David Accampo: My Life in the Direct Market, Part 3

The following is the third in a three-part guest feature by writer and filmmaker David Accampo.

Young David had little time for California Dreamin'. His fantasy was strictly Canadian.

Young David had little time for California Dreamin’. His fantasy was strictly Canadian.

At the age of eleven or twelve, a friend and I sat at a computer after school and typed out a script for a story in which the Incredible Hulk battled the cyborg/robot/whatever character called Box, a member of Alpha Flight. We sent it to Marvel, and we received a polite rejection letter. I’m sure it was awful (don’t laugh, you have your own, and you know it), What I do recall was that it was essentially a single fight scene with lots of adjectives to describe the various punches. I don’t even remember if it was a Hulk story or an Alpha Flight story. The point is: I’ve been aware of the business of publishing comics almost as long as I’ve been reading them. I’ve worked at comic book stores, been a regular fixture at conventions, written letters to editors, met and corresponded with creators. I’ve sucked every morsel of industry news from sites like this one (and the periodicals that preceded them).

And even armed with all of that, I found myself, as a first-time creator, facing challenges in the direct market that I’m still learning from. And, listen: I don’t think the direct market is going to change. It’s a closed-loop system, and it works as it works. Until it doesn’t. But as I said way back in Part One, I’m not here to praise or bury the direct market. I’m hear to learn from it. And part of learning from it means looking at all of your options.

While the direct market is the dominant system with effective marketing video, and a difficult one to penetrate—it’s actually not the only game in town, and I’ve witnessed some great creators doing things in a variety of ways that go against expectations—often to great success.

In the direct market, publishers matter. They do. They can make a huge difference in navigating Diamond and in appealing to retailers. And retailers matter. Getting a retailer to champion your book makes a massive difference to your sales. It’s necessary to appeal directly to your audience and attempt to get them into comic book stores, but the very nature of the pre-ordering system makes this exceedingly difficult.

However, when you leave the confines of the comic book store, you’re entering a frontier that’s as untamed as the Old West.

Time to cowboy up and talk digital comics.

The digital market has really blossomed over the past few years, but it’s still a wild tangle of formats, platforms and devices. As a creator, you’ve got a lot of choices to make.

One of the core benefits of digital comics is quick, global distribution. If you can reach your audience via the Internet, then you can have them download your comic within the span of a couple of clicks. Compare that to asking, say, a non-comics-reading horror fan to go into a comic book store and reserve a copy of your new horror comic three months before the actual book is out? That’s huge. Easier access means more effective sales.

The Sparrow and Crowe Halloween Special is available now on ComiXology.

The Sparrow and Crowe Halloween Special is available now on ComiXology.

ComiXology is quickly becoming a digital version of Diamond, but without all the worries of print and physical distribution, they can grant you a bit of a nimbler experience, though I think it’s easier to get lost in the shuffle—especially without a retailer to champion your cause. But you still have some production choices to make. Are you creating your stories FOR a digital format? Or are you going digital to save on print costs, with the eventual hope of building an audience to justify print? Print comics never work perfectly on digital. My personal favorite “hybrid” experience right now is DC Comics’ digital books like Legends of the Dark Knight, in which the stories are constructed as bisected pages that can be stacked into standard comic book dimensions. This, of course means no “splash page,” which means you’re limiting the tools you might bring to print storytelling.

I think Mark Waid’s Thrillbent is a great example of storytelling geared toward the web. With free comics on the web and then digital sales via ComiXology, they tend to make the most of the ComiXology “swipe” technology and also the widescreen format that is the common denominator across digital devices.

I’ve also extoled the virtues of Brian K. Vaughan’s The Private Eye series, which gives us the “Keep It Simple, Stupid” of digital comics by offering a widescreen PDF, which makes it the most universal form factor across all devices. That combined with Vaughan’s “pay-what-you-want” fee structure and self-distribution makes this at once innovative and simple—an incredible appeal. But one wonders how it would do without Vaughan’s name attached? It still all comes down to marketing.

And what if digital comics aren’t for you, and the direct market is out of your reach? Are you out of options? Hell no.

As I’ve gone through the process of publishing Sparrow & Crowe, I’ve met and chatted with some great independent creators who continually carve out their own path. For the sake of this conversation, I’m going to call this the self-distribution market, though that’s not really an accurate term. These are the creators and small press publishers who print their books and distribute them online, at comic book shows, and directly to retailers.

And if ever there was a need for marketing, it’s this path. Speaking of marketing, know the lastest pandadoc alternative if you are a business owner or a professional with an end goal to achieve growth for it will be very beneficial. Not only do you need to create the content, self-distribution involves a complete presence. This means attending vibrant comic book shows and selling your wares. A well-designed booth works wonders. As does charisma, quite frankly. I’ve bought many a book simply based on the passion and warmth of the creator, and his or her ability to convey his/her vision to me. But that’s one-to-one interaction. It’s exhausting. And it doesn’t stop at the shows.

You’ll need a mailing list. A social media presence to reach people online who you can’t reach in person. You need to interact with retailers, one by one. You’re not in a catalog, but that same charisma, that same passion can work on retailers—can be transferred to retailers, in the best of cases.

And I think, at the end of the day, if I can impart any wisdom upon you from my experiences in (and out of) the direct market, it’s this: You have many avenues to publish and distribute your book, but all of them involve reaching your audience. You need to understand the pitfalls along each path so that you can get your customers to the right place at the right time.

Sparrow & Crowe: The Demoniac of Los Angeles creators: Jeremy Rogers, Jared Souza and David Accampo

Sparrow & Crowe: The Demoniac of Los Angeles creators: Jeremy Rogers, Jared Souza and David Accampo


Sparrow and Crowe: The Demoniac of Los Angeles #1 and 2, as well as the Sparrow and Crowe Halloween Special (featuring a story by Paul Montgomery) are available now on ComiXology.



  1. Thanks for shaing your story @daccampo. I’m hoping to have my own book self-published by next year and this has been very insightful. Alot of creators I’ve talked to have told me “you have to be a salesman in this business, you have to market yourself” and I can tell its mportant. I wonder if you’ve heard of “Scam” and how the creator and his friends went about advertising for that book? There was an article on this website about a year ago and I thought it was a very unique way to go. I’d love to hear a follow-up on it actually. Anyway, this was fun to read and good luck in the future!

    • Thanks, Itho! I haven’t heard of “Scam,” but I’ll definitely look into it now. One of the fun bits about the last couple of years has been meeting and chatting with different indie creators. I’d love to keep showcasing the stories of all the varied creators I’ve met — each of which has a story as diverse and unique as mine. 😉

  2. I really enjoyed the Halloween special and recommend it to anyone who likes fun Halloween stories.

    Dave’s story makes me wonder if Comixology would benefit from an “Indie” tab on their store welcome page. Something to draw a little attention. They’ve got the DC and Marvel tabs, but I have to think sales for those publishers don’t receive much of a bump from that front page treatment. If Comixology added an indie tab I imagine that would increase indie sales (that Comixology would obviously also benefit from). It would function like Steam’s Indie efforts or Microsoft’s Xbox Indie games section. I’m a big fan of choice and variety, but I also understand that those things generally don’t happen in our system without a solid profit motive, this seems like it could work.

    • That’s an interesting point. It MIGHT help, though I have seen them spotlight various indie books in different ways. And while I think even shining a spotlight helps — whether in a store or online — I think that nothing compares to the retailer who actually recommends books to you, based on your tastes. And, yeah, we can do all sorts of algorithms and let a computer make suggestions for you, but that’s not the same as that comic shop environment, that organic relationship between comics fans chatting about stuff they like and stuff they don’t, and the retailer responding to that.

      What we do have in the “digital” world: iFanboy.com and similar sites, and then everyone we interact with on Twitter and Facebook, etc. If Conor makes, oh let’s say, Astro City #1 his Pick of the Week, and he speaks passionately about it, then I’m fairly likely to give it a second glance. I think the perfect example is THE PRIVATE EYE — that wasn’t in a digital store OR a comic book store. Word was spread entirely by comics websites and via social media.

    • I certainly agree that word of mouth is exceptionally important. I’m just trying to think of any and every avenue in which you can get your work out profitably.

  3. I couldn’t wait to get the whole story as its been truly is informative. I found myself laughing at your pops pointing out Snyder’s name to the retailer as for some reason I imagined Humphrey Bogart demanding, “Scott Snyder, does this name mean anything to you?” Not that your dad looks or speaks that way at all its just me. No disrespect intended.

    I would like to know David, when will the remaining issues 3 -5 be released? Or will the GN be out at some point?
    Again, good stuff and wishing the best for you guys and your comic.

    • Thanks, so much!

      So, as it stands right now, issue #3 has been completed and lettered and is with the publisher, and Jared is working on issue #4. But I’m not sure of our exact strategy in terms of release. Because we’re not bound by Diamond and print deadlines, we can basically publish a book about a month after completion through ComiXology. And we don’t need to worry about pre-orders. So, the question is, in the digital market, do we follow a release schedule that’s consistent, or do we just let this one ride and push ’em out as we finish? We’re still determining that.

      Our goal is still to release the full GN once the whole series is complete. Hermes Press is still behind us on this.

  4. Hey, I used to have that issue of Alpha Flight.

    I guess I’m just going to have to get into this digital comics thing. Times are a-changing a bit too fast for me. I’m just now getting used to watching porn in 4 minute clips while balancing a laptop on my lap. This digital comics thing will take me years to get into.

    • I picked out that cover because it’s entirely likely that the reason 11-year-old (-ish? I haven’t looked up exact dates) Dave wanted to write about Hulk and Box (of all characters) was that it was during the time that Byrne and Mantlo/Mignola were swapping duties on Hulk and Alpha Flight, which seemed like such a unique and wondrous thing to me at the time…

    • One of the biggest disappointments in my comic book life was John Byrne’s aborted run on the Hulk in the 80s. He wrote and drew #314-319 (hope I have that right) then left before finishing the arc. This left the art duties for The Hulk’s gigantic battle with both the East and West Coast Avengers to Al Milgrom. I’m sure he’s a nice enough fella, but, no. Was this around the same time?

  5. @daccampo: Thanks for writing these- they’ve been a lot of fun (as well as informative). Looking forward to checking out your work!

  6. A great series of articles, and thanks for sharing your story. As an aspiring creator myself, I definitely learned a few things, especially how hard it is to break into the business, even for someone with “connections.”

    Group lesson learned: think thrice, not twice, before picking up the “all new, this time we are different, I swear” 100th X-Men book from the stands and realize you are missing out on other stuff because you think you want to know what happens to “fill in the blank” character.

  7. Have you looked into Amazon’s new Comic Creator service or has anyone tried out their new Kindle Panel View digital comics and graphic novels? Beside Private Eye and the free 700 Marvel issues, I have yet to explore the digital side of things, so I don’t know much about it other than that it now exists.

    In terms of the direct market, I really wonder when Amazon is going to just take over. They already have the distribution network and could easily set up a comic subscription service (for physical comics). Plus imagine if they did the “AutoRip” feature (free digital version) for comics like they give you when you buy a cd or vinyl record. But I can’t imagine it would be good for brick and mortar shops, which to me at least is a real concern.

    Thanks for sharing your story David. I wish someone could conceive of a “better way” as I always wonder what the alternative might be whenever someone speaks ill of the Diamond distribution model.