How to Talk to a Micro-Publisher Without Sounding Like a Jerk

I keep having a certain type of interaction at comic and zine
festivals, and it’s gotten under my skin. I know Complaining on the
Internet is our national pastime, but I try not to indulge too much.
So I hope you’ll forgive my mini rant. 


There is a certain way that our community interact with people who are primarily publishers, not content creators. In this community, the creator
is number one. They’re our heroes (they’re my heroes too). Sure, I have my publisher/editor heroes Françoise Mouly, Chris Oliveros, and Eric Reynolds, to name a few).  But there is no match for the reverence I have for Dan Clowes or Lynda Barry. And that’s ok. It’s the job of a publisher to champion the author, and to do that well we have to disappear a little. We’re not the star,
and that’s ok.

But, this does not mean that the role of the publisher, even the very small
publisher, doesn’t matter or doesn’t exist. This is a real job. It
requires effort and skill. There is an investment of time and money.
We’re playing a crucial part in making these books exist in the world.

Last weekend I told a festival attendee I was a micro-publisher. This
is how I said it: “I’m a micro-publisher.”  He laughed in my face and
said, “I’m sorry, but you sounded so serious.”

Hello, my name is Robyn Chapman and I am very serious.
You must not 
know me very well if you don’t know this already.

And yeah, I’m serious about micro-publishing. It’s my number one
creative endeavor. Most of my free time is devoted to it. A
significant portion of my annual income goes towards it. I report it on
my taxes. It’s a real job, and it’s not easy.

(Dear laughing guy, I know you didn’t mean anything by it. I’m sure
you’re a nice fellow. I laugh nervously sometimes, and I don’t mean
it. No hard feelings. We are all brothers.)

This interaction got me thinking about the others I’ve had with customers, and how they sometimes don’t know what to make of what I do. I try to explain it, but often they don’t looks satisfied.  So I made this handy guide that will help us both communicate (I emphasize both, because I’m guilty of slighting myself too). The following are a list of statements I’ve heard at conventions, followed by how they make me feel and how I’m trying to respond to them.


You: “Are these your books?”

Well, they are my books. I own them. But I think what you’re really mean is, am I the author.

Me: “I published these books.”


You: “I really like your art style here.”

I told you I’m the publisher and you assumed I’m the author, but that’s ok. That’s sometimes the case with small press comics. Sometimes, but not always.

Me: “Thanks, but I’m the publisher. Gretta Johnson is the artist.”


You: “Oh, you’re the printer.”
NOTE: never say this.

Me: …
(I can’t figure out the right response to this. Please send your suggestions.)

Maybe I am the printer. THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING THE PRINTER. Some of my favorite micro-publishers (Oily, Pegacorn, Good Pals, La Mano, etc.) own their presses. They are the printer. I do the screen printing on my books, so hey, even I’m the printer. But more importantly, I am the publisher. These books didn’t arrive fully-formed, ready for me to push the button on the printer.

I would think that most book lovers understand (more or less) what a publishing house does. But maybe that’s not fair. I don’t understand how automobiles are made. I don’t know what a sous-chef does. We all have our blind spots, and that’s ok.

But, if you do understand (more or less) what a publishing house does, then you understand me. I do the same stuff, but on a much smaller scale.


You: “But where are the books by you?”


Me: “Right now I’m primarily devoted to micro-publishing. But I’m working on a comic of my own, too. I hope to finish it this year.”

(See how I didn’t apologize for not having produced any new comics? I never talk this way in real life, but I’m going to start.)


You: “But I thought you were a cartoonist.”

Fuck you, dude.

Me: …

I hope I don’t have to tell you never to say this. It’s kind of the worst thing in world to say to someone like me. But it wouldn’t be on this list if I hadn’t heard it before.

You don’t need to hear my life story, but here it is anyway. I HAVE FOUR JOBS. In addition, I run a small business (yep, I’m talking about micro-publishing). I’ve only been to the movies once in last six months. I’ve been on one (just one!) non-comics related vacation (i.e., not a convention or teaching gig) in the last two years. I WORK HARD. I sacrifice a lot. It’s enough. It’s more than enough.

Look, I’m sorry Sour Puss #3 still hasn’t come out (lie, I’m not). But I believe I can make a greater contribution to comics is by being a publisher and an editor.  I think I’m good at it. I can publish 4-6 comics a year. I could never, ever, draw that many. I’m a slow cartoonist, but  I’m an efficient and productive publisher. This is how I’m making my mark.

I love every one of my Paper Rocket books. Little gems, each one. I really do think I’m doing my best work ever. So I’m going to stop apologizing for it.

I’m a micro-publisher. If you don’t get that, you can shove it.

10 responses to “How to Talk to a Micro-Publisher Without Sounding Like a Jerk

  1. you know, at some point, micro-brewing of beer seemed to morph into “craft brewing.” Maybe you are a craft publisher?

  2. Robyn Chapman

    I’m TOTALLY a craft publisher!

  3. Dear micropublishers; we love you very much and we appreciate the hard work you do. Without you, our lives would be much, much harder, less fun, and the rewards of our craft would be diminished. Sincerely, all the cartoonists I know

  4. Pingback: Comics A.M. | Why WonderCon matters to San Francisco | Robot 6 @ Comic Book ResourcesRobot 6 @ Comic Book Resources

  5. Interesting points, but it comes off as very… defensive? confrontational?

    I love comics and books and reading, but I honestly don’t have much of a clue about how it goes from words/pictures in someones brain to a printed book. “Fuck you, dude” is never educational.

  6. Robyn Chapman

    Defensive? Sure. And what’s wrong with being a little confrontational? This is supposed to be a rant. I don’t indulge in this much so I hope you’ll forgive me.

    “Fuck you, dude” was a joke. This might be unclear if you don’t know me from Adam. I was and am a cartoonist. I haven’t put out much work in a while because I’m focusing on publishing. For someone to suggest that I’m no longer a cartoonist is deeply hurtful. The reasons for this are complicated, but that’s a whole other blog post.

  7. Good piece. I’m one of the folks who wouldn’t know what a micro-publisher (or a large publishing house) really does. I’d like to think that if somebody told me that they were a micro-publisher, I’d ask “So what’s that entail?” but I could totally see myself asking something specific instead, like “So you get the books printed?” to try to act like I know what you mean. (Ego makes me act like a jackass sometimes.)

    I’m trying to think of the best response to the “You’re a printer?” question, but like I said, I’m not sure on what goes into publishing a book or how the challenges of micro-publishing could be different from a publishing house. Now that I’ve stumbled upon this nifty site, I’ll have to educate myself.

  8. I feel your pain. I’ve had to answer all of these questions many, many times. Fortunately, I don’t have to endure the extra sting of having to explain why I haven’t produced a comic lately because I am not an artist. As the cliche goes, I can’t draw a straight stick figure. But I have an eye for exceptional art, and a strong understanding of effective storytelling…and most important, I do know how to actually publish books. I edit, art direct, write copy, layout, write contracts, have book printed, market, promote, warehouse, distribute, maintain websites and mailing lists, secure rights, fulfill orders, etc. Hell…I wish I could draw; I’d potentially have to wear a lot fewer hats.

    In the end, like you, publishing is where I’ll make my mark, how I’ll contribute to this field I’ve been passionate about all of my life. It’s an honorable pursuit, and an honor to get to do it…

    Joe Procopio, publisher

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