Comfort Love and Adam Withers have been self published comic book creators since 2008. They have self published two comic series, written a book about self publishing comics and can often be found speaking on panels and seminars of comic conventions throughout the USA
We spoke to Comfort and Adam about their creative practice, how they run a diverse and successful creative business and they share invaluable tips on how to be a self published comic book creator. This interview is essential for creators seeking to learn more about self publishing comics. For further reading, check out Comfort and Adam’s book ‘The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics: How to Create and Sell Comic Books, Manga, and Webcomics’ (Random House)
Look out for Comfort and Adam’s work in our upcoming illustration directory, Drawn Volume.3, Leaders in Contemporary Illustration.
Hello Comfort and Adam,
Thank you very much for taking the time out to speak with us and share your insights to your practice. We’re very much looking forward to hearing about you work together as a partnership and the motivations behind your work!
You’re a husband and wife team, also known as ‘the two headed hydra of comics’. How do you go about working together, and what are the advantages for working as a team?
We split all the work down the middle 50/50. We are both writers and artists, and our styles are so complimentary that we can write together in a cohesive voice, or share drawing or color work and still create a unified piece. Whether it’s writing comics or just making art, we concept everything together verbally before we put pencil to paper (or stylus to screen as the case may be). We share the research duties and pass rough drafts back and forth between us until we feel strong enough to go to final. We’ll each work on different parts of a drawing at the same time, merging it together before going to color and doing the same thing. This makes us faster and keeps us fresh, preventing artist block by being able to pass things off if one of us is slowing down or struggling. But it also makes us more dynamic because we have the creativity of two minds bouncing off each other. We’ll find ideas together that neither of us could have on our own.
You’ve been practicing creatives since 2000, where you met whilst studying at Kendall College of Art and Design. What's your artistic philosophy and has it evolved over time?
We both met when we were nineteen years old. We like to say we figured out how to be ourselves by being together, and that includes finding our artistic voices. Since we started working professionally very young, the biggest evolution of our philosophy has been recognizing that creativity isn’t magic; it’s about choices and hard work. If you’re waiting for inspiration to strike you, you’ll always be waiting. There’s no value to being a reactive artist, only creating when the right idea drifts your way. Better to be an active creator, always working and always producing, training your mind to draw inspiration from everything around you and to make each accomplishment a springboard that launches you into your next creation.
You have run a successful business since 2008, where you became full time, self published comic book creators. Do you have any words of advice for emerging creators looking to start their own business? Where would be a good place to start?
The first thing to know is that you shouldn’t wait for permission to start. You do not need some publisher to tell you you’re ready, so start now. The best way to do that is by building a group of loyal fans and friends around you first. Use social media, go to conventions, and reach out to other creators in your community. You’re going to spend years doing various freelance art jobs building up your experience and your portfolio, so why not start immediately? The sooner you begin, the sooner you’ll learn the lessons you can only learn by doing the job.
It won’t be easy, and there will be many sacrifices you’ll have to make, but dedication to improving your work, your personal skills, and your business skills does pay off – you’ve just got to stick with it even when the odds seem impossible.
You describe your work as ‘Animated Realism’, which combines the movement of animation with the structure of realism. What's most important to you in your artwork?
For us, it’s capturing the personality of the characters. This is done with their design, the way they express themselves, their body language and expressions. It’s our job as creators to write and draw characters that the audience can emotionally connect with at a glance. We always say if your number one priority is making a character look cool, you’re not doing your job.
Human emotion requires vulnerability, and if there’s no personality, no light behind those eyes, your characters won’t be able to build empathy with an audience and draw them into your world.
You’ve self published your own comics, ‘The Uniques’ and ‘Rainbow in the Dark’, which we are very pleased to feature in your Drawn Volume.3 artist portfolio. In 2015 you published ‘The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics’ (Random House). Why does self publishing appeal to you? And what are the advantages of self publishing as opposed to having a publishing deal with a major publisher?
We’ve always loved the creative freedom that comes with doing things yourself. We’re able to make our connection with our readers and the strength of our stories our top priority. It allowed us to be bolder and more progressive in a time where certain things like showcasing LGBTQ lead characters were not nearly as accepted. We also love how much it’s taught us about the creative process and business of art and storytelling. We’ve done everything from the concepting of a story to the marketing and distribution. It’s actually made us more informed and sympathetic so when we do work with companies we can talk with anyone at any stage of the production chain from a place of knowledge and respect.
Once an artist has produced their first self published comic, where and how would you recommend they sell their product? Do you leverage online marketplaces such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble?
So far, we like places like Amazon and Comixology. Keeping a mix of physical sales and digital sales allows you to reach a broader market. Also, having your own online store is never a bad thing. Fans love getting things signed and you can do specials there that you can’t do with other bigger stores. But really, try to get in as many stores as you can (physical and online). The more eyes on your books, the more likely people will be able to buy it.
Would you have any advice for a first time publisher on print and production? Are there specialist printers you use specifically for comic books?
We recommend starting with print-on-demand, and there are a number of excellent printers catering specifically to comic creators. We worked with Ka-Blam.com for years when we were starting, and they were excellent. Print-on-demand allows you to start slow, only printing a small number of books at a time so you can build a fanbase without over-committing.
Slow growth is good growth and will make your business more stable and sustainable over time.
But print-on-demand has a low ceiling of success. You’ll reach a point where the cost of printing more books is so high that your profit margins become very restrictive. That’s when you switch to offset printing, ordering thousands of copies at a time. It’s a very high up-front cost, but an extremely low cost-per unit, so you’ll have a big buy-in but your profit margin will explode. This also opens up the book market for you, which won’t be possible with print-on-demand (your per-unit cost is too high to lose 50-60% of the cover price per sale). The key is knowing when you can sell thousands of copies. The worst thing you can do is over-invest too early and wind up going into debt on thousands of copies of a book you can’t sell that sit in your basement collecting dust.
How do you estimate the quantity of comics to print? Would you advise a first time publisher to run a pre-sale so that you can accurately gauge the amount of units you will sell so that you minimise excess inventory?
Comic creators have the benefit of a thriving convention industry supporting us as publishers. We suggest starting with the convention scene, bringing a couple dozen copies to your early appearances while you work on building recognition and getting grass roots support for your comic. This is why print-on-demand is so attractive to beginning self-publishers – you can run off a few dozen comics for very little money, relative to the cost of an offset print run.
In addition, most print-on-demand services also have an online store you can sell your book through, opening the doors to a broader market.
To really make online sales work for you, though, we suggest making digital comics available through services like Drive-Thru Comics or Comixology. Digital for single issues or chapters, print for graphic novels or trade paperbacks, that’s the route to early sales.
You are very active within the creative community, and 2018 sees you visit approximately 15 cons where you meet readers, sell merchandise and are featured on seminars and panels. What are your favourite aspects of a con?
Oh, talking to the people – 100%. We love engaging fans and fellow creators, and meeting new people. Art and writing can be a rather solitary life, but being able to connect with people in person and be inspired by their excitement and enthusiasm on the show floor or at our panels and seminars is a magical feeling and we wouldn’t trade it for anything!
As business owners with a diverse range of projects including writing and drawing your publications, developing your merchandise, creating your own teaching tools as well as your live appearances.
We would love to hear how have been able to diversify your company, Comfort and Adam LLC to such an impressive extent. Did you always have a roadmap of commercial areas you’d like to explore, or do you consider your new avenues as a response to the evolving habits and trends of your community?
It’s a mixture of both, really. You have to come into any business with an idea of where you’d like to go, but you also have to be able to evolve to better fit a changing market. For instance, we always knew merchandise and public speaking would be key components of our business, but when we started there was no way to predict how important social media was going to become. Now, video is becoming really important for growing a fanbase, so we’re having to seriously consider how we might be able to adapt that into our business. So it’s necessary to have a clear vision of what your core business is going to be, what you want to make and how you want to make it, but you also need to be constantly watching for changing trends that could help or hurt you.
The future is a tidal wave and we’re all standing on the beach – you can either huddle down in your sand castles, or you can hop on a surfboard and ride that wave to whatever’s coming next.
You’ve created a series of playlists to enjoy whilst reading your comics, do you listen to music whilst you work, and if so, what are you enjoying on your playlist right now?
Music is a HUGE part of our lives. We have a very broad and eclectic taste (just ask our interns) and our musical influences really can’t help but influence our storytelling. Sometimes in pretty obvious ways – Rainbow in the Dark is essentially a rock opera fairy tale in comic form. The characters, the weapons, and the world were all inspired by different musicians and musical genres. With The Uniques, we make a special playlist for readers to listen to get a feeling of the music that was running through our heads when we created each scene, and to help set a tone for the feeling of given moments of the story.
In your introductory video interview you say that that reading comic books is an excellent motivation for promoting creativity in their readers to do the same. What comics or stories inspired you to be creators?
It’s obvious that we were both heavily influenced by superhero comics with writers like Mark Waid, Greg Rucka, and Brian Michael Bendis and artists like Adam Hughes, J. Scott Campbell, Chris Bachalo, and Joe Madureira. But our deepest inspirations were books like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Garth Ennis’ Preacher; comics that pushed the envelope of what comics could do.
Depending on deadline you can spend between 12-20 hours a day working, which is no mean feat! How do you manage to maintain a work / life balance during a busy period?
…We don’t? Our jobs are our lives, whether it’s working at home or on the road for conventions and speaking engagements. It’s not always easy, but we are passionate about what we do because it genuinely means a lot to us personally. It’s the difference between a job and a calling. It wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t love what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with. We love each other, our interns, our friends, our fans, and our very, very, very understanding families. We try to take time out now and then, but the truth is that if we somehow could do this work in half the time, we’d probably wind up filling up the extra space with more work.
Finally, what can we look forward to seeing from you next, are there any new projects or updates you can share?
Currently we’re working on season 2 of The Uniques and will be running a Kickstarter for that project early next year. We also have plans for several other series we would write for other artists to draw, and plan to start pre-production for the first of those in the next year or so as well. We’re recently launched our Patreon and that’s been successful so far. As it grows, we hope it opens the doors for us to work faster and bring on more hands to see just how many more stories we can create.
Thank you for taking the time out to speak with us today Comfort and Adam! We are very grateful for your extensive advice and insight.