Self-Publishing a Graphic Novel to Prove a TV Concept

***AFTER READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE READ MY FOLLOW UP ARTICLE HERE***

I have a Sci-Fi pilot that I’m told would be a tough sell in Canada. No cops, doctors, or lawyers. Even as I continue to gather notes from trusted colleagues to improve the story, I can’t help but feel nervous about the fact that there are only a small handful of places I could pitch the project, even if the story was perfect.

I’ve been doing a lot of research over the past few days into Graphic Novels because I keep hearing how they can be a great way to prove a concept by sewing an audience, prior to pitching a project to a broadcaster. The graphic novel route has the added benefit of potentially recovering development expenses through book sales.

It turns out that TV scripts convert easily into Graphic Novel format (you push a button in Final Draft). From there, you hire an artist to draw the novel – a process not much different from creating story boards for a feature film.

There are considerations, such as ensuring the big reveal always happens after turning a page – which means a lot of thought needs to go into how many panels are used on a page to visually tell the story. The art itself, the gestures, and direction of the lines, will also have a subconscious affect on the story, so careful thought must be given there as well.

A 54 page script works out to be about 54 pages in a Graphic Novel. It takes 7-10 days for an artist to design the characters and environments, as well as to create thumbnail sketches of the panels themselves. Once that prep work is done, the artist can expect to complete about a page per day in full colour.

Publishing the Graphic Novel can be done free of charge using Amazon’s Kindle Comic Creator. I’m thinking that publishing the Graphic Novel as an e-book would be the simplest, most straightforward way to go. No printing. No worries about distribution. Amazon pays a 70% royalty on each sale.

Amazon also has built-in marketing tools that can be leveraged to promote the book across its world-wide network. If it’s about generating sales, to grow an audience, to prove the concept to a broadcaster, it might make more sense to sell the book at a lower price.

This is a snapshot of what I’ve learned so far. I realize it sounds a bit simplistic, but it’s really got my wheels turning. I googled ‘Book Adaptations in Hollywood’ and found the following statistics;

• 85 percent of all Academy Award-winning Best Pictures are adaptations.
• 45 percent of all television movies-of-the-week are adaptations, (70 percent of all Emmy Award winners come from these films).
• 83 percent of all miniseries are adaptations (95 percent of Emmy Award winners are drawn from these films).
Given how easy it is to self-publish, then access a mass market, the idea seems to have merit. Of course, the whole house of cards will collapse if the story is shit – which brings me back to my current rewrite.

16 thoughts on “Self-Publishing a Graphic Novel to Prove a TV Concept

  1. You should talk to a comics professional before you assess the value of your research so far. There are some very interesting ideas about how long the conceptual/layout process takes in addition to the production speed from approved layouts to final, colour art.

    • Hi Richard,

      I’m not claiming to be an expert in the genre of graphic novels, nor am I saying that I am the first to think of this strategy. I was simply summarizing my research into the idea to date.

      I did consult with a professional artist to get a sense of what would be involved, and her comments jived with what I read online from other artists.

      In choosing to work with an artist, I would consider it wise to work with someone who lives and breathes the genre. I know the demographic is very passionate about comics, just as I am very passionate about story.

      Two passionate artists collaborating on a graphic novel should add up to something great at the end of the day.

  2. Hi Jarrett,

    I don’t think there’s a danger of anyone thinking you’re presenting yourself as an expert here. You blog post is making the rounds among people with actual comics experience and is quite entertaining.

    BTW, comics aren’t a genre.

  3. Jarrett, I loved the blog. I’d love to help you out. I have some material I’ve always been interested in getting out there but never knew a good medium in which to do it. If it’s research or what-not I’d like to help and learn along with you. Let me know. It’s worth a shot.

    Jaret Veresh

  4. if your script is 54 pages, your finished product will be considerably longer.

    7-10 days to do what now?

    and, no, my friend, TV scripts do NOT convert easily to comic book scripts for a host of reasons. No matter what you seem to have inferred from FINAL DRAFT.

    TV/FILM scripts describe images in motion. Comic scripts describe a series of stills in succession. They are not even remotely similar and many a TV writer has learned to their chagrin that the skills do not automatically transfer. As have many comic book luminaries learned the converse.

    Rule No. 1: RESPECT the medium. If you think any aspect of this is easier than writing for film or TV then you are not approaching it with the proper respect.

    Also, comics buyers can smell it when someone is attempting to use them as a stepping stone.

    If making the comic book is not the thing, it will show and you will produce a substandard effort. Guaranteed.

    • Hi Geoffrey,

      I wrote a quick little article on my quiet little blog, not expecting, or desiring much attention. I write mostly for myself to check in with my own thoughts, for my own reasons. In the 8 years that I’ve been writing my blog, I’ve never had more than a couple dozen hits on a single article. I like it that way because writing for a mass audience fucks with my sense of honesty.

      With that said, I see how my words can erroneously reflect a flippant attitude towards artists who live, breathe and sleep comic books, and the fans who buy them.

      I have a story that I am passionate to tell. I believe it will resonate with fans of the Sci-Fi genre, a number of whom also love comics.

      I plan to write a more thoughtful article tomorrow, with a particular homage to the artists and fans of comics.

  5. Hey Jarrett…good research, but keep in mind, 64 percent of statistics are made up 82 percent of the time. Good luck…..

  6. Howdy Jarrett!

    Most of your post matches a lot of perceived notions about graphic novels. As a small publisher, I can tell you that though it may sound simple, the road is usually not that easy.

    In order to be successful, your story should be designed for whatever medium you choose to utilize. In my experience, there’s no quick transfer of a script from teleplay to comic nor vice versa.

    However, I think the biggest misconception is the cost. You wrote that this “route has the added benefit of potentially recovering development expenses through book sales.” In order to create a 56-page gn (there is no such thing as a 54-page book), you’ll need to budget on average $100 per page. And that’s not including publishing costs, since your plan is digital-only. In this market, that’s a huge number of sales needed for you to break even, let alone make any funds to help take it to another medium.

    I’m not saying that it is impossible. I’ve seen it happen. But I’m sad to say it is not the norm.

    If you’re ultimate goal is for your story to be a movie/tv series. I would stick with pitching the screenplay and maybe self-produce a pilot or trailer so that folks can see its potential. A 3-minute spot on YouTube would cost less to put together than the average graphic novel and could reach a much larger audience.

    If you really want to see your story in a comic format, then by all means go for it! This is not meant to discourage you, just to provide more info. I’d be happy to assist with any specific questions you may have.

    Good luck!

    Mike Gordon
    http://www.newlegendproductions.com

  7. i think a lot of people have already brought up good points, and (not to be negative) i am sure many other comics creators who have seen links to this post have made even more, ahem, pointed comments.
    some big things:
    1 – the whole “easier/cheaper” issue has already been brought up, and it’s true. unless you find a VERY green/hack artist, you will either have to pay either $80+ per page, or be willing to split some of the rights and/or future payments based on the project. also, unless you find a super-genius or methed-out hack, you are not going to get decent thumbnails of a 50+ page comic in a week.
    production of a comic from script to final pages — even excluding traditional production and distribution — takes at least 4-6 months for a 50 page comic with a single artist (, who will also have to do the lettering and pre-press work, analogous to film editing and post-production).
    even without the cost of physical printing, the comic will require an investment in art etc, and will also demand a good deal of self-promotion. that also takes up a tremendous amount of time and energy, otherwise even the most brilliant comic will just sit in a corner of the internet. creators need to research what sites, venues, and social media are best suited to promote their work.
    2 – think about comics in film/tv terms. both are visual media. but they make VERY different demands on their creators. for example, a film script typically does not consider camera angles, blocking, lighting etc. it would be a waste of time by the writer, and something of an insult to the rest of the production. even small shows and films have scores of specialists for lighting, camera work, casting, directing, production design, and editing.
    but even the largest comic production involves a total of 3 specialists — penciller, inker, colorist — and most indie comics only have a single artist. they are going to make a LOT of decisions that have a huge impact on how the story is ingested (and this doesn’t even factor in the actual STYLE of the artists, which can have a huge impact). you might want to think about how much control you want to have over those decisions.
    (it’s also worth pointing out that, compared to film, there is practically no program or path for comic storytelling and illustration. for the most part, comics creators are self-taught when it comes to creating stories that make the most of the comics medium.)

    i don’t know how many comics have been translated to film/tv as part of a specific plan by non-commics creators. i’m sure it’s possible, but frankly, people do comics because they can’t stand doing anything else. comics are pretty much never a shortcut to anything.
    so if you want to take that path, good luck! but don’t plan on it being easier or cheaper than any other path. it will definitely take a lot more time and effort than you can plan for, and may or may not pay off in the end. (in terms of money and success, non-superhero/non-mainstream comics usually do not pay off.)

  8. Pingback: Wading into the Universe of The Graphic Novel | The Mind of Jarrett

  9. A page a day in full colour, by one artist? No. Where did you get that from? That’s absurd.

    Don’t get me wrong- there ARE people who can do that. But they are not the norm by any stretch of the imagination. There is a reason that the art team for the average monthly 20 page comic book is comprised of three people. Even then it’s very rare for those three people to produce every single issue; most monthly comics have at least one “fill in” issue a year. These are professionals working full time on just comics. If you want that level of productivity you have to be prepared to pay a professional page rate.

    If you’re expecting the artist(s) to get paid on the back end, you have to assume that they will be working on your project in the evenings and at weekends- in which case, a realistic expectation is more like one page a week. If you’re lucky. You will also have to expect to experience several false starts with different artists before you find the right one. Artists who are willing to work for no money up-front are rare, and generally have little experience or are very choosy about they work on or both.

    As for the logistics of converting a TV script to a comic script… I’m not even sure where to start. The two mediums are completely different. It’s like turning a painting into a sculpture; while the audience experience may be superficially similar, the creative process and skills involved are radically different.

      • I just did. Way to miss the point.

        Yes, people are irritated by your seemingly flippant attitude to the medium (MEDIUM, not genre) of comics- but the big issue is actually the erroneous statements you make regarding the actual logistics, particularly with regard to how long it takes a professional artist to produce the art. You fail to address these in your follow up.

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