do I start? When I started creating Chilltown, I never looked beyond
the product--meaning the creative process. Every moment was consumed
with the look, feel and actual production of the book. Since I had never
created a comic book before (and didn't know much about comic books
to begin with) EVERYTHING was a learning experience. From the computer
production necessary, to sending the files to the printer, to finding
a printer, to learning how to letter, how to effectively write (still
getting that together!), to trying to get the best possible work from
my artists and convey the feel I wanted. Before I started the book,
I remember saying to someone, "Hmmmmm, I think I'll have my comic
be 27 pages long!" Of course one of the first things I found out
was comics are printed in 16 page increments.
Almost from the start, I joined the Comics-Pro Mailing list. That's
where I heard about the Xeric Foundation. I had already made the decision
to print up 3000 issues of the book before I got the grant, because
I was taking xerox copies of it around to try and get interest from
advertisers, stores, magazines etc. I realized nobody was gonna take
me seriously unless I had the finished product so I took the plunge
and charged it on my credit card. Two weeks later, 600 pounds of comics
were sitting in my tiny studio apartment in New York City. I was dead
broke, didn't know how I was gonna be able to promote it or ship it
(much less pay off the credit card bill) when I found out I was a Xeric
recipient! Talk about living on the edge!
Getting the grant has enabled me to start to effectively promote and
distribute the book. Because Chilltown is hip-hop oriented, I had already
decided two things: (1) to promote, market and distribute it like an
underground hip-hop record and (2) to keep the price at $1.95 because
my target audience is NOT an indy comic audience (i.e., they're not
about to fork over $2.95 or more for a comic book, especially a black
and white one).
After consulting with Randy Ward, the head of 88 Hip-Hop, one of the
most respected hip-hop radio shows on the internet and a major player
in the hip-hop community, I decided that the first order of business
was to make promotional stickers to hand out. That's what the record
labels do. Randy looked through the book and suggested one of the more
controversial panels from the book--The Last Supper panel, featuring
Tupac Shakur and Shug Knight in the lobby of the MGM Grand. I had it
colorized and printed. I've been getting UNBELIEVEABLE feedback and
response from the sticker. Everyone wants one. I've even been sticking
them through my printer and making up custom messages on the back and
they've helped sales. When Tower picked up the book, I gave them a hundred
stickers that said the book was available in Tower and kids picked them
up immediately. I've already sold out three times in Tower--so far one
store, but will be adding more in the near future. New York University
bookstore just ordered 50 books and wanted the stickers too. It was
a good marketing decision. I only paid $625 for 5000 4 inch by 7 inch
full color stickers. I had to spend about a week searching to get that
price (Go Tape Label Manufactures), but it was worth it. Again, if I
didn't have the Xeric Grant, I couldn't have paid for that.
In the middle of my sticker frenzy, I got a great review in the Detroit
Metro Times. A friend of mine in Detroit had given a copy of the book
to someone he knew who was a journalist. He loved the book, interviewed
me and the article ran about 6 weeks ago. It was picked up in about
20 other papers. The article was so strong, I've included it in the
press packs I've been sending out.
Ahh, the press packs!
When Diamond Distributors picked up the book, they said it helped if
you mailed out flyers telling retailers when the book was going to be
in Previews. I made up press releases and included a copy of the cover
(a tip I got from the Comics-Pro mailing list). When I had the book
printed, it only ran an additional $70 to have 1000 copies of the front
and back printed up. I mailed about 350 out to indy-friendly retailers,
a list I got from Jeff Mason's (Indy Mag) site. When my Diamond orders
came in (close to 500 books ordered) I had to pack them up and ship
them out. If I didn't have Xeric, I probably would have gone into the
red cause my percentage from Diamond is $.78 per book. It cost roughly
$.58 to print. Figure in shipping costs (yes, the publisher is responsible
for shipping) and you roughly net about$.01 per book. You definitely
shouldn't go into this field if you're interested in making any money!!!!!!
When the Detroit Metro Times came out, I gathered about 600 names from
the internet of djs, music people, comic reviewers, etc and mailed out
an e-mail press release. The Metro Times ran the article on their web
site for a week and I tried to take advantage of that. Now the promo
ball was starting to roll.
I made copies of the article, and went to Barnes and Noble where I wrote
down the names, addresses and phone numbers of about 50 magazines. I
called many and sent them a press pack (press release, book, sticker,
Metro Times article). I'm still in the middle of it. I learned to take
one day at a time. One small achievement at a time. I thought everything
would happen at once, but it's happening gradually and building. I've
been getting a really good response. I decided to take a display classified
ad out in The Source, the biggest hip-hop oriented magazine there is.
My first ad is in the current issue (Sept, back to school). The magazine
hit the streets a couple of days ago and I've already received 10 orders!!!
I placed another ad for the next issue last week and got a call from
the Source saying the publisher saw the book (when I went there, I brought
copies of the book and sticker and handed them out) and loved it and
plans to do an editorial piece on it! I don't know when it will run,
but hopefully in the next few months.
I again called upon Randy Ward from 88 Hip-Hop. He recommended a solid
street promotor--Nelson T. He handles the street promo for Wu Tang Clan.
We had several meetings and I decided to hire him. I had 5000 postcards
made up (I already was over my Xeric allotment, unfortunately, so I
racked up another credit card purchase) and gave him 3000 stickers and
the remainder of the covers I had printed. I also printed messages on
the back of the covers so they can be used as flyers. Nelson and his
team will be hitting all the industry parties, djs, barber shops, mom
and pop stores. To create a buzz. Then I can follow up with calls and
books. It's a very very time consuming, costly process. But I realize,
this is what's necessary to build a product. I get cold calls almost
every day from people who are interested. This Friday a tv crew is coming
here to interview me for a tv show in Taiwan. They had seen the comic
in a local store and asked the owner for my number. It's hard cause
I'm doing it all myself. But worth it. Creating comics is one of the
only mediums that allows complete artist expression. You can't place
a value on that.
So where does Chilltown stand today? Well, I'm continuing the promo.
And plan a second promo blitz to announce the web site launch. I finishing
writing book two and the web site. I have interest to create a tv series
around the characters. I had a really positive meeting at VIBE magazine
with their CEO who said they'd be interested in publishing the book.
I also had a meeting with one of my heroes--graffiti artist Andre Charles.
He wants to do huge graffiti murals of the characters on NYC buildings.
We're hoping to work together on advertising and he expressed interest
in publishing the book. Everything looks hopeful. I hope you guys continue
giving out grants. I definitely couldn't have done this much without
your support. While my ways of promo are unorthodox in the traditional
comic book sense, they're working. When my web site officially launches--hopefully
in about a month--I plan on having an on-going journal so other creators
can learn from my experiences. THANKS SO MUCH FOR EVERYTHING!!!
Leesa "Ki" Dean-- June 1998