29 August 2014

Quen's Comic Caper

By Dixon Hill

Here on SleuthSayers we've often discussed the difficulty of getting published, particularly when it comes to a novel or book manuscript.  So, I thought it might be nice to mention a venue that's helping young, or "new" writers sell their work.

The idea for this article occurred to me while reading Leigh's post, on Sunday.  I realized, then, that I ought to tell you about something my youngest son, Quentin, recently accomplished.

The first printing of his new comic book series sold-out, last week.

Now, don't get the idea that my eleven-year-old writes for DC Comics, or something.  Or that he sold hundreds of copies.  He created his comic book using a pencil on printer paper, then ran off five copies, which he stapled together in book format, gluing a strip of paper over the staples to protect his readers' fingers.  But, he also convinced a local comic book store to carry them on a trial basis, pricing the books at $1.00 each.  And, as of last Saturday, all five had been sold!

Frankly, I was surprised, but not by the fact that he sold some comic books.

This wasn't the first time Quen has written and sold comic books, after all.  It is, however, the first time he's sold them through a store.  In the past, he sold his books to his friends, and sometimes to neighbors (door-to-door).  Primarily, though, he relied on my wife to sell them at her office.  There, company execs, eager to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit in a young kid, insisted on paying $5 to $20 for each copy.

My wife and I were happy to see Quen's excitement, the first time this happened.  And we were grateful to those executives.  We also assumed that if our son continued trying to move his comics through my wife's office, those execs would soon tire of the game and quit buying them.

Quen, meanwhile, seeing the much greater profitability of using my wife as his sales agent, wrote more comics for her to sell at work.

Madeleine took them down, she and I both thinking our son would probably get a useful lesson in the economics of "diminishing returns."  But those execs surprised us.  Instead of thumbing their noses at buying more comics, they began to offer double-the-money if Quen would sign the comic books they bought.  When my wife balked at the idea, one man told her: "Hey, I think it's worth it.  I mean, if he's doing this at nine, he might be the next Warren Buffet by the time he's forty.  If that happens, a signed copy of one of the first items he made and sold would be worth a fortune! Might not happen, but let me take that risk."

As time went on, though the asking price remained flat, the purchase prices -- set by execs who refused to by them for less -- skyrocketed.  Quen was doing Cheeta flips!

We, on the other hand, were a bit worried.  The payment received for one comic book had been $50.00.  Where would it all end?  And what was our son learning?

Until that point, I'd been giving Quen printer paper from my computer without charge, and letting him use pencils we purchased for his school work.  Consequently, his gross basically equaled his net, meaning there was no incentive for saving or reinvesting in his operation.  He spent the money on Legos about as fast as he made it.

Now Legos aren't a bad investment for an eleven-year-old, but -- as long as he was in business -- I wanted him to learn a few business lessons.  At the same time, my wife grew concerned about a potential boomerang effect at work, due to my son's comic book sales there.

So, being the cruel ogres that we are, we announced: (A) Quen would have to purchase his own comic book supplies in the future, and therefor needed to hang onto some of his income from previous sales if he intended to continue in the business, and (B) My wife would only sell comics for him, at work, twice a year, in order to alleviate her concerns about the potential for folks to get upset with her about constant sales.

Quen took it pretty well, all in all.  For an eleven-year-old who had already made over $300 on comic book sales, that is.  Twice a year, he created a new comic and had my wife sell copies at her office. And, the purchase prices held pretty steady.

Then, I took him to a comic book store near our new apartment.

Pop Culture Paradise, located across University Drive from Arizona State University, isn't much to look at from the outside.  And, inside, it's still not terribly prepossessing in my opinion.  The store sells comic books -- both new and vintage -- as well as sci-fi knick-knacks like Dr. Who lunch boxes or action figures, and role playing game paraphernalia:  Magic the Gathering cards, Dungeons and Dragons handbooks and action figures, a ton of multi-sided dice, that sort of stuff.

They hold game tournaments there, too, just about every evening, often lasting into the early morning hours.  My sons played Magic the Gathering there once or twice a week, over the summer, and Quen got to know the shop fairly well. So did I, as I idled away time waiting for him to be sure a game was being held on some particular evening, or waiting for him to finish playing before I drove him home.

And we both noticed something.

The shop has a section of shelves devoted to original manga and comic-style artworks painted or drawn by local college artists, as well as comic books made by similar folks.  Many of the comics are printed on glossy paper, using services available through the internet: The artist pays a fee, emails the comic pages to the printer, and they print them up and ship them to his home.  Some of the artwork is original, while others are prints of the original; I have no idea how they produce the prints.

These locally produced artworks and comics sell for pretty good prices at Pop Culture Paradise.  A comic might go for $1.50 to $5.00, and a painting or print might be priced from $15 to $50, with a few art works going for much more.

Quen asked me if I thought they might carry his comics as well.

I told him I didn't know,and asked him why he wanted to sell them there.  I figured I knew, but wanted to see what he was really thinking.  He explained that he wanted to sell his comics in stores, and this might be a way to do that.  I reiterated that I wasn't sure they'd take his comics, but encouraged him to give it a shot.

He considered it over time -- probably two or three months -- mentioning that his drawings probably weren't good enough.  I suspected they didn't measure up, but explained that I really didn't know; if he wanted an honest answer, he'd just have to ask the owner or a manager.

Frankly, I can't even draw stick figures.  So I thought Quen's comic books weren't bad, for an eleven-year-old.  However, I figured an employee would probably turn him down, pointing out his spelling errors, and a lack of quality in his drawings, hopefully while providing tips and suggestions my son might benefit from.  At the very least, I figured Quen would learn something from the experience.

Quen made five copies of a new comic and asked for my input.  I gave it my best shot, but explained that I really don't know much about comics, not having read any since I was a kid -- except for his, or those of my older son.  Quen also asked me whom he should approach at the shop, and how he should do it.  We discussed these and other issues, and role-played potential approaches and conversations so he could get a little practice.

When we got to the store, and finally stood before a manager, the man looked at me.  I turned to Quen.

Quen stared at me, unsure what to do and looking quite nervous.

"Explain what you're here for, Quentin.  You're on buddy."

Quen had practiced saying: "I've been a customer here for a while.  I buy comics and other stuff, and play Magic here too.  I saw that you sell comic books made by local artists.  I make comic books and have sold some to neighbors and at my mom's work, and I wanted to see if you would agree to carry some of my comics in your shop.  I made five copies of a new comic book I just invented, called Pie Man.  It's supposed to be sort of funny.  It's like Bat Man, but he doesn't dress like a bat; he dresses like a pie."

Unfortunately, after I said, "You're on buddy," Quen got as far as: "I'm your customer."

Then he stopped.  I suspect the enormity of what he was trying to do simply overwhelmed him.  His mouth hinged open and he began stammering, "Uh ... uh ... uh..."

"He's made some comic books," I said.

Quen recovered then, nodding his head.  "Yeah.  I made five copies.  It's called Pie Man.  It's brand new.  It's all my idea.  I thought maybe I might be able to sell them here, 'cause I saw that you sell comics made by local artists."

The manager's eyes lit up.  "Let's see them!"

The guy looked them over, then looked at Quen.  "I like what I'm looking at here."

He must have seen the look on my face, because he turned to me and said, "It's rough, but a lot of people like this sort of rough comic book art.  It looks like he just used a pencil -- Did you use a pencil? -- That's what I thought.  It's got a pretty good look, to me."

He turned to Quen.  "What we do, when we get a new comic artist who comes in and wants to sell his books here, is this:  we ask him or her to donate a few -- these five would work.  We take those five and put them on the shelves.  If they sell, then maybe we'll start buying from you."  He looked at the cover.  "Looks like you want to price them at a dollar each.  Is that right?"

"Yes."

"Well, if you're willing to donate this first batch of five, I'll put them on the shelf with our other local comics, and we'll see if they sell.  If they sell pretty fast, we'll probably start buying them from you.  Are you willing to take the risk?  You won't be paid for these first five.  Is that okay with you?"

Money had been mentioned!  Suddenly Quen was in business mode.  His ears pricked up and his face firmed.  His jaw sort of squared-off. "If they sell, then you'll start buying them from me?"

"If they move pretty quickly, yes.  If they sit around for months, probably not.  If I put them out tonight, and they're all gone in the morning, and your dad's not the only one who bought them, then we'll be happy to buy them from you in the future.  But, it's a new comic, so that's not going to happen.  People don't know it and they have to decide how much they want to read it.  We'll have to see if they sell, and how long it takes.  Then we'll talk.  Okay?"

He then went on to make suggestions about how Quen might improve his next issue, saying he should use a straight edge to create the boxes that housed his pictures, and write more clearly to help the reader follow the story more easily.  He broke out some professional comic books and pointed at what he was talking about, to illustrate his points as he spoke.  Quen leaned forward, peering closely, nodding from time to time.

And I was thrilled!  He was getting the input I'd hoped for, and they were going to put his comics on the shelves!  He wouldn't get paid, but the response had been much more positive than I'd been expecting.

The next afternoon, when Quen and I visited the shop and saw his comics sitting on sale beside others, I think we both had to pinch ourselves.  But, the real shocker came when we last visited, and saw that all five were gone.  They'd been sold!

Now, Quen is prepping for his potential sales discussion.  He's asked me questions about percentages and things like that.  I can't wait to see what happens next.  And I thought you guys might enjoy the story, and like learning that places such as Pop Culture Paradise still exist.

See you in two weeks!
--Dixon

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful, Dixon! And what a fantastic experience for Quen! His comics must be good, but it sure would not have this kind of happy development if not for you, his mom, the people at her work, and the comic book store guy. LOVE it!

Fran Rizer said...

Dixon, first, let me address my first comment to Quen himself: Congratulations on selling out and on the initiative to have your books stocked in the store!

Dixon,the only thing that would have made this any better is if you had used one of Quen's drawings as an illustration!

Personally, I'd much rather buy a co-worker's son's creative efforts than those danged candy bars and gift wrap, but the fact that they kept buying means they see value in his work. Selling his books at the store is a marvelous educational experience for both you and Quen, but even better -- it's a great motivator. What are Quen's books about?

janice law said...

Congratulations to your son!
There is nothing so nice as that first sale.

Anonymous said...

This is fantastic and a proud accomplishment! Some very good business lessons also learned. Be he the 'next Stan Lee' or not, it is not being afraid to try new avenues. Perhaps pulp fiction mags will return again when someone decides to take that step forward to revive them. Neither print nor hand-crafted stories or comics are passe. They are just another road in getting our ideas seen. Good luck, Quen, on your ventures!

John Floyd said...

I love to hear about things like this, Dix. Sincere congrats to Quen on his accomplishment!

You might have to start using an old comedy quote I often use, to refer to my kids: "The offspring done sprung higher than them they sprung off of."

Eve Fisher said...

Congratulations Quen! And to you guys for encouraging him to do it. Keep it up, Quen!

Louis A. Willis said...

Congratulations to young Quentin. Could he soon need an agent?

Dixon Hill said...

Thanks, everybody! I'll pass it on to him.

Anon, I think thanks are due far more to the comic book manager, than to me. From my standpoint, I was just glad to see Q handle a cold call -- even if he needed a slight kick-start for a second.

Fran, I wanted to include a photo of his comic book, but had problems uploading the camera image to my computer for some reason -- even though it's worked like a charm in the past. Go figure!

Bradley, if you look around online, you may come to my conclusion: some of today's equivalent to the old pulps can sometimes be found in the form of internet magazines. It's a shame most don't seem to pay much.

That's a great quote, John! I think I might just start using it.

Stephen Ross said...

Awesome!

Leigh Lundin said...

Dixon, that's really amazing! What a creative and entrepreneurial spirit!

Congratulations to Quen and you!

R.T. Lawton said...

Dix, sounds like you got a fine kid who is very creative. Good on both of you. Glad to hear this kind of story these days.