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.

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