Sheika Lugtu is 24 and a student at Long Beach City College. A couple of years ago, she returned to school and decided to document her life in comic form, one panel a day. "At the end of the year, I'd have something to show for it," she says.
Lugtu published her comic, called OMG Cow, online. She acquired a following, but the audience made it clear that they wanted something tangible. So she printed copies off her computer and stapled them together. "I started charging for it because it costs a lot of money to print out 365 pages," the Long Beach-based artist explains.
Like a lot of writers and artists, Lugtu chose to eschew the the world of book deals in favor of self-publishing. At Long Beach Comic Expo, a small, one-day event that focuses almost exclusively on comics, self-published books are the norm. Works range from raw to slick, from mini-comics to art books, and are sold largely by the creators themselves.Self-publishing is nothing new in the comic book world, nor is it rare. For decades, artists and writers have been going the do-it-yourself route to bring their unconventional tales to life. Sometimes, the success stories are astonishing. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is best known now as a kid-friendly cartoon series, but it began life as a DIY comic. While that kind of underground-to-mainstream phenomenon isn't incredibly common, self-publishing has launched many careers. Brothers Chris and Shane Houghton created the successful all-ages comic Reed Gunther on their own before Image picked up on it. Meanwhile, Sam Humphries' self-published satire Our Love Is Real helped him become an in-demand writer.
There are a lot of reasons to go without a publisher.
"No one wanted to pick me up," says Luis Calderon, whose credits include Deadtective and the series Space Johnny. "Looking at it now, it's just much better that I own my stuff than selling it to the big two or the smaller seven."
Frequently, artists and writers point out that self-publishing allows them to retain the rights to their work, but there are other benefits. By working on their own, creators have more control over everything from the size of the books to the price points.
"I don't have to listen to anyone else how it's going to be printed, how it's going to be formatted," says Doug Kline, who released his comic-related guidebook Unauthorized San Diego Comic-Con Survival Guide. Kline had a specific idea for the look of his book -- it had to fit into a pocket -- and he was able to do that on his own.