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). 


Anonymous said...

Great post, Gary!

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