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.


Mr. Nice Guy said...

I was just reading the first Deadworld (#10) on Caliber Press and thinking of that little newsletter called Caliber Rounds CP published. I bought Deadworld when it was quarterly on Arrow, and own almost everything Deadworld ever made, including page art and the T-shirts (3 different ones). Not the mask though.
Caliber was the GREATEST publisher because of the unique stories it published and the rare and gifted talent it had. Deadworld, The Crow and Baker Street were my top picks. Thanks for everything!

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