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….


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