Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Looking Back...and Ahead.

So, we’re headed towards 2013.  With the end of 2012 fast approaching, it reminded me that it was about 12 years ago that I ended Caliber….and that Caliber was around for 12 years, so now the “post-Caliber” days match the “life” of Caliber.  Not that I assign any particular significance to that, but Caliber seems so long ago---in a way.  I’m entrenched in a lot of aspects of it so I’m still involved in although not as a traditional publishing company.  The time at Caliber raced through pretty fast even though it seemed to be such a major chunk of my life.  Caliber released some 1300 comics and over 75 graphic novels and considering the first and last year had very little output, that was about a 10 year period.  My fondest days were when there was a full staff of 6-7 but in reality, that was only a few years in the middle.  Over half of the time, Caliber was primarily me and one other person.

I think back on the time after Caliber and obviously, I’m not nearly as prolific in either the writing or publishing, especially considering that I dropped out of comics completely for a few years.  I am quite surprised at how much this “part-time” work which I always feel is neglected has actually accomplished in the last dozen or so years.  While I realize that I work full time teaching college biology, I always feel way behind in the writing side of things but I guess I keep comparing it to the Caliber days instead of being realistic.  I’ve had six graphic novels from IDW, five from Image, three from Desperado, one from Simon & Shuster, two from Penguin, and 12 from Transfuzion.  Plus I had three kid’s books from Magic Wagon and one from Actionopolis.  So, that’s 33 graphic novels/books released since that time and granted, many were collections but I also released some dozen or so comics plus contributions to a number of anthologies.  Yet, it seems like I never have time to work on this stuff.

2012 was a pretty good year.  I had the Deadworld series of War of the Dead come out on a weekly basis for IDW and it got some good reviews and was nominated for some awards.  I also did the Deadworld graphic novel, Voices from the Deadworld,  which is actually full page scenes with my narrations of the characters who lived and died in Deadworld.  Technically, not a comic per se but I had to write some 80 different character scenes.  I also had to write a chronology of Deadworld for the Breygent Deadworld cards and that was some 75 cards but I had some fantastic help from Dan Royer on that.  I finished off the latest Saint Germaine story and released the third graphic novel in that series.   I lso contributed three short stories for anthologies.  So, that’s a couple hundred pages I did this year but it always felt like I never had time to work on my comic writing.

In publishing, Transfuzion released about a dozen books and I launched Binary Publications with Paul Burke and we got the first four titles out this year.  Both companies have a pretty extensive waiting list of projects to be completed for 2013 so I know that’ll keep me busy so I’d expect to nearly double the 18 books out this year.  There were a few titles that went through Diamond Distributors this year and some books had some good sales.  But because the way the market is, I had one book sell over 800 copies but it didn’t make as much profit as another book that only sold 150.  Of course, the difference is which ones sold to distributors (and then to retailers) and which ones sold directly to consumers at full retail.  We also had another title picked up for the college bookstore market.  Overall, some books continue to sell really well and one mention in a magazine brought in sales well above what comic shops ordered.  Of course, some titles only sold in single digits for the entire year so nothing’s a given.  Some books do well in comic shops and others don’t and same for other markets.

As for writing this upcoming year, I have the next Deadworld series.  I actually have the first three issues nearly done and Sami has the first issue nearly completed.  I really want to get to the Deadworld novel this year and the comic series lays the groundwork of where I want the novel to be.  I tinker with the novel continually and as I shift things in the comic, it will make both more compatible to each other.  Another project I want to finish is the Subversives graphic novel which is nearly complete but I just have to finish it off.    A couple of years ago, I released Of Scenes and Stories, which had many of my short stories along with scenes from specific comics and it came out to some 320 pages.  I plan on updating it with more recent stories and eliminating the scenes section to bring it in around 160 or so pages.

There’s two comic series I want to do.  I never like to talk too much about things in the planning stages but I’m excited about both of these and anxious to get moving.  One is a mystery set in the turn of the century and I want to bring in a lot of elements into it besides the mystery itself.  I really want to do this one as a comic series as it lends itself well to the periodical form.  I had a lot of fun with the recent Deadworld series and found that I enjoy the pacing of the serial format.  Once the first 2-3 issues are complete, I will start to look around to see if I can find a comics publisher.  Yes, I have Transfuzion but that is not geared towards doing comics and I like to try to do this as a monthly comic series with a two month break between storylines.  The second project, I really don’t want to say much about it yet although it would be a historical war focus (ala Troy or Zulunation).  I’m configuring it to see if it would work better as a comic series or as a graphic novel.  I may end up doing both projects via Kickstarter and then take it from there…depending on whether they’re successful or not.

This last year was a lot of work “behind the scenes”.  In addition to getting Binary off the ground, I spent a lot of time with the process of redoing all the websites that I have (my own, Transfuzion, Binary, Caliber, Deadworld, and a couple of others) and setting up a storefront marketplace for all of them together.  I’ve had these sites on servers and used Microsoft’s Front Page but that’s been defunct for a while.  I knew I’d have to redo them some time because less and less servers want to install the Front Page extensions any more.  I decided to take a serious look at Dream Weaver and even took a class for it.  With the websites, like Photoshop, everything I know how to do is self taught by trial and error.  I know I’m probably missing out on some techniques and short cuts, so I figured taking a class would help me with that.  All it told me was that I wasn’t too eager to go through such a learning curve again.  I found myself just resisting the plunge into revamping all the sites into full blown ones so I am just retooling blog sites to serve that purpose.  Again, I have the help of Dan Royer for that.  But it’s a lot of work bringing all the information into the right formats and structures but it’s nearly finished.

I’m also in the process of implementing an easier accounting system which means bringing everything together into a new, hopefully streamlined, process.  As far as other things go, it looks like I will have to find a compatible lawyer.  Right now, I handle everything myself and though I think I’m capable of continuing, it seems that I will need a lawyer to carry the weight of dealing with certain people.  That part of it is something that would be best served by someone who understands the legal system.  I have a couple of contracts that aren’t being adhered to and I think that legal action will ultimately have to be put in play as that’s the only way some folks will listen.  Plus, working with some licensed properties can get a bit more complex.  I’ve never used lawyers when dealing with creators as it wasn’t necessary and I still don’t think it is but there are other situations where I can see they are.  I can complain about not sticking to the contract but it appears unless legal action is taken, there’s no motivation for them to do what’s right and what was intended.

Looking back at 2012, as I said it was a good year in comics for me.  In addition to the Deadworld material coming out and well received, I also received a Shel Dorf Award (for contributions in comics), continued as a co-organizer for Detroit Fanfare, and have a new science related book lined up.  The comics market isn’t what it used to be but there are a lot of areas where one can find different types of success so have to see how those will eventually play out.  Besides, nothing is the way it used to be, and never has been, so just have to keep adapting.  Makes it more interesting.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Independent Comics and Money (or lack thereof)

Lots of recent buzz regarding a blog from a creator who posted how little money there is in producing independent comics.  I’m not specifying who it is because it doesn’t matter…it’s the same situation for almost all of the creators working in independent comics.

My first reaction in reading his post was surprise that this was a revelation to anyone.  That’s the way it’s been for practically forever in the comics market.  But I have remember that there are a lot of creators (both published and unpublished) that grew up with independent comics always there, found on the shelf with creators making names for themselves.  Some of us older folks recall when the idea of independent comics was a “new” thing.  It’s a cyclical trend and the realities for some people are disheartening.

But comics are no different than film, music, or writing prose stories and books.  Just about all of those are also unsuccessful financially and the sheer number of entries into those areas dwarfs comic creators by a considerable amount.  Yet, of all those, comics still has the easiest time getting into the “system” than the others but being part of the system doesn’t guarantee anything.

I thought the key point in the blog and with many respondents was that the money aspect wasn’t the most important thing and is not what drove the creators.  This a realistic view necessary for those creators because the odds are that you’re not going to make a living doing comics…very few people do.  I do notice that trend of acceptance over the last few years---a lot of creators just want to create and they know it is not going to be their primary career.  You’ll find the same thing in film, books, and music.  For others, however, the passion that drives them to create comics isn’t complete unless they can make a living doing so.

Outside of being driven purely by passion, most creators have other goals in mind.  For some, it’s to show the “big guys” such as Marvel and DC what they can do and their ultimate plan is to move to superhero worlds they likely grew up on.  Others utilize the comics to build up an intellectual property for possible exploitation and others yet, work within the restrictions of today’s market with an eye on exploration into other markets.  The hope is that their style, genre, themes, etc. will resonant with those outside of the traditional comics market.  But the majority just want to create with no illusions of their labor of love spinning off into a life changing revenue process.

For whatever reasons, it’s all good.  First and foremost, creators should create the best they can and that should be the tangible goal…anything else is an exception, and when you’re modeling your plan, you always have to ignore the exceptions because you can’t build a strategy around that.  Sure, it happens and in a few rare cases, someone can plot out their exception place but it doesn’t occur too often.  When Jimmy Gownley published his Shades of Grey through Caliber, his only goal was to get his book out.  He had to tell the story and although sales weren’t great, it was enough to get the material in print.  Then he shifted to a new passion and Amelia Rules! was born.  He had no idea at the time that it would be picked up by a major book publisher for eight volumes and hit the NY Times best selling list and be signed for a film.  You can’t plan that.

At Caliber we had a lot of creators who knew that they wanted to do comics and so they did.  A lot of them got their project done and they were satisfied and went onto the rest of their lives.  Many honed their skills and eventually found themselves making a career of doing comics.  There are a couple of dozen creators in comics today who used the early days at Caliber to develop their craft and found themselves producing comics for the Big Two.  There were a few creators who found success in other avenues because their property got made into a movie and they continue to feed off of that.  

For me personally, I’ve always looked at the creative side as just that, a creative outlet.  Of course, I’d like for the comics to sell better and it would be sweet to devote my full time to writing although I wonder if I would really enjoy it as writing is a hard and lonely task dependent on motivation and diligence. But I think I’ve always been pragmatic in my approach.  Even when the first comic I wrote was nominated for a Harvey Award, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make a living on just writing comics.  I’ve done some work for hire here and there but for the most part, I write what I want to and I know the limitations in terms of appeal within the comics market.  Regardless of all the awards, acclaim, and buzz that certain non-superhero titles get, the sales still primarily go to the spandex crowd.  I enjoy doing what I do and my primary frustration is the time factor, I just don’t have enough time to get to everything I want to do.

I had a friend that said I was lucky that I had a real job to fall back on (I teach college biology) but luck had nothing to do with it.  I earned that position as I went to school at night while toiling at dead end jobs and even after I opened my comic shops, I continued to go to school eventually earning my Masters.  Granted, I left the academic world and concentrated on the stores, the publishing, and other ventures such as McFarlane Toys, but at the time, that was the path that was there.  When I closed Caliber, I moved into teaching part time in more of “let’s check this out” and found I enjoyed it.  I teach a full time schedule yet still spend considerable amount of time writing and currently am involved in a few different companies.  I like the balance and certainly feel more secure knowing that the teaching not only provides me with a good income (dependent on how much I choose to work) but also a benefit package and a retirement plan.  

Although I’m certainly not a big name in comics, and I doubt if anyone who rarely ventures outside of Marvel and DC would even be remotely familiar with my name, I feel successful in the biz even though to many, I remain an unknown.   I’ve been able to write some 30 graphic novels (some are collections of comics), I’ve had some of my work used in teaching college classes, been sold outside of comic shops in book stores, Wal-Marts, and had many deals signed for exploitation whether games, films, CDs, card sets, etc.  I have a number of books that continue to sell primarily on Amazon that provides a small but steady stipend each month.   I seem to have a pretty strong base in the foreign markets as I quite often get large orders from countries that look outside of superheroes.

Simply put, I ain’t got no complaints. Would I like a best seller?  Sure, of course.  But that doesn’t motivate me.  I will likely never appeal to the market that determines “success” stories in the comics market---I don’t see myself ever writing  Marvel or DC superheroes---so I am relegated to that “independent” creator and I’m fine with that.

I think that the creators out there who adopt the same approach in understanding that the separation of the creative endeavors with the realities of the market are likely to have more long term success.  They may have less of a resume but it’s better to create out of desire and satisfaction than out of desperation.  You also have to take a long range goal…existing from project to project, especially when you accumulate nothing in terms of ownership, is likely to land you in a murky situation when you get older.  We’re seeing that now with a number of well known creators who have been discarded, for whatever reason, and have had to go to charity organizations for help.  I know of quite a few creators who had their time at the Big Two and now rely on government assistance.  Some have gone to have minimum wage jobs and living on subsistence incomes.  I think fans would be shocked at just how many of them are out there.

Going back to the blog, outside of the surprise part, what I found intriguing was the attitude that the “creators” were being short changed because of the amount of money going towards the distributor and retailers.  Well, that’s the system and anyone that deals with it understands that those are necessary components.  When creators make little money on doing comics, they aren’t getting screwed by the system as a lot of the comments indicate.  Sure, they do all the work and often times for minimal money and believe me, I know how discouraging that is, but it isn’t because they’re being taken advantage of in any way.  They just don’t have enough sales for whatever reason.

Sure, you can bypass the system and keep a much higher percentage but your sales likely will be a fraction of what they could be.  But, and this is a big but, you have to evaluate whether more sales will equal more profit.  I have always been someone that looked at profit over sales figures.  I do a number of titles that do not go into the system and obviously, they sell considerably less…but they are more profitable.  I do understand though, that sometimes going through the system has other benefits such as exposure.

There are a lot of creators who are upset that they can’t make a living doing what they so passionately want to do.  Well, passion is not enough.  Just think of all those hopefuls on shows like American Idol who feel that they deserve their shot because they “want” it so bad.  Frankly, the “want” is irrelevant except in terms of how much it motivates you.  Your passion doesn’t entitle you to anything.

I will agree that it’s a shame because even though I’m not a big comic reader myself, the few books I do pick up and the ones I browse indicates to me that there’s probably more good books out there than ever before.  It would be great if the sales reflected that.  I’m glad that for some, their passion continues them to producing comics.  It’s what continues to drive me.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Detroit Fanfare Report

Just got finished with the third annual Detroit Fanfare and wanted to do an overview before I forgot about everything and other things start to consume my time.  It took me a couple of days as I had lots of school stuff to do as I fell a bit behind on grading and such but getting all that caught up.    

The con was a huge success.  Sure, some minor glitches but that’s going to happen all the time but nothing major and probably went un-noticed by just about everyone at the con.   We had to divide the convention floor into two rooms.  One had the dealers in the center with the artists primarily lined along the walls.  The second room was a more traditional artist alley but off to one side were the media guests and scattered throughout were special setups such as the Pinball Expo, the giant Lego display, and other non-traditional vendors.  It worked out well because almost every artist I talked to said they were glad they were in the room they were in as they were doing well.  

Even though we had two rooms, they meshed together well as there was one hallway that led into both.  The Kids Area was the corner of the two rooms and we had our Master of Ceremonies, Chet Jacques between the two and he kept the crowed entertained throughout the day with raffles, contests, and all other kinds of things.  Ordinarily, splitting a con floor in two is a problem but the flow was smooth and didn’t cause any problems as you had to pass the first room which was virtually open to the hall before hitting the second, larger one.

Friday was a Preview Night and we weren’t sure how that was going to play out.  Traffic wasn’t real heavy but enough that we’re going to continue with it as feedback was really positive.  Almost immediately afterwards were the Shel Dorf Award Ceremony.  There was a cover charge of $10 for that and all money received is going to the Memorial Fund to purchase a headstone for Shel’s grave.

The emcee of the Awards was Scott Vertical, a local radio host and it was easily apparent that he was a fan of comics.  The presenters included myself, Tony Miello, Sina Grace, David Petersen, Dirk Manning, Rafael Nieves, Kevin Vanhook, Josh Blaylock, Bob Camp, and a few of the local retailers since the show is tied in with the retailing community.  Jimmy Gownley had a great presentation as he announced that he had been nominated for some 18 Eisners and Harvey Awards (which is just a mind-blowing number) yet had never won and he was anticipating that since he was nominated for a Shel Dorf Award, he expected to go home empty handed to continue the trend.  Unfortunately for him, he was right.

Bill Schelly was awarded the Jerry Bails Award for Comic Fandom.  If you’re unfamiliar with him, check out what he’s done here.   Very deserving.  The Shel Dorf Legacy Award given to those who have contributed over their lifetime to comics was given to Allen Bellman and he gave a moving acceptance speech and captivated the audience, not just at the Awards but throughout the entire con.

I was surprised with a Torchbearer Award as the other members of the Shel Dorf Board of Directors (which I am one): Tony Miello, Dennis Barger Jr., Jill Smethers, and Bob Smethers managed to keep it secret from me and so I didn’t find out until Dennis presented it to me.  The Torchbearer Award is given for continuing the convention aspect that Shel started.  Although Dennis’ introduction included my retailing and publishing years, I also put on the King Kon conventions in the 80’s that helped to center a large convention in the area although there were certainly others at the time but it did establish an annual event.  As I said, it was quite a surprise and as anyone that knows me, I’m not much for public sentimentality so my acceptance was short.  My appreciation, though minimally expressed, was very heartfelt.  I was glad my wife, Jennifer, was there.  She seldom comes to conventions any longer but decided to come to the Preview Night.

After the Awards, the party started with the Buddy Black Band playing live.  The layout of the hotel allowed a spill out into the lobby plus we had the hotel bar and one of the great advantages here was that everyone was at the same hotel.  Eventually, another party grew in the Pool Terrace and when I went up for the night close to 2:00 am, there was a lot of activity all over the hotel.

The hotel is a Hyatt but next year, it will be the Adoba as the owners of the hotel decided to associate themselves with a new partner.  When it was announced that Hyatt and the owners were separating, somehow it got twisted that the hotel was closing.  As anyone in the area can tell you, it’s a great hotel and conference center that does fantastic business.  We don’t know what Adoba’s plans are yet but they have a lot to work with and we heard a lot of compliments on the hotel.  It has a nice presence about it, rated very highly and we obtained special rates that made if affordable for the weekend.  It’s a four star hotel yet we had one potential guest who heard it was closing and wanted us to put him up in a different hotel as someone told him the place was a “dump” which couldn’t be further from the truth.  So, we couldn’t, or should say, wouldn’t,  accommodate him so we had to take a pass.  I think anyone that came to the con knows he missed out on something special.

Saturday was, of course, the main day.  Attendance was heavy, especially early on, and we had a good lineup at the beginning.  Chet and Mike Roll entertained the waiting crowd for a bit before they were allowed in.  We were surprised of the impact of the costume contest as the attendance for that was fantastic.  The traffic flow was maintained throughout the day…not NY or San Diego heavy, of course, but busy…very busy.

Throughout the show we had a number of panels and workshops and all of them seemed to be well attended.  Probably the most shocking event in terms of response was when we had the mermaid appear in the pool area (which was also the kids’ area) and the crowds that rushed in to see her.

Saturday night was another party with the adult costume contest during the party and both had a great reaction.  The guest judges for the contest were Dave Santia, Bob Camp, and Dirk Manning, and Freddie Nova stepped in to help out.  The live shadow cast performance of Rocky Horror Picture Show started at midnight and had the audience participation.  I stopped in towards the end and it was a packed house, guessing somewhere around 125 people and they all looked like they were enjoying it immensely.  I ventured back to the party but I didn’t stay until the end as the short sleeping time was catching up to me so I bailed out before 2:00 as I knew we had a staff meeting the next morning.

The convention opened up at noon on Sunday and though we had some questions about such a late opening, we certainly received a lot of thanks from all those who stayed up late at the parties.  The kids costume contest was actually prior to the opening of the convention and we had a packed house.  After the contest the kids were the first into the show floor and they could go trick or treating as most everyone had candy for them.  The initial onslaught of kids rushing it to get candy from over 150 vendors was fun to see although where I was, we were directly in front of the door they came in and it hit us fast and hard.

The kids were steered towards the area that we had set up with Kids Read Comics convention from the Ann Arbor area.  I was on hand to pass out my young adult hardcover book from a couple of years ago, The Spirit of the Samurai.  Those were passed out free and I autographed over 100 of them in about 45 minutes.  The mermaid came back and other events started happening so I could get back to my table.  Sunday was steady traffic butI got a chance to visit with a lot of the creators set up.  The response was overwhelmingly positive, even enthusiastic. By the end of the show, we also had over a dozen artist alley booths prepaid for next year.

For me personally, it was a great time.  I got to hook up with some friends that I don’t see often enough such as Rafael Nieves, Kevin Vanhook, Dirk Manning, Vince Locke, Mark Bloodworth, Joe Pruett, and others.  I had an opportunity to meet and spend some time with others such as Allen Bellman, Bob Camp, Sina Grace, Yannick Paquette, and more.  I met in person finally Danny Boyd of Chillers and his friend and writer, Bill Bitner.  Mala Mastroberte was also there.  It’s funny when you’re a publisher that you can publish someone and have a relationship yet never meet them…so that was good.  I also got to meet Alonzo Simon who was there with Shawn Lee at the IDW booth.  Alonzo is one of the editors on the War of the Dead series I did with IDW.  Sam Jones of Flash Gordon fame (and Ted, of course) was very nice and we talked a bit.  He had a great rapport with fans. There were a lot of people that I knew there such as Paul Storrie, Tom Orzechowski, Rob Worley, Keith Pollard, Bill Morrison, Ryan Stegman, Arvell Jones, and Josh Blaylock that I got a chance to talk with and so many others that listing them would fill a page.  David Finch, Natalie Sanders, Mike Costas, Nick Spencer, William Messner-Loebs were some that I didn’t really get an opportunity to talk too much with but that happens at every con. 

I had set up as myself and also had a spot for Transfuzion and Binary, two publishing companies I’m involved with.  The Voices from the Deadworld made its debut there and between the contributing artists getting copies and sales, I went home with just a single copy of the 150 I brought.  It was a hectic time throughout the convention but because it worked out so well, it was a good hectic.

We’ve already had a meeting to discuss some things to evaluate on the con and ideas for next year.  With the new management taking over, we don’t have a solid date yet but plan to shortly and they seem very eager to work with us and even expand the event possibly.  

There was a fantastic vibe to the show with lots to do outside of visiting the dealers and artists as we had panels, workshops, movies, and other events.  We had a few people come in for Saturday and then ending up staying the night so they could enjoy Sunday.  

The overwhelming sense of the show from most attendees and exhibitors is that it felt like an old time convention and that’s a good thing.  Sure, there are bigger shows around but we felt we really had a strong comic audience that appreciated our guests and we know the guests appreciated them.  Of course, what makes a convention special above all else are the people and we had a fantastic staff and volunteer corps and received numerous compliments about them.  

Great times, great con.  And we have some surprising things that we're already working on for next year.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Random Observations...sort of.

Just some random observations which were fueled because I figured I really should put up another blog post.  Mainly because I figure if you’re going to have a blog site, you should post at least once a month---ideally more, but minimum, monthly.  I can’t believe how many blog sites I go to and you find the last post from a year ago.  Just turn it off.

The reason I go to some blog sites is that I’m involved with Detroit Fanfare and we get a lot of creators sending in for an artist alley table.  We like to put them up on our facebook site as well as the website.  Well, you would not believe how many creators, mostly artists, are out there and want to sell their stuff and get hired (presumably).  Yet, so many have no contact information, nothing resembling a bio or resume, and nowhere to go to look at their stuff.  It’s almost like they want to stay hidden.  A lot of these are the same ones that complain that no one buys independent comics. They might not buy theirs simply because they can’t find any information on it.

Also dealing with conventions, and I think I covered this before, it’s amazing how many creators say they will do a convention if all their expenses are covered (travel, which is usually a flight, and hotel.)  Now, I agree that part of a convention is to provide a guest lineup that makes people want to come and that’s a necessary cost.  But to bring in some creators as a guest just isn’t feasible economically.   I think a potential guest has to look at the situation…are they going to bring in 25-40 “unique” customers to warrant the cost?  Most of them won’t so the convention (any convention) can’t pay the cost. I do realize that it’s hard to conceptualize who is part of the “guests” the con commits to as part of the overall convention and who are “extra” guests.  But generally, if the creator is someone who hasn’t been in a particular area in a long time, well, that person has a better chance of bringing in unique fans. 

Someone who does every convention, no matter the size, free comic book day appearances, and shows up at just about every event in the region---they just don’t have the appeal.  It doesn’t mean that they’re devoid of value, it just means their presence is diluted from all the appearances.  That’s the toughest part of being part of the convention---talking to a creator who wants, or even needs, their expenses covered and we have to explain that we can’t do it.  Again, it’s not that we don’t like the creator or that the creator does substandard work….simply a matter that they’re “old news” and pretty much any fan walking through our doors has seen this creator locally in the last few months .  Dilution is a word that has a weak connotation yet it serves as a strong definition of the situation.

My weekly series, Deadworld: War of the Dead, finished its run in August and the trade paperback was immediately made available in September for ordering (November release).  I know my job is to promote it, not just for me but also for the publisher (IDW) and the artist (Sami Makkonen) and I do try and push it.  But, man, I just can’t do the superfluous hype.  I love that it got so many great reviews because I can let that do the hype for me.  That’s something I can’t do on my own.  I see so many creators and publishers throw out such bullshit when hyping their books and I wonder if people actually buy into it.  Apparently, many do.  I read some of the interviews and press releases and I’m stunned at not only at the audacity but the deceit.  Claiming that the art is so good that people will buy it just for the cover…well, that’s pretty rare.  Or a Marvel creator talking about how a death of a major character will shock readers.  I mean that bit has been so over-used that I’m surprised that even the news sites that fawn over every little bit of information about Marvel and DC, still run those as headlines.

There are so many players (creators, publishers, websites, etc) that launch something to a lot of self hype and cast themselves as revolutionizing whatever aspect of the business they’re in.  A lot of them are proposing models that haven’t worked before yet they feel this time it’s different.  Why?  Because this time they’re the ones doing it.  I don’t mean to sound negative, and really, I’m not overall about the industry (that’s why I’m still here) but we have to separate viability from simple vainness. 

Right now, I truly think that there is an abundance of good stuff being released in comic form.  I can’t speak for the superhero stuff as I don’t follow that at all and my only good feelings towards those titles is simply nostalgia but that’s not enough to get me into the mess that they’ve become.  Whether its webcomics, self published, or the “independent” and “alternative” titles, there’s a lot of great material.  Unfortunately, a lot of it won’t be seen by most readers.  Just like most independent movies won’t be seen, or independent music, or the vast majority of books written.  It’s the way it is.  

Maybe because I’m closer to the comics market and therefore, see it more, but it sure seems that in comics, so many creators feel slighted when they’re not supported by the market.  It’s almost as if they feel they have a right to spend their life making comics and consequently should be rewarded with readership and support.  It doesn’t work that way and I know most of them realize that but sometimes you just have to shake your head when someone complains about it.  I’ve been there, I understand the frustration.  But when you make a choice, it’s your choice and you have to go in expecting nothing except what you make of it.

On the other hand, I am continually amazed by the success of some creators and titles.  Finding out a webcomic that has over 100,000 readers yet gets no attention in the comics media; a book that can’t sell in a comic shop yet is moving 100’s on sites like Amazon;  a title that isn’t carried by Diamond or comic shops yet receives multiple award nominations; and artists who make a living doing conventions without even worrying about actually putting out a book.

We’re in an industry that’s constantly changing (just like everything is) and while the comics market per se is diminishing (despite the glow about recent sales---they’re in comparison to the days of near death of the industry and not compared to when it was healthy), so many other avenues are opening up.  A lot of titles can be supported by crowd funding, internet store sales, ebooks and other digital platforms, and hand sales (website, conventions, etc) that the old model of Diamond Distribution is not the only road.  Sure, it’s harder to get the word out, no denying that. But there’s a lot more ways to get the word out then there used to be.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m just complaining because I’m not.  I just think that a lot of creators and companies need to take a different look at things.  Many already are and I am constantly amazed at success stories I hear about on titles I never heard of.  That’s great.  I mean, I’ve been on all sides of the biz…from publishing to creator to freelance writer to retailing and to convention organization.  I’ve written comics that have been nominated for awards and other titles that never made it to the shelf.  I have some titles that are used in college classes as literature and others dismissed as nothing more than quarter box filler.  I had a company in Caliber that produced some top selling books to a lot of books that got cancelled due to low orders.  I currently run Transfuzion which is a company that most people in the biz are unaware of yet we have over 50 graphic novels out and years after some books have come out, I’m still writing royalty checks to the creators every quarter.  Sure, the amounts aren’t huge, but the books continue to sell.  They just don’t sell in comic stores.

I think it’s important for most of the creators to understand exactly what it is they’re trying to do.  Don’t spend the energies on hype at sites that aren’t going to lead to support anyway.  Sure, it’s great for the ego perhaps, but it isn’t necessarily the audience that you need to reach so you have to outreach to other avenues.

Guess my randomness sort of centralized towards the end here but writing a blog is a lot like writing a comic story…you just start and see where it takes you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Reviews and Similarities

Well, the Deadworld: War of the Dead mini-series has finished its run.  All five issues came out in August as it was a weekly series.  I’m still not sure how I feel about that.  I was told by a few retailers that they ordered light on it because if it didn’t do well, they’d be stuck with all five issues.  I guess I can’t blame them.  It was nice to see it come out each week and I don’t really have any way to judge the sales versus potential sales (if it were monthly).  I do know from experience that there are substantial drops from 1 to 2 to 3 and so on and with this weekly format, the numbers stayed pretty close.  But I don’t know if #5 was ordered like a #1 or if #1 was ordered like a #5.  Overall, the numbers were respectable according to IDW.  Checking the charts for previous months, it seems to be right in with the pack on independent comics.  Now, the trade paperback will be available for November and is in the current Diamond Previews (order #SEP12 0375).

It was interesting to see the number of reviews that War of the Dead received.  I mean, it’s a series that has been around since the 1980s and last year was the original graphic novel of The Last Siesta and IDW also released three collections in the last 18 months. So,  it’s not like it had disappeared and returned from a decade long hiatus.  Since it was rebooted some 5-6 years ago, there have been 15 comics and 6 graphic novels out.  Not a regular schedule by any means, but certainly not out of sight.  Judging from what I read from some, it was the weekly aspect that drew attention to it.

It got a lot of great reviews but I was also interested in the negative or neutral reviews.  I was set to deal with that because as a writer or publisher, you know that not everyone is going to like what you do.  Hell, even when Gaiman and Moore were at the top of the world, they had detractors.  Not saying I’m in their class but if they have negative reviews, I think everyone else had better learn to deal with it as it’s going to happen.

There was one reviewer who absolutely hated the series, right from the get go.  He hated the story, he hated the art, I think he hated the very idea.  But what I found strange is that he reviewed all five issues, one a week.  Now he did a lot of reviews and I didn’t see him duplicate any other titles over the last few months yet he wanted to delve into why how he hated Deadworld.  About 10% of his entire output was on Deadworld.  I don’t get it.  If you didn’t like it, fine…but to spend so much time, that just seemed vendettaish to me, but I can’t imagine why. Maybe he doesn’t like me or Sami, I don’t know.  Just found that really curious and makes me wonder what was his purpose, not just on Deadworld, but in general.

A very frustrating thing I found is just how many people issue reviews and never actually read the comic.  Why have a review site if you don’t read the comics?  It’s fine if you say that something doesn’t hold appeal so you won’t read it but to give the illusion that you read it and then spout off about it is beyond disingenuous, it’s dishonest and fraudulent.

The best example is (spoiler alert this paragraph) regarding Dan.  Dan was introduced at the beginning and he was carrying a number of guns and had the long duster and hat on.  First off, people said how derivative the character was.  Well, that look Dan had goes all the way back to 1988….so not sure who it was derivative of back then.  But the major problem is how many reviews labeled Dan as the guy that goes around blasting all the zombies and again, how cliché and derivative that was.  The thing is…in the entire five issue series, Dan never fired his gun…not once.  So, how is he a labeled a cliché when he doesn’t do what he’s being accused of being a cliché about?  There were quite a few reviews that SAID he was a guy going around blasting zombies.  Really?

The most prevalent thing was in reference to Donna.  In the series, Donna is half human/half zombie and wields a sword to fight zombies.  Of course, some reviewers claimed I was influenced by the character Michonne from The Walking Dead.  The thing is, Donna with the sword, has been around almost 20 years and not just from the pages of Deadworld, there was even a 4 issue mini-series on her (Tattoo). Now, I get that someone might not know that as I wouldn’t expect them to know all the characters from the long running series and I get that to some, this was their first foray into Deadworld.  I will grant that they could specify a “Michonne” like character but to accuse me of ripping it off?  For someone to accuse someone, I would hope and expect that they would do a little homework.  

Speaking of the Michonne character, someone mentioned to me (I have never read the series) about how she led zombies around on chains.  One of the earliest scenes (1990, I think)  of Donna’s “zombie” half, a character called Vamp, is how she would lead her victims around hooked up to chains as if they were pets.

There are a number of examples of similarities between the two series.  Although the opening group didn’t travel around in an RV, in Deadworld they had a school bus which was home.  In the early issues of Deadworld, the group found sanctuary at a religious fanatic’s house that for some reason, seemed to be devoid of zombies.  One of the group hooked up with one of the daughters of the religious father/leader.  This was in the first few issues, all of which were produced in the 80s.

Later in the series, but still in the early to mid 90s, a way of escaping the zombies for one guy was to take the skin and guts of a zombie and cover himself with it so the zombies couldn’t sense him.  This was the same guy who hooked up with Clarence who told of how he was holed up in a prison.

One of the leading characters at this time was John.  John was leading a small group (on foot and horseback) and he constantly was being challenged by another guy on every decision.  John had a pregnant girlfriend (Shelley) and a son named Carl.  John also had to shoot one of the older guys traveling with them because he was bitten by a zombie.

The Dead-Killer was a popular character in the series and made his appearance in the first volume of Deadworld in issue 19 as a backup before getting his own mini-series and establishing himself for the duration as one of the key characters.  One of the key parts of Dead Killer was having to chop off one of his hands.  He then hooked up apparatuses to it such as a stiletto blade.

Interesting note that someone just pointed out to me regarding a scene I had put in issue 5 of the second volume (which came out in 1993)…was that the King Zombie played a game with a small group of survivors and chose one to be the sacrifice.  The game was eenie-meenie-myni-mo….and one was chosen (Joey).

The reason I bring up these similarities is not to accuse anyone of anything.  I don’t know.  Let me repeat, I DON’T KNOW so I’m not accusing…but nor am I giving a free pass.  I can only say that I don’t know.  Yes, I get that similarities will arise and influences will creep in.  That’s why I don’t read any zombie comics or watch zombie movies.  But I’m sure I’ve treaded on familiar ground.  Some similarities, though, are hard to chalk up to scenes a faire.

However, I state these similarities mainly so that if I choose to revisit them in upcoming storylines, I want people to realize that these were all Deadworld scenes far longer than they were scenes from someplace else.  

So, when or if I chose to focus on a vicious leader of a small city who showcases his cruelty,  I don’t want to be accused of lifting when Moloch was introduced in the late 80’s and has played a recurring role throughout the long life of Deadworld.   Same with having the “token” black character, or the little girl who has to be shot, or the burning of the bodies…all those were scenes from the beginning of Deadworld (and I will grant, likely common scenes in ANY zombie comic)…so I don’t want to be accused on anything.

As a writer of 100s of comics and different series, I do recognize that there are only so many themes and characters and that we all share many of the same “tools” when developing storylines and narratives.  I take that into account whenever writing something and make a great effort to avoid the expected, without sacrificing the story in order to do so, of course.

Over all, the most common question I get regarding Deadworld, especially this series, is will there be more?  There’s a lot of factors to consider in determining that and I am in the process of doing the evaluations on everything right now.  But it’s actually a pretty easy answer.

Of course.  Stay tuned.

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Blogger Templates