Photograph of the Amphiox mini-graphic novel, artfully posed within some overgrown ivy. The cover is black and has a fish tail on it with the title 'AMPHIOX' running vertically down the middle. Serpentlike coils writhe in the background of the cover. The artist/author label reads 'H. McGill http://hmcgill.art'.

My Online Shop is Now Live
Truth be told, I’ve been promising this online shop for years. I think over a decade, now, people have asked for a digital shop and I’ve been unable to supply it. I’ve just not been able to set the shop up. It’s been a combination of perilous housing decisions, competition for P.O. Boxes, and optimizing my offerings. A lot of the trouble setting up this shop has been really personal and embarrassing. Now, at last, I’m in a state of mind and security to offer products through an online shop. I am grateful that a lot of people really wanted my art to be available online. The convention exclusivity was not ideal for anyone.

After so many years, what was the tipping point for this shop to be set up? Basically — I have a product worth selling online, now. It’s a high enough price point to be worth my time shipping, even if I only get one sale during a given week. It’s an interesting and collectible item, too, at least for us grungy indies skulking around in the backroom of the comics industry.

When I finished my proof-of-concept short graphic novel, Amphiox, I explored several options for independent print distribution. Amazon seems complicated. Etsy destabilized years ago. I disliked Kickstarter’s embrace of blockchain. Crowdfundr, a Kickstarter alternative, created a workshop just for kidlit and Young Adult books. I was invited and it seemed good. I read through the recruitment emails intensely, before ultimately deciding I didn’t want to do crowdfunding at all. I fear scammers who pledge and then cancel the pledge at the last moment. The gamification of sales and possibility of failure turn me off as well. My online presence is simply not big enough to fundraise thousands of dollars.

All of this, and…

The weird thing is, I don’t want to grow too quickly. 

A crowdfunding campaign, especially one with official themed highlighting and curation, gets a lot of eyes. Strangers are introduced to indie products. These campaigns are designed to play on people’s emotions. Hopes rise. Crowdfundr was very kind to invite me but they had invited many similar people, so I didn’t feel like I was harming anything by declining. Since Amphiox would have been gathered into a group of other indie works, pending approval anyway, I couldn’t bear to see it fail its goal. A failure would be compared unfavorably to the other crowdfunding successes. So, in a way, I’m purposefully standing in the way of my own growth.

I’m not sure if Amphiox is the ‘first impression’ that I want the larger reading world to have of me. There are parts of a possible continuation I haven’t workshopped. My freshly-formed ideas are frequently too edgy for most readers, especially in the kidlit world. Amphiox isn’t made for a specific audience. It’s just me, fooling around. There isn’t even a concrete plan to continue it. I would hate to be shackled to overblown expectations, if it were unexpectedly well-received. I feel like it’s much better if this project gets passed around through understated word-of-mouth, via friends who share things with each other. It would be insincere to pretend this is a big, world-changing project worth hype. I like Amphiox so much better as a nifty little secret thing.

Photograph of a box full of 'Amphiox' graphic novels. The graphic novel has a giant fishtail with a glowing fin on the front. The graphic novels are stacked and wrapped in shrinkwrap inside of the box.The unboxing of Amphiox, 1st edition — pretty exciting!

Shipping is also an area where I lack expertise. I hear horror stories where unexpected fees make every sale cost the artist more to make and ship the product than to do nothing at all. Crowdfunding sites take fees. Shipping supplies were also something I didn’t have much experience purchasing in bulk. The local USPS office is also like something out of a Parks and Rec episode, in terms of in-person customer service (love them, but it’s true). Having stood in line behind a person with 200 envelopes that needed individual stamping, I’m willing to bet this post office isn’t equipped to handle mass package mail-outs.

So, what to do?

 

  1. I didn’t want competition. Especially not with my friends and fellow creatives.
  2. I wanted to avoid allying myself with ‘yet another’ digital platform, whose code of conduct might change unexpectedly or which might shatter and vanish outside of my control.
  3. I didn’t want my ‘test’ comic to be regarded as all that I am capable of, forever.
  4. And, most of all…I just wanted to see what I could do on my own terms, with low stakes.

 

Call me sentimental, but I’m really enjoying the experimental stage of my artistic identity. I’m not ready to give up the freedom that obscurity grants me.

An independent digital shop was ultimately my solution. I didn’t do much research, but I did compare Ko-fi’s shopfront to WooCommerce, which is built into my WordPress theme. Hacking a shop into my existing website appealed to my partner, Devin. I’d gotten almost all the way through setting up a WooCommerce shop but some sort of unknown technical hurdle stopped me from finalizing the shopfront. Devin is a seasoned software engineer so I asked him to poke around and see what I’d done wrong.

It turns out…

I’d neglected to click a button…

So then Devin clicked the button for me because at that point I decided to give him the win. I don’t quite remember if it was the button press that did this, but at some point the shop setup replaced my entire homepage with a default shopfront. I was so horrified that a feeling of calm settled into me. Was it ennui? This dead feeling? Well, displaying my stuff online doesn’t even matter, does it? I get like a hundred hits on each blog post, tops. I’m small, and this is fine.

Screenshot of the ugly shop layout, including an unnecessary sidebar, search bar, and an ugly stock photo of a 'come in, we're open' sign.The horror.

That’s the thing about WordPress and other WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) editors. A software engineer is going to look at code, understand it, and execute a clean solution. With a plugin, the backend is largely hidden. Out of an attempt to be simple, a plugin button can be quite unpredictable to press. It was nobody’s fault but mine, since I hadn’t deliberately made a backup version of my homepage. For a bleak moment, all the work I’d done designing my homepage had resulted in a blank, default shop page.

Luckily my homepage still existed on the server. The WooCommerce shop setup had simply made a new, different homepage and redirected to that. Some wrestling with the dashboard and everything was put back in place. I set up my shop with various items to make it seem less empty. I haven’t figured out how to ship prints yet, but I know they would really spruce up the page visually. Books get a little discount on postage rates so for now, I only sell zines. My first branch-out may be international shipping, but we’ll see.

Suffice to say, I’m now offering print and pdf-only editions of Amphiox, among other copies of my work. This isn’t crowdfunding, as I can cover an initial run by myself. But, if you’d like to help yourself to a copy from this run of Amphiox, I have some cute goodies included and appreciate the support. I printed my zines via Mixam, and my stickers via StickerApp.

Product photo of three different vinyl sticker designs, still in their StickerApp bags. One sticker is a smaller version of the Amphiox cover with rounded corners. Another sticker is the golden bee-infused 'H' logo that I use to represent my brand. The third sticker is an egg with a baby amphiox inside.

Order your copy of Amphiox here
(includes spoiler PDF and stickers):
https://hmcgill.art/product/amphiox-graphic-novel-1st-edition-preorder/

While you’re in the shop, feel free to add other things to your cart, too!
I print shipping stickers every Wednesday and ship by the following Saturday or earlier.

Care to read more?

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