Are independent comics creators doing a little better ecoomically than they were four years ago? The numbers seem to suggest that they are.

Not quite four years ago,The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman issued a video manifesto encouraging creators to follow his lead, exit DC and Marvel, and start producing their own creator-owned material. Marvel exclusive writer Brian Michael Bendis engaged in a debate, taking the side that there wasn’t enough money changing hands in independent comics.

I ran the numbers and determined that while a handful of creators were doing all right, Bendis was correct. It just wasn’t very easy to make DC/Marvel money as an independent creator and Kirkman was, and still is, such a stunning success in the Direct Market that he’s hard to duplicate.

That was 2008. Now it’s 2012. Independent comics seem to be doing a little better. It’s time to revisit the subject and see if Kirkman was ahead of his time with those statements. Here are the ground rules for comparison:

The generic budget for a comic book (per agreed upon discussion at ComicsBeat) breaks down as follows:

Writer: $100/page

Penciller: $150/page

Inker: $130/page

Colorist: $90/page

Letterer: $30/page

For a total of $500/page. That would come to $10,000 for a 20 page comic, which seems to increasingly be the norm, or $11,000 for a 22-page comic, plus cover costs. Some writers and artists will get more. I’ve also heard a Marvel budget described in the past as $14,000-$15,000.

For the purposes of this comparison, we’re going to say a comic needs to be generating in the vicinity of $10,000 for purpose of month-to-month cash flow, to make Kirkman’s arguments ring true.

The direct market isn’t very complicated. You’re selling to the distributor at approximately a 60% discount. For our purposes, we’re going to call it 61% for a little bit of hidden costs fudge factor.

So the amount of money a publisher gets to keep from a $2.99 cover price is $1.1661. A $3.99 comic gives you $1.5561 from the distributor.

I have some printing quotes for color comics (other than Walking Dead, there just aren’t very many monthly comics in a black & white format any more). They’re a few months old, but surprisingly close to the 2008 costs. This is how it breaks down with a little money for shipping added in:











Total Revenue @ $2.95 ($1.16 net)





Total Revenue @ $3.50 ($1.365 net)





Total Revenue @ $3.99 ($1.556 net)





Cover price does matter, but basically, if you’re selling around 10,000 copies of a $3.99-priced , you should be breaking even with what you’d be getting for a generic budget at the big publishers and you’ll pull ahead with the backend on the trade paperback reprints (and hard cover, if you’re popular enough). If you’re able to price the printing for several books at once, these numbers will go down. In the original article, one insider suggested you needed to be selling closer to 15K copies at Image to break even (Image does charge a fee for their non-founder books), so we’ll also keep this in mind.

Let’s take a look at the June sales estimates from the Comics Chronicles and break the creator-owned books into 4 categories:

● Breaking Even (0 – 3,000 copies)

● Beer Money (3,001 – 5000 copies)

● Starting To Get Paid (5,001 – 10,000 copies)

● Money Makers (10,001+ copies)

Standard disclaimers that direct market estimates tend to be 10-15% low and a new disclaimer that we’re seeing a LOT more instances of multiple printings than we used to.

Breaking Even

Knights of The Dinner Table (Kenzer) 1,379

I Feel Sick (SLG) 1,562

Swimsuit Steampunk (Antarctic) 1,772

Cavewoman Bunny Ranch One Shot (Basement) 1,803

Steamcraft (Antarctic) 1,911

Gold Digger (Antarctic) 1,937

Critter (Big Dog) 2,216

Secret History of DB Cooper (Oni) 2,719

Bad Medicine (Oni) 2,743

Beer Money

Knights of The Dinner Table (Kenzer) 3,098

Sixth Gun (Oni) 3,204

Night of 1000 Wolves (IDW) 3,302

Bad Medicine (Oni) 3,309

Reset (Dark Horse) 3,413

Courtney Crumrin (Oni) 3,418

Legend of Oz The Wicked West (Big Dog) 3,434

Mudman (Image) 3,457

Alpha Girl (Image) 3,490

Nancy In Hell On Earth (Image) 3,657

Waking Dream End (Zenescope) 3,659

30 Days of Night (IDW) 3,715

Rebel Blood (Image) 3,753

Atomic Robo Real Science Adv (Red 5) 3,837

Supurbia (BOOM!) 3,920

Glory (Image) 3,977

Dan The Unharmable (Avatar) 4,252

Whispers (Image) 4,479

Alabaster Wolves (Dark Horse) 4,479

Atomic Robo Flying She Devils of the Pacific (Red 5) 4,564

Super Dinosaur (Image) 4,592

Savage Dragon (Image) 4,595

Resident Alien (Dark Horse) 4,597

Soulfire Hope (Aspen) 4,660

Soulfire Primer (Aspen) 4,954

Starting To Get Paid

Grim Leaper (Image) 5,212

Supreme (Image) 5,539

Next Men Aftermath (IDW) 5,629

Casanova Avaritia (Icon – it’s Marvel, but also creator-owned) 5,672

Fathom Vol. 4 (Aspen) 5,773

Darkness (Image) 5,823

Dancer (Image) 5,968

Stitched (Avatar) 6,068

Lady Death Origins Cursed (Avatar) 6,130

Grimm Fairy Tales Annual 2012 (Zenescope) 6,136

Grimm Fairy Tales Angel Oneshot (Zenescope) 6,158

Ragemoor (Dark Horse) 6,163

Incorruptible (BOOM!) 6,217

Prophet (Image) 6,275

Trio (IDW) 6,289

Hack Slash (Image) 6,391

Artifacts (Image) 6,464

Idolized (Aspen) 6,523

Fatima The Blood Spinners (Dark Horse) 6,690

Hell Yeah (Image) 6,749

Higher Earth (BOOM!) 6,964

Grimm Fairy Tales (Zenescope) 6,988

Lady Death (Avatar) 7,355

Epic Kill (Image) 8,255

Fanboys Vs Zombies (BOOM!) 8,535

Witchblade (Image) 8,714

Morning Glories (Image) 8,931

Crossed Badlands (Avatar) 9,552

Baltimore Dr Leskovars Remedy (Dark Horse) 9,671

Crossed Badlands (Avatar) 9,875

Money Makers

BPRD Hell On Earth Devils Engine (Dark Horse) 10,771

Hypernaturals (BOOM!) 10,854

BPRD Hell On Earth Exorcism (Dark Horse) 11,212

Chew (Image) 11,262

Planetoid (Image) 12,057

Creator Owned Heroes (Image) 12,778

Mind The Gap (Image) 14,218

Invincible (Image) 14,553

Secret (Image) 14,905

Boys (Dynamite) 16,567

Extermination (BOOM!) 18,130

Manhattan Projects (Image) 18,544

Thief of Thieves (Image) 19,833

Fatale (Image) 21,828

Massive (Dark Horse) 22,173

Spawn (Image) 30,136

Saga (Image) 41,143

Walking Dead 55,710

Let’s compare the number of titles in each category between now and when the argument broke out in 2008

Breaking Even

Beer Money

Starting To Get Paid

Money Makers











(Note: in 2012, the Breaking Even category is outside the top 300 list)

The Money Makers are up slightly from 2008 and a bit more significantly if you shift the numbers up 10%-15% to reflect the unreported UK orders. Add any multiple printings and this is starting to look quite interesting. The sheer volume of titles, particularly in the Starting To Make Money category is also heartening. Figure that a few titles like Morning Glories and Chew absolutely kill it in trade paperback sales and Kirkman’s old pleas start looking a little more sage-like. Looking in that Money Maker category, I’m seeing titles by Garth Ennis, Brian Wood, Jonathan Hickman, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Jim McCann. Creators who have been over at the Big Boys and look like they’re going to pull similar money or more with their own work.

The real significant increases are in the Beer Money and Starting To Get Paid categories. That 5K-10K range where the creators start to see some cash flow approaching the DC/Marvel level, that could theoretically catch up with decent trade paperback sales is a very positive trend.

Image announced several more titles from traditional DC/Marvel creators at Comic-Con, so we’re going to have a proper test of Kirkman’s manifesto by this time next year. Doubtless, there will still be questions like “can you succeed without having an active title at DC/Marvel?”

I’d like to see a few more creator owned titles crossing that 15K line before I reverse the decision and declare Kirkman the eventual winner of the Kirkman – Bendis debates. That’s really for the artists. It’s easier for a writer to switch a book over to the world of indies. There are precious few artists with the speed to do multiple books and for them that 15K line is going to be a little more meaningful.

All that said, this argument has gotten a lot more interesting than it was 4 years ago. Bendis can still make a case that the money isn’t necessarily there, but Kirkman’s independent movement sure has the momentum right now.