DIY revolution – Indy publishing – an insider’s interview

Between the rise of the internet and the slow decline of corporate print media, there’s never been a better time to begin self-publishing your work. A great example of this DIY revolution is San Francisco-based cartoonist and illustrator Brian Kolm. Kolm is an active member of the Bay Area small press community and the creator of Atomic Bear Press where he self-publishes his comic, “Beyond the Great Chimney.” His most recent local endeavor was participating in the San Francisco Zine Festival, amidst a sea of local artists, writers and cartoonists–a testament to the power of publishing your own work. Kolm was kind enough to answer my questions and provide advice for budding comic and zine creators.

Q: What can you tell me about Atomic Bear Press?

A: Atomic Bear Press is the name I use when I self-publish my art work as prints, comic books, etc.

Q: For those who are unfamiliar with your comics, can you describe your work?

A: My work has a very whimsical look to it and I am attracted to stories with fanciful elements.

Q:What first inspired you to make comics and zines?

A: I am an artist and love to tell stories and share them with others. I originally wanted to be an animator at Disney, but comics allow me to tell my own stories which I can create all by myself.

Q: You just recently made an appearance at the San Francisco Zine Festival. How was that?

A: Fun and a great way to get out and meet the general public as well as other artists. I always feel energized after a fun convention.

Q: How did you find out about the Zine Fest & what made you want to participate in it?

A: I went to my first Zinefest in 2005 when I shared a table with a friend of mine. Since then it has been a very popular event in local cartoonist circles. This was my second time exhibiting and lots of artists I know were there.

Q: What is the best way to prepare for a convention like the Zine Fest?

A: The same way it is for any con… don’t wait till the last minute to print up your comics and zines. Make sure you have a mailing list and business cards or postcards with your contact information on it to give out. Have a web presence. Arrive on time with a good night’s sleep so you can be there to talk to lots of people feeling your best. Talk to folks and share your excitement and enthusiasm.

Q: What are the pros and cons of having your own table versus sharing that of a larger entity (like the Cartoon Art Museum)?

A: It all depends on what you are selling, who you share your table with and other factors. Sometimes you have lots of stuff to sell and you need the whole table to show the work in its best light. A rack of art prints, for instance, would take a big chunk of your space if you only had half a table. Of course, if you only have a few items, half a table might be fine. One issue with sharing a table is that it can be awkward sometimes to compete for the attentions of customers with your tablemate(s). It’s always good to share with someone you get along with if possible.

Q: How much of your publishing and distribution do you do yourself and how much is aided by third parties?

A: I mostly sell my own publications at conventions and events, but you can find some of my comic books for sale at the Cartoon Art Museum bookstore in the Local Talent Section. I also sell my work through my website.

Q: Recently, web comics and blogs seem to have become more prevalent than published zines. How do you feel about digital vs. traditional media?

A: With the web, you can get your work out to a wider audience. Many creators lose money trying to get their work for sale in stores and see the web as a way to build an audience without a lot of risk/cost. The model for many is to post samples of their comic on the web and then publish a collected version later on with an audience that already knows the work. If you are an artist, you need some sort of web presence. On the other hand, there is nothing like holding a beautiful comic or zine in your hands and reading it!

Q: What do you think the artists of today can learn from the Bay Area’s extensive history of comic and zine culture?

A: The power of creating your own story and putting it out there for others read. That is a very brave act for many of us and the spirit of our peers and predecessors help encourage us to move forward.

Q: Finally, what advice would you give to would-be cartoonists and zine creators?

A: Keep drawing and being creative and go out and connect with other artists. For instance, I am part of the Cartoonist Conspiracy San Francisco organization (http:// www.cartoonistconspiracy.com), which is a Comic Jam group that meets twice a month to draw together. Oh, and always be aware that being an artist is hard work – and having many different skills will only help you succeed.

For more information on Brian Kolm, check out www.atomicbearpress.com. For more information on the San Francisco Zine Festiveal, check out http://www.sfzinefest.com