Creator Talk is the beginning of a series of blog posts, articles, and other missives direct from creators we work with at Avatar. Here is our second post from writer/artist Mike Wolfer, the creator of Widow, Warren Ellis’ collaborator on the William Gravel saga in Strange Kiss (Stranger Kisses, Strange Killings), and artist on the upcoming Garth Ennis Western title Streets of Glory. Mike’s talking about his history as a creator (and publisher) in the beginning of his Comic Talk series, and in the second part of this Avatar Press exclusive, he depicts his first steps into the world of self-publishing. (Read Part 1)
HOW AVATAR PRESS SAVED MY LIFE, Part 2: The Execution
By Mike Wolfer
It was in January, 1987 that I received the advance sales figures for my first self-published effort, DAIKAZU #1. After months of preparation, setting up Ground Zero Comics, lining-up distributors and generally working myself to death, I had hoped that I would sell enough books to at least cover my start-up and advertising expenses and hopefully pay for the printing of that first issue.
I was shocked that, when tallying the orders from my various distributors, my sales reached nearly 4,000.
I did the math, over and over. I was still shocked by the profit that I would be making. And I began to realize that perhaps my aspiration of one day working for Marvel Comics might not be as fulfilling as I had originally envisioned. At least, it couldn’t be as profitable as self-publishing. All I had to do now was get the thing printed, shipped and onto the store shelves.
I wrote, pencilled, inked and hand lettered DAIKAZU #1, cut the amberlith overlays for the black and green cover and even shot, stripped and opaqued the film from which the book would be printed. The newsprint interior of the comic would be run-off in the printing plant where I was employed, with the cover and bindery work completed by a small company in Maryland who had never produced a comic, but assured me that they could do it professionally. What did I know… It was my first comic and I was envisioning a vibrant, slick, crisp presentation that would rival the packaging of the major companies’ products. After the interiors were printed, I loaded the guts of the entire 4,000 print run into my Chevette and delivered them and the cover negatives to the Maryland printer, set the print run and sat back and waited.
When I finally managed to reach the printer on the phone after many unsuccessful attempts, I was told that there were problems getting the covers to print, something about humidity, but they would figure out a way to make it work. Now I was worried. The printing of the glossy covers was taking weeks, but it seemed like forever, my unease increasing with each passing day. Eventually the call came: The covers were printed, the books stapled and trimmed. They were done. Come and get ’em.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that when I at last held my first professional work in my hands, it looked like shit. Because of the “humidity” problem, the covers wouldn’t dry when printed, so to prevent them from sticking to each other they were sprayed with some form of magical, white powder. Not only did this powder render the color and black inks feeble and dull, but the powder itself could be wiped off of the front of the book like dust. The overall ambience of the cover of DAIKAZU #1 was that of a sun-bleached comic that had been taped in a store window for five years.
I was crushed. With money as tight as it was, reprinting was not an option and even if it was, the end result would likely be the same. I’d have to suck it up, ship the book and hope that readers would overlook the shoddy cover printing and embrace the interior with open arms.
Luckily, that’s exactly what happened, and over the next 4 years, DAIKAZU enjoyed a successful 8-issue run and spawned a three-issue mini-series, DAIKAZU VS. GUGORON. Fan letters poured in from all over the world, critical reaction was generally warm and sales were surprisingly solid, enough so that I was able to spring for black and TWO colors on the covers, now handled by a more professional printing establishment.
But the physical labor involved was unwavering. Back in those good old days, each distributor that handled my comics had several different warehouses, all of which ordered a varying number of copies which I hand counted, packaged and personally shipped via UPS. Back issue sales were brisk, requiring uncountable trips to the Post Office and answering fan mail and hand-typing the DAIKAZU fan letters page was eating up more and more time, but God, was it worth it. I had made a connection with fans the world over, readers who couldn’t seem to get enough of Daikazu and his other giant kaiju co-stars. That demand prompted me to brainstorm another mini-series, REVENGE OF THE GIANT MUTANTS and a new title, WAR MONSTERS, but before moving forward on those projects, I needed a break.
I decided to switch gears for a few months and work on a totally new title, a simple, three-issue, stand-alone story of erotic horror. The giant monster books that I had all intention of publishing never saw the light of day, supplanted by the phenomenon of that new, throw-away horror series.
The series was called WIDOW: FLESH AND BLOOD.
To be continued…