On My Own in Independent Comics #1: Start. Now.

This is the first in a special series of four columns about my experiences making self-published, self-funded indie comics. The columns won’t be too much about me or my process. Instead, you’ll be getting my experience of working in comics and trying to make a career of it on my own.

I’m going to be as honest and straightforward with you as possible. That means you’ll hear about my successes, but also my failures. It won’t be a mope-show, but things aren’t going to be all-positive, all the time. It will be real. Honest.

Honest to the point that I’ll be sharing my website stats and financials with you in the series’ final column.

It may not always be pretty. But I hope it will be informative, entertaining, and worth coming back for. See you in a week.



Hi. I’m Sam Costello and I write Split Lip. Split Lip is a horror webcomics anthology that (nearly) every month publishes a new story written by me and drawn by an artist from around the world. Each story is self-contained: there are no recurring characters or ongoing storylines. io9 called us “the webcomics answer to anthology series like The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery” – which is basically exactly what I set out to be.

When I’m not writing Split Lip – which is most of the time, unfortunately – I work in web development. I don’t have much in the way of technical skills; I have soft skills: strategy, search engine optimization, writing, leading teams, and launching sites.

Doing that work, I’ve learned that how we work is often as important, or more even important, than the work itself.

Keeping projects moving and not finding excuses to stop (“we’re waiting on content,” “we need a decision on photography”) is rewarded with successful projects and happy clients. In short: Taking action and building momentum makes good things happen.

That’s also true when you’re making, or hoping to make, comics.


Split Lip vol. 2Before starting Split Lip, I spent years on the traditional breaking-into-comics route: placing short stories in anthologies and networking with editors. I had just a tiny bit of success.

Since my efforts were being largely frustrated, I decided to stop waiting and start making. I concluded that Split Lip would be a webcomic and off I went, on my own. I wrote scripts, found artists, gave art feedback, learned how to letter, and promoted it. I couldn’t have done it without the talented artists I’ve worked with, but on balance, I did a lot of Split Lip myself.

And while I’m not a webcomics millionaire or a household name, just shy of our fourth birthday, Split Lip has 31 stories on the site (number 32 starts in a week or so; four others are being drawn now), over 500 pages of free comics, two TPBS, and a body of work to feel proud of.

All because, instead of continuing to waste time pitching publishers, I took action.



When I wanted to bring Split Lip into print, I apparently hadn’t learned anything.

With the quality of the work and the readership Split Lip had garnered, I felt I had a compelling case to make to a publisher. So I put together submissions packages and sent them to publishers who might be receptive to Split Lip.

The packages were basic affairs: a cover letter and each story boiled down to a punchy, vivid sentence or two, readership info, and a couple of cover mockups. I sent the pitches to five indie publishers – three well known, two smaller.

And they all passed. Some sent form letters (no worries; that’s common from my experience pitching magazines and book publishers), others sent personalized rejections. I had to resend the submission to one publisher twice before they passed. Another expressed some interest and we traded a few emails, but the conditions ultimately weren’t right.

So, after spending the better part of a year, I was back at square one – and obviously no wiser. I’d made the same waiting mistake.

If Split Lip was going to see print, I realized that once again I had to do it myself.



Doing it myself meant doing work — learning pre-press software, researching printers, creating marketing materials and web ads, investing the money to print the books — that I wanted publishers to do for me.

I waited a year, only to find out that publishers weren’t going to do any of that. And I lost a year and a half being inactive, waiting (it took me about 5 months to get the first Split Lip TPB printed).

It was useful in learning more about how to pitch, but it was a year when I could have been gaining new readers, selling books, and building my career.



How it feels to make comics sometimes - also art by Anthony Peruzzo from "Make Westing"So what’s the lesson? If you want to make comics, if you want a career in comics – whether it’s working for Marvel or DC, creating an indie book, doing a webcomic – get started. Do it now.

If you want to be in comics, be in comics. There’s no certificate to earn, no test to pass. Comics are easy and relatively inexpensive to get into on your own. So if you want to make comics, start making them.

Don’t pin your hopes on being discovered or making the right connection at a con. Don’t cling to the idea that publishers will recognize your brilliance (no matter how brilliant you are). Don’t let your dreams depend on anyone other than yourself.

If you wait, you may never stop waiting. Getting started isn’t easy. It’s hard as hell. So is keeping going. But if you wait, your chance might not come. If you want to be in comics, you’ve got to make it happen.

Start. Now.


  1. Totally awesome. Thanks Mr. Costello. Starting now…

  2. Interesting article, and I look forward to the rest! I want to go this route myself — I just need to find an artist who’s interested. 🙂

  3. This is going to be a GREAT column. Your book and site look awesome. can’t wait to see more!



  4. Thanks for taking the time to give us your thoughts on self publishing. the biggest challenge i have, like @cmwnyc, is finding an artist, cause my skills are few and far between. I have come friends who are great artists, but don’t have time to help. would love to hear how you got artist to help out. thanks again Sam!

  5. Very inspirational. Wish I had gotten this kick in the pants a while ago, before I started writing. I’m sure you’ll get into more details about the specific self-publishing process, but I guess the moral of the story is I shouldn’t wait for those articles and do the research myself, right?

  6. More articles like this. Definitely.

  7. Thanks for the great response, guys! It’s really terrific to get positive feedback on this. I’m looking forward to talking with you all over the next month.

    @WeaklyRoll – The trick to getting and keeping artists, at least in my experience, is money. I pay all my artists a page rate, and give royalties from sales of books and ads. What I can afford to pay is far, far below pro rates – even at indie publishers – but making something a paying gig seems to help a lot. Even if you can only pay $10 or $15 a page, I think it makes a difference.

    @PeteJohnWilson – I’m actually not going to go too far into the self-publishing process since I’m only scheduled for four columns right now. If I get a shot at expanding the run, I definitely will. The other three columns will be about staying inspired and productive, working cons, and financials. So, yes, I’d say do the research! 🙂

  8. Sam –

    Great to see this. Like PeteJohnWilson I’d love to hear more about the process but understand the space issues. Any texts you can rec for prepress?

  9. Sam: This is a great idea for a column, and more importantly, I’m happy to find out about Split Lip. This looks like something I’m very interested in seeing more of!

  10. Ah man. It’s so obvious, but I guess I should’ve thought about paying the artist something, however little I can manage with royalties from sales and ads and seeing if they’ll go for it then. *smacks forehead* Costello just wrinkled my brain.

  11. @Art – Hey! good to see you. I didn’t use too many books, but <a href="http://www.comicraft.com/balloon_tales.html">Comicraft's Balloon Tales tutorials</a> were a huge help.

    @HailScott – Thanks! Our new story starts Monday. Hope you dig it.


    @OttoBott – Yeah, even a little money seems to go a long way. I think it says you’re serious and value the artist’s time/work. I always pay in installments – some upfront, some partway through the project, and some at completion of the project. 


  12. Very inspirational.  Thank you.  I believe in the same philosophy, if you want to be in comics, then just start doing comics.  You don’t need permission.  

    Some people are put off by the hard work, but, if you don’t plan for that, or you consider it a drawback, then you shouldn’t be in comics in the first place.

    Can’t wait to read more from you, and congrats and good luck!