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Monday, July 2, 2012

From Caliber to Transfuzion

It’s hard to believe, to me anyway, that Transfuzion will hitting its 5th anniversary soon.  The timing is a little off because the official announcement was in August 2007, the first books didn’t actually ship until February, 2008, and Transfuzion existed prior to it becoming an actual publishing company.  But it was July 2007 that the entity of Transfuzion Publishing was enacted although three was no clear delineation of a “breaking ground” exact date, which I’ll explain in a little bit.

What is even more surprising, and I had to double check myself, that Transfuzion is about to release its 50th graphic novel.  And I’d like to point out that ALL of the graphic novels released by Transfuzion are creator owned.  That’s 50 creator owned graphic novels from a publisher that many comic fans have never heard of.  I’m not upset, depressed, or even that concerned with our relative obscurity in the comics market…it's just the reality of how it is.

There were five books announced with the official launch, three came in February of 2008 and two followed in March.  In looking at my production notes, the first actual book produced by Transfuzion was Saint Germaine: Tales of an Immortal.  It seems only fitting that the 50th book is Saint Germaine: The Magus and Other Stories.  Saint Germaine was, and is, my favorite series that I’ve written.  It was originally released by Caliber with the first storyline collected by Image Comics prior to Transfuzion starting.

Having 50 graphic novels released in that time frame averages out to about a graphic novel a month.  When I look back at Caliber and the 11 or so years that company operated, we released some 1,400 comics and about 80 graphic novels so that was an average of 11-12 per month.  Of course, most of the time I had a staff although the first few years it was usually me and one, maybe two people.  However, like with Transfuzion, they were primarily creator owned so the books just needed production work, not creation.

So between Caliber and Transfuzion, I’ve published somewhere around 1,400 creator owned comics and books and somewhere around 500 different titles.  I’m not bothering to do an exact count.  But the funny thing is- I’ve never considered myself a publisher in the traditional sense.  I’m a creator, having written some 300 comics and books that were creator owned (by me).  Obviously, being the publisher on many of them makes it a bit easier to get myself published but I’ve gotten over any self doubt of being accepted only because I inhabited the same body as the publisher.  Having work released from Penguin, Simon and Shuster, Image, IDW, and others took care of that----not that I was really worried about it as my first comic written was nominated for a Harvey Award. (Of course, I do realize that it was Guy Davis' art that captivated everyone...but such is the way of most writers in comics).

I consider myself a writer/creator and the publishing role as more of a facilitator.  I helped creators who HAD their projects and worked with them to get it printed, distributed, promoted, etc.  Yes, those are the roles of a publisher but dealing with creator owned titles, meant that I did very little in editorial direction.  I’ve always felt that as a fellow creator…and as “publisher” of creator owned comics, I either accepted the work…or not.  Sure, I’d give input if asked or if something was obviously wrong but creators do that with fellow creators all the time.  Frankly, I’m a horrible editor.  I tend to view things as how I would do it or how “they” would do it and finding that middle ground…that editorial ground…is tough.  Of course, I’m not talking about obvious things like grammar, punctuation, and sure fire holes in the plot but general overall narrative and story structure.

After Caliber closed and I stepped away from comics for awhile, I was brought back in by Byron Preiss as well as Joe Pruett.  Image started collecting some of my titles (Saint Germaine, Renfield, Red Diaries, and Dead-Killer) and I starting writing a new Deadworld series for them.  Not sure how it happened but started talking to my friend, Rafael Nieves, and we decided to start up a writer’s studio called Transfuzion Studios.  We would create scripts and bring in artists to draw them.  We soon asked Steve Jones and Randy Zimmerman to join us to give us more diversity and to deal with all the initial responses we got.   However, that was too vague and we couldn’t expect artists to draw issues without some idea of where it would end up.  This was before digital really started taking off and webcomics were still trying to find revenue models, and well before Kickstarter and IndieGoGo.

Eventually, Raf and I decided to just collect our stuff and put it under the Transfuzion imprint. We had little expectations beyond making it available in print and since we had to scan in the physical copies for the eventual digital, packaging those scans into collections was an obvious next step.  But then we started getting a lot of other creators asking about if Transfuzion could bring their material back into print as well.  And being a publisher, and it seems too many, any publisher, we were flooded us with submissions.  So, in addition to the collections, we would do some new material.  But doing complete graphic novels with no guarantee of sales or revenue seemed too much so we decided to concentrate on anthologies.  Artists would only have to do 8-12 pages rather than 80.

This is where the difference between me and Rafael came into play.  I found the process of bringing writers and artists together to and act as an editor to be too time consuming.  As I said, I’m a lousy editor.  When I get a script, I can look at it and even without agreeing with what the writer is doing, I have a hard time interjecting my thoughts towards it.  It may not be my way, but it’s the writer’s way and I tend to leave it at that.  I have trouble finding that helpful medium of inputting suggestions, discussing how to handle specific scenes, etc.  

Raf, on the other hand, is completely hands on.  He loves dissecting scripts with the creative teams and working with new artists especially.  He is more than an editor, he is a nurturer and freely plants himself with both writer and artist to bring together a true collaborative effort.

So, I handled the collections and Raf was to handle the anthologies.  It became quickly apparent that this was the time anthologies were being looked down on.  No one really wanted them and many of the titles distributed by Diamond fell on hard times and even long running titles like Dark Horse Presents and Negative Burn were not getting the acceptance they had previously. (Ironically, one of the great successes of Kickstarter is the rebirth of the anthology).  It just didn’t seem worth the effort so Raf turned to creating new longer works,  He did The Apocalypse Plan and then the comic series, Bob Howard, with artist and co-creator, Dan Dougherty.  But Raf hasn’t given up on the anthologies and is launching a few of them with Kaleidoscope, The Horribles and others.

Transfuzion continued with primarily collecting out of print comics but we have ventured into original graphic novels.  Call of Cthulhu, Chillers, Savage, the Assemblers, and more are all new material in print.

The model for Transfuzion works for us because being mostly collections; it doesn’t involve new material from artists. Diamond has carried about half the line as they decide which ones they’ll support and that’s their prerogative.  But with direct sales and online sites like Amazon, every book we’ve done is either profitable or within a few dollars of being so.  The entire line, along with much of the Caliber titles that I own or control, are being prepped for all the digital platforms with some already available.  The big launch of Caliber Digital (which the Transfuzion titles fall under) will be announced soon.

Some of the books sell well, very well.  One title broke into Diamond’s Top 50 graphic novels for the month and we’ve had some in their Top 300 list.  Some titles are consistent sellers online and have far surpassed what we did or could hope to sell in the comics market.  A title that I’m particularly proud to be associated with, Vietnam Journal, has had eight graphic novels released thus far and each continue to get consistent sales.

The early part of 2012 saw a slowing down of the releases mainly because I over-extended myself with my own projects and school (I teach college biology courses and the last couple of semesters, took on too heavy of a load).  But the second half of this year will see quite an expansion of releases as we have so many books nearly ready to go. We already released one color book and another is coming soon, this one a step away from the creator owned as it is a licensed---one that originally came out from Caliber

The second fifty will come much quicker than the first 50 books did.


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