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.

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