Con-Exclusive Ashcans: The Ins and Outs

edited October 2016 in The Toolbox
@JustinJordan gave me a copy of his con-exclusive ashcan for "The Family Trade" at NYCC this weekend, and I had a conversation with @EricPalicki about the ashcan he did for "No Angel" — so now the topic's on my mind.

You guys mind sharing a bit about your ashcans? How did they sell? How many copies did you print? Eric, was yours full color or black and white? (I wish I'd actually stopped by your table yesterday and bought one, but as Justin will testify (from simply looking at me!), I was viewing everything through a haze of exhaustion.) Basically, any information about your experiences doing them that you feel might be useful to some of us who might consider doing one in the future?


  • The reason I ask is because this afternoon I started working on an informal business plan for a new one-person self-publishing venture: Demo Tape Press. The idea is this:
    1. Finance the art for a 20pp. #1 issue for each of the projects I'm trying to get off the ground (probably using my credit cards, paying after I receive each ten pp. chunk.)
    2. Do a small print run (300 copies? 600?) through a printer like RA Comics Direct. Self-cover, 20pp. interior pages, plus a redacted version of the project's pitch on the inside back cover — with the Demo Tape Press logo on the thing. Again, probably pay for it with a credit card.
    3. Sell the issue exclusively at cons for $10/issue, like @JustinJordan does. Promote the living crap out of it beforehand.
    4. Use the proceeds to pay off the credit cards I use — and the profit to finance the production of the next issue's art.
    5. Put the hardcopy of the comic in the hands of as many editors and publishers as possible, with the end game of getting a publisher — for a series that already has at least one issue finished.
    6. Try to put out one new "Demo Tape Press" issue for each major con that I do.
    (Alternately, I may do something closer to what Justin actually does: An ~eight page finished sample of a #1 (basically the cover and sample pages produced for a submission packet, plus a couple more), likewise sold for $10/copy. This would cut the printing costs substantially, cut the creative costs of getting it drawn and colored, and so dramatically increase the profit.)

    Basically, the thought is: If I'm getting 5+ sample pages for each project submission, plus cover, why the fuck shouldn't I be selling that as its own thing to finance the production of the actual #1?

    I've pitched this to several of the artists I'm collaborating with. First priority, assuming the artist in question agrees: Get the seven page "Supernatural Geographic" story that's been sitting around colored and printed up to be sold in this fashion. (I paid the artist his WFH rate on that, years ago. Might as well recoup that money!)
  • I'd have GIVEN you one, dude.

    I went through, this time, because that's who Black Mask uses for all their exclusives, they do serial numbering (we did 200 copies, numbered 1-200 OF 200), and they have wicked fast turnaround. The per issue cost was high (about $4 a unit against a $10 pricetag at the show), so I think you can find cheaper elsewhere. I came about 30 copies shy of selling out.

    If you have a longer lead time and don't care about serial numbering, check out or even Page-by-Page (!/Page-by-Page-Copies-and-Finishing-521539421308720/about/?mt_nav=1), both of which are cheaper.
  • Also: I printed the whole first issue in color.
  • A cool idea, which def requires some forethought would be to structure the first act of your first issue like the pre-title sequence of a James Bond flick. Like its own thing (I thought The Family Trade did this pretty well, actually).
  • "A cool idea, which def requires some forethought would be to structure the first act of your first issue like the pre-title sequence of a James Bond flick."

    Ha ha ha! One of the comics I'm planning this for actually HAS a "title sequence" page — so it's intended to be structured like that anyway! (I like writing #1s like that.)

    Thank you for the details! That helps a lot. Didn't know RA does sequential numbering — I'll definitely do that!
  • It all depends on how low-fi you want to go. If you are up for it, I recommend going with digital printing which can go with lower print runs. Although I haven't used it, I'd second RA Direct, as they offer a wide array of paper types (including recycled newsprint if you want to experiment). If they are going to be ashcans in the true sense of the word, you'll want to keep the printing cost extremely low.
    Because you are in the heart of the small press, you can likely reach out to some of the people who do small press runs in Portland, or if you are willing to have them shipped there are these guys in the Seattle area:

  • Oh, I've self-published before. That's how I broke in with "Witch Doctor". So I'm familiar with that stuff.

    I have zero interest in doing something low-fi. I like my comics to look like actual comics. My personal questions are much more on logistical issues people have encountered, how they handled the project overall, and (most importantly) how sales have been.
  • A cool idea, which def requires some forethought would be to structure the first act of your first issue like the pre-title sequence of a James Bond flick. Like its own thing (I thought The Family Trade did this pretty well, actually).

    By design, although not necessarily for the ash can.

    I generally write my first pages of my first issues to serve as a self contained encapsulation of what you can expect from the series as a whole, that can work mostly independently. This chunk serves as the pitch to both the publisher and, really, the reader.

    The Family Trade does this more strongly than most, because I was straight up going for a Indiana Jones/James Bond cold open.
  • Yeah, I do a similar thing for a lot of my #1s: Start with a 2-6 page "cold open" that gives the reader an example of what they're going to get in the rest of the series. The openings of Raiders of the Lost Arc, Men in Black, and Pulp Fiction are what I always keep in mind for them.
  • I typically self-publish one mini-comic (aka ashcan) a year. They're generally between 16 and 20 pages long, measuring 8.5"x5.5" (a sheet of printer paper folded in half). They're black and white. For shorter stories, we'll put the script in the back to bulk up the product. Maybe an essay.

    I started selling them at $3 each and then bumped up to $5 a couple years ago. No one blinks at the price.

    I generally print between 150-200 copies per book. The artist and letterer print copies, too. The cost at Minuteman Press in Wheeling, IL, is about $1.10 a copy. Rather than dividing sales, everyone keeps the profits on the books they sell at cons.

    Now, all of this is very different than an ashcan that's just a sample of a traditional comic that will come out later. But hopefully it's helpful.

  • I also print single issue (usually black and white) short stories for $5 price point, typically 20 pages in length. I'll throw bonus content in the back, if the story is shorter (The Fan, for example, is an 8 page story, but a 20 page book - we put "making of" content in the back, both writing and art).

    These are quite popular with fans, especially after a "how to make comics" panel. 
  • I'd like to know how Justin & Eric get away with selling these for $10! :)
  • Limited numbers helps. I also make sure I let the collector types know they exist. Since some of my previous ashcans have sold for a crap ton of money, getting the word out to speculators helps.

    Not all my ashcans do as well as others. Burning West did fine, but it has yet to sell out, for instance.
  • Yeah. Bleeding Cool ran a piece about mine, which helped.
  • @EricPalicki How did you get Bleeding Cool to run a piece about your ashcan?
  • edited December 2016
    @trevorAMueller Well, speaking frankly, it was an advance release of a new Black Mask book, and BC gives Black Mask a ton of coverage. Plus, I had the advantage of a celebrity co-writer.


    That said: I emailed the story to Rich, which he basically ran whole cloth just as I wrote it. The thing about BC is, they're starving for content, so if you dangle a hook, Rich will take the bait.
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