Friday, June 24, 2011

Caliber Part 5- The Launch

On these missives about the beginning of Caliber, I have always found it interesting that so many people ask me how Caliber started.  I don’t know if other companies always get that as the first question and I’m not sure why it seems to be a special interest with Caliber.  So, that’s my attempt here…just to give an idea of how things played out.  Excuse my tendency to ramble but I think it’s important to understand the thought process I was going through.  I’m sure that I’m forgetting some precise details and perhaps some events totally but I do what I can.

It was in late summer of 1988 when I was formulating the plans for Caliber.  I wasn’t sure of the exact launch date as I had to see how things came together.  Some of the titles came with work already done as Vince’s Deadworld. He hadn’t completed a full issue but there was some Deadworld material that would end up running in Caliber Presents and as a backup in the ongoing Deadworld series.  Guy, on the other hand, had the next two issues of Realm penciled.  At that time, Guy used inkers instead of doing it on his own.

With Deadworld and Realm and my idea for the High Caliber anthology, I figured I needed just one more title to get things rolling.  A big part of the early days was the association with Arrow Comics.  They were almost all local creators and often times, hung out together, usually at Arrow functions.  Although I knew that some of them could deliver quality material, I didn’t want to be just a rehash of Arrow.  There was going to be a perception that the company was just Arrow reincarnated unless I brought some titles to distinguish Caliber.

That didn’t mean I would discount the contributions from the ex-Arrow crew.  Susan Van Camp was planning on doing a Varcel’s Vixens graphic novel.  Mark Winfrey had an idea for a futuristic tale of a cop on a penal colony planet which became Thrill Kill, and Mark Bloodworth and Arrow had 5 issues of his popular Night Streets and he was thinking about continuing it.  

Thrill Kill went to the anthology and both Bloodworth and I agreed that just bringing out the 6th issue of Night Streets was not going to work but it couldn’t be a new number one because it was in the middle of the story.  So, we pushed it back to release it as a graphic novel to accompanying the reprinting of the earlier issues.  Varcels’ Vixens was later released it as a three issue series instead of a graphic novel.

So, as I was searching for the elusive 4th title, Guy Davis informed me that he wanted to move on from The Realm.  He had penciled the last two issues quite awhile ago and his art was evolving.  It isn’t too evident on The Realm series itself because he felt he should maintain the same style.  I talked to Stu Kerr, the writer, and he wanted to continue.  So, after Guy’s two issues, the new artist, and yet another local, John Dennis would take over.

Guy pitched me an idea he had for a new series.  It was an alternative world where World War II never happened and would feature a female punk Sherlock Holmes character.  Guy’s plan was to retell all of the Conan Doyle stories but in this new setting and with a different type of Holmes.  The Watson character would be an abrasive punk (as in punk culture).  I felt that it wouldn’t work because fans of the original stories wouldn’t want to re-read the same story with a different “Holmes” type character and non-fans of Holmes might not want to venture into the traditional stories.  We discussed it quite a bit and I felt it needed a lead character that was exposed to that world as the reader was and everything would be seen through her eyes.  

It’s funny, I distinctly remember the first long conversation we had on what would become Baker Street.  It was outside my office in the warehouse of the store and Guy had lots of character illustrations and building designs.  It was obvious he wanted to keep the Victorian atmosphere but in modern times, hence the alternative world.  I remember working on some notes and filling page after page of ideas and suggestions.  I still have all my notes as well as most of Guy’s notes that he copied for me.  Anyway, it was decided somehow that I would co-develop and co-write the series.  Guy’s art had really changed since his last pencils on The Realm but he still wanted an inker.  Alan Oldham was brought in and worked on some of the first issue, it wasn’t the style that fit the story as Alan was more of a clean style and Guy wanted it grittier. The title was also announced in color.  Later, Vince worked on the book with Guy (they were close friends) and eventually, Guy took to inking his own work. 

With Baker Street, I felt pretty comfortable to get things in motion.  Another situation popped up as Vince also wanted to move on to something else.  He didn’t want to be drawing zombies for the rest of his life.  However, he would stay on the book until something came along but his contributions diminished gradually over the next few issues.  

Now, I had to fill the anthology.  Although I was planning to utilize it to showcase other titles, I knew it had to have its own appeal. I must have made an announcement about the publishing line as I started receiving submissions before we even put anything out.  I got a letter from Tim Vigil, who was well known for his Faust work at the time, and he had a serial that he was looking to place.  I think that Vigil’s Cuda series really made people notice Caliber and when we launched, he was our “big gun”.  Vince and Guy had their fans but Vigil was an attention getter.  I still talk to Tim occasionally but I don’t know if I ever thanked him for his contributions.

I decided to develop some regular features for the anthology.  I came up with two serials, each could stand on their own each issue and they would alternate issues.  The first was Street Shadows which told tales of ordinary people in a big city.  There would be “slice of life” tales.  The second was Gideon’s which was a pawn shop that could exist anywhere and at any time.  The hook was that you could get anything you wanted at Gideon’s but there was always an unexpected price.  Sort of a Twilight Zone or O. Henry twist.  I was obviously influenced by Munden’s Bar which was a backup in the Grimjack series.  

What I also figured out about the anthology is that it would have to be a paying gig for creators.  It would be too hard to divide up in royalties and with Street Shadows and Gideon’s, I wanted to keep ownership so that I could continue with them and keep some sense of coherency.  I allowed other creators to play around with them and sort of do what they wanted, but I didn’t want either of those going when a creator left.

There were a few other titles that popped up and some were going to be held for the First Caliber line which was a series of one-shots.  The First Caliber designation was used at the beginning but quickly dropped and forgotten about.   I had Hot Shots by Stan Timmons and Gary  T. Washington lined up and I was real excited when I talked to Justice Machine’s Mike Gustovich about his Cobalt Blue title.  In my mind, Cobalt Blue was the key title for Caliber.  It was a color super-heroish book but still alternative enough and from a well established creator.

What ended up being the initial of the First Caliber line was a movie adaptation.  A local company was putting together a film utilizing local actor who was making a somewhat successful career in Bruce Campbell.  They had signed up Star Trek’s Walter Koenig to star in the film called Moontrap.  My friend, Paul Burke of Stabur Corp. (he did the Stan Lee videos and the Museum of Cartoon Art prints and would later co-found McFarlane Toys with Todd), knew I was starting a publishing company and he connected the two of us.  So, we signed up Moontrap.  I knew I needed an established artist so we got Gary Kwapsiz (Marvel's Conan series) who again, was local, to do the pencils.  But, Moontrap was going to require page rates.  The simple idea of doing creator owned books was expanding into advance payments.

At the time, I felt that if I was going to do it, I might as well take the big gamble.  Baker Street and Cobalt Blue would be color with Deadworld, Realm, and the anthology in black and white.  Moontrap would also be in black and white as it was seen to be more of a promotional tool although I felt I could sell enough copies to cover the costs.

Of course, things changed and a key development it the beginnings of Caliber grew from the original intent of creator owned books.  One of my customers at my stores was Jim O’Barr.  He worked for an auto dealership delivering paint and parts, I believe.  He would end up popping up at the different stores.  At that time, we consigned a lot of local artists’ paintings and drawings as well as t-shirts.  We ended up putting up some of Jim’s shirts at the stores.  Most of his shirts were on Batman who was the hot seller those days because of the attention of the upcoming movie.

Jim heard about the comic company forming and asked if I’d be interested in looking at something he was doing.  In talking with him, I found that he had a few things submitted and published over the years.  Again, just like with Guy talking about the beginnings of Baker Street, I have a vivid recollection of Jim first showing me the pages of The Crow.  At the time, I worked at home a couple days of the week to watch my daughters as my wife worked 12 hour shifts 3 or 4 days a week.  Jim came to my house and I remember sitting outside the whole time.  One reason was that we were both smokers and with the kids in the house, there was no smoking except in the basement.

Jim had about 14 pages of The Crow done. He might have had more but that’s all I saw. He explained it was based on a story he read where a girl was killed over a $20 ring.  So, he extrapolated the tale to have the boyfriend killed and to come back for revenge.  There was no mention of any personal tragedy that impacted Jim and I didn’t hear anything about that until years later.

I thought The Crow was a bit rough in spots but I liked the sensibility of it.  I mean, anyone who can bring in quotes from the like of Antonin Artuad (“morphine for a wooden leg”) as well as music and literature…that shapes up to be a cool project.  It was a straight out "revenge from the grave" type story but it had mood and as I said, lots of literary nuances scattered throughout which appealed to me.  Much of what ended up being The Crow was redrawn although there are some of the very first pages scattered throughout.

Jim was a great addition to the beginning of Caliber.  It wasn’t just for his series, The Crow, but he seemed to be excited about being a part of an artist community.  The Arrow crew, especially Guy and Vince, had been published and they were all growing in a lot of directions.  At the store, I had some employees who were also artists.  In the early days, there would be some occasions where the artists would come on Friday night, perhaps have some pizza, play video games, and discuss art.  Sketchbooks were started and passed around and sometimes, we’d all go through the submissions.  

O’Barr jumped in and got involved in a lot of different things.  He did some covers, inked over Vince on Deadworld, and did a preview of The Crow for the anthology.  He worked with Guy on the story of IO which was serialized, but only for two parts.  It was intended to be an original graphic novel but ran in the anthology instead but never finished. The IO stories were done under the name of Barb Wire Halo Studios which was Jim and some friends of his.  I guess Guy was part of it for that story. 

I worked with Jim for the first Gideon’s story which was just a quick introduction to how things were set up for the storyline.  I was pretty open about letting Jim use Gideon’s in The Crow but I was a bit surprised to see it in the movie.  But I didn’t care, after all, it was in the comic and I don’t think it damaged my potential use of the character.

Right about the time I got the printing situated, I got a threatening letter from “Hollywood” concerning the name of the anthology, High Caliber.  A producer was doing a movie with the same name starring Sybil Danning.  He threw out some threats and so I changed the name.  I would learn later that he really didn’t have much to threaten me with, but I didn’t know better at the time and since we hadn’t even published the first issue yet, didn’t really matter that much.  So High Caliber became Caliber Presents. . If you look at the first issue, you can see the “High” whitened out in the ads and indicia.  

Then, Cobalt Blue from Gustovich was not going to happen as Mike got too busy with much higher paying jobs so that book was gone.  Also, by now, it was becoming evident that the cost of doing color books was too high so Baker Street would be like the other books, in black and white.  Looking back, probably the best thing that happened as many of the early Caliber creators, like Guy, knew how to draw for black and white.

So, the early announced titles such as Cobalt Blue and Hot Shots didn’t pan out. Titles such as Night Streets and Varcels Vixens were pushed back.  In addition to Caliber Presents, Caliber was releasing two new titles in Baker Street and The Crow with Deadworld and The Realm carrying over from Arrow.  I had high hopes for the two new series and again, the anthology would serve a purpose even if it wasn’t a big money maker.

We printed the books at Preney Printing who handled Cerebus, the AV line, and Renegade Press.  Kim Preney was a great help in how to structure everything and possibly one of the nicest guys in the business. Since they were right across the river in Windsor, it was just a short ride.  The solicitations went out and then the anticipation of the orders.  I had no idea of what to expect.  Black and white books were suffering from the backlash of the boom and bust a few years earlier. I hoped to keep the Deadworld and Realm audience and Vigil would help Caliber PresentsMoontrap would have other outlets so the biggest mysteries were the two new series, Baker Street and The Crow.

The actual first release from Caliber, outside of the Pocket Classics, was Deadworld #10 which came out at the end of 1988.  In early 1989, when most of the books were scheduled (I think for January or February), I found out just how long the printing process took and how artists interpret deadlines.  It was more than just a slight learning curve.

I’m pretty sure that in February of 1989, Realm 14 and Caliber Presents 1 debuted and they were scheduled for January so right out of the gate, we were a bit behind. On the February books, The Crow came out towards the end of March and Baker Street was in April, I think.  Not sure when Moontrap shipped but it was around the same time for the film premiere in Ann Arbor.

If you talk to some people, they “remember” Caliber as the company that produced The Crow as their first title and some have gone so far as to say that Caliber started because of The Crow.  People have to remember that The Crow was completely unknown at the time.  On the first orders of the first six titles, The Crow was actually the worst selling.  Deadworld sold about 11,000 copies, Moontrap around 8,500, Baker Street was about 7,500, Caliber Presents and Realm both did around 6,600.  The Crow had initial orders under 4,000 but because it ran late, more orders came in before printing which bumped it up to t 5,300 copies. Deadworld and Realm were printed pretty close to orders but I took Caliber Presents, Baker Street, and The Crow up to a print run of 10,000. 

The response to the new company and the new titles especially was unexpected and with the official establishment of Caliber at trade shows and conventions, I had no idea of just how fast it would take off.

So, even though things didn’t work out as planned originally, the first few months of starting the company were exciting times with a lot of adjustments and learning.  But I was having a blast.

Next time, I’ll talk about the “coming” out of Caliber and the rapid change of a small company growing, perhaps a bit too rapidly.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Caliber Part 4-The decision

As I said previously, starting a publishing company was not a burning desire of mine. The decision to do so was a matter of circumstances that led to a path that was really never a consideration until I ended up doing it.

I opened my first book store in the early 80’s while still a student in college. As I went on to my Master’s degree, I not only kept up my store but expanded to four stores by the time I graduated. The book store, over time, eventually became a comic shop. Two of the new stores I opened were just comics, no books.

I had also started up conventions during those early years. The first two were held on the campus of Eastern Michigan and then outgrowing that, I moved it to Dearborn. The conventions were important to the start up of Caliber as I got a chance to meet a lot of creators, publishers, and dealers outside of the metro Detroit area and gave me a different insight.

While running the comic shops, I kept up on all the comics as I felt it was important for business. I had read a lot of comics as a kid and I enjoyed seeing what happened to all the characters I grew up with. I had devoured all of the Classics Illustrated as a kid and even though comics had branched out to sophisticated story telling in the early to mid-80’s, I thought that adaptations of classic literature must have an audience. I promoted those types of titles heavily in my store, especially when we carried a full line of books as it seemed a natural cross over.
The Classics Illustrated line was gone (it would be resurrected later by First Comics) and so I looked at types of material that could serve as an introduction to comics. I found a small company that did small paperbacks of the classics in comic book format. The art was simplistic (and un-credited) but these “Pocket Classics” were inexpensive and, I thought, a great bridge to turning book readers into comic readers. I bring this up for multiple reasons but it does help to explain the Tome Press imprint I soon started once Caliber was up and running.

I started carrying the Pocket Classics in my stores. They did okay, not great. I struck a deal with them to distribute them wholesale and decided to bring them to the comics market. After all, if I could move a few copies each of the 60 or so titles, so could other stores. I contacted the many comic distributors about providing the copies and was introduced to the world of distribution. The distributors were receptive to the idea of the Pocket Classics; after all, they would just sell what was ordered by retailers so they were taking no risks. So, that introduced me to the distributors and how that worked. But things were developing on another side of things at the same time and though I did eventually distribute the Pocket Classics, I held off for a bit as I saw them as a tool that could help out another entity… Caliber Comics.

At my main store, I used to bring in guest artists as shops tend to do. Arrow Comics, which had launched during the black and white boom and headed up by Ralph Griffith and Stu Kerr, were frequent visitors as they were local. Most of their creators were as well. Vince Locke lived right down the street from the store and other creators such as Guy Davis, Mark Bloodworth, Susan Van Camp, Randy Zimmerman, Mark Winfrey, Jason Moore, were all relatively close. I also had a cable TV show which was primarily manned by my store manager, Chet Jacques, as well as a radio show. The Arrow crew made appearances at both.

After the black and white bust, many of the publishers had to quit because of mounting unpaid invoices from the distributors. Arrow was one of them. Although I never knew what happened to all the money that Arrow did make when things were going well, I do have to give Ralph and Stu credit for taking care of what they could with Vince and Guy. Both were owed money for work they did on Deadworld and Realm respectively. In lieu of payment, Ralph and Stu transferred the rights to their titles to Vince and Guy.

So, now Vince and Guy had ownership of the first real comics they ever worked on. It was a case of “now what?” They came to me and asked if I could help find a publisher. They knew I was familiar with most of them, primarily from the trade shows which were common back then. Instead of conventions with fans, the trade shows brought together the publishers and retailers. I always found them to be a great benefit, not just from talking with the publishers but also other retailers.

I did talk to a few publishers to see if they would be interested. But this was right after the bust part of the boom-bust of the black and whites so there wasn’t much interest in taking on titles that had already run their course. The new approach was to do high production color comics to compete directly with Marvel and DC and any holdover black and white titles were exceptions that would surely die out quickly. However, I knew that both Deadworld and Realm were not titles thrown out during the boom to jump on a trend…they had each developed quite a core following. Sure, they both started off a bit derivative but they were finding themselves.

With everything going on at the time, finding a publisher was not foremost on my mind. Randy Zimmerman, who probably played as key of a role as a non-owner could in Arrow, launched a new company called Wee-Bee Comics. He took on Deadworld and released a trade collection and also continued The Realm with issue 13. But Wee Bee ended as quickly as it started.

I’m not exactly sure how it finally came together but I found myself telling Vince and Guy that I would publish the books. Not only that, I would start up a whole publishing company. When that decision clicked on, I can’t recall. I’m sure that I didn’t contemplate it for long but I probably looked at it as an extension of the business. Stores, TV show, radio show, conventions…what’s one more thing?

Once I made the decision, there were quite a bit of details to work out. First, I needed a publishing office. I had a very large store…to give you an idea, when I moved out of there, a major drug store chain moved in. I don’t know what the square footage was but it was huge. The warehouse in the back was also enormous and that’s where I had my personal office, room for 100’s if not 1000’s boxes of back stock ( I had recently bought out all the back stock from one of the major distributors who was closing a branch office). I also had a portion of the store that was sectioned off. We used it as a video arcade but by that time, video games were dying off. I moved the games to another section of the store and utilized that part as the Caliber area. It held a couple of desks, drafting table, a conference table, and all the other equipment we needed.

Before I went further, I wanted a name for the company. I felt I needed to give this new company an identity before I started talking more about it. I looked at a lot of names and I set some parameters up for the name. First off, I didn’t want it to sound pretentious. I also wanted to get away from something too generic. I always hated when companies went the opposite of being too lofty and instead went with something too irreverent…you know, such as Dandy Don’s Big Monkey Comics. . I wanted a name that sounded fine as a small press company yet could also fit a much larger company. I felt it was important to keep the name simple yet be able to build a motif around it. I liked the play of being quality as in high caliber…and I felt that I could utilize the weaponry part of the name. It’s kind of funny as I used to get people asking me if the company was Caliber Comics or Caliber Press. It was both; it sort of flipped flopped on a whim. But the trademark is for Caliber Comics.

I had already decided that when I solicited the titles, I was going to include the Pocket Classics as part of the line. For one, I thought it legitimized the company a bit more…gave us more weight as we were bringing known quantities along with the new comic material. I felt stores would pay more attention. I actually talked to the publisher of the Pocket Classics to see if I could reprint the books under the Caliber masthead but that proved to be too expensive. If I just distributed them as is, it was a sure profit.

For financing, my stores were doing well enough that I could funnel everything through there. I think for the first 3-4 years, everything ran through one single company. Caliber was not really a separate entity but just a part of the Reader’s store system. I get asked how much it cost to start Caliber and I usually joke that it was 18 cents as that’s the money I had in my pocket at the time.

So, I had two titles to start the new company plus the distribution deal of the Pocket Classics. I know that the strategy for a lot of companies is to start out small and slowly grow but I felt to make an impact, I had to have a solid lineup of multiple titles. I already had Deadworld and The Realm but I figured I could add to these since both of these were known quantities so if I added two titles, it really would be just two new comics.

I wanted an anthology. I felt that was a great way to find new talent and put them on short projects to see how they worked out. Fanzines had already passed by this time and that’s where a lot of artists got a chance so I figured that if I did an anthology with a fanzine mentality, it could work. Even if it didn’t sell that well, it was a way of trying out new people and not having major risks involved. I added a preview to each issue so it would have some promotional value and I wanted to put in an artist sketchbook feature, not only to fill up pages, but sort of push the different artists. I quickly found that I was getting so much material, I didn’t get the sketch book in until later issues.

With the anthology, at first called High Caliber, I now had three titles. I was looking for a fourth. I was thinking that perhaps I could do a series of one-shots, sort of an extended anthology, but felt it would be too early for that. The line was going to be called First Caliber but I realized that I had to have an ongoing series or at least a 4-5 issue mini-series.

Again, working on royalties, I couldn’t pay people up front. I had budgeted for some advertising, the printing costs up front…but there was no way I could…or wanted to, pay up front for creators. The only exception was for cover artists on the anthology.

I called a meeting of some local artists to let them know that I was starting the publishing company and wanted to see if they would want to be involved. I can’t say for sure who was at that very first meeting but there were frequent meetings and I know that the attendance was varied. The earliest members of the pre-Caliber meetings (I think) were Vince and Guy, of course; Mark Bloodworth, Randy Zimmerman, Dirk Johnston, Alan Oldham, Mark Winfrey, and I think Sandy Schreiber who did some inking on The Realm. I can’t remember if Jason Moore and Susan Van Camp came or not. Of course, I am probably missing some people or perhaps mis-remembering who was there…but these were essentially the people that I was structuring the company around and most were from Arrow except Dirk who was a customer of mine and did some illustrated prints.

Once I announced to the group what the plans were, and I laid out some concrete plans….I was surprised by just how fast those plans unraveled and what became Caliber Comics spun out of a bit of serendipity, luck, and risk.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Caliber part 3

First off, I decided to just start numbering the posts specifically dealing with Caliber so I didn' t have to think of names for the post titles. So, obviously, this is the third with the first two immediately preceding this one.

It’s interesting to see how the current call to action regarding creator owned comics is sort of repeating what happened at about the time that Caliber started in the late 1980’s. The circumstances aren’t the same, of course, and the world back then and today are so vastly different from each other that the only similarity that can be correlated is the creator visioned stories.

Following the explosion of creator owned titles from both the black and white boom (and subsequent bust) as well as from the entry of publishers such as First, Comico, Pacific, Eclipse, etc., there was a general surge in creators wanting to do their own material. What soon developed however, is that many of the companies slanted towards creator owned titles developed by established creators, those who had proven their skills at Marvel or DC, or moved towards licensed properties. But still, there were a lot of creator owned titles that emerged and held their own at the time.

But there were a lot of potential creators who found themselves wanting to create but there were only so many companies out there. Many of them were still either mystified about the whole publishing process though and so it left self-publishing, as led by Dave Sim, as an unlikely option for many.

So, companies like Caliber came into demand. I won’t go so far as to say they were needed, but it was obvious that Caliber and many others such as Antarctic, Slave Labor, Fantagraphics, Cry for Dawn, etc., provided the right service at the opportune moment. A burgeoning growth of creators looking to get their stuff published but not wanting to deal with all of the publishing duties. As publishers, we filled a void that opened as so many creators found the business side of things a bit daunting.

Compared to today’s world, it was quite a bit more intimidating. You have to remember that there was no internet back then. Access to information was done by mailing and phone calls and the use of fax machines was considered progressive. Computers had not yet taken over yet and if you wanted an editorial or text page, you had to go to commercial printers which were quite common but expensive. Having a copy machine in the office was way too costly so the arrival of Kinko’s in your general area was cause for celebration.

Putting together the books demanded quite a bit more time than today. Now, when I send a book to be published, I upload the completed project from cover to cover on a ftp and that’s it. Back then, we had to sort through original pages, typeset any text pages, usually have the logos drawn by hand, and so much more. This also applied to advertising and promotional material. A lot of labor intensive design work diminished dramatically after the arrival of Corel and Photoshop and I was dejected when I found out that PageMaker was being incorporated and then phased out later.

There were about 15 distributors, most of them regional, and the giants of Capital City and Diamond, weren’t so gigantic back then although they were the two largest. In order to get a title out, you submitted to all of the distributors and usually with different terms depending on payment structure, quantities, shipping, etc. Having access to retailers was done primarily through the mail so it was very expensive to send any kind of promotional material. It was the same with the press as that also required the physical mailing of press releases. I don’t want to get all nostalgic and spew out “back in the day” scenarios but the incredible ease of today’s world in communication goes beyond just a paradigm shift, it is essentially a whole different world.

One of the aspects that helped Caliber succeed was that I was organized in terms of finances and accounting. That primarily came from my background with my retail stores and running conventions. From the outset, there were spread sheets made up and we adopted computers almost as soon as they became viable. (Yes, I do remember the Commodore 64.) I also remember using the computerized spread sheets and not sure if Lotus 1-2-3 was our first but we used it for quite awhile and I remember a bit of resistance of switching when Excel came along. The first defacto Caliber employee was one of my store employees, Kathy, who took on more hours to handle the Caliber number crunching while she was a business student in college. For some reason, I have kept just about all the records for Caliber…I guess for nostalgic reasons. But it does come in handy occasionally when I want to research something. Now, just because things were organized doesn’t automatically mean that money wasn’t a problem. Like most small businesses, it was always a concern, especially towards the ending days of Caliber.

I am always quite surprised how lackadaisical so many companies were about their accounting systems. That is true even today. I was once asked to be a consultant for a comic publisher by a lawyer who was involved in a lawsuit to see if I could make any headway in understanding the company’s accounting system. Since I was a publisher and a creator and therefore, experienced both sides, they were more or less looking for some standard practices. I was stunned at the ineptness of the publisher and frankly, not sure how they manage to continue.

So, how Caliber was set up was that we would publish the material but the creators owned everything completely. There were usually a set number of issues that we contracted for but it still involved primarily a handshake deal. If someone got hired by Marvel or DC, obviously I’m not going to expect them to continue (and that happened a lot). Conversely, if sales were suffering, I wouldn’t expect a creator to continue on their book and not make any money and they didn't want to. Again, back then, there were no other avenues to find sales outside of conventions and that was a really tough road to go so most creators gladly opted out if their sales were low.

The split was 60-40 of the profits with the creators getting the 60%. On our end, we would provide handling all the production, advertising in other titles, putting together previews and interviews for the press and our in-house promo magazine, Caliber Rounds, and quite a bit of the production. Lettering was an outside cost but we handled most everything else. We would cover the usual advertising which were distributor catalogs for solicitations and some other magazines such as Comics Journal, Comic Buyer’s Guide, and whatever else was out at that time. If the creator wanted to embark on a very ambitious plan, than that was something that had to be configured.

The creators owned their properties with Caliber having no rights beyond the publishing. After the first year or so, I put a clause in about having the collected reprint rights but that often depended on the project and/or creator. Later, as Caliber was repeatedly wooed by Hollywood, we offered creators an opportunity to give up some percentage for exploitative rights if we pushed it through our agents. That, unfortunately, never worked out. I can remember times that the creator’s agent said it muddled things up so I had to sign off. The creators’ vow to “take care of me” never panned out and after the third time, I grew to expect it. The problem was that we couldn’t pinpoint that it was our activity that got the eyes of the interested party. But that’s another story for later.

Again, I feel that the reason Caliber was successful was that it was at the right place at the right time. Creators had a chance to showcase their talents. I realized early on that many of them saw it as just a stepping stone but that was okay. In the heyday of the mid 90’s, we actually had a lot of major creators coming to Caliber. They had already proven themselves but now wanted a chance to do their own creator projects. So, for some, the purpose of Caliber was different.

I stumble sometimes when I talk about the success of Caliber because after all, it isn’t around any more and hasn’t been since for almost ten years (yet, even now, I still get 4-5 submissions a month). But it had a good run with some 1,300 issues and about 75 graphic novels (before graphic novels became the trend). It could have continued even after the disasters that befell us but it was my voluntary decision to close up Caliber and frankly, walk away from comics completely. Not that I was bitter or anything, it just seemed time to move to something else.

I found a few years later that for all its faults, telling stories in comic format is still a great way to do so and I love the medium and potential of comics. I may not like what’s going on in the marketplace or how it is dominated by superheroes, but to throw out a cliché…it is what it is. That doesn’t mean it can’t change, though. I don't, however, know where that change may come from.

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