Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Caliber- Branching out

It’s been awhile since I last reflected on the early days of Caliber.  I’ve gotten quite a few requests to continue and so I figured I’d cover a little bit more.  It’s rather funny as when I was going through it, I knew I was busy but in looking back, it’s rather amazing how fast everything was occurring.

After the initial launch in 89, the core group at that time had started moving on.  Guy Davis and Vince Locke got hired by DC, O’Barr went to Tundra where everyone was going because of the high page rates, and Mark Bloodworth was hired by Marvel.  Guy, Vince, and Mark were still involved the next year or so but they were crossing over to the big time and soon would be gone for good.

The next group of creators that formed the bulk of Caliber’s output were Michael Allred, Bruce Zick, Michael Lark, Ed Brubaker, and Jim Calafiore.  Allred did a one shot called Creatures of the Id which introduced Frank Einstein who of course, would become Madman.  Brubaker had his Lowlife comic, Lark brought his Airwaves series and also did the Taken Under serial for Caliber Presents.  Bruce Zick worked in animation and I believe he did some Marvel work, I think it was an adaptation of an animated feature but showed a whole different look with his atmospheric Zone Continuum.  Calafiore did a couple of creator owned projects such as Progeny and God’s Hammer before tackling Camelot Eternal.  There was also Patrick Zircher who worked on a number of different titles as he was starting out.

As I mentioned previously, I had brought in Kevin VanHook and Caliber released our best selling adaptation of Rocky Horror Picture Show.  But we also licensed another property and this was Kevin Siembieda’s Mechanoids from Palladium Books.  Kevin had become a friend as he shopped at my stores so over this period, we did an adaptation of one of his games, he started the ball rolling on adapting some of our comics (such as Deadworld) but never materialized.  I even wrote a role playing game supplement.  It was on Robotech and I didn’t follow Robotech nor did I role play…but it worked out okay.  Mainly the writers just had to come up with stories and scenarios.

Caliber also produced a comic for Troma Films.  It was called Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo.  It was supposed to be a 3 issue series but we only did one issue but I don’t remember why.  I think it was because they wanted to pass out 5,000 copies at Cannes Film Festival and I told them that was not part of our publishing strategy.

At about this time, I was figuring out what to do with Caliber.  We were now in our third year and had put out some significant titles and were attracting some new talent that had an opportunity to showcase their skills.  But I had felt that comics were extremely limited in their appeal.  Having four comic stores at the same time, I realized that the market was bound by its reliance on superheroes.  In order for comics to truly grow into a mass market appeal, there had to be something for everyone.  So, I created a line of comics based on literature, history, and reference.  That was Tome Press.

I loved the Tome Press line and devoted most of my writing over the next couple of years to it.  My problem…and Tome’s problem…was deciding what to do as there were so many choices.  The output was varied, not only in subject matter but presentation.  Some were full comics, others were full prose, and many a hybrid between the two.  We did classic artists such as Mucha, Beardsley, Remington, Currier & Ives to print series based on Dore, Goya, Holbein and others.  There were literature adaptations of Jack London, Jason and the Argonauts, Honest Thief, A Modest Proposal and Pied Pieper of Hamelin, to biographies of notable such as Amelia Earhart, Jeremiah Johnson, and others.  I loved the historical stuff such as Henry V, The Alamo, Russian Revolution, El Cid, the Zulu Wars, etc.  In all, about 80-90 titles were released.  The H.P. Lovecraft and Sherlock Holmes titles did quite well and there was a great response to the new translation of Dante’s Inferno that utilized Dore’s classic imagery.

The Tome line continued throughout the rest of Caliber’s days, some 8-9 years more since the launch although production stopped for a year or two.  The sales in the comics market weren’t exceptional but they outsold some of the creator owned line yet we also had substantial re-orders.  Many comic shops would frequently order every few months so the Tome line always had to have large over-printings.  When Caliber launched its internet store, and we were one of the very first, almost all the sales were Tome Press titles.  Later, we worked out a deal with Wal-Mart where about a dozen or so titles were mass produced for the chain and I think we sold 10,000-20,000 of each to them.  We would later produce a Frankenstein adaptation for them that had sales of 80,000 copies.

Those were busy times.  After Kevin had his one year at editor, I didn’t replace him for awhile.  The production team consisted of me and others.  Mark Winfrey and Guy Davis took their turn at production but eventually, they moved on and Nate Pride, who worked at one of my stores, eventually took on a full time role and he remained until the end days of Caliber.  Most of the accounting was done at the stores as it was all one company, but later, Caliber and the store chain would separate completely.   I think one month, Nate and I put together about 20 issues and got them out the door and that was in an era that was all paste up.  The days of computers and design programs were still a way off.

The situation at Caliber was that it was always in flux.   Creators and titles came but so many of the creators were hired away by other companies that I knew we were a pretty transient company.  A lot of people had trouble pegging what kind of company we were and to be honest, I don’t know if I could’ve explained it.  We were essentially a company of diversity and a company of change.  That was just the way it was.

Next time, and I promise it will be sooner than the last update, I’ll talk about the next set of creators that came in and the expansion into even more imprints.

4 comments:

Dennis Barger said...

Always great to get a peak inside the Mind of Gary reed and the history of Caliber

Thanks
Dennis

john boy said...

Great stuff, very interesting. Cant wait for more!

JimCripps said...

This sentence tripped me up, "The sales in the comics market weren’t exceptional but they outsold some of the creator owned line yet we also had substantial re-orders." May I ask 'What?'

Gary Reed said...

Well, it's hard to specify the sales because they were over a period of time and the market changed drastically. But in the direct market (so ignoring the sales to Wal-Mart and others which could number from 3,000-10,000 on the ones they bought---outside of the 80,000 seller), the Tome Press titles did quite well, especially the Sherlock Holmes and Lovecraft.

Some other mentions. Knights of the Roundtable, Mythology's Mistresses, Dante's Inferno, Troy, Nosferatu, Nostradamus Chronicles, and book of the Tarot sold consistently above such titles as Inferno (Mike Carey and Michael Gaydos), Technopolis, Trollords, Pakkin's Land (until we arranged a special deal which I'll discuss later), Doorman, The Jam, AKA Goldfish (Bendis), Happy the Clown (David Mack), and most of the Iconografix line. But these are real generalities and all imprints had highs and lows.

The point being, I guess, is that the Tome line did better than a lot of people thought, mainly because they felt comics should either be superheroes...artsy books...or horror slasher titles.

Sometimes its hard to see beyond your own interest.

 
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