Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Deadworld Rising.

Lots of things going on with Deadworld and reflecting back, it’s been a busy year or so for the comic series.  IDW had released two volumes of Deadworld Classic which reprinted the original series and includes up to issue 16.  They also released the Deadworld Omnibus which collected Requiem for the World, Frozen Over, and Slaughterhouse.  And most recently, they published Deadworld: The Last Siesta which was an original graphic novel set in the Deadworld.

The big news is the new series, War of the Dead.  I’m looking forward to seeing this in print as it will be the first time that Deadworld is in full color.  The art is by Sami Makkonen who also drew the Slaughterhouse graphic novel and he really took advantage of being able to work in color.  IDW decided to make it the event  book of August as the entire five issue series will all come out in August, one issue a week.

I have to admit that I’m a bit worried about that.  That’s asking people (both fans and retailers) to commit to all five issues before they see how the first issue turns out.  But I guess I can look at as being almost like an original graphic novel, just spaced out over a month.  The key aspect will be for fans who want the series to make sure they let their retailer know.  That’s why I put together a “reserve” sheet so that fans can download it and turn it into their store, ensuring that they get the series.  This is found on the Deadworld website, along with the promotional video, the preview, and the facebook banners that anyone can use to promote the series.

Following the comic series’ release will be the trading card set coming from Breygent and that looks really cool.  They are also producing a new t-shirt with art from Vince Locke.  Following that, later this fall, is a new Deadworld anthology which will feature a lot of artists doing different scenes and characters from Deadworld which I’ll explain more about when the time comes.

Deadworld has become the book that I’m most associated with.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Yes, I appreciate that a creator owned title has had such a long history and seemingly has a dedicated fan base…one that I hope to grow.  At the same time, I don’t want to be pegged as a zombie writer (not that there’s anything wrong with that…).  But I’ve pretty much only done creator owned comics my entire writing career and I identify more closely with titles such as Saint Germaine, Raven Chronicles, and Renfield.  Deadworld was a title I took over and for the most part, never felt like it was “mine”.

Maybe that’s why I’ve taken Deadworld into a different direction than most zombie comics.  Sure, there are the interactions amongst humans dealing with this new world but there’s been a lot of that over the last 60-70 issues of Deadworld.  I’ve shifted the emphasis more towards the remaining humans trying to defeat the menace, any way they can.   That means doing whatever is necessary even if it’s going to impact some of the survivors.  The greater good for the human species, so to speak.  I’ve also delved more into the aspirations of the intelligent zombies.

I feel more affinity towards Deadworld after I rebooted it with the Image series a few years ago.  That became the Requiem for the World storyline.  I then allowed writer Mike Raicht to play with it in the Frozen Over storyline while I worked on the Slaughterhouse series which was eventually released as a graphic novel.  It was with Slaughterhouse that I felt it becoming more of “my” Deadworld and of course, this continues in War of the Dead.  Now, even though some of these characters have been around before I was involved, are mine.  I understand them more and in my writing mind as I move them around, I know exactly how they would react in situations, what their motivations and goals are, and how they will all play out.

As with any new release, a creator obviously wants it to succeed.  I really want War of the Dead to do well, not just for the sales but to be successful enough to continue as I have a number of story ideas that I want to explore and good sales will allow me to do that.  Deadworld is now at a stage that I really enjoy writing it and I’m excited about the possibilities that have opened up.  It seems that each aspect I bring in lends itself to more exploring, more developments. .  It seems that way with most writers…we’re selfish.  We want people to buy our stuff, not just for the sales but as a confirmation and an allowance to permit us to continue.

Whether I can do that as a comic series in the traditional sense, I don’t know.  But they will be told.  The ending of this story arc leads directly to the next one yet I think ends in a complete and satisfactory way.  I may have to pick it up with the Deadworld novel which is nearly complete and War of the Dead dovetails into it perfectly.

Regardless, Deadworld is now, more than ever, alive.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Doing Creator Owned Comics

It’s convention season and that means panels…and lots of panels.  One of the topics that frequently is covered in these panels are creator owned comics.  Last year, there seemed to be a wave of attention drawn to creator owned comics and while the area still gets some play, it seems to have abated quite a bit.  I think the reason is that many comic fans just don’t care.

With the excitement of the recent Marvel movies, especially Avengers, the equation of comics equals superheroes has become even more entrenched.  A lot of fans do support something like The Walking Dead and can justify their “support “of creator owned comics while at the same time, maintaining their true interest in the superhero titles.  

When I had Caliber, it started off and-basically remained- as completely creator owned titles and even though I was the publisher, I’ll go ahead and count my contributions as creator owned although I had an easier path to get the publisher to print it than anyone else.  Many of the titles I created at Caliber have moved on to other publishers (and still creator owned): Renfield, Saint Germaine, and Red Diaries went to Image; Baker Street went to ibooks/Simon & Shuster; and of course, most went to Transfuzion which really doesn’t count since I am also the publisher of that company.  However, the title that has moved around the most is Deadworld.  Started at Arrow, then successively to Caliber, Image, Desperado, Transfuzion, and now IDW.  That book gets around.

Deadworld is also a bit different because it is a creator owned book but I didn’t create it.  It was conceived by Ralph Griffith and Stu Kerr when they launched Arrow Comics.  By issue 8, the company had folded and they turned over all the rights to the artist, Vince Locke.  Vince brought it to Caliber and after a few issues, turned it over to me.  It is more detailed than that, but that’s the end result.

So, I didn’t create the original Deadworld but I still count it as a creator owned book and myself as a co-creator.  Sure, I wasn’t there on the original launch but I got involved early on and of the 80+ issues, I “directed” at least 75% of the issues and wrote nearly the same.  What it started off at and where it is now are vastly different so the Deadworld you see today, or the last 6-7 years for that matter, are completely me. If someone wants to argue that, fine.

With few exceptions, I’ve only worked on my own titles and many were mini-series or one shot graphic novels.  But Saint Germaine had about 15 issues and Raven Chronicles has 17 although I only wrote 8 of those and brought other people under my direction to write the other issues.  I even created a few properties and gave them to writers to flesh out and script and on most of those, the writers share in the ownership.  With Raven Chronicles, I even created a sort of shared universe and many of my other titles exist in the same world as Raven Chronicles (Saint Germaine, Helsing, Red Diaries, etc) although there isn’t necessarily a direct cross over.

That’s one of the inherent problem in discussing creator owned titles…there’s a lot of different types of creator owned comics.  In a blog last year, I went into more detail and instead of revisiting that, here’s the link to that

Although it doesn’t seem obvious that creator owned comics are the future, in a way they are.  If comics every want to get out of this little niche basket we’re in…and have been in…it will have to be from the creator visioned comics.  Really, who wants to read yet another origin or marriage or death of the superheroes?  I am constantly stunned at why they maintain any kind of popularity at all (and I do realize the numbers are down significantly from their peak in the 90’s).  Could you imagine if any few years, Harry Potter was released with completely new storylines and revamped continuity and only the character names remained?  Only in comics. Wait… I stand corrected…also in films but then again, it’s almost only in films based on superheroes.

There are a lot of great titles coming from the creator owned side of things yet fans don’t seem to flock to them.  Is it because most are finite?  Is it the new-network TV – syndrome that fans don’t want to get emotionally invested because they don’t know how long it will be around?  Or is it just that comic book fans just really only get satisfaction from superheroes?    I don’t know the reason but being mired in superheroes does seem to limit what the market is…and will be.

What’s the answer?  I don’t think there is one.  I understand the limitations of the market and many of the titles that I do with Transfuzion aren’t even offered to Diamond.  Dealing with my rep, we discuss the various titles and I think we both have a good idea of what will do well enough to actually solicit.  There have been a couple of titles that Diamond offered that just didn’t do as well as either of us hoped but Diamond honored the orders and issued the purchase order, so I can’t complain about that.

But there is a market out there for many of these titles.  I don’t do a lot of conventions but sometimes I’ll sell out of a book that Diamond didn’t carry.  On some of the graphic novels from Transfuzion, we sell enough through Amazon and other sources over the course of a year, that they would have made Diamonds Top 300 list easily but they’re ignored in the comics market.  They may not get the initial sales hit from a Diamond purchase order but I only have to sell about 25% as much to make the same profit.  And I’ve always been one to concentrate on profits rather than sales.  Of course, there are some titles that just don’t sell very well at all, but every single book will make some money, regardless of how small that revenue is.  Of course, who knows what will happen in the digital market and Transfuzion, along with 100’s of comics in the Caliber library, will roll out to all the digital platforms this summer.  Will be interesting to see.

One key point that sometimes gets lost about creator comics is that just because it is creator owned doesn’t mean it automatically should have fans….especially those fans who have a passion for superheroes.  For the most part, superheroes are what those fans want and they don’t care about anything else…and of course, that’s their right.  I see a lot of misplaced anger towards comic fans because they don’t support certain books but I don’t understand that logic.  Sure, you can complain about retailers not ordering…or Diamond not carrying…but in both of those cases, the market has shifted to those avenues being nothing more than order takers.  Ultimately, it comes down to consumers driving the interest and sales.  

There was a recent discussion about how retailers were the actual customers and when I had Caliber, that was always our internal motto.  But I don’t think that is necessarily true anymore. Sure, some retailers stock for the shelf, but on a lot of the creator owned titles, especially the independents, retailers have to rely on their own customer interest and demand.  There’s just no way a store can order everything like it was in the old days when I had my stores.  In those days, I carried quantity on just about every title available but that strategy wouldn’t work today.  Even though I have nearly 20 years of comic retailing experience, the market today is far different than even a decade ago.  I would have to approach it completely different now than I did back then.

I do see some hope, though, and oddly enough, it’s because of the success of the film and tV exposure of comics, which again, is mostly superheroes.  It keeps the public’s awareness of comics up and although it may not lead to a lot of cross over to creator owned titles, we’ve moved past the “comics?  They still make those?” stage.  

Now, the trick is to get those “non-comic” readers to look at titles that may appeal to their general interest (crime, horror, etc) at “these” (creator owned) instead of “those” (superheroes). 

Friday, May 11, 2012

The End of Caliber

For a long time, this blog has focused on the Caliber days as a lot of people seemed interested in how things transpired with that company. This will be the last of that look back as I wanted to wrap things up and concentrate on newer things going on although next time, I’ll bring everything up to date.

 I do realize that I am forever associated with Caliber, and willingly so, but Caliber hasn’t published anything in over a decade yet I’ve been busy in the comics world. But saying that, Caliber is not completely dead. I still maintain the company for the intellectual properties and there is still some activity going on which I’ll touch upon next time. 

 Towards the late 90’s, the market had undergone a drastic upheaval. Diamond was the sole distribution and that had impacted Caliber considerably since Capital had consistently sold more books for us than Diamond did. When Capital went under, it seemed our Diamond orders didn’t go up and that always left me wondering what happened to those orders.

 Of course, the collapse of the market impacted all publishers and it was a major case of comic retailers tightening their belts. This shift also coincided with the newer strategy of shops ordering less and less titles for their shelves and relying on orders and commitments from their customers by the use of Diamond Previews advance orders. 

When I started Caliber, it was after the explosion of creator owned books that changed the industry during the 1980’s. Comics pulled themselves out of simply being known as adolescent escapism into a viable form of fictional expression. They were becoming treated as serious literature. The speculator boom in the early to mid 1990’s changed that momentum and even though comics benefited short term from the speculation boom, the burst soon followed. 

Caliber was always a company of change, I mean, we had to be. We were constantly adapting to the situation as we didn’t have enough behind us to remain in one targeted direction. Towards the end of the 90’s, we had strategized in a number of different directions. We launched the Tapestry line (in fact, I believe the Tapestry line was the last featured cover on Capital’s Advance Comics-the forerunner to Diamond’s Previews), and this line was geared towards young readers. It got a lot of attention and acclaim but little in sales. We also started producing lines of comics geared specifically for targeted audiences as we developed relationships with some mail order companies that would guarantee a minimum purchase (and this was quite large). But they soon collapsed as well. 

Towards the end, it got to the point that we were scrambling to sell anything. The Internet helped us a lot and I believe we were one of the first publishers to offer an online store but there was a great reluctance at that time for consumers to put their credit card information online. I remember we had to take a lot of the credit card information over the phone for our online store….which sort of defeated the purpose. There was no paypal in those days. 

For me, it got to the point of questioning the continued existence of Caliber. I didn’t just want to put out product, I wanted to put out unique comics but the shift towards what was selling was so dramatic that it seemed only superheroes or licensed characters had a chance and I wasn’t interested in either. I never saw Caliber as a company to give me a job and income, but rather one to expand the concept of what comics were and could be. Of course, money was important, I mean, you can’t ignore the realities, but when the financial aspect becomes the only aspect, well, it just seemed like it wasn’t worth it. 

With sales dwindling and the market shift impacting the entire comics industry, it really just came down to a single question…what was the point anymore? Eventually, Caliber had dwindled down to just three of us and we were spending more time constructing the company as an Intellectual Property holder instead of comics. But we came close, unbelievably close, to a couple of deals which would either solidified Caliber as an IP company or via a sale which would have substantially benefited all of us at Caliber. But we didn’t. I am forever indebted to Nate Pride and Chester Jacques for riding that last leg of the journey out at a sacrifice to themselves. Although it never came to pass, if it had, it would’ve been because of the efforts of those two. 

Caliber didn’t have a dramatic ending; it just sort of faded away. The last office space wanted a renewal on the lease and I didn’t sign it. I moved it to my home office and essentially just stopped soliciting any new titles until eventually, Caliber just dropped off the consciousness of the comics industry. It was a long, drawn out death and I really can’t say when it hit me that Caliber was gone. It was there, then sorta there, and then, not there. 

Towards the end of Caliber, I remember my brother contacting me about an article he had seen in the paper about how colleges were short on science teachers. Since I had a Masters in Biology, although I had never used it since graduation, he thought I should look into it. I figured I could look into it and possibly earn some money to help offset the lack of income that Caliber was not providing. I interviewed at one college and five minutes later, I had a part time job teaching Biology. Within a year or two, I was teaching at a number of different schools and found out that I had to turn down work as I could only teach so much. 

On the writing end, of course, I had written a lot for Caliber (and sometimes under pseudonyms) and I liked writing comics. I had written prose stories, poetry, and even some longer fiction but writing comics was the most satisfying. I had been contacted through the years by a number of different editors from other companies to write either my own titles or theirs. It was always a quick dismissal on my part because I didn’t want to write for someone else. But now, I started becoming more receptive to the idea. I wasn’t at the stage where I would solicit for work, but I thought that if I did do some higher profile work, it could benefit my own titles. This is a very common strategy nowadays and some people were doing it back then. 

Joe Pruett, one of the key Caliber guys (well, most of them were key) had left years before and started writing a number of Marvel books. I remember talking to him about the process of writing for Marvel and at that time, it was under heavy editorial control and almost seemed like micro-managing. Although fans undoubtedly see the allure of writing Marvel characters, the process itself seemed stifling. It wasn’t creating comics, it was just a job. That didn’t seem appealing to me at all. 

So, I concentrated on the teaching. And I loved it. I was perfectly happy moving onto a new career although because I had created and owned so many properties, I was in constant discussion with a number of people regarding those. But the entity of Caliber Comics had ended. No big announcement or anything, it just wasn’t there anymore.

 Or so I thought.

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