Wednesday, June 07, 2017

CIY: Comic It Yourself

(From Ray X X-Rayer #135.)

Impetus: Cerebus The Aardvark.

When he was around twelve years old Doug Arthur's three-years-older brother brought home a number of independent/underground comic books.  Cerebus The Aardvark left such an impression on him that today he produces his own independent comics.

He and his brother Rick were really into comic books, frequenting the FantaCo comic book shop in Albany, NY.  Each brother grew from a fan into a creator, a writer/artist in the comic book medium.  (In Doug's case he developed an enthusiastic writing style apparently inspired by comic book dialogue that relied heavily on exclamation points.) 

Doug: "[Rick and I] started reading comics regularly in the late 70's around the time of Star Wars.  It was a good time to be a kid!"

The FantaCo shop offered more than the usual DC and Marvel superhero comics.  As a neophyte comic book fan Doug was exposed to independent titles like Eflquest and The Spirit reprints.

One day Doug's father brought home a book that piqued Doug's interest in nonsuperhero comics even more, a work by Les Daniels called Comix: A History of Comic Books in America.  It was an eye-opener for him.

Doug: "It covered not only the superheroes I loved but stuff I never knew existed like EC comics, crime comics, and more importantly underground comix, all of them illustrated with full story reprints!  I was enraptured by what I was seeing on the page and it loosened the grip of superheroes in my mind."

He says the book revealed comics were capable of telling stories besides the superhero genre: the EC brand of horror with a twist, Charles Biro's criminal biographies, or the surrealism of Robert Crumb and Spain Rodriguez.

Doug: "I began to experiment with these other types of books which FantaCo carried along with the Marvel and DC books."

Doug and his brother Rick took different paths as comic book fans.  Rick concentrated on breaking into the mainstream comic book field, doing some work for Marvel and DC.  As for independent publishers he sold one story to Mirage Studios featuring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Rick: "For Marvel, I worked indirectly as a background artist for inker Bill Anderson, a true artist and unsung hero toiling in the background of comics. I would be on call when he was busy and needed a little time shaved off a deadline."

It was menial work -- ruling rapidiograph lines, fixing perspective and occasionally a filling in blacks -- but it was a way of breaking in.  His work with Bill was a great learning experience.

Rick did have some success.

Rick: "For DC, I produced an art recreation that ended up on the first Dark Knight hardcover (thanks, Brian). I redrew and inked a panel from the first Batman story to match the original art style of Bob Kane. That came out great. Never got any more momentum with the big two and this was mid 80s to early 90s when I was in my prime."

He watched as the mainstream comic book industry changed.

Rick: "As the pendulum swung in the industry, the time when you could show a portfolio, develop a relationship with working artists or editors, and get a small job which might lead to something else had passed at the big companies. I found most professionals on the editorial side to be friendly, hard working 'super geeks' who loved comics. Over time attitudes have changed and [that] made the big companies much less approachable for work."

Another factor was Rick's personal work style.

Rick: "I was slow and had a very methodical, jack-of-all-trades approach. My genuine interest was in telling stories which grew to be less a priority with the big companies as time went on. My varied skill set fit much more handily with the independents."

Later he would find the opportunity to create and publish his own way.

While Rick was trying to establish himself in the mainstream his brother Doug concentrated on building an independent company in the spirit of DIY: Do It Yourself.  Over the years his project evolved into the Dougside Syndicate, a business entity that includes his books and more.

Doug: "I have no experience with the major publishers at all. I have been strictly independent from the start. I realized early enough that my style and skills were not suited for mainstream comics, and my interests were elsewhere."

Over the years other creators have taken the independent path, bypassing the big publishers.

Doug: "[The independent market] is extremely competitive and getting more so as more creators are turning to self-publishing (including industry legends like Rick Veitch).  The mainstream publishers of course have the lion's share of the market, so I don't feel competitive with them at all. The typical X-Men or Batman reader could care less about what I am doing, especially since it does not involve superheroes. So to me, the real 'competition' is with other self-publishers...and their numbers have grown legion in the last 20 years."

To promote his company Doug attends comic book conventions, manning a dealer table.  He has noticed increased interest as he has added more items.  In the beginning it was hard to sell with only one book but now with more books and artwork there's greater interest. But it's mainly promotion, not profit, when he attends a convention.

Doug: "For me, it is mostly about getting the word out, but man cannot live on bread alone. Making enough to cover expenses is a good way to avoid a dismal feeling at the end of the day. However, I have had shows where I lost my shirt but had a lot of great conversations and interactions. These can pay off down the road, so look at every encounter as an opportunity.  If you go in solely to make money you will almost always be disappointed."

He mentioned an experience that meant more to him than money.

Doug: "A couple of years ago in Buffalo, I had a man in his 30's walk up to my table excitedly and introduce himself. He had been looking forward to seeing me when he saw my name on the advertising. Turns out that as a 15 year old kid back in 1995 he picked up a copy of my first book, Slackjaw, and had been a fan ever since. I had not done a convention in Buffalo since 1997 so he had wondered what had happened to me...he wound up buying 2 pages of original art and several books...

"It was an amazing experience to know comics had resonated with him so much. It made my entire weekend! (Heck, I still think about it sometimes!) I imagine that pros hear those stories all the time, but for a completely independent creator like me, it is a rare, but euphoric event!"

Asked for advice he offered some tips for anyone interested in operating a dealer's table.

Doug: "Pay attention to how your table is merchandised. Make sure you have legible signs, and things are logically and neatly laid out. You want to attract eyeballs. Be friendly, make eye contact, and don't be afraid to use a little carnival style hucksterism from time to time...

"Create sales bundles or use incentives. People love getting a deal. I will often offer a free print with a book purchase, for example, or $5 off purchases over $25. Create a bit of excitement.

"Also...ALWAYS be nice to the kids! Especially if they are budding artists and want to show you their art. Be positive and supportive...tell them to keep practicing!"

Doug's latest project is his first full color book, We All Travel Time, produced with his brother Rick.

Doug: "Rick did a bang up job on his end of things and the book is terrific!"

More information on Doug's books can be found at his official Facebook page,  His books are available on -- -- and at his Square online store -- .

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