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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Year Ending Odds and Ends

Figured I’d cover a lot of misc. stuff on a year’s end blog.

First off, 2014 saw the announcement that Caliber was returning and its been a really busy year getting that going. So much of it isn’t evident on the surface but we spent a lot of time and effort on the digital side of things. I think we’re close to 500 issues/books on various digital formats and many of them are just now rolling out. There’s a lot of formatting for the various platforms and of course, we keep adding to the list. Hard to say at this point how impactful the digital sales will be but some titles move briskly and others…well, not so much. We have some promotional plans and hopefully, but mid year, we'll have a much better idea of what the digital market actually is for Caliber.

Of course, it hasn’t just been digital as we’ve also added to the original Transfuzion line that converted over to Caliber. This year we had a number of titles go through Diamond and the comic shops such as Rocky Horror Picture Show, Carbon, Strange Detective Mysteries, Knights of the Skull, and Storyville. Plus, we had a few collections released outside of the traditional comics market. The market determines the strategy, of course, and while the Diamond route brings much awareness to the titles, because of the hefty discount we have to offer, going through Diamond and the comic shops is not necessarily the most profitable method. Not complaining about it as I fully understand the logistics but we have quite a few books that don’t go through Diamond and are more profitable than the ones that do. But anything to do with comics, of course, we want it in the comic shops and ideally, those will pay off in the long term.

There is a backlog of titles scheduled for release in early 2015 and these include Velda: Girl Detective, Horror City, Ballad of Rory Hawkins, Talismen, and Nain Rouge. All these are set for January release. Lots of titles to follow such as God Child, Squalor, Counterparts, The Prophet, and more collections from the original Caliber including The entire Realm and Legendlore series.

Outside of Caliber, my focus has been on Deadworld quite a bit. Of course, I had the Deadworld: Restoration series released from IDW. The first issue came out late December of 2013 but the other four issues hit in 2014. I was also involved with Caprice Beverages that announced in November, the Deadworld Premium Soda, which is a line of soda beverages based on Deadworld. That line is scheduled for a full release in late January or February and should be available at various outlets around the country. Deadworld has also been licensed for wall scrolls in addition to the t-shirts and collector cards and we hope to have information about the board game shortly.

Another publishing company I’m involved with is Binary Publications which has published books on Jack Davis and Rocky Horror Picture Show in addition to a number of art books. I think we had 6-8 releases this year and have a few more scheduled for next year already. These tap into a whole different market and the dynamics of that keeps things interesting.

I see this year as focusing more on the “business” side of things, especially with Caliber which means less emphasis on writing. In 2014, I had the Deadworld series and Storyville come out plus there was another mini-series that I was working on that the artist bailed out on after the first issue. So, I probably wrote the equivalent of 14-15 issues last year. Of course, there’s some other stuff in the works but for the most part, I will limit my writing this year to concentrate on the growing Caliber line. I will announce the plans for more Deadworld comic material shortly as obviously, that is a major title for me. There's a couple of directions it could go.  Surprisingly, a title that I get a lot of requests to come back to is A Murder of Scarecrows. I’m used to the questions about Saint Germaine but Scarecrow fans proved to be enthusiastic even though the original book didn’t sell as well as I would have liked.

I also cut back a little back on my teaching schedule as that was becoming a bit over-whelming. This last semester saw many of my classes getting new or revised text books and that called for a major revamping of my lecture material. Also, the classes I teach, Evolution and some General Biology courses, had a lot happening in the scientific world and it is important to stay up on all the new changes being discovered almost daily. I still teach full time, just not as much.

One thing I don’t have to deal with this year is Detroit Fanfare as the convention has been shelved. That was incredibly time consuming, especially the 4-6 weeks prior. The cancellation was due to a number of reasons which I touched on in the last post, but I find it amazing how many people who have nothing to do with conventions, “think” they know.  I guess on the surface, it seemed like we weren’t close because of the lack of announcements and that there was a Kickstarter program.   But that's a superficial glance as there was a lot of guests ready to announce and the Kickstarter was actually irrelevant to the actual con. The Kickstarter was just a tool, it wasn’t a necessity by any means. But there were some ominous signs over the last month before the announcement so we held back on committing to things. I’m not going to miss the work behind it but I will miss that there won’t be a Detroit Fanfare and I mean that, not just as a co-organizer, but as a creator and fan. I hope that something in the area replaces it.

Overall, I find that I’m just not as efficient as I used to be. In the earlier Caliber days, I had the publishing company, wrote a couple of issues on a monthly basis, had my four comic shops, was Vice President of McFarlane Toys, and raising four daughters. Somehow, I managed to juggle it all but now I find it a bit harder. I deal with over 100 emails daily and that sucks up a lot of time just answering those plus once Caliber returned, I get an incredible number of submissions and I try to respond to most of them. I feel that if someone who puts together a good package, that they’re at least owed a legitimate reason on why it wasn’t accepted.

On a personal level, Jennifer and I are contemplating our plans. Three of our four daughters are gone (two in California, one is Japan) and our youngest is heading towards the final year of college and plans to move out of state as well. I find myself less tolerant of the Michigan winters and so we’re evaluating where we might want to go. California is an obvious choice but we want to give other areas a proper look. Colorado, Arizona, and North Carolina are contenders so far but we still have to check out more places. I’ve been to 46 states but never Washington or Oregon so have to visit those. We have a couple of years to see so the plan is to find what feels right.

That about covers things as I know, even with the best of intentions, I’m not likely to update the blog as often as I should or plan to, so figured I get things brought up to date. You know, just in case I forget about it again.

Friday, December 26, 2014

On Detroit Fanfare Ending

For those who care about Detroit Fanfare, you have probably heard that it has been cancelled and probably not just for this year but for good. I wanted to address that since I was one of the co-organizers.

First off, there needs to be a distinction about that. Yes, I was a co-organizer but it wasn’t an equal partnership. The convention was the brainchild of Dennis Barger and Tony Miello and they had a much larger role in it than I did. Not only did they generate the idea and set the stage for it but they were the two main principles. They were the ones that spent months prior to the convention meeting almost every day and going through every detail. They were the ones that were spending the money for guests, down payments, promotion, printing, and everything else. I was invited in at the first show but the foundation was already set.

Initially, my primary addition was to help secure some guests and then they invited me to participate in a more expanded role. Of course, I was involved in all of the activities to some extent but it was still primarily Dennis and Tony that had to configure everything. They always had to deal with things such as the planning, the accommodations, the equipment, the financing, appearance fees, travel arrangements, the banks, the accounting, etc.  I dealt mostly with getting guests, the program guide, and the programming.

I got the fun stuff, they got the headaches.

 In meetings, I would be aware of it but I didn’t have to deal with it as they did. While I always appreciated that they involved me as much as they did, it was definitely their show. They may have asked my advice or thoughts but ultimately, they had to find a way to deal with it.

Although the show had some problems, as they all do, overall the response to Fanfare was extremely positive and I have to say it was probably the most enjoyable show to go to as a creator and/or fan. It was structured primarily around comics and artists as even the celebrities were tied into comics in some way.

But fans, for as much bitching as they do about the lack of comic shows, still flock to the multi-media shows at 4-5 times the cost. We all realized that Detroit Fanfare would never be a massively large show unless we followed that formula but that’s not why Fanfare was started and changing into that kind of show was not something any of us wanted to do. I think the last year or so, Fanfare was defining itself on what kind of show it would be and that was one centered on comics and artists.

So, why is it ending? Well, it started off as something that might be able to continue even with lowered expectations but frankly, it just became too much work. Like myself, Dennis and Tony also have their careers outside of the convention. To all three of us, it was a side job, not a full time one. Anything dealing with the convention was time away from our primary careers. I teach college full time plus spend a great deal of time with the publishing and my writing, so, I was always a part time contributor. Tony’s art career has been growing, at first steadily, and then blossoming, that it became increasingly difficult to find enough time to spend with Fanfare. Dennis, being an owner of a comic shop, also has one of the largest comic mail order houses in the country.

That means to work on Fanfare, they had to forego opportunities that would earn them money. In fact, Dennis usually paid for his store employees to staff Fanfare and closed his store during the convention weekend. Also, Dennis is a single parent of two kids and Tony has his family commitments. Fanfare took a lot of time away from family and revenue generating work.

You also have to realize that when you’re dealing with a couple of hundred creators, staff members, guests, etc., that is a lot of unique personalities you have to contend with. Everyone has their situation yet as an organizer, you have hundreds of them. The convention also faced a number of problems dealing with the hosting sites. The Hyatt transferring to the Adoba caused all kinds of problems as well as the move to Detroit at Cobo Hall. And while Detroit is overcoming its bad reputation and graft, based on our experiences there, it’s easy to see why they developed such a bad reputation. Then the Adoba went into foreclosure---but we had decided to move from there because we knew something was coming.

I know a lot of people are going to be pissed off that the show cancelled, especially with less than two months before the event. But circumstances changed quickly…for one, the Sterling Heights Inn,, the new place, was a Best Western hotel when the agreement was signed, but they have just announced that they are no longer affiliated with Best Western. That changes the dynamics and relationship considerably and we already went through that with Hyatt to Adoba. It was decided to forego dealing with some potential problems outside of our control, to just end it. While it was a decision made just now, it was because of an accumulation of things.

Of course, some people will say that this news is unexpected because of the Kickstarter process which signaled problems. That isn’t the case at all. The idea of a Kickstarter started with the last convention as we saw other conventions doing it and we evaluated the logic behind it. It was a strategy that was working because about half of the artist alley tables sold via Kickstarter, were from artists who had never attended Fanfare before and became aware of the show because of the Kickstarter. It was doing exactly what was it was supposed to do.

Undoubtedly, there will be criticism for cancelling the show and Dennis and Tony, being the two primaries of the convention, will likely get the brunt of it, but I think instead they should be commended for embarking on the venture in the first place and providing four years of a fun convention.

On a personal level, the convention served as an opportunity for me to meet so many of the local artists which is quite a large and talented lot. And of course, some not so local creators. I also think Fanfare allowed them to cross paths a bit more with each other as well.

So, my feeling is that it is a bit sad that the run is over, but I’m deeply appreciative of the time and relationships that it offered.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Storyville Graphic Novel

Well, I decided to take the Kickstarter plunge and have my first project up and running. Before I forget to put it in, here's the link to the Kickstarter project.
Storyville: The Prostitute Murders is an original graphic novel about a serial killer murdering prostitutes in Storyville. Storyville was the legalized red light district in New Orleans for about 25 years and this takes place at the heyday of Storyville, 1910. The Detective in charge of the investigation has been stymied so his bosses force him to start working with the new director of the local asylum, Saint James' Infirmary, to solve the crime. Dr. Eric Trevor has studied murder, including the infamous Jack the Ripper case, to obtain clues on how to figure out how the criminal mind works. Together, the two, along with some of Detective Donahue's assistants, start to piece together the brutal murders and find a connection. It is a police procedural mystery that also delves into the world of the insane as the story shifts from the brothels to the asylum. I, along with Wayne, really tried to keep the historical aspects accurate and also tell a good story that moves along centralized on the investigation.
The art on the book is by Wayne Reid who was my collaborator on graphic novels such as Zulunation (named as 1 of the 7 Best War Graphic Novels), El Cid, A Murder of Scarecrows, and a single issue story length tale of Sherlock Holmes. The Holmes tale, entitled "The Retired Detective" will be offered as a comic for the first time and available only as a kickstarter incentive. it previously appeared in a graphic novel collection from IDW, "Curious Cases of Sherlock Holmes". Another incentive will be the "Girls of Storyville" which is a print set of 8 girls all drawn by different artists. This set commemorates the "Blue Books" of Storyville, a guide book to the prostitutes and brothels. There are other incentives and mostly books that I wrote with Wayne as artist but there are others as well. Plus, there's the rare opportunity to get original art from Wayne and even have yourself put into the book. Hope you find it interesting and maybe enticing! Here's the link to Storyville: The Prostitution Murders and if you watch the video, please excuse my rough attempt. First time at things can be rough.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Work Break to Blog

Yes, it may be hard to believe but another blog in less than two weeks.

Odd timing as I’m so busy right now but doing a blog post doesn’t feel like work…I mean, it’s just rambling.  I don’t worry about doing any edits but do run a spell check---when I remember---just to avoid embarrassment.

I say how busy I am and I’m sure most creators spout the same.  But I’ve been putting in 18 hour days for the last month with my only breaks being dinner with my wife and my weekly TV watching which is one hour of Game of Thrones.  I did sneak in the last two episodes of Homeland somewhere along the line.  Of course, I did take a vacation which helped but that was 4 days of driving and spent quite a bit of the time just making sure I didn’t fall behind the 100’s of emails I get just about daily.

Three things claimed my time.  One is the kickstarter project I’m about to launch on a graphic novel called Storyville: The Prostitute Murders.  Besides the writing and production of the pages, I also put together a video which is sort of new to me.  That was a lot of work, mainly because of the learning curve, but I think it will serve its purpose although certainly won’t win any awards.  I always try to keep up with how things are done, whether it’s art production, videos, etc. because even though I don’t plan to continue doing that in the long run, I think it’s important to understand what those areas are all about.

I’ve supported a few kickstarter projects but am often surprised on how many I would like to support but don’t.  To me, the goal of support is to get the product and usually it is a graphic novel.  Now, I know all the costs that accumulate but still, I think I should be able to get the book for around $25-$30 max.  Any more than that, I hesitate. I don’t care about prints, cards, t-shirts, posters, keychains, stickers, etc.  I want the book.  I am amazed how many projects don’t seem to address that.

Of course, moving Caliber along is a lot of work.  The reaction to Caliber returning was overall good but I didn’t get or expect mass coverage in the comic “news”.  For one, we’re not doing a superhero universe which is still key in this industry and two, we didn’t roll out with a lot of hype and promises.  I’m not criticizing anyone because I truly feel that Caliber has to prove itself, so it’s not sour grapes but rather the fact that a lot of work is going on that really doesn’t seem evident yet.  A key factor is getting the library into digital format.  We’re putting books up on Comixology, itunes, Play Google, Kindle, Nook, iVerse, Drive Thru Comics, and others and that’s quite a bit of formatting, information, and assorted details. I do have to give the credit to my partner in Caliber, Eric, for doing the bulk of the digital work.

We’ll be setting up some online comics soon and these include a Deadworld serial and The Ballad of Rory Hawkins which is about a B Western movie star hooking up with Charles Manson.  Of course, we have the books coming in print including a new printing of Rocky Horror and the release of the action environmental thriller, Carbon.  More titles to be announced but we’ll do that at time of solicitation.

One of the areas that’s been keeping me busy with Caliber is talking to various “Hollywood” folks and that involves generating property bibles and/or presentations.  We hope to be able to announce soon something in that direction shortly.

But the biggest consumption of my time involves a Deadworld project which is actually a licensed deal but I’m heavily involved with on all aspects.  I can’t say too much about it yet, but it will be a surprise direction (it’s not books or comics).  I’ve been working with over 50 artists, colorists, graphic designers, etc. and that’s a lot of paperwork with all the agreements, vouchers, payments, proofing, editing, and writing.  Plus I’m involved with the production, distribution, and promotional aspects.  It reminds me of the early days at McFarlane Toys when there were four of us, plus Todd and the designers, putting together a company from scratch.  Of course, I’m not suggesting that this will have the same impact McFarlane Toys did, just that it involves taking a concept from nothing to launching within a few short months.

So, hope to start having some announcements soon, not only for the special projects but for our book releases as well.  And no, I’m not saying we’re going to have any earth shattering announcements but I think they will be interesting.  I’m looking forward to them and hope you will appreciate them when announced.

So, a quick ramble…now I have to get back to work. Oh, don't forget that Deadworld: Restoration TPB comes out on June 18 at your favorite comic shops.  It's from me, Sami Makkonen, and IDW.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Thank you, Max Brooks.

Damn, every time I look at this blog, I remember how long it has been since I posted.

It doesn’t seem that long ago but the date doesn’t lie.  I keep meaning to update sooner and its gotten to the point if I don’t, just might as well end the pretense of doing a blog at all.  Half of the time, I figure who cares anyways but I get so many emails with questions, I should utilize the blog for getting out more information.  However, there is only so much time and like 90% of the other creators out there, (judging by the frequency of their updates), time is just so limited.  I will try to be more frequent, maybe it will carry on for a few weeks, but I will try.

One of the earliest books I ever wrote was Zulunation (actually a comic series) about the Zulu Wars in the late 1800’s.  It was between the Zulu army created by Shaka-Zulu and the mighty British Empire.  It covered the two major battles, one that rocked the world as the Zulus massacred the British and the other, a testimony to the British troops as they held against overwhelming odds.

I bring this up because I noticed that there were a rash of orders on Zulunation on Amazon.  So, checking into it, I found out that it was mainly due to an article in The Week.  Max Brooks, of World War Z fame, gave a listing of his 7 favorite graphic novels dealing with war.  There, as the first one listed, was Zulunation.  Brooks also listed Vietnam Journal which is a book series published by me.  So, that was the reason apparently.  Here’s the link. Max Brooks 7 Favorite War Graphic Novels.    I wanted to thank Max, not just for his good taste but for venturing out in finding these books.

I don’t know Max at all.  I have been to a convention or two where he was at but we did not interact.  I saw the movie, World War Z, and thought it was pretty good.  I know a lot of zombie purists weren’t happy with it but that’s precisely why I did see it.  And any time someone has a plague that hits worldwide, well, that is like an automatic trigger to my interest.  I generally avoid reading any  zombie literature or watching any zombies or playing games because when I work on Deadworld, I don’t want any ideas to surface in my head even if subconscious.  However, I was in a waiting room one time and I was talking to this guy who was reading the book.   He gave me the book while he went into the office and so I skimmed through it.  I thought it was a very clever idea and being a pretty quick reader, I got a really good handle on what he did with the narration.

One of the reasons I bring this up, outside of the nice ego stroke and how someone can influence sales such as that, is that Max represents a segment of the comics market that seems to be missing in many stores.  His choices likely were not purchased at a comic shop (two of the titles were out of print).  For shops that carry Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly, they could’ve picked up two.  Virtually no stores carry Transfuzion.

So, for the most part, these books are not available at comic shops.  If that’s the case, what is at the local comic store?  Obviously, just about every Marvel and DC title.  Lots of licensed titles as that is pretty much how the major independents survive.  Image, of course, is an exception as they are one of the few companies that can survive with creator owned, non-licensed titles.  I’ll take a moment to applaud Image for that as they are the dominant force for independent creators.  Yes, IDW, Dark Horse, and a few others also have the independent creators, but no one at the level of Image.  Of course, you have the truly alternative (for lack of a better term) publishers such as Fantagraphics.    But it’s a tough nut to crack for publishers who do more genre specific titles such as mystery, pulp, fantasy, etc.   That’s nothing new as even in Caliber’s heyday, there was a lot of reluctance from many stores to carry the line because we were in the “middle”…not truly alternative and not superhero.

I’m not trying to beat a dead horse here (well, maybe) as you can’t just throw the blame at the comic shops.  Having owned stores before, I know how it is.  You have to stock what moves--- not what you hope moves or what you think should sell.  For many publishers, their offerings just aren’t something to pull people in on a regular basis, much less weekly.  That’s why I am not doing periodicals for Caliber…I’d have to rely on those weekly customers and that’s not who the Caliber titles will appeal to.

I do wonder about some stores though.  I had a retailer friend who went to a trade show of retailers and he offered a flyer that I put together to let comic shops know that they could always order Caliber titles direct and at a hefty discount.  I explained in the flyer that this was in addition to what we had going through Diamond, not replacing it.  Any title that did go through Diamond could not be ordered until it went through Diamond’s initial shipping cycle as I didn’t want to impact them on any orders.  On the flyer, it was letting retailers know that if a customer came requesting a  book, here was an opportunity to buy it from us (since you couldn’t get it from Diamond). The purpose was to have stores sign up so we could tell fans who wanted to support stores and which ones would order it for them.  The stores had no obligation other than to commit to ordering titles that their customers requested.

When a prominent retailer (one that most people in the biz would be familiar with) was handed the flyer, he basically said he would never order anything. So, the 70 existing titles and 7-8 new titles were immediately dismissed.  The titles included two of the ones Max Brooks listed, titles that have been nominated for Harvey Awards as well as other awards such as Ghastlies, Shel Dorf, Comic Monsters, etc.  Titles like Rocky Horror Picture Show…titles written and drawn by the likes of Mike Carey, Mike Perkins, Guy Davis, Vince Locke, Laurence Campbell, Dalibor Talajic, Wayne Vansant, etc.

As I said, it doesn’t surprise me on the short sightedness of some (key word, some) stores.  I heard from someone at the retailer’s conference that The Walking Dead is not ordered AT ALL by nearly 25% of the comic shops in the country.  That seems unbelievable.  Maybe some stores can just survive on the superheroes but they had better being doing well on them now.  At no time in the history of comics have the superheroes even been such a high profile.  But if the current craze on the movies is not propelling sales at a comic shop, it’s not going to get better down the road.

I know when I announced that Caliber was returning, it was met by some as “why?”.  I certainly didn’t have a lineup that would appeal to most of the fans coming into shops every week, especially since we weren’t doing comics, just graphic novels.  But we do have markets.  For example, all those people who ordered Zulunation (sales increased dramatically on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, digital, and direct orders from us), maybe they’ll check out our other war titles.  We have over a dozen war books.  Same when someone buys a Lovecraft themed book, we have six of those.  Or Sherlock Holmes…or OZ.

I’ve dealt directly with many book stores and even had a couple of my books used in college classes.  Caliber has produced books in the past for the likes of Wal-Mart and as premiums.  The comic shops are not the only market.  But it is a community, the shops along with the blog sites and the “news” sites, and I think sometimes the perception of this community is locked in only on what’s listed on the Diamond 300.

I’m glad to be part of that community, even if it is a small part, but that doesn’t mean I’m restricted by it.  There’s a lot of publishers that are totally ignored by the comics community but when they manage to stay around for years, that should tell you that there’s other markets out there.

Next time I’ll discuss the first kickstarter book that I’m part of.  Talk about other markets….

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Too Many Saints.

Now that Deadworld: Restoration is finished and just got done with some of the extra pages in the trade compilation coming from IDW (scheduled for June release), I have two other projects that are nearing completion.

The first is one that I mentioned before but I decided to change the name of it.  Originally it was to be called Saint James' Infirmary and dealt with a doctor assisting a police detective with a series of murders.  It takes place in Storyville, the legal red light district in New Orleans in the early 1900s.  I had designed it as a comic series but instead will release it as a complete graphic novel and it will go up on kickstarter in a few weeks.  The artist is Wayne Reid and he's about 80% finished with it and moving along quickly on the last part.

As I was delving into the storyline, I found myself becoming more immersed in Storyville itself and realized that the district was becoming a centralized focus of the story.  Sure, a lot still takes place in the asylum but the crime scenes were in Storyville proper and as what often happens when embarking on a new project, I began to find certain characters were coming alive.  And as I was wrapping up the first storyline to be a self contained story, I was already formulating the next story arc which is planted more so in Storyville itself.  Since I had only mentioned the title in a few advance blurbs, I had to decide to either change it now or live with Saint James' Infirmary.

So, the new name is "Murder in Storyville".  Simple and to the point.  The title alone pretty much says what the storyline is about.  Of course, I have to extend an apology to Paul Storrie who uses Storyville as his website and studio name, but since Storyville is a fairly well known (in some circles) historical district and has quite a legacy about it, I think he'll be forgiving about it.

I plan to start promoting it soon but I want to make sure of the schedule before I put it into play on kickstarter.

Another reason for the change was the continual question about whether Saint James' Infirmary was tied somehow into Saint Germaine, a series I did at Caliber and then later collected at Image and Transfuzion.  Obviously, I didn't see them as similar but I guess the use of "Saint" threw some people off.  I also think that if someone liked Saint Germaine, they would also like Saint, er, Murder in Storyville.

The reason that I want to avoid that conflict is because the next project that I'm doing is a collection of ALL the Saint Germaines into one massive collection.  Something like an Omnibus although I'm not sure what I'm going to call it yet.  Doing a quick count, it will exceed over 530 pages and will include every Saint Germaine story including the Magus story arc and the new story of Quasimodo that appeared in the Magus and Other Tales collection from Transfuzion.

Saint Germaine is probably my favorite work overall.  I have a strong desire to tell new stories in his world but as usual, time is the biggest factor, but somehow I will find the time to do it.

For the summer months, I have a few other collections to put out but most of my writing will be centered around the Deadworld novel.  I really have to get immersed into that and am trying to clear my docket on all of these other projects so I can do just that.

I realize now that I'll never catch up on things but I'll keep trying.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Return of Caliber

Last week, I announced that Caliber Comics was returning.  The idea of the announcement wasn't to issue some proclamation of big plans or how we planned a massive relaunch.  It was to clarify a number of situations because one of the aspects of relaunching Caliber was the ending of Transfuzion Publishing and I wanted it clear that Transfuzion didn’t collapse or anything, it just rolled into Caliber. 

Bringing back Caliber was not a spur of the moment decision.  It actually grew out of a number of varied conversations (different people, different times) about bringing the company back.  Caliber Comics is more than just an imprint, it is sort of a holding company for a number of projects and titles with some of them being owned by me.  

Over the last few years, I have been approached by a number of people regarding Caliber.  Some wanted to buy just the name (go figure), some wanted to invest to re-launch, one wanted to use the name for a new comics company with no resemblance to Caliber, and a couple wanted it as an intellectual properties library, and so on.  The discussions ranged from serious to wishful thinking but I did notice that it was a bit obtuse to those unfamiliar with Caliber.  This lack of familiarity grows as the publishing time of Caliber is now quite a bit in the distant past.

The publishing in the 90s was clear cut but many still do not understand the idea of creator owned.  For example, Caliber published “The Songbook of Alan Moore” with contributions from many creators besides Alan, including Neil Gaiman.  It had to be explained numerous times that no, Caliber did not own those stories as they were creator owned…the creators owned them.  Then there was the situation with Transfuzion as that company released about 70 graphic novels, many of them originally from Caliber but nearly half were not.  Some were to be represented by me as “Caliber” but some would not. I understood the confusion of the different names and associations.

I also entered the digital market and brought in a company to handle that.  I soon discovered that the relationship was not going to work.  The accounting was not accurate and not timely.  The quality of some of the digital was lacking and there were other obligations that I expected that were not met.  Although that relationship is contractually over, there are still problems.  I don’t want to mention the name of the company or details as I want to give them time to make things right but if it isn’t, the name will become known because of necessary although reluctant lawsuits.

So, I figured that I should bring in everything under one name, one “holding” company and I decided to use the Caliber name.  After all, if any of these situations went any further, I would have to solidify the relationship of the different companies, the various titles, the creators, etc. and one entity would serve best.

The timing was good because I was in discussions with Eric Reichert of Eagle One Media about some related issues and we continued the talks to eventually him joining me in the relaunch of Caliber.  Eric brings a lot to the table as he handles distribution of independent films, provided motion comics, and was expanding into areas outside of my expertise.  Having talked to him over the years, I feel comfortable with him and have found over those years that we share a lot of the same sensibilities about the comics market.  So, it seemed like a good fit as partners and so far, it has been.

So, what will the “new” Caliber be like? I don’t know.  I know what it will start out as, but I have no idea of what it might end up as. The original Caliber was a company that printed comics with 8-12 releases a month.  Our titles were offered monthly from all the various distributors and we took lots of chances on doing comics, many of which sold less than enough to cover the cost of printing. We also had, especially towards the later stages, company owned titles where we hired talent.

The new Caliber won’t be that.  It can’t.  

At its heyday, Caliber had a staff of 8 people and there are no plans to do that again.  Eric and I plan to keep the focus on creator owned projects, of course.  We will be offering a publishing opportunity for both print and digital.  We are also involved in some licensing deals that may (always “may”) happen and so we can include creators in that aspect.  We will be launching some web comics and hope to build up a web portal for many of the webisodes. We’re also looking to do novels with or without illustrations. 

We will not be launching a series of comics and hiring writers, pencillers, inkers, colorists, letterers, etc.  In fact, we do not plan to do any kind of monthly comics unless we are partnered up with another company that already does that.  The “Caliber” owned properties have had dozens of comics and books released from other publishers.  We will consider doing some comics, as I won’t eliminate any possibility, but frankly, I think it will be too difficult to make an impact in the “floppy” world.  I don’t think many fans realize what a tight margin and limited market the comics world is.  Doing the monthlies puts you in complete reliance on the direct market.  The print portion of the comics market has rebounded but it is still small. Doing the floppies is something I’d rather align with someone that has awareness in that market.  Just look at how many small companies throw out some titles and sales are abysmal.  I don’t want to be doing that.

We will look to fund some projects with crowd-funding but not planning to do our entire line that way.  The crowd-funding will primarily be up to the creators involved on their projects.

I would love to be able to run a company supported by the direct comics market like the old days.  But I just don’t think we would have the ability to make a go of it.  I know some companies do well enough but I don’t want to be chasing down licensees to put out a bevy of licensed titles.  I have nothing against licensed titles but that isn’t something I want to do.  I want to see talent create new ideas. 

In talks with some potential investors, the idea of assembling some great books with big names attached has some appeal.  But with those big names and big budgets, you have big obligations and big risks.  I think of publicly traded companies…you can have a big year, even big profits…but then what do you have next?  And after that?  I don’t want to be a manager for egos or a trafficker of pages, I find the most appealing part of comics is the creative side.

So, Caliber won’t be the company that a lot of people want.  But it will be what I want.  It will be what Eric wants.

We will release graphic novels for print and digital.  Digital is a component of publishing now although I don’t see it as the great rescuer of the market that has been touted in recent years…but it does have a value to contribute.  We will look for licensing opportunities and that includes exploitation in film and TV.  I know that is a long shot, I mean, I’ve optioned well over a dozen properties and nothing concrete has come forth, but we will explore that.  We will look to tap into different markets.  With the books we’ve done centered on war and military themes, we’ve had some success in branching out to the military market and will continue that.  Same with some of the literary adaptations.

We can’t promise a lot and don’t intend to.  We can’t say that Diamond Distributors will pick up all the books, even the original graphic novels.  That’s not up to us.  That’s up to Diamond and even if they do so, the sales are dependent on their retailers.  With Transfuzion, Diamond carried some of the books, some they declined to do so.  Outside of Diamond, some of the Transfuzion titles sold very well and continue to do so whereas others are fairly dormant.  I think with expansion into all the digital formats, we can break the dormancy a bit more but who knows how much?

We will guarantee that anything we sign up will be physically printed…that they will be available in digital in most if not all the formats…that the creators will own the property…that we’ll do the best we can on any rights that are assigned for a specified term will be pushed…and that creators will always have copies available to them at cost. 

It may not sound very ambitious and it lacks the dynamic hyperbole that so many companies launch with but we think it’s realistic and something that we can guarantee.  When I started up the original Caliber, it was essentially the same goals.  I think it worked out well for quite a few people, but of course, not everyone.  Nothing does. 

One blogger said the relaunch of Caliber seemed to be one of leverage which I assume it was to put the company out there for its intellectual properties.  And I freely admit, that could be the result.  But that would be a consequence, not the intent.  We are approaching things as a publisher of graphic novels, first and foremost because that’s the only thing we can control.  Anything that develops out of it is not something I can emphatically state will happen. 

So, the easiest summation I can say is that Caliber is back and hopefully, we’ll be providing some titles that might interest readers.  I think we’ll have titles with strong visions and something to say.

Ultimately,  we just want to do good stories and hopefully make it financially worthwhile.  It’s pretty straight forward.

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