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.

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