Mark Waid on the Big Two

I know, I tend to feature a lot of Mark Waid quotes on my blog. But that’s because he’s one of the few big name creators that a) talks fairly openly about the realities of the comic book business, and b) often has insightful and forward-thinking comments. Anyway, this particular one comes from a very lengthy and in-depth interview with Tom Spurgeon, over at The Comic Reporter blog:

Spurgeon: Is it particularly tough right now for comics to keep their eyes on that prize given the pressure of the corporate demands?

WAID: Yes. It really is. It’s harder than it ever has been before. I think part of that is because as a medium of a 32-page comics, or 28-page comics, or whatever they are right this moment, the standard monthly issues, I think those sales have pretty much plateaued. You look at anecdotal evidence that sales are up on monthly issues, but I don’t know if that’s sustainable and I don’t know if that’s a huge bump up. It doesn’t seem to me to indicate a rising trend. Let me put it this way. I do not know this, I am pulling this speculation totally out of my ass based on some informed conversation, but I would not be surprised if DC’s New 52 had been a hail mary pass. I would not be surprised to learn that Diane Nelson looked at the figures and the overhead and said a couple of years ago, “All right, boys. Pack up shop. We’re going to go reprint.” And Dan [DiDio] and Jim [Lee] and whoever else came in to make their case. “Give us one more shot at selling out comics exclusively to 13-year-old boys.” Again, that is speculation on my end. That probably isn’t true, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that were the case.

At Marvel, a little less so, I think. Those people seem to answer to higher-ups that seem to get what they’re doing a little more. They seem to grant a little more creative latitude. But I can certainly see it. There’s always the need to generate profits, move the next quarter. There’s always a need, even more as these companies are absorbed by the Warner Brothers and the Disneys of the world, there’s always more of a need to make the balance sheets shinier every year. It’s a tough job. A lot of times it means doing corporate stuff.

In the same interview, Waid talks openly about being essentially blacklisted over at DC, and forced to move on. It’s a really good read, if you have the time.

Dark Horse to collect the underrated “Bloodhound”

Some unexpected and cool news: Dark Horse Comics is collecting writer Dan Jolley’s excellent (and criminally ignored and underrated) 2004 series from DC, Bloodhound. Although creator-owned (kinda, sorta…read the interview for more details) the book was set in the DC Universe, but was fairly self-contained and didn’t really interact much with the superhero crowd. Jolley still had to remove a whole issue that guest starred Firestorm, and make some other cosmetic changes, but it’s cool that DC decided not to be a dick about it and worked with him on this.

BLOODHOUND-TPB-CVR-SOL-4x6

“Bloodhound is about Travis “Clev” Clevenger, a huge, brutal, ex-Atlanta police detective who specializes in tracking down superhuman criminals. Clev had the city’s best record for finding and dealing with superhumans, thanks to a knack for understanding their thought processes. Unfortunately, he had also been having an on-again-off-again affair with his partner Vince’s wife, Trish, for a number of years, and when Vince found out, he attacked Clev with a crowbar. Clev killed Vince and got sentenced to prison.”

The series only lasted 10 issues, and featured interior art by Leonard Kirk and covers by Dave Johnson. It felt to me like the latter was phoning some of the covers in, especially compared to his rock solid covers for other books, but this one in particular has a nice vibe to it:

Bloodhound8

The story, pacing, and characterization were top notch. I remember thinking that Jolley was exercising the perfect balance between teasing mysteries, and answering questions. It’s really a shame that DC had no clue what to do with the book, and it boggles the mind to wonder what their though process was when it came to this whole series. Here’s Jolley, being somewhat diplomatic about it:

“As far as challenges, well, DC’s upper brass provided plenty of those themselves. There were quite a few baffling decisions made during the book’s development, and some truly profound lapses in communication, but probably the biggest hurdle was the timing. Bloodhound was approved, straight to series, at the last pitch meeting of 2002, but for some reason I never learned, DC chose not to let it hit shelves until the middle of 2004. In the intervening 18 months, the company engaged in a little event called Identity Crisis. You may remember that. Identity Crisis put every single bit of DC’s focus on the capes-and-tights crowd, and if a book didn’t involve a lot of people with names that ended in “-man,” it got left out in the proverbial cold. And that was the whole point of Bloodhound, clearly stated, from the very beginning: to explore some of the parts of the DC Universe that the capes-and-tights crowd never got to. So not only was there no marketing behind the book, it got hidden so well that even a lot of comic shop owners weren’t aware of it. It was frustrating to be at a con, with Bloodhound issues displayed on my table, and have a retailer walk up and say, “Bloodhound? What’s that?”

Anyway, keep your eye out for the book, it’s a good one.

Cost of print comics

Here’s some more gritty details about the reality of the print market, from an interview with writer Mark Waid:

Toucan: In a recent interview with Pace Magazine you stated “the future is all about digital for me.” Why do you feel that way, and what made you start your own digital comics portal in Thrillbent?

Mark: I’ll take the second question first. What made me start was looking at the cost of print. This is back when I was doing the BOOM! editor-in-chief stuff and BOOM! creative chief officer a few years ago and looking at print costs across the board for all publishers and how insane they were unless you’re one of the top two or three publishers and you’ve got 50% of the market share and your per unit cost is feasible. But if you’re anybody else and you’re doing a comic and it’s got a print run of 5,000 or 6,000 copies and you’re doing a color comic, you’re paying more in printing then you are in everything else put together including editorial and overhead—that’s ridiculous. I’m selling my $4 comic to Diamond for about $1.60 and I’m having to pay a dollar in print costs; that is not a feasible business model.

Of pitches and publishing seasons

A couple of links related to the business side of comics…

Publishing Seasons – First Second editor Gina Gagliano explains why publishing houses offer their catalogs in intervals broken into “seasons.”

Winter: January through April

Spring: May through August

Fall: September through December

If you publish your book with a major publisher, your book will one day be assigned a season of its own.

Why is this?

Near Misses From My DC Era – Writer Brian Wood shows how even successful, popular creators can pitch projects in vain, and even when you think you have a greenlight and your editor loves the book, it can still be scrapped for capricious reasons.

Rima The Jungle Girl – I was asked by Azzarello to write a miniseries for his First Wave thing, and I wrote the outline and met with the editor and got that approved and all seemed cool, but the green light to start scripting never came, and to this day I have no idea why. I like the story, and since I wasn’t paid anything by DC for the outline the story’s mine, so maybe I’ll find a use for it.

That last sentence is what interests me. Good ideas are good ideas, regardless of their initial failure in finding a willing publisher. As long as there’s no contract or NDA involved, I think creators should definitely keep all options open and revise their company pitches into creator-owned books. There are many examples of this in the field, with one that comes to mind is writer J.M. DeMatteis retooling his rejected “death of Captain America” story from the 80s into the mini-series The Life and Times of Savior 28 decades later.

And on a more personal footnote, back during my own failed attempts to pitch new series treatments to DC last year, one of the characters I was interested in was Rima The Jungle Girl. I was told at the time that another writer had plans for her, so that particular character was off the table. Now, this was after the whole “First Wave” series of pulp books, so I don’t think it was Azzarello or Wood, but I do find it amusing.

If I ran a large comic book publisher…

Just some random thoughts on changes I’d make if I was in charge of a large comic book publisher like Marvel or DC. Not saying I have all the answers; these are just some personal preferences that I think would most likely serve the industry better.

  1. Every monthly comic should have a “Story Thus Far” recap page – there are editors and writers who feel that a synopsis paragraph is inelegant, and using one to convey information is somehow “cheating.” That the information on who the characters are and what has transpired should be conveyed seamlessly withing the issue’s story itself. I don’t buy that for a second. Maybe that was true in the days of mass consumption of comics off the newsstand, where even the lowest selling titles were moving hundreds of thousands of units, and every issue was “someone’s first.”

    But those days are long gone.

    Yes, back in the days before comic book shops with huge back issue collections, where a kid could randomly pick up a comic at the grocery store or the barber shop, it was important to give them the relevant lowdown in the issue, so they wouldn’t be lost. And more importantly, so they’d be able to enjoy the story and get hooked and come back the next month. But these days, there’s little to no sampling, everyone has the Internet at their mobile fingertips, and the TPB rules. Reading a story arc in one sitting in a collected edition, with the details of who’s who and what happened before repeated over and over every 20 pages makes for a terrible reading experience.

    Put it all in a synopsis paragraph, once, then get out of the way of the story. You’ll give readers all the basic information they need before delving into the serialized story, and if they need more, they can bring up Wikipedia or a hundred other websites to fill in the details. Heck, these days even the most sophisticated of TV shows these days have “Previously…” recap intros. It’s not something to be ashamed of. It serves a clear purpose, and let’s your story unfold on its own.

  2. Don’t end story arcs on anniversary issues, start them there – this would seem like a no-brainer, but from what I can tell, most writers and editors treat “big” issues (i.e. issue #50, #100, #250, etc.) as the perfect place for a long-running story arc’s culmination. Why? Typically, these issues have a major sales increase over the book’s regular monthly sales figures. Sure, lots of those are from people just wanting to collect a “milestone” issue, probably for dubious “investment” practices.

    But you’re still dealing with a lot of new readers, not to mention increased media coverage. Why on earth would you waste the opportunity by presenting everyone the final chapter of some long, convoluted story that they probably know nothing about? Why not use the opportunity instead to hook them on to your title by starting out a “new reader friendly” storyline?

  3. Stop it with the rape and sexual violence – Just because an asshat like Mark Millar made a successful career out of it, doesn’t mean it’s cool. Just stop it.

Comic Creator Quote of the Day – Andy Diggle

As part of his continuing “Conversing on Comics” feature on the Robot 6 blog, Chris Arrant talks to British comics writer Andy Diggle. I’ve liked Diggle’s work on a variety of project, especially when he teams up with his frequent collaborator, artist Jock.

So anyway, at one point Arrant asks him about his previous exclusive contracts with Marvel and DC, and if he feels the pressure to try and go back to that model now that he’s been a freelancer for a while. Dig his answer:

“Being based in the U.K., where we have universal healthcare, there’s less incentive to go exclusive with an American publisher.”

Damn socialism! Allowing creative types to base their decisions on factors other than healthcare costs.

Persia Blues – Kickstarter

It occured to me that I’ve been promoting the Kickstarter in support of our book all over the Internet, but forgot to mention it on my own blog. So let’s remedy that, shall we?

Follow the link to check out our book, and the cool incentives you can earn by supporting it.

And here’s the video I put together for it, with a lot of help from my better half, Wendy.

Indie comic sells a million copies

No, it’s not The Walking Dead.

It’s Pocket Gods, a digital comic from Ape Entertainment, that’s based on a popular app. From Bleeding Cool:

Published by Ape Entertainment, the same company which published Pocket God Comics which (and I can announce this now) has just sold a million copies of its Pocket God Comic digitally, with 19 issues available.

So are apps the new source for licensed comics? You can bet that with the success of Ape’s comics, a lot more publishers will be looking towards the digital game marketplace as a source for stories.

Digital comics sales

Whiles sales figures for print comics in the direct market are readily available, publishers have been notoriously guarded with their digital sales. But in this article over at Cnet, DC Entertainment’s Senior Vice-President of Digital, Hank Kanalz, drops a figure:

Kanalz revealed, though, that the recent issue of Justice League which depicted a kiss between Wonder Woman and Superman was the fastest to ever reach 10,000 books sold digitally, which means that it sold more than that. Since that issue of Justice League, August’s number 12, was estimated to have hit around 160,000 books sold in print, we can start making some educated guesses about digital sales — at least for popular titles.

These numbers track against the news from many comics publishers, including DC Comics, at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con that digital sales were buoying print sales.

Now granted, this is for a heavily-hyped special issue of their top selling title. But still, it helps put the entire digital market in perspective, relative to print sales. And of course, excluding some minor overhead (digital file conversions and digital distributor’s cut), those sales translate into pure profit on top of the print book sales.

Regarding the second point made in the quote above, while the audiences for print and digital seem to be fairly distinct right now, I suspect as the hardcore comic book collectors leave the hobby (or die!) they won’t be replaced. The print market will probably shrink, and the new fans will come to the medium via digital.

Archaia – effective submissions

The Beat has a nice little piece about Archaia’s How to prepare an Effective Submission panel at the recent NYCC. Archaia submissions editor Rebecca Taylor lists what every submission packet should include:

• Cover letter introducing the creative team and mentioning the vision for their book and why Archaia is the right fit for it
• Full title
• Names of the writer and artist
• Short description of the book
• A synopsis about one page in length
• Scripts for the first several pages (optional)
• Character descriptions.
• At least six pages of sequential art (colored and lettered, if possible)
• Your contact information
• Signed terms and conditions, which are available on Archaia’s website

But even better, here’s a link to a blog entry by one of the creators who participated in that panel, Michael Lapinski, artist of Feeding Ground:

FEEDING GROUND _ NYCC 2012 Effective Pitches Panel

At the link above, you can download the entire pitch packet for their comic in PDF format, and it’s definitely a very well put together presentation.

Jim Valentino on submissions

Image co-founder and Shadowline imprint head honcho Jim Valentino talks to CBR about what he looks for in a submission:

I want to see five finished pages, beginning with page one, fully inked, lettered and colored, if it’s a color book. I want to see a cover with a logo treatment (the book’s logo, not the image “i”) and I want to see a very brief one paragraph STORY (not plot, story) synopsis.

All of these things inform me whether or not a creator is ready for prime time. The reason I want to see the first five pages is that’s where a reader is going to start. They’re not going to start on page 13 where the most exciting part of the story takes place. The first rule of journalism also applies to creative writing: “don’t bury your lead,” reel them in with a powerful opening.

Having worked with Jim on the Archibald Aardvark books (created and drawn by Grant Bond) and the Fractured Fables kids anthology, I can tell you the guy genuinely loves comics and really tries to get new and innovative series out there.

Pat Mills: Judge Dredd, break dancing, and Iran

Pat Mills, creator and editor of the seminal British comic book anthology magazine 2000 AD has a new blog, and in this post he recounts the creation of the mag’s most popular and famous character, Judge Dredd. It’s an interesting read, especially if you like comics history and behind the scenes looks.

However, this particular bit caught my attention, since it was so out of left field:

“Coming back to that death penalty for dropping litter – if the idea seems unconvincing or ridiculous now, then consider the situation in modern Iran. I spent three months in that country a few years ago and once watched breakdancing teenagers halfway up a mountain outside Tehran. They believed they would be safe from the law, but the secret police were also watching, and moved in to arrest them. Dancing is against the law in Iran.”

By the way, the death penalty for littering that he’s referring to is in regards to the infamous zero tolerance that Judge Dredd has for any form of law breaking, not anything that actually happens in Iran. Not that the Islamic Republic doesn’t have its share of ludicrous laws and punishments, mind you.

But more importantly, I wonder what the heck he was doing in Iran for 3 months…