In August 2016 my bffl Alice Chipkin crossed the oceans so we could spend a month on a self-imposed residency with the hopes of making a comic. It was our way of having a conversation about what had unfolded over the past year when I had found myself in a deep depression, and at that stage, this work was for no one but ourselves.
Our first three readers were three powerhouse female farmers that worked the land where we were staying. Their warm and kind responses encouraged us to show others, and soon we had sent out a terribly scanned version of the work to some friends in the comics world with one specific question in our minds – is this worth publishing?
I’ve learnt now that our process was a relatively speedy one. From the first draft to book launch was nine months (which also explains the two weeks of deep deep fatigue that settled in after we released the book). Looking back, I can identify two major processes that happen when you decide to self-publish.
Part one is dealing with all the practicalities, the actual turning of a work into a physical thing you can hold and people can buy. We roped in a good friend as an editor and buoy to hold on to as we charted through seemingly endless waves of unknown territory: How do we scan and prepare the work for printing? What size templates do the pages need to adhere to? What’s the difference between digital and offset printing? Do we still need a barcode if we have bought an ISBN? What do you do at a book launch?
Part two is what happens to you, your emotional landscape and the way you understand yourself as a person, while readying the work for the public eye. The mental gymnastics of deciding to self-publish our creative work were some of the most complex and bewildering I have undertaken. The usual doubt and self-criticism were rammed up three levels. Added to the mix was having to actually show others our work and not just leave it in piles on our bedroom floors. Then there was promoting ourselves in-person and online – what felt (and still feels) like just about all the time. A self-publishing process like ours means suddenly you’re pushing the boundaries of who you know yourself to be and you don’t know if or how you’re going to make it through. It’s thrilling and scary and exhausting and on better days, utterly beautiful too. I feel lucky to be going through all this with Alice. We are safety nets and sounding boards for each other.
The thing is, our book exists in a very large part because of the kindness of friends and colleagues who took the time to teach, support and point us gently in the right direction. There are so many micro-decisions to be made. My advice for self-publishers would be to embed yourself in community of people doing similar work to you. Reach out to others who have done the same, even if it’s cold-calling. Be gentle with your self-criticisms. Know the unruly and unpredictable will come, so build solid supports. If you get offers from friends to help, let them. Don’t take the DIY to mean your need to manage it all (including your self) by yourself. I think DIYWOSY (do it yourself with others supporting you) sounds better anyway.
Written by Jessica Tavassoli.
Eyes Too Dry is the debut graphic novel by Alice Chipkin and Jessica Tavassoli. It’s a memoir about heavy feelings, queer friendship and the therapeutic possibilities of comic making. Eyes Too Dry is currently sold out but will be re-released on September 1st. To find out more, visit eyestoodry.tumblr.com.