I’m starting a new series here on theblerdgurl where I interview people who inspire me or I feel are change agents in some way. I’ve been not-so-silently stalking by Shawn Pryor since I first heard him on a blackcomicschat podcast a few months ago. At the time he was one of the few voices I felt were actually speaking the truth about People of Color (POC) in the media and comics. Since Shawn has extensive experience on the business end of the comic book game, I wanted him to share his thoughts and ideas about growing a successful indie comic. Shawn talks about crowdfunding, marketing, being a POC in the business and why there are no such things as magical unicorns. He even tells us who some of his favorite underrated artists are right now. So grab a pen kids, you’re gonna wanna take notes.
Q1. What are some things that make you NUTS about the comic book game?
That it’s 2015 and the game STILL struggles with equality problems as if the Civil Rights Act hasn’t been signed yet and major publishers struggle to find People of Color creators as if they’re magical unicorns that can never be found by major publishers.
That way too often we still have to make mainstream America understand that diversity and equality in the comic book business doesn’t mean that we’re trying to punish White people. We’re not. We just want to show you that we have the ability and strength to sit at the same creative table and share fantastic myths and stories with the world.
Q2. How important is a business plan to independent artists and imprints?
If you don’t have at least a basic plan, you’re going to fail no matter what it is that you’re trying to accomplish as a creative, especially if you are an independent creator.
Being independent also means that you’re going to have to wear many hats (creative/marketing/accounting/etc) so you have to discover what your strengths and weaknesses are. Once you know your strengths, turn your weaknesses into strengths. If you’re making a comic, do the research. If you’re an artist that wants to start their own etsy store, do the research. If you want to know how to sell your content online, do the research. You have to have a plan.
Q3. I’ve heard you talk about how we need to question everything and challenge each other. Artists? Fans? Please explain.
When I have mentioned that we should challenge ourselves as creators, it comes from a place where many comic books professionals have the feelings that all comic creatives are “friends” and get along with each other so there’s need to critique and challenge others which is completely backwards to me. Not everyone in the comic book industry are “friends” and by creators challenging each other on the daily it makes the art form better and it pushes creatives to be the best no matter what they do. Because if we’re not giving our best and doing our best while creating comics or anything else, then we’re not being honest with ourselves. Not everything is refrigerator-worthy, and the comics business needs to understand that.
As far as the need to question things in the comics business, sometimes we get so content with what we buy and receive without noticing that sometimes some of the stuff within the business is so problematic (i.e. Marvel Hip-Hop Covers) that we should question it. Why is it that Marvel can have diversity on their comic book pages, but next to no writers of color, especially Black writers? It’s okay to question what you consume.
Q4. Explain the hustle of marketing your comic?
The hustle of marketing a comic takes a LOT of work and effort. Before you even market a comic book that you have created, you’ve got to know who your audience is. Just saying “it’s for everybody” is a generalization that doesn’t help you sell your comic book. For example, with Cash & Carrie since it’s all-ages mystery comic book, I can talk about how inspirations/influences for the book include Disney’s Fillmore, The X-Files, Scooby Doo, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and so forth.
From there you need to have an understanding on how social media works, what kind of followership that you have, the types of social media to use and frequency usage of each, and knowing the difference between informing people and spamming people online. There’s a great podcast by Adrian Johnson called Artist Proof in which he talks to Artist/Creator Julian Lytle about the usages and understandings of social media. Definitely check it out:
It also pays to know which sites are willing to take a look at your comic and possible crowdfunding project. Again, know your audience. If you’re an unknown, sites like CBR, Newsarama and Bleeding Cool probably won’t look at your press release or review your book because they have a tendency to cater to bigger publishers and popular creator bases. However, with the power of a Google search you can find all other types of sites, podcasts, YouTube review channels that may be interested in what you are doing.
Q5. How is marketing your comic to the Black and Hispanic community different than promoting it to a mainstream audience? Should there be a difference?
With a mainstream audience, for example when I was promoting the Cash and Carrie Kickstarter campaign, the marketing towards the mainstream audience focused more on people checking it out if they enjoyed things that they know like Scooby-Doo, Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew books or other pop-culture things that they could cling to in order to notice it, and when I would talk to People of Color I could mention the same things that I mentioned to the mainstream audience but also let them know that the two lead characters are also People of Color which is something that’s not featured in most all-ages comics. I’ll have to keep this answer abridged because it’s a very heavy question that I could honestly write all day about. It’s unfortunate that there are differences in promoting stuff, but it’s part of the game.
Q6. What are the most important tips you can give about how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign for your art or your book?
Start spreading the word of your crowdfunding campaign via social media 30 to 45 days before its official launch with teaser images and other notices to attract people’s attention. You don’t have to sell them everything up front, but by doing this you’re getting people to be prepared and if they like what you’re trying to do they’ll hopefully spread the word and continue the buzz. So by the time your crowdfunding campaign starts there are already people in the know who hopefully want to contribute to your campaign.
Be realistic with your crowdfunding goal. Remember to properly factor in shipping costs into your overall crowdfunding goal so you don’t end up pulling money out of your own pocket to handle shipping costs after your crowdfunding service takes their service fees.
Know the difference between spamming someone about your crowdfunding project, and informing someone about it. Do your best to be transparent about the progress of the project to your backers. Informed backers are happy backers. And definitely have your backers rewards to them at the target date you specified in your campaign. If a problem arises, let your backers know.
Make a video for your project. It doesn’t have to be Emmy-winning quality, but the video helps sell your project.
C. Spike Trotman aka Iron Spike has a great E-book about comic book crowdfunding called Let’s Kickstart a Comic which has a lot of valuable information as well:
Q7. How do you feel about the “resurgence” of Black and female characters in Marvel and DC? Pandering? Long awaited Change? Does it Matter?
There needs to be diversity and equality at both Marvel and DC Comics in both the characters that put on the page as well as on the creative side in the production of these books. Right now, there’s a big imbalance in the creative side with the lack of Black men and women writers/artists that the Big 2, but yet you’ll see both publishers starting to push/create more books with Black characters as of late, but struggle to find Black people to tell or create those stories even though we live in an age where it’s easier than ever to find creative Black talent.
It does matter. There needs to to room for Black men and women in the major publishers as well as the continued efforts of creating independently.
Q8. How do you feel about the lack of support from the Black Community of independent Black creators?
I think that comes from a lack of knowing that the independent creations and content is available to them. I also think that some of the community has been indoctrinated by big brands for so long that it’s hard for them to look at something else that’s not from a big brand and view it as “inferior” because it doesn’t have the brand label or aesthetic that they’re used to. That’s their loss, though.
The good thing is that we have sites like yours, Black Comics Month by @MizCaramelVixen, Black Tribbles, #BlackComicsChat, Ghetto Manga, FanBros and many, many, many, many other outlets that provide a signal boost to independent creators whether it be through web articles, interviews, podcasts, and more. Plus, social media has been a big help in distributing a new signal for independent creators to make their voice heard and seen to an audience that had no idea that other creations existed.
It’s getting better, but there’s still a very long way to go.
Q9. I had a post recently called 25 Reasons Why You’re Not Making Money at Cons. Since you work with artists, I would like to hear what points you agree with and ones that you think make no damn sense and why.
Even though I’m a writer/creator and not an artist, there are many things in your post that ring very true while tabling at conventions. One doesn’t have to be a car salesman, but you’re tabling at a show for a reason: to sell your art, to sell your book, to sell your talents. So you have to find a comfortable balance at these shows to make it work best for you. Sometimes you’ll be successful, sometimes not. Every convention audience is different.
I can sincerely speak on reasons 1-4 for sure. If people don’t know your tabling at a show, or you don’t pay attention or recognize when a potential buyer is at your table, and you don’t have a quick pitch on who you are, what you do and what you’re selling it makes the game harder for you to win.
I will admit because the cost of printing books, prints, travel costs, and table costs at a convention can mount up very quickly, someone tabling at a convention is normally in the red before the show begins so sometimes it’s hard to give discounts or freebies to folks who buy something at the table (Reason #13). But if it’s possible to manage and one can give a discount or freebie without taking a cost hit, do it.
Q10. What is Crowntaker Studios up to right now? Where can we get our hands on Cash and Carrie?
Crowntaker Studios is slowly in the building phase right now. I’ll be adding more news/content to the site soon and the first wave of digital comic book releases from the studio will launch worldwide in August. The first Cash and Carrie comic will be available digitally worldwide in August. I am currently looking for a print publisher for Cash and Carrie at this time and have received some interest from a few publishers so we’ll see what happens there.
Q11. Who do you think are 10 of the most talented POC in the comic book game today
Anthony Piper – Trill League: https://www.facebook.com/TrillLeagueComics
Jamal Igle – Molly Danger: https://www.comixology.com/Molly-Danger/comics-series/10713
Afua Richardson – Genius: http://www.afuarichardson.com/
Mildred Lewis – Agents of the Realm: http://www.agentsoftherealm.com/
Ulises Farinas – Amazing Forrest: http://ulisesfarinas.com/
Julian Lytle – Longboxes On 22’s: http://longboxeson22s.tumblr.com/page/20
Ron Wimberly – Prince of Cats: http://d3-14.tumblr.com/
Jamar Nicholas – Detective Boogaloo, Hip-Hop Cop: http://www.metro.us/hip-hop-cop/detective-boogaloo-hip-hop-cop-week-1-episode-1/zsJofo—XomEDq8aLadA/
C. Spike Trotman – New World: https://ironcircus.com/
Brandon Easton – Writer for Peggy Carter, Season 2: http://foolscrusade.blogspot.com/
Believe me, I have more people I want to tell you about that I think are fantastic, but you asked for ten so I tried to keep it 10.
Thank you Shawn!
Shawn Pryor is a creator, writer and comic book executive. From 2010 to 2014 he served as President of Action Lab Entertainment, publisher of such books as the Eisner-nominated Princeless, Katie Cook’s Gronk, Shinobi Ninja Princess, Molly Danger and slew of other titles. He currently is the founder of Crowntaker Studios, and the creator of the all-ages mystery comic book Cash & Carrie.
Follow Shawn on Twitter and Tumblr
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