Robot 6

Archaia Entertainment, a cautionary tale

Comics industry celebrates modest recovery

There have been some hearty proclamations recently that everything’s coming up Milhouse for the sales end of comics: “the best quarter in a decade” and “everyone up [in sales],” celebrates expert numbers-cruncher John Jackson Miller. ICv2’s recent market white paper concluded they were “bullish on the business.” I’m not denying there have been some encouraging signs. But when a highly acclaimed and savvy publisher like Archaia Entertaiment nearly disintegrates right under our noses because it switched bookstore distributors last year, then clearly not everyone is up. And not everything is quite as rosy as is being suggested.

Comic Book Resources’ recent interview with new Archaia President Jack Cummins should’ve turned more heads. This should have been a cold, hard reminder that small- and even medium-sized publishers frequently dance along a thin line between success and failure.

“There’s no question that the company was in a really tough spot for about six months. Last year, we changed out book market distribution from Diamond to PGW,” Cummins explained. “Unfortunately that partnership didn’t turn out as fruitful as they had hoped. “That contributed, in part, to us having a lot of challenges because our revenue decreased in the book market even as it was increasing in literally every other segment of the business.”

That may be one of the most troubling aspects. Despite success in virtually every aspect of its business, the hit to one distribution channel crippled Archaia. The publisher eventually ran into payment problems, had to reduce its number of releases, and had to make some cuts, such as not renewing the contract for well-regarded editor Paul Morrissey. Meanwhile, from the outside everything seemed to be going great: Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand, a graphic novel by Ramón K. Pérez based on a lost Henson screenplay, won three Eisner Awards and two Harvey Awards. Acclaim was also dished out to books like Cow Boy by Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos, and Rust by Royden Lepp, which won ForeWord’s Silver Book of the Year Award for Graphic Novel. The Gold award went to Tale of Sand. Archaia’s foray into digital with comiXology, including digital-first launches, appeared to be a success. But even with all of those things going right, one wrong move might’ve crippled the company.

Fortunately, Archaia looks as if it’s on track for a rebound. But it’s probably not the publisher’s last challenge. And it won’t be the last publisher to face such a challenge. One or more publishers could be going through something similar right now; maybe one more more won’t make it to the other side.

So what can be done? “[T]he industry as a whole has to look at how we’re trying to grow interest in the book market and with broader consumers rather than simply trying to pitch things to the Direct Market over and over again and relying only on that for our survival,” Cummins cautioned. “I think for this business as a whole to thrive, the question is, ‘How can we meet a bigger consumer need?’ And that’s a long term question for the whole industry.”

The answer isn’t just modestly better sales. Publishers and the industry as a whole need stronger sales from a more diverse pool of customers. Any business major will tell you that if you diversify your income sources, you strengthen your stability because a source that temporarily weakens or drops out entirely is more easily covered by the others. That means continuing to transition comics into a viable option among mainstream entertainment, instead of retreating back to the corner as a niche interest. Regardless of the good news we get, comics should never stop looking for new readers, and new kinds of new readers.

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15 Comments

But that’s the problem with Archaia — they’re NOT looking for new kinds of readers, and that’s why they’re in financial trouble and probably won’t last long. As someone who recently approached them with a book that was highly-touted by some big names in the industry, their submissions committee shot the book down because it was deemed too “mainstream” for the company — even though it was contrastingly favored by one of their higher-ups.

I don’t hold anything against them for declining the work, but the one higher-up I talked to thought that they, the company, SHOULD be more mainstream in their works to progress. But based on some of the titles they’ve announced after the cut, it looks like their submissions committee thinks that being “arthouse” before “profitable” is still the way to go.

As a reader, in my opinion, most of the books — not all — that I’ve ever seen from Archaia feature very mediocre art and piss-poor lettering jobs. Aside from the hardcover format, they’ve got very little going on, and they don’t know comic book fans very well or how to market themselves to them. Ultimately, I feel that unless they get more people from the Big Two and Image to take a peek a their stuff with some mainstream orientated books and some actual name artists from mainstream comics, I don’t anticipate them making it past 2013. As it stands, I don’t even think they have over 3,000 likes on Facebook.

Archaia has had more then one rough spot and always had a spotty record. I’m still waiting for the second part of Killer Volume 2.

The problem resides with the fact that the entire publishing world is in the midst of the digital wave. Music has gone through their evolution and it is still a mess with iHeartRadio, Pandora and the rest. Musicians have to rely on concerts and youtube videos and the rest to market themselves.

Comic books, especially independent publishers, have to rely on various channels to promote their products. The internet has created so many distribution channels that many great books get lost in the noise.

At this point we have Kickstarter and other such sites trying to get projects off the ground and yet how do you promote those projects. CBR and other sites can reach the comic book audience, but reaching the rest often relies on a creator selling a portion of their product to a publisher who promises to promote the work to movies and TV also.

At this point I don’t think their is one answer, each project has to find its own path. It is both harder now and easy to get noticed – a lot of luck is involved.

Archaia looks as if it’s on track for a rebound? We can all only hope. Then again…

The former CEO of Archaia was PJ Bickett, the same PJ Bickett who crashed DEVIL’S DUE. And look how they turned out?

And now Jack Cummins has replaced Bickett at Archaia. So what makes him qualified to fix Archaia? Who is this Jack Cummins guy, anyway? Well, he’s the company lawyer.

Anytime the lawyers take over a company I get nervous.

Archaia Creator

October 18, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Hey, Anoneemous-

[i]“As a reader, in my opinion, most of the books — not all — that I’ve ever seen from Archaia feature very mediocre art and piss-poor lettering jobs.”[/i]

Say that to all of our faces [aka the Archaia creators]- I take great pride in my work and hell- the majority of Archaia books are top notch AND are excellent in lettering too.

I agree in Archaia’s choice for, as you call it, “Art House” books. Just because you had a book that was like the big 2 doesn’t mean you can bash new voices that have yet to be heard in this industry. It’s about creating new worlds and building a new way of looking at this industry so we can reach out to new readership- from the young to people who’ve never picked up a graphic novel/comic book in their lives.

Don’t take out your frustrations on the company as a whole because you were turned down.

I think most of these comments have missed the point entirely. The article wasn’t expressing a need for the company to go mainstream a la the Big Two in terms of product, it was discussing the need to bring comics into the mainstream as a source of entertainment. Comics have been relegated to the small market for too long and its up to companies (like Archaia) to show that comics can be a viable source of entertainment to compete with movies, traditional books, electronics, etc. for your dollar.

I think Archaia is doing EXACTLY that. They are attracting new readers by putting out products that can sit on your bookshelf without looking out of place. These are books for the non-comic book reader and THAT’S what the article is focused on. Attracting a new type of customer with diverse material. If you think that Archaia isn’t providing that, you are kidding yourself.

Go fight somewhere else, and use your real names.

This industry is insane… a Top 300 that doesn’t list all the comics published?
That’s INSANE for the amount of readers it has.

I’m not taking out my frustrations. I’m trying to help them. Their model is FAILING. And I do think most — not all of their titles; less than two handfuls — have mediocre to poor art and piss poor lettering. Even “Rust” looks like it was drawn by an amateur. You name me more than a handful of artists or writers in their current website lineup of that are currently illustrating for the Big Two or Image. You can’t; and there’s a reason for it.

Sorry you’re upset by my opinion (which I would gladly give to your face if it makes you feel any better). However, my opinion has absolutely nothing to do with my book getting turned down by them (which I now have another publisher for, by the way). Hell, I only approached them because of their business model when it comes to payment and creator rights. I knew I’d have to do most of my promotion — because they more than likely wouldn’t have the financial resources — but luckily I already had a large, built-in fanbase on some of that end to accommodate that deficit.

Brass tacks: To see Archaia’s current resonance with fans in this industry, just check out the proof in the pudding. They have a miniscule amount of likes on Facebook, and most of their titles have crappy Amazon customer reviews which reference amateur visuals and production. A handful of Harvey awards has absolutely no influence on consumer demand or opinion — neither does that of any of Archaia’s creators. It’s great to get “new voices” into this industry, but ALL those voices should be quality — not just some. There’s a reason why Archaia’s at where they’re it.

Hey Anoneemous!

Sorry for your frustrations in pitching your book. I’m extremely familiar with the pitch process and it’s not fun. It sounds like you might have a great title on your hands, and I like helping people get their stories told. If you want to email your pitch to me, I’d happy to forward it to my agent. royden(dot)lepp(at)gmail And/or give you some of my own feedback if you were open to it. I’ve reviewed more portfolio’s and pitches than you could imagine. I’d be happy to help you out.

The key is finding the right publisher for your book. For me it was Archaia.
Sorry you didn’t like Rust :) No offense taken, it’s not for everyone.

I agree with ‘Judge’ mostly, these comments have gotten off topic. I’d love to hear what people think the definition of ‘mainstream’ really is. How CAN we get comics into the hands of those that wouldn’t normally pick them up? It’s great if fans of the big two enjoy Archaia’s titles, but they’re not honestly *for* them. They’re for that person that hasn’t picked up a comic since they were a kid (or maybe ever). At least that’s been my approach with Rust.

Rust is for the kid I used to be, the one who didn’t know the difference between Marvel or DC and didn’t care.

Royden,

I shouldn’t say I didn’t like “Rust”; it was a damn good story and it was told well sequentially. And despite me being not a huge fan of the art, there’s a reason things win Harveys. (I assume you’re one of the creators?)

Anyway, despite my work’s decline at Archaia, I fell in love with what this company could be if they marketed themselves correctly and started mixing in more mainstream art and stories into the indie/art house mix. In my opinion, the only way they can do that is to get attention from mainstream fans– the heart and soul of the industry — because new comic fans are a rare breed and you cannot count on them for sales.

In other words: If I was running Archaia, I’d immediately get some stories approved with some mainstream artists and creators and promote the hell out of them. The only way to bring in the dough and expand and as a company is with guaranteed sales in large numbers. That requires names and mainstream concepts from artists and creators with followings. Movie studios don’t stick with just one type of film — not the renowned ones anyway. That’s the key, in my mind at least, in making Archaia competitive and lasting.

Mainstream fans will be more likely to check out the other less known creators and indie/art house titles in Archaia’s library after they become more familiar with and fond of the company. But to make money, you have to spend money — and I don’t know how much Archaia has. In any case, too many mainstream comic fans out there don’t know a thing about the company — and it could be SO much more. They’re like a cover band that refuses to dress like rock stars and then wonders why they’re not making big bucks or a huge hit with fans. Business has proven formulas — you deny them at your peril.

On a side note: I do appreciate your offer, but 1) I’ve already got an agent and a prospective publisher, and 2) Despite your admittedly sincere tone, exposing my name and work to you might be a way for you to retaliate to my criticisms and scar my career. Oh, how I wish this were a non-competitive lovey-dovey industry filled with people who all wanted to help the next guy get a leg up, but there’s sharks in them waters, my friend!

Well, in addition to my comment that may or may not be published (comments in moderation mysteriously disappear and reappear), what I meant to say was “get made into a film.” You weren’t a Harvey winner, right?

I don’t think Archaia is trying to (nor should) appeal to comic book fans (of the “big two” variety). Their line of publications focuses on all the other genres that the big two do not cover, in hopes of expanding towards new demographics – and that’s what more comic publishers should be doing.

Yes, there are some titles that are maybe too niche, i.e. of the “artsy fartsy” variety. But then other stuff like Mouse Guard, Fraggle Rock, Return of the Dapper Men, and Rust feel like comic books that a lot of people would not be ashamed of displaying either in their bookstore windows or on their coffee tables. I don’t think I can say the same for many of the big two’s pamphlets or hardcovers (and I like some of that stuff too).

Bottom line, Although the big two’s books are considered more manstream within the comic fan community, they are NOT mainstream material (the merchandise and film, and tv series option on those properties ARE, but no the books). Whereas a lot of Archaia’s books are more mainstream in the broader consumerist landscape. It’s just difficult to get the stuff out there because of the tarnished reputation comics still have thanks to the cheesy aesthetics the public have been exposed to from seeing most superhero books for over the past half century.

Oh and by the way, Archaia rejected a pitch of mine as well, but I understand the reasons why. Plus I’m not a fan of this new tendency to tally a creative’s worth by how many facebook likes and twitter followers they have. That’s just cruel and unfair. If that’s a deciding factor in publishers and agents to decide whether to pick up new talent or not (be it comic artists, writers, actors, musicians) then that’s just sad that we’ve come that far.

Also, Robot 6, this “awaiting moderation” thing is ridiculous. I have never made one vulgar/ban-worthy post on this site. Does everyone have to go through this crap, or just people who post anonymously?

BTW: George, it is a HUGE factor nowadays when finding new talent — more so writers. WAY more so. Nobody wants to take a risk. Why do you think all these companies keep hiring celebrity “writers” who’ve never written a thing in their life and won’t hire an unpublished non-celebrity with chops?

“Also, Robot 6, this “awaiting moderation” thing is ridiculous. I have never made one vulgar/ban-worthy post on this site. Does everyone have to go through this crap, or just people who post anonymously?”

It’s not everyone; my guess is the spam filter is flagging your comments because of the email address you’ve given.

Hmmmm… a little late to the party, but I’d certainly be up for an article or discussion on the market dominance of Diamond as a distributor and how their grasp of the market contributes to the business conditions such as that of Archaia.

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