I’m sitting at a small table at the second annual Sink/Swim Press Comic Expo on the second floor of Gallery5, an arts center located in Richmond’s Jackson Ward District. To my left sits Christian Leaf, selling copies of the Image Comics book he illustrated, The Perhapanauts, and displaying his portfolio. To my right is Ian Bodkin, poet and writer, promoting his book of poetry along with The Savage Lyrics, a graphic novel that he wrote and I illustrated. Surrounding us are some of Richmond, Virginia’s foremost creators of graphic novels, books, and fine art. Creators such as Chris Visions, an artist for Boom Comics’ Dead Letters, Scott Wegener, an artist for popular comic Atomic Robo, and James Moffitt, the founder of the Richmond-based publishing company Sink/Swim Press and writer of the award winning Little Red Fish. Despite the varying mediums, art styles, and genres, one similarity extends to every creator in the building: they have all endeavored into the world of small-press and independent publishing and have embraced a do-it-yourself ethic in place of the corporate establishment. And the thousands of people that I watched filter in and out of the small two-story building point to the fact that people are catching on to the creativity and passion that independently published books can provide.
Before delving into the benefits of independent publishing and self-publishing, I should make clear the differences between the two methods. Independent publishers are defined as publishing companies that do not operate within a large corporation or conglomerate, whereas a self-publisher will publish their own work with their own money.
Both of these publishing routes have grown in popularity in recent years because they give creators a freedom to produce whatever content they would like, a freedom not associated with the larger corporations. Additionally, with the ease of access provided by the internet, it is increasingly easy to publish books online for little cost and gain popularity through social media. Self-publishing has attracted writers such as John Campea, a popular film critic and blogger. In his video promoting a Kickstarter campaign to help make his idea a reality, he voices why he decided to self-publish, saying he was unsure if “many traditional publishing houses were going to sign a guy who had never written anything before.” This is true by many accounts, such as professional freelance novel editor Ellen Brock, who, in her article “Why Is It So Hard to Get Published?” compares publishing to the “Writing Olympics” in the sense that “Your book is a little fish in a great big pond. Sometimes even the exceptional work doesn’t stand out.” Campea was also wary of major publishing houses due to the problems that can arise from too many people working on an individual project. “If I had signed on with a major publishing house, they would have had editors, and copyeditors, and story consultants, and book designers and formatters… As my first novel, I wanted to maintain control of what I was doing.”
For those who want the collaborative nature of a publishing house without the daunting task of approaching a major corporation, many turn to independent publishers. James Moffitt, founder and editor-in-chief of the independent comic publisher Sink/Swim Press, breaks down the benefits of independent publishing:
“I think that independent publishing is crucial for creators, and for the art-forms of comics and literature in general. Independent publishers are able to do a lot of things that larger houses aren’t. In my opinion, indie publishers do more to push the envelope with creative work, and also create a higher level of accessibility both for readers and creators. This can be really motivating if you’re a creator, because large houses can be so intimidating to approach. I know as a consumer, I like indie publishers because I feel that much closer to the creators of the work, and it makes experiencing their work more intimate for me.”
The trend of success in self-published material and independent publishing houses is positive for the creators behind the content and the consumers. As an inexperienced artist venturing into the world of publishing, I have a firsthand account of the welcoming and supportive nature of independent publishers. At the Sink/Swim Press Comic Expo, any reservations I had about dipping my feet into the world of publishing vanished as I talked to the other art and literature fans that passed through Gallery5. The books I purchased from the other artists and writers – and my fascination with the stories they told – gave me optimism for the future of indie creators and the content they produce.
Photos by William Bennett.