Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Looking Back

Looking at the date, it dawned on me that in a few months, it will be 20 years since I started Caliber Comics. That’s a lot of years and even though Caliber occupied my life for a good 11-12 years, when I think back of it ending around 2001 or so, it seems so very…very…very long ago. Almost a distant memory.

Since that time…and that time referring to the “end” of Caliber…things certainly have changed. My four daughters have aged, a couple of them growing to adulthood. I started teaching and now consider that my occupation rather than being writer or publisher---except for the summers, that is. I don’t teach in the summer and devote myself writing.

When I started in the comics business, first as a retailer then a convention organizer before entering the publishing field, I was one of the young guys. Well, not really. I wasn’t that young but certainly younger than I am currently. Now, I see that there are a lot of young people…and some not so young. The comics market, especially because of the boom in the graphic novel field, is bringing in all kinds of people and all various ages. There is no young guard coming in and pushing the old guard out the door because of new ideas. In fact, it seems that the young no longer have a monopoly on new waves of technology that they used to have. To some extent, sure, as you don’t see too many senior citizens texting or trying to determine whether Comcast, AT&T, and whatever local provider there is will supply you with better HD programming. But that other group, slightly above middle aged but not close enough to senior status (and fighting it tooth and nail) are embracing the technology as much as the young people.

That seems to be happening in comics as well. It’s quite a mixed bag of creators when you attend a convention. It used to be the older people were the seasoned vets on the downside of their career or perhaps just relishing in the years of success they had. Nowadays, they’re just as apt as the teenager next to them in pushing their new self-published title. About the only difference it seems is at the bars at night. That seems to be the domain of the young still (and obviously, there are some notable exceptions).

With Transfuzion starting up, I am continually amazed at how much simpler things are now. The technology just makes things so much easier and much more efficient. At Caliber, we were pretty advanced as far as technology went. I remember we had to explain what a zip drive was to a printer. We launched a web site earlier than most and had one of the few shopping carts. It was a tedious process to input an item for the cart and there was an incredible reluctance on consumers to use their credit cards. That was well before payment management companies such as PayPal came along.

We got our first computer right after Caliber started. I had hired Kevin VanHook for editorial help and he actually used a computer. Kevin only stayed about a year before he left to find a successful career in Hollywood in writing and directing films. But when he left, we bought his computer. It was an Atari. The memory was so meager that we could only print out half a page of text so all of our text pages had to have the two halves taped together.

When you wanted a black page, you had to either have something black already or get out those huge markers that would usually end up giving you quite a buzz for the evening and a terrible headache the next day.

One memory that I remember quite well was when I was putting together a 32 page booklet as a promotional item. It was a brochure of our titles, and I’m guessing it was to be a handout at conventions. Caliber had a lot of “dark” titles so most of the design featured black pages with white text. At that time, Guy Davis was working for me in production. It was right before he landed the Sandman Mystery Theatre job that would cement his career.

We had to use a lot of black pages but we had a ready source. One of the first titles Caliber produced was The Crow. Initially, The Crow didn’t sell that well and even when it started to move and we had to go back to print, each printing was only a couple thousand copies. It wasn’t until the announcement of the movie that The Crow really took off. But anyway, The Crow had almost a solid back cover with just a small amount of text on the back (maybe it was the inside back cover, can’t quite remember). So, to get the black pages, we would rip off the back cover of The Crow issues and just paste over it. Yeah, I know what the issues eventually became worth in the price guides, but at that time, who knew? I think Guy and I did the entire 32 page book in one day. I’d write and type up the text, print it (again, only half a page at a time) --- we’d go over the design of each page, and then he’d use a photocopy to get images from the comics and shrink or blow up the images as needed and paste them up with spray mount. The outside of the office door was a mucky mess of overspray from the spray mount and the vapors were so strong that the spraying had to be done outside.

I’d like to say those were the good old times but when I’m using Photoshop and just bringing in digital images…I just can’t.

Production isn’t the only thing that has changed. The incredible avenues now open because of the internet is unbelievable. Yes, I know Diamond is still the gorilla for the direct market but there are so many other areas that are much more accessible now. Libraries, independent and chain bookstores, direct mail, and other avenues are open simply because you can access them.

Of course, the main thing dampening all this accessibility and ease of production is increased competition. Whereas the “old days” curtailed the potential for a lot of people to enter the market, now almost anyone with a computer can get in on the action. And when you bring in the whole idea of webcomics, well, that just changes everything.

When I was a retailer, I carried virtually every single comic that came out and I had a pretty good idea of what every publisher and creator was up to. That was my job and my stores were extremely successful because we catered to that independent market. I look at things nowadays and I don’t know how retailers can keep up things. They have the usual print suspects but what happens when a webcomic decides to put out a physical copy. How do retailers know if it will sell? If it’s real popular, doesn’t that mean everyone has already gotten the material off the web? The saving grace for the retailer again comes down to distribution. The ability to get re-orders in today’s market is so far superior to what it used to be. Retailer can order light (and usually do) because they know that if the book takes off, they can usually get more copies.

I guess what triggered all this is getting prepared to head to Chicago Con (oops…Wizard World Chicago). It used to be an annual thing when I had Caliber and even prior because of my own conventions and stores but I had missed about 6-7 years straight. Now, I’ll be attending the third straight one. It certainly isn’t what it used to be and I’ll determine this year if I’ll return for next year. Fortunately, there’s enough old friends at the con that make it at least enjoyable.

But man, I sure see a lot of old people there.

Note: This blog is now being carried on the blog page of ComicsRelated.com along with a number of other blogs all in one place so if you get a chance, check it out. Also, there is a message board for Transfuzion and Desperado, so if you have any questions about anything I’m working on for those two companies, drop a note.

Here's the cover to HELSING, another recent release that I'll have with me at Chicago.


Emily said...

People should read this.

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