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Monday, September 28, 2009

Alan Moore and the Paucity of Ideas -- Eddie Campbell weighs in with a sterling silver retort to anyone who doesn't get what Alan Moore has had to say recently about the comic book industry.


Monday, September 21, 2009

New ADD Essay at TWC -- Click over to Trouble with Comics to read my new essay, What We Talk About When We Talk About Creator Rights.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Jack Kirby Estate Seeks Copyright to Kirby's Creations -- Kevin Melrose has the breaking news at Robot 6 at CBR. Needless to say, this will be a very big story, and hopefully one that will end up with some justice being done for the family of the man without whom Marvel Comics would have been a footnote in the history of North American comic book publishing. More to come in the days ahead.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Matt Springer weighs in with a thoughtful followup on the death of the Direct Market in response to Chris Butcher's think-piece from earlier in the week. Among other observations, Dr. Springs calls Time of Death on the DM as it stands staggers today.

I highlight Matt's piece not because he calls out my frequent references to the current, dying network of superhero convenience stores, but because he makes some good observations about the current state and likely future of comics retailing.
"The experiences outlined by Butcher in his piece are undoubtedly the same experiences many savvy comics retailers are already having. These are the folks interested in supporting a variety of artistic viewpoints and serving readers with the type of customer service that nurtures their habits and embraces their enthusiasm..."
This is the type of comics retailing I have experienced in just a handful of shops, most notably Butcher's own The Beguiling in Toronto and Modern Myths in Northampton, Massachusetts. I often call shops like these the future of comics retailing, because if comics has a future that doesn't look like a dimly-lit crack house for spandex addicts, then it looks like these sorts of stores: bright, open, welcoming, and stocking an astonishing array of every type of comics in the hopes of securing as large a percentage of the community's comics-buying dollars as possible, from as many types of readers as possible within that community. Boys, girls, men, women, gays, straights, and anything and everything in-between and outside those definitions. And they get those comics into their stores by working with not just Diamond, but with any and every good distribution source they can find, resulting in a diverse stock in the store and frequently much-desired titles available weeks ahead of Diamond's sluggish handling of non-spandex titles. It's more work, yes, but ultimately for more money, as well as a wider, stronger customer base and a better reputation in the community. It's the superhero convenience store owner's worst nightmare, and it's the industry's last hope. Embrace it, or go away already.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Alan Moore and Marvelman: Not Good Enough, Marvel -- It looks like Alan Moore's cooperation with Marvel publishing Marvelman is less an enthusiastic "go for it!" than a "do whatever the fuck you want and leave me alone," as seen in this interview at Mania.com.

Now, Moore does say he's happy with Marvel's plans as long as Mick Anglo and his family are compensated, but as I said when Marvel's Marvelman plans first came to light, "Nothing short of a joint Alan Moore/Joe Quesada press conference in which they shake hands and Moore smiles a lot will change my mind," in regards to my profound reservations about Marvel's stewardship of this particular intellectual property. From what Moore says at the Mania interview, he still sounds (rightfully) bitter toward Marvel, and doesn't want his name on the project. He says he expects Marvel to go along with the idea of leaving his name off any forthcoming books, but man, do I ever have a hard time envisioning that happening. Leaving Alan Moore's name off a Marvelman collection means at least some lost revenue, especially outside the Direct Market, and how often do you think Marvel and DC leave money on the table for ethical reasons? More often than Big Bangs, happen, sure, but far less often than Paris Hilton leaves the house with no undies on.

So, given Moore's obviously mixed feelings about the endeavour, I personally can't get excited about any Marvel Comics Marvelman plans. And listen, seriously, there's nothing more that I would like in my collection than a one-volume complete Marvelman hardcover. But I'd feel far better about laying out a thousand bucks for this custom Miracleman hardcover on eBay than a hundred bucks for an Omnibus Edition "officially" published by Marvel, under what appears to be some pretty unsatisfactory conditions for the writer who made the property valuable in the first place, with his brilliant rethinking of a pretty bland and uninteresting character.

Why is it so fucking hard for the corporate comics companies to just treat their writers and artists well and generate the goodwill necessary to make buying their goddamned books something other than a cringe-inducing exercise in ethical compromise?


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Saving Your Comic Shop: It's in the Hands of the Retailers -- Comics retailer Ilan Strasser, of Fat Moose Comics and Games in Whippany, New Jersey, has exploded the myth of cyclical comic sales. At least in his experience.

He tells retailer site ICv2 (link via Robot 6) that it's the "Big Two" (he means Marvel and DC, not Viz and IDW, for those of you who actually know what sells these days) that are to blame for decreasing sales.

He starts off, "I have wanted to comment on several stories during the past six months, but had serious, recurring email issues with my computer." Now, one might question the business skills of a retailer who allows "serious, recurring email issues" to plague his business for half a year, but let's let that one pass and get on the meat of it: "Marvel and DC, our big 2, have had to notice the decline in sales over the last six months. Overall, the trend has been steadily downward even when accounting for occasional small percentage increases. If they hadn't noticed themselves, I'm sure that Diamond would have pointed it out to them -- after all Diamond tracks all the monthly, quarterly and yearly numbers."

Tracking monthly, quarterly and yearly numbers, by the way, is called in some circles "cycle sheets," and is considered invaluable in monitoring past and current sales and predicting future growth (or lack thereof). Strasser says "You would think that Marvel and DC, having this serious and depressing information at hand, would revise the manner in which they do business. If they care at all about the future long-term health of the pamphlet comic book, you would think these two companies would take immediate steps to stop the irresponsible behavior they have shown over the last 15 years (at least)."

As much of a critic as I am of the policies of corporate comics publishers Marvel and DC, I have to call bullshit on Strasser here. He is asking the "Big Two" to change their policies so he can continue to operate his business as he always has, when in fact, it is the responsibility of the retailer and the retailer alone to adjust to changing market forces in his or her own retail establishment. In other words, if Marvel and DC believe what they are doing is working (and in the case of Marvel, clearly Disney, at least, believes it's four billion dollars worth of working), then they have no obligation to change their policies.

I would argue, rather, that a sharp businessman -- and Strasser claims to have been in business for nearly three decades -- must monitor the market and change his own policies in order to stay alive and even thrive. This is part of what I was talking about in my essay, A Future for Comics.

Diamond, DC and Marvel are all huge corporations that respond to the needs of their retail clients with all the speed and dexterity of a dying woolly mammoth. Changes, if any, will generally be slow and difficult to understand. I'm all for a healthy, thriving Direct Market for comics, as long as it is vital and alive and responsive to the needs of everyone in its community that is interested in any kind of comics at all. And sad to say, the vast majority of comic book stores that I have experienced are not meeting that standard. Because they have always thrived on selling monthly, floppy superhero comic books to an audience of mostly white guys of a certain age, they believe they don't need to change their business model. Meanwhile, the world's definition of what constitutes comics has moved pretty far beyond simply superhero comics. They'll likely always be a part of the pie chart, but if you run a comic shop here at the end of the first decade of the third millennium, you need to be aware of and expert in the retailing of graphic novels, manga, newspaper strip reprints, and any and all things comics. This is your stock-in-trade, after all, comics, so why stake your entire survival -- your ability to pay your mortgage and feed your family -- on the historically unresponsive and disinterested corporations that are DC and Marvel?

Strasser believes his world will turn bright once more if the following changes are made by Marvel and DC:

* Stop the big event with the multi-part crossover storylines.

* Price comics back down to an affordable level based on real costs and not short-term greed -- comics pricing has far exceeded the increase in inflation over the last decade.

* Solicit and publish their books on a timely basis. There is a world of talented writers and artists out there -- use the ones who can deliver product (let's call it what it is) on time and forget the big name, prima donna basis for utilizing talent, and create a system that punishes said talent when it fails to live up to its commitments.

* Stop publishing more than one monthly title of your major characters and don't produce miniseries that aren't exceptionally high in quality. Stop clogging the shelves with shit.

* Work TOGETHER to raise the health of the industry. Stop endlessly fighting to be first. You will always be one or two and within reasonable percentages in terms of volume and dollar sales. Wouldn't a scenario where a publisher isn't always first, but makes exponentially more money overall be better for either publisher?

* Start treating your retail partners like they really matter instead of conduits for your cash flow.

I would address each of these individually, but the fact of the matter is that each one is written with blinders on and an attitude straight out of The Direct Market of 1988. Strasser sounds like he is either unaware of or overwhelmed by the graphic novel revolution, and not responding to it in a sensible fashion that will help him sustain his business. Marvel and DC aren't publishing multiple titles of the same characters because they want to destroy his store, they are doing it because A) They know they can sell more comics that way, and perhaps more importantly, B) Because it gives them more fodder for the lucrative market for collected editions (what Eddie Campbell hates that the rest of the world calls "graphic novels").

I did find it amusing that Strasser says he is basing his demands and expectations on publisher awareness of the cycles in comics retailing, and then says "this notion that comic sales are cyclical is bullshit and always has been. If you know what you're doing as a retailer, sales, cash flow, and profits can be regulated."

Then prove it, Mr. Strasser. Disregard the cycles, disregard the actions of the companies that have you at their mercy, do nothing to respond to the changes occurring right this moment and for the past ten years in the greater comic book marketplace, and regulate those sales, cash flow and profits. Good luck to you.

How Strasser can say on the one hand that "This kind of corporate behavior has persisted in the 22 years since and shows that Marvel (and DC) care little about their retail 'partners' or about the overall health of the comics industry," and then expect on the other that he can do nothing to save his business except complain about the actions of companies he knows don't give a shit about him, is a question for the ages. It's all part of the cognitive dissonance that is rampant within the worst areas of the Direct Market, unfortunately by all available evidence, the vast majority of places that call themselves "comic book stores" in North America.


Download my free new eBook of nearly four dozen interviews with comics creators, Conversations with ADD, by clicking here. A full list of interview subjects can be found here.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

As I said on Facebook -- I care about Disney buying Marvel about as much as I care about the Jonas Brothers buying an accordion.

But there's a link to the CNN story, if you're so inclined.

Edited to add: I am a bit annoyed by all the fawning over "Stan Lee's creations" in the Disney/Marvel coverage. Stan Lee didn't draw any of the comics he co-created. His most important creative partners, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko among them, deserve to be mentioned in these stories.

And edited again to also add: About the only thing I buy from Marvel these days is the occasional Omnibus or Masterworks hardcover. I'm much more interested in their history than the current egregious state of their "universe," mishandled as it's been the past five or six years.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Borders -- I'll be honest with you, my contrarian streak against corporate chains runs deeper than the Marianas Trench. I'd rather eat at the seediest roadside diner than Chili's, Applebee's or any of those places. Give me a family-owned, single-location small business every time.

I do love independent bookstores, like The Bookhouse in Albany, New York or Northshire Books in Manchester, Vermont, or Crow Books in Burlington, VT. But I have to admit I love Borders. And I love it because of my addiction to comics.

Tom Spurgeon talks a little about the importance of Borders to the comics industry here.

For many years, the Borders location on Wolf Road in Colonie (an Albany suburb) was a nearly-weekly destination for me, carrying a dazzling array of graphic novels and a manga section you could comfortably fit a family of four into. When it closed a few months ago, part of a devastating one-two punch that also saw the closing of the nearby Garcia's (an unbelievably great Mexican restaurant), I was just about moved to tears at the end of an era for me -- my two favourite places to spend money in the Albany area were gone. Sure, there's a Borders down the road a piece in the mammoth Crossgates Mall, but I hate malls more than I hate Chili's (don't even get me started about Chili's in the mall), and besides, the Borders on Wolf Road was right near Garcia's, which is gone too. Garcia's had this one server, Sergei? He was amazing, always remembered what our whole family not only liked to drink, but our usual food orders, too. But I digress.

Borders. I hate that they're in so much financial distress. As Tom points out, you can feel it every time you go in there, at least I can, at least in some of the local branches. The Saratoga Springs Borders seems to be losing more and more inventory, and spreading out more and more of the displays and shelving in the hopes no one will notice the ever-increasing space where there used to be merchandise. If that store is there in a year, I will be shocked. If it's gone next week, I will be saddened. Borders has been so good to my comics obsession.

See, one of the key weaknesses of the Direct Market comic book distribution system has been that Diamond focuses much more heavily on floppy, stapled, 32-page comic books than it does on manga or graphic novels. So at Borders, I would often find a graphic novel I'd been looking forward to weeks before Diamond bothered to get them to comic book shops. This was especially true three or four years ago for publishers like Pantheon, although it seems like Diamond has gotten better at getting stuff into comic shops, as a result of the enormous shift away from stapled comics and toward books with a spine and a complete story. But when Borders had the shipping advantage, man, I'd be there every chance I could in my fevered obsession to see what's new and what's next in comics and graphic novels.

A year-and-a-half ago, I thought Borders was going to change the face of graphic novel retailing in North America. Then, of course, the economy fell apart and their economic woes were probably magnified tenfold. Now I wonder if Borders has any future at all.

As Tom notes, Borders has been pretty innovative and good for comics. I've probably spent thousands of dollars on comics in various Borders branches over the last decade, and despite my loathing of corporate shopping environments, I admit a huge fetish for the clean shelves and high ceilings and wonky, unique individuals you always find working in their stores. If the writing's on the wall and their days are numbered, I just wanted to take a moment to say that I really liked buying comics at Borders, and I've loved exploring the nooks and crannies of their other sections, too. I recently finished re-reading a hardcover edition of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, purchased on a hot summer day a year or two back at the Wolf Road Borders, with a 25 percent off coupon easing the impact of the book's high price, and I think the receipt is still tucked away in the book somewhere. I always save my receipts from Borders, not in case I want to return something, but to remind me of the day and time that I bought it. Because for me, every trip to Borders is worth remembering.


Monday, August 03, 2009

Burning Bridges -- Frank Santoro has a great piece up about how the Direct Market era has come to an end, signified by the disinterest comic shops had in supporting the new Nexus efforts of Mike Baron and Steve Rude.

This is, in retrospect, a glaringly obvious point, and good for Frank for laying it out so well. My earliest days of weekly shopping (and one summer working) in the Direct Market look, through my rose-tinted specs, like racks and racks of nothing but Nexus, Love and Rockets, Cerebus, Elfquest, and The First Kingdom. Of course, there were many other exciting titles emerging at that time, but those are the ones that really stood out, and your knew if you found those on the racks next to Uncanny X-Men and New Teen Titans, you had found a comic book store that knew what it was doing, staying sharp, looking ahead and looking out for the best interests of its customers and the industry as a whole.

How times have changed. Good luck even finding the best and most vital comics titles at most "comic book stores," these days, one of the reasons why I continue to assert that the vast majority of Direct Market retailers are really superhero convenience shops, servicing the desires of superhero fans, not true comic book stores, catering to the diverse tastes of readers of comic books who seek out whatever genres and styles appeal to them and speak to them as readers, as people.

My experiences over the past couple of years in the Direct Market have been very mixed. There are few truly visionary comic book stores within a day's drive of where I live; the shop I regularly buy comics at is very good at special orders, but there's no depth at all in terms of the sorts of alternative and independent comics that I see as the vital lifeblood of comics at the moment, and if I miss ordering those sorts of books in the narrow one-month window of any given Previews catalog, I'm left to find things on eBay, from online retailers, or often, I'm just, as mom used to say, "Shit out of luck."

That Baron and Rude are "Shit out of luck" within the Direct Market blows my mind and saddens me a bit, because that was a comic I loved when I was 14. I'll admit I haven't read any new issues in years (I have never seen the new run on sale, anywhere, so the news it's failed is really no news at all), but any time I re-read the first batch of issues, they always bring a smile to my face. So much energy, so much potential. For Nexus; for me.

Where did it all go wrong?

Go read Santoro's piece, it's an eye-opener.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

The Current Discussion About the Direct Market -- Reading various comments about how to fix the direct market, it occurs to me that it's largely a semantic problem. 90 percent of the stores within the DM are, proudly, superhero stores, not comic book stores. I think it was Sean Collins that quoted Spurgeon saying "comic shops are the places you can find comics," or words to that effect, and we should insist that be true. Superhero shops can be the place you can find superheroes (including comics, Heroes DVDs, whatever floats their boat), and the 10 percent of DM stores that actually embrace all of comics and all the people who want to read them (including women and children) can then rightfully be called comic shops and carry Manga and Tintin and all the stuff that is comics that superhero fans (including the ones that own superhero convenience stores) spit on, hate and fear.

Just a thought.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

My Eisner Picks -- Tom Spurgeon posted the list of 2009 Eisner Award nominees yesterday, my picks are in bold. No choice in a category means either I haven't read any of the nominated works or have no preference in that category.

Best Short Story
* Actual Size, by Chris Ware, in Kramers Ergot 7 (Buenaventura Press)
* Chechen War, Chechen Women, by Joe Sacco, in I Live Here (Pantheon)
* Freaks, by Laura Park, in Superior Showcase #3 (AdHouse) [my review]
* Glenn Ganges in Pulverize, by Kevin Huizenga, in Ganges #2 (Fantagraphics)
* Murder He Wrote, by Ian Boothby, Nina Matsumoto, and Andrew Pepoy, in The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror #14 (Bongo)

Best Continuing Series
* All Star Superman, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (DC)
* Fables, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Niko Henrichon, Andrew Pepoy, and Peter Gross (Vertigo/DC)
* Naoki Urasawa's Monster, by Naoki Urasawa (Viz)
* Thor, by J. Michael Straczynski, Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, and various (Marvel)
* Usagi Yojimbo, by Stan Sakai (Dark Horse)

Best Limited Series
* Groo: Hell on Earth, by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier (Dark Horse)
* Hellboy: The Crooked Man, by Mike Mignola and Richard Corben (Dark Horse)
* Locke & Key, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
* Omega the Unknown, by Jonathan Lethem, Karl Rusnak, and Farel Dalrymple (Marvel)
* The Twelve, by J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston (Marvel)

Best New Series
* Air, by G. Willow Wilson and M. K. Perker (Vertigo/DC)
* Echo, by Terry Moore (Abstract Studio)
* Invincible Iron Man, by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca (Marvel)
* Madame Xanadu, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley, and Richard Friend (Vertigo/DC)
* Unknown Soldier, by Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli (Vertigo/DC)

Best Publication for Kids
* Amulet, Book 1: The Stonekeeper, by Kazu Kabuishi (Scholastic Graphix)
* Cowa!, by Akira Toriyama (Viz)
* Princess at Midnight, by Andi Watson (Image)
* Stinky, by Eleanor Davis (RAW Junior)
* Tiny Titans, by Art Baltazar and Franco (DC)

Best Publication for Teens/Tweens
* Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, adapted by P. Craig Russell (HarperCollins Children's Books)
* Crogan's Vengeance, by Chris Schweizer (Oni)
* The Good Neighbors, Book 1: Kin, by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh (Scholastic Graphix)
* Rapunzel's Revenge, by Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale (Bloomsbury Children's Books)
* Skim, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood Books)

Best Humor Publication
* Arsenic Lullaby Pulp Edition No. Zero, by Douglas Paszkiewicz (Arsenic Lullaby)
* Chumble Spuzz, by Ethan Nicolle (SLG)
* Herbie Archives, by "Sean O'Shea" (Richard E. Hughes) and Ogden Whitney (Dark Horse)
* Petey and Pussy, by John Kerschbaum (Fantagraphics)
* Wondermark: Beards of Our Forefathers, by David Malki (Dark Horse)

Best Anthology
* An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories, Vol. 2, edited by Ivan Brunetti (Yale University Press)
* Best American Comics 2008, edited by Lynda Barry (Houghton Mifflin)
* Comic Book Tattoo: Narrative Art Inspired by the Lyrics and Music of Tori Amos, edited by Rantz Hoseley (Image)
* Kramers Ergot 7, edited by Sammy Harkham (Buenaventura Press)
* MySpace Dark Horse Presents, edited by Scott Allie and Sierra Hahn (Dark Horse)

Best Digital Comic
* Bodyworld, by Dash Shaw
* Finder, by Carla Speed McNeil
* The Lady's Murder, by Eliza Frye
* Speak No Evil: Melancholy of a Space Mexican, by Elan Trinidad
* Vs., by Alexis Sottile & Joe Infurnari

Best Reality-Based Work
* Alan's War, by Emmanuel Guibert (First Second)
* Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story, by Frederik Peeters (Houghton Mifflin)
* Fishtown, by Kevin Colden (IDW)
* A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: The Lindbergh Child, by Rick Geary (NBM)
* What It Is, by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Graphic Album -- New
* Alan's War, by Emmanuel Guibert (First Second)
* Paul Goes Fishing, by Michel Rabagliati (Drawn & Quarterly)
* Skim, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood Books)
* Swallow Me Whole, by Nate Powell (Top Shelf)
* Three Shadows, by Cyril Pedrosa (First Second)

Best Graphic Album -- Reprint
* Berlin Book 2: City of Smoke, by Jason Lutes (Drawn & Quarterly)
* Hellboy Library Edition, Vols. 1-2, by Mike Mignola (Dark Horse)
* Sam & Max Surfin' the Highway Anniversary Edition HC, by Steve Purcell (Telltale Games)
* Skyscrapers of the Midwest, by Joshua W. Cotter (AdHouse)
* The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite, deluxe edition, by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba (Dark Horse)

Best Archival Collection/Project -- Strips
* The Complete Little Orphan Annie, by Harold Gray (IDW)
* Explainers, by Jules Feiffer (Fantagraphics)
* Little Nemo in Slumberland, Many More Splendid Sundays, by Winsor McCay (Sunday Press Books)
* Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles (IDW)
* Willie & Joe, by Bill Mauldin (Fantagraphics)

Best Archival Collection/Project -- Comic Books
* Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!, by Art Spiegelman (Pantheon)
* Creepy Archives, by Various (Dark Horse)
* Elektra Omnibus, by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz (Marvel)
* Good-Bye, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly) [my review]
* Herbie Archives, by "Sean O'Shea" (Richard E. Hughes) and Ogden Whitney (Dark Horse)

Best U.S. Edition of International Material
* Alan's War, by Emmanuel Guibert (First Second)
* Gus and His Gang, by Chris Blain (First Second)
* The Last Musketeer, by Jason (Fantagraphics)
* The Rabbi's Cat 2, by Joann Sfar (Pantheon)
* Tamara Drewe, by Posy Simmonds (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin)

Best U.S. Edition of International Material -- Japan
* Cat Eyed Boy, by Kazuo Umezu (Viz)
* Dororo, by Osamu Tezuka (Vertical)
* Naoki Urasawa's Monster, by Naoki Urasawa (Viz)
* The Quest for the Missing Girl, by Jiro Taniguchi (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)
* Solanin, by Inio Asano (Viz) [my review]

Best Writer
* Joe Hill, Lock & Key (IDW)
* J. Michael Straczynski, Thor, The Twelve (Marvel)
* Mariko Tamaki, Skim (Groundwood Books)
* Matt Wagner, Zorro (Dynamite); Madame Xanadu (Vertigo/DC)
* Bill Willingham, Fables, House of Mystery (Vertigo/DC)

Best Writer/Artist
* Rick Geary, A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: The Lindbergh Child (NBM); J. Edgar Hoover (Hill & Wang)
* Emmanuel Guibert, Alan's War (First Second)
* Jason Lutes, Berlin (Drawn & Quarterly)
* Cyril Pedrosa, Three Shadows (First Second)
* Nate Powell, Swallow Me Whole (Top Shelf)
* Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library (Acme)

Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team
* Gabriel Ba, The Umbrella Academy (Dark Horse)
* Mark Buckingham/Steve Leialoha, Fables (Vertigo/DC)
* Olivier Coipel/Mark Morales, Thor (Marvel)
* Guy Davis, BPRD (Dark Horse)
* Amy Reeder Hadley/Richard Friend, Madame Xanadu (Vertigo/DC)
* Jillian Tamaki, Skim (Groundwood Books)

Best Painter/Multimedia Artist
* Lynda Barry, What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly)
* Eddie Campbell, The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard (First Second)
* Enrico Casarosa, The Venice Chronicles (Atelier Fio/AdHouse)
* Scott Morse, Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! (Red Window)
* Jill Thompson, Magic Trixie, Magic Trixie Sleeps Over (HarperCollins Children's Books)

Best Cover Artist
* Gabriel Ba, Casanova (Image); The Umbrella Academy (Dark Horse)
* Jo Chen, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Serenity (Dark Horse); Runaways (Marvel)
* Amy Reeder Hadley, Madame Xanadu (Vertigo/DC)
* James Jean, Fables (Vertigo/DC); The Umbrella Academy (Dark Horse)
* Matt Wagner, Zorro (Dynamite); Grendel: Behold the Devil (Dark Horse)

Best Coloring
* Steve Hamaker, Bone: Ghost Circles, Bone: Treasure Hunters (Scholastic Graphix)
* Trish Mulvihill, Joker (DC), 100 Bullets (Vertigo/DC)
* Val Staples, Criminal, Incognito (Marvel Icon)
* Dave Stewart, Abe Sapien: The Drowning, BPRD, The Goon, Hellboy, Solomon Kane, The Umbrella Academy (Dark Horse); Body Bags (Image); Captain America: White (Marvel)
* Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library #19 (Acme)

Best Lettering
* Faryl Dalrymple, Omega: The Unknown (Marvel)
* Jimmy Gownley, Amelia Rules! (Renaissance)
* Scott Morse, Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! (Red Window)
* Nate Powell, Swallow Me Whole (Top Shelf)
* Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Library #19 (Acme)

Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism
* Comic Book Resources, produced by Jonah Weiland
* The Comics Journal, edited by Gary Groth, Michael Dean, and Kristy Valenti (Fantagraphics)
* The Comics Reporter, produced by Tom Spurgeon and Jordan Raphael
* Comics Comics, edited by Timothy Hodler and Dan Nadel (PictureBox)

Best Comics-Related Book
* Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front, by Todd DePastino (Norton)
* Brush with Passion: The Art and Life of Dave Stevens, edited by Arnie and Cathy Fenner (Underwood)
* Drawing Words and Writing Pictures, by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden (First Second)
* Kirby: King of Comics, by Mark Evanier (Abrams) [my review]
* The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, by David Hajdu (Picador/Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Best Publication Design
* Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! designed by Art Spiegelman (Pantheon)
* Comic Book Tattoo, designed by Tom Muller, art direction by Rantz Hoseley (Image)
* Hellboy Library Editions, designed by Cary Grazzini and Mike Mignola (Dark Horse)
* What It Is, designed by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly)
* Willie and Joe, designed by Jacob Covey (Fantagraphics)

The Eisners will be awarded during the San Diego Comicon this summer. Note that Fantagraphics Books is celebrating its nominations with a 15%-off sale on nominated works, and Top Shelf is offering a free copy of Nate Powell's excellent comic Please Release with purchase of his nominated graphic novel Swallow Me Whole.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

The Secret Lives of Comic Store Employees -- Wish I had thought of this. A great photo essay up now at Wired.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

The Dismantling of The Bookscan Analysis of Brian Hibbs -- This has been coming a good long time: Dirk Deppey definitively explains why Brian Hibbs is full of shit in his yearly "analysis" of Bookscan's mainstream bookstore graphic novel sales. This comes on the heels of last week's more moderated dismissal/recommendation from Tom Spurgeon.

We suffer through Hibbs's skewed view of the mainstream book world every year (here are my comments from 2008), and I strongly recommend you read all of Dirk's comments in the first post linked above, but if you're short of time, just read the brilliant year-by-year quoting of Hibbs's dogmatic and objectively wrong belief that mainstream bookstores can't and don't excel at moving artcomix product.

In 2008, I spent more on graphic novels in Borders than in any other single store, because the kind I want (non-spandex/autobio) was more widely available there, and because through the Borders Rewards program they regularly offer me discounts of anywhere from 25 to 40 percent off on books I already wanted to buy anyway.

Dirk's piece today should finally put to rest the idea that Hibbs has anything of value to offer to the discussion of graphic novel sales in stores that are not his own. I am not saying he is not a good writer (his weekly reviews are highly readable and often insightful). And I am not saying he does not have something of value to say about sales in his own shop, and to a lesser degree about sales within the dying direct market that he loves so much (so much that he refuses to ever admit it is mortally wounded and needs to work toward a future for comics, a goal it is uniquely positioned to work toward if only it wanted to).

But I am saying, and have said for some time, that Hibbs is at the very least ignorant and at the very worst highly biased against any outlet not within the direct market that is selling graphic novels, whether it's your local independent bookstore or monolithic corporate giants like Chapters, Borders or Barnes and Noble. Like many tens of thousands of consumers, I buy graphic novels in those outlets all the fucking time, which is the very reason why stores like that carry such product. Of course they make returns, it's how their system has been set up and how it has operated for decades. The direct market for comics does not return its unsold merchandise, a fact which creates problems and benefits of its own.

But the biggest problem with the direct market, as I have been saying now for years, is its largely insular and unwelcoming-to-outsiders (women, girls, children, men like me looking for non-superhero reading material) environment. For every comic book store that welcomes me and my wife and my son and my daughter and wants to sell something to each one of us (and carries product varied and diverse enough to meet that goal), there are at least ten (and sadly, maybe more) that actively work to exclude anyone who isn't a spandex-obsessed male of a certain age. And that is the market Hibbs is telling us is better at selling artcomix than any Borders or any independent bookstore.

In short, on this topic, Brian Hibbs is full of shit, and Dirk Deppey has laid out the proof pretty definitively. Anyone who chooses to continue to believe his Bookscan baloney from here on out deserves what they'll be eating: Baloney. And it's been sitting around for years, as Dirk's opening quotes demonstrate.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Varying Degrees of Salt -- More interesting to me than the piece he is linking to is Tom Spurgeon's heavily-qualified recommendation to read the latest Bookscan "analysis" by retailer Brian Hibbs.

While Brian is an undeniably smart guy, who literally wrote the book on comics retailing within the direct market, he has proved monumentally -- I would go so far as to say fatally, at this point -- blind to the realities of the developed and developing markets for comics and graphic novels outside the stunted, inbred and mostly bumbling direct market. That Hibbs's thunderbolts from the mountain are to be considered with varying degrees of salt is no surprise, but that the mostly tolerant and big-tentish Tom Spurgeon would go to such lengths to explain (quite accurately) why Hibbs's commentary is of limited value but worth reading, seems kind of extraordinary to me.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Diamond Challenge -- Let's see, Drawn and Quarterly has received copies of A Drifting Life, which I am excited beyond words about, and which I pre-ordered through the Direct Market via Diamond's Previews catalog.

Today is February 17th. The book has been printed. When will I have the book in my hands? How many copies will I see in mainstream bookstores before it arrives at my comic book shop? I'm giddy with anticipation of Diamond falling all over itself to get this non-superhero offering to me with all due haste.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Quote of the Day -- Tom Spurgeon, on Diamond's self-destructive new policies:
"It's as if Diamond is finally admitting that offering the widest variety of comics via an array of ordering options was a marginal game all along. Yet instead of coming to their senses and working to make those books less marginal to the underlying mission, treating a sudden interest in, say, Scott Pilgrim as an opportunity to give their clients another sales anchor as opposed to treating it like some unwelcome party crasher, they're moving to cut them off entirely."
Much more at The Comics Reporter.


Friday, February 06, 2009

"Hey, What Are You Reading?" -- It was as recently as two or three years ago that I was astonished by the discipline of friends of mine in comics that started "waiting for the trade," eschewing monthly floppy comics in favor of their sturdier, often more handsome collected versions. I had been making weekly treks to the comics shop (in one form or another) since I was 8 or 9 years old, and the thought of actually waiting months, or even a year or more, to read stories I could read in serialized for right now (well, once a month), seemed beyond the limits of my imagination.

Then bad writers seemed to take over superhero comics, packing once-beloved titles with mediocre (or worse) stories, often tied into "events" that mattered not a bit to me, whether it was House of M, Infinite Crisis, or any one of a dozen other gimmicks that drove me away from current-day superhero comics. These "events" are designed to increase sales, but in my case, the proliferation of truly lousy comics just made me throw my hands up and give up on the North American corporate-owned superhero comic as something I needed to keep up with on a weekly basis.

So it's always a weird moment for me when someone asks -- and they do, from time to time -- "What are you reading these days?" I genuinely have to think about it to remember what I've read recently that I enjoyed. More often than not it's a standalone graphic novel, probably of the artcomix variety, but of course the person asking my opinion is usually a superhero comics fan and is interested in knowing what I think is good in that neck of the woods. "Nothing much at all," would be the answer these days, of course.

But there are regularly-published titles that still jazz me up -- just, very few of them are monthly. The Scott Pilgrim series of manga-sized books is as good as comics get these days, completely deserving of all the hype it gets, and better than sex, pizza and the new Battlestar Galactica combined.

It's easy to take Love and Rockets for granted after all these years, but the new annual format provides an amazing slab of great comics. There are no better living comics creators than Los Bros -- a few equals like Clowes and Ware, but no one is better. Do I love the idea of waiting a year between "issues?" No, of course not. I'd like my L&R fix weekly if possible, and there was a time a decade ago or so when it seemed like that was actually happening -- but I'll wait that year, knowing that in the end I'll be rewarded with comics that are among the best and most entertaining ever created.

I'm looking forward to the Cold Heat collection from Picturebox -- I was just starting to "get" the floppies when they canceled it, due to Diamond's inability to properly market and distribute single issues of non-superhero comics. Frank Santoro (one half of the Cold Heat creative team) is pretty amazing if you like artcomix; Storeyville was superb and Incanto, a mini-comic he did, was beautiful and mysterious.

Then we come to the actual, traditional stapled, floppy, monthly-type comic books. Godland from Image, Buffy from Dark Horse and Criminal and Incognito from Marvel/Icon are about the only monthly floppies I still bother with. I am, indeed, waiting for the trades on Conan (not as transcendent as it was under Busiek/Nord, but still very good, and fun to read, adventure comics).

I'd talk about the horror/detective procedural Fell if I thought it was ever coming out again. And speaking of Warren Ellis, I wonder if the last issue of Planetary will be published this decade.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Today's Required Reading -- Top-shelf comics retailer and advocate Christopher Butcher on how Diamond is accelerating the destruction of the Direct Market, and why it should stop. Read this one, folks.


Monday, January 05, 2009

Your Essential Monday Morning Read -- There's no better way to start off your morning, your week, and your year than reading Christopher Butcher's Future of Manga essay. Butcher looks at where Manga sales are at right now, in both mainstream bookstores and the Direct Market of superhero convenience shops comic book stores, and looks ahead not only at what he expects in 2009, but how the system can be improved for all concerned.

Fact: Many comic book stores could substantially improve their bottom line by wisely developing or improving their stock of Manga. If you own a comic book store, chances are that there is a Borders or Barnes and Noble near you that is selling tons of comics (Japanese comics, yes, but so what?) right out from under your nose. It continues to boggle my mind why any canny businessperson would want to leave money on the table like that, but you don't have to visit too many comic book stores to see that that is exactly what is happening.

Anyway, go read Butcher on this. It's fascinating reading and an easy-to-digest prescription for a better comic book industry in North America. Will comic book stores swallow their medicine? Probably not, but I'm betting some of the smart ones will read Butcher's thoughts and at least start to see where their stores -- and their financial bottom line -- could be improved in the year ahead. In the end, it's a win-win for everybody from Manga publishers, to Diamond, to superhero fans whose stores would be on more solid ground with a better chance of surviving and maybe even thriving in the future.

And think, all they have to do is sell comics.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ethical Publishers -- Here's Chris Butcher righteously outraged by the lack of decency, honour and ethics at most comic book companies, and taking the time to explain to creators and readers which companies actually don't try to fuck over the people that create comics for them.

I won't name all the companies Chris does, because then you'd have no reason to click over. But it's no surprise to me that Fantagraphics makes the list, because their unsurpassed respect for creators is the reason they attract the very best talents in comics, period. You don't attract, and keep, stellar talents like Los Bros. Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, R. Crumb and Paul Hornschemeier, among dozens of others, by ripping them off every chance you get and demanding vague and usurious contracts of your unwitting victims, like, say, Marvel and DC are known to do. And HINT HINT, those two companies do not make the list of most ethical comics companies, and it's no coincidence that they produce a preponderance of the lousy and mediocre comics clogging up the pipeline every week.

Would-be creators would do well to look at Butcher's post and understand that the companies that publish your work will either screw you or they won't, and that it's in your best interest and the best interest of the work you create to understand what being screwed in the comics industry looks like and how to avoid it. Readers who truly love comics as an artform owe it to themselves and to comics to support the ethical companies and shun the scumbags, and to give enough of a shit to know the difference.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Virgin Comics -- I've never seen one, and couldn't tell you what their titles are or who creates them. And I spend more time in comic book stores than almost anybody I know who isn't a retailer. Sorry people are apparently losing jobs, but this company never even really existed within the comics industry as I know it, so it's hardly a surprise.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Jim Crocker on Kramers Ergot #7 -- I know, I know, I said I was done with this subject. But when the owner of my favourite comic book store in the United States weighs in on a subject as controversial as the $125.00 price tag of the next volume of Kramers Ergot, I have to give him the floor. Ladies and gentlemen, Jim Crocker of Modern Myths in Northampton, Massachusetts.
How many will you order for your shelves?

How many would you guess you may preorder by request of regular customers?

MAYBE one.

Do you think $125.00 for a 96 page anthology is a reasonable price for your customer base?

$125.00 for 96 pages is pure art-house gimmick pricing. It's comics removed from any even remote expectation that they're going to be read by ANY sort of mass audience and reduced to elitist art-world gallery projects. They're not comics at that point, they're basically museum catalogs of contemporary works that happen to have a narrative joining the pieces.

Will you offer it at a discount, either to customers pre-ordering it, or on your store shelves?

I don't offer anything else at a discount, why should I offer this? At that price it's basically a convention/Amazon exclusive in all but actual name.

How do you feel about Amazon's discounting of the book (currently over 30 percent off) and how it might impact your store, or the direct market in general.

Meh. When you've got hundreds of millions in venture capital and can lose more money than I'll see in my entire life for 5+ years, how does the market actually apply to you in any real way? Amazon isn't retailing, it's using something that looks like retail to move stock. Nearly everything they do is destructive to the long-term health of publishing, but the same can be said of most publicly-traded, solely profit-driven companies in any field they operate in. 'Hating' them accomplishes as much as 'hating' aggressive childhood leukemia or those little voles hating the dinosaurs did. We just scamper around scavenging for what they miss and try not to get stepped on.

Bottom line: Amazon discounts EVERYTHING. The impact they have on any individual title is just part of the mix these days, like hurricanes, UPS truck breakdowns, and convention pre-releases.
My thanks to Jim for letting me know his plans and thoughts regarding Kramers Ergot #7. And anyone who has not set foot in Modern Myths has no place casting aspersions at Jim's opinion. He is the savviest and most forward-thinking comics retailer I have met in the United States, and his store runs a very close second behind The Beguiling in terms of being the very best comic book store I have ever set foot in. For him to respond so negatively to the price point of KE7 should be food for thought for anyone involved in the publishing of this book. Modern Myths the most alternative comics-friendly shop I've set foot in in the US, and for him to regard the book with such reluctance, tells me the vast majority of comic book retailers will not be supporting the book at its currently-expected price point.

As for me, and the process of deliberation I've engaged in these past few weeks trying to decide whether to order the book was decided this past weekend, when I re-read Kramers Ergot #5 and #6. Both were priced about $35.00, both had far more than 96 pages, and both had more than 50 percent of their contents flipped quickly through by me as I realized that either they weren't comics, or weren't good enough comics for me to bother reading. The occasional appearance in the pages of KE volumes 5 and 6 by artists like Kevin Huizenga and Dan Zettwoch was not enough to offset the self-indulgent tripe contributed by alt-comix divas like CF, Ron Rege and Paper Rad.

So, no, I will find better things to do with my comics-buying money this fall than spend it on KE7. And given the likelihood of a print run in the high hundreds to very low thousands, I'm guessing the creators whose work I do want to read, such as Dan Clowes and Chris Ware, will be smart enough to collect their KE pieces down the line in future volumes of their own work. And like Jim says, if they don't, chances are very few people will ever see those stories. And what would be the point of that?

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Kramers Ergot #7 Dialogues -- Here are posts on the subject of the week, at Jason Marcy's LiveJournal and a comics retailing blog called Comics are Serious Business, which I hadn't heard of but now have subscribed to.

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The Dark Side of the San Diego Comicon -- Beaucoup Kevin shines a light on some pretty loathsome sexual abuse incidents at Comicon International at San Diego. I can't say this is a surprise, but the seeming widespread institutionalization of it is. I'd say the convention organizers have a responsibility to respond to these claims and police future conventions a lot more closely than they obviously did this year.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Beguiling's Peter Birkmoe on Kramers Ergot #7, and Some Final Thoughts -- There's not a better comic book store that I have ever been in than The Beguiling in Toronto. It's an inclusive, progressive shop that has exactly what I've always said a good comic book store should have, something to offer for every age, interest and gender. And I should have known that they would have an excellent plan for retailing an expensive artcomix hardcover, too. Here's Beguiling owner Peter Birkmoe's thoughts on Kramers Ergot #7 and its $125.00 price point.
While I’m reluctant to give out precise numbers on what we order on any item, I would say that our orders on this are going to be very high, both in high in terms of a anthology and high for something that expensive. We don’t really operate on a preorder basis for item like this that the store supports, and by supports I mean items that we are ordering with the intention hand-selling, offering additional promotion for, and stocking for as long as the item is available. Preorders for us are for things we wouldn’t stock unless specifically asked . . . Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose, Toys, etc. An anthology with new work by Sammy Harkham, Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Jamie Hernandez, Chris Ware, Carol Tyler, and Kim Deitch is not a preorders-only item for us at any price.

We have ordered every Kramers since the first issue, usually pretty deep, and have yet to regret it. Still having stock on now out of print books like that is one thing that helps our reputation as a great store. In all likelihood, we will have some sort of event for this book, further increasing what our initial order would normally be. There is no doubt that this is an expensive book, and out of the price range of many people, but for those that can find a way to afford it, it will be money well spent.

Amazon discounts like that have been around long enough that I would imagine it affects my sales on just about everything I sell, so it won’t affect my ordering on this one any differently than my normal ordering, and I can’t say how great that effect is. I don’t feel great about this, but one can’t lose sleep over it.

Peter Birkemoe, The Beguiling
Thanks, Peter, for sharing your thoughts, and thanks as well to Christopher Butcher at The Beguiling for passing them along to me.

I'm not at all sure why this subject has resulted in such heated discussion over the past few days; when I first posted about the book and its price tag, I just wanted to explore my own reluctance to lay out $125.00 (or $100.00, after a retailer discount that was offered to me) for a book that seems aimed square at the market I have been a part of for most of my adult life -- artcomix readers with a taste for experiment and a willingness to pay a little extra for the sort of comics I crave.

Off the top of my head, I have in the past paid $40.00 for books of sketches by Chris Ware, and $50.00 for hardcovers reprinting Love and Rockets comics I already owned, and I never once questioned such expenditures or regretted them in any way. Last year I spent $100.00 on The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, but that's not artcomix. At least, not what we typically think of as artcomix. But I bought it, make no mistake, because of the art, by Steve Ditko. If a Volume Two were to be published with an equal number of pages of John Romita Sr. art, I wouldn't even think about buying it. To me Ditko's entire Spider-Man era is worth a hundred bucks. I like Romita's work to an extent, but not a $100.00 extent.

Sorry, there I go exploring my own spending habits and comics interests again, and that's kind of what started off this whole magilla. I do think its very important for all comics readers to think about what they buy and measure their own enjoyment of it -- if we all bought what we truly valued and stopped buying bad comics out of habit or to "keep the collection complete," we would have a better comic book industry in very short order, I think. There's not a superhero title I am a completist about, except maybe Street Angel, but even then, if Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca turned the title over to Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver, I would have to call it a day and occasionally re-read my old Rugg and Maruca issues. And how does collector completism figure into this?

Well, I have the last few volumes of Kramers Ergot, you see. I think I have either three or four of them on my bookshelf. And I decided some time ago that, like Love and Rockets and Eightball and some other artcomix titles, Kramers Ergot would be a title I would always support and always want to read, craving as I do "what's new and what's next" in comics.

Then that philosophy met the $125.00 price point of the new volume.

I got a funny email last night from an old internet pal, one of the most well-known comics bloggers and a guy I like a lot. He was having some well-earned fun with the idea that I, who have always subscribed to Tom Spurgeon's axiom "The only comics that are too expensive are shitty comics," had finally met a comic that was too expensive.

I don't think KE7 will be shitty comics. I don't think it costs $125.00 due to greed, or hubris, or cruelty. I hope it costs that much because it has to in order for the creators, editor and publisher to make a modest profit. I don't imagine anyone is getting rich off this book. I do agree with whoever it was at Johanna's blog that said something to the effect of, "it's like getting 96 art prints for 100 dollars." And I'm sure that is true. Except that if I could buy them individually, I seriously doubt I would want all 96. But of course, there is no a la carte option, nor should there be.

I have no doubt Kramers Ergot #7 will be great, progressive comics. A beautiful book that may expand the boundaries of what is possible within the artform of comics. And costs more that what I pay for a week's worth of groceries for a family of four.

I think an expense like that needs to be considered. Weighed. Thought about and pondered. And given my decades of support for artcomix as a medium of expression, I have to believe I am not the only one unsure if it's a wise expense. The economy hasn't even begun to sink to the levels it ultimately will settle at. I ask myself if I have the right, as a father and husband, to be so selfish as to spend $125.00 on fewer than 100 pages of comics. "But they're great comics," I could tell my wife, as she beats me to death with the tombstone-sized hardcover (I don't imagine more than one or two whacks would be needed).

Well, I've been told many times in the past few days that the book will be a huge success. It will be a huge success because people will want to read it. And I'm sure many will want to read it, whatever constitutes "many" in the realm of boutique artcomix hardcover aficionados. 500 readers? 2,500? As a longtime observer of this artform and industry, I can see the book selling fewer than a hundred copies. And I can see it selling thousands. It all depends on the zeitgeist and the marketing, probably much more so than it does on the quality of the work. Because, while I do not believe Kramers Ergot #7 will be shitty comics, neither have I yet been convinced that it, or any single anthology volume of any creative lineup or production quality, is worth $125.00 to me personally.

Maybe as we get closer to the date of the book's release, we'll know enough about the book that my mind will be changed. I'd love to be convinced that this is a must-buy book for me, and that I'll forever regret not spending $125.00 (or $100.00, as noted above, if I buy from the one retailer that offered me a discount) on it. As Peter Birkmoe's comments above prove, the way to make this book worth the pricetag is to make it an event, and I have no doubt that The Beguiling will be very successful in making a big thing out of this release.

But I don't know how many retailers will go to that trouble. The Beguiling can do it because it's the best comic book store in North America, if not the world. I have only set foot in two other shops (in 36 years of buying comics) that even come close to the savvy and expertise and sheer quality of The Beguiling. So maybe KE7 isn't for me or readers like me. Maybe it's for shops like The Beguiling or Modern Myths or Million Year Picnic, who have paved the way for the future of comics and presumably made a nice living doing so. Peter Birkmoe and his crew will make the book something to be celebrated, and I think that is very cool, and a very good thing for comics. I hope it helps make the book a big success in shops forward-looking enough to carry it and smart enough to market it right, to the people that can afford it. I hope Tom Spurgeon is right and that all these factors combine to make Kramers Ergot a monster hit.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Kramers Ergot #7 for $125.00: Retailers Respond -- In the wake of the latest discussion of the subject, at Comics Worth Reading, I asked some retailers what their plans are in regard to the $125.00 price tag attached to the forthcoming volume of the artcomix anthology Kramers Ergot. Here's what some of them had to say.

1. How many will you order for your shelves?

JC Glindmyder, Earthworld Comics, Albany, NY: "Unless I get preorders for it, I'm going to get one copy."

Robert Scott, Comickaze, San Diego, CA: "If ordered at all, probably no more than one copy."

Jevon Kasitch, Electric City Comics, Schenectady, NY: "Zero."

2. How many would you guess you may preorder by request of regular customers?

JC Glindmyer: "That would probably be two customers, but the price tag would really scare them off no matter what Tom Spurgeon insists."

Robert Scott: "Probably zero. We sell the Little Nemo Sunday Tabloid books from Sunday Press well enough but this isn't Winsor McKay/Nemo, not to slight the KE contributors. It also doesn't have a historical need to be presented in that format. But I haven't had any input from my regular Kramers Ergot buyers to know for sure."

Jevon Kasitch: "We would preorder as many as customers request. I’d expect that given our sales profile and patterns that number will be zero."

3. Do you think $125.00 for a 96 page anthology is a reasonable price for your customer base?

JC Glindmyer: "No. At the time, Lost Girls was a hard sell for it's steep price tag- and that was written by Alan Moore who has a huge following. There were a lost of Moore fans who said no to the price tag, opting to pass or wait for an inexpensive version to be published. For a $125 anthology to float it has to have some pretty kick ass creators inside to justify the price point, like Frank Miller illustrating a Alan Moore story printed in the blood of Rob Liefeld."

Robert Scott: "I can't see it being reasonable for any customer base, other than folks who want to own limited edition art which seems antithetical to my purpose which is getting as much diverse comic work into the hands of the public as possible. It's hard to look at this as anything but a novelty, like die-cut or holofoil covers."

Jevon Kasitch: "No, the price is not right for this market. Far too high. This is a boutique book that will appeal to a very small number of customers. I wager that there are 3-5 in [New York State's] entire Capital District [Albany/Schenectady/Troy] that might consider buying it. Probably 1 or 2 that would. We do not have any of them [as customers]."

4. Will you offer it at a discount, either to customers pre-ordering it, or on your store shelves?

JC Glindmyer: "[We] always offer a discount to preorders -- although, I may give a bigger one for a larger priced item like this."

Robert Scott: "No. The profit margin on Buenaventura books is already poor and with the size/weight of the book making incoming shipping very expensive, even if I felt discounting was valid, I couldn't afford to."

Jevon Kasitch: "If we carried it, and a subscriber bought it they would receive our traditional discount."

5. How do you feel about Amazon's discounting of the book (currently over 30 percent off) and how it might impact your store, or the direct market in general.

JC Glindmyer: "The one advantage I have over Amazon is that people can actually come into my store and look at the book. People tend to purchase things more readily if they can hold them and look at them. Sure Amazon has larger discounts, but as I'm fond of telling people, the fact they can look at the book before buying it, take into account the cost of gas, and their time, they're more likely to enjoy their purchase(s). And of course it didn't hurt that I had 50 copies of Watchmen to sell while Amazon was backordered for two weeks..."

Robert Scott: "It's a poor business practice and definitely hurts publishers and creators as well as retailers. We already know that many publishers are floundering in the DM and this kind of predatory pricing reduces the opportunity for retailers to support this work as anything other than a charity work because even the most ardent DM customer is not going to spend $50+ more than they have to on a book like this and matching Amazon means that retailers must sell every single copy ordered because even selling 9 out of 10 makes it a money loser at retail."

Jevon Kasitch: "Amazon makes an entire class of product pointless to carry. This includes the huge Marvel hardcovers and the DC slipcase and oversized projects. They often sell them at only a dollar or three more that our cost. Cost-careful customers always buy there first. 30-40% off, free shipping, we can’t beat it. We’ll always get any book that is available that a customer asks for, but most folks want to save $50. We can’t do that. We concede the product class."

Thanks to JC, Robert and Jevon for responding to my inquiries; if other retailers I polled respond, I will post their answers in the days ahead, and I invite any retailers with thoughts on Kramers Ergot #7 and its price point to comment on this post or email me your thoughts.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Me and Tom and Kramers Ergot #7 -- Is $125.00 too much for a hardcover artcomix hardcover? I've asked myself that question a lot since the price point of KE #7 was announced. Even with a huge lineup of great talent, more than $1.25 a page seems like a lot to pay, especially in the current economy.

In a brief back and forth on the subject with Tom Spurgeon, Tom seems to feel that the awesomeness of the book will overcome any reluctance readers will have to spend a week's grocery money on a big, if likely extremely well-done, funnybook. I have no axe to grind in this question, and I'm still weighing whether to order it, even with a 20 percent discount from my retailer. What do you think?

Update: Christopher Allen has added some thoughtful points in the comments section of this post, as has cartoonist and sometimes-self-publisher Jason Marcy. Have a look, and weigh in if you have an opinion. I'm anxious to see what everyone's opinion on this is. And please note that I really am not trying to rile anyone up or poke anyone in the eye, I really am personally conflicted about buying KE7, which shocks me since I've always accepted Tom Spurgeon's truism that "the only comics that cost too much are shitty comics." I don't think KE7 will be shitty comics, but I do think it may actually cost too much and as Chris notes in the comments, may have priced many interested readers right out of the market.

Update 2: I had forgotten about this May discussion on the price of Kramers Ergot #7 at The Beat. Tom Spurgeon, Heidi McDonald, Paul O'Brien and others weigh in.

One interesting (to me) note is the assumption at some points that Sammy Harkham and Alvin Buenaventura are being accused of greed. I hope no one thinks I am coming at it from that direction. I think they have every right to make it 96 pages for $125.00, or 12 pages for $1,000.00 if they want. I am just struggling, at the moment, with my own commitment to artcomix versus the extraordinary price point of this book. If, as Spurgeon says, it will be a "monster hit" at $125.00, would it still at $500.00? Where do the diminishing returns set in? If KE7 were priced at 50 or 60 bucks, I probably would have ordered it already and would have shut up by now, making everyone happy. I'm just interested in exploring my own reluctance to spend $125.00 on a comic book I am sure I would enjoy, perhaps because $125.00 is more than a week's groceries for my family, and I am not making the phat public radio money I was making circa 2001-2004, when I would have not even blinked at the price of KE7.

Maybe there are more highly monetized artcomix readers than I think, but after thinking about this for a couple of days and talking to some retailers and friends about it, I have come to the conclusion that most comics shops, even the most chi-chi of the chi-chi artcomix-enabling Beguiling-type shops, will order one copy of this for their shelves at best, and otherwise only order them for regular customers who commit to buying it and perhaps even lay down a substantial deposit. I can't for a moment imagine any one of the 90-percent or so of superhero convenience stores within the direct market looking at this volume with anything other than beady-eyed contempt, if indeed they think about it at all, or are even ever aware that it exists, somewhere in a world they have never visited and never will.


Things I Care About More Than Comic Books Sales Analysis Based on Diamond Figures -- Liechtenstein. Whether polka music is still relevant. How to sex ladybugs. The Sunday hours of the Kenosha, Wisconsin Public Library. Whether Barack Obama flosses. And if so, what brand? How exactly do they make corrugated cardboard. Why do people say tunafish when they mean tuna salad?


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Text of Barry Windsor-Smith's Eisner Awards Hall of Fame Acceptance Speech -- This speech was written by BWS upon his induction into the Eisner Awards Hall of Fame, and delivered by Fantagraphics Books publisher Gary Groth during the awards ceremony at Comicon International last week in San Diego.
My sincere thanks to the creators, editors, publishers, and retailers who were instrumental in selecting me for this Will Eisner, Hall of Fame, award.

Over the years I’ve strived to create what I think of as GOOD COMIC BOOKS. Stories where characters and personalities are grounded in our collective sense of reality, while their adventures exemplify THE AMAZING and THE FANTASTIC by transcending the cliches known to the general public as super heroes and super villains.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN, The FREEBOOTERS, WEAPON X, ARCHER AND ARMSTRONG and sometimes more traditional characters such as The X-MEN and DAREDEVIL, have allowed me to express myself in a personal fashion not often embraced by the conventions of big business comics, where the disciplines and rigors of writing, penciling, inking, and coloring, are assigned to numerous teams commissioned to deliver products by the month, every month.

Gary Groth reads Barry Windsor-Smith's acceptance speech last week at The Eisner Awards ceremony at Comicon International in San Diego. (Photo from The Drawn and Quarterly Blog)

In the 1970s I was constantly asked when I would “do CONAN again.” In these latter years I receive e-mails imploring me to return to ARCHER AND ARMSTRONG. My short reply is “When pigs fly to the Moon and return home safely.”

But to those who really want to know, I say that the major companies’ standard contract, deceptively titled “WORK FOR HIRE,” is a legal but unethical instrument designed to rape and plunder young talents of every possible prerogative they would otherwise possess if they had the fortune to work for more scrupulous, morally invested, publishers.

“Pause for practically audible smirks and a smattering of light clapping from the back,” it says here.

All that said, I assure you that I am grateful for the privilege of joining the exemplary company of the Hall of Fame award. For this I offer my heartfelt thanks to each of you who made this possible.
Thanks to Tom Spurgeon for making me aware of the speech, and to Barry Windsor-Smith and BWS Studio Manager Alex Bialy for allowing me to post the text.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Bummer -- The cartoonist Frank Santoro -- whose Cold Heat comic book series suspended publication after four issues due to low sales, and will see completion as a full-length graphic novel incorporating the four issues plus the rest of the material that would have seen print in future issues -- says the fact that people are "waiting for the trade" to experience Gilbert Hernandez's Speak of the Devil is "the bummer of this post-comics pamphlet era for alt and art comics," and indicates he may have more to say on the matter.

I've already asked my retailer to order a copy of the collected Speak of the Devil, eschewing its single-issue format, because I know that works by Los Bros Hernandez work best for me in collected form; but that's not to say Santoro is wrong, at all. I can, and do, totally dig his description of the thrill of the new, single-issue release of a series you love, which is why I am linking to his comments. And a few years ago, I would have been waiting for the single issues right along with him. In fact, I was doing just that with Cold Heat, the unfinished four issues of which sit in the "Santoro" section of my comics shortboxes like an open wound. Damn you, comics marketplace. Damn you, more attractive and durable collected graphic novel format. Damn you!

I kid; Santoro is not wrong. But neither am I for waiting for the trade on Speak of the Devil. I don't want to buy it twice, and a collected version was never in doubt. But in the market as it exists now, publishers should not commit to the single-issue format if they do not already have the resources and wherewithal to see through the single issue-run to its completion whether the single issues sell or not. I'm looking forward to the graphic novel version of Cold Heat, but those four orphans in my collection are an indicator of a real problem that needs to be solved by publishers. They, too, need to decide if the single-issue format is viable for them before ever releasing a single issue, or if it's in their best interest to "wait for the trade."

In the case of Cold Heat, the truth speaks for itself, sadly. The series read very, very well to me in single issues, once I read a few and got a feel for what creators BJ and Santoro were up to; but publisher Picturebox needed to be prepared for the indifferent reaction the series got from the marketplace (both readers and retailers), and needed to be prepared to ride that out and take the hit once they'd committed to single issues; clearly they were unprepared for the reality of the current market. How is Dark Horse and Speak of the Devil different? Clearly it is, although I expect to love Speak of the Devil as much as I love any other Gilbert Hernandez work (and I do love most of them), or as much as I loved the four issues of Cold Heat. It's a fascinating, and utterly unresolved dilemma.

But ultimately, starting a series in single issues is like opening a restaurant; you have a responsibility as a professional to be prepared to take massive losses until word of mouth reaches critical mass and you can expect to start, eventually, turning a profit. In the case of Dark Horse, I'd guess -- and it's just a guess -- that they have the capital shored up to withstand a financial loss on the single issues, and they believe in Gilbert Hernanderz's saleability enough in the collected, graphic novel format to be willing to wait to make most of their money on Speak of the Devil once it is all under one cover and being sold to bookstores and libraries.

And people like me, waiting for the trade. On Speak of the Devil willingly and consciously, and on Cold Heat, against my will and entirely due to the realities of the marketplace and Picturebox's failure to properly gauge the sales potential of single issues of the series. As I have often said, one of the stark realities of any commercial enterprise -- and artcomix are that, oftentimes, and obviously in the case of Cold Heat -- just because you build it, they will not come. There's more you have to do, if you expect to sell your non-superhero single issues through Diamond's almost-entirely superhero-obsessed network of stores. You must be patient. You must have capital shored up to protect against market indifference. You must be prepared to see your project through. Dark Horse was; Picturebox was not. As a critic, and as a reader, I have more at stake in the totality of Picturebox's line of books than I do Dark Horse's; Cold Heat represents the average, excellent Picturebox title; Speak of the Devil is something of an anomaly among Dark Horse's line of middlebrow, licensed titles with a somewhat built-in expectation of financial success (being that Dark Horse has a favoured position in Diamond's Previews catalog that Picturebox is unlikely to share in any universe that I can conceive of).

I was willing to support Cold Heat in single issues, because it's the format it obviously was built for from the very beginning. I preferred to wait for the trade on Speak of the Devil because I knew Dark Horse would collect it as a graphic novel. I would still have ordered the eventual Cold Heat collected edition, no question. But that's down to the fact that Santoro as an artist resides in a higher plane for me as a reader and a critic than Gilbert Hernandez does; I crave his work in all its iterations in which I can find it. I loved the hardcover Storeyville but would buy the newspaper-format edition from a decade ago in a heartbeat if I came across it in a comic book store. Hell, I would likely buy multiple copies. And yet I passed up Speak of the Devil every time I saw it on the stands in a comic book store. And, be aware, I do hold Gilbert Hernandez's work in high, high regard as an entity unto itself; I possess many of his stories three or four times over ("Poison River" being one example).

I have no conclusion here, and I apologize if it seemed I was leading up to one. Santoro's comments fascinated me and I urge you to click through to the link above and read what he has to say. I hope he finishes his thoughts on "waiting for the trade," because as a consumer of comics I am imperfect in my philosophy toward this issue, and I know it. I need more information. I need more good comic book stores that support projects I want without me having to advocate for them to the owner every single time. And I need more good comics like Cold Heat and Speak of the Devil.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Christopher Butcher's Manga Prescription -- Chris's series of commentaries on the state and future of manga gets better and better, and in his latest post on the subject, he hits the home run.
So what do I want the manga industry to look like then? I think that Drawn + Quarterly has a good idea, with one prestige-format (meaning a format with actual prestige, like a hardcover book with lovely thick paper and a beautiful design, and not those flimsy little 48 page superhero comics with a spine) release of “mature manga” per year. If there were 3 or 4 publishers doing that, each with a nicely designed manga release per season (spring/fall), that’d be maybe 8-10 wonderful books per year, which I think that the market could bear, and that’d be lovely. Currently the number of high-end manga releases in a given year is about half of that, which accounts for the loud noises I make when they manage to drop.
Butcher goes on to talk about watching the tastes and purchases of young manga customers mature over time at his shop, The Beguiling in Toronto, and it's a very realistic and hopeful portrait he paints of how easy it can be to use a comic book store to build the industry you want.

I guess my fear is that the worst instincts of the direct market have already done that, that most comic book stores want a marketplace hinging on ephemeral, hyperhysterical junk like what Marvel and DC generally make their nut on these days (Secret Invasion, anything at all by Geoff Johns), with that precious, lofty 5 to 10 percent of comic book stores like The Beguiling or Modern Myths or Million Year Picnic or, closer to home, Earthworld in Albany, actually bothering to take the risk and spend the capital required to stock a truly full-service comic book store that welcomes the presence and buying power of readers of all interests, ages and genders. Those are the type of stores building the future Butcher describes, and they deserve every goddamned bit of support you can possibly eke out of your wallet.

Anyway, go read Butcher's latest post, there's a ton of great ideas and advice in there for retailers and readers alike, and it's absolutely essential reading.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Butcher on The Shape of the Industry -- Christopher Butcher's been promising something interesting for a few days now, and he's made good on his hints with a fantastic new thinkpiece on the evolving marketplace for manga and graphic novels:
"[O]lder customers would like a different shopping experience than trying to find the latest Tatsumi or Inoue manga jammed in-between Ultimate Spider-Man and Naruto whilst simultaneously trying to avoid the outstretched gangly limbs of sullen teens thoroughly immersed in the Universe of the Four Gods."
Much more, as they say, at the link. And a little bit more from me about Mr. Butcher and his value to the ongoing discussion about comics, on this blog tomorrow.

Update: Butcher has posted Part Two, and it's even more in-depth and insightful.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Butcher on Convention Sales -- I've been waiting eagerly for The Beguiling's Christopher Butcher to weigh in on the issue of convention sales, and now he has.

Everything Butcher has to say on the subject (or any other, generally) is worth your attention, but here are some quotes I found particularly relevant to the discussion as it has evolved:

* "It’s actually more advantageous for us–as a local retailer–for these publishers to do big launches of these books...because more often than not, it’s these big launches/pushes that help put the books on the radar of our customers on the first place."

* "I’ve worked on the publisher side of the table...at The San Diego Comicon, selling books that had not yet been released to direct market comic book stores...I would say that the number one question I was asked was 'will this be available in comic book stores?' when confronted with a debut book...customers want to honour their preorders and don’t want to lug around books at a show that they can get at their local store in the next month." [Emphasis mine]

* "I’m actually a lot more concerned, on the release-date front, about Diamond’s continuing inability to process books that they receive as a distributor as fast as the bookstore chains. Most bookstores are receiving manga, “mainstream” book publishers graphic novel releases, and magazines like Giant Robot, between a day and a month before Diamond gets them into my store."

What's fascinating to me about Butcher's observations on the issue is that he is, without question, one of the most experienced retailers in North America, working for what remains, to date, the very best comic book store I have ever shopped in. His thoughts on this particular issue echo my own experience and beliefs exactly, despite knee-jerk criticisms from people like "comics retailer" and CBIA overlord Robert Scott that I, as a mere customer and blogger, have no say in this matter, and no worthwhile opinion to offer, because I can't possibly understand his perspective behind the counter.

Trouble is, Bobby, that my perspective and philosophy about what makes a good comic book store and what retail environment I will choose to spend my money in is formed in large part because of my experiences in good comic book stores like The Beguiling, Million Year Picnic and Modern Myths. It's my bad experienced in low-rent superhero convenience stores that has convinced me over the years that most of the stores within the direct market are hopelessly broken and doomed to extinction, while the good stores -- the ones that operate professionally and welcome the money of any customer who wants to buy any kind of comics in print -- are the ones that will thrive long after the Android's Dungeon/Robert Scott model of superhero pandering has marginalized itself into oblivion, or nearly enough so as not to make much of a difference.

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