Friday, December 15, 2006

ComicSpace, A New Resource for the Comic Professional

There's a new game in town or better said, there's a new community in town.

ComicSpace started up earlier this month and although it is shy on functions as of right now, comic creators, retailers and publishers are flocking to it. Unlike MySpace ComicSpace is all about COMICS, which should benefit users who are looking to network to further their creative/business efforts.

Of course yours truly has staked out a plot at . ComicSpace is free to all and is subsidized through banner ad sales and donations.

On, ComicSpace creator Josh Roberts, a comic fan and creator says his new site,

About a month ago I felt like I really just needed a break from, which I've been recoding from the ground up since earlier this summer. I had registered the domain name over a year ago but never got around to doing anything with it. (I have a mild addiction to registering domain names that have to do with comics.) A friend had recently dragged me into MySpace so I thought it would be a fun diversion to whip up a comics-oriented version of the site. Four weeks later, here we are.

I plan to make RSS a big part of the site for creators who don't want to post news / updates / comics to yet another site. Free comic hosting will be available. I'll add a way for users to specify their connection to the field of comics, i.e. writer, artist, publisher, retailer, etcs., then users will be able to browse or search those sub-groups. There will probably be a "Fans" list along with the "Friends" list. I'm kind of embarrassed that so few features are available, but like I said before, I didn't think the site would take off like it has.

Things look interesting and with ~5,000 folks already hooked in, the only question left seems to be, ARE YOU?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Hey Comic Publishers...

Long time no see! Actually, according to the stats, a lot of you are still finding me even though I haven't posted anything new in awhile, thanks for coming by.

Loads of things are going on, including Comickaze being named Best Comic Shop of San Diego for the second year in a row! I do take a lot of pride in it because it took a lot of work for voters to nominate us. They had to vote for at least 15 write-in nominees, it wasn't just a check off of the coolest sounding names on a prepopulated ballot.

So thank you to all who took the time to vote for us again and if there's anything you think we need to improve on for 2007, please let us know.

Anyway on to new matters. Much like the original birth of the following idea(s), in store conversation reminded me of an idea I'd posted to my peers in the Comic Book Industry Alliance almost 3 yrs ago to the day. I'm not going to comment on it yet, just chew on it a little and see if it resonates with you.

I will be back shortly to see if I think it holds up with everything that's been visited on us in the years since it was written.

I had some epiphanies today while talking shop with a few folks about industry issues.

The other night I noticed a CBS show pimping CD's from that episode's soundtrack, a la Smallville and as usual I flew into a rage and booted my poor kitty through the nearby window*. Today I finally realized why this upsets me so, let me know if this makes as much sense to you as it did to us.

Movie and Music studios are spending millions to promote sales of CD/DVDs and are consequently moving hundreds of thousands of units, including offerings based on comic properties whose titles are selling at less than 10% of their more glamorous relatives.

Movies and Cd's cost far more to create and promote than comics and per title, are produced on a far less timely pace and at retail carry a a much smaller retail value. Why do I say this? Well, movie franchises normally release installments once every 2-4 years and music albums every 1-2 years with singles sprinkled in. SRP on DVDs seems to run $20-25 and CDs run $15-20.

Looking at comics and reviving and expanding an old analogy (from Ellis IIRC) comic issues or "singles" are released as often as monthly or 12 per year with an average cost of $2.75 or $33/yr and are often collected into at least 1 Album at $15. So a single title with one TPB, produced at a cost far less than it's CD/DVD brethern, has potential retail sales of $48/yr or 2-3x the CD/DVD.

The consumer response to movies based on Spider-Man, Matrix, X-Men, Batman and even Harry Potter and LotR prove, as do media hyped events like Death of Superman, Origin, Heroes, 1602 or 30 Days of Night (after the movie option was announced), that there is an appreciation for these kinds of stories that will translate into a demand, if the public is made aware.

So it seems to me that the difference is truly (only?) the amount of promotion applied to the project much moreso than the medium.

How much more succesful would this industry be if the same efforts were made to promote the sales of a comic with a potential retail of 2-3x the retail of a CD/DVD, that costs far less to produce and is far less likely to be ripped/pirated or otherwise obtained for free?

Is it really possible that comic/TPB/GN promotion on the scale of CD/DVD could pay of as well or better than it does for CD/DVD? And if so, then why when other entertainment companies are spending hundreds of millions to promote the sale of $15-25 items based on our product, are comic publishers so intent on just throwing their $48 items indifferently into the direct market to fend for themselves?

C'mon publishers, 50 million people went to see Spider-Man, 35-40 million went to see X-Men 1 & 2 and millions more bought the DVDs and soundtracks while only 100k are buying the damned comics.

Wake up!

* No kitties were actually harmed in the making of this rant!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Comickaze Channel Online with vMix!

I may be a bit biased but I believe this will be huge, possibly the biggest boost to the recognition of comics big and small, that has happened... well maybe ever!

Hyperbole, I think not. What is the #1 reason we hear from all publishers and creators about why they don't promote their work more?

Yep, money Well that excuse is gone now because the COMPLETELY FREE TO USERS Comickaze Channel on is now live and over the next few weeks will be uploading comic and comic related content from all over the world and I am still looking for Comic Trailers to help increase the awareness of comics amongst the unenlightened.

Tell your favorite creators, hell, make one for them and send it to me at with the subject comic trailer. See links in previous posts for examples of what folks are doing.

Actually here's one from Jeffery Stevenson for his new series Task Force 1 from Image Comics.

Videos by vMix Member: Jeffery Stevenson

Not only can you create and run video content but if you're a techno-feeb like me, you can use the free PJ-180 software to create a slideshow with a soundtrack and special effects. On Friday July 21 I took a break from the Comic Con to visit The Palm restaurant where John Romita Sr, Jr and Billy Tan were adding drawings of Spider-Man, Captain America and Wolverine to the other illustrations and caricatures on the walls of The Palm.

Armed only with my cell phone I snapped off some pictures and later that day took about 15 minutes to slap this together. You can hardly tell I didn;t even bother to read the directions (that's how easy it is).

Videos by vMix Member:

So who's first?
Marvel has already sent copies of trailers, do you really want to cede the lead to them that easily when you have an opportunity that finally lets you go toe to toe with the big boys?

Oh and to my fellow techno-feebs... if you are a creator, ask your fans to make some for you and then send them some cool schwag and mention them in the next issue.

Still here???

Get to work!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Skeletons Loot San Diego Comics Shop

Strange but true tale.
by Press Release - Atlas Press

June 27, 2006 - Tuesday morning a bizarre theft occurred at an institution in the comic book community, Comickaze on Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Three suspects in typical Halloween skeleton costumes entered the store and turned over a display full of old comics, spilling them all over the floor. The men grabbed several Golden Age comics. Owner Robert Scott and his clerk could only watch.

Scott, who has been known to employ various disciplines of martial arts in dispatching would-be criminals, was at a rare disadvantage. "I couldn't move an inch," explained Scott. "It certainly wasn't out of fear, because these guys in their hokey costumes weren't the least bit scary. But my arms and legs were heavy as lead, and wouldn't move until the crooks had left the store. The same think happened with everyone on site." Exactly what books are missing are not known yet. "We still have to clean up this mess, but from what I was able to see, they grabbed some early appearances of the character Marvel Boy. I want those back- with the character returning in Marvel's Agents of Atlas this summer, those old issues are going to go up in value!"The perpetrators specifically ignored other valuable comics to grab the ones with Marvel Boy. "They kept pointing at the covers, examining them," explained clerk Lucky Bronson. "I got the impression they wanted just one, but weren't sure which. One guy was pointing at each word, like he was trying to get a message out of the books or something."If anyone has any tips pertinent to this case, they are urged to not call authorities, but instead leave such information at The Temple of Atlas weblog on

Friday, June 23, 2006

Brand New Outreach Opportunity for Comics, Don't Get Left Behind!

My God, 8 weeks since my last post, yeah, good thing this ain't paying the bills!
Well here's a bit of what I've been working on in the interim.

For those keeping score, you know I hold publishers and creators responsible for creating demand for their product, just like any other successful business. Too many believe that their work will speak for itself (and truth be told it often does, though not in the way the creator hoped!) and many others shirk their responsibilities under the guise of expense while others who find the ducats to do some marketing often waste it by trying to go toe to toe with Marvel & DC in Wizard, CBG, Previews, Newsarama...

Ok,ok... So what's a poor bastards creating the creme de la creme of graphic literature to do? Where and how can someone with limited resources grab folks by the shorthairs and convert them into fans of their work? If you're reading this then you already know... THE INTERNET!

I've already discussed the Street Team Concept in the Publishers Post but know I'll give you another tool, one that has yet to be used by any other comic and one that can give you almost unfettered access to hundreds of thousands of potential readers/fans.

I'm working with a group of guys to create a comic driven content channel in their new online environment called VMIX.COM . They host user uploaded content in a variety of genre and format, much of it designed to attract wireless users in addition to computer users. Wanting to get beyond the cell phone "kicked in the nuts" type of videos, VMix is partnering with high profile entertainment companies that will act as anchor tenants, delivering loads of users looking for cool new content and ready and willing to spread your message if they like what they see.

From their About Us page:

The problem with any work of creativity is finding an audience.

The Internet and the Web have a history of taking people's creative works and making them available to the world.

First was the world of text and images. Anyone with a server and a little expertise could put up their web pages and communicate. Search engines like Yahoo and then Google made it easy to find. As time went on, the technology got easier and easier to the point where the computers became invisible and publishing your thoughts became no more difficult than writing an email.

Sites, like the original, took the Internet in new directions. No longer were people constrained to words and images. Sound filled the net. Every musician had a free way to publish their art and the world could easily find them. Podcasting took it a step further. It wasn't any longer just about the music. Soon everyone was a radio broadcaster, a talk show host or a news
commentator. No longer did you have to find the music, the music and the stories found you.

And yet, still something was missing. We have words, images, sound but no video. OK, sure we have video from CNN, MTV and MSN but where is MY video. We want the ability to share with the most powerful medium that exists. And we want it to be easy. And we want it to be free.

Why video? Video tells a story in a way that is more powerful than anything else. Instead of the message being packaged and processed, as it needs to be for television, the World Wide Web's democratic messaging will be something entirely different. It will be personal. It will be silly, sad, exciting, boring and sometimes very powerful. But when the video is relevant to the audience it will become the perfect storytelling device. Video is a true chance to capture moments of our life and share it with the world.

And so was born the idea of vMix was founded by artists, musicians and executives from the original

At we are creating that venue for the artist in all of us.
- Greg Kostello, CEO, vMix Media Inc.

Any of this sound familiar?

So here's what I'm proposing. I want creators to put together animated trailers for their project(s). Heck here's an opportunity for you guys to enlist your army/street teams, send out a call to action for your fans to create their own trailers and reward the best with some cool schwag.

Not grasping the concept of a Comic Book Trailer, take a gander at these:

I'll try to add more links later or folks who know of some can post the below by posting a comment.

Crossgen's Comics on the Web was another great example where they scanned in full issues and manipulated the images and captions.

This is a great way to reach out to animation/movie fans who may not currently be comic fans and lets face it the number of people not reading comics is probably a magnitude higher than those who are. So instead of continuing to fight for a fairly finite number of customers with every other Tom, Dick and Larry, producing a comic, why not hop outside the box and start working the folks nobody has dibs on... yet?

Interested? My boy Damian says that they can accomodate almost any length video but I'd urge you to concentrate on high powered intense 2-4 minute trailers, you can't afford to alienate the wireless web and/or dial-up users. It will also make it easier to rotate fresh pieces on a regular basis.

Any tech questions can be directed to Damian Hagger, tell him Robert @ Comickaze sent you. So whadda ya got?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Direct Market, If I were in Charge: Publishers


In addition to the items above publishers,

  1. Would never sign an exclusive distribution deal that prevents retailers from taking business to the distributor best suited to meeting their needs.
  2. Quit being so damn paranoid. Work with your peers (competition). Combine marketing efforts and advertising. Develop co-op campaigns WITH retailers and their local community media.
  3. Stop debuting projects at conventions AND use conventions for what they are really for, OUTREACH. The only shops that are damaged by convention debuts are shops that ARE ALREADY SUPPORTING YOU. As hard as it can be to get shops to carry your work, why make life less rewarding for those who are buying in to you? You should know what conventions you're attending in advance, create a flier listing all known area retailers who suport your product line and in conjunction with these retailers develop a bounce back reward program that will drive these motivated buyers into those shops. These shops are your sales reps for these communities the other 361-364 days of the year, don't cut them off at the knees by selling into their customer base and running off at show end. Sow the seeds, tell the customers that you know that Comic Shop A will be there for all of their current and future needs and if they take this flyer in this coming week, not only will they discover a great shop but they'll get an exclusive freebie.

    Don't know what local shops are supporting your work? Shame on you! In a matter of minutes you can go to
    The Master List of Comic & Card Shops

    The Comic Shop Locator Service

    The Indy World Indy Friendly Stores List or even something like the

    Verizon Online Yellow Pages (which currently lists 2,259 comic shops)

    and reach out and touch someone.
  4. Would devise incentive rewards for retailers who support the first three issues of a new or retooled series at a predetermined level. Not these bullshit Dynamic Forces/Avatar Foil Logo "Variants" but something that adds value to the vendor/vendee relationship as well as enhances the positioning of your produc(s) in front of the consumer.

    Antarctic Press has a great program called Fistfull of Dollars that allows retailers to get 10 copies of a specified title for $10 (~68% discount). Jeff Mason has offerred Buy 10 Get 10 Free on Graphic Novels from his Alternative Comics label. As mentioned earlier on, Image Central offered Retaillers an additional discount for matching their Fell #1 initial order numbers to their orders for (still popular) Spawn #150.

    Even DC and Marvel (What? DC and Marvel need to stump for orders?) have greased the wheels on 52 and Civil War, books that would already have place in the top 5 any way. DC is offering retailers an unprecedented ability to return their entire order of 52 provided they initially meet a minumum order level. (*There is a cost of 25cents per returned issue which has both supporters and detractors.)

    Marvel is offering multiple incentives on Civil War including a massive free shipement of an introductory sketchbook, a staggered variant cover program and a two tiered bonus discount based on matching orders to House of M.

    These are just a few examples, retailers you are working with might have some other favorites to add and every publisher should be able to find ways to tailor many of these to thier budgets.
  5. Build STREET TEAMS!!!!! I like the possibly less PC term Army but whatever you call it, I don't care what your promotional budget is, EVERYONE can afford a street team and if you're book(s) are worthy, you'll likely have more volunteers for your volunteer army than you can shake a stick at. Create a page on your site that tracks efforts by your Army to promote your project(s) and award points for these efforts, listing the top scorers on your front page as well. Host downlaodable ashcans, and other artbomb type items for their use. Give them ways to approach friends, family and businesses (legally and respectfully!) to help build recognition and readership. If you can't move your fans to action, who can you move?

    You know what else, a sketch, a signed issue/poster, a page, a t-shirt, being drawn into the panel of an issue... are all things that cost you very little $$$ but will be invaluable rewards to your fans.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Direct Market, If I were in Charge: Creators

Here it is, the wrap up but more than likely not my last words on the following. I'm going to break these up by group because I'm conceited enough to believe that folks will be rushing to share the pertinent info with the thousands of folks that desparately need it and I want to make it as easy to find as possible. ;)

Let's roll this the way it came up in the preceeding articles by starting again with the folks without whom none of this would matter...


  1. If I were in charge, any creator who is self publishing and purporting to create an ongoing commercial work (meaning they expect anyone to pay for it) would have to present a full business plan covering creation, publishing, marketing and financial responsibility for completion of the series to their distributor(s), before the first issue could be considered for solicitation.
  2. Could never solicit an issue that was not ready to print and for a story arc of 4 issues or less, could never solicit without the entire series being completely scripted and pencilled.
  3. Would make a full issue preview of each issue available for retailer consideration prior to it's distributor(s) order cutoff date.
  4. Would use the time needed to complete issues prior to solicitation, to build awareness via website, indy news sources, personal appearances, street teams, etc...
  5. Would create a retailer nework, supporting participating retailers with downloadable P.O.P. materials like sell sheets, sign-up flyers, mini posters and shelf talkers. Would create an info only website listing retailers known to support their product line and always try to identify a local brick and mortar retailer to fulfill customers inquires before selling direct to the customer.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Is This Thing On?

Now you know why this is being done via a free blog and not via column-for-hire...

So many projects so little time! I promise I will tie things up this weekend, in fact I sold off my Saturday and Sunday Padre tickets to gain some much needed minutes. They should be able to do without me for a few games, right? I've got faith, even though Bearoid Bonds and his Gints managed to split the opening series.

So what's got me so twisted? well, you might have seen this on the news sites:

Chris Ware, Warren Ellis Garner Most Nominations for 2006 Eisners

The Eisner nomination process ate up a lot more time than I thought, yeesh, and here I thought I was well read! Well it's over now although I miss my compadres Christopher Allen (Comic Book Galaxy), cartoonist/publisher John Gallangher (Buzzboy), editor Nisha Gopalan (Entertainment Weekly) and product manager Robert Randle (Diamond Comic Distributors), who got me through the ordeal.

I did have some personal victories (for lack of a better word since I didn't really have to fight much once the others heard my reasoning).
  • Kyle Baker has both his humorous work The Bakers and his reality based work Nat Turner, both self published through Kyle Baker Publishing, represented. He really deseves kudos on both fronts.
  • Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius got a nod in Best Publication for a Younger Audience for Marvel (who amazingly neglected to send deserving Brubaker and Bendis material for consideration). Why is this important? One of the most telling problems in the industry is the graying of the fanbase. FRSoaG was a great read, almost as great as Gus Beezer, and I hoped that it's inclusion would send a message to Marvel (and others) that if they continued to put out strong product for younger readers, it would not go unnoticed.
  • 24 Hour Comics Day Highlights 2005 (About Comics) is in for Best Anthology. In just 2 years, teeny tiny publisher About Comics has really put some fun and novelty back into comics. From 24HCBD to the recent Jam War, Nat Gertler has got folks as excited about making comics as they are about reading them in a way no other publisher has. It was extremely important that folks notice and support this work. I wouldn't be suprised to see some of these 24HCBD contributors nominated for future work.

Other than that, Comickaze is rocking!

New fixtures and floor plans will hopefully be finalized (at least this wave) by Free Comic Book Day (Saturday, May 6th, if you didn't know). New POS Software, an extra register for those busy days and DSL or Cable so I can shitcan my dial-up account once and for all and maybe even a new Comickaze logo and store sign will all hopefully be in place before Comic-Con in July.

What me worry? C-ya soon!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Abraham Maslow and the Underpants Gnomes Part Last

Whew... I'm back, did you miss me? If Mamakaze had let me take the laptop, I might still be living on lobster and tequila south of the border! But enough of that, she didn't and I'm not, so let's tie up this excercise as promised with a look at the retail side of the equation.

Yep, retailers, my peeps, as much as I wish it weren't so, we do have to share in the blame here. Again, as with publishing, I speak with experience as I have been a comic shop owner/operator for much of the last 25 years. I have also made many (OK, most) of the idiotic mistakes that could be made to prevent the success of a comic shop and if truth be told, I've made some of them many times.

Looking back at previous installments, you might remember me mentioning that if I could pick just one reason for the woes of the comic industry, it is the extremely low barrier to entry. Because it is so inexpensive to create and publish a comic or even to sign a lease and open an account with Diamond Comics Distributors, the industry is rife with Hobbyists (vs Professionals), folks whose purpose is often less for profit and more for vanity. The lack of expense, seems to trick people into believing the endeavor will be easy and that business planning isn't necessary.

The industry can survive hobbyist creators and publishers and in fact may actually benefit from some of them. Until books are solicited, they really aren't on anyone's radar or timetable and there are thousands of other items available each month. So it really doesn't matter what other obligations or financial hurdles the creator/publisher has, as long as they ultimately solicit and deliver responsibly. But hobbyist retailers, well, these folks could very well be the death of the Direct Market as many stand as the proof of the Comic Shop Guy stereotype, representing the industry as the first (and last) face to current and potential customers and the way things stand today, if the DM falls there will be a lot of collateral damage.

So what exactly is the difference between a hobbyist and a professional and how does this relate to comic retailing? Well let's look at the two words, Robert Bogue at says:

Before we delve into the differences between the two, it's necessary to explore the definitions of the two groups. The first definition, that of a hobbyist, is:

"a person engaged in activities, in their spare time, that bring them pleasure."

OK nothing sinister there, eh? Aren't we all told to seek a profession that we enjoy? Unfortunately those who are not looking to their shops as a full time job, needing it to be profitable in order to support themselves and a family, often behave in ways that are detrimental to both the appearance and acceptance of comics as art and literature, furthering the basest of stereotypes for both the medium and it's fans.

So let's look at professional:

The professional has a slightly more complex definition, which includes:
Being Paid - A person being paid for a skilled activity
Being an Expert - Having demonstrated great skill or expertise in a given activity
Career Activity - Engaging in an activity for the purpose of a career
Professional Behavior - Conforming to standards of professional behavior

So while there is nothing nefarious about being a hobbyist, one can certainly see where it isn't necessarily as conducive to growing the comic market as the professional might be. Why? Retailer Failure #1

  • Like many comic shops, Comickaze opened on the strength of a partner with a decent line of credit and a condo whose rent was part of my compensation, my personal collection and my labor/knowledge. I ran the shop open to close, 7 days a week. The "plan" at the time was to grow the business to a point that it would pay both my partner and I a decent wage and then we would open more locations. Like the Underpants Gnomes, we had step 1: get comics and step 3: profit/expansion but totally spaced on step 2!

But let me back track here for a moment because I think some of you might think you know where I'm going with this and I just want to make some distinctions here.

Comickaze started primarily as a front of the catalog comic shop. Not because I don't like small press books, I have always had an affinity for them from Quack, Star*Reach, Metamorphosis Oddysey and Nexus to Groo, Star Slayer, Boris the Bear and Ex-Mutants, I personally enjoyed a far more diverse selection of comics than the stereotypical comic reader but from a business point of view, I had a hard time passing on my appreciation for small press work. Heck in my first go-around as a retailer as co-owner of The Comic Alternative in the early 1980's my distributor was also a small press publisher, Pacific Comics (and later as Blackthorne), who brought us a line of (as then relatively unheard of) creator owned series like Groo, Starslayer, Rocketeer and Captain Victory.

10 years later, following a long absence from anything comic related, I re-entered comic retailing with Comickaze and found that in my absence, the market had regressed. Having grown fat and happy while embracing style over substance the late 80's and early 90's exposed the lies of get-rich-quick gimmick covers and other manufactured collectible practices. And as fans realized that they had been lied to (whether overtly or covertly) by both publishers and retailers, they abandoned the hobby in droves, leaving many publishers and retailers mortally wounded. Why? Retailer Failure #2

  • Most (OK, all) comic retailers became retailers because they love comics, not because they were great business people who saw an excellent earning potential. Being able to buy their personal books wholesale and covering operating costs and a little more to scrape buy on was good enough and for many it still is or as Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics and the man behind Free Comic Book Day points to a comment by the late Carol Kalish in a column he wrote for Comics & Games Retailer:
    ...get your comics for free and have enough left over for a Big Mac and a Big Gulp.

This type of retailer was unable to recognize the oncoming headlights or able to make out the license of the vehicle that ran 'em over.

Since a lot of this growth had been built on smaller press and specifically black & white comics as everyone hoped to find the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, when those who'd bought into the get-rich-quick, copies by the case aspect of comics disappeared those that remained, went back to buying what they enjoyed reading and doing so in single copies. Leaving many remaining retailers wary of anything non Marvel, DC or based on recognized licenses like Dark Horse or "hot" creators like Image. It was easy and comfortable for bothe fans and the retailers to slip back into the Zombie mentality and for me, having missed both the boom and the bust, I set up Comickaze with those I was familiar with from my 80's tenure, Marvel, DC, Dark Horse (the new Pacific Comics to me) and Image still the belle of the ball as the new Marvel, with Lee's WildCATs & Silvestri's Cyberforce (X-Men), Liefeld's Youngblood (X-Force), Keown's Pitt (Hulk) and McFarlane's Spawn (Venom).

Many retailers, myself included continued to ride the Image bandwagon, even as our competitors continued to drop off, touting their potential future value as well as reaping the profits on recent "rare" back issues. IMNSHO the arrival and subsequent success of eBay probably did the most to expose the claims of rarity for many of these recent "hot" books as thousands of "rare" books began appearing there but not before registering with publishers that they had indeed been leaving a great deal of money on the table by leaving their properties innaccessible to fans who merely wanted to read the stories and would not pay $10+ for back issues if indeed they could be found. The mid to late 90's brought the (re)emergence of the Trade Paperback (TPB) collecting multiple issues of out of print issues, often for less than their combined initial cover price and always for less than the market price for the actual back issues as well as the & Graphic Novel (GN) long form comic stories never released in serial comic form but rather all at once in book form like prose novels.

This was probably the most significant change in the Direct Market since it began as it served as a demarkation point, an opportunity for comics to return to its role as entertainment as opposed to a collectible and also to reach out to prose book readers with a package that resembled less a childs pursuit and more the books they were faimiliar with and appreciative of.

But I say this with the benefit of hindsight and at the time I remember being fearful of this "new format". Hard enough selling $2 comics, how was I going to get customers to but $10-$15 books, especially reprints, books that could never be sold for more than cover price? Worse, how could I afford to buy them? Enter Retailer Failure #3

  • Jack of All product, Master of none. Who are you? Why should a comic reader or better yet a non comic reader, shop with you? Are you 31 Flavors or are you any flavor they want as long as it's vanilla? Do you offer superior knowledge, convenience, utility...? Or do you just exist from day to day glomming on to whatever hot item you can to maintain the satus quo but never really moving forward?

Me, I had Magic the Gathering, Sports & Non Sports Cards, Spawn Action Figures, Pogs and Pokemon! Why take a chance? Fortunately, for me a light went on about then. I'd spent a lot of my life in retail: books, pets, electornics... and I was seeing some patterns emerge. I realized that too much of what I was dealing with was fad driven and though that, in and of itself was not necessarily a bad thing, there was a strong possibility that these things would quickly go the way of Cabbage Patch Kids, Power Rangers and Metallic Die-Cut covers, so I had better figure out what could take their spot and hopefully lay a foundatin for future growth.

So I took a tip mentioned to me years earlier which was, to succeed, look at what everyone else is doing and do the opposite. So I began identifying the strengths of my competition and deciding where I could compete and where I couldn't or didn't want to.

The first thing I noticed was that 4 local shops had shut down in the previous 18 months (3 that were part of multi-store chains) and 2 prominent behaviors of these shops were, Retailer Failure #4

  • Reliance on high priced collectibles sold as investments. In other words something akin to a pyramid scheme that needed a steady supply of folks constantly buying product not to use it but to hold and resell at a higher price later. Problem, wheat happens when the items don't increase in value, folks whose sole motivation was resale, stop buying, leaving you on the hook for non-returnable product preordered to maintain sales levels.

and Retailer Failure #5

  • Discounting. For most comic shops a 15-20% discount wasn't uncommon which meant they were actually giving away close to half of their gross profit. Once sales started to slow, they had no way to compensate for lost profits and instead of eliminating discounting, actually increased it in an attempt to pull customers from other stores. But to do that, they had to move to a 100% sell through model meaning that customers that didn't pull and hold would be unlikely to find anything new on the shelves past New Comic Day. Those retailers continued to eat their own tails until *poof* nothing was left.

Armed with this info, I decided that it was time to separate from the herd and start building my business on the aspects that excited me about it in the first place. Out went the Sports/Non Sports Cards, Gaming and figures were de-empasized and a slow but considered addition of small press comics and trade paperbacks including my first exposure to Manga through Dark Horse. Oh yeah, no more discounts.

Some folks left for discounts elsewhere but many returned as they saw our commitment to having copies on the shelf for them to browse before buying, even weeks after they shipped, as well as carrying books that their new shop couldn't be bothered to order and in the meantime I actually started making enough money to afford to help to get an occasional day off! Which brings us to Retailer Failure #6.

  • The start of most business ventures, are going to entail a honeymoon period, a period where 60+ hour work weeks are novel and exciting but the length of that honeymoon is almost always finite and seems to be in proportion to the amount of preparation excercised prior to start-up. As it becomes evident that there is more to the day to day operation of a comic shop, than sitting around reading comics moods change which affects shopping experiences. Often you will also see a shop being run by "employees" legal or otherwise as owners re-join the work force to cover living expenses and business shortfalls.

    Unfortunately businesses like this (as well as weekend/eBay warriors) tend to leech sales from the marketplace and as discussed, with a market that is as malnourished as this, it can prevent the professional stores from finding sufficient volume to make it worthwhile to develop a full service full line shop.

Over the last two years I've forced myself to hire 2 employees, move to a larger location and made a concerted effort to market and merchandise Comickaze as a full service and full line comic bookstore. The effort and expense has clearly paid off both financially and professionally as we posted our strongest sales year ever, were named San Diego's best Comic Shop for 2005, and routinely have customers referred to us not only from other area comic shops but from area book stores. I was told that when TokyoPop approached a Borders store last year in preparation to bring VIP's from Japan to see the TokyoPop offerings, they were told they'd be better off coming to Comickaze!

The last failure I want to address though certainly not the last that could be addressed, is Retailer Failure #7

  • Communication or lack of. Too many comic retailers act as if they exist in a vaccuum, behaving as if competing businesses are the enemy, unwilling to share information or resources. No co-op outreach advertising. No buying groups to share increased discounts on products and services. No way, no how. Not always but seemingly more often than not.

Ultimately communication is the biggest reason for my success so far and will likely continue to be the catalyst for future growth. In 1997 I was at a crossroads, I was engaged to be married, I was still working 7 days a week, my former business partner lost the condo I was living in and my landlord decided that they were going to move up the demolition of the building my shop was in to facilitate the chain drugstore that was to build on that spot despite the fact that the new store fronts we were supposed to be moved in to were not going to be available for over 6 months. Due to our incredibly cheap but month to month lease (gee, it seemed like such a great deal at the time!) I had 30 days to vacate. Homeless both personally and business wise!

These are the kinds of things that happen when you fail to have a plan and any one or two of these would generally be enough to knock an unprepared person out. Somehow I kept on my feet but realized that I just didn't have the knowledge base to turn things around so I was going to have to figure out something quickly or I was going to have to fold the tent and explore opportunities in the fast food industry.

Someone was looking out for me because as I was doing product searches on the internet, I came across an ad for an online message board community. Looking at it I realized this would be an excellent way for retailers from around the country to share info with each other in a controlled environment. Hopefully the geographic distances of the people involved would allw them to lose the fear that might exist in giving a nearby competitor a hand and The Comic Book Industry Alliance was formed. Not long after this, membership which had originally been restricted to retailers, was expanded to include creators, publishers, distributors and other folks employeed in industry supportive positions. Over the last eight years the resulting exchange of information between the 700+ members from all facets of the industry has been invaluable to me and feedback from other members suggests this holds true for many of them as well.

OK, we've gone through the areas I feel are both most egregious and easily addressable at each level of the Comic Industry food chain. Next Monday a final pass as we look at how each level would work, IF I WERE IN CHARGE...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

One For The Road...

Just to prove I am an equal opportunity offender and to tide you over, here's a peek at a quickee piece I posted to ICv2 in response to a fellow retailer...

Robert Scott of Comickaze on 'Ultimate Avengers DVD

March 08, 2006
Robert Scott of Comickaze in San Diego, California saw the comments by Dean Phillips on the Ultimate Avengers The Movie DVD (see "Dean Phillips of Krypton Comics on Ultimate Avengers DVD") and has several ways to turn the situation to his advantage.

Regarding comments by Dean Phillips about the new Ultimate Avengers The Movie DVD, I have to say I was shocked.

Heck yeah I chalk his complaint up to sour grapes. This is not a new development so I'm not sure why he was so surprised that the DVD would be available at retail for less than his wholesale cost from Diamond.

"The suggested retail price of $19.95 makes me and all other direct market stores look like morons."

Uh uh Dean, it's not the SRP making you look like uninformed, it's your misunderstanding of the market and the way you do business. It wouldn't matter if the SRP was $10, Diamond is still going to charge you $6.50 and ship it to you after the street date (because they can't figure out how to do Tuesday street dates) and WalMart is still going to sell it for $5 and on time.

Are you loyal to one gas station or do you pull over and fill up when you see gas a nickel cheaper than your usual stop? There are some cold hard facts in our market. There are going to be poachers who will use comic-oriented items as loss leaders to lure in families to buy from the rest of their product mix. They know you don't jockey for a space and stand in line at Wal-Mart or Costco just to save $5 on a DVD but YOU could. Go in first thing on the morning of the street date and buy a few dozen, getting them below cost (but don't buy anything else!). Have them ready for sale when you open that day and return those that haven't sold in a few weeks!

We stopped ordering DVDs for awhile to avoid your problem but many of my customers appreciated the convenience of picking them up from us at Comickaze, so we now take prepaid orders at 10% off. We pre-sold half a dozen Ultimate Avengers and still made $7 each. We also offer bigger discounts up to giving the DVD free as an incentive to buy other product, kinda like the big guys. Since we don't have the variety of high margin add-ons that the mass market boys do, we are offering $5 off the Ultimate Avengers DVD with the purchase of any Ultimates or Avengers TPB at $12.99 or more as well as giving it away FREE with the purchase of a Captain America Baseball Jersey or any Ultimates or Avengers bust or Statue at $65 or more.

We're currently selling a Zombie Pack that contains the Shaun of the Dead, Walking Dead Vol 1 and Remains TPB and a FREE copy of the Shaun of the Dead DVD. You can get a FREE or discounted Corpse Bride DVD with the purchase of Corpse Bride Action Figures and the same goes for Wallace and Gromit. It's called promotion!

It's an open market and someone is always going to undercut you and there's nothing Diamond or anyone else can do about it. But you can get smarter about the way you do business and there's nothing the discounters can do to stop you from doing that.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Get Your War On!! Jam War that is...


Sign up in- store NOW to guarantee your spot.

Comics Jam WarTM brings comic book creation into comic shops

On April 1st, 2006, teams of comic book creators will gather in comic book stores across the U.S. and Canada. At noon Eastern time, 9 AM Pacific time, they will all be given a topic for the comic book, and then each team will start work on an all-ages 8 page black-and-white comic book story. Twelve hours later, the drawing stops.

A panel of comics industry professionals will then judge the stories, with cash prizes and publications in a special anthology.

Why? When we announced 24 Hour Comics Day, there were retailers who wanted to be involved but simply couldn't host a 24 hour event. And when we moved 24 Hour Comics Day to the fall for 2006, there were retailers who still wanted something to do in April. So we turned 24 Hour Comics Day (the marathon, non-competitive festival of solo cartooning) on its head and came up with a shorter, team based event. That's Comics Jam War.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Abraham Maslow and the Underpants Gnomes Part C

Not a lot of folks have commented on the blog so far, so it's hard to tell if anyone is reading it or not but I'm having fun, even if the ony thing I'm doing is venting to an empty hall. It might also be a good time to invite you to hit me with any questions you have about the industry or things you want to hear my take on. Click HERE to let me know what's on your mind.

So, we've touched on Creator and Publisher contributions to the industry's depression and now the we arrive at Distributors. Within the direct market there are basically two distributors remaining, both serving a specific niche but maintianing a bit of an overlap. Quick history lesson. [edited to add: there is a great more in depth look at distribution here]

The largest and most important is Diamond Comic Distributors. With the recently announced closure of FM International, Diamond is the last front list comic distributor standing, meaning that this is where retailers order their new comics. Prior to 1994, there were two other full service front list distributors, Capital City Distributing which also was a with a a nationwide distribution system and and Heroes World a regional distributor in New Jersey. Many retailers dealt with at least two of these distributors and competition for business kept them on their toes vying for retailers business.

Due to machinations set in motion by Marvel Comics' purchase of Heroes World in an attempt to self distribute in the early '90s, DC Comics, Dark Horse and Image ended up signing exclusive distribution deals with Diamond, starving Capital City to the point that it resigned and sold it's assets to Diamond. Less than two years later Marvel came to terms with the fact that their decision to self distribute was a failure and with Diamond the only remaining distributor with the infrastructure to handle Marvel's sales volume, sold their HW assets to Diamond and joined DC, DH and Image as a Diamond exclusive publisher.

Rounding out the group is Cold Cut Distribution a backlist distributor in Salinas, CA. From their website,
"Cold Cut has been servicing retailers across the country and internationally since 1994... We currently mail our main catalogs to well over 500 stores, and service regular orders from around 300."

So ten years later Diamond, in addition to Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse has has also brokered exclusive rights to distribute Wizard, Tokyo Pop, Oni and a few other publishers within the Direct Market. Basically, if you want to be a Full Line Comic Shop, you have to deal with Diamond and if you aren't happy with the level of service, tough, there's nowhere else to go.

It's tough to blame Diamond entirely, their primary responsibility is to preserve their ability to earn a profit and to be fair, Diamond Owner, Steve Geppi has been very benevolent in his role as dictator of the Direct Market. Things like the Comic Shop Locator Service and Free Comic Book Day were born during this tumultuous time and owe a large part of their success to Diamond. Those publishers didn't need to sign those exclusive deals either (I wonder if they would have had they known where it would lead) but they did. And from where I'm standing, an industry that was hurting so much from the speculator bust of the late '80's and early 90's that it was unable to support multiple full line distributors is no closer to acheiving that today despite the reported growth in sales of comics and graphic novels in both the DM and Book Markets as well as on the big and small screens.

And the terrible thing is, that during this whole fiasco the DM has continued feeding on itself. Instead of increasing the customer base, the base has contracted and publishers are returning to gimmicks like variant covers to suck even more money from a diminishing clientele. Diamond further exacerbates the situation because as long as there is only one distributor to service the market, the market can only grow as fast as Diamond can. With the the stranglehold that Diamond has on the Big4 publishers, things they consider unimportant go unaddressed, and retailers are left wanting because their is no substantive alternative.

Have you ever heard the phrase Jack of all Trades, Master of None? That is now Diamond's position. In fact few years back I was among a group of retailers invited to Diamond's home office in Maryland to discuss the growing TPB/GN market and what Diamond could do to get more of our business. When the disparity in discounts as compared to Cold Cut were mentioned, we were asked if we would move all of our orders to Diamond if they increased their discount? Thank God, they were met with a unanimous, NO!

They can't serve their brokered publishers, their exclusive publishers and all of the smaller publishers in the back of the book, equally. The big guys set their own sales terms and discounts but small press publishers frequently profess that Diamond restircts the discounts they are able to offer to retailers and then there's the matter of a reorder fee that gets tacked onto all reorders of small press books. This is a problem because even a retailer who wants to stock a diverse mix of comics, has to consider that selling a $2.99 Marvel or DC comic could make them far more money than even a $3.99 small press title. Why risk more to make less money?

The other problem is as I mentioned earlier, that this results in the market eating itself. We've already looked at the lack of marketing done to support many of these books by their pubishers so with the majority of retailers forced to rely on Diamond for most, if not all of their product, anything Diamond doesn't offer, whether at all or profitably, will just not get ordered. So by choice or by necessity, a large percentage of the DM is forced to rely on Marvel and DC to stay in business. Of course if they'd done their homework before opening that might not be the case but as I said in the first installment, creators and publishers aren't the only ones who try to run before they can crawl. So Diamond hooks this group on the spandex teat, punishing those who attempt to build business outside of the front of the catalog with lower discounts and punitive reorder fees.

The ironic thing though is that by doing this, Diamond also becomes more reliant on the front of the book publishers and the retailers who love them and as those retailers drop off, whether due to competition from online discounters or the book market, Diamond suffers. To combat this weakness Diamond has started to place greater emphasis on toy and collectibles sales as well as creating a separate division to sell TPB/GN into the book market. This creates another problem too. As Diamond's Book arm pushes more TPB/GN into B&N, Borders, Amazon, WalMart... on a returnable basis, the book market can hold these books hostage, making them unavailable for DM retailers and their customers during peak sales periods and both Diamond and the publisher eat the books once sales start trending down and they are returned. Multiple distributors would make it harder for all of a publishers output to end up in one spot.

These days, this is where Cold Cut often comes in to play for me and according to Cold Cut's own website, about 10% of DM Comic Shops. Presumably these are shops that like Comickaze, are so firmly entrenched in their discount level with Diamond that they can afford to shunt orders for certain Publishers that aren't exclusive to or even carried by Diamond over, to Cold Cut.

Cold Cut does a reasonable job of supplying small press titles that aren't offered (for many reasons) or have already been offered through Diamond. What they don't do is make it easy for anyone to preorder new product. I'd move thousands of dollars of business to them in a heartbeat, all of my Fantagraphics, AiT PlantLar, Drawn & Quarterly... but for whatever reason, they're comfortable as is. I'm always leery when I here that a retailer turned down a sale by not ordering a book for someone but if Cold Cut is willing to forgo $2-3k/month, maybe it's true.

Oddly enough both distributors are there own worst enemy. One keeps grabbing for bigger pieces of a shrinking pie and the other sometimes doesn't seem to like pie at all.

Mmmmm... Pie!

Whew, I really didn't think I had that much to say about distribution but this is quite a chunk to digest so I guess we'll have to wait for the Retailer Round Up and the light at the end of the tunnel. And unfortunately it will need to wait a little longer than usual because, I'll be off on a cruise this coming weekend with Mamakaze, celebrating her birthday and our anniversary.

Take care and see ya soon.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Hmmm.... Speakeasy Comics R.I.P.

Just a pointer here.

While I take no pleasure in seeing Speakeasy close its doors, this does serve to amplify the concerns I've laid out below.

I've worked with Adam Fortier in his many industry appointments (Dreamwave, IDW, Speakewasy...) he's a truly nice guy but he rose to his level of incompetence, starting a business without the necessary foundation and in the end leaving behind another mess along with disgruntled creators, distributors, retailers and fans, including friends and customers of mine.

From Newsarama:

Vito Delsante, the "unofficial" press liason for Speakeasy Comics (and a creator with two projects that were due to come out through the publisher) has sent out the following statement:

"As unofficial public relations for Speakeasy Comics, I feel it is my duty to inform everyone that as of 3:30 PM today, Speakeasy Comics has shut its doors and will not be publishing comics for, at the very least, the rest of the year. Most, if not all, creators have been contacted and informed. If I'm not mistaken, all books
scheduled to ship in March will ship. April and May books are up in the air, while June books are cancelled. " click here for more + comments...

The more upsetting thing to me and I wish I could just write it off to Adam's frustration and the immediacy of this situation was his comment:
“There’re so many different things, and it’s kind of tough to point to one thing and say, ‘My God, this is the one things that’s destroying all of us!’ It’s very much a self-fulfilling prophecy. In order to be very successful in the comic book industry, I believe that people believe – and so it becomes true – you need to have your series done before you solicit it. You need to be able to show people, you need to be able to give people confidence in the product, and then you need to be able to pay your bills anyway if they don’t have confidence and they don’t really want to support it. Of course what happens there, is that there’s no way to run a company like that. You just can’t do it. Nobody has money like that. Even with millions, like CrossGen, it couldn’t be done. So, if the multi-millionaires don’t have money to be able to run a company like that, what hope does anybody else have?”

The only truth in this declaration is that, in order to be succesful in this industry that you do, "... need to be able to show people, you need to be able to give people confidence in the product, and then you need to be able to pay your bills anyway if they don’t have confidence and they don’t really want to support it." That Adam still shirks that responsibility, blaming other sources for his failure, as well as his comparison to CrossGen are ridiculous and empasizes the up hill battle to legitimacy that this industry faces.

That is the true essence of a commercially viable enterprise. If you have a product that you expect people to pay for, to commit their fiscal interest in, be it a Distributor, Retailer or Fan, you MUST be able to earn their confidence that you're not some fly-by-night-cash-grab-flake, as well as being able to pay your bills when reality fails to meet your expectaions.

If you can't do that, you have no business calling yourself a business, you are just a vanity press. Unfortunately, these final comments from Adam are likely to be the one point that will stick for most people and I'll try to feign suprise when the next few months exposes a few new pretenders who still refuse to do their due diligence before throwing their hat in the ring of comic publishing.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Abraham Maslow and the Underpants Gnomes Part Deux

OK, a few days ago we looked at some of the unhealthy things comic creators have done to stifle the market. Moving on, let's look at Publishers.

Last time, things got a little finger pointy so this time around, I'm going to offer myself up for sacrifice. In many cases today, the creator is also the publisher and for the sake of full disclosure, I will reveal that I have stumbled as publisher as well, AFC Studio. In June of 2000, I self-published THE END #1, a comic I wrote and which was supposed to be the first of a 4 part series. Actually I had a "co-publisher", the series artist who failed to illustrate the final 3 scripts, despite placing solicitations and advertising with Diamond Comics Distributors.

A little good came out of this excercise. I got to work with Dave "El Zombo" Wilkins who designed the books logo and flip cover and our grey scaling and lettering were handled by web comic phenom and current Marvel editor John Barber. So three of the four of us went on to become industry professionals but enough back patting, let's look at what went wrong and why.

It would be easy enough to blame the industry like many are still doing, hell we launched along with The Red Star (Image/Archangel), Violent Messiahs (Image/Hurricane) and CrossGen all who delivered more than we did but ultimately failed to deliver all that was promised and shut down production. But it wasn't the industry that failed us but us or for the sake of argument me, who failed the industry.

Why am I making a big deal about this? Plain and simple it's because it's disrespectful but even more important, you're screwing with people's livelihoods. When you solicit a book and a distributor and retailer commit to buying it, they are counting on the profits from the sales of that book. If you fail to deliver that book, they can't sell it and when you start late shipping multiple titles along with other tardy publishers, you make it damn dificult for folks to pay rent and meet payroll, which in turn makes it tough for them to take care of their family obligations.

Think I'm funnin you? Check out my letter to Joe Quesada from back in 2001 and see.

Looking back at Part 1, I mentioned the Comic Industry's Hierarchy of Needs. So what went wrong? Well hindsight being 20/20, before I wasted the time of distributors and retailers, it was my obligation to make sure I had these parts handled.

  • Profession or Hobby needs - Decide this before anything else. Will you need this to provide for your food, shelter, drink, sex, etc.?
I didn't. My job was running Comickaze but I believed the artist who swore becoming a comic artist was his dream and rolling into issue #1 he had stepped up.

  • Safety needs - have back-up to ease "unforeseen" stumbles. Have issues in the can and capital to cover materials or inventory when reality doesn't rise to expectations. Know your responsibilities to others and theirs to you.
Here's where things started breaking down. The artist got engaged and as often happens, it appears his fiancee wasn't as excited that time and money that could have been spent on her was instead being spent on comic books. So issue #1 shipped on time and we appeared at San Diego Comic Con, also showing off a preview of issue #2 which was due to ship in a few weeks, or so I thought.

Mistake #1 was soliciting a book that isn't completely drawn. Mistake #2 was continuing to solicit once I realized the artist wasn't keeping up. Without having issues in the can, we had no fall back position and were left making weak-assed excuses to Diamond who had orders to fill, to retailers who had customers to appease and budgets to make and fans (yes, we actually had fans!) who were anxiously awaiting the next part of the story.

It was a 4 issue series! Had I put more thought into it, been a responsible business person, I would have never solicited without all of the books being drawn, hell if I had done that, I could have died and the books still could have shipped on time! But hey, it was so easy to solicit the books and Comic Con was on the horizon and hey it was me, I'm special! Ego took hold and meeting my responsibilities took a back seat. So the book is a litle late, so what, it's good, it'll be worth the wait, right?

WRONG! Publishers when you make mistake #1, don't compound it by advancing to mistake #2. STOP SOLICITING until you can guarantee you won't repeat it. And for those of you who think you this doesn't apply to you, ask Joe Mad, Michael Turner, Todd McFarlane, J. Scott Campbell and Joe Linsner if they'd like their 90's sales #'s back or ask a retailer there opinion of publishers Image Central, Alias or Speakeasy.

I'm gonna deflect from my self for the moment and address this a little more. Mentioning these publishers is not done lightly. These three while among the most egregious at missing ship dates are certainly far from the only ones doing so, just ask fans of Secret War, Infinite Crisis, Spawn and Cal McDonald Mysteries. The problem though, especially with these three, in my never to be humble opinion, is that they appear to be hobby publishers, as in their purpose in publishing is just not to lose money.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying they should be publishing to lose money but I do think they should be setting things up to make money. However none seem to have any mechanisms in place to guarantee a complete story arc will ship at all let alone on time. None are capitalized or staffed well enough to promote outside of the DM to generate new readership. And what the hell is going on with all the bed-hopping between these three by so many titles? And the biggest problem with hobby publishers is that it promotes unprofessional creative efforts and keeps potentially successful efforts from being succesful with professional for-profit publishers.
  • Belongingness needs - find your peers as well as your client/partners, share and learn, but also find your Jiminy Cricket, that voice that will tell you what you need to hear, if not always what you want to hear.
Here's a huuuuge hurdle. Your publishing peers, at least those willing to share info with you, probably don't know anything worth sharing, because everyone is to busy rushing books to market to get the attention of the video game or movie makers. There are some, like Larry Young (AiT/Planet Lar) who are willing to give you a peek behind the curtain and his True Facts, is a must read for any creator/publisher but it has been my experience that most folks continue to make the same mistakes over and over again, aping what they've seen come before and suffering the same setbacks. Probably couldn't hurt to read Brian Hibbs', Tilting at Windmills too.

However there is another group of professionals all too willing to share their opinions and experience with you, the folks you most need to convince to buy your books , the Comic Retailer. This is probably the reason why we started with decent sales despite no advertising for issue #1 of The End. Being a retailer and having access to some of the best and the brightest through the Comic Book Industry Alliance, I had some insight on what would appeal to retailers.

  • Promotional needs - advertising, promotion, public relations, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
Part of our website contained free downloadable shelf talkers with art and quotes from reviews, as well as ashcans and post cards. Helping pro-active retailers to promote my books. Even with my new project Wasting The Dawn, being published through IDW (because I knew I didn't have the time to be publisher this time), I still took it upon myself to meet with retailers, to send out full galleys to the media, and to make interior art and a downloable portion of the book available through my studio site, to help consumers and retailers understand why they needed to buy this book.

In fact I pulled off a rather interesting and still unique promotion for The End #1. In trying to pin down a demographic to promote The End to, I was approached by a local magazine, SPIN, whose editors felt that the rock theme, along with the look of our long haired & tattooed main character would appeal to their readership. Their free publication covered the indy music scene and 300,000 copies were distributed to major cities in California, Illinois, Texas, New York and others as well as England, Mexico and Japan each month. With the commonly accepted pass along readership of 3:1, The End was being serialized to nearly 1,000,000 readers every month! I pissed off some folks at Comic Con by pointing out that it was possible more people were reading my work than X-Men, Spawn and Batman combined and I got that coverage for free!

Unfortunately, despite respectable initial orders and a great retention of those orders on subsequent issues, since those issues were never drawn, and thus never released, I never got a chance to fully gauge what could have been accomplished with this promotional effort. It was pretty far reaching though as we were contacted for copies of the book for Comic Convention and Comic Shop Scenes on Showtime's Queer as Folk.

  • Self-Actualization needs - realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences, forget about just being better than those around you and focus on being the best you can be.

Well as should be apparent by now, I never got that far with the publishing myself, deferring to a professional full-time publisher to put out Wasting the Dawn but I am working with a number of newbies as well as lending whatever support I can to even the stalwart veterans daily via the CBIA.

Still here? I'll finish up with Distributors and Retailers next weekend and tie it all up with an IF I WERE IN CHARGE, I promise. Then maybe we can tackle something fun like the Army!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Abraham Maslow and the Underpants Gnomes Part 1

I thought this week was going to be about fandom but this came to me in a dream so I thought I'd run with it.

There's an hierarchy of needs in the comic industry but damned if I can tell whether anyone knows it! Actually, that's not totally true, while many folks don't have a clue, it often seems that even those those who do, seem to believe that they somehow transcend them.

Abraham Maslow theorized that, "... crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy." A quick peek at the industry reveals that he might have been prophesizing about comics.

Only when the lower order needs of physical and emotional well-being are satisfied are we concerned with the higher order needs of influence and personal development. Unfortunately too many in the industry never meet the most basic Biological and Physiological needs - food, drink, shelter, sex, sleep, etc... to ever move up the pyramid.

For those who are zoning out at this point, how about a South Park shout out? South Park addressed a similar concept in Episode 2-17 "Gnomes" where The Underpants Gnomes have a three-phase business plan, consisting of:

  1. Collect underpants
  2. ???
  3. Profit!

None of the gnomes actually knew what the second phase was, and none seem to concerned about that key missing part as if their dogmatic allegiance to steps 1 & 3 would magically resolve step 2. Much of the comic industry believes:

  1. Make/buy comics
  2. Profit!
Without even an allusion to a step 2! But back to the Hierarchy, the Comic Industry's Hierarchy, as I see it goes something like this:

  1. Profession or Hobby needs - Decide this before anything else. Will you need this to provide for your food, shelter, drink, sex, etc.?
  2. Safety needs - have back-up to ease "unforeseen" stumbles. Have issues in the can and capital to cover materials or inventory when reality doesn't rise to expectations. Know your responsibilities to others and theirs to you.
  3. Belongingness needs - find your peers as well as your client/partners, share and learn, but also find your Jiminy Cricket, that voice that will tell you what you need to hear, if not always what you want to hear.
  4. Promotional needs - advertising, promotion, public relations, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
  5. Self-Actualization needs - realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences, forget about just being better than those around you and focus on being the best you can be.
This applies to every facet from Publishers to Creators to Retailers but don't just take my word for it, lets take a look at why this fantastic industry, while putting out some of the best work and receiving the most media attention ever, is still incapable of supporting more than one full line distributor and the one distributor it has is spending more time chasing toy deals than in working with it's small press vendors to ensure that they can be profitably distributed in the direct market.

Creators. Without someone creating comics there would be no comic industry. No need for publishers, distributors, retailers, fans... Probably more than ever before, their is more creative output and a lower barrier to entry for creators to bring a comic to market. While this has yielded many gems, unfortunately this has also resulted in not only a ton of half-assed creative efforts but also many fantastic efforts stillborn due to half assed promotional and fulfillment efforts.

Sturgeon's Revelation, "Ninety percent of everything is crud", can explain away many of the creative failures but to see books like Hawaiian Dick, Rex Mundi, Wahoo Morris, Finder, Nothing Better... rendered commercially unviable (at least in the print comic format) is a sin. Actually Rex Mundi started well due to the fan base generated by the Brother Matthew Sunday Style Online Strip, a unique story line that introduced the public to the world of Rex Mundi. It ran for a year prior to RM's release, but the repeated failure to meet their solicitation schedule killed the creators' credibility and all but killed the title.

Unfortunately the titles above are just the tip of the iceberg and in most if not all cases, this is due to the creators failure to understand the hierarchy of needs. "If you print it, they will come", might make a cute movie premise but it just doesn't work in the real world. Comics need promotion as much or more than CDs, DVDs, Video Games, TV Shows... Not only to reach current readers but more importantly (especially for non-spandex work) to reach beyond the direct market customer, to the potential new reader who has no clue that there are comics that would be of any interest to them nor where to find them.

When was the last time you went to the movies without knowing the exact movie you were going to see? Why? Probably because of ads, interviews, reviews, online trailers... and while at the theater you probably also saw a lot of posters, maybe ads on your soda or snack package and certainly some trailers which planted the seeds for the movie you would see on your next visit. Comics can't afford to market like this? Bullshit, they can't afford not to, any of 'em. See what John Taddeo is doing to promote the release of his series, Zoom Suit. Do a Google search on Zoom Suit and see how many hits come up and where John's home page falls. Then run a similar search on your favorite underloved comic. Do you get any hits? Where does the "Official" site show up if at all? As a retailer I am constantly frustrated when trying to find info on small press books that are unavailable from Diamond or Cold Cut (more on them in the Distributor section) because these folks haven't even bothered to set up a home page and fed the search engines!

Man, if movie studios tried that, there would be no theaters and guess what? The only way to see a new flick would probably be online, assuming anyone could afford to film one without any capital. Maybe they could do it in 15 minute increments over a few years, eh? It's a great story, the fans will wait, right Messrs. Tucci, Campbell, Maduriera and Liefeld?

How about the music group that put out their CD recorded on their answering machine, in mono, because they couldn't afford studio time or real recording equipment and oh yeah, it still costs as much or more than most CD releases but you should still buy it because it's an alternative to the big studios.

Look, I love a wide range of comics from up and comers like Shana Manion, Ryan Claytor, Julia Sage, Robert Tritthardt and a host of others along with my Batman, Astonishing X-Men, Y the Last Man and the rest of the Big 2 output but I don't owe them a living. One of the reason I love the creators I just mentioned is that they show respect both to the industry and to me as a retailer and a fan. They don't look for hand outs, they work to create awareness for their projects, they deliver what they promise and they don't make excuses. I would go out of my way to promote their work to my customers and friends because they've earned it.

Oh and just to set the record straight, yes, I know the industry is heavily reliant on super hero comics but here's a little known secret... IT'S BECAUSE THEY SELL! And you know what else? They sell at the movies too! Who had the bigger box office, X-Men, Spider-Man and Batman or I, Robot, Ray and The Note Book? And it wasn't comic fans driving those ticket sales. it would take each of the 150,000-200,000 people who buy New Avengers or Infinite Crisis to buy 2,000 tickets each to achieve their Domestic Box Office totals. Artificially preventing the public from buying what they want won't make your work sell better, making your work better than what is currently available and making it accessible just might.

End of Part 1. More to come this weekend...

Publishers, Distributors & Retailers, oh my!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Have You Fallen For It?

Two of my favorite creators, Writer Warren Ellis and Artist Ben Templesmith (yep the guy who did the cover for my IDW Novel Wasting the Dawn) have teamed up to deliver a very cool, very unique project, Fell.

From the Solicitation:
Detective Richard Fell is transferred over the bridge from the big city to Snowtown, a feral district whose police roster numbers three-and-a-half people (one detective has no legs). Dumped in this collapsing urban trashzone, Richard Fell is starting all over again. In a place where nothing seems to make any sense, Fell clings to the one thing he knows to be true: Everybody's hiding something. Even him.
Why do I say unique? Well if you'd already read it you'd know, right? Well maybe, so I'll tell you what, if you haven't read it and you can't rush over to Comickaze to pick up a copy, click here to read it for free over at Newsarama, then hurry on back.

Done? Good! Nice read, eh?

So besides the unique take on crime and horror, notice anything else? Well you got to read it for free but the folks who actually bought it, didn't pay much more. Ellis, in order to entice readers who may be on the fence about his work or just a little to strapped to add another book to their reading list has slapped a paltry $1.99 price tag on it. Great deal eh? Or is it? Personally, I found the read satisfying and definitely worth $1.99 but look again... Fell is only 16 story pages vs the normal 22-24 found in most comics, so 2/3 the comic for 2/3 the price. Those of you who bought it, did you even notice? Is that a deal?

For better or worse, at Comickaze not many have noticed the price or the length without prompting. Fortunately all 3 of the issues that have shipped so far, are selling well but based primarily on the reps of it's creative team. But what does this mean? Should comics downsize, like candy bars and tuna fish, ever smaller packages to maintain an attractive price point or are we willing to pay a fair price increase to keep our comics at full length? And let's face it, if you're still willing to pay $1.99 for a book then $2.50 or $2.99 really isn't going to affect your quality of life and if it would, then perhaps buying a comic shouldn't be high on your list at any price (although if you're anywhere near San Diego, stop by Comickaze and you can wash some windows or slap together some bags and boards to get that out of reach $3 book. ;)

Over on The Engine Ellis has confirmed that this package has been ordered in significantly higher quantities than any of his other "creator owned" books (qualifier his) but a quick look at order numbers on ICv2 show estimates that peg #1 at ~30k in sales including reorders and 2nd prints. Not bad, it broke the top 100 but not great either. Ultimate Secret #4 (also an Ellis book) more than tripled that, Red Sonja #2 almost doubled that and Mutopia X #3 (a failure of a title) initialed at 130% higher than the combined estimate for Fell #1.

Oh one more thing I forgot to mention... Image offered retailers an extra 10% discount on issue #1 if we ordered in the same amount or more than we ordered for Spawn #150. A great idea as it enhanced the likelihood that we would order a lot more up front instead of waiting to re-order at a later date. Lots of #1 on the shelves means lots of potential sales but with that incentive removed from issues 2 & 3 and no way to know how #1 would sell when orders for #2 & 3 were placed Sales on #2 dropped 25% and #3 another 10% despite still being $1.99. They still sold out but only because Image obviously dropped their print runs to mirror retailer orders, so the subsequent reprinting is not all that impressive.

This to me indicates (as I've mentioned elsewhere) that the qualified "success" of #1 is due more to the incentives that got retailers to go heavy on #1 and have it on the racks and not the price. If #4 initials exceed those for #2 & #3 that would clinch that for me.

Ordinarily I wouldn't concern myself overmuch about this but there is a lot of buzz about the "success" of the format and with Casanova by Fraction and Ba to ship shortly I'm bracing myself for the rush of imitators who think people will line up for their books just because it's $1 cheaper than most others, the way so many publishers thought the key to Manga's enormous popularity was it's pocket size and not it's content.

So far 0nly Ellis and Image can say if this exercise has been a financial success for them. For Comickaze it's done OK but has cost us a few hundred dollars that it would have generated at the usual $2.99 for most Image books (heck, that's a part-time employee for a couple of weeks). Were this generating new customers searching for inexpensive entertainment and not just selling to the existing comic readers, I could applaud the effort but I have to wonder, with the market still as depressed as it is, what kind of promotional campaign could have been generated with a little more thought. So here comes the first of hopefully many....


The book would have been priced at $2.99 (with additional content) and the retailer incentive would have been extended to the first 3 issues with the 10% extra discount being contingent on orders being maintained at at least 90 % of #1 levels. This is important because it rewards only those who support the book at a level that benefits the publisher and creator. But lest you think I'm just a greedy bastard reaching into your pocket just to line my own, I'd use the extra $30k+ (at wholesale) that would have been generated on the 65k units sold (#1-3 so far), for advertising in areas outside of comics like Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Crime/Horror magazines... to bring new readers into the market. The fact that both Fell creators also have a huge body of collected work make them ideal to pitch to curious book readers.

In fact this would have also been a great opportunity (which is still possible) for Ellis/Image to sign on retailers for a co-op campaign highlighting his other works as well as the first Fell TPB. Similar to the discount incentive, there would be a buy-in target that would garner the retailer's inclusion in book market advertising.

That's how it would be, IF I WERE IN CHARGE!

Next week: What can the fans do?

Friday, February 17, 2006

A Blog Virgin No Longer...

Despite hosting online forums like The Comic Book Industry Alliance on Delphi (probably the first comic related forum there) for almost 10 years, I have never blogged, so why now?

Well, a lot of what I do is done behind closed doors, with a limited membership so as to keep the signal to noise ratio as high as possible as well as giving folks a little more safety in sharing sensitive information that isn't necessarily for public consumption.

I've also been asked to act as one of the judges for the Eisner Awards (the Acadamey Award of comics) for the 2006 San Diego Comic Con.

So between that, running Comickaze, having a family and publishing, I just don't have the time to drag my soap box from The Engine to Comicon to Newsarama anymore.

So every week or so I'll regale you with the way things would be done, IF I WERE IN CHARGE in order to give everyone the opportunity to read and share the world according to me. I'm opinionated and I know it but regardless of what you think of me, remember that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

It would be such a boring world if we all agreed, so please share your feedback but let's keep it civil, eh?

Back in a bit with my first missive, Ciao!