On Self-Publishing

[Apologies in advance. This one's going to be a long walk.]

Comics wrecked me. That's a good, all-purpose truism. Before there was Dungeons & Dragons for me, before there was Star Wars or Star Trek or Doctor Who or The Chronicles of Narnia (sorry, Susan) of The Prydain Chronicles, there were these funny little sheets of newsprint, folded over and stapled and sold on racks at newsstands and bookstores and, closest to home, at a dark and mysterious back alley establishment called "The Pipe Shoppe." They taped their comics shut so you couldn't browse. That's how I knew evil.

And then there were comic book stores. This was the early 80s, so the whole concept was pretty new. We had one comic book store in walking distance very briefly: "Comics Universe." A whole UNIVERSE of comics! But they shuttered pretty quickly, and after that comic book stores were always like Oz for me. The end of a hard fought quest.

(Here "quest" basically just means "bus ride," plus talking somebody into taking you. And maybe McDonald's after.)

All of this is just a preamble so that I can say this: In the 1980s, in the comics industry, the cool kids self-published.

In the 1980s, creator rights at Marvel and DC Comics were still a work in progress. Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel didn't own Superman. Lee and Ditko and Kirby didn't own Spider-Man. Alan Moore didn't own Watchmen, even though he was REALLY SURE he owned Watchmen.

If you wanted to own your own stuff, you had to make your own stuff. Cerebus (before Dave Sim went insane), ElfQuest, Love and Rockets, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Make your own comics -- publish your own comics -- and set your own destiny. These guys were punk rockers in a world of Muzak. There was none of the stigma attached to self-publishing in comics that existed in traditional book publishing.

In the decades since, the creator rights situation has improved... somewhat. Mainstream publishers like Image Comics give creators a platform to bring their vision to print with little to no creative interference and without taking a cut of the rights.

When I did ArchEnemies back in the day, I assembled the complete creative team and brought them to Dark Horse Comics as a package. I had an editor who helped to traffic cop, but I directly wrote or signed off on everything that saw print, from covers to backmatter. I created the website and the social media pages. I wrote the solicitation copy that ran in the catalog.

That's not to diminish anybody else's contribution. At the time, I liked to describe myself as "the stupidest person in the room." Which is not to say that I thought I was stupid. (Or, heck, that we were ever all of us actually in one room at one time.) But I had faith that I'd surrounded myself with people who were at least as talented as I was (if not several orders of magnitude more talented). Without Yvel, Joe, Jim, Rick, and Philip, there wouldn't have been an ArchEnemies. Or if there was, it would have been a much different comic.

Possibly with fewer pictures?

Coming out of that experience, I had a bunch of ideas about what I wanted to do next. What I eventually settled on was the novel I'll be putting out later this year. And like ArchEnemies and other things I've written, it's a bit of an odd duck. As you'll hear about over the next couple of months, Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days is science-fantasy, starships and sorcery in the distant future. It's an adventure story that is at various points funny and scary and exciting and surprising and deeply, deeply weird. It's a heavy blendering of all the things I love about genre fiction poured into one book.

I've been working on Conspiracy, slow and steady-ish, for the past *cough* *cough* years, and as I've gotten closer and closer to the finish line, I've realized how much I want to own this thing. Not just the book rights, because of course. But the whole process, from cover to fonts to marketing copy to release date. In part, because I loved doing that kind of stuff on ArchEnemies. In part, because Conspiracy has such a specific sensibility, it really needs me to sell it. But mostly because, somewhere deep down in my child brain, self-publishing makes me one of the cool kids.

Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days will be available in print and ebook later this year. And, because you've been very patient today, here's a look at the eBook cover, the design of which should be entirely unsurprising to anyone who's been to drewmelbourne.com this year:

More to come.