Comic Books, Self-Publishing and the Vanity Press

Johanna Draper Carlson of Comics Worth Reading pondered why self-published comics are treated differently than self-published books.

These sources rely on publishers to serve as a filter, believing them to have winnowed out lower-quality books, so that the big name becomes a way to vouch for the quality of the material.

Comics has always been different when it comes to this, without people looking down as much on those who self-publish. (The term “vanity press” doesn’t have any meaning in comics.) After all, when you have gifted creators achieving success with works such as Bone or Finder or Strangers in Paradise, it’s hard to argue that self-published works are poor quality. And artist-driven works are often more interesting, vibrant, and creative than the franchise maintenance works coming from the big US comic publishers, as well as more diverse in subject, genre, and viewpoint.

Still, for a second, I was thinking about how different my to-do stack would be with this rule in place. I’d have more time for books from outlets like Oni, Top Shelf, and Dark Horse, less for discovering the next artist to watch.

There are a few major differences between the two art forms, which could account for why self-published comics don’t have the vanity press stigma.

Under most circumstances, it takes longer to produce a graphic novel than it does a novel. So the nature of the medium serves as a filter. You’re going to have a lot more unreadable dreck in the medium where it requires less time and capital to produce 200 pages of content. Drawing a comic book also requires the belief that you have some artistic talent, as well as a bit more capital, considering the cost of the tools. That further weeds out the least competent and motivated wannabes.

It takes less time to read a comic than it does to read a novel. The smaller commitment means that a critic will be more likely to give something new a shot, and much more likely to find something worth recommending. It’s also a bit easier to browse through a comic book, and determine if there’s a good chance that the art and pacing will be to your liking.

The novel is also the default format of the “standard” publishing industry, due to the lack of interest in serials and short stories. Comics fans and critics have traditionally been more accepting of short-form material, either in self-published mini-comics, web-comics or the usual 22 page pamphlet, which can be subdivided into one-shots, mini series or regular series. So you won’t waste as much time reading lower-quality books. And once you’ve enjoyed someone’s work, you’re more likely to seek out more of it and to enjoy more of it, the equivalent of reading another novel by a writer you admire.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at
This entry was posted in Comics Industry, Criticism, Pop-Culture Trends, Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Comic Books, Self-Publishing and the Vanity Press

  1. Hi Thomas,
    On a similar note,, It takes creative people to come up with the adventures that we read and get lost in on the pages of our favorite comic books.
    Great Job!

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