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.


Steven Philip Jones said...

I said it before and will say again, this is the best news I've heard for the comics industry in a long time. Best of luck, Gary! :-)

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