Let’s face it, creating your own comic book or graphic novel is awesome! If you’re a skilled comic book artist in your spare time then, why not look at how to earn some extra income from your work? In this post we’ll take a look at how to turn your hobby into a viable side-hustle.
Adobe Illustrator is a great tool to create your own comic books. You can turn these into ebooks and sell them on dedicated marketplaces or your own website. Using a print-on-demand service is a simple way of selling physical copies. Market your work by posting on webcomic sites or YouTube.
There’s a lot to unpack there so lets dive more into the detail…
- What is The Best Software to Create Comic Books and Graphic Novels?
- How to Publish Comic Books Online and Earn Money
- How to Turn Your Comic Book into an Ebook
- How to Print Physical Copies of Your Comic Book
- How to Earn More from Your Comic Book Artwork
- How to Gain Exposure for Your Comic Book Art
What is The Best Software to Create Comic Books and Graphic Novels?
Whether you’re sketching digitally or scanning a hand-sketch, you will need software to create your final line work, lettering and then to add color.
Whilst it can help to have some advanced software tools, for the purposes of creating comic book art, these aren’t strictly necessary. If your budget will stretch to it though, it can make life easier.
Line Work and Lettering
Using a vector drawing package will ensure your line work is clean, scalable and easily editable. When finished, you can export your work for coloring to a raster image package.
Some of the most popular options to consider are:
- Adobe Illustrator (premium) – paid link
- Affinity Designer (budget)
- InkScape (free)
My personal recommendation is Adobe Illustrator as this is really the industry standard for illustrators. It will provide you with all the features you need as your skills continue to grow. If you’re on a tighter budget then have a look at the other options I have listed as these are also solid pieces of software.
Adding color to your line work is done in a raster image-editing program so, you’ll need to import it first to convert your vector file into pixels. Make sure you’ve done any edits you want beforehand since this isn’t reversible.
Great options for coloring software are:
- Adobe Photoshop (premium) – paid link
- Affinity Photo (budget)
- GIMP (free)
Once again Adobe serves up another industry-standard package in Adobe Photoshop. I strongly recommend using this if you can afford it since it’s packed with features and I personally find it much easier to use than GIMP, for example.
How to Publish Comic Books Online and Earn Money
Whilst there’s nothing like holding a physical comic book in your hands, many fans would rather consume your content digitally.
Luckily there are a plethora of ways to satisfy this desire. All of these ideas work together so try and do all of them if you can…
Your Own Website
You should start by creating your own website and hosting your comics on it yourself as a minimum.
Even though, in the beginning, you won’t have any traffic to your site, you will need it later on as somewhere to point interested fans and business contacts as you become more well known.
When posting your work elsewhere on the web you can link to your site to show it’s genuine.
It will also serve as your main ability to monetize your content by selling your own products or linking to where people can buy them.
The biggest benefit of having your own website is that you are in control of access to your audience unlike on social media. This means you can stay in contact if they choose to subscribe to your email list.
There are a number of ways to monetize your website which will gradually build revenue with growing traffic. The main ways are:
Display Adverts – sign up to one of the ad networks such as Google Adsense or Ezoic and place ads on your sites around your webcomic panels. Income will scale with total view time of ads.
Sell Digital Products – a good example being ebooks of your comics. A great idea is to offer your first issue as a free download that customers can get if they sign up to your email list where you can then promote your other products.
Sell Physical Products – this can be via an integration with a print-on-demand service for physical comics or merch. Another option is to self-fund a print run and hold stock that you send to customers yourself.
Subscriptions – you could offer exclusive issues and products or early access to subscribers.
Sponsorships – if you have grown a large following then you might be able to gain sponsorship to promote specific products on your site.
Webcomics have been around for a long while and are literally just comic book pages on a webpage. Posting your comics on webcomic sites can generate some income if they offer a revenue-share program but a larger benefit is the excellent exposure. Link to your own website to show the rest of your portfolio and drive sales of your own products.
There are plenty of specialist webcomic sites and also dedicated forums. Some to take a look at are:
- Webtoon – wide range of webcomics offered. Their open platform called Canvas allows publishers to submit their work to the site. The Ad Revenue Sharing program offers monetization possibilities.
- Reddit – there are a number of good subReddits for comic books including r/comics and r/comicbooks.
- Tapas – open platform for publishers to post their work and share ad revenue.
- Bored Panda – A community for artists and photographers with a comics section.
- Graphite Comics – Offers both a free service with ads and a subscription-based tier for readers. The Graphite Upload program allows creators to post their work and monetize it.
- ComicFury – Free platform to upload your comic. No monetization option and the quality of work is pretty low. Might gain you some limited exposure but there are better options out there.
YouTube is the second largest search engine after Google and unlike other social media, once you have created content on your channel it will continue to earn you views for many years to come.
Typically, comic book artists will produce videos by simply converting their panels into a slide show and exporting it as a video to YouTube.
Once you meet YouTube’s minimum subscriber and view time requirements you can then monetize your videos with ads to start earning some income.
Make sure you direct your fans to your website from your videos to create some significant extra traffic.
One step further than a webcomic, yet still staying digital, is to publish your comic as an ebook and sell it. This can either be via your own website using an e-commerce platform like Shopify or through a dedicated marketplace.
Some of the big marketplaces for ebooks are:
Kindle Direct Publishing – Amazon’s ebook and print-on-demand platform. It has now absorbed the popular Comixology website and is by far the most popular place to sell. It features the Comixology Guided Reading experience which adds a cinematic experience to reading. Have a look at the Kindle Publishing Guidelines for more detailed information.
Apple Books – The second largest ebook marketplace with a strong comic book game. Not quite up to the quality of KDP however. Have a look at Apple’s documentation for guidance.
Barnes and Noble Press – A big player for ebooks from the owners of the Nook brand and also a traditional physical book seller. Also offers a print-on-demand service as well.
Kobo – An upcoming ebook marketplace that also sells their own ebook readers. There has been a lot of excitement about Kobo so it’s worth taking a look at.
Whilst these marketplaces do offer the benefit of having a significant customer base, you will be competing with thousands of other sellers. Therefore it still makes sense to market your product outside of the platforms to drive traffic to your listings.
How to Turn Your Comic Book into an Ebook
Even though you have digital versions of your comic book panels there is still more work to be done to generate an ebook from it. You’ll need to assemble the pages together and convert it into the right format. Some additional steps may also be required depending on the publishing platform.
Software to Turn Your Comic Book into an Ebook
Once you have created each of your panels / pages of your comic or graphic novel than you will need to be able to combine them into an ebook.
This required software capable of creating a “fixed-layout ebook”. That means you design the layout yourself which is then not able to be changed by the reading device. This is basically the same as designing for print so will translate nicely if you decide to also pursue print-on-demand.
Automatic layout changes can happen for text-based ebooks when the reading device resizes text and moves around paragraphs to fit the screen. These are known as reflowable and that’s not something you want for your comic book or graphic novel.
Adobe InDesign is a good choice that will provide you with a lot of features and the freedom to design it as you wish. Find out more about InDesign’s specific ebook publishing features over on Adobe’s website (paid link).
Amazon have their own free tool called Kindle Create which has great documentation specifically for Comic Books. It will accept a PDF or set of JPEGs and then help you construct your ebook from those.
Using Kindle Create allows you to take advantage of their Guided View experience, originally developed by Comixology. Check out the video below for a demo of Guided View.
Which File Format Is Best for a Comic Ebook?
There are a number of ebook file formats to choose from but if you’re in a hurry then I’ll cut to the chase…make a PDF! Your book will be a fixed layout and proprietary tools for marketplaces such as Amazon will require it anyway.
For those of you that want a better explanation, here it is…
PDF (recommended) – the most universal and easiest to create. Using this file format will enable you to sell you work on most marketplaces and be read by almost all devices. Text size is not adjustable on the reading device as with ePub (see below) but since you’ll be making a fixed-layout ebook this does not matter. A PDF can be used to import into Amazon’s Kindle Create tool which will then convert into their KPF format.
ePub – the best format for text-based ebooks due to it’s formatting options but not for comic books. ePub works well for reflowable books where the text size can be adjusted to suit the reader’s device which then dynamically adjusts the paragraphs. Whilst great on a normal book, this is not really relevant on a comic book or graphic novel where each page is purely an image.
Mobi – Umbrella term for Amazon’s Kindle AZW, AZW3, and KFX formats. Supports fixed format books but it would be best to just import a PDF into their Kindle Create tool and spit out a KPF.
KPF – Amazon’s format generated by their Kindle Create tool. It includes additional information such as their Guided View experience. A PDF or set of JPEGs is required so you might as well just have made that PDF anyway huh?
For a more in-depth comparison of these formats check out this post on kindlepreneur.com.
How to Print Physical Copies of Your Comic Book
If you’re wanting to physically print your comic books and aren’t a professional comic book artist then there are really only two main options open to you: funding a print-run yourself or use a print-on-demand service.
Self-Funding a Print-Run of a Comic Book
Self-funding a print-run of your comic is the most financially risky since it requires upfront investment. However, to see a stack of your own comic is undeniably cool!
It can also be cheaper than print-on-demand per copy due to the economies of scale if you’re printing a larger quantity.
If you’re also looking to turn your hobby into a profession one day then, having a stack of physical copies means that you can attend events and hand them out to publishers. Whilst an option, this is a bit outside of the scope of this blog, as turning pro is still technically working for The Man!
…to see a stack of your own comic is undeniably cool!
So, let’s bring it back on track. Self-publishing also lends itself to having your own ecommerce store and helps minimize costs if you don’t mind shouldering the financial burden of the stock. You’ll also need somewhere to store it!
It would make sense to test customer interest with a small run of print-on-demand copies and then scale up with a self-publishing run where the costs are lower in volume.
Personally I prefer the print-on-demand dropshipping model below.
Print-On-Demand Services for Comic Books
Using a print-on-demand service has a number of great benefits that really help a new comic book artist.
If you combine a print-on-demand service with either a marketplace or ecommerce solution then there is no (or very little) upfront cost to you. Copies are only printed when a customer order is received.
Most print-on-demand services will also dropship to your customers so that avoids the need to handle inventory and logistics.
Very small production runs can be ordered by yourself at any time if you decide you want some copies to help gain exposure at events or just to show friends and family.
The cost per copy printed will be higher than self-funding a print-run so it makes the most sense for very low volume or to take advantage of the dropshipping element if you’re lazy like me.
Some of the most popular print-on-demand services for comic books include:
- Kindle Direct Publishing – Part of Amazon and available internationally. Lower cost per book than competitors. Offers ebooks publishing too.
- IngramSpark – Excellent distribution, quality and hardcover binding. Also offers ebooks.
- Lulu – A number of great features including inside cover printing, an api to sell on your site and worldwide distribution to third party sellers including Amazon. Ebook publishing also available.
- Barnes and Noble Press (Formally Nook Press). A big physical store presence in the US with the ability to order your book in-store. As with the other platforms ebooks are also offered.
How to Earn More from Your Comic Book Artwork
Having gone to all the trouble of creating some epic comic book content, why not offer your favorite covers or panels on other products and maximize your revenue.
Create Wall Art
This is an excellent option to increase the value that your work delivers. Fans of your comics will likely throw money at you to have a poster due to the fact that comics are art!
As already discussed, use a print-on-demand service to prove demand before ordering a run of posters. Alternatively, use it as a no-fuss dropshipping option. Some print-on-demand services that offer posters are:
- Society6 – Artist-centric print on demand platform
- Redbubble – One of the big players in print-on-demand
- Threadless – These guys focus on content with strong graphic design
- Etsy using a print-on-demand service integration such as Printify or Printful
- Your own website with a print-on-demand service integration
Why stop at posters? If you’re already creating listings using a print-on-demand service then applying your art to other products is easy.
…maybe a nice tote bag from Printify doesn’t fit your Angry-Revenge-Space-Pirate graphic novel brand!
Due to the visual nature of comic book art, it translates extremely well onto merchandise and can convert well with fans since they already love your style.
Choose products that you think your audience would actually want to purchase. For example Threadless will print on skateboards which, might be a great idea. Maybe a nice tote bag from Printify doesn’t fit your Angry-Revenge-Space-Pirate graphic novel brand though!
If you want to know more about print-on-demand, have a look at my post 35+ Ways To Make Money as a Digital Creative.
How to Gain Exposure for Your Comic Book Art
You can have the best comic or graphic novel in the world but without anyone to see it, you won’t get the recognition you deserve or earn any money from it either. Let’s run through a few key ways to market your work.
My advice is not to waste your time promoting on social media as those platforms want to keep users on their platform as much as possible rather than promoting external links. Your time would be better spent creating new artwork.
That being said, more specialized digital art sites such as Behance and ArtStation are worth considering but they are aimed at fellow creatives rather than consumers.
However, many consumers of comics and graphic novels are also artists themselves so you still might get some love on those platforms. They can also provide advice and help industry exposure if that’s what you’re after.
Forums are a good place to promote your work to gain peer feedback and some industry exposure.
There won’t necessarily be a lot of customers on them unless they are also artists themselves though. You’ll need to find better methods of getting access to potential customers.
Deviant Art would have been a great place previously to post your work but, some say, has significantly declined in recent times.
Reddit is still a good option with a number of active subReddits for comic books.
Attend Comic Book Events
Getting some physical copies or merch printed through a print-on-demand service can be a good idea if you’re going to attend an event.
Hand these out and it might gain you a small following that can snowball. Ensure you have your online presence set up to showcase your work and make this clear on your freebies!
Direct-Contact Publishers and Comic Book Stores
Competition is fierce so don’t necessarily expect anything to come out of direct contact with potential industry partners. It’s still worth a shot though – just make sure your work is top-notch and that you have a good body of work in your portfolio if they go looking for more.
If you’ve got a talent for creating comic books or graphic novels then turning it into a side-hustle is perfectly possible. Your best bet is to turn your work into ebooks and sell them on your own website or one of the online comic book platforms. Expand your offering with posters and merch once you have a following.
If you found this post useful then you might want to check out 35+ Ways To Make Money as a Digital Creative.
Featured image: kirkchai / stock.adobe.com
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