Like the characters they create, many comic book artists and writers in the Tri-Counties find themselves moonlighting after their 9-to-5 jobs. The onset of the recession — combined with a continued decline in self-publishing revenues and fewer available distribution channels — has made it harder for independent writers and artists to earn a living from their talents.
Santa Barbara writer Barry Miller is one of those struggling writers. He premiered the second issue of his series “Billy Baines: Sidekick for Hire” at the 2009 San Diego International Comic-Con and said he originally wanted to be a full-time comic book writer but couldn’t make ends meet. In fact, he’s been losing money on the book.
“Since I hired professional talent — a professional artist and letterer — the only way the book is profitable is if I find a major publisher,” Miller said. He spent most of his time at Comic-Con just trying to get a larger publisher to pick up his book and he works full-time as a technical architect for Santa Barbara-based QAD to fund his comic book aspirations.
Self-publishers and creators are finding that the combination of a recession and the increased costs of publishing are affecting their enterprises. Yet some local artists and writers are still finding that self-publication can work — although it’s not exactly lucrative. San Luis Obispo writer and artist Raymond Mullikin published “Raytoon Avenue,” a cartoon and comic book anthology featuring new cartoonists and writers, from 2007 to 2008.
“I dreamed of turning it from a side job to a full-time job,” Mullikin said. He tried to draw in sales through advertising, used print-on-demand services and sold books online.
“The book sold well at first but started dying off,” he said. “I wasn’t making much, but I didn’t lose money.”
He eventually ended the series in 2008 to focus on finishing a children’s book, “2 Many Parakeets” and earning his teaching credential.
And new policies by national distributors such as Diamond Distribution have made it harder for self-publishers such as Miller and Mullikin to get their work published. The only major comic book distributor in North America, Diamond Distribution issued a new policy in January that limited its order threshold to above $2,500 — essentially cutting out moonlighting artists and self-publishers.
But the distribution company has done well in its efforts to stay with big-name artists and writers; it reported that 2009 sales for the top 300 books had increased by 6 percent since 2008 and by 23 percent since 2004.
Some tri-county-based artists have found larger success within the industry. Ojai resident, Inkblot award winner and Mad Magazine artist Sergio Aragonez is signed to draw “The Simpsons” television series, while Montecito’s Bob Gale, writer and producer of Back to the Future, is currently writing the Spiderman comic book series.
Larger comic publishers and retailers and distributors such as Santa Barbara comic book and card store Metro Entertainment have yet to feel the recessionary pinch, although many have upped the retail prices of their books to match an increase in costs. “The only thing the recession has affected is the price of comic books,” said Metro employee Jamie Andreassen. “The price of some of the top-selling books are now $3.99 for a number of reasons: Higher ink cost, higher transportation cost and higher paper cost.”
Despite the problems of smaller publishers and increased competition from online media, Andreassen believes that paper comic books will always be around.
“People will always buy well-written books,” he said. “People are more writer-centric now. They will follow the writer, regardless of the artist.”