Tag Archives: small press

The Journey: Reconnaissance!

In our previous installment of the journey, we learned all about printing. Well, we learned a little about printing. And we may have learned that Brian might not be Batman. Ahhh, who are we trying to fool? We all know that Brian is Batman. So, let’s take a peek at what happens when we try to educate ourselves about starting a business….

The Journey
“Reconnaissance!”

One of the more difficult things about being regular working schlubs like us trying to step outside of our preordained caste and start our own publishing company is finding time. There’s never enough of it to do what we need, to muddle through the regular day-to-day activities such as work, pay bills, spend time with the family, pay bills, feed the addiction to eBay, pay bills, do the chores, pay bills, etc… Then add to the pile, “small business start-up” and the pile becomes perilously close to toppling over, crushing all beneath it. Jac fell victim to such circumstance, no longer able to commit. Fortress was now down to three.

However, we bravely marched forward (to the beat of our own drummer, of course) and other things were starting to come together for us. We formed a “to do” checklist and slowly checked off each item as they became “to done.” At the top of the list was, “Come up with ‘to do’ checklist.” That pretty much entailed visiting a lawyer and harassing our CPA friend. We wanted to keep our time with them limited, so we tried to answer our own questions first to sound like we knew what we were talking about. Our first stop was to the local area Chamber of Commerce where we picked up a book entitled “Starting a Business in Pennsylvania.” I doubt every state in the nation will have the same book, but I’d wager that you could find something similar. Being the people person that I am, I much rather sit down with someone to get information. Being the cheap-o that I am, I much rather do it for free. Well, the “Starting a Business in PA” book helped, in the form of SCORE.

SCORE stands for Service Corps Of Retired Executives. They are just like their name implies, executives long since retired available to the public to assist in business workings. Free of charge. Interestingly enough, they’re located in the same damn building as the local area Chamber of Commerce. But the service is free and I’d be talking to executives, people who may have possibly been in the same situation we found ourselves. As luck would have it, laryngitis settled itself in the very day I had the time and opportunity to visit with them. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that me getting laryngitis is God’s way of saying, “I’m sorry you have to put up with this guy.” Normally, I wouldn’t have minded, except for the fact that I’m a working schlub who doesn’t have enough time. So, the louder I tried to talk, the fewer audible words came out of my mouth. The particular gentleman who met with me had not one, but two hearing aids. Comedy ensued. You don’t need to be Karnak to see where this is going.

“Hi. I’m st_rting up a b_sines and w_s wond_ring where to start?”
“What?”
“I’m s___ting up a b___ness an_ wa_ won____ng wher_ to sta__?”
“What?!”
“I_ s_____g up a b______s a__ w__ w_____ng wh___ to st___?”
“WHAT?!”
“I_ S_____ UP A B_____ _ND W__ __NDER___ W____ TO __ART?!”
“Are you on drugs, man?!”

After some time, and the decision for me to communicate via pen and paper, I got the answers we were looking for. Even though the meeting cleared up some things, there were still a few questions we needed to ask a lawyer.

Upon our first meeting with the lawyer, Chris and I quickly learned how monkeys at the zoo must feel as patrons stare at them. As we cartoonishly shuffled through papers looking for our research findings and subsequent questions, the only possible thought he could have been thinking was, “These two knuckleheads are starting their own business? They shouldn’t even be allowed in public.” Once we calmed down enough to be mistaken for human beings, Chris and I had one major question to answer: what business entity were we going to be?

We gave a brief overview in a previous article, so we won’t bore you with those details again. But we had our choices narrowed down to General Partnership, LLC and S Corporation. After one of the most intense meetings of our lives (only about 30 minutes, but sitting in a lawyer’s office always brings out the “fight or flight” reaction) and extensive note taking, Chris and I ran (literally) to the nearest bar after meeting’s end. Luckily, it was just across the street. After a jolly round of chiding remarks from both my future business partner and the waitress about my proclivity toward drinking beer that requires some form of citrus to be found floating in it, we reviewed our options.

A General Partnership is easy to form and easy to get money in and out of. However, there is no liability protection involved whatsoever. According to our lawyer, an LLC depends upon what state you’re in. In Michigan, they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread (hey, he’s a lawyer – they’re not known for having the greatest cliches), but in Pennsylvania, they are run very similar to Corporations. Although it’s easier for the members involved to get money out of a LLC, it still didn’t offer all the liability protection we were looking for. Plus, if it’s going to be run like a corporation, we may as well form a corporation, even though it may be difficult getting money out. Let’s not forget, Chris and I would be shareholders, and just like being a shareholder of any other corporation, we simply can’t take assets whenever we want to. Just because you may hold some shares of Wal-Mart doesn’t mean you can walk out of the store without paying for the merchandise and say, “I’m a shareholder. I own this.” Those rent-a-cops hit harder than you’d think and pepper-spray to the eyes doesn’t feel as pleasant as one might imagine.

So, it was decided! Before we hit the bottom of our first pitcher of beer, we decided that we needed another pitcher. However, it was shortly after that we decided to form an S Corporation. We wanted the protection, and thanks to the “S” status, all of the profits or losses flow through the tax forms to our own personal taxes. That means any money we earn gets taxed only once and (the more likely scenario) any money we lose, we get to deduct from our personal taxes.

The moral of the story is – if you plan on starting your own publishing company, or any small business for that matter, take full advantage of the free resources offered to you. Trust me, there are plenty of them. Start with your local area Chamber of Commerce and see what happens. Just make sure you clear a spot in your working schlub schedule for a bought of laryngitis first….

Next Issue: “Struggle.”

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We’re baaaaaaaaack!

So, there is a bit of a delay between our last post and this one. We apologize for that, but [INSERT LAME EXCUSE HERE]. Hopefully, you can understand and sympathize. In fact, we’re so lame that we’re using the same lame beginning from two posts ago. Don’t worry, we do have a cranium-rectal extraction planned to take place soon. Anyway….

If you recall from an earlier post waaaaaaaaay long ago, we promised to reprint our series of articles called “The Journey.” For those who are not familiar – when Chris and I began our illustrious careers as writers, we had a syndicated internet column called “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys” where we babbled on about comic books and the world of entertainment in general. “The Journey” is a series of articles detailing some of our exploits into the world of micro-press publishing. We thought it might be interesting to reprint them. So, here is the third installment. Let us know what you think!

 

The Journey

“To Arms!”

 

The day of Friday, July 2nd 2004 was a surprisingly pleasant day. Warm enough to remind us that it was summer, but cool enough to mistake it for spring. Nary a cloud in the sky, the sun had free reign to exercise its will upon all who beheld it, especially two adventurers in south, central Pennsylvania. That was the day Chris and I played hooky from our respective jobs to visit local print shops.

Our original plan was to visit the area print shops on Monday, the 5th, seeing how both our places of employment were closed for the Independence Day holiday. It’s quite embarrassing, the amount of time between formulating our original plan and realizing that if both of our employers were closed, then logic would dictate that the area print shops would be closed as well. However, we quickly recovered by coming up with a reasonably good idea. Using my vast knowledge of Excel, we created an easy to use pricing grid, so the shops could quickly drop in what they’d charge for different quantities and different page counts for both full color comics as well as black and white. Little did we know what amounts they’d be dropping into those grids!

The day started with breakfast at the local diner. Chris had a coffee and a bagel. I, Sasquatch, ate two eggs, a side of bacon, a slice of ham, hash-browns, three chickens, a sheep, and a frightened villager attempting to flee. Never underestimate the importance of a good breakfast. While in the diner, we (very uncharacteristically) prepared for our day by charting out our stops and in what order to hit them. That included a printed map of Harrisburg and surrounding suburbs with annotated and footnoted visual approximations of where the various print shops were located. Our waitress took one glance at our notes and was speechless. Chris told her that I was the guy from “A Beautiful Mind.” We can only assume that she requested to her manager that someone else wait on our table, because that was the last we saw of her during our time there. Oh well. Onward and upward.

I was excited. I felt adventurous and entrepreneurial. It may have been the sugar, but I felt like fighting crime, rescuing a damsel in distress and saying, “I’m Batman!” Chris showed his enthusiasm a different way. After arriving at every destination he would scream, “Dude, stop standing on my car yelling like a lunatic! And take that mask off – no one believes you’re Batman!”

The journey itself went smoothly. I could say that my parents were right about reaping the rewards of good organization and executing a well thought out plan, but I’ll instead say it was a fluke that things went so well.  The first place we visited was a smaller shop known more for business cards and wedding invitations, but they were close by and we were itching to start. They warned us that they were probably not going to be competitive, but they took one of our pricing grids and talked to us anyway. And we learned a couple things – it takes them awhile to compile a price, so we weren’t going to get any figures that day, and the printing term “bleed” means artwork that goes to and beyond the borders.

As can be expected with any comparison-shopping, there were some snafus along the way, specifically the people we were dealing with. One guy actually laughed at us. Now, we’re very aware that when the representatives from most places were smiling at us it was to stifle a laugh. And we’re pretty sure the guy who laughed was “visiting the Astral Plane with Dr. Strange” in the back room before we came in. We had another place tell us that their services were meant for “more business related customers.” There was also the hole-in-the-wall that was located in an all but abandoned lot in the seedier side of the neighborhood that we dared not enter. We simply (and probably wisely) drove on by, crossed it off our annotated and footnoted list, and sought out our next target.

There was one place that has dug itself into my brain like a mental tick, though. The address took us onto the typical specialty shop and café laden market street of the typical picturesque small town, America. However, the print shop was difficult to find, for it was hidden behind the market street buildings, accessible only by alleyway and parking lot. Being curious monkeys, we ventured into the crooked building that could have served as a prohibition distillery, despite the summer afternoon breeze carrying with it the “Dueling Banjos” tune. Holding true to the ramshackle environment, we were greeted with, “Who’s there? What do you want?” by a scowling man, seemingly ready to grab his shot gun and start shooting if he suspected us to be IRS agents after his moonshine. Yet, we talked to him anyway, because we heard that this shop offered some of the best prices. The conversation was uneasy and pensive, the underlying tension of walking through a field of set mousetraps.  He must have spent too much time inhaling ink fumes or exotic paper particles, because during mid-thought he’d space out and change the conversation thread more often than an obsessive-compulsive with the flu changes handkerchiefs. We were both happy to leave; neither of us having to squeal like a pig.

For the most part, the people we talked to were wonderful and very helpful, quick to answer all of our questions and share any knowledge. We got an education – one that could have only been acquired through the experience. One particular shop excelled at that. Every person there not only treated us well, but were also excited about what we were trying to do, asking us more questions than we asked them. Except for one conspiracy diatribe about “the paper company bastards” all meeting in secret locations every year to collectively raise the price of paper, we felt very comfortable with them. They also got bonus points for every member of the staff having their own micrometer – even the receptionist!

After visiting a dozen different print shops in one day, we rewarded ourselves with an all-you-can-eat stromboli and pizza buffet. As a side note – a beer never tastes any better than at 2:00 in the afternoon when you have the day off and the rest of the world is at work! Alas, our adventure concluded with a late afternoon showing of “Spider-Man 2.”

Yes, we also searched on-line for national companies who print comic books more often than the local ones we visited. We won’t bore you with all the places we found and contacted. I’m sure you’d find the same places we did by simply typing in “comic book printing” in any search engine. However, we will tell you that if you’re planning on doing a black and white comic, then The Small Press Co-Op might be the place for you. They had the best prices for what we were looking to do and (judging from the sample they sent to us) they do quality work.

All in all, if anyone reading this is thinking about self-publishing, then we suggest you do as much research as possible about printing since it is the most important part of the publishing process. Even though we’re probably going to use the Small Press Co-op, the experience of taking a day off work to visit local printers was an invaluable piece in the education puzzle. Hell, even if you’re not planning on self-publishing, we suggest you visit some local print shops anyway – you might find some good moonshine….

Next Issue: “Reconnaissance.”

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