Friday, September 3, 2010

What We Eat: Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing

Welcome to What We Eat where we take a look at the books, movies, and plays that have influenced the direction of Playlab NYC.

Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing
by Dave Sim

Earlier this year I attended a meeting of the Off-Off-Broadway Community Dish where Nosedive Productions Co-Artistic Director and Blogger James Comtois mentioned that the book that he and his partner in crime, Pete Boisver, used as their bible for theater producing was the Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing by Dave Sim. As a lapsed comic book reader his comment had my immediate attention. At the time the various editions of The Guide were out of print and as much as I wanted to read the book I couldn’t seem to get my hands on a copy. In June of this year Dave Sim published a new edition of The Guide, and I picked up a copy in August.

The June 2010 edition has been updated and expanded, and it is no doubt very different from the slimmer original 1997 book. The 1997 version was expanded from Dave Sim’s Notes From the President column found in issues of his Cerebus comic. I don’t know if it is just inflation or if the new book is significantly different but the original cost $4 and the new edition is $18!

I’ve been through The Guide twice so far, and it turns out that Dave Sim’s advice about self-publishing comic books does, as Comtois suggested, translate very easily into self-producing theater. But the truth is that The Guide probably translates very easily into any one of a number of self-starting enterprises – blogging for instance.

Of course, when approaching the book for theater it is necessary to do a lot of word substitutions. For example: Self-Publishing = Self-Producing, Penciling = Playwriting, Inking = Directing, Publishers = Venues, Conventions = Festivals (at least in Playlab NYC’s case), and an issue of a comic book = a single show.

Some of the lessons in producing that can be learned from Dave Sim include:

“Don’t spend money that you don’t have. Do only what you can comfortably afford to do.” (From page 13) - Amen to that. Jennifer and I would certainly like to spend more money on our productions, but at the same time we are not going to incur any credit card debt to pull it off.

“Enjoy creativity, first, last and always for its own sake. If it isn’t fun, find a new way to do it that is fun. Satisfy yourself every step of the way.” (From page 15) – My reaction to that is a whole different blog entry for another day.

My biggest A-HA! was found on page 96. It not only sums up my reaction to participating in FringeNYC, but in trying to put up shows in an over saturated market like NYC. “It’s a very large crowd and each [theater company] is a unique as a snowflake. In a blizzard that’s a small consolation for the individual snowflake.”

I highly recommend the book to any would-be Off-Off-Broadway producers out there. A lot of the comments in The Guide are common sense I suppose, but it is nice to be reminded of it every now and again. The book is filled with thoughts about needing to overcome your own inertia, creative dead ends, and the pitfalls of relying on other people’s help. I would be curious to hear from any producers out there what they made of the book.

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