Learning the Hard Way
It's okay to be a shitty writer. It's not okay to stay there.
A decade ago I wrote my first self-published comic. It wasn’t good. But, it’s mine and it taught me a lot. Let’s start with the “not good” part.
I had a vision. I always have a vision, it’s probably my greatest strength, honestly. Well, that and my incredible charm & winning smile. 🙃 That vision was that I would write my version of an Avengers team, with a dash of The X-Men, and a sprinkle of the Justice League for good measure. The result would be The WatchGuard.
Now, I did a lot of good things with The WatchGuard, and I learned a TON in the process. But, the book is poorly paced, the dialogue is clunkier than a rusty pickup with a flat tire on a gravel road (yes, I love a good bit of hyperbole), the characters are under-developed, and I really didn’t have a damn clue what I was doing.
In hindsight, I would’ve hired a comic book editor and scripting collaborator to help me work this mess out better. My editor was great, but she operated more as a traditional-type editor: looking for errors, necessary edits, and cleaning up otherwise goofy mistakes. I needed a Vito Delsante.
That would come much later.
So, what did I learn? Obviously, I learned about what I was doing wrong with my writing (I’m still learning…), but I also figured a couple of things out on my own.
Who’s Gonna Buy This??
That was the first question I asked myself while writing & producing this work: “who cares?” So, I realized I had to build an audience. This is often a realization for many creators diving into their first self-published work. Most people would just decide to post incessantly on social media (which was still in its infancy), beg family members, tug at friends, and just generally grasp at straws. “I’m a writer/creator, not a marketing specialist,” is often how we think.
I decided to use an adjacent market to build my primary market: role-playing games!
Now, here’s the rub with RPGs — they already had a fanbase who was hungry for more, and it was far easier an entry point. Green Ronin Publishing has a licensing program that comes with no charge/fees, and only asks a few reasonable requirements for licensed publishers. Boom, done. And with digital reseller tools like DriveThruRPG.com I now had both an audience and a marketplace to sell my characters and build my audience. It worked. I not only sold my characters individually, it eventually funded my collected edition of The WatchGuard Sourcebook which I assembled myself doing all of the page layouts, design work, and most of the writing & editing. It was laborious, but the benefits were amazing.
I learned about page design. I learned about book layouts & publishing. I learned how to project manage, with multiple artists working multiple characters and securing cover art, pinups, pencils/inks/colors, hiring gaming writers and stats builders… dozens of collaborators and components all flying around at the same time. I was near-literally juggling multiple spinning plates (yes, I mixed a metaphor). I also learned about budgeting, and started cutting my marketing teeth during all of this, but the result was an award-winning and multiple-award nominated product.
I had done what I set out to do: I built an audience. Now, people will care.
And now my original goal would happen: my comic book could be completed and would be fully-funded using the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform.
The Rest Is… Well, Still Being Written
With that, I regret nothing. I still sell The WatchGuard #0 on my e-shop site and at conventions. For all of my complaining about how poorly I wrote it, the book has fans even today. Some of them have followed me into the joys of publishing my Spider-Squirrel property!
In fact, while Spider-Squirrel takes place in Richmond, VA, he & Trash Panda reside in the same universe as The WatchGuard. Yes, that means crossovers eventually. I do have plans to revisit these characters someday. One of the villains from that first issue is a huge fan and co-creator favorite: Tailgator! He’ll pop up in a few spin-offs and short stories because everyone wants to write Tailgator. 😆