Sunday, March 29, 2009

ARTICLE #5: STOP THAT! (Step away from the internet!)


TOP 6 WAYS to identify an individual who is NOT COOL according to the standards of mainstream modern society:
6) - Their value system does not fit into either of two pre-defined categories.
5) - Their cell phone remains starkly un-personalized and is older than 1 year.
4) - They know more about their own thoughts than they do about Oprah's.
3) - They believe in any kind of 'movement' involving 'comics'.
2) - They enjoy music played less than 17 times a day on the radio.
1) - They remember information and events that are not currently being marketed.


How many of these banes apply to you? If you've been keeping up with my articles, you'd better watch it... I'm trying to shove number three down your gullet.
For those who haven't taken a peek at my first four articles, here's the gist; The medium of comics has been slowly crushed into obscurity in America, mainly as the result of an unwieldy spandex-obsessed monopoly rising to power - and staying there. We're on the verge of change, however, and a Creator Revolution is happening. What you're reading now was to be the article where I discuss how to pragmatically facilitate the Revolution.


I told you... Revolution? Comics? It's number three.


So, what exactly is this 'Revolution' about? Will we need guns?


Ridiculous, it does not require guns - they are optional. The Creator Revolution maintains that comics are a great, largely unrealized form of art and storytelling; and instead of being rigidly manipulated and dictated by tactless business monoliths, stories belong to two groups of people only: the storytellers, and the audience - the creators, and the readers. These are the only people who have a valid stake in the equation, and these are the groups that should be guiding the future of the medium. That's what the Creator Revolution is here to accomplish. And it's already beginning around us - comics are blooming online, conventions are thriving with more and more small dealers serving crowds of readers, and print on demand has opened the gateway for all to see their hard work in print.
But before I jump into all the details, ideas, and exhortations of how to start carrying the movement forward, I think there's a question we all need to ask ourselves first...


Who cares?


I mean, really. We're talking about a bunch of wanna-be artists trying quixotically to peddle their wares. How much does it really matter? We've got TV, after all. TV!


I can tell you one thing - someone sure cares about the Creator Revolution... They care about stopping it.


The following may give pause to some readers... It sure surprised me when I discovered it. I think I logged about 42 consecutive incredulous blinks - yet reality, bizarre as ever, remained. Who, pray tell, could possibly have a grim vendetta against unheard of artists and their fledgling efforts? Isn’t that unspeakably petty - and retarded?


Prepare yourself, intrepid reader... You’re about to enter a world. A world of the strange, of the twisted, of the surreal. A world where every corner hides labyrinthine inanities, where business monopolies flounder in the face of absolutely no competition, and where gamma radiation renders health benefits. You’re about to enter... The Direct Market Zone!! Where the enemy - is you!


‘How can this be!’, you ask? ‘Me - enemy? What could I have done?’


Time to find out - with this scientifically formulated test! Just answer the questions below with ‘yes’, ‘no’, or uncooperative silence;


Question #1: Have you ever gone to a comic book convention and bought a... comic book?
Question #2: Have you ever discovered a new artist online or at a convention?
Question #3: Have you ever ordered a comic book online or viewed a webcomic?
Question #4: Have you ever sold a comic in any manner where Diamond didn't get a cut of the profits?


If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, then according to organizations in the Direct Market, you are... the problem.


No, that was not supposed to be a joke. I’m actually serious. The Direct Market has a problem with people enjoying comics beyond their own monopoly-fed system. And this is no vague attitude of jealous hostility - it's an explicitly expressed agenda.
Keeping lock-step with Diamond's dominion, 'brick-and-mortar' retailer groups 'ComicsPRO' and 'CBIA' have issued statements condemning anyone selling books outside of their own organization's stores. Sound just a touch unlikely? Heck, don't take my word for it - read their own press release:


"ComicsPRO asserts that direct-to-consumer sales of material prior to their release to retailers adversely affects potential sales in Direct Market stores belonging to our membership. When customers have already purchased products directly from a publisher before the retail channel is even able to stock these items, the cash flow and bottom lines of Direct Market retailers are noticeably impacted."
-ComicsPro


So, to paraphrase; Anything in the entire world of comics should be sold through their stores, first and only; AFTER they've had their fill of sales (theoretically - we are talking about those meccas of popularity, comic shops), the actual creators and publishers of the book may be granted permission to sell their work through other, less universe-centric venues. But if it's not on their shelves first - they think it shouldn't be anywhere.
Not at conventions, not on the internet, and certainly not in the hands of readers. In the Direct Market Zone, the most important component in the intimate relationship between creator and reader is... The monopoly-integrated middleman.


Yeesh, talk about your entitlement mindsets! These guys could write a book on the subject! ...Well, no, they actually couldn't, they don't 'work' to 'make' books... But they could sure sell the book! (As long as nobody else on earth were allowed to sell it first, leaving them as the only option remaining in our galaxy.)
Bear in mind the fact that, for all practical purposes, these stores obediently suckle from the catalog of Diamond and Diamond alone. If you're not a financially endowed member of the monopoly, odds are they're already uninterested in working outside their comfort zone with you. And if you're not on their shelves, then evidently they want you to quietly stop existing... Saving them the effort of closing their eyes and humming.


My first reaction upon reading ComicsPRO & CBIA's stance was incredulity... They can't really be that myopic. Clearly, I'm misunderstanding the situation. It's like that time with my Boglin in the public restroom, all over again... I needed to see things from their perspective!


"...It's my hope that in the future when you and others are reporting on matters such as this and find yourselves reacting to someone with such incredulity, and the first thought is to belittle them, that instead you will stop and do what you've done here. Present some well thought-out questions and opinions and ask for the same back. Education and respect is how the comic industry will move forward, lack of it is how it will die."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA (Comic Book Industry Alliance)


Well, there's a breath of fresh air! This guy sounds pretty reasonable - education and respect? Big helpings of both, thanks! And he's the founder of the CBIA. Let's hear some more from him. (And what better way than to haphazardly paste his out-of-context statements across this article?) Understanding how an insider thinks is just what I need in order to dispel my zany notion that the Direct Market and its monopoly are out to get us little guys... Time to take off the aluminum foil hat. There won't be any insane, unjustified entitlement mentality with this fellow:


"I do believe that publishers owe it to me, and other retailers who support them, not to usurp our efforts, especially by taking unfair advantage of their ability to sell direct, uncontested and without notice, to the consumer."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA


Oh, well... You know, cut him a break. He does work in a monopolized market after all, we can't expect him to latch onto the whole 'competition is healthy' idea right away. But the point is, the CBIA and those it represents are real, thinking people. They want comics to grow, and to surpass the limited market served by the Big Four. Especially after the huge success of 'Bone' and other fresh comics, they understand the value of diverse, new, creator owned ideas, and their potential in attracting new readers to-


"The most important (misconception) being, that increasing creator owned work is somehow going to "save comics", whatever that means. It makes good sound bites but that's about it."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA


Hmm. O-kaayyy.... Not a big fan of creator - owned work... Well, assembly-line spandex certainly does have its place in the monopoly system. But, working first-hand in the industry, surely he at least agrees that the Direct Market isn't doing so hot with its current fare?


"No, I don't think the DM is functioning well."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA


Thank you. There, you see? There is some common ground! It's hard to argue with the devastating effect that decades of stagnation under a monopoly has created. Now that we've established there is indeed a problem, we can all work together to-


"...the fault lays almost exclusively with these small press publishers. I am at a loss to think of any other industry where companies regularly form to create product that there is no demonstrable demand for, and whose chances for survival (not success but survival) are firmly attached solely to their ability to leech customers away from an existing consumer pool."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA


...Leech? Wait, no... No way... I'm getting this wrong. He can't really be implying that Marvel and DC customers are drying up because... Marvel and DC, with their exclusivity deals and corporate backing and unquestioned shelf space, aren't selling well... Due to unheard-of fledglings outside the Big 4? Are these Direct Market loons really blaming the acorns for deforestation?


"...The biggest problem with hobby publishers is that it promotes unprofessional creative efforts and keeps potentially successful efforts from being successful with professional for-profit publishers."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA


Oh. Oh, my... I think I hear it... The theme music is starting up- DEAR GOD! We're still in - the Direct Market Zone! Aieeeeeeeee!!!
The land of the strange and illogical; where reality meets expectation - and is warped to match it! Stay, brave reader - and marvel! Welcome to the Direct Market Zone!
Where 40,000 superhero fans comprise the sole souls who would ever consider picking up any comic - and millions of Bone readers mysteriously do not exist! Where if mainstream superhero titles don't meet with success - it's clearly because there's no demand for unprofessional independent comics!


Try wrapping your mind around the thought process justifying this - it's like one of those nifty brain teaser games! I'll spoil the surprise for you, though; there's no way to win and have it suddenly make sense. But if you're bored somewhere, give it a go anyways! It's right up there with trying to break the '4 Color Theorem'. Let's delve deeper into the abyss, shall we? Strap yourself in - things are starting to get interesting!


"If I were creating a comic that was not super hero centric, I would invest all of my efforts at reaching out to readers of my particular genre of choice, NOT super hero readers and the retailers who love them."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA


Okaay... It looks like we're witnessing a lucid moment here. Nobody make any sudden moves. He seems to be saying that... if you're creating a different genre of comic, marketing to superhero comic shops might not be the best option. I'd have to be in agreement there. So - carefully, don't shatter the moment - it should therefore be alright to... Promote our projects... elsewhere? Like... (slooowly now!) ...conventions?


"Stop debuting projects at conventions AND use conventions for what they are really for, OUTREACH... You should know what conventions you're attending in advance, create a flier listing all known area retailers who support your product line and in conjunction with these retailers develop a bounce back reward program that will drive these motivated buyers into those shops."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA


And the moment is gone.


Finally, we have the inside scoop on what conventions are *really* for! Pay attention, any readers or creators out there planning on attending a con - you may be getting it wrong! Conventions aren't about meeting people, browsing new work, or enjoying a community. That's an easy misconception to have - even I was fooled! But now we know conventions are really about... finding maps!
Heh, what had I been thinking? These ideas I get. Conventions are actually around because that's where people can go to get a map to somewhere else! Conventions are big traveling map kiosks; free, obligatory advertising outlets invented just special for local retailers. Why else would somebody attend a con? They show up so they can find directions to you, Rob!


"Publishers selling directly to consumers has some controversy attached. A lot of retailers in the comic book direct market take a very dim view of direct sales to consumers, especially at conventions. While it may not be a realistic view, it is not uncommon for retailers to view attempts to sell to the consumer as a direct attack on their store, regardless of whether they actually stock the product or if the sales generated actually come from their zip code."
-Todd Allen, Publisher's Weekly.

So, in the 'Direct Market Zone', there's no significant room for small press in Diamond, and no valid place for them in conventions... I guess that leaves the internet.


"I will not... support a business model (online only) that I feel is harmful to the industry as well as one that the CBIA was founded to help brick and mortar retailers fight."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA
(Bold font emphasis gleefully inserted by David Lillie)


So the CBIA is here... To fight the internet.


...To Fight...


...The Internet.


I... I don't know what to say. What joke could top that? Rob, I'm sorry... But I think the battle is lost. Unless you were planning on sending a T-1000 back in time to kill Al Gore, it's too late. The internet wins.


'Harmful'?!


Let's just ignore, for a moment, that creator - owned webcomics are luring readers of all ages back to the medium of comics by the millions. Let's forget the affordability and effectiveness that the internet brings to marketing capacity. Let's not think about the enhancement to a readership that online community involvement fosters. Let's overlook the sheer artistic value of having a barrier - free venue for new talent of every stripe. Basically, let's forget the virtually indisputable fact that the internet is the best thing to happen to comics since Gutenberg.
Let's just say, for now, that the internet is bad for comics. Bad, bad internet! Even so, why try to 'fight' it? Shouldn't the Direct Market be expending its efforts trying to adapt to, and grow with the internet? Shouldn't the focus be on moving forward constructively? And even if they're determined to sit back and play victim to the changing times, why not just blame the changing times - why specifically blame independents? When their industry is all but closed to small press, why express hostility towards novice efforts outside the system? Why don't they just literally, you know... mind their own business?


There's a very obvious reason, and one that confirms the gist of my past articles... Their sales suck. They're feeling desperate. Pressured. If their stores were stuffed with customers, and their registers brimming over with cash, they'd be more than happy to mind their own business! They wouldn't care about 'unprofessional' efforts outside their walls. But, they do care. Comic shops haven't magically reversed their long, slow drag into obscurity - collectively, they're still struggling.
And of course they're struggling! They're working under a monopoly being force - fed the droppings of licensing operations, which have no appeal beyond a narrowing range of aging anachronistic readers! They've utterly fumbled the chance to engage a new generation in comics, and missed the train on manga because it fell outside their preconceptions! Their business is so dysfunctional, it's almost more as though the customers are serving their needs, rather than the other way around, with a buying trip to the comic shop being seen as an exercise in charity!


"...this system is screwy, old and broken. It’s almost being run the same way it was run in 1989, with very few improvements. So there… again I have complained or yammered about what a stupid system it is. I’ve used it, I’ve put up with it– but the bottom line is it doesn’t serve the consumer, publisher or retailer at all. Especially in 2009."
DJ Coffman


"I am at a loss as to why the comic industry has allowed Diamond to have a monopoly on its distribution. Geppi can scream that he doesn't all he wants but anyone that owns or has ever owned a comic store knows he is lying... ...As a retailer at the time, I noticed Diamond's customer service was the worse I've ever dealt with in any business and from what I understand, it hasn't changed. Why should it? You have to take what they dish out to stay in business."
-Rock8334


That's right - I'm quoting from rock8334. Only the highest standards of journalistic research and integrity with my articles!


So, there are problems in the Direct Market. I think we've beat that horse into a pulp by now. But rather than deal with the elephant in the canoe who's making them sell that pulp, CBIA and ComicsPro have valiantly leapt to action and decided to blame...


Those damn little guys.


For any psych undergrads looking to write a thesis on the mechanics of collective denial, look no further.
The Beat of Publisher's Weekly comments on the topic:


"They (CBIA & ComicsPro) can’t rail against Amazon, B&N, B&T, the internet, libraries, manga or anyone else, so they just lashed out at the nearest person... New publishers arriving on CBIA are inevitably met with suspicion and the equivalent of a “Are you now or have you ever been a publisher who might have sold a comic outside the direct market?” threshhold that just isn’t logical in today’s day and age."


Dealing with deep rooted problems, innovating, and coping with the changing times are all hard work. But finding a scapegoat? Easy and fun! Especially if it's a small defenseless scapegoat. With leukemia and big sad eyes. And a limp.


So here's a question - with the denizens of the Direct Market Zone screeching at any progress being made which doesn't drag them along with it, what's a young creator to do? Forge ahead through another route, and the gatekeepers of the Direct Market may mark you as an 'outsider.' Should we, the next generation of storytellers, grant the Direct Market precedence above every other potential avenue of sales and growth? Is innovation worth the censure? Is it worth an uphill struggle to try and fit into their limited, rectangular monopolized walls? And, considering the sad state of their market, do they merit the effort?


"Ultimately they don’t owe us anything but the reverse is true as well. If they don’t feel that the DM is an area that they need for their success, trust me, there are plenty of books out there for us to sell.... Have you seen (Diamond's) Previews lately? Its not getting any thinner. "
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA


"I think we will see a thinner Previews, yeah."
Bill Schanes, Diamond Vice President of Purchasing


Editing can be so, so fun. And evil. And fun.


To maintain even the pretense of equity, I need to emphasize how out-of-context all of these Robert Scott quotes are. He's a lot smarter when I don't dice his thoughts into slivers and rearrange them. In fact, he's actually an example of a comic retailer who's doing everything right; His store Comikaze intelligently incorporates manga, is effective at drawing in new customers, and has a layout and genre selection which offers something to everyone, especially to the new buyer. I'm using his quotes to make a point, but don't think that he's actually a clueless caricature outside of my rigged article. I am a storyteller, after all. (I never made any promises of journalistic integrity in here - Er, did I? ...No? Excellent! Forward, ho!)


Back on topic - It appears that Diamond's solicitation magazine, Previews, is slated to lose some weight. Just what's going on? And how does it relate to the Creator Revolution?


Well, strap yourself in. Because pondering whether or not it's worthwhile to placate the gatekeepers just became irrelevant... The gates have slammed shut and locked - from the inside. And there is a tiny Frenchmen perched at the top. Giving you a raspberry.
On January 19th of 2009, Diamond Distribution announced its new "DIE INSECTS!" business strategy. (I think they may have titled it something different - but I'm going for accuracy here.) And if their intent was to wipe small publishers and independents from the face of the earth, they couldn't have drafted a better plan... Unless of course it involved large quantities of sarin gas. Don't hold your breath waiting for that though, I doubt Diamond would ever truly be willing to use... I take it back. Hold your breath.


After years of pushing Marvel and DC crap into the Direct Market, and watching it wither and gag, Diamond's cunning new strategy is... To push even more Marvel and DC crap into the Direct Market, and erect massive financial barriers to blockade access from smaller publications and upstart creators.


Nothing like taking the long view into account.


Cartoonist DJ Coffman predicts the shift will “spell doom” for many current and future titles from small publishers.
So what exactly did Diamond do, anyways? Short answer - doom. Boring answer:


They raised their 'minimum profit benchmark' from $1,500 to $2,500.


Now, I know what you're thinking. 'Minimum profit benchmarks - finally, this article is getting juicy!'

Damn straight! But bear with me - there may be a few straggling, lost souls out there who are sadly uninitiated to the glittering magic of minimum profit benchmarks. Lets share our joy with them, shall we?
So, what exactly is a 'minimum profit benchmark?' Basically, it's an arbitrary quantity of cash that Diamond demands to achieve from every title it carries. If the minimum benchmark were zero, then Diamond would be covering all of its operating costs, shipping expenses, and vendor invoices just fine - but there'd be no extra profit. Those poor shareholders!


To avoid such a disaster, Diamond decrees minimum profit sums, or 'benchmarks' that each individual title must meet. Any titles falling short are dropped and cut off -effectively eliminated from every comic shop in America. Except, of course, for Big 4 titles - they have guaranteed exclusivity deals, don't forget. The rules don't apply to them, only to us little guys.
And with the recent dramatic benchmark increases, the rules have dramatically changed the game, by ending it.
How much of an impact does a $1,000 increase in the benchmark really make, though? For anyone who's not involved in publishing, these numbers and dry conversations about margins can seem a little abstract. To better convey the impending results of this business maneuver, let's hear from some other publishers and industry professionals - the ones without exclusive back-room hookups:


Jennifer de Guzman, editor-in-chief of SLG Publishing, asserts the rising threshold “puts all smaller publishers in a difficult position, and probably means the end of independent serialized comics.”


"What this signals to me is that in defiance of the trends of the culture towards smaller, more creator-owned work, Diamond is just interested in propping up already popular works. They’ve given up fostering the next Dash Shaw or Yokoyama — they’re essentially cutting off the potential for growth or surprise."
Dan Nadel- SLG Publishing


Johanna Draper Carlson, of 'Comics Worth Reading':
"The most likely result is the end of the independent series... I suspect we’re never again going to see something like a Bone or a Strangers in Paradise, a long-running series by a single creator.
Or as non Diamond-exclusive publishers told us in private emails (a sampling):
“It is going to be rough for us Top 20 publishers. It will be epic for anyone smaller. Lots of folks will vanish due to this, even some bigger guys.”
“I expect the new threshold to annihilate many of the smallest publishers and keep a lot of new ones out of Previews.”
and
“This is the single biggest event since Diamond became the monopoly that ruled comics.”


Tom Spurgeon quoted Publisher Dan Nadel as saying- (cover your ears, children!); “If true, I’m fucked.”


Also on Diamond's 'shit to fuck up' list: Shelf life. Simultaneous with their tycoonish benchmark hike, they've announced that they refuse to distribute or deal with any title once it's been released for 60 days. They won't let retailers order more copies, they won't sell editions to customers, and they sure as hell won't order more from publishers. The book is, quite simply, done. And if that title didn't meet their draconian benchmark within the ticking time limit - then it's the last title of that series that Direct Market customers will ever see.


If it's not an instant hit - it's an instant death.


Great news for the soulless speculation collector's market. Bad news for any young artists or creators who were hoping to ever have a place in comics. If your book isn't already at the apex of popularity upon the instant of its release, there's no chance of working up to that point through a quality effort. Strike one - You're out.


"...The amazing, long running successes of books like Bone, Strangers In Paradise, Mouse Guard and many more would be impossible under this situation... These books all generated readers and numbers through word of mouth, eventually becoming best-sellers. But these Diamond numbers effectively stop any possibility of a slow burn success. And of course, less publishers is a bad thing. Less variety means less potential interest from new readers. Which means a shrinking customer base. And that’s always bad news.”
-Richard Bruton


Well, I think that about covers it... Does anyone care about the Creator Revolution? Well, it seems that the entire Direct Market, from Diamond, to the Big 4, to retailer organizations, are doing their damnedest to put a stop to it.
They've collectively blockaded new artists and storytellers from distribution, are lobbying to prevent the sale of comics at conventions, have expressed a desire to 'fight' the internet, and done everything in their power to effectively gag smaller publishers. Except for the whole sarin gas thing... Don't stop holding your breath.


"Imagine a publisher who recognizes that the way to attract readers is to give them quality cartoons... and that the way to get quality cartoons is to offer artists a quality format and artistic freedom. Is it inconceivable such a venture could work?"
-Bill Watterson


Sadly - in today's Direct Market - yes.


*Sighhh....*


Storytelling. Using art, to tell a story, with words and pictures. Simple, innocent, and sincere... It takes a special soul to transform something so pure and straightforward into a twisted clusterfuck of crushing greed.


Thank you, Diamond.


It's enough to make me pause and reflect on why I've dedicated myself to comics in the first place.
This wasn't my only artistic option, or a last choice, or something I settled for. I could have been a rodeo clown. A destructive mad scientist. There's my skill at juggling invisible, silent steam shovels. Or, I could have been an animator. I've turned down recurring offers for continued freelance work, as well as an offer to move out for a full - time studio job. (I don't know how on earth they found my resume'... Evidently, there are still some demo DVDs floating around out there from my college days.) I've created professional 3-D and 2-D animation from scratch, had my work on television commercials selling cars, and in concept pitches for prospective TV shows. Whoop-dee-doo.
None of that ignited my imagination. I don't want to spend my life working on what's handed to me. I don't want to be a replaceable cog. I want to tell stories, without limitations, and without business considerations co-opting. In animation, the sheer cost of quality production demands business involvement. But in comics? What could get in the way of a clear fresh story there? In comics, creation is private, untarnished, and potent. In comics, I'd have no barriers to what I could create - only limitless possibilities.
Additionally, there's something intrinsically appealing in the medium of comics... There's a quiet sense of value in personally handcrafting an artistic tale, and delivering that story directly to a reader's eyes. There's something intangible there that even the more sophisticated entertainment forms, like platform gaming or big - budget animation, lack. There's an intimacy, a quiet magic to comics. There's no other medium I'd be happier to work in.
In short, I was drawn by the lure of freedom to make the business of comics my home.


...And then I find this god-awful mess.


A monopoly squatting on everything, new talent brushed to the wayside like garbage, sniping retail lobbies squawking at movement outside of their walls, and the 'mainstream' comics plastering those walls are so stuffed with advertising pages, that their story potential languishes even below their limited physical capacity. And when culture begins to shift, fueling the potential for a Creator Revolution - the established parasites rush to stomp it out.


So, what now? Should we call it quits? Accept the limitations on the business? Bow to the current circumstances? Give up? Abandon our dreams? Go home, forget our stories, grit our teeth, accept reality, and start learning to draw Batman?
Let me see... How to couch my sentiments within the proper context of propriety...


*Author's note; A paragraph has been removed at this point due to innovative and terrifying profanity, duration, and excessive gesticulation. We now return to our regularly scheduled article.*


...From the ass end of SATAN! With a CHERRY on top!


Whew... Sorry if I got a bit carried away there - but there can be no other answer! Quit!? What kind of schmoe quits just because the going is tough? What kind of a choice is that?
Quit.... Kick Ass. Quit.... Kick Ass. Quit.... Hmmm.


"If you don't hurry up and let life know what you want, life will damned soon show you what you'll get."
-Robertson Davies


From my brief endeavors to this point in comics, I know two things for a fact. One - there are talented artists and creators out there with something tantalizing to offer, something that doesn't fit the mold. And Two - there are readers - lots, and lots of readers out there - who are looking for exciting new art to enjoy. They're craving something fresh, something of quality, something original.
Those two ingredients (and coffee) are all we need to launch a creator revolution. They're small - but powerful, pure, unwavering - driven by the limitless force of creative aspiration. There's an inherent magnetism at work that no convoluted industrial conglomeration can smother. No matter how rigid their control over the channels of business in comics, no matter how long they've been calling the shots, the monopoly cannot control what we choose to create, and cannot dictate what will appeal to readers.


"I am drawn to people who choose to zig when the world zags. It is the ultimate form of freedom, and in that place of freedom, greatness happens. If you're locked into convention, if you're constantly measuring yourself against rules someone else has imposed, you've put a ceiling on what's possible. The most successful people in the world are those who separate themselves from the pack and dare to be different."
-Donny Deutsch


And wait just a minute! Is it really disastrous news that Diamond and the Direct Market are rejecting new creators and smaller publishers? Is this really a gloom - and - doom development for comics... Or is it something else? Is this a moldy old leftover squash - or a delicious slice of poundcake?
If you look at it from the mindset that the Direct Market Zone is the only outlet in reality for a comic book to exist, and that they shrivel and dissolve to ash outside of their 'proper' place, then yes. The news from Diamond is a disaster within that meek paradigm.
But the simple fact is... The Direct Market isn't the only place for comics. Not remotely. They'd love for you to think so. They'd like you to forget about the rest of the world. They don't want us to remember Barnes and Noble, independent bookstores, Amazon, conventions, small-town shops, mall stores, mail-order book clubs, libraries, schools, Europe, or webcomics.
Are we really losing the only game in town with Diamond? Or are we being relieved of a misrepresented distraction from true progress?


"For most of the new books we publish these days, the direct market accounts for about one-fourth of our initial sales. Over the last five years, our sales have gone up everywhere but the direct market. We are not costing the direct market sales — the direct market is costing itself sales (whether it be due to Diamond’s increasing inability to stay competitive with the rise of wholesalers and book trade distributors also selling graphic novels, or the 3000+ Diamond accounts out there that still don’t have any interest in diversifying their inventory and customer base by ordering outside of their own narrow tastes for the usual mainstream stuff). Interest in literary graphic novels has grown just about everywhere (in general bookstores, amongst the public, amongst the media, on the internet, etc.) over the last five years except in the direct market. We simply can’t afford anymore to make decisions out of fear of alienating such an increasingly small segment of our market. We could not survive in solely the direct market anymore: Marvel, DC, Image, etc. all ruined that possibility ten years ago with the exclusivity wars (which we fundamentally were opposed to from the get-go, a position which has probably hurt our standing in the D.M., but I have no regrets on that front. It was the right position to take)."
-Eric Reynolds


"...Hot Topic outsold the direct market by a wide margin on the titles it carried. Not only that, but if the chain merely chose to sample a title (carrying it in an unknown portion of its stores), it would still double the sales of the entire direct market. If you figure there are something like 2,500 direct market comic retailers and Hot Topic has somewhere in the vicinity of 700 stores, you can argue that Hot Topic was a lot more successful at placing Vado’s comics with customers. You can also speculate that if sampling a title doubled the direct market numbers, formally carrying a title should have been at least four times the amount of the direct market."
Todd Allen – Publisher’s Weekly.

"...in one weekend at the BEA, the book trade ordered three times as many copies of 'Blankets' as the entire direct market."
-The Comics Reporter – Tom Spurgeon


"This is not to say that there aren't publishers working hard to take chances in attracting new readers, but the smart ones have learned that doing so in the Direct Market is a sucker's game"
-Dirk Deppey


We're living in an exciting time for comics, standing on the shoulders of giants like Will Eisner. For the first time in nearly a century, society at large is ready to accept comics and graphic novels as a serious form of entertainment. They're ready to look past the spandex and see what else is out there.
Libraries are buying up graphic novels with assiduously growing interest. Chain bookstores are servicing growing crowds of manga readers, with entire sections devoted to sequential art. Welcoming comic, anime, furry, and other conventions are growing in popularity, size, and proliferation. And the internet is literally bursting with new comic art; webcomics and more flaring up in a growing starburst of activity - a starburst that is destined to expand along with the reach of the web, invading our phones, our i-pods, our picture frames, our television networks, our personal profiles and communications, in short, everywhere.
The horizon of potential directions for comics to grow has exploded. The limitations have dropped away. There are so many choices for artists of our generation, that quibbling over Diamond's actions is utterly pointless.


Who cares if the Direct Market is difficult to work with? There's the entire rest of the world out there! Including girls! Since Diamond's crushing business blow, the Creator Revolution has become our last viable option - but it can go anywhere!


Now, a brief note before ending this article... Is the Creator Revolution necessarily 'Anti - Diamond' and 'Anti - Comic Shop'? If an artist gets their work distributed through Diamond, are they suddenly a 'sell out', is their work somehow less valid than it was before?
Of course not! The Creator Revolution isn't an invitation for exclusionary snobbery, so we can turn our noses up at the mainstream while sipping frothy cappuccinos and wearing tiny circular shades during the day. (Or, at least, it shouldn't be just that.) It's about moving forward, not about pointing backwards and frowning.
I don't have a problem with comic shops - I mean, I love the medium of comics, so what's not to like about a store full of them? I think the idea of a comic store is great! Intrinsic monopoly difficulties aside, I certainly wouldn't deny comic shops the chance to carry my books in the future. Sure, why not?
I'd even be up for working with Diamond, in theory, if it were ever technically feasible in the real world. It's certainly not my first or best choice at this point... But if Diamond ever made it possible for more readers to enjoy my art, then why not? I'm not going to deny them the chance to do business with me. (I certainly wouldn't give them exclusive distribution rights, because that type of wheeling - and - dealing is how we got stuck with a monopoly. But I'd let them take a shot at competing in the marketplace with other vendors.)


So, despite the inanities of the Direct Market, I'm not drafting plans for a protest outside of Diamond's headquarters, or a march screaming that they should do business more fairly. They can do business however they want. What's it to me? It's a free-ish country, they can conduct themselves in any manner they choose. I hope comic shops find a way to prosper, and pull out of their slump - I hope everyone prospers! But I'm not going to slit my throat in more plausible arenas if that's what it takes for them to glance my way. They shouldn't expect the next generation of comic creators to jump on board their sinking ship, especially when they won't stop drilling holes to let all the water out.
The Creator Revolution is about successfully serving the needs of creators and readers. Entrepreneurs take note - any business that effectively aides in that process will find itself a profitable place in the world. And any business that fails to serve the needs of the market, while demanding arbitrary insertion into the process, well... Best of luck!
I'd advise other young creators out there - don't get worked up about Diamond or the Direct Market, or any of the nonsense I've highlighted in this article. Read it, and be aware of how things work in there... But focus your energy where it will make a difference. After all, it's not like they can actually stop us. Focus on what you're going to do right, not on what someone else is doing wrong.


...Which brings us to the final article in my series.


Enough about problems, obstacles, and limitations. It's getting tiresome talking about things that can't impede us. Now it's time to talk about success - and what we're going to do to create it.




14 comments:

Lis said...

LOL Way to give a pep-talk. XD Interesting view and definitely and eye opener. Thanks for the post. X3

Where did you get those quotes from? XD

voidSkipper said...

I don't know why these articles aren't getting more attention. Even those who aren't directly involved with the comic market should appreciate the foreshadowing - that games and music are going to go just the same way if we don't stick up for the little guys.

Anonymous said...

I think your presentation would be more effective (affective? I truly hate these words) if you had pictures. We're comic readers for Rob-sake~! It's a very interesting article, your standards of integrity are applauded.

matugi said...

I stand convinced.

Wheres my rifle? Viva la revolution!

If you step back and let the dying boar just squeal... no one gets the tusks? Of course their going to lash out at the little guys... what else can they do?

Gekkey Mathews said...

I am uncool^6

and you, my wise author, are a fan of Douglas Adams!

Ben said...

ComicsPro and CBIA (or whatever, they're unimportant remains of a dying dinosaur) are like the RIAA in their absurd and pedant attempts to squelch the power of the net.

Okay, here's the few problems I have with your posts. You're thinking from the perspective of an insider.

You say manga is samey, but in the Dark Ages of the 90's everyone was mimicking Liefeld, and more to the point manga also appeals to different demographics-you don't like Inuyasha, fine, but at any one time I'll bet Inuyasha has a female fanbase potentially larger than the entire American market.
Also, what's with this idea that anything which doesn't follow the left-right format is backwards, no offense but to a true outside observer it seems a symptom of the very thing you are fighting against.

2nd problem: you talk about a creators revolution but you rarely mention anything particularly substantive to prevent suffering the same folly as Image comics. You pay a decent amount of lip service to putting the audience ahead of marketing, but not much more.

3rd problem: you ignore that everything has its place, even middle-men who are only treated as parasitic boogeymen as opposed to a sometimes necessary tool which may improve the overall product when utilized effectively.

Anonymous said...

Al Gore didn't invent the Internet, albeit he saw the potential of it, though he didn't create it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that the creators and the readers are big parts of comics thriving but (BUT!!) it is in human nature to survive and to survive we.need.money .Although the big 4 and diamond should be promoting creativity not destroying it and shitting on the ashes. For some reason they seem to think that drying up the industry will keep it alive and keep their comics selling.

Anonymous said...

well those six things pretty much sum me up.... lol i dont really give much of a shit though anyways

dreamkeeper said...

I absolutely love the amount of time and consideration and research you put into these (completely true and justified) rants. They offer more fact than you could get from most other, more popular and "reputable" news sources, and for that, my friends -if I may call you that- I solute you.

-linuxblogz

Anonymous said...

Whoah there, you know what this sounds like?
...an ARTICLE!
(in something similar to a magazine or a news site!)
articles... CAN BE PUBLISHED!
Sorry, am I not being SUBTLE ENOUGH?
(Find someplace to PUBLISH said ARTICLE.)
SUBLETY... out the WINDOW.
-quik

Neko said...

Wow. This is a Seriously well written article and one that points out a few things of which I am still learning.

Thank you for taking the time to share this with us. Seems with the main stream markets, they are shooting themselves in the foot (and head it seems) with being so damn exclusive and not embracing change. We all fear it, but denying that change has, and will continue to happen, is only a recipe for disaster.

-TN

Garrett Simpson said...

I love Marvel and Dark Horse but I love my small and independent publishers too you know!They are only going to grow so Diamond can either grow alongside them or just wither and die until the next Marvel movie comes out and everybody loves the Avengers for a month and only the real comic fans stay for the story.

Jyr1co said...

I just can't laud your message and vision enough. It's inspiring, realistic, and open-ended. You've got a dedicated reader here!