Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cons and Contracts

Just got back from vacation with the family and now playing catch-up. I had meant to post a new blog prior to leaving but you know how it goes. The trip was good as my wife, Jennifer, and 3 of our 4 daughters flew out to Las Vegas to see Jenny's folks who moved there about 10 years ago. After spending a couple of days there, we drove out to see the Grand Canyon and I was glad to see my kids really appreciated the wonder of the canyon. Did quite a bit of hiking (well, walking...not official hiking) and then we returned to Las Vegas for a day's rest before heading to Los Angeles. The kids have always wanted to see LA although I've been there about 15 times. Did much of the tourist stuff but they enjoyed just relaxing on the beach for the most part. One of my daughters wants to go to school in California and with the rising costs of everything in Michigan and the declining prospects here, it actually is about the same cost. So, we checked out the Long Beach campus and it was very nice. I think my daughter is not long for the cold winters of Michigan. Part of our trips in recent years is for us to evaluate where we want to move once all the kids are out of the house and on their own paths. Still a few years to go for that but we're getting a good idea of the different areas we might be interested in. So, far we like Colorado and North Carolina the best but there's a lot of great places around this country. I do like Ann Arbor but the winters are becoming increasingly annoying. I won't be going to San Diego this year which is nothing new since I haven't gone for a few years now. Just too insane and expensive and the time never seems right. I absolutely love that city though, and that's another contender for our post-kid home but California can be a bit pricey. One of the things I used to hate about San Diego Con was the sheer number of people who brought their portfolios there. So many were bad and even the good ones were just not suitable for Caliber. It was frustrating to look at so much stuff that just wasn't applicable (or good). I don't think the con still has the same problem mainly because of the Internet which is the vehicle mainly now to showcase work. But I did get some submissions and portfolios to review in Chicago. I really wish some people (not all, but most) would really think about what they're doing. Some hints on what to do if you're looking for work at a comic convention. 1) Don't just plop your portfolio on top of the books, prints, flyers, etc. that are on the table. Your portfolio may be vitally important to you but the published work already on the table is also important. Use some common sense. 2) I can't think of any publisher that wants to see color pinups of Marvel and DC characters as a representation of your work. Fine, you can do a pinup...but that's not comics (well, for the most part). 3) I'm always amazed at how many artists say they're only interested in doing covers. Unless you can provide mind-blowing work or have a name that will sell copies (rare), why would I use your cover over an artist who had done the entire book? 4) If you ask for a critique on your story-telling abilities, just accept it. You can think I'm an idiot and totally disregard anything I say...you can even think I'm an asshole for not seeing the obvious. But when I start asking questions about the story because I can't tell what's happening (and often this is with art and lettered scrip), then maybe you should start thinking that there just might be something wrong with your story-telling. I'm not looking for a debate so when I say I don't get it...just accept it. If you have to explain it to me, then obviously, it isn't working. 5) No, I don't want to hear your 30 minute spiel on how great your epic series is. My mind goes blank after two minutes or 15 names of characters...whichever comes first. I can't think of anyone that ever sold something based on a rambling narrative of an idea with no artwork. 6) Business cards are really cheap now and you can even print them off on your ink jet printer. I laugh when I get a business card with the names crossed off and a new name written there along with a new phone and new email address. Yeah, reusing someone else's card really screams professional. I think people would be amazed at how often this happens. 7) Please, please, please...do not come up to the table with your mom to handle all your discussions. I know she thinks you're wonderful but your work should stand on its own. 8) I love when someone comes up and tells me how much better they are than someone who has been producing comics for years. If you're so much better, than why aren't your books on the table. No one wants to hear an artist or writer get ragged on....especially when you don't know if I might be friends with them or not. These are just a few things that do actually happen at cons and quite often. Don't be that guy. Lots of interesting stuff going on with Wowio and Platinum. It seemed Wowio was really taking off but obviously, the model wasn't working as well as it first seemed. Not sure what is happening now. I was just about to sign up some titles with Wowio but once the Platinum deal started circulating, I held off. I'm adopting a wait and see attitude. I know Platinum gets a lot of flak but I don't know all the particulars except that perhaps some people don't read contracts too well. I've always found it surprising that so many creators think that someone should pay for their work without the publisher getting anything in return. Sure, they'll get part of the sales but unless you're a big name, it's not likely the project is worth the risk unless something else is included (usually some portion of movie rights). I totally understand those creators who do not want to give up those rights...after all, I'm also a creator. But if you want to get the work out there, you may have to include some of your "assets". Some creators will and some won't. I will on some of my properties but others I won't. I don't like the idea of how a publisher is painted in a broad stroke of scum when they offer a deal that is eagerly accepted by the creator. It always takes two sides to sign a contract. I have no idea of how Platinum operates or what is going on but I did talk with Scott Rosenberg a long time ago. We discussed bringing in the Caliber lineup to Platinum. I forget the details but obviously, it wasn't suitable so it never happened but it appears that the conditions were up front for me to decide on. With the advent of the big blockbuster comic movies (although most are superhero from the Big Two), the contracts between publishers and creators are getting quite a bit more elaborate. So, creators need to understand the specifics included in the contracts and also have to realize that both parties are getting something out of the deal...so always approach it from that point of view, break it down to what each party is getting. And if you can live with it, not just at the beginning but also in case the book takes off, then at least you know what you're getting into. There is no excuse regarding a bad contract...you either signed it or not. Another thread that I wanted to just touch on was Brian Hibbs' use of point of sale system and the revelation to him that he had some high profile titles that have actually never sold a copy in the last 12 months. The POS system has got to make life easier as when I had my stores, we took inventory every month and that was a tedious process but a necessary one. Since my stores were carrying so many foreign books, we could never take the chance on ordering an additional copy of something we already had in stock at one of the four stores. The worry about Hibbs' research and report is that it insinuates the trade paperback market is finite, not just for the comics market but perhaps also for the book market. I agree. The comics market is obviously limited because it is a specialized market that caters to a very select group. The book market has the opportunity to grow (and consequently would grow the comic market) but most of the buyers are still adhering to the Top 100 mentality. They buy the top comics in the comics market to display and my question is who buys at a book store if they can get them at a comics store? Sure, there is some cases where customers can't get to a comic store, but even in big cities, you see the bookstores carrying primarily X-Men, Spiderman, Batman, Superman and just a smattering of other titles. I have no idea if the big superheros sell that well on the book shelves and if that is the determining factor or not or are they just ordering "known" commodities? I think a couple of avenues that don't get a lot of attention is Internet retailers and direct sales. Obviously, unless someone reports on the direct sales, that information is not going to be known. But Amazon can be tracked fairly easy and I'm very surprised at just how many copies of graphic novels can move through there. Direct mail, for me anyway, is sort of a hit or miss. Usually just sell a few but sometimes will get hit with a flood of orders. I encourage sales through bookstores, comic shops, Amazon, etc. as doing orders can be a hassle. But for some people, who either can't find them elsewhere or want an autograph, it's the best way for them. With Wowio now mired in a holding pattern as far as most creators are concerned, it should be interesting to see what happens with the digital distribution system that everyone seems to be waiting for.

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