The Community Interview with Blank Label Comics
Blank Label Comics is a collective of nine independent creators: Howard Tayler, David Willis, Paul Southworth, Kris Straub, Paul Taylor, Steve Troop, Brad Guigar, Dave Kellett and Greg Dean. Tayler, Willis, Troop, Taylor, Guigar, Kellett and Straub participated in our community interview.
1. Can you tell us a little about Blank Label Comics? What's the unifying theme, if any, of the collective? Motto or mascot? Can you tell us what each member contributes to BLC?
Howard Tayler: We never really thought of it this way. I'm more of a "motto" guy, and I think for Blank Label it would be something along the lines of "if we don't hang together we shall surely all hang separately."
David Willis: Our unifying theme is "We are all awesome." You know the part of the movie where there's this giant explosion in the background and the heroes walk in slow motion away from it as the music swells? Well, we don't do that. That's too cliched. But we could totally pull it off if we wanted to.
(Paul Southworth contributes the explosions.) ((He has gastrointestinal problems.))
Steve Troop: We should have a motto. No mascot, though... Maybe we should all have ascots, though... that might be fun. I like Howard's motto.
Paul Taylor: Basically we all help each other out when we can, however we can. We haven't officially assigned each other job titles but we do our best to jump in with whatever we feel our strong points are.
Brad Guigar: Blank Label is -- and always has been -- an independent comics co-op. We each help one another succeed as an independent businessperson. We share some aspects of our businesses. We sell ads for our sites as a unit, for example, and act independently in other instances -- such as book sales.
As far as a breakdown of contribution goes, aside from some broad strokes -- Kris has written most of the scripts that run many of our sites, for example, and I handle much of the public/media relations tasks -- everyone contributes to our ongoing discussion to the best of his own knowlege in each topic as it arises. Together, we have formed a formidable repository of know-how.
Dave Kellett: The unifying theme in my mind, is business. We're all cartoonists that respect one another's work and enjoy each other's humor, but the central and unifying idea behind it is 9 guys coming together to help one another succeed in their business as individuals. At times, this can mean pooling expenses, while at other times it is pooling expertise and advice. But the thing tying us all together is the goal to make our individual businesses succeedAs for the mascot...
I once drew up a mascot for BLC as a joke. He was called "Blankie", I think, but he was a joke even at conception.
2. A year has passed [since the founding of Blank Label Comics]. I'd like to hear about any lessons learned from the group in creating and promoting BLC. What worked well? What should have been done differently? - bobweiner
Tayler: There's a huge difference between "should have been done differently" and "COULD have been done differently." We have a lot of hard-won lessons, but since we don't get to go back and do things over, I'm going to have to say that I'm happy with our first year, missteps and all. Most of what we've learned is stuff along the lines of "Dave Kellet is better at working with book printers than anybody else we know," and had to be discovered through trial and error. If you're looking for advice on this front... well, all I can say is "be ready to learn from your mistakes, be flexible, and above all be forgiving."
Willis: I dunno if I'd do anything differently! I mean, everything we did, fly or crash, was an important part of the process of learning to work as an incredible team. That learning experience is way more important than any hindsight.
Troop: It think it's worked remarkably well. Even though not everybody's ideas make it to full-blown project, none of us ever feels as though we're being ignored.
Guigar: We've been very careful to try to make sure everyone has plenty of opportunity to sound off before we make any decisions. It's a cumbersome process, but it pays off in the long run.
3. What's on tap for BLC and its members for 2007? How do you make this year a time of forward progress for all of you individually and for Blank Label Comics as well?
Tayler: Thematically, everything "on tap" for 2007 is centered around helping more of us go full-time. When we kicked this off I think it was only me, or maybe me and Willis. So far this year we've seen Dave Kellet and Paul Taylor make the leap, so there are now four of us cartooning for a living. Expect to see more of us making more money, then. That probably means more BLC stuff in print, as well as lots of other merchandise in the pipeline. You'll see more of us at conventions, too.
Willis: We're going to put books out there. We're going to make a big presence at conventions we attend. We're going to be rockstars.
Troop: I'm not sure what the others have in mind, but Melonpool will further evolve from webcomic to full-blown multimedia event. 2007 is very much a transition year for me. But 2008 looks very promising.
Taylor: We're all working on making a unified Con presence in the coming years and more self published books on the way.
Guigar: As of right now, four of our members have been able to grow their businesses to the point at which they've been able to concentrate on their comics full time: Howard Tayler, Davis Willis, Dave Kellett, and Paul Taylor.
Steve Troop has gone through an amazing transformation in his work and Melonpool will further evolve from webcomic to full-blown multimedia event.
That's the strength of BLC -- it has helped each of these members to grow their business to the point that allowed them to do that.
Kellett: More and more of us are taking our cartooning work full-time, and I would hope that, by the end of 2007, we could add one or two more to that roster. Having just left Mattel, I can tell you that I have infinitely more time to work on Sheldon, Sheldon-related projects, and some other stuff that's coming down the pipe. And at the end of each work day, I'm 100% happier having worked in my studio that having commuted to my old job. Getting more BLC guys to experience that joy would just be awesome -- and I think that's a goal we all share.
4. Gilead Pellaeon wrote a column this month with five suggestions for what webcomics collectives can do (Collective 'lective, What Makes You Effective?) - what do you think about his advice and what would you add or subtract to it? What advice would you give to other webcomic collecitves?
Tayler: Collective 'lective was a much better article than its title suggested (yes, I get the "Conjunction Junction" reference.) I agree with pretty much everything Gilead Pellaeon wrote, at least in principle.
If you look at the five "joints" listed, you'll see that Blank Label does all of those to one degree or another. We have joint advertising and joint finances, but we also have individual advertising and finances. We have joint hosting available, but two of our members use other hosts, and this is working out just fine for us. We do joint convention attendance at the big events like Comic-Con International and Emerald City Comic Con, but we also attend conventions and events independently. The only place where we don't do much jointly is comics projects.
Ultimately, the model that we've adopted appears to be "if it's working well for one of us, maybe it's something ALL of us can use." That's where our hosting and advertising options came from. We incorporated because we saw how effective incorporation was for those few of us who were already individually incorporated, and that's where the joint finances came from. Oh, and the things each of us do when at conventions independently are tried out at our joint shows.
Willis: He left out the most important one! JOINT SENSE OF PURPOSE. The rest of those don't matter if everyone isn't on the same page about the seriousness (or not) of their craft. If some people are in this for fame and babes and mansions and others are just happy as they are, it's going to be tough to move the group anywhere. You have to have a shared motivation.
Troop: I rarely read blogs unless they feature the words "Steve," Troop," "Melonpool," "Star" or "Trek."
Taylor: I haven't read the article so I don't have a comment. As for learning experience to pass on to other possible collectives; keep your group small and work with people you know you'll get along with.
Guigar: I like Gillead. I'm sure I'd agree with almost everything he said. I have a wife, two kids, a daily comic, two weekly comics, and a full-time job. I don'tspend much time reading blogs. :)
Kellett: I don't agree with the column. You don't need shared comics projects, shared investments, nor do you need shared hosting.
With shared comics projects, the sum total is rarely greater than the component parts. If you have a joint Sheldon/Schlock/Real Life/Wapsi project you might think you'll have this great product that's going to be enjoyed by all of those disparate readerships. But more often than not, you end up with a disjointed project that appeals to none of those readerships, particularly, since it's 1/5 of what they actually go looking for.
And as for hosting, Blank Label shows you can host hither and dither, and still be effective.
As for joint money, I'm not sure this is significant, either. We do have shared accounts for certain inflow and outflow of cash, but it's a tiny percentage or our individual incomes. To have BLC bankroll a given cartoonist's projects just seems so foreign to me. Having Blank Label's money get involved with a print run wouls muddy the waters. We'd rather individually front the 5-10K for a book run on our own, and to run our own stores, than have the collective somehow assume that function. Or, if you have a book or concept you'd rather not risk the cash on, we've had a few members find success with Lulu runs. But in each case, it's been a case of the individual deciding how much they're willing to risk and for how much reward.
But I will agree that we've benefited from shared convention appearances/costs/preparations, and from shared advertising. And, on the most basic level, we benefit from the readership that is driven towards one another's titles.
5. Is BLC a democracy? How do collective decisions get made? Is it by consensus, or majority, or whoever types the loudest? :)
Tayler: Blank Label Comics is a member-managed LLC whose bylaws and charter are still in flux. For now, call it a "messy democracy." Or maybe a "meritocracy," since the ideas that have been proven to work for one or two of us are the things being considered for all of us.
Willis: I like Howard's "messy democracy" description. Compromises sometimes must be made, but they can be made because we're rough-and-tumble believers in ourselves and what we do.
Troop: Whatever ideas gets us the most excited. Creativity is action here at BLC.
Guigar: We try to achieve a consensus for most issues.
Kellett: For large-scale decisions, we tend to want unaninimity on a decision. But in most day-to-day decisions, a simple plurality usually carries the day.