Modern North American comic book stories (excluding humor, children’s, and anthologies) are, on average, about 22 pages long (though this can vary anywhere from 20-24). The monthly comic you buy at the shop is likely to be about 32 pages total, including ads, other materials, and 4 cover sides (that’s both sides of the front cover + both of the back cover).
Thus, independent creators have often aimed to create a 20+ page story. And that’s fine.
But you don’t need to necessarily do that in order to express your creative vision and sell your comic.
Certainly, if you are looking to have a mainstream publisher print your comic, you’ll probably want to make it as traditionally-formatted as possible. Ditto if the Direct Market is where you are primarily aiming to offer your comic book.
Today’s market, however, offers several alternative ways to distribute your comic:
I’ll be honest with you, I don’t see you getting rich off of your digital independent comic (unless you are an established creator with a big following). But there is no better way to market your work and gain publicity than getting it on as many digital platforms as possible.
And in the digital space, the “22 page” rule starts to become meaningless.
Your first issue could be 15 pages. Or serialized on a service like Taptastic for several pages at a time.
The point is: if digital is going to be your main avenue for distribution, there is no reason to tie yourself to a 22-page “block” of story. And this can be a relief to the creator who is bankrolling his or her own publication. (similarly, you don’t need to stick with the standard 6.63” x 10.25” size).
There is a certain profit-margin with print that digital can’t beat. You might make far more profit at a convention selling your comic than you may ever do in a year on a popular digital service.
Again, you don’t need to have a 22-page story to do this. Some self-pub services will give you the option to make comics as short as 8 pages long (4 pages + 4 cover-sides).
So do you really need to make your comic around 20+ pages long?
Interestingly, most people or clients (who are also people) I talk to, who have grown up on traditional comics, want the traditional comic page length (and format) regardless. And that’s completely OK.
But if you are on a limited budget, and a traditional style/distribution is not a huge issue for you, consider making your comic shorter, or serialized in smaller bits over a longer period of time.
Conversely…make it bigger. Make it an epic 300-page graphic novel. Knock yourself out. 🙂