ $5 per.

    24 pages of content per issue with 6 pages set aside for “ads” These ads are not “paid” per se but rather attention pointers. 3 of them should be for the top traffic comic sites on the net. If the websites object, they are stupid but just move down the list. If they don’t offer to give enhanced coverage to your product they are stupid but just move down the list. Most of these sites are on first name basis with creators anyway. I mean is payola even like a thing with lines this blurred? 2 pages should be dedicated to critical darling comics like the one you are hopefully putting out. Call it serving the community. After all, we have to stick up for each other and highlight great work being done in the dark.

    Your last ad page is an appeal to pirates. Offer a dollar discount with a code if they buy it legitimately. Tell them you understand. Tell them you’ll do what you can to help them afford it. Some will take the discount – most won’t. Social theory and study and Radiohead’s In Rainbows tell you that you will be fine trusting people if you make them play the conscience game.

    So, let’s say it all goes to plan up to a point and you sell 30,000 copies for the year. That’s not hoping for too much, I don’t think. Sales up, sales down, if it’s good then sales should build and your ad budget will increase to bring more new eyes etc. Your cooperative endeavor just made $150,000. Now, how much did it cost to get it to market?

  13. About production cost

    The best thing going for this model is the principal requirement is time and interest. Your time and attention are your only true assets in life. Spend them wisely. You will also need – I don’t know – $3,000 to buy the website and set up the delivery structure. Place a few ads if you can’t call in the favors you need for the initial push. Have a lawyer look it over and make sure nobody has his or her ass hanging out more than necessary. Make no mistake – you will need to be a salesman for this. You will need to beg. You will need to hype. You will need to leverage all your connections and THEIR connections’ social network resources. This will be an investment but it will be an investment in yourself and your team of contemporaries. Can you scrape up and afford three grand for a chance at the following?

    $25,000 in sales for ea. issue split as follows:

    $25,000 / 3 = $8333

    Artist – $8333
    Writer – $8333

    Ink – $2777
    Color – $2777
    Web Hosting – Developing bank for advertising – layaway money for a lettering program – $2777

    I don’t know what anybody in this business makes since no one will talk about it so I followed the Rolling Stones model. If the inker wants more money go be Keith Richards and not Bill Wyman, ok?

    The most important thing is that the model is fair and consistent. You come up short that month on sales numbers and everybody shares the hit. You go over and everybody gets the windfall. Do NOT short the layaway money. It is there to develop your business of creating more readers. If it all falls apart, split it up and walk away.

  14. Part the last and oh what the hell, one more apology

    There are NO GUARANTEES. You may be blacklisted for daring to go outside this insipid model of corporate waste. You’ve gotta live with that. You also have to have trust and firm commitments from at least three artists to step in if somebody doesn’t have the time / guts to finish it. Whatever happens deliver six issues of content. Do it. If you limp to the finish line and have to go B&W do it. If you have to release script pages alone…do it. The people who have been loyal to you will appreciate it.

    Continue to do press for it and be ready to disclose everything. People want to know and you should tell them how things are progressing. Do not take pre-orders. Unveil this comic like Mondo does posters. Random time, post to twitter and all social networks. Create immediate urgency for your product.

    At the end of the day you project to make 50 grand on a three thousand dollar real cash investment. That is selling 30k buys over the course of 12 months. Those kinds of sales get you cancelled off a book inside of two issues. If you grow your readership – start buying better and more mainstream advertising – the ceiling becomes something quite different and perhaps evolutionary. It’s probably not something you can do out of the blue or from outside of the industry but if, for example, the Sixth Gun had come out this way they may very well have been able to build to this.

    Now, the apology. I believe comic shops are vital and living places that can succeed in any market run by caring and passionate people. I think Savage Critics is the best place on the net and I’m sorry to have monopolized so much of everyone’s time with something so insular and one sided. It’s something I’ve been thinking about and felt like sharing. Sorry if I over shared. Best to everyone!

  15. @J Smitty: Genuinely not sure if I’m misunderstanding your first post, but 30% of two million is six hundred thousand, not sixty thousand. In the example of your own business, you profited 60k out of 250k. That’s less than 30%, which seems to be the opposite of the point you’re trying to illustrate.

  16. @cass correct. Fail slap. that is 3 percent. I meant to show 30. I do realize slightly less than 30% myself because I have capitalized equipment which i forgot to mention. Talk about a brain fart. Due to my sloppiness i fear i’ve muddled the point. Still out of 2 mil they take 600 to the bottom. Given that – the advantage to eliminating middle costs ala CK should still be clear. Also, given that i don’t get to see their books I was attempting to grant them a golden scenario with no repairs, no debt service, and no unforseen expenses.

    Damn, I’m glad I have an accountant.

  17. Or loss for that matter (stuff you don’t sell but prepared, or like donations (or in comics talk) free double ships, green lantern rangs, or what have you. I would guess that they run pretty close to 22 with some good months and bad for seasonality.

  18. Last thing and then I promise to shut up. When I say “They” take 600k it’s the company. When I take money to the bottom line that’s my money individually. Just as it could be creator money individually in the model laid out above using internet direct distribution. Much bigger piece of a smaller but still financially viable pie.

  19. “Aw, life is hard.”

    With all due respect Mr. Smitty, what is your fallback? And very pointedly, what is it that you are doing out of sheer love, because it costs you a great deal? Because even if we take the numbers at face value, you are glad you have an accountant. How much more can Jeff Parker do to pay for his?

  20. Teaching degree. Back to restaurants. Whatever. Life is risky, David. I put the money together to do handmade, fresh daily donut shop. It’s going pretty ok. Still miles to go, but thanks for asking. Out of that whole post you isolate a small jab at people who are unwilling to take creative risks. And wherever you got the impression I was being insulting to Jeff Parker I have no idea.

    “Creators create – It’s what they live to do. Jeff Parker and Erika Moen put out Bucko for a year twice a week without successfully monetizing it. And, from the look of it, they’re still pretty happy about it.”

    I was impressed by his and Erika’s work ethic despite not being able to make money with a side project like Bucko. He said as much on Twitter today. Lastly, the Mr. thing is incredibly petty and small of you but, you know, that’s okay.

    I know these writers and artists are busy. They’re kept busy by publishers who pay them a fraction of the realized value of the product they create. That was the point of suggesting the direct sale model. In it, they could sell fewer issues, make more money, and be paid proportionally to their success and have total control of their careers. Yes, it’s risk but cripes, it’s not like the model requires a first born.


    An accountant costs about fifty bucks a week if you just want them to keep track of a few key things, in case you were wondering. I also suggest everybody have their taxes done professionally if they can afford it.

  21. Guys, as ever great podcast. Sure made cleaning the bathroom go by faster.
    I find it funny that Marvel is perceived to miss out by or having a Watchmen 2 or a Sandman to sequel – ie. they don’t have projects that we know from day one will be inferior to the original/not meet expectations, yet people will buy anyway. Honestly, I’m kind of glad they don’t. Not having “sacred” properties left should mean Marvel are quicker to realize that the views Fraction and Tommy B. put forth in that Fear Itself interview mean that they are mouth pieces for the Anti-Kirby, and that the comany needs to start creating new things again.
    I hope DC aren’t expecting anything more than short term sales off of Watchmen 2.

    J-Smitty – Whoo! Keep dreaming the dream brother!
    You seem to be ignoring that franchises beat out sole trader stores in direct competition 99% of the time, and that Louis CK is practically a brand unto himself at this point, like his buddy Ricky Gervais – and like Ricky G, is operating in several mediums. Also, it’s worked once for him, and he said he made less money than he would have if he’d gone the traditional way. He can afford to do that – jokes in that show are about him flying first class – not many comic creators can. (The other example you use is Radiohead… again, not exactly a small band).
    The other me is you seem to think that companies are paying for marketing, publicity etc and losing out for doing it – they pay for these to make more money. If people don’t know, they don’t buy. If they know, but don’t want, the won’t buy. Marketing and publicity pays for themselves by making people want your product.
    Sales analysis is also a cost that is there to make you more money.
    You also mention Image needs to pay for lawyers… Then suggest someone following your model, without those costs, should get a lawyer to help.
    Personally, I think you have to do this yourself to prove it works!
    I’ll buy a copy!

  22. Stupid iPad spelling.. I think it funny Marvel is perceived to miss out by NOT having a Watchmen 2.
    And in my last paragraph to J Smitty… I dunno how I ended up with ‘the other me is’. I thought I’d typed ‘the other thing is’.
    None the less, I’mstill blaming it on the iPad!

  23. @ Ben

    Thanks! Some things I’d thought of and some I hadn’t.

    Re: Franchise vs. Sole Proprietor – True and true again but I certainly make a living in a world with Dunkin Donuts and Tim Horton’s. People will find and pay for what they like. You just need to offer it. I’m limited by my physical size and ability to do everything that goes into making and selling a donut. I can’t upload a pdf and tell you to print it and eat it. Creators can make something – put it down on a screen or paper and people will buy it. It has no expiration date, either.

    Re: the difference between Radiohead, Louis, and Comic Creators – I think what we need to realize is that scale is relative to market. Louis is big in comedy and tv. Radiohead music. But no more so than Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, or Neil Gaiman is to the comics market. It’s all relative definitions of success. I think someone on the level of a Jeff Parker (with 7,000+ twitter followers) could easily use this model with the right partners and make better than Hulk wage. His seven thousand, or conservatively half tell somebody to buy this really great thing. Say then a guy like Busiek re-tweets it to his 11k+ followers and then Brubaker tells his 27,000 about it. Brubaker is followed by the super influential comics fan CM Punk. He tells his 500K followers about it…

    You see how this goes, yes? If even a quarter wind up spending $30 for the whole year of content then it’s an unmitigated success. To say nothing of those individual followers “hand-selling” the idea to their friends and message board acquaintances as “this cool thing where the guys / gals who make it get paid directly.” No need to kickstart to get the printing money together and all that BS.

    Re: The companies outlay towards marketing and sales analysis. Yes, you are 100% correct in saying these things help companies of this size. Comics companies, however, serve a niche market. You already know who your readers are. Would it be great to broaden that audience? Yes. But do you do that by flooding the market with Thor titles before a Thor movie? Or do you start by selling 5,000 pdf copies to your friends and their friends? Then you take a percentage of that money and advertise on sites and in places that are likely to get more of their friends?

    The point I’m making is that for an enterprise whose model is to sell numbers that would get cancelled at a big company and instead just make a good profit for creators directly you do NOT need that outlay of cost. Those models are outmoded and the decline of newspaper circulation proves it. All the sales analysis and marketing are doing nothing to staunch that bleeding. There is simply a new method to acquire the same information and it is running roughshod over the previous model.

    The lawyer thing was just to look over and or set up an initial contract that everyone could agree upon and be done with it. I didn’t mean they would need to retain lawyers for years upon years in order to fight protracted legal battles with the heirs of beloved comics creators (Kirby, Siegel, Shuster…) I assumed Image had corporate lawyers as well because, you know, who wants to have to fight off a lawsuit from Robert Kirkman in 40 years?

    I’ll leave you with this:

    Say the internet existed in its current form when Jack Kirby could have used it to get his stuff directly into the hands of the people who wanted it instead of getting beat up and thrown away – marginalized. Ask Jeff Lester if he remembers seeing the backside of that Fantastic Four page where Kirby designed the logo and tell me it doesn’t make you stomping mad that in open court somebody said he didn’t have anything to do with the “creative process” of it.

    So while these bloated companies think about getting somebody to do Watchmen 2 the next REAL comic event could be brewing in one of these guys’ studio. Do you want to sell it to DC / Marvel or even Image for a page rate and a share so they can pay their middle management costs for a couple months or do you want to own it for yourself forever and ever?

    Imagine if Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie had done Phonogram this way and it had worked. Instead of waiting FOR YEARS to get paid they would have realized money immediately. All the right people bought Phonogram for it to be a total success in this model. The same can be said for Scalped or DMZ or Runaways. You can’t tell me those books were served by their respective company adverts and marketing!

    I want someone to try it – but I am not that someone. I don’t have training to write it or draw it. I love comics but I’m smart enough to realize I can’t make comics. But I hope I could help with selling good comics in a new way.

  24. Don’t get me wrong, I’d give a lot (even monetarily) to be involved with the process just to say, “I was there and I helped,” but I don’t bring what a Parker, Gillen, Hardman, Rivera, Martin, Phil Jiminez or whoever does.

    It’s about seeing that the people with the skillsets get to profit directly from those skillsets like a carpenter would. “I built you a boat. Pay ME for the boat not the executive vice president of taking lunch meetings to talk about corporate synergy.”

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