Saturday, October 01, 2005

"Carefull where you point that sonny." Or the Bad Retailer

Image head honcho and Savaga Dragon creator Erik Larsen posted a shot across the bow of many comic creators this week in his colum over on comicbookresources. Erik's arguemnt does have some validity in respect to owning what you do in the long run, to avoid the pitfalls of many of the Golden and Silver age artists who were forced out or had age/style chnages catch up with them, having worked like farmers on farms they never owned one acre of. Now old they are cast off,deemed old fashioned or uselss, and some end their days in bad financial straights having created work that earned the companies millions and billions. And while I agree with part of Erik's call to arms I also feel Erik's agrument is the wrong arguement altogether, I understand wanting to rally creators, shake em' up a bit, have new books, new ideas, new blood, but I just don't think his arguement, his war cry is really correct. His hundred creators charging Porkchop hill will be met with middling success at best. How many new Image books regularly sell over 10,000 copies, 20,000 copies? If you are selling 6,000 copies, you may continue to do your book, but nobody is gonna get rich, even get what you'd get at DC at a good page rate, which for most freelancers I know have stayed static since the mid 90's. So any real payday come way later in the form of other venues , liscensing deals for Movies etc. There are good books out there that sell like shit, not because they are bad, but because 90% of the retailers will never stock a single copy on their shelf.

I wonder if he'll turn the cannon on the real issue, where he needs to, bad retailers, the seriously F'd up direct market and no serious year-over-year effort on anyones part to get new readers into the stagnate babyman market? Even better to just go around it all together. The entire indutries lack of any real business plan to branch out beyond the babyman market, push back onto newstands in a way that modern readers will find interesting, accessable, digest formats, varied genres,entire books easy to get into and read the story, the entire fucking story, etc., is the issue to me. Again the manga publishers have soooo clearly showed us the way to go, along with Disney Adventures and Nicalodeon mag, they seem to know what works and are scoring with a wide demographic of readers who will in turn pass their comics down to the younger set, which is what our comic readers used to do as a hobby. Manga is clearing the Superhero crap right off the bookshelfs in Borders B&N etc. Deservidly so! Manga continues to grow and now at my local Borders the superjock stuff is down to one shelf! It was a half an isle a while ago. Kiss seeing fat money from trades good bye in the book chains.

I think it's wrong to say to us who have labored in the mines, hey take a chance, create a new book, work on it for a year with probably les than 40% chance it will return you any worthwhile $$. Easy to say, but again I see new books all the times and you know, not everyone wants to read or draw superjocks either. What happened to Warren mags, War, Mystery as well, they are all gone or seriously languishing. I've done it. I've self published, I even published two Action Planet books through Image 5-6 years ago.

I have done what Erik talked about. I took royalty money from the gravy days on Batman and spent 10's of thousand$ self-publishing my work and friends work, our second issue of APC captial city went out of biz and we never ever recoverd in numbers as half the people ordering my books went out of business. So I say creating a new Spidey will not do anything today, instead we need to create new paths to the new mainstream reader, impulse buyer, which is what comics and magazines are, impulse items. I really feel only that will allow any real chance of sustainable growth.

I don't live like a college kid, haven't for 20+ years, I don't live with parents or roommates, I have a mortgage and debt, so I can't just keep throwing things at the wall forever. I don't see it as creating characters as the problem, the problem we face is business, not creativity. Comics is a horribly run business not run by business men outside of the corporate boardrooms and people in liscensing, bean counters at the big two. The problem I see it is more the retailers than artists. there are plenty of decent books that can sell better except for the part that the retailers don't order the books and actually don't try to sell more comics.The 300-400 good shops are not enough, we need 3-4000 good outlets all over. Video stores, Wallgreens, etc. Time and time again I have people come and say they LOooove Draw!, but can't get it. Why? Becuse the fucking dumbassed retailer won't carry it! If he sells 2 he won't order 3 or 4 next time. Nope. Instead he will jut order more crisis DC crap. He won't try and advertise , none of the things normal businesses do. These guys are a bunch of retarded babymen!

They are for the most part are the worst businessmen we could have working for us sans those few good retailers we all know. Publishers will naturally concentrate on what sells, and the retailer too, this created a negative growth cycle of no risk, no chances, endless DC and Marvel retreads chasing the faint farts of the last hit, the 10th retread of the Beyonder's fart, the result being and almost no new kids reading comics in the direct market, nope, they are reading the new mainstream, manga. Why do back issues sales suck now? Duh, no new readers to come in and want to read Ultrons frist appearence, the babymen already have that stuff. No wonder Superman stuggles today, he wasn't designed to appeal to a 40 year old man, he was designed to appeal to a 7-10 year old boy. I bet they don't even sell 3000 copies to kids of any superman comic today.


John Beatty said...

I agree with your thot's on Erik's rant...and it's easier to do with big $$$ saved from royalties made during the boom years like the whole original "Image" group can take a few hits and's the small guy that really sticks his neck out on the chopping block that gets hurt by a costly venture that doesn't even return the $ invested.

I'm thinking of doing some stuff next year that will be money out with no promise of return on it...

...but I am doing it for ME and I won't be using a distributor to take a chuck of anything...I'll be selling thru the web and at conventions. This way I'm not giving up *anything* but am lowering my radar to those potential small sales that would give me 'break even' possiblities...

It's a crap shoot.

Look at CrossGen..I knew that guy wouldn't make it from the first time I sat with him and heard his was just a matter of time before his "dream" collasped but NOBODY...especially ME could tell him that.

...and so it goes Mr. Mike...

We can only learn by doing and trying.

Your comments/rants are as usual refreshing and potent!

Mike M said...

Thanks John. yeah I knew the torpedo was launched the day I heard about Crossgen, it was only a matter of time till it caught them and BOOM!

I just don't think that you can launch a whole line of books now, interconnected books, or even just 20 more new titles, even 10. It's too much for the babymen to absorb. Do 2-3 good books, then add a little here a little there. Everybody runs down the same goddam dumb path and they all fail wiithin 2 years or so. The Bunker publisher lasted longer cause he had some real $$ to throw out the window, but his burn rate must have been like cutting your throat every day.

In the end I don't think CG's books were any better or worse than 99% of the big 3-4 publishers stuff, none my cuppa', but he had decent talent, but there just isn't a way to launch in the direct market. Seems Alias is struggling now as well, and I can't say I'm surprised. Torpeoes in the water....

Bobby Timony said...

I don't know how comics wound up with this godawful distribution problem in the first place, but I hate it!
You're right when you say comics are an impulse buy. They should be in grocery stores and bookstores and gas stations and newstands, not locked up in the comic store dungeons behind all the overpriced statues and toys.
I think a change in the system is long overdue.

Mike M said...

Bobby I know exactly how we got here distribution wise, but I don't see a clear way out without the people with the most $$ leading the way I guess, or without retailers being willing to get books from more than one source and there also being a lot more retailers than there are now. If it was a simple problem we could solve it fast, but it's a mess.

I can print books without planning to go thru diamond and try selling them myself, off the web at cons etc., but that is not a sure road to sales and a new customer base. It's more of a vanity project.


Cory Fuka said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cory Fuka said...

Wasn't Erik Larsen in Draw #4

Erika Larsen just forgets the hand that led him to sucess in the first place which was his start at Marvel comics. I could never see The Savage Dragon make in the independet market.

I also wanted to say I really liked your comics to print video which I bought last month will you ever release a similar video? Maybe on style life drawing or something.

Ed Gauthier said...

Mike, your points are well taken that the retailer - aka the classic Simpson's "comic shop guy" is more to blame than artists who are afraid to explore new venues.

But what constantly amuses me is the denial I keep seeing regarding the now limited world of comics. To all artists, retailers, comic company owners, even comics commentary writers - it's just not 1980 anymore, when a Star Wars and Star Trek movie were a big deal that stimulated the industry.

Now we have the internet, DVD videos, widescreen high-def TVs, a third generation of video game players coming up next year, etc. So do you honestly think any consumer has anywhere near the TIME they used to have for reading comics?

They don't. And never will again. The comics world will therefore never grow any further than it has. It will not evolve - it will only revolve, like a tiny little planet of its own.

Deal with it. The sooner that all creative people do, the better.

Bobby Timony said...

I gotta say, Ed, that I disagree with you. I find your viewpoint to be short-sighted and narrow minded.
Comics can reach a wider audience and evolve if given the proper venues. Those venues just aren't there yet.

James Meeley said...


I agree that retailers should do more to support non-mainstream (I refuse to call the "small press") titles, but it's sort of a ctach-22 for us.

We need to put the money out to support them, but we need more money coming in to throw out to begin with. It's really a case of "who blinks first" and I can tell you it won't be retailers. It's not because they don't care, or are all like the Simpsons stereotype, but they just don't have the money.

All-Star Batman was labeled a huge success, but with it's number only at about 250,000 copies, compared to the "glory days" of the 80's-early 90's, that's almost cancellation level. And while sales numbers have gone done, cover prices and other things retailers need to pay to advertise non-mainstream books has gone UP.

I'm not saying you are wrong to want more for retailers, Mike. Heck, I bet most would LOVE to give it to you. It's just the funds aren't there. Not for them, not for you, not for anyone. Unless you know of a place to get some "pennies from heaven", I don't see any easy solutions to this.

You say you need more "good shops." Well, I'd argue that they are already out there. Unfortunately, they don't get the kind of money they used to. As much as we'd like to think otherwise, money is what makes this little world of ours go 'round.

I currently work for a retailer. I do what I can, in making suggestions for non-mainstream books and what not. I'd like to start my own shop, too. But, again, it all comes down to the money. Maybe if the publishing end could do something... give retailers a little more incentive to open a shop or order more non-mainstream works... I'm sure many would likely take advantage of it. But I don't see that happening any time soon, either.

So, with everyone strapped for cash, I don't see much changing anytime soon. The only other option, as I see it, is for fans to go to thier shop and get the stuff they want special ordered and maybe buy and extra for someone they know to grow the base. I, presonally, think that fans are much too lax in doing things to support the industry beyond getting what they want.

This problem didn't happen overnight and no one person or segment of the industry is to blame. The answer will only come when everyone... from the lowliest fan to the biggest publishing head... work together and do what they can to help the industry. Everyone needs to pitch in... not go looking to point fingers of blame.

Mike M said...

Cory, I have a few more DVD's planned, some more basic training videos and Bret Blevins wants to do one of figure drawing.

Ed and James, I agree we have more compitition today, but clearly people still love to read, Harry Potter and manga show this. Comics are huegly popular wth people all over the world and here in the states. But the retailer is the portal for us, the link to our audience. True, publishers need to try and reach teh audience as well, work with the retailers, book publishing does this, but comics is always so fucking rinky-dink with this stuff. Better retailers, better sales. I think it really is a simple idea, but most comic retailers are bad businessmen. The are timid babymen fans who don't like change and like I say time and time again would fail at normal business, they have stagnate sales growth year-to-year, or even a decline.

Now Joe Murray at Captain Blue Hen in Delaware is the type of retailer we need. He advertised on cable, on the various cartoon channels, Fox family etc., for Free Comicbook Day and had almost 900 people in his shop. His ad cost $1200 if I remember, pretty affordable and he more than made his $$ back and gained some new customers. Joe isn't the typical retailer in any way and that is our loss as a business. Now imagine if he got 10 new regular readers who spent $20 a month each reading comics, that's $200 a month or $2400 a year, effectively making double the cost of his ad expense. this doesn't seem undoable.

You have to reach the customer, then serve the customer. Comics are no longer impluse buys as in years past. If i ran a shop I'd have a lot of variety, stock the things that are kid friendly and normal people. fans of X-men will walk to hell for a copy. casual reader, girl/woman friendly stuff in the front and also have an area to browes and read, hell, maybe even sell sodas and coffee. make employess dress well, shower... kid you not, you don't know how many times the babyman smell will kill a sale...take the Borders and B&N angle, incurage people to stay, browse and read. This way they can really fall in love, and I'd also do plenty of smart targeted advertising on local cable and in mags and newspapers. Yes, it takes $$ but any business takes $$. tell me a business that doesn't require $$.

The funny thing is many won't spend the $$ to advertise, but when they fail and go out of business, they will spend the $$ to advertaise the store going out of business.

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