Welcome to Independent Comics In Focus, a new feature here at Word of the Nerd where we talk to independent comics creators about their work, their process, and independent publishing. Today’s guest is Maki Naro, creator of the webcomic Sufficiently Remarkable.
Tell us about yourself as a comics creator. How did you get your start?
I’ve been drawing as far back as I can remember. Pretty early on I became enraptured by Calvin and Hobbes, and I knew that was something I wanted to do, even if I didn’t really know what I was doing. I remember taking all my comics—drawn on printer paper—and putting them in a manila envelope addressed to Universal Press and Syndicate. My dad fished it out of the mailbox, and I’ll always wonder if I missed out getting an adorable rejection letter. I first started drawing webcomics in high school in the late 90’s when the medium was beginning to take off. I had a quasi-popular comic about the game Everquest, which as far as I know, is the only thing on the internet to have been lost forever. I count my lucky stars on that one.
You write and draw a webcomic called Sufficiently Remarkable. What’s that all about?
Sufficiently Remarkable came out of Penny Arcade’s reality web series, Strip Search. During the show, we had to create a pitch for a webcomic. I wanted to do something I had never done before, so I wrote a story about two women and their near-future antics in New York City. At it’s heart, it’s about discovering that you’re always coming of age, and that there is wonder in the most unexpected places. It’s a really experimental piece for me, and I’ve learned a few things about storytelling along the way.
You also write comics that are educational, like OTP and Boxplot. Do you think comics can be good learning tools?
I’m a bit biased, but I think comics are some of the best learning tools. They’re fun, imaginative, and can appeal to a much broader audience than standard textbooks. For me, comics are perfect as a science communicator, because comics are a storytelling medium, and science is the ongoing story of how we as humans understand the world around us. Over the years, I’ve been tinkering with the ratio between story and science. OTP swings a little more on the story side, while Boxplot is generally more science and science culture. Sufficiently Remarkable is my attempt to get people thinking about science without reading a “science comic.”
What is the difference between writing a webcomic and writing a standard print comic? Which do you prefer?
For the most part, there isn’t much difference. Webcomics are formatted for the web, while print comics are formatted for printing. The beauty of webcomics is the freedom from page constraints, and early on I enjoyed drawing comics at any length or size that I wanted. Unfortunately, it came back to bite me later when I wanted to collect them into books. So these days I tend to work in standard page sizes which work for both web and print. OTP started as a very webby comic, so I had to redo the layout to get it to fit within print specifications.
You use a local printer to print your comics. Are there advantages to using a local printer rather something else, like a print on demand service?
As a new creator, I highly recommend print on demand. The profit margins are lower, but you don’t have to deal with storing or shipping inventory. You can also try a lot more things because it usually costs nothing to list an item. For my Kickstarter, I had about a hundred t-shirts printed. I decided I’d order an extra 150 or so to sell later, only to find that they don’t really sell. Now I have boxes of t-shirts sitting in my closet.
That said, I love supporting local printers, and there are benefits to fostering a good relationship with one. Fireball Printing has published all of my minicomics, and has generously sponsored books like OTP and Vaccines Work. They’re really great! Amazon Createspace is sort of in between print-on-demand and using a local printer. You can pretty easily create a book, list it on Amazon, and have copies shipped to conventions at cost.
What advice do you have for new comic creators?
You know Shia LaBeouf’s motivational video? My biggest advice is the same: DO IT. Don’t treat every work like it’s your magnum opus. The internet is a harsh place, but your ideas will never flourish in the safety of your headspace. I’ve had stories live out their entire lives and die without ever being put onto paper.
Also: GET PAID. It’s one thing to have a sketch blog where you post your doodles, but don’t give your work to somebody for free. Avoid contests. They’re terrible for the industry (more on that here: www.popsci.com/no-spec-work). Respect yourself and your work. People will notice.
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