Friday, May 27, 2011

Regarding Caliber part 1

In the last year, there has been a growing groundswell regarding creator owned comics. In many minds, the Big Two are just now corporations making comics purely for exploitative purposes and the comics limp along….lifeless even though every year the characters are reinvented.

This movement has coincided with a renewed interest in my former publishing company, Caliber Comics. Part of this interest of course, is the availability of social sites such as Facebook which is a great tool to reconnect with former colleagues. But another part is the desire to go back to the days when creator owned comics had outlets such as Caliber, or Slave Labor, or many of the other companies that were around in the 1980’s and through the 90’s. Of course, today, we have the powerhouse of all creator owned comics in Image yet they are still tainted with a stigma in the eyes of some for the devastation in bringing the market to its knees (an incorrect blame, by the way).

Caliber was a company of the 1990’s although officially it launched late in the 80’s. Over the 11-12 years of operation, it produced about 1,300 comics and 70 graphic novels. It received over 40 nominations in the various industry awards (Harvey, Eisner, Don Thompson) and had 5 nominations for Best New Talent in the Russ Manning Awards.

There was a lot of competition during this time period and getting any kind of market share was very tough. In addition to all the “big guys”, there were many small independent companies also vying for the same market. We seldom made the Top 10 but one month, did move up to #8 in market share.

What I did with Caliber wasn’t anything original and many companies were set up the same. I essentially offered creators a chance to publish their books and mostly it was a simple profit sharing, with the creators getting 60% and Caliber retaining 40%. That profit sharing is sort of the model for companies before, during, and after Caliber’s run. There were some differences, of course, as some companies took more (some took less) and a variety of different aspects factored into the accounting. At Caliber, we handled everything with our 40% including overhead, promotion, and often provided a lot of design work. I’d estimate that over half of the logos used on creators’ books, for example, were designed by us.

I think what made Caliber different was because we were different. There really wasn’t any house style or type of material published by Caliber. There was tremendous diversity within the publishing line and what Caliber published was primarily based on what I liked. However, there were some titles that I was personally not too enamored with but I thought they were worthwhile projects so I published them. I tended to stay away from superhero titles but Caliber certainly published a good many of those, but usually for a specific reason.

The promotional part of the company gets over-shadowed quite a bit. Sure, we did the general ads that ran in publications such as Comic Buyer’s Guide and many other magazines at that time, but we reached out to a lot of retailers directly. We attended most of the distributor trade shows in addition to conventions, and produced our monthly Caliber Rounds. Rounds was a newspaper format hype sheet which sometimes ran up to 24 pages. In addition to solicitation information, we had interviews with the creators, preview art, and anything else to push the titles. We produced promotional trading cards, posters, sell sheets, and anything else we could think of to promote the line. Granted, it was a different time back then and especially with all the distributors, it was easier to get to all the retailers.

One advantage we had was the cross pollination ads in the different books and I used the Caliber Presents anthology to promote artists with the sketchbook feature and we often ran a preview of an upcoming title.

When people discuss Caliber with me, there are a few questions that repeatedly come up. One if why I stopped publishing and as frequently, is how Caliber got its start. I often get asked if something like Caliber could exist in today’s market and recently, a lot of inquiries regarding whether I plan to bring Caliber back.

I appreciate the interest and I plan to go over those questions and more on this blog. I haven’t kept up on the blog as I keep promising myself to do but that’s sort of a sign of the times as blogs have faded with the immediacy and access of sites such as Facebook. But blogs still can serve a purpose of expanding certain areas and so I will give a narrative of Caliber. I don’t plan on doing a sequential history of the company as that just sounds too formal…and frankly, a bit daunting.

Even though I was the owner of Caliber, it is important to note, and I plan to do so, to bring up other people that worked for Caliber as they played key roles. Caliber was not just me although I will take the lion’s share of the credit, of course…but also any of the blame for things that need blaming.

I’m always surprised by the reaction to Caliber by many people and the fondness that so many people remember. That is appreciated more than people may realize. I think what made Caliber unique to some extent was the camaraderie that existed with the creators amongst themselves and with the Caliber staff. I know a lot of them have become very close with each other and I’ve developed some lifelong friendships with some.

Feel free to pepper me with questions about anything and I’ll be glad to answer what I can.

Next time, I’ll start off with the beginnings of Caliber and try to dissuade some beliefs of what was behind it all.


Decapitated Dan said...

Awesome post Gary. Very interesting and entertaining read :)

TMALO70 said...

I Agree with Decap... A Excellent start to a series of blog posts that I intend on reading right after this comment... T...

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