My Read & React Review of Rosberg’s Article “Self-published Comics Are Changing an  Aging Industry – For the Better”

Citation:

Rosberg, C. (2016, June 30). Self-published comics are changing an aging industry—for  the better. The A.V. Club.  Retrieved from http://www.avclub.com/article/selfpublishedcomicsarechangingagingindustry238613

 

Summary/Interpretation

Rosberg (2016) provides an overview of the self-publisher vs. large (corporate) publisher dichotomy within the comics industry, highlighting obstacles and imbalances that self-publishers and small (independent) publishers face, and describing self-publishing as gaining momentum and reshaping the industry in a way that is serving up very real challenges to publishing giants such as DC Comics, Inc. and Marvel Comics.

A critique of established systems of recognition and awards within the comics industry is Rosberg’s catalyst for discussion. She describes some structural aspects that underpin the prestigious Eisner Awards’ failure to respond to the challenges that self-publishers and small publishers level within the industry; Namely, that nominations systems and voting systems are biased towards large corporate publishers, undermining their inclusion of / relevance for the growing market share of creators and audiences outside the mainstream (Rosberg, 2016).

Drawing directly on perspectives shared by self-publishers such as Iron Circus webcomics creator C. Spike Trotman (@Iron_Spike), Rosberg (2016) describes some critical

factors and initiatives influencing this shift within the industry, including:

  • Barriers to publishing success;
  • Creators’ common motivation for making the leap into self-publishing: Their “desire to see the kind of comics that they want to read but can’t find anywhere else” (Rosberg, 2016);
  • Crowd-funding (such as Trotman’s Kickstarter campaign for her two Smut Peddler anthologies) as a critical source of support for some self-publishers, enabling not only initial but also ongoing production (and in Iron Circus’ case, enabling the development of a roster of talent for new projects and ongoing growth) (Rosberg, 2016);
  • Crossover within complementary niche markets (such as the zine market) to broaden market reach;
  • Skill set and job task diversification related to operating a business (which Rosberg

[2016] describes may not appeal to all creators);

  • The development of a community of practice amongst self-publishers and small publishers, providing a critical nexus for tapping into each others’ experience and expertise;
  • And partnerships between self- and small publishers and large corporate publishers to leverage the evolving industry towards mutual benefit (such as entrée into and uptake of niche markets fostered through corporate grants and internships, cost-sharing, and business infrastructure support including distribution).

Rosberg (2016) makes clear the inherent importance of self-publishers and small publishers, as well as their importance to large corporate publishers moving forward within the context of industry changes. However, Rosberg notes the problem of exclusions stemming from recognition and awards system bias towards the ‘big players’ remains unaddressed. As a rejoinder, Rosberg (2016) proposes a novel framework for discussing and categorizing publishers, incorporating a spectrum that considers size, ownership (relating to intellectual property, i.e. corporate- vs. creator-owned) and venue, and the cross-categorization amongst these.

Rosberg (2016) articulates considerations that are critically relevant for librarians with respect to reference services, readers’ advisory services and collection development. In particular, systems of recognition and awards are important sources for librarians (as well as readers) for information-finding and for the identification and assessment of materials, as

MacDonald (2013) describes.

Reaction

As a librarian-in-training, I feel much more confident in finding alternative sources for information about comics and graphic novels after reading Rosberg’s (2016) article. In addition to relying on recognition and awards systems, I have ideas of how to also connect with materials outside the mainstream to better serve the diverse needs of library members. I know I can look to websites such as Goodreads (www.goodreads.com) and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (http://cbldf.org/), to name a few online sources. I know I can find creators and communities of practice to follow via social media, and I can work on making in-person connections with creators by attending fan expos and getting to know them and their work — (Fan expos are also a good way to observe “what’s hot”; For instance, I waited in a damned long lineup at Calgary Expo a couple of years ago to get my step-daughter a custom sketch by the creators of Cyanide & Happiness!)

But it’s as a creator that I draw the most inspiration from Rosberg’s article.

One of my first reactions to this article was to start following C. Spike Trotman @Iron_Spike. Much as Rosberg (2016) describes Trotman “tweeting pointed, informative commentary about the way that the comics industry works”, Rosberg’s article provides a realistic blueprint for creators stepping into self-publishing. Most importantly, Rosberg (2016) provides a corollary to a decision I’ve already made as a creator but have been hedging at implementing.

As Rosberg (2016) notes, self-publishing is nothing new. Indeed, since the late 1990’s I have kept abreast of evolving options, including both digital creator and e-commerce tools. Since the introduction of Web 2.0 in particular, robust (and affordable) web- and cloud-based applications, with complex technical orchestration largely embedded, have provided a high degree of flexibility and user control to non-programmers (Dron, 2013; Dron & Anderson, 2014), extending creative space and putting business processes into creators’ hands within a connected environment. Adobe Creative Suite CC, GoAnimate, iBooks Author and WordPress are examples of sophisticated creator tools, and iBooks, Lulu.com and GooglePlay serve as marketing and direct distribution outlets. Complementing this, Rosberg (2016) provides information on entry points into comics self-publishing communities of practice for support and mentoring; insights on engaging in the literary awards system, as well as new language and concepts for talking about publishers; role-models for successful crowd-funding campaigns; and ideas for partnering with bigger players, on both creative and business endeavours.

But this is the inspiration I expected to find in Rosberg’s article.

What I did not expect was for this article to help me tap a deeper source of selfaffirmation. While I, too, desire independence and to produce work I’m interested in seeing in the market, I have other motivators: I have almost two decades of experience in program/project management, including financial management and budgeting, communications, reporting, facilitating team collaborations, building partnerships, and mentoring junior staff and students/trainees. Unlike many creators (Rosberg, 2016), I know the day-to-day

operational/business side, I’m good at these things and I love them all. So, I feel well-positioned to make the leap, knowing my experience and passion would translate into the self-publishing world.

Inspiration. Self-affirmation. … So, why do I hesitate? After reading Rosberg’s article and engaging in much reflection, I may have an answer to this question: Without reasonable access to recognition and awards systems, so much of the drive and success of creators who self-publish depends on audience support according to Rosberg (2016), be it financial, demand or appreciation. What if I never find my audience? Herein lies the real risk, for which Rosberg (2016) does not provide counsel. But perhaps I can ask @Iron_Spike for some advice.

References

Dron, J. (2013). Soft is hard and hard is easy: learning technologies and social media.      Form@re Open Journal per la formazione in rete, 13(1), 32-43. Retrieved from  http://www.fupress.net/index.php/formare/article/viewFile/12613/11944

Dron, J., & Anderson, T. (2014). On the design of social media for learning. Social Sciences, 3(3), 378-393. Retrieved from http://www.mdpi.com/20760760/3/3/378/htm

MacDonald, H. (2013). How graphic novels became the hottest section in the library. Publishers    Weekly, 260(18), 20. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by topic/industrynews/libraries/article/57093howgraphicnovelsbecamethehottest       sectioninthelibrary.html

Rosberg, C. (2016, June 30). Self-published comics are changing an aging industry—for  the better. The A.V. Club.  Retrieved from http://www.avclub.com/article/selfpublishedcomicsarechangingagingindustry238613

 

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