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Though they’re remaining committed to a recent wave of new creator-owned books, Dark Horse has shifted its sales strategy for a trio of lower performing series.
The publisher announced this week that The Ghost Fleet from Donny Cates and Daniel Warren Johnson, Resurrectionists by Fred Van Lente and Maurizio Rosenzweig and Sundowners by Tim Seeley and Jim Terry would all shift their monthly comic output to digital first series. Plans for print graphic novels collecting the continued stories remain in place for the fall.
“What keeps this industry alive is creators doing their own work. Once you change a costume or origin enough times, it’s a dead body — you’re just electrocuting it and keeping it sort of shambling on. There is a lot more creator-owned stuff now, and some of it I look at and go, ‘Oh, that’s his pitch for a TV show. That’s his pitch for a movie. That’s him saying oh, this kind of thing sells.’ I didn’t do that. My one piece of advice to people who are saying “‘I wanna do it, but DC and Marvel pay so well …’ is that in between your big paying gigs, just find time just to do one comic! It doesn’t have to be a 6,000-page epic! It doesn’t have to be Hellboy! Ten years down the road, when you’re scrambling for work or drawing some book you hate, at least you did something when you had fire in your belly that’s really you.”
Legal | Attorney Tom Goldstein, co-founder of the respected SCOTUSblog, has joined with Marc Toberoff to represent the heirs of Jack Kirby in their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of the Second Circuit’s affirmation that the artist’s contributions to Marvel between 1958 and 1963 were work for hire and therefore not subject to copyright termination. In a response filed this week to Marvel’s brief urging the high court to decline review, Goldstein and Toberoff again challenge the Second Circuit’s “instance and expense” test and its definition of “employer,” and argue, “Many of our most celebrated literary and musical works were created before 1978 and signed away to publishers in un-remunerative transactions. Termination rights were ‘needed because of the unequal bargaining position of authors.’ It would be hard to find a better example of this than the prolific Jack Kirby, who worked in his basement with no contract, no financial security and no employment benefits, but without whom Marvel might not even be in business today.” [Hollyqood, Esq.]
Retailing | Memo to politicians: You don’t win friends and influence people by taking up five spots in a comic store’s parking lot with your campaign bus on a Wednesday — especially when it’s Batman Day. [The Clarion-Ledger]
Digital comics | ICv2 estimates the size of the digital comics market at $90 million in 2013, not counting subscription services such as Marvel Unlimited or Crunchyroll — so presumably the tally is limited to single-issue sales. It’s also not clear whether the number includes comics sold on eBook platforms such as Kindle or just those sold through specialty channels such as comiXology or as direct downloads. The $90 million number represents a 29 percent increase over 2012 numbers. [ICv2]
Creators | As the first issue of his new series The Life After is released, writer Joshua Hale Fialkov talks about why he prefers creator-owned work: “I want to treat every book I do as though it’s 100% owned by me, because, at the end of the day, nobody is blaming an editor if that book sucks. They’re blaming me. Even if the art is sub-par, I take the blame for that. So, for my money, being thorny and vocal to get work I’m proud of is worth it, no matter what doors it shuts, because, as the saying goes, nothing shuts doors and costs you audience faster than producing junk.” And, he says, he is making as much money doing creator-owned comics as the corporate ones. [The Hollywood Reporter]
Conventions | Organizers of the growing Asbury Park Comicon have announced that, after three years, they’re relocating the New Jersey convention to the Meadowlands Exhibition Center in Secaucus and renaming it East Coast Comicon. Founders Cliff Galbraith and Robert Bruce say the nearly 40-mile move was triggered by a sharp increase in rates at the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel in Asbury Park, but the hotel’s manager thinks it’s because the venue couldn’t accommodate the dates requested by organizers. The inaugural East Coast Comicon will be held April 11-12, 2015. [Asbury Park Press]
Passings | Amadee Wohlschlaeger, who drew the comic strip Weatherbird for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 70 years, has died at age 102. Weatherbird, which debuted in 1901, is the oldest continuously published comic in the United States, and Wohlschlaeger (who went by just his first name) is one of just four cartoonists to draw it. He was named one of the top 10 sports cartoonists in the country, and his drawing of Stan Musial inspired the statue at Busch Stadium. [KSDK]
Comics | Liam Burke, editor of the essay collection Fan Phenomena: Batman, discusses the enduring appeal of the Dark Knight, who of course turns 75 this year: “This isn’t a guy who’s from an alien planet, this isn’t someone who was bitten by a radioactive spider. This is an average guy, albeit incredibly wealthy and incredibly intelligent, at the peak of human fitness, but an average guy nonetheless. That sort of aspirational quality has been identified as the reason Batman sort of stands above Spider-Man, Superman or any number of heroes.” [RN Drive]
Publishing | David Harper looks at the economics of monthly creator-owned comics, as well as how trades fit into the picture; for creators, the monthlies provide a regular stream of income so they can always be working on the next issue. Brandon Montclare, Jim Zubkavich and others provide some first-hand commentary on how things work in the real world. [Multiversity Comics]
“Regarding single issue sales: they are incredibly important to a lot of Image creators. On Rocket Girl, it’s by far the biggest chunk (of course, we don’t have a tpb yet). And every reader counts. A few thousand copies can make or break a series. If Rocket Girl dips into the 8000s, we’ll start thinking about when to wrap it up. If it stays above 12,000 we can do it forever. At 12,000 copies I can make as much writing Rocket Girl as Hulk; Amy Reeder can make as much penciling/inking/coloring as she would on Batwoman. 8000 vs 12,000 is a significant difference in percentage, but it’s not a huge amount of readers. A lot of Image creators are in the same boat, albeit their individual line might be a bit higher or lower. Certainly collected editions and digital and ancillary media/merchandise contribute as well. But a lot of making creator-owned work is down to financing: and single issues have the biggest impact on cash flow – and the only impact on cash flow for almost a full year when you take into account early production to ‘get ahead’ as well as solicitation.”
— Rocket Girl writer Brandon Montclare, commenting on The Beat’s monthly analysis of indie-comics sales, and the ensuing discussion
“I know there’s a certain appeal for creators to work on the classic characters like Batman, Superman and Spider-Man, but I’ve said this before: I asked creators who have worked on those books who the people were doing the books ten years ago, and they don’t know! But I can say, ‘Who worked on Sin City?’ and they’ll go ‘Frank Miller.’ Who worked on Hellboy? Mike Mignola. Who worked on The Goon? Eric Powell. They know it instantly. So to me, the lure of creating your own character and owning it — owning your own universe and being associated with that — in the long run for talented writers and artists makes me question why someone would toil away on a company owned character for years and years of their lives.”
– Dark Horse founder Mike Richardson, discussing his company’s commitment to publishing creator-owned work
“I can’t, and wouldn’t dare, speak for anyone other than me: It’s vital. It’s essential. It is profoundly important to my entire creative process. Aside from pride of ownership, I just start to get antsy and itchy and bored writing the same genre again and again. The greatest concern I have is that the writing will read antsy and itchy and boring. Getting away from the superhero mainstream from time to time to do anything — Casanova, Satellite Sam, Sex Criminals — tends to keep me energized and excited.”
Retailing | Publishers Weekly’s annual comics retailer survey yields some interesting commentary, although the sample size is small (just 10 stores): Sales are up, retailers are optimistic, and Saga is the hot book right now. Also, booksellers who underestimated the demand for Chris Ware’s Building Stories lost out to direct-market retailers who didn’t, making for some nice extra sales during the holiday season. And while readers seem to be getting tired of the Big Two and their event comics, they are more enthusiastic than ever before about creator-owned comics, and Image is doing quite well. [Publishers Weekly]
Awards | Ladies Making Comics presents the complete list of women Eisner nominees for this year, noting that women have been nominated in almost every category. [Ladies Making Comics]
Publishing | Comics sales were up 22 percent in the direct market over January 2012, and graphic novels increased by nearly 38 percent. This good news is tempered a bit by the fact there were five Wednesdays in this January (or 25 percent more Wednesdays, if you want to look at it that way), but that fifth week is usually a quiet one for new releases, so I think we can call this a win. The retail news and analysis site ICv2 credits Marvel NOW! and a strong backlist for the boost. [ICv2]
Publishing | Dark Horse’s video-game art book The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia last week was the No. 1 book in the United States, according to Nielsen BookScan — not merely in the graphic novel category, but in any category. The initial print run was 400,000 copies. (Comic Book Resources interviewed the book’s editor Patrick Thorpe last month.) [ICv2]
Last Friday, Sean Murphy and a host of comic artists and animators joined forces on Twitter for a live chat about exhibiting at conventions, copyright law and the issues of being a working illustrator. Partnered with deviantART, the group included artists Murphy, Eric Canete, Jeff Wamester and Chris Copeland and copyright lawyer Josh Wattles.
The chat came together following Murphy’s blog post “5 Reasons To Write,” which created quite the fervor in the artist community. DeviantART, who hosts his blog, reached out to Murphy and used that post as a launching pad for the discussion. Although the chat is finished, readers can view it by searching Twiter for “#daChat” and looking at the Sept. 28 tweets.
“I’ve reached the end of my work for hire rope. I’m enjoying The Punisher, but that’s not mine, it’s Marvel’s, and l knew that going in. I have spent a lot of my comics career in service of other masters, – and I’ve had enough of that for now. I’m sick to death of the way the Big Two treat people. I gave seven very good years to DC and they took gross advantage of me. That’s partially my fault, but not entirely. At this point, I see no reason why I should have to put up with that, I can sink or swim on my own. […] My run on Punisher ends on #16, and we are then doing a five-issue mini called War Zone and then I’m done. That’s it! The Powers-That-Be at Marvel, without talking to me, decreed that he’s going to join a team on another book. That’s their choice, they own him, but I don’t have to be happy about it. I am glad I had the opportunity to work on the character and I’m proud of the work I’ve done. Despite what the publishers say, their interest in the talent is minimal now, the interest is only in promoting the financial worth of their properties. That was not the case as of two or three years ago, when there was an ‘exclusives war,’ but that’s all gone by the wayside now. Ultimately, they are saying, “We don’t need you,’ because they can get a million more just like you.”
Our informal poll last week about whether it’s a familiar creator or a familiar character that draws readers to a new title received more than 100 responses. That makes it about as accurate as some of the regular polls tracking the U.S. presidential race these days.
In case you missed it, in extrapolating from Kurt Busiek’s similar poll, I asked for people to chime in on what primarily gets them to throw down their money for a comic: creators or characters. Of course, I laid out my bias right away, and not everyone’s answers were completely clear cut, so we’ve probably got a pretty significant margin of error. But I was pleased to see that the majority of commenters either put creators first, or considered both when making a decision.
Of the 112 responses at the time of this writing, 85 said they either put creators first or relied on some kind of mix of creators and characters. Of that group, it was evenly split on creators (43) and a mix (42). Just 25 said characters held more weight than creators. While a third option wasn’t given in my original post, it was good to read about other factors that influence comics purchasing. A handful mentioned concept, theme, genre and, I guess, marketing. And two said story, which I guess means they read comics in the store before paying for them.
I loved working for my friends at Marvel and DC, and I was always compensated with a very generous upfront page rate, but by betting on myself (and Fiona!) and waiting for money on the back end with Saga, I’m already making way, way, WAY more than what I made on comparably selling books that I wrote for other companies. And that’s after splitting everything 50/50 with my richly deserving co-creator.
— Brian K. Vaughan, discussing his collaboration with Fiona Staples on Saga
Vaughan also expresses surprise at how much money there is to be made in creator-owned books, although Saga is probably a phenomenon in that regard; the first issue sold 70,000 copies, and from March through June, Saga has been either Image’s No. 1 or No. 2 seller for the month, according to Diamond Comic Distributors, with only The Walking Dead charting higher.
As independent creators working on their own property, Vaughan and Staples have chosen to go the route of selling more at a lower cost, pricing their monthly comic at $2.99 and the upcoming trade at $9.99. Digital is an even better deal, with
the first issue free* and issues 1-5 priced at $1.99 on comiXology right now. And yet they are selling enough comics — and keeping enough of the proceeds, as opposed to splitting with middlemen — to pay themselves a page rate and take a profit on the back end, which is a nice place to be.
*All five copies are $1.99; I saw the first one as free because I own the digital copy. Duh.