It would have been nice if we could have gotten the book out sooner, but we simply didn't have all the pieces we needed to make it happen until this year. Because some of you may be interested in what I mean by "all the pieces" I'll post them below.
The first obstacle to book publication was Howard's early artwork. The stories in Schlock Mercenary have always been good, but distributors and readers would have had a hard time accepting that the stories were good when the art looked so unprofesssional. Howard gradually improved his artwork to a point where he felt like it was good enough. He even hired a colorist (Jean Elmore) to give Schlock Mercenary a polished look. When Jean had to quit because of a repetitive strain injury, Howard had to learn how to do the pretty colors himself.
The next obstacle was time. Howard was working 50-60 hours per week for Novell, 10-20 hours per week on the comic strip, and trying to squeeze in family and relaxation time. There was no time left for Howard to be working on putting a book together. When Howard quit Novell, he suddenly had the time, but our family had a serious lack of money. That first year was spent on commercial projects and learning how to live lean so that we could keep our bills paid.
Finding the right partnership was critical as well. At first we hoped that Keenspot would be the right partnership, but we found that we disagreed with the way that the Keenspot business was run. Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games offered to help us publish the schlock book. This offer was a godsend. The SJ team helped us see how the book needed to be formatted and had all kinds of useful marketing ideas. When we discovered that we couldn't afford to let a distributor take any of the book profit and decided that we had to self publish, Steve Jackson and his team didn't hold any hard feelings. More than that, they sent us all the files they had put together and gave us excellent advice about order fulfillment.
Joining Blank Label Comics was critical as well. I have to admit that I had reservations about Howard joining another webcomic collective so soon after we left Keenspot. I quickly realized that Blank Label Comics was a very different endeavor. The support from the fellow cartoonists there has been amazing. I watched several of them as they went through publishing books and I began to see how it could work. Steve Troop even volunteered to help us with the layout. Communicating with these other cartoon professionals helped us realize that we'd come to a place where we were really ready to publish and mail the book ourselves.
There were so many pieces that had to fall into place. I'm amazed that it has finally all come together. Schlock Mercenary is poised to fly and carry our family along with it.