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Friday, July 20, 2012

Comic Con Report- Day 5

On the last day, Dennis and I grabbed breakfast and it was the only full breakfast I had for the entire convention.  I usually eat a larger breakfast or lunch but not both and it was always too much of a hassle to grab lunch so I figured go for the morning meal.

Stephanie and Jessica had gone to a party in Pacific Beach and undoubtedly wouldn’t be getting up until early afternoon so I left a message not to worry about trying to get to the convention that day since it was the last one.  They had just been to Michigan a few weeks prior and both were planning trips in the next few months and I talk often with them on the phone so it wasn’t like I wouldn’t see or hear from them for awhile.

I stopped at the Image booth where Dirk Manning was working with Jim Valentino on the Shadowline division.  To be honest, I was unfamiliar with the line for the most part, except of course, Dirk’s Nightmare World (which I had written the introduction for the third volume).    Dirk, ever the promoter, extolled the great books and I ended up picking up Green Wake, Meta 4, and Fractured Fables.  I met Tim Daniel, the writer of Enormous and that book looked cool but it was just too large to deal with.

I let Jim know that those books were the only ones I bought for the entire convention and complimented him on his line.  I had worked with Jim previously when I took Disciples from Caliber and released it through him.  I don’t think too often of Image as a former publisher but I did release the graphic novels of Saint Germaine, Red Diaries, Renfield, Dead-Killer, and the collection of the Deadworld reboot series which they released as a limited series, so that makes 10 releases from Image.  Surprised me when I thought about it.

On my way out of the Image area, I stopped to talk with some ex-Michganders in Shane and Chris Houghton who do the popular Reed Gunther series.  I made my way back to artist alley and on the way, I came across Kevin Eastman who was entertaining the crowd at his booth.  He was a guest at last year’s Fanfare but I’ve known him for a long time and is one of the nicest guys in the business.  Right as I was leaving, I came across Trevor Von Eeden.  I’ve always liked Trevor’s art and wondered why he didn’t get more work.  We had started on a series together but the publisher pulled it before we got past the first issue.  I’d like to find a way to either resurrect that series or do something new with him.

I stopped at a publisher who released novels and as I was talking briefly with him, I mentioned that there was a Deadworld novel I was working on that was nearing completion.  He gave me one of those “don’t call me, we’ll call you response” and I got the hint.  However, as I left, an editor from another company had heard so I ended up going to his booth and we discussed the possibility.  I don’t plan on really pushing anything until it’s completely done.

By that time, I had already checked out from the hotel but went over to drop off my purchases in luggage storage and Dennis did likewise.  We decided that we had enough of the con so we ventured to some of the activities and setups outside of the convention hall, which there were quite a few.  We went to the Cryptozoic store as they had a few artists that were working on the Deadworld card set as well but I knew their big signing session was on Saturday.  Also checked out the Zombie Apocalypse store which was a preview of their storefront in Las Vegas and it was in the basement of the Haunted Hotel.

We grabbed a coffee and took a relaxing break for awhile.  With our flight not leaving until around 10PM, we decided to grab dinner and so headed over to the Strip Tease where you cook your own steaks.  I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a place to eat that’s a bit different. After dinner, we grabbed some gelato for desert and then headed back to the hotel to load up for the ride to the airport.  Dennis had picked up a lot of stuff during the con so Tim, who lived in San Diego, took most of it and would box it up and send it to Dennis.

At the airport, we ran into some retailers and artists Scott Zambelli and Greg Horn.  The flight itself was hot and uncomfortable, which is typical for airlines but made it back with the red-eye getting us home about 5:30 AM.

That’s it for the con report and it’s so much easier to direct people here who ask me about the convention and I hope it shows that even if you’re not set up at the con, you can stay incredibly busy.

My overall impression of the convention is that when people tell you how congested and “Hollywood” it is, yeah, you can understand that but you really have to be there to appreciate it.  It seems now that you can almost go to the con and experience quite a bit of it without even stepping in the convention hall itself, although of course, that is the ultimate experience.  There is a lot of stuff going on.  And if you’re a person who likes going to clubs (I don’t), there’s a whole different aspect which I ignored.

I heard various reports from how people did at the convention.  It’s always tough to figure out exactly how people do as you have some that are consistently complaining and others who will always paint a better picture than they actually did.  For those, it seems as if they had a bad con, it’s a reflection on them.  But after years of going to conventions, it just works out that sometimes you have a good con and sometimes you have a bad one. I’ve been to similar cons where I’m so busy, I’m exhausted at the end of the day and to cons where there is so little activity, I’m even more exhausted from the boredom.  And it can change from year to year.  My feeling is that if a con gets the people there who are buying and if they don’t buy your stuff, there are a lot of reasons why but don’t blame the con.

I don’t know if I would set up at Comic Con.  It would mainly depend on what I had coming out at that time.  I see some artists/vendors there who haven’t got anything new for the last couple of years and so I expect they would have little success.

Would I go back after this trip and having missed it for the last ten years?  I dunno.  I have the added incentive of my daughters living there and next year, could schedule the family to all go, so that skews my personal return.  As a creator alone, it would all be dependent on the circumstances but it certainly wouldn’t be an automatic attendance on my part.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Comic Con Report- Day 4

Saturday is usually the busiest day of the con and it was for me as well.  Dennis and I got up very early to head over for the Comics Pro breakfast.  I was interested in going as I was a retailer for many years and also a publisher.  We got there early and stole some coffee and met up with Jim Sokolowski of Archie after a long time with Marvel.  The meeting was more crowded than expected so I left, not wanting to take up space for a retailer that might need it.

I walked the con floor, venturing into areas I hadn’t gone into before.  People may complain about it not being a comic convention but the longest lines were at the game, toy, and celebrity areas so I’m guessing that fact doesn’t bother most.  I navigated through and met the producers I had scheduled a meeting with at the Hyatt for coffee.  Talks went good but if you know how it is dealing with producers, everything sounds great at the meeting and then it returns to the typical crawl on inactivity.  So, while a very good meeting, I really won’t know for a few weeks just how fruitful it really was.

I returned to the con and was met by a book wholesaler who had been looking for me, not realizing that I wasn’t set up.  We discussed a deal of supplying books, not only from Transfuzion, but also Deadworld.  After that, I received a call from Kevin VanHook who came into town from LA for the day and was at a get together at the Omni.  I planned to get there before he left but I never did as he left right when I was on my way there later that afternoon.  Kevin has written and directed a number of movies for the SyFy Channel as well as written many comics for Valiant and DC and of course, he was the writer/artist on the Rocky Horror Picture Show comic which Transfuzion is bringing back into print in October.

Stopped back at IDW and talked briefly with Dirk Wood to find out what the numbers were on the Deadworld: War of the Dead series coming in August.  He didn’t have specific numbers as they were just coming in but did say that everyone was pleasantly surprised and gave some comparison numbers of other titles.  So, sounds like the Deadworld series did better than expected.

Met up with Dennis who had brought the packets to promote Detroit Fanfare.  We talked with publishers and talent about the show which can be difficult in the middle of something like Comic Con but it seemed we had some great response, but just like Hollywood producers, you never know until later.

My daughter, Stephanie, called and was planning to come to the con later that afternoon to check it out.  She’s been to some local conventions and she’s dabbled in reading comics so she would find it more appealing than Jessica.

It was a flurry of quick meetings and bounced from Mike Richardson at Dark Horse, Jim Salicrup at Paper Cutz, Archie, and Titan Books.   By the end of all that, Stephanie had arrived and so we walked the con including the autograph area upstairs.  

It was getting towards the end of the con so Stephanie and I left for the US Grant where the Richard Alf Memorial dinner was being held.  Dennis was going to meet us there. Organized by Greg Koudloulian, it was to commemorate the legacy of Richard Alf, one of the co-founders of Comic Con decades ago and Shel Dorf’s right hand man.  Richard also financed the first three years of the convention which allowed it to grow until it became the monster it is today.  Greg thought it was important for Dennis and me to attend since we sponsor the Official Shel Dorf Awards as part of Detroit Fanfare and Fanfare continues to pay homage to the early founders of comic conventions.  Stephanie thought it would be interesting to attend but was ready to leave if it proved to be too crowded as she didn’t want to limit anyone else’s attendance.  Unfortunately, the initial audience was small but it did pick up throughout the evening although never to full capacity.  We did see Don Cheadle in the lobby of the hotel as we were waiting for Dennis to arrive.

In addition to Greg, there were many other members of the con’s early days including David Scroggy, Jackie Estrada, Mark Evanier, Phil Yey, George Clayton Johnson, and others who may not have been there in the beginning but paid homage.  Sorry to say, I didn’t recognize some of them. Michael D. Hamersky, the blogger attended, and has posted some Youtube videos of the event.   The food was great, the drinks plentiful, and it was interesting to watch the passion and remembrances flow.  When Stephanie and I arrived, we were greeted by another founder who I found during the conversation was the multi-award winning sci-fi author, Greg Bear.  After dinner, some awards were presented and many took turns to reminiscence about Richard and Shel Dorf.  Greg even asked Dennis to speak about the Shel Dorf Awards presented at Fanfare.

The entire celebration would not have been possible without the sponsorship of Steve Geppi.  Steve came with his daughter and was an active participant in getting the tribute up and running and I think he ended up sponsoring most if not all.  Steve gets a bevy of criticism with Diamond Comics but he should be applauded for this.  I talked with Steve as I’ve known him for some 20 years and even though a lot of creators and publishers see Diamond as the enemy, I never have.  I won’t get into it here but a lot of the policies and actions of Diamond are just good business and even though they don’t carry the entire Transfuzion line, I don’t have a problem with them.  So kudos to Steve for his great generosity.

Dennis stayed after Stephanie and I left.  We went to the trolley station and Steph headed back to Ocean Beach while I left for the Omni.  When I got back, I ran into a couple of Deadworld fans who pleaded with me to start up a fan-fiction site as they had some great stories they wanted to post.  I told them that I had been considering it which I have been for awhile.  As usual, time is always the problem.

I decided to check out Trickster again but had only gone about a block when Dennis returned and called so I went back to hook up with him.  He was talking with an art agent who was a fan of Caliber so we discussed the early days for a bit.  Dennis and I decided against Trickster as we remembered the heat and the bar closing early, so we headed to the Gas Lamp district and found a small bar that was surprisingly not overwhelmed.  Grabbed a drink and found out that all the bars close at midnight for serving but that’s the downtown area only although clubs can serve until two.

Dennis was wiped out from his zombie obstacle course he ran that morning (but he was a survivor of the course.)  We returned to the Omni and it was interesting to see Ron Perlman in the lobby with his handler standing guard next to him to keep away the fan boys, I guess.

The next day would be the last day and I had purposely left it open as there were still some people I wanted to see and catch up on.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Comic Con Report- Day 3

I figured I’d start posting two of these each day just to get them closed off.

On Day 3, Friday of the con, my strategy to stay up later in order to sleep in and adjust my EST schedule, failed to some extent.  Again, up around 6.  The Omni had a Starbucks that opened at 6 so it was manageable.  I sat outside and watched the endless stream of people already arriving at the con to stand in line for whatever they were standing in line for.  I was surprised how early it was and yet the crossing over the trolley lines were almost already full.

I ran into Dave Scoggy outside and we talked a bit.  I would end up running into Dave numerous times at the show and that’s how it works.  Some people you see constantly and others you never come across.

Prior to the convention, I had gone through the schedule with MySched and then printed off all the panels I was interested in attending.  I generally dislike going to panels but wanted to attend some, usually the ones that were more business oriented.  I got the list down to about 12 that would have some interest but only ended up attending one for the entire duration.  This one was dealing with copyright issues and some interesting cases were brought up as well as some issues that are just beginning to come to the forefront.  It seems with the digital aspect, there are a lot of concerns coming to a head pretty soon.

I was asked earlier to stop by a booth to meet with an online company so I hooked up with them and we worked out some of the details about doing an all new Deadworld series online.  I had been thinking about that and by the time the meeting was over, I had a pretty good idea of what approach I was going to do so once that gets ready, I’ll be able to announce the all new series appearing online.

Afterwards, met with an entertainment lawyer that I had set up the meeting with a few weeks ago.  That’s one aspect of the Hollywood presence at Comic Con, it saves time and travel as you can schedule meetings at the con and save a trip to LA.  Things went well and some problems that I had with a previous contract seemed able to be corrected.  It was a good meeting and I will likely be heading out to LA in a month or so to confirm some other aspects.

As I said, Stephanie and Jessica spent the night in downtown at a friend’s place so once they got up, they picked me up and we headed back to Ocean Beach, Jessica’s place.  From there, we decided to head to Sea World, just minutes away as Stephanie had never been there.  So, instead of walking around the con, I walked around Sea World.  Saw the obligatory things like the dolphins, sea-lions, and Shamu plus rode the coaster.  It was a nice park and the girls got season passes so they could go back as many times as they wanted.

Returning to Ocean Beach, I ventured to the ocean as the girls got ready as we were heading out to dinner.  We drove to Old Town where we met up with Dennis, Tim, and Graptho who came by taxi from the con.  We had dinner at a Mexican place (what else in Old Town?) and then walked around a bit and Dennis got some souvenirs for his kids.

We all caught the trolley back towards the convention and then we went to the Preview Party for the movie premiere of Bad Kids go to Hell.  Outside of Judd Nelson, all the actors were there and we stayed there for awhile.  After that, we left and then went to a local bar that Jessica frequented.  After a couple of drinks, the girls stayed as some of their friends were coming but the rest of us left to go back to the hotel.  

It’s kinda strange sitting at a bar with your daughters but on the other hand, they’re both mature and were in their element but still an interesting dynamic shift that occurs.

Back at the hotel, we grabbed a drink or two and I was still dealing with the midnight hour being 3 AM my time.   The other guys also wanted to turn in early as they were all entered into the zombie obstacle course early the next day and  I had absolutely no interest in joining them.

Comic Con Report- Day 2

The first full day of the convention and I was already weary of fighting through the crowds of cosplayers taking pictures of each other, parents with strollers, and getting hit by those huge bags everyone had to carry their swag.

One of the tough things about going to the West Coast is being on EST.  I tried to force myself to sleep longer but I was wide awake before 6:00.  I grabbed a coffee and headed off towards the ocean and walked along the city’s shoreline for awhile.  I didn’t feel like a full breakfast so grabbed some fruit at the local 7-11 and refueled with coffee.

At the con, I had an early signing at the IDW booth.  I ventured into the center area near IDW for awhile before getting to the booth to start the signing.  They didn’t have the four Deadworld books there (although I found they had one or two of them later) so I passed out free Deadworld bookmarks and signed those.  Since the comic series I was promoting doesn’t come out for a couple of weeks, I had brought a preview of the first issue to show.  Most of the people that came up seemed excited about the new series.  It wasn’t terribly busy but judging from the others there, it seemed to be a matter of timing.  Most people were still trying to navigate the con.

I sat next to Joe Jusko and talked with him quite a bit.  He was showcasing his beautiful art book which was put together by Joe Pruett of Desperado and I was familiar with it as I was intertwined with Desperado in a way that is too complicated to go into here.  On the other side of me was Sam Shearon, the artist on some IDW books.  He did some great stuff and I had a short conversation with him.  Joe Hill came in to replace him and I talked briefly with him, mesmerized by how much he looks like his dad….but I’m glad to see that he’s made a name for himself and didn’t rely on his father’s famous name.

Talked a bit with Dirk Wood and met Greg Goldstein, the President of IDW.  Greg and I had talked on the phone and via emails but this was a chance to put a face with the voice.  Also got to talk a little with Chris Ryall who I believe I met before years ago, but it still seemed new.  

After the signing, I came across Dirk Manning at the Image booth, specifically Shadowline.  He took a break and he and I walked around a bit.  Even though Transfuzion is releasing his Write or Wrong book, we didn’t talk about it since he was brought to the con by Jim Valentino and Shadowline so we both felt it was inappropriate to discuss another publisher’s business on Jim’s dime.

I came across Becky Cloonan who was sitting next to Jill Thompson.  I had worked with Becky on the Dracula adaptation for Penguin Books (the Puffin line for kids) but this was the first time meeting her.  We had shared some 160 pages of comic story telling so it was good to meet her.  She gave me an autographed copy of her new Dracula book which was a beautiful hardcover that she did color paintings for and also gave me some of her mini-comics.  She’s already made a name for herself and I expect her to become even bigger in the industry.  While there, Leslie Klinger came up and he was the author of the annotated Dracula and was familiar with the book that Becky and I had done as well as my Renfield graphic novel.  We had a short Dracula love fest between us and I found out Leslie had also written some Sherlock Holmes book which were put out by IDW as was my Sherlock Holmes book, The Curious Cases of Sherlock Holmes.

I left the con and hopped on trolley to go to Old Town station.  There, I was picked up by my second oldest daughter, Jessica, who lives in Ocean Beach.  She had moved to San Diego about three years ago for grad school at San Diego State for speech pathology.  Now she works in the school system and absolutely loves what she does and loves the city.  She said she’s never leaving San Diego.  Visited her home which is three or four houses from the ocean and then we walked around OB before grabbing lunch at a small patio restaurant.  After that, Jessica and I went back to Old Town and caught the trolley back to the convention.  She had never been to a comic convention and being a native now, was well aware of the impact of the Comic Con.

Since I had decided late to go to the show, it was impossible to get professional passes.  I got in with IDW and I secured one additional badge for my daughters but couldn’t get two.  So, I would be left to do the unthinkable…let them share badges which was expressly forbidden and exceedingly so by the convention organizers.  That was a policy I didn’t really understand.  I mean, if they had trouble selling the passes, I get that but there is such a demand that if one pass could be used by four different people each day, that would still keep the same amount of people on the floor but would provide four customers instead of just the one.  Mike Richardson and I discussed this and when he told me how much it cost for Dark Horse to set up, I can see why he would want the four customers.  I don’t know, the policy seemed petty to me and I think all of the vendors would applaud the relaxation on that.  Yes, I get that they’re trying to curtail scalping but if the initial sales are controlled, then scalping becomes a simple matter of supply and demand and leaves a lot more people happy rather than disappointed.  I’ll grant that there could be some logic behind the restriction that I’m missing but it’s not apparent to me.  However, later managed to get an additional badge.

Jessica and I walked around the convention and visited with Dave Dorman, Bill Pulkovski, and others.  At Bill’s table, Jay Fosgitt was there before he had to run to the different signing areas. Ran into Bruce Gerlach and the Minor Brothers (Matt, Kevin, and Jake).  They were showing some sample art as well as a project and it really looked good.  It sounded like they got some promising leads to follow up on.  Lots of Detroit connection artists at the con, it seems.

Ran into Mike and Laura Allred and Mike had some nice things to say about his early days at Caliber.  It was before the Eisners were announced so I didn’t know that Laura had won one for Best Colorist, so congrats, Laura.  It was about 20 years ago at San Diego that I had first met Mike and Laura which makes me feel incredibly old sometimes.

After a few hours of looking around, we stopped at Breygent to pick up some Deadworld t-shirts.  Jessica had some friends coming to the con on Sunday and they wanted to wear the t-shirts at the con.

We headed back to OB as my oldest daughter, Stephanie, was coming in from Los Angeles where she lives.  She’s a market consultant but took Friday off to come in early.  While waiting, I dozed off on the couch, the time shift catching up to me.  After Stephanie arrived, we walked around OB again and grabbed dinner at a Mexican restaurant.  It was getting late after dinner so the girls drove me back to the Omni hotel and dropped me off.  They hooked up with some friends and ended up spending the night at one of their friends’ house who has a condo next to the ballpark.  Later, discussed the aspect of renting the condo out for next year as he is usually gone for the summer.  That would be interesting.

I decided to force myself to stay up later with the hope I’d sleep longer in the morning.  I figured I’d check out Trickster and started heading there when I got a call from Dennis who also just got back to the hotel, so I returned and we had drinks at the hotel.  Ran into David Mack as he was coming in and even though I don’t do many conventions, it seems everyone I go to, David’s there.  I’m beginning to wonder if he his whole life is traveling.

Dennis had a good eye to spotting celebrities and had already had pictures taken with Mark Hamill and Colin Farrell and managed to snag one with Sir Ian McKellan.  It seemed a lot of celebs were staying at the Omni and with the Hard Rock across from us with limos lining the street; it was interesting to watch the autograph hounds transverse back and forth.  Most of the celebs were ones I was unfamiliar with and that’s more of a sign of lacking awareness on some popular shows nowadays.  I wouldn’t be able to recognize anyone from Twilight, True Blood, and other popular shows.

I managed to make it through the first full day but of course, that was helped out by spending quite a bit of time away from the con.  I’d apply the same strategy on the next day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Comic Con Report- Day 1

I decided to do a report on my San Diego Comic Con experience as I get asked a lot about it for a number of reasons.  One is that I have not been to one in nearly 10 years so many people want to know how I see the change as it descends into Hollywood madness and away from the comics aspect.  And secondly, although I didn’t have a specific agenda, I was attending the con for various reasons---as a creator, as a publisher, as a former retailer, and as a show promoter (Detroit Fanfare).   And it was also worth it to me on a personal level as I have a daughter that lives in San Diego and another that lives in Los Angeles, just a couple hours drive away.

For the report, I’m following Tom Spurgeon’s format that he posts on The Comics Reporter as I always find his the most interesting.  He just posts his day with some notes and so I’ll follow suit.

I decided to go just a couple of weeks prior to the con so everything was rather last minute.  That meant scrambling for flights, hotel, and meetings to get everything coordinated.  My original thought was to stay with my daughter but she’s in Ocean Beach which would require transportation considerations.  I knew Dennis Barger was going and we both had the same philosophy regarding hotels.  Get a room close to the con thus eliminating transportation concerns and to reduce the exorbitant costs the hotels charge at comic con (for example, a Comfort Inn with regular rates of $39 a night bumped their con dates to over $300 a night.  Really?  A Comfort Inn?).   After all, at Comic Con, a hotel room is used for sleeping after you can’t go on any longer, a place to take a shower, and store everything.  Outside of that, it really doesn’t matter about the room since I spent no time there.  So, we shared a room and hung together for the convention.

Dennis is a retailer in the Detroit area (Wonderworld Comics in Taylor) and is the head organizer for Detroit Fanfare.  When I came aboard for the first convention, I was primarily a consultant at first but now am embedded as a co-organizer of the convention and Dennis, along with the third co-organizer, Tony Miello, have become friends.  For those who know Dennis, his boisterous presence can mask his astute knowledge of the industry.  We were also joined by Tim Brown, a local who used to be the web guy on the Detroit Fanfare site when he lived in Michigan but recently moved to San Diego.  Tim had a car and would drive in on the days he came to the show.  

 Dennis was also with Gretho, a fan from our area who was making his first visit to the con, and in fact, his first plane flight.  As we boarded the flight early Wednesday morning, we saw quite a few Detroit area folks on the same flight including David Finch and Dirk Manning.  We played musical chairs with hotels and went from one in the Gaslamp district to one by Little Italy until we finally got into the Omni.  Ironically, the Omni was the cheapest and by far the nicest and of course, right across from the convention center.  During that time, we grabbed lunch at a small deli which had great sandwiches and seemed to be filled with locals.  I always prefer the small local places rather than the chain restaurants and we adhered to that for most of the con trip.

Once the hotel situation was settled, we got ready for Preview night which started at six.  Dennis uses the trip to find items for his customers and to gather up exclusives so I split as soon as we entered the con.  The con was crowded, much more than I had anticipated even though I was told constantly how crowded it would be.  You just have to be in there to really appreciate it.  Most of the center where the toy and Hollywood studios were just stopped with walls of people and getting through was nearly impossible.  I spent the entire con traveling on the outer rows which moved faster but you never could walk at a normal gait…even there it was pretty much a shuffling, zombie like walk.  I decided to head to a far wall, it didn’t matter which one, and eventually work my way around the con.  I found myself near Bregyent Marketing who are doing the Deadworld trading cards so got a reprieve by stepping into their booth.  I met Tom and Steward for the first time although I had communicated via phone and email quite a bit over the last few months as the card set is nearly ready to roll out.  Got a chance to see some of the cards and they gave me some Deadworld t-shirts and hats that they’re producing.

Following Dennis’ prediction that the less crowded spots of the con would be where the comic folks are (which unfortunately was very true), I decided to head towards Artist Alley which was along the opposite wall.  But with all the exclusives and impact the middle of the con were providing, it would give me a chance to avoid the crowds.  I remember thinking that I couldn’t take the crowds and I had been at the con for less than half an hour.  It was going to be a long convention. 

I weaved over to Artist Alley and again figured I’d start on one end and work my way through.  Even though it wasn’t nearly as crowded,  the aisles in Artist Alley were incredibly tight so there was no hope for personal space. The first creator I stopped at was Jim Calafiore who got his start at Caliber a very, very long time ago.  Like many creators for the Big Two, once his exclusive contract expired, the shift went to new talent and so Jim is embarking on a new creator owned series.  I was always surprised that Jim managed to work all those years for the majors as when he broke in, he had a unique style perfectly geared for creator owned and independent appeal so it would be good for him to show off his talents.   I came across local (Detroit) artist, Bill Pulkvoski who was sitting next to Felipe Echevarria who I’ve known a little bit from the convention circuit.  They were in the first aisle and had double the aisle space so it became a haven for me a couple of times during the convention.

Between the hotel and convention, I didn’t really connect with too many people although I talked briefly with Dirk Wood, marketing guru from IDW and met Jim Sokolowski, known mostly for his managerial role at Marvel but just recently signed up with Archie Comics.   I had met “Ski” previously but never chatted with him in a non-business way.  It’s always entertaining to talk with someone who’s been around for awhile to get their perspectives on the industry.  I then met with a producer who I was supposed to meet with on Saturday but he had come in early so we had a chance to have a talk which would resume when his partner came in on Saturday.

I milled around a bit the con and we all left before the mass exodus would flood the exits.  We headed over to Trickster which got a tremendous response last year but they were forced to move this year.   I was disappointed since it was a small place, very noisy (music was blaring), and very hot.  We hooked up with Richard LeParmentier, an actor who has done some 50 films including the first Star Wars.  The upstairs bar closed very early and that would be my only trip to Trickster.  I had planned to check it out again but never had the chance.  I did hear from some others that it got better as the con went on but I don’t think it was the best venue with the caveat that they probably had limited availabilities.  We stayed for a couple of drinks and I think the travel day was starting to catch up to us.

That exemplifies  one of the problems with the people up north (LA) coming down.  A lot of the local establishments were taken over and became private club areas which were either invite only parties or took on a club atmosphere which means cover charges, expensive drinks, loud music, etc.  I just have little tolerance to attend those things.

It was only the three hours of the Preview and already I was dreading going back into that room because of the crowds, the vast majority who knew nothing or cared nothing about comics.  I fully understood all the reports from previous years complaining about the convention.  And yet, it you can look past all the non-comic aspects which dominated the show, it was still the major COMIC  con, you just had to apply some creative sorting.  So with that attitude and adjustment, I just took the con for what it was---still the biggest comic convention but just jammed full of “other stuff”.

For dinner, we found a small Italian restaurant in Little Italy that you had to enter via a deli.  Great food, great portions, and great prices.

Next: Thursday, the first full day of the convention.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Working with Creators

When you’ve worked with as many comic creators as I have over the years, you find that the often used collective term of comic creator doesn’t really mean much.  Somehow, it seems to many fans that all comic creators share the same sensibility, desires, and goals.  Obviously, that is not the case.  With Caliber and now Transfuzion and even as a creator myself, I have worked with over 250 creators. Some were long term relationships, others were just a pinup or cover. Their attitudes and ethics vary just as you would expect any group to.  Fans often place creators into this box of homogeneity but each have their own agenda although most that I know truly are passionate about what they do and share a camaraderie regarding creator owned comics and what that entails.

For many of the creators, Caliber was their first entry into the publishing world.  We broke in a lot of people and many continue to work in comics today.  It was always much more difficult with the new people because from the outside, they didn’t really understand how things worked.  Of course, this is so different from today with our incredible information feed.  Only people who are old enough to remember when people were talking about bulletin boards and ARPANET can appreciate the unbelievable change that has been embedded into our lives.  The newbies were usually eager but some found that the demands of constant production were just too much.  So, while there are quite a few Caliber alumni circulating around, there are also quite a few that determined that was not for them.  

Comics is a tough, tough business.  There’s a lot of facades in the industry…and people have to realize that just because you had a book out, it doesn’t necessarily mean much.  Of course, everyone has their own idea of what a success is and for some people, the sheer accomplishment of getting a book out is enough.  But for many, once they realize that a career in comics that can provide financially is very rare, disillusionment can set in.  Even seasoned pros have difficulties as I know a number of writers and artists who have worked for the Big Two and are established names have to rely on welfare and/or food stamps to get by.  You’d be surprised.

But the fleeting names that come in and then out of comics are usually just forgotten and most embark on a different career path.   A few keep in touch with me just to see how things are going with the company and also to keep track of the few creators they might have known.  I am in touch with a lot of Caliber creators but usually the ones that entrench themselves into Marvel or DC are the ones that I lose touch with.  I don’t keep track of what’s going on with either of those companies so I don’t know what they may be doing.

Overall, the relationships were good.  There’s a few that didn’t work out so well for different reasons but it’s only a handful where there is any kind of animosity.  All in all, a pretty good track record.  I’m not going to pretend that everything was great as it wasn’t, especially at the end when the market hit a tailspin and a lot of our vendors collapsed without paying.   But as I said, for the vast majority of creators, I think Caliber (and Transfuzion) has been not only a positive affiliation but a rewarding one.  The few that had a problem was usually based around their lack of knowledge of how the industry work (for example, that we don’t sell to Diamond at cover price) or for a couple, it served them to have a few strategic misrepresentations and I’ll leave it at that.  Perhaps in a future blog, I’ll discuss some of those as there were some entertaining situations.

Next week I’ll be heading off to San Diego Con which is what I still call it.  I haven’t been there for quite awhile and this was after attending for over a decade straight.  I’ve been there as a retailer, publisher, and creator and now sort of going as a spectator.  I have some signings to do but for the most part, I’m not an active participant in the con itself.  In regards to creators, there are a couple there who I’ve worked with on some significant projects but I have never met so that will be something to look forward to.

I debated about going.  Doing some signings and meeting some people that I’ve worked with before wasn’t enough to take the time to go.  However, things continued to align as I have a number of meetings scheduled with publishers and creators about certain projects and some licensing considerations.  Because of the close association with Hollywood that the con has now, by going to San Diego, it saves me a trip out to Los Angeles with some producers that I’m talking with.  It’s a real mixed bag of meetings and get-togethers and cover writing, projects to be published, merchandise, intellectual properties, and digital considerations.  In addition to the company roles of Caliber (which still holds the intellectual aspects of Caliber Comics) and Transfuzion, I’m involved in two new companies (one publishing and one with games) and so there will be some discussion about those at the con.  

I am also involved with Detroit Fanfare with Dennis Barger Jr. and Tony Miello, and part of our attendance at the con deals with the late Shel Dorf and the beginnings of the San Diego Comic Con.  Shel originally started in Detroit area with Detroit Triple Fan Fair and the current Detroit Fanfare pays homage to that including hosting the official Shel Dorf Industry Awards.  Some of Shel’s family attended the first two years and we expect to talk with some of the founders at the show about Shel and the launch of the concept of the comic convention.

But what really solidified the trip for me was personal.  My second oldest daughter lives in San Diego and my oldest daughter lives in Los Angeles and will be driving down for the weekend.   That was the clincher and of course, the con was just enough of a nudge to make the trip.  Except for when my daughter got her grad degree from San Diego State and the whole family reunited for that, it seems that my wife and I can never coordinate our trips out to California and we take turns visiting the kids.

I hear a lot of horror stories of how crowded the convention is nowadays and how much it has shifted from comics to “Hollywood”.  I have to say that none of the film and TV aspects really interest me that much and if those are the areas that are going to be crowded, then I should be okay.  I don’t collect anything and I seldom buy anything at cons, so I don’t have that aspect either. I plan to mainly do the meet and greet but there are a couple of panels I might attend.  These are primarily dealing with creators I know or any kind of consortium on publishing creator owned comics and related matters.

One thing I was looking forward to was Trickster.  Last year seemed to get so much more attention that I started wondering this year if it was still going on.  I checked into and saw it was and touched base with Scott Morse (Caliber published his Phenomerama) and I donated some of my books as well as some from Transfuzion.  Too bad I didn’t know about it earlier as I could’ve donated more and got others involved to donate.  I like the concept and will get a chance to see how it plays out.

So, my plan is signings, meetings, and just saying hi.  I’ll spend some time with my girls, of course, and just generally check things out.  It’s sort of nice not having to be “working” the con as usually when you do, you don’t see much of it.

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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