Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas or Holiday

I just found out that Deadworld: Requiem for the World is sold out. The overprinting of this collection of the Image series was about 60% of the original orders so it was a surprise that it sold out. Furthermore, I found out that quite a few other of my graphic novels that came out from Image/Desperado sold 100’s of copies since the original order. I have to assume that most of the orders came from the Internet retailers such as Amazon. I don’t know for sure because getting exact numbers from the Diamond - Image - Desperado liaison is hard to get.

The reason I think they sold mainly outside of comic shops is watching the numbers in stock at Amazon and seeing the choices of “buyers of this book also bought this” and there seems to be quite a diverse and wide range.

But it does give me hope that there is a healthy life outside of comic shops because they’re simply not in a position to push all the titles coming out.

The other day, my high school daughter was hanging around some of her friends and the subject of comics came up and she explained that I wrote comics. I ended up meeting her friends and they were into comics but they wouldn’t be classified as the normal comic readers. They didn’t visit comic shops but instead bought comics either online or at conventions or bookstores. They were solidly behind many independent publishers and seemed unaware of the Marvel and DC talent and titles. It just seemed odd that they had accepted comics without buying into the whole “superhero” mythos and simply bought what they thought looked interesting and not at the traditional venues. I don’t really know what that all means but again, it does show that there is an audience out there that may not be served by the contemporary system.

That is a similar situation with my sister in law who buys certain comics. She can’t go into a comic store because it is so saturated with the superhero stuff, it just becomes a mind-numbing search. So, she buys online. The titles she has picked up include 300, From Hell, Sin City, Sandman, and a few other titles. Just another case of a non-traditional fan who accepts comics and enjoys them but finds the selection lacking in diversity.


It’s that time of the year again and the debate of Christmas versus holiday pops up again. There seems to be an equal number of fanatics on both sides of the issues and I find the arguments and political correctness not only wearisome and tiring but also divisive.

A lot of people are upset when the Christmas season is referred to as the “holiday” season and greetings of Merry Christmas are converted to Happy Holidays. The crux comes from this nation being founded under the principle of “one nation, under God” and that the Christmas season is rightfully the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birthday.

Uh, no. First off, this nation wasn’t founded on Christian beliefs. Some of the founders were certainly Christian, others were deists, and some were unknown. Of course, many had Christian beliefs and tried their best to interject those views but the norm was to avoid the sanction of any particular religion. I find it funny when people claim that the founders set up the Constitution on Christian beliefs yet there is not one single mention of God in the U.S. Constitution except for the date (in the year of our Lord…which was a common way of notating the date). To surmise that single designation was establishing a Christian nation (by the date) would be suggesting anyone that uses the modern calendar that dates back to the death of Christ is entrenched in belief of Christ as the savior. Just because something has Christian roots (and more so, Roman roots) doesn’t carry the entire belief system with it. The only mention of religion in the Constitution is when the framers say that no religious test shall be required for qualification to serve office. Hardly a proclamation of religion being part of the government.

It’s a bit ironic when people claim that we should celebrate Christmas “like we used to” which usually means in celebration of Christ. After all, Christmas is the birth of Christ and the shortened form means Christ Mass. The move to secularize it by reducing it to “holiday” moves away from the long honored tradition of the more serene and less commercial exultation of Christ’s birthday.

Uh, no again.

Christmas was an invented holiday some 300 years after the date assumed for the death of Christ. It was structured around the many pagan festivals that occurred at the end of the year (celebration of the Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, Mithras, Sol Invictus, Yule and many other winter celebrations. Christians leaders moved the birth of Jesus to coincide into these other festivals and most of the trappings of Christmas (outside of Jesus, that is) have their basis in these ancient and pagan rituals. Mistletoe, holly, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, all are derived from non-Christian celebrations.

In fact, the early days of Christmas celebration had much stronger allegiance to the pagan aspects than the birth of Christ and in England and early colonial America (even the Puritans had banned the celebration of Christmas), the holiday was outlawed. The precursor to carolling was the act of visiting houses and singing a song to embark on a drunken party.

When did Christmas take on it’s modern approach? Most give credit to Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” as developing Christmas into a holiday of cheer and one that was meant to be a time for family and friends.

Even the date of December 25 is accepted by virtually all experts as NOT being the actual date of Jesus Christ’s birth. Biblical readings (which by the way, never mention a manger or cute animals surrounding him) indicate that Jesus was born in late summer or fall. The Catholic Church, the largest of all Christian religions, says that Christ’s birthday was not in the winter.

An odd outcome of all the debate about the birth of Christ is that the Bible does not give birthdates to any of the major characters and warned followers not to get caught up in the pagan celebration of birth dates. Perhaps the people pushing most for the celebration of Jesus Christ and his birth are actually the major violators of their God’s wishes?

Bill O’Reilly and many others claim that there isn’t a separation of Church and State and that the U.S. is a Christian nation because the of the federal holiday of Christmas. In his logic, he associates the official holiday with an acceptance by the government as being a religious holiday. But the government stated its case with the note that "the establishment of Christmas Day as a legal public holiday does not violate the Establishment Clause because it has a valid secular purpose." In other words, they recognized that Christmas has transcended a religious holiday into a national holiday celebrated by many different people in many different ways for many different reasons.

Like me.

I don’t believe in Christmas for the celebration of Jesus. I do believe in the spirit of Christmas…or Xmas…or Holiday…whatever you want to call it. Like the government, I see this time of year with all of its rituals, celebrations, events, and themes all tied together into this arbitrary thing we call Christmas. That’s fine with me. If some people want to celebrate Santa Claus and his reindeer…or hit their maximum on their credit cards to ensure everyone gets a good present…or finds comfort in sharing the time with family…lighting the menorah….or going to Church to sing hymns….all that is okay with me. It’s part of the package. Doesn’t mean you have to do it all. You can still celebrate Christmas without believing in Santa…and you can still celebrate without believing in Jesus. Now some people will say that you can’t…after all, the holiday is called Christmas. Well, that’s right to a certain point…and maybe that’s why other people want to get rid of the name Christmas….so they can celebrate the season without having to ignore the name that was tabbed by the Roman ruler at the time.

I have no problem with the religion of the holiday being part of the whole celebration. I love Christmas songs (but please, not until at least after Thanksgiving) and it bothers me not one bit when someone interjects the “new born king” or “holy child”…you know, its all part of the game. But I do think some people resist it primarily because they’re being told they can’t celebrate the season without accepting what the season is (the birth of Christ). But see, we know that’s not true and just saying so won’t make it true.

So, I wish people would just enjoy the holidays and not try to force others to follow their particular view. You don’t like something, then don’t celebrate that part. After all, a lot of people don’t celebrate Kwanzaa. It may be because that holiday was totally made up about 20-30 years ago. Yes, made up. It has no history behind it but it does celebrate the right things. But you know what, 100 years from now, people will be celebrating Kwanzaa as a fully established holiday…just like we do some of the Hallmark holidays such as Sweetest Day.

Just drop the angst…enjoy the season…for whatever reasons.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Comics...maybe not dead?

Interesting conversation going on at Newsarama which came out of Brian Hibbs' latest column of Tilting at the Windmills. To sum up, Hibbs---one of the premiere retailers and a staunch supporter of independent publishers---says that with his new POS (point of sale) system, it allows him to track sales of product much more efficiently. The title of this particular column, “Unintended Consequences”, alludes to the fact that Hibbs is gaining a much greater appreciation for sell through (and sales overall) of all of the titles, specifically graphic novels. His hard data is telling him that a lot of the graphic novels and trades he orders are just not selling. Not selling poorly, mind you, not selling at all. Here’s the link to the Newsarama thread. This isn’t limited to just the “indy” books although he does specify that the ones with no market awareness just sit there and do not sell. But Hibbs points out that many of the books from the big four (Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image) also face the same problem. In fact, Hibbs says that he strongly suspects that he could make ½ of the Marvel and DC superhero trade paperbacks disappear and no one will notice. Now, I don’t know Hibbs personally but he’s been around a long time and I know that he is one of the “full service” stores that carry a wide selection and tries to carry “almost everything” that comes out. But with the shift in the comics market heading towards graphic novels and trade paperbacks, it simply becomes a case of just too many books. The market can’t support them as the fan base just isn’t big enough. The graphic novel market is one of the fastest (in recent years, it is THE fastest growing) segment of the book market but a lot of those sales are skewed by the successful penetration of manga. However, even without the manga driving the market, sales in graphic novels have been growing at a tremendous clip, spurred by media tie-ins such as 300, Sin City, From Hell, etc. The problem comes from the distribution of many of these trades…they rely on the comics market which just isn’t big enough to support all of them. In the month of December, the big four publishers scheduled about 100 books and the other publishers officered around 200. That’s a lot of books to be absorbed into the comics market and it is a good bet that many, if not most, are not going to get sufficient orders to print. Many retailers are relying on customers to pre-order the books or else the store isn’t going to carry one for the shelf. They just simply can not carry everything and hope it sells. This brings an interesting dilemma to the comic shops. They are increasingly becoming specialty shops of a niche product (comics). The growth in trades is, of course, beneficial to them but they are not the only ones sharing in that growth. Online retailers and bookstores have tapped into that same market. And of course, with the increasing accessibility of print on demand and online sales, many titles are selling directly from publisher (or creator) to the end consumer. So, if comic shops aren’t supplying a unique product in trades, then what’s to be their success strategy? Oddly enough, it may just be those comic pamphlets that so many have said are a form just waiting to die. Recent years have seen a mad rush to circumvent the comic book periodical by doing more original graphic novels or to use the comics as almost a promotional tool in order to get the trades out. Potential customers can sample the periodical and as happens often, if they like it, discontinue picking up the pamphlet form and wait for the trade. The shift may return to having the periodic comics become the focus again. It gives a viability to the comic shops that no other outlet can match. In recent years, only the major publishers have relied on the periodic format as most independent publishers have abandoned them because of little support and virtually no sales. Stores have reinvented themselves as book stores, ordering most comics to sell out and dropping back issues. One store that I know of, Dark Star Books (a great supporter of Caliber in the day) has reverted to becoming a trade only store and doesn’t even carry periodic comics any more. When I had my stores, we carried virtually every trade in existence plus imported many from France and Japan and even carried Chinese and Korean titles. Anime at that time was called Japanimation and the manga titles were not translated although some companies such as Eclipse and Dark Horse were just starting to bring Americanized versions over. Periodicals still made up a hefty percentage of the business as did back issues. Even in the waning days of running the stores (I sold them), I saw the decrease in the periodicals due to expectations of trades following soon. This of course, impacted both new and back issues. Comic books (the periodicals) are becoming such a specialty market and are in danger of following so many magazines and newspapers that are giving way to the electronic form. But comics, even more so than mags and papers, rely on a tactile basis…people just like to hold them in their hands and the digital formats just don’t measure up for some people. However, that comparison is with “current” fans. New fans may forego the physical form completely and have no such discrimination. Wouldn’t it be ironic that the very thing that saves the sequential comics market is going back to the basics of comic books? If publishers pushed back the trade collections so that the monthly comics renewed their value as entertainment, then comic shops might find their little niche could survive. It’s an interesting watch especially for those of us who remember the early days of the direct market and how things have changed. Most of those changes were completely unpredicted so when I see predictions on future avenues or events, I just have to think back of so many predictions that didn’t come true and the unknown arenas that opened up into all new and unexpected venues. Side excursions: It looks like the Deadworld: Requiem for the World trade paperback (collecting the Image series of Deadworld 1-6) is sold out. It was overprinted at about 60% of the initial orders so that was good to see. Not sure how much sold in the direct market and how much via the “book market” (i.e.- Amazon) but is seemed to get a good response outside of comic shops. There will be a reprint but no details yet. Speaking of Deadworld, I should have some more information soon on the role playing game. It’s in production so things should start rolling on it soon. It looks like some of my planed comics writing will be delayed as I have a book project that I just got involved in and that will consume much of my time…but its financially worth it and it sounds like a fun project. In the event that I don’t update before the “magic day”, I hope everyone has a Happy Solstice Day…or whatever religious day you celebrate.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Comic Shops and distribution

As usual, Steven Grant in his column Permanent Damage had something interesting to say. I don’t always agree with him but he usually presents a view supported by logical reasoning and past experience. His column dealt with publishers getting the right exposure for their titles and therefore, selling them. Here’s the link if you haven’t seen it. Steven’s column ties in with some threads appearing on some forums such as CBIA (a private retailer’s forum) and Panel and Pixel (the newer site that is host to comic creators in the vein of the late Engine). Essentially, the question comes from publishers on how to get their books noticed (and consequently ordered). There are a lot of titles being offered to comic book retailers and fans and most of them will fail to reach satisfactory numbers to continue or in fact, even come out in the first place. The major problem is the system of distribution which of course, means Diamond. I don’t blame Diamond at all…they’re in the business to solidify THEIR business and until someone proves to them that NOT having a virtual monopoly is beneficial to the market and themselves concurrently, it’s likely to stay that way. But this is where the discussion on the forums is centered at and it brings up an interesting facet of the business model. Grant, in his column says, and rightfully so, that the act of publishing doesn’t mean you’re going to have readers or support from the retailers. As he put it, the “build it and they will come” mentality just isn’t going to work, yet that is the approach that most publishers have in today’s market. However, the strategies that publishers can engage some kind of promotional scheme is very limited and again, it comes down to the distribution format. A publisher launching a new line of comics has to get the retailers on board to their titles so they order it for their shelves (racking the books) and hopefully entice readers into discovering the title. What can a publisher do? The most obvious strategy is to advertise in the monthly Diamond Preview. After all, this is essentially the source of information for all titles each month. Fans can turn in an order form indicating what they want and in turn, retailers turn in their order forms to Diamond which is unfortunately, just about the only ordering system in place for comic shops. There are a few other distributors that shops use to fill reorders but essentially Diamond is the engine that drives the comics market. So, how do publishers make fans and retailers aware of their titles? Mainly, as I said, they advertise in Diamond Previews. But in those forum discussions, you have a lot of stores, and major ones at that, saying they don’t use Previews in their stores. Shops mentioned that they had 2-10% of their customers actually even look at Previews (if they were supplied or ordered for them). And these are large and respectable stores. Even further, some of these stores don’t want posters or flyers as they just don’t have any place to display them. There are a few outspoken retailers who want publishers to know that because of the sheer number of titles being offered, theirs is not likely to be carried by the store unless the publisher gives them a reason to carry it…feedback from customers demanding the title…awareness in the media…or as one put it, have a “buzz” about it. But most of these retailers say that the market is small as it is---simply getting attention in the comics market via Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, the Pulse, etc., is not enough. They want the publishers to bring in new readers. This makes sense if you concede that buyers spend their allotted budget and so any competing product simply takes away from another product the retailer already ordered. New readers are new dollars...old readers just shuffle the same dollars around. With many stores, there is a resistance towards purchasing new or unproven books. In fact, one store said that they would consider racking a book (available on the shelf) if they got at least five advance orders on a title. So, if four advance orders came in, the store would still not stock it for the shelf because it wasn’t enough demand to do so. It ends up that stores won’t order titles unless there is a buzz about it. Consumers won’t buy the books if they aren’t at the store and apparently the use of Diamond Previews to advance order is used far less often than most publishers thought, so consumers won’t even have the chance to be aware of it. The recourse to publishers is to strategize the Internet to build customer awareness yet many stores say that method is insufficient to build true consumer demand. Of course, the stores (and most publishers, obviously) want new readers. Where do these new readers come in? I think it has to come from new titles that hold a broader appeal than the superheroes. Let’s face it, the “world” at large knows all about superheroes from movies such as Batman, Superman, X-Men, Spider-Man, Hulk, Daredevil, etc. The movies and consequential awareness are not driving customers into comic stores. Whereas the comic fans have defined comics as the genre of superheroes, the outside world as defined superheroes as characters in film. Look at the movies which have generated incredible sales of the printed material…Sin City, 300, The Crow, and to a much lesser extent, V for Vendetta, History of Violence, Road to Perdition, and From Hell. Not a superhero in the bunch. Perhaps the larger audience out there (the mass market) will venture into graphic storytelling…if the material is the right material. I’m not suggesting stores are necessarily negligent or lazy about ordering smaller publishers’ books. They operate on a tight budget and they don’t really have the luxury of taking chances. But it is the system and the system is not efficient for things outside of the usual course (i.e.- superhero pamphlet comics). Let’s say you’re a publisher that does a historical mystery and it isn’t being sold based on the talents involved (no big names to carry it along). It is well written, the art is very good, the packaging is top notch, and it fits into the proper format. The publisher runs an ad in Diamond, advertises online, gets interviews and previews on many of the major Internet sites, has a good website with information on the title. Chances are that the book will not be carried by most stores unless it just happens to get the buzz (which is unpredictable and certainly can’t be planned on). It languishes in sales and is considered a flop. What if the publisher decided to forego the comic distribution channels. Sure, it would be offered but not budgeted for any kind of advertising spent in that market. Sales would be less but how much less? From next to nothing to nothing? But no money was spent so profit wise, the publisher may be ahead in that market. Suppose the publisher directed all of their energies and money to outside the comics market. Hitting the mystery and history avenues…buying space in the smaller magazine or making deals with Amazon or other suppliers. A website is set up to take direct orders from consumers. Again, it could have minimal sales. But suppose it generates interest? Now, you can’t do that kind of strategy too far ahead because if people want the book, they want it now. They’re not going to order it ahead of time and wait a couple of months. And so the time factor for the comic stores takes them out of the equation. Furthermore, unless someone already frequents a comic store, they’re not likely to inquire there either…not when they can order direct or get it from someplace like Amazon. If the book takes off, what role does the comic store play in this? Not much…except to satisfy their existing customer base by providing copies on a reorder basis. The publishers, especially if they’re selling direct, don’t see much use for the comic stores (outside of any other outlet) because the discount structure is too high on each copy sold. Sure, Amazon also charges a similar discount but as a publisher, you get a lot more bang for your buck from Amazon than you do from a reluctant comic shop. A lot of publishers do realize this. They know that the comic shops are not going to give them unconditional support and most publishers actually do realize why. Stores are limited in what they can do…there shouldn’t be any animosity between the two sides (although there seems to be at times)…it’s just the way things are. Yet some publishers still are mired in this mindset and the direct market ends up being their primary focus if not their only one. With Transfuzion, my initial thought was just to bypass the comics market altogether. After all, the books were primarily reprints of some of my stuff at Caliber along with a few friends doing the same. Retailers often complain about collections of old series and how there isn’t a big enough market to support all of them. I get that and had no problems with it. The collections have a value outside of just seeing my name on the cover. They provide a tangible product for other explorations. Having collections has helped me to get foreign reprint deals, a role playing game, t-shirt licenses, interest and options from Hollywood, some video game discussions, and explorations into the many outlets of digital distribution and that’s just from a couple of collections put out by Desperado and/or Image. However, as word got out, we started getting a lot of inquiries from other creators and now Transfuzion will likely be doing a considerable amount of new stuff. So, I figure as a publisher, I owe it to the creators to get as much exposure as possible. And as someone who has been in this business for 20 years, I WANT the comics market to grow. I reconsidered my idea of not going through the direct market and just concentrate outside of it although I think I will do better “out there”. I have had a lot of success in selling direct to fans, finding other outlets (i.e.- mystery stores for Red Diaries, horror outlets for Deadworld), and I find quite a few of my books in libraries. There has been very limited success in the bookstore market but sales online via Amazon and other sources have been extremely encouraging. So, why bother with the comic stores at all? Well, obviously, any sale is sale, even ones at such substantial discounting. But I guess it comes down to the feeling that I owe it to them and the industry. Now, most of them could give a shit on whether I offer the books or not but I know that at least I made it available to them. For the initial launch of Transfuzion, the books were ready to go in August of 2007 but now they will not be released until February of 2008. If you’re going to use the direct market, you have to do it right. You can’t undercut them, so I am perfectly willing to follow that game plan. I may only get a handful of sales from the direct market, I don’t know…but no matter what happens, they always had the opportunity. Whether I can parlay that into something they can take advantage of it is a whole different question.

Launching Transfuzion

I have four books coming out from Transfuzion that are available to order now in the Diamond Previews. Below is the information as well as details on the projects. Of course, more information can be obtained from the Transfuzion website at Just a quick bit of hype. PAGE 337 in the current Diamond Previews DEC07 3942 GHOST SONATA DEC07 3943 JACK THE RIPPER DEC07 3944 OF SCENES & STORIES DEC07 3945 SAINT GERMAINE: TALES OF AN IMMORTAL Here's the details on each title: GHOST SONATA story by Gary Reed, art by Andy Bennett, cover by Vince Locke 112 pg, trade paperbackBlack and white, $14.99ISBN: 978-0-941613-04-0Based loosely on the play from August Strindberg. A young man, born with a rare ability to sense the feelings and thoughts of others, is plunged into a family of despair and secrets from years gone past. He becomes an unwillingly participant and joins the legacy of torment in the poisonous lies and deceit that have invaded the house. A saga of lost opportunities and vengeful hate. JACK THE RIPPER Story and text by Gary Reed, Art and cover by Mark Bloodworth 54 pg, trade paperback, black and white, $8.99ISBN: 978-0-941613-08-8 An illustrated primer to the most infamous serial killer in history! The shocking murder of five prostitutes in Victorian London ripped apart the society of the civilized world and led to incredible social changes. In this narrative of sequential comic pages, facsimiles of letters and notes, and pictures from the time period, a survey of the social setting, the victims, the investigators, and the possible suspects are explored. OF SCENES AND STORIES story by Gary Reed art by Jim Calafiore, Laurence Campbell, Guy Davis, Michael Gaydos, Michael Lark, Vince Lock, David Mack, Mike Perkins, R. G. Taylor, Patrick Zircher and others. cover by VARIOUS 320 pg, trade paperback, black and white, $24.99 ISBN: 978-0-941613-10-1 A collection of short stories and selected scenes from the diverse and insightful writings of Gary Reed. Covering a wide array of genres, the stories are illustrated by some of today’s top artists, including Guy Davis, Michael Lark, Galen Showman, Mike Perkins, Patrick Zircher, R.G. Taylor, Jim Calafiore, Michael Gaydos, Mark Bloodworth, Vince Locke, Laurence Campbell, and many others. Each selection has a preface where Reed discusses the work and the artist. Tabbed “blistering good” by Rue Morgue Magazine, this collection also includes pages from the never published project, THE BEATLES. SAINT GERMAINE: TALES OF AN IMMORTAL Story by Gary Reed, Art by Andy Bennett, Tom Bionodillo, Guy Davis, Vince Locke, James Lyle. 178 pg, trade paperback, black and white, $19.99 ISBN: 978-0-941613-07-1 A new collection of Saint Germaine that compiles issues 5-8 and the one shots of “Casanova’s Lament” and “Man in the Iron Mask.” Saint Germaine is a man who lives forever, feeding off the memories of those that are about to die. In these stories, Germaine reminisces about his old friend, Casanova; searches for the answer of who was in the Iron Mask; deals with a friend living in the past of the Sioux Ghost Dance; and delves into the origins of the being known as Kilroy. Written by Gary Reed, artists include: Vince Locke, Andy Bennett, James E. Lyle, Tom Bionodillo, and Guy Davis.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Catching up....

I guess I was right about the time factor as its been over a month since the last post. Things have been hectic but I expect it to lighten up soon. I'm heading into the last part of the semester so I have a few more lectures to give and then the finals. Next semester I lightened my load to give me more time for the many projects I'm involved with so I expect to be able to finish many things and catch up on others...and of course, embark on even more new projects. Quick update on some projects: The project with Tom Mandrake is on hold as we have to investigate some legal situations and plus Tom is getting a lot of work from DC (which is great for him). There has been communication with a couple of publishers about it so hopefully that will get back on the burner when Tom's schedule permits. There will be an all new SAINT GERMAINE story coming up in Desperado Publishing's Negative Burn. It is a full length story (24 pages) that will run in the anthology and is illustrated by James E. Lyle who drew the Casanova's Lament one shot in the Saint Germaine series. This one deals with the tragedy of Falstaff from the Bard's plays. James is over 75% of the way done with it so when he finishes it, look for it to be scheduled. I have a couple of original graphic novels that I'm working on with various creators and as they come closer to completion, I'll discuss them a bit more. From Transfuzion Publishing (more on that below), there will be an all new anthology of DEADWORLD (the collection is called "Bring Out Your Dead") and I have a few stories in there. TROY is being reprinted in Italy, following the two Deadworld graphic novels that have been reprinted overseas. RED DIARIES is also on the schedule but I'm not sure exactly what countries at this point. The Deadworld role playing game is moving ahead at full speed. I hope to be able to see what cool stuff they're doing for it shortly. Speaking of DW, the new miniseries (which is guest written by Mike Raicht) just came out and it sets the stage for the continuation of the series after this mini-series finishes. More on that later....much later. The estate of Bryon Preiss' iBooks looks to be settled soon and when that happens, it will give me a better idea of what's going on with some projects tied up with that. BAKER STREET might be something that we can take to other publishers depending on what shakes up with the iBooks scene. There is also the BEATLES project that I wrote and R.G. Taylor was illustrating and so that might be something that we will be able to move someplace as well. It's a shame about the deal iBooks had with Penguin Books on the classic graphic novels (I wrote DRACULA with Becky Cloonan doing the art and Frazer Irving illustrated the FRANKENSTEIN adaptation I did). The books seemed to do real well and I see them everywhere including many libraries. It's amazing on the market penetration the big guys (i.e.- Penguin) can obtain. I hope to be getting some more notes from the producers regarding the RENFIELD storyline which I'm writing a play for. Rather than just licensing it out, I was asked to write it as that's cool. I'm looking forward to tackling that. The Actionopolis line stalled a bit with the bankruptcy of the parent company of the distributor (PGW) but things got back on track a couple of months ago. Now it's a period of adjustment and re-evaluation for books like my SPIRIT OF THE SAMURAI. The young adult novel market is highly competitive but the publishers continue their discussions and so hopefully there will be word on that soon and I can finish the second book. I have three books that likely won't find their way into the comics market as they're produced specifically for the library market. They're children's books and are written for very young readers so unlikely to find much appeal beyond that but they were fun to do. Transfuzion is set up to have the first books officially release in February. They will be available via Diamond (hence the order to get them time to order). The first releases will be OF SCENES AND STORIES, a 320 page anthology of stories written by me and featuring many of today's top artists; JACK THE RIPPER, a docu-comic from me and Mark Bloodworth; GHOST SONATA, a drama with supernatural overtones illustrated by Andy Bennett and based very loosely on the play by August Strindberg, and SAINT GERMAINE: TALES OF AN IMMORTAL which collects issues 5-8 of the Saint Germaine series (drawn by Vince Locke, Tom Bionodillo, and Andy Bennet, some short stories, and the two one shots- Casanova's Lament (James E. Lyle) and Man in the Iron Mask (Guy Davis/Andy Bennett). Next time, I'll go through the first few months schedule which includes titles such as SINERGY, OZ, ORLAK, and others. I'm increasingly torn to spending time on the comics stuff and what is fast becoming my major interest which is science related books. Since I started teaching college biology courses after Caliber closed, I find myself more and more becoming entrenched in that field and I have some projects that I want to do. The book publishers that I talked to seem interested so I may devote more of my future time with that avenue. More on Transfuzion and the schedule next time.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Just No Time

No time…just no time. It just never ends, it seems. I’m not talking about time itself as that (as far as we know and can surmise) that it doesn’t end…although when/if it does, the universe as we know it will also so the whole point becomes not only moot, but our realm of understanding. No, what I’m talking about is time…as in not having nearly enough of it. Just don’t have time to spare. I look back to when I had Caliber. I had my stores also at that time, had a three year stint at McFarlane Toys, was President of Stabur Graphics, wrote a lot of comics, and was heavily involved in raising four kids and all the demands (although enjoyable) that entails. Now I’m a freelance writer, I teach, and my kids are getting older so that the demands are nearly as great…yet I seem more strapped for time than before. I know everyone bitches about not having enough time and all these newspaper and magazine articles give credence to all of us being consumed by the rat chase, but it does seem true. I hardly watch any TV…I don’t get a chance to read as much as I’d like. I’m a fast reader so I tend to catch up on all my science magazines (I teach Biology so I have to stay informed) at lunch or breakfast. I’m one of those people that has to read while eating although not at dinner as that’s the family meal that we all sit and discuss the day. And that is something that surprises me…how very few families actually do that. My teaching does take up some time even though I’m getting into the position of teaching classes I’ve taught before so it should be easier. However, I can’t just teach last semester’s stuff…it seems so out of date for the next semester. It’s a little ironic as one of the classes I teach is Evolution that you’d think would be a rather static course outline but the new discoveries coming in almost daily have caused a lot of rethinking and added to the incredible array of evidence. So, I am constantly modifying all my courses as I go through each semester. This semester I’m teaching five classes and being biology, most of them have laboratories so of course, that adds quite a bit of time to it. I decided next semester that I’m dropping down to four. It’s only one class but it will give me a much more manageable schedule so even though it appears to only be a 20% reduction, I actually think it will end up being closer to 40-50%, just because of the scheduling aspects. I’m probably like most people…got so much to get to that it’s almost like paralysis as you start one thing then have to move to something else, so you hesitate on moving on something that you can’t finish. But I’m trying to line up the priorities, essentially for the new year. The rest of the year will pretty much be tying up all the loose ends and preparing for the new endeavors. I HAVE to work on the Deadworld novel. Gary Francis, my writing partner on it, has been pretty much flying solo on the project so now its time for me to step up. But I also have to work on the Deadworld screenplay. A couple of producers are interested and have asked to take it out with my script. Yeah, I know its spec but at least I get a screenplay that I like. You could not imagine what people want to do to Deadworld just because of what came before. I mean, I could let it go so obviously derivative but they just haven’t offered me enough money to kill the property by spinning it in their misguided direction. I’m about to embark on writing a theatrical play for Renfield and that’s a new direction for me. I have a couple of science books that I want to write and I keep scribbling notes during free time to develop those and those notepads are sure multiplying. As for comics, I’m retooling Sinergy (a modern version of Dante’s Inferno) and doing some stories for various anthologies. I have a couple of things churning with Desperado Publishing as original graphic novels (one with R.G. Taylor that I’m real excited about) and I have a couple other publishers that have inquired about things so I have to explore those, and of course, I have the launching of Transfuzion Publishing. I plan on writing more on Transfuzion next time because what started as essentially a reprint line for books by me and Rafael Nieves and some friends…is suddenly blossoming into something else entirely. So, one of the things that I will probably have to spend less time on is things that just aren’t essential…such as this here blog. I plan to keep it around because everyone likes to have the chance to spout off and when it’s your blog, you can say what you want and no one can say no. But I probably won’t keep it up to date that frequently…or at least not feel that I have to. Then again, when I said I was going to be more active with it, I tended to fall even further behind so maybe it will be another opposite effect. The blog does serve a purpose besides ego and venting. It gives a single source for explanation that you can direct people to instead of covering the same ground over and over. For example, when I discussed “Why Transfuzion?”, I could just send people there rather than re-explaining everything again. Some random thoughts: I look at the political candidates as the race is shaping up. Are you kidding me? This is who we have to choose from? And can someone tell me who it is that watches/listens/reads Ann Coulter? I can't believe anyone can give any creditability to what she has to say. It's not jsut because she's so right wing...there's an equal number of leftist nut jobs out there as well but I find her particularly offensive. I saw Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer (at least I think that's the title). Damn...what a horrendous movie. I felt like I was wasting my life while watching it but figured I'd see it to the end, mainly out of curiosity as after all, I grew up on FF and SS. Either I view my childhood through some thickly tinted glasses or the new and improved version hit the hideous meter. And no, I'm not even tempted to check out Ghost Rider. Spiderman is establishing itself as the exception to super hero movies, not a trend. I don't think the public will absorb too many more losers.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

No News is Good News?

It seems every week or so that a new topic gets the buzz in comics and then is quickly forgotten about. Let’s see…one week is was about barcodes being required for all printed items going through Diamond…prior to that it was the publishing contracts of DC’s new online company and Platinum’s outline of revenue sharing and control, and so on. Sort of ties in with the more recent hub-bub dealing with “comic news”, more specifically, the lack of professional comics journalism. The complaint in some circles is that the comics medium doesn’t have a true journalistic slant from anyone. The major “news” sources are nothing more that regurgitated press releases and announcements that usually harp on new creative teams or the events that will occur in the fictional characters’ lives. Well…yeah. I mean, how many people really expect hard hitting news in this small little niche market? It just doesn’t lend itself to it. You either have creative news (writers, artists, editorial direction, etc) or business news. The business news is out there…IDW being bought, Newsarama being bought, the DC and Platinum contracts, etc. I think what people are wanting is more of the “dirty” stuff…who is screwing who (financially, that is). Exposing fraudulent and criminal behavior…now, that would be considered real journalism and hard-hitting news for many of those clamoring for real news. And comic “journalists” have done that…to some extent. But if you’re going to go into that direction, you have to make sure you go all the way. You have to do it correctly. I’ve been involved in some of these so called journalistic investigations and on only one occasion did the journalist contact both sides and get the full story from both participants. Every other time, it was based on one side only. I’ve seen lies and allegations thrown into the press…and the press doesn’t even bother to verify the facts before they print them. Now I understand when it is an interview but even then, when someone makes an outlandish claim, doesn’t it seem to be a bit of good journalism for the interviewer to check up a little on the facts? Guess because it is an interview, it doesn’t matter…but I think it does. Maybe there isn’t that much to reveal in the news aspects of comics simply because there just isn’t that much happening that would be worthy of true journalism. Got an interesting link sent to me…it was an old Todd McFarlane interview with Fantagraphics’ Gary Groth. Sorry, don’t have the link but you should be able to google it. The interview was from the early days of Image prior to Todd’s launch into the toy business. It was a good insight into what Todd was thinking and having hooked up with Todd soon after, it was pure Todd. A lot of people don’t like Todd due to many assorted reasons…but I personally never had a problem with him. The three years I spent working with him, mainly on the toy company, was a pretty exciting time as it went from nothing to the leader in design of action figures. As the company grew, it wasn’t as much fun as it became a corporation and it was amazing how inertia sets in larger companies and how many people seem to exist purely to have a job without actually doing anything. I found it ironic that in the interview, Todd discusses the bloated staffing of Marvel in creating comics and then ends up suffering from the same bloat with his own company. I didn’t agree with many of Todd’s business decisions but it was his company so he has the right to make the decisions based on what he wants to do. I’ve always enjoyed reading all the comments regarding the Miracleman and Neil Gaiman situation as I remember a lunch discussion with Todd about that very subject. Overall, I always looked back at the days of McFarlane Toys as a great and enjoyable time. I remember when it ended as Todd and I discussed at length about my role, how Caliber fit in, etc. I look back and think that if Caliber had rolled into the “big” company, it might have ended up becoming a power house as Todd’s reputation and name in Hollywood might have propelled quite a few of the properties into something. But I was sure that Caliber could do it on its own…so I took Caliber and left…not knowing the market crash that was just sitting there waiting for me. It’s rather strange that when I made that decision, how many calls and emails I got that congratulated me for getting away from Todd…as if he were an evil influence or something. What’s even funnier is how one of the loudest ended up working for Todd until he had a falling out. Saw that a researcher did a project in Argentina to evaluate the social circles that the Marvel superheroes are part of versus those of supervillains. Going through some 12,000 comics, the research came to the conclusion that the heroes were more socially connected than the villains. You think? Unbelievable what kind of money is spent on silly research but glad to see it isn’t limited to just the U.S. This is short this time as I deleted the long rambling that was to follow. It dealt with politics and religion but I figured that I could never sum it up even in a few pages of what I thought the lunacy was so why do it half-assed.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Comics UPC codes

There's been quiet a flurry of activity regarding Diamond's request that all publishers will have to supply UPC bars on their comics as Diamond is leading the way for comic book retailers to come to the modern world of retailing with POS (point of sale) data. Although some stores do actually scan the barcodes and therefore have a semblance of an inventory system (or at least access to one), many if not most, comic stores don't. For most stores, moving to this type of system is based on cost of getting a system but Diamond is working with them to provide it at a manageable cost. It isn't the retailers who are flapping about it though, after all, they don't HAVE to use the system...but rather the publishers. There have been quite a few protestations posted through out the internet ---see Comics Worth Reading here---, but the one that initiated even more worthwhile discussion was from Steven Grant where he led off with the line..."So Diamond has pretty much shut down small comics publishing..." Grant says that most comic publishers are hovering at a marginal profit and so this is just another hurdle to cross, another nail in the comic coffin of profitability. This brought a response from Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter who essentially says the cost is something the publishers who want to be involved in the comics market are just going to have to bear. Another respondent is Jennifer De Guzman on the Slave Labor blog also says that the costs are part of doing business and perhaps if the cost is so detrimental, perhaps that publisher shouldn't be in the business. I find myself agreeing quite often with Jennifer De Guzman's statements and views about the comics industry and again, have to side with her and Spurgeon regarding the cost of getting barcodes should be seen as a necessary part of the business rather than a detriment. I'll be honest here though. When Transfuzion was being put together, I wanted it to keep it as low cost and low maintenance as possible. I have far too much work to do and didn't want to get tied up in a low profit venture which published other people...I mean, I did that with Caliber (and eventually it went from low profit to loss but that's a whole 'nother story). The initial plan was to release the books and put them up on Amazon, deal with some other online companies, of course...perhaps some smaller distributors such as Cold Cut and Shenton Sales and obviously, sell copies via the website. Well, all that is still the plan... but in talking with Diamond, it seems that Diamond will be another option. After all, it wouldn't make much sense NOT to sell to Diamond because for most stores, if Diamond doesn't carry it, it doesn't exist. A little dilemma ensued. If going through Diamond, then we'd have to be fair to the retailers. After all, they're ordering the books ahead of time and are committed to purchasing them. So that means we have to release the books on a schedule that doesn't penalize them. It would be beyond unfair, perhaps even malicious, if they ordered the books two months ahead of time and then we released them everywhere else first. So, it would delay the release schedule of the many books we have lined up. But that might not be a bad thing. That way, when the books start to "officially" come out, they'll come out on a regular and timely schedule. There are already 8 books done so if we do two a month, that's the first four months already complete and ready to go. By the time the first books actually do come out, there will probably be another 6-8 books completed and ready to go. There are many other considerations we have to deal with as well, most notably online versions, downloadable formats, providing for ipods and other devices, etc. and all that scheduling has to be factored in as well. When I heard about the mandatory UPC from Diamond, my gut reaction was to just forget about that avenue. After spending all of five minutes reading more about it, I found the UPC was just for comics and other projects and for trades and books, the barcode was simply the ISBN. Then my gut reaction was duh. I mean how can a "book" publisher expect to exist without having an ISBN? So, no problems with the barcode situation. Now that I think about it, the discussion about the barcode seems rather silly. Sure, maybe all the stores don't use them yet but more than likely the stores that we're counting on to carry the more alternative titles are indeed the ones that would use them. And obviously, the barcode situation pertains most importantly to ISBN for books and trades which is absolutely necessary to sell outside of the comics market so it should be something that is already part of most publishers' set up now. In other comic news, I read that Fangoria Comics is closing its doors...just a couple of months after releasing the first titles. It wasn't un-expected. Fangoria made virtually no impact in the comics market with their announcement and scheduling updates and followed the normal path of larger companies coming in and making a ripple instead of a splash. Usually the most news occurs when the inevitable announcement comes that they're not continuing publishing comics. Speaking of large companies and comics, I still have to wonder though, how it is that Disney cannot establish itself as one, if not the, major comics publisher. It just baffles me. But I remember when I had my stores and would head to Disneyworld with my kids who were at the perfect age at that time, I would never find any Disney Comics there even though I carried them in my store. All the stores in Disneyworld and they couldn't carry their own comics? Just bizarre.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

On Writing

I get a lot of emails and invites via MySpace to join various writers' groups. Overall, I think they're a good idea, especially for writers starting out as it helps to solidify some concepts and lets their work be evaluated by their peers. And judging by the submissions I received at Caliber (and still receive), there are many new writers that could use the guidance.
What I find in many cases, however, is that there are a lot of beginning writers who spend an enormous amount of time dissecting the craft of writing, looking for the magic formula to launch their careers spinning tales.
I don't think there is one. Obviously there are tools to be used and understanding all of those with the rules will help in the storytelling but sometimes I think that some writers write more about writing than actually writing the story. I'm not suggesting that to be a writer, you just have to write because there are some fundamentals you have to understand and rules, even if you're going to break them, that you need to know. But I still say the best way to move ahead on the writing is to write.
Does that mean I think writing is purely an innate process? Partially. As in many genetic traits, I think it is a case of not being either nature or nurture...but both. Some people are born with "the gift" but never develop into good writers. Others may be taught even though they seem not to have inherent skills to become good writers. But the good ones have both. Some might narrow it down to having both innate skill AND a sense of desire.
I am always reluctant to participate in discussions about the craft of writing. It seems to be a bit presumptuous to expound on how someone should write because I think the process in more personal and subjective. Besides, when I read about someone extolling their skills and I don't respect their writing, well...I just don't want to be that guy. No matter how good some think you are, there are others that don't like your style...your approach...your flavor.
That's where reviews come in. In a way, a review is an ego stroke but I find most writers view them as confirmations. You release a project and you think its good. When a review appears with positive comments, it's confirming what you thought and you successfully got your message or idea across. A negative review can sometimes be constructive but often times a negative review is no help as the reviewer approaches the story from what he/she wanted it to be rather than evaluating what it is.
I think that's one of the reasons I don't like editing. I go through a script and I can deal with the obvious flaws and evaluation of story elements. I can point out the lack of inherent logic in a story, confusing scene shifts, etc. But the "voice" of the story has to be from the writer, not the editor. I see some editors' notes and they intrude beyond the structural aspects and contort the voice...and that shouldn't be done. I look at scripts I have to edit and I think to myself, "well, I wouldn't have done it that way but that's the way the writer wants it" so I let it go. The problem is that I extend that permissiveness quite easily. A good editor has to know the difference...reigning in the story yet still let the author's voice be the backbone. I find myself letting the voice dominate.
So, I always cringe when people ask me about "how to write". What works for me won't work for others and vice-versa. I enjoy talking about a specific story, for example, when someone asks me about the details of a particular story but even then, I found that I didn't really plan it just happened. Of course, once I start to discuss it, I find where I got the inspiration and what I was developing but usually it wasn't a process of planned design, it just happened as I was writing it. That's the innate part.
I was just on a panel with Dan Mishkin and Rob Worley at an Ann Arbor book fair and we were discussing elements of writing. I thought Dan summed it up very well when he mentioned the first time that his writing led to a character developing on the pages and essentially came to life and determined what he would say and do. The writer wasn't the character any was as if the character took off on his own and just had to be moved around. I think that's a feeling that most writers have about their characters and if you don't, I think that's when things get difficult and foggy. But it happens and that's when your learned skills have to keep the character vibrant even though to you, the writer, it isn't alive.
Another theme that developed during the panel was one of restriction. If you're writing a comic for a publisher and dealing with someone else's characters and situations, that is an incredible box that you're put in. This is especially true if you're writing a comic for one of the majors and you have a limited amount of pages and certain events have to occur within that narrow range. That's a whole different type of writing. Some writers enjoy that and see it as a challenge whereas other writers would feel so restrictive that it's almost as if they couldn't breathe. I've been on both sides and they're different processes. I think that for someone like myself who is accustomed to writing virtually free form in the sense that I'm not limited by page count or events, it's necessary to do it every once in awhile to re-evaluate what I call constrictive writing. It forces me to monitor myself and keep a check on wandering. I certainly wouldn't want to do it all the time but I think mixing up what you're writing is important as it serves as constant reminders on story structure.
So, I don't really have many tips for writers. My suggestion is that instead of evaluating writing before you write, is to write and then evaluate what you've written. The hardest part of writing is just doing it and I know you hear that from so many writers, but it's true. Wanna be a writer? Write. It's that simple. Sidenotes: Is it just me or when looking through the comic news sites about upcoming projects, there seems to be a lack of anything exciting? Not that I get too worked up about too much anyway but the light seems especially dim the last few months. Over on Todd Allen's Publishing Follies posted on Comic Book Resources, he includes a short interview with me that was done during Chicago Con regarding Transfuzion.

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Blogger Templates