Split Lip creator Sam Costello has written a series of four articles for iFanboy about the publishing life, and they are all worth a look, but the last one is particularly compelling because he reveals the real numbers behind his publishing operation.
Sam is the writer of Split Lip, a horror anthology comic that he describes as "along the lines of the Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt." He hires artists to draw the comic, and he pays them up front; it starts as a webcomic, then he collects the stories into print editions, which he self-publishes. How's that working out for him? Sam figures he lost $7,863.32 between July 2009 and June 2010. Publishing is hard, especially when you pay your artists up front (unlike, say, Bluewater Comics, which does everything on spec).
Sam spends a bit of time debating whether he should simply regard the comics thing as an expensive hobby, but he decides in the end that it's more of an investment.
Maybe it’s better to look at that number as being part of the expenses required to ramp up a new business. Most businesses lose a good deal of money in their first five years; in fact, most businesses don’t survive to see their fifth birthday (Split Lip turns four in October).
And maybe with a few more years’ hindsight, that’s how I’ll see this. An investment in the future. Maybe.
That's a tough leap of faith, but Sam does have a good job and an understanding girlfriend, so he's well placed to take the risk. Also, his comics are really good, although the audience for horror is somewhat limited.
Anyway, it's worth reading the article to see how real numbers break out for one creator. Sam gives his website traffic as well, although that's more a lesson in the unreliability of any one set of statistics.