Some small notes RE: DC (& Digital) from this year's ComicsPRO meeting

I'm just back from Dallas and the 2012 ComicsPRO meeting. I forgot that the laptop didn't have any of the log-in info for the Savage Critic site, and I forgot to write it all down, so, gr to that! I have an entire Tilting column that I'm going to write which is sort of kind of "about" the meeting (but not really, since that won't be for three more weeks, and then we're talking about the past, which no one ever likes!), but I don't think I'll have any room there for any of this stuff.

I wrote these all down on scraps of paper, but I did ask that I can report them... but I might have made a transcription error somewhere here. If so, I trust someone from DC will send me an email!

• DC's John Rood, on digital: "We were surprised to find out that the conversation we're having about digital is about aiding physical (format) growth, NOT managing physical decline; this is utterly different than any other media's results" (Actually, that clause after the semi-colon might be my own thought, and not a quote, I can't quite tell from how I wrote it down. A reporter I am not!)

This is important stuff, and I think it changes the conversation completely.


• The redemption rate on the combo pack for the digital codes in JUSTICE LEAGUE? It was just 20% on issue #1, and it has dropped to just 10% (on #4 or #5, I don't think was 100% clear) -- it appears that DM consumers bought those AS COLLECTIBLE VARIANT COVERS, rather than because they wanted a digital copy!!!

I also have a note here that there were 15k combo packs for #1, and it's down to 5k now (so, actually, those might be semi-legitimately rare covers)


• The single best sales day for day-and-date DC digital comics has been and continues to be the first Wednesday of release; when the price drops by a dollar there's a teeny spike in velocity  -- evidently it is the 10th best sales day (Is that "on average" or for a specific title? I don't think that was clarified) -- but not any kind of a huge surge; this would seem to indicate that digital buyers are just fine paying the full print price, so that they can be "part of the conversation" at initial release.

I, for one, think that IF the "99 cents!" crowd were even CLOSE to correct, that $1.99 day would be the strongest day of release. It isn't. It's #10. You get what your behavior indicates.

"New" comics will never been 99 cents on an ongoing basis, ever, if you ask me -- it would just be leaving money on the table; and it means you can never do anything to stimulate sales by putting material ON SALE!


• It was indicated that New 52 digital books were remarkably consistent and in parity with their print brethren -- drops in sales of print were mirrored in similar proportions in digital. They gave us an average percentage-of-print for digital, but I lost the piece of paper I wrote that on (I told you I suck!), so I can't remember if it was average across the board or on a specific title, or, really what the exact number was. It was very low, however -- I want to say somewhere between 10 and 15 %.


• DC is actually going to release the full results of the Nielsen data, generally. Next week or something -- they showed us slides, and some of that has been reported anecdotally, but we were assured of a FULL release of ALL data to ALL retailers, not just ComicsPRO.

Which means everyone in the world is going to see it soon.

This is AWESOME on DC's part; and when it happens, all you internet pundits should try really hard to NOT be assholes about the data points, and, y'know, maybe THANK THEM for sharing something very very expensive, instead of complaining about things you don't like about it.

(I know, I know: "good luck with that")

FURTHERMORE, DC has every plan to continue to FOLLOW UP on the surveys with more surveys -- this is NOT a one-shot thing. DC flew two Nielsen employees to the ComicsPRO meeting to help gather opinions about what the next questions should include; that should indicate that they were pretty serious.



Outside of DC, most of the digital points were seconded by every other publisher in attendance


That's what I have for you today; time to try and stuff my leaking brain back into my ears...



ComicsPRO '11: Hibbs' Last Year

There have, over the years, been several attempts to build a comics retailer organization. There was PACER, there was the DLG, there was one more back in the day whose acronym I'm blanking on. The main reason we've succeeded, I think, is because of the astonishingly hard work of Amanda Emmert, who does so much insanely detailed and strong work behind the scenes, and without whom this would have been another one of those Noble Failures.

I also think that ComicsPRO had a certain amount of cachet coming from that the original founders included <<booming voice>> BRIAN HIBBS, and also <<booming voice>> JOE FIELD. Joe's the other guy who might run neck in neck with me on the "celebrity retailer" side because Joe, of course, invented Free Comic Book Day.

Its a little hard for me to write about this without sounding like a totally arrogant douchebag, but I really do think that "Hey, it's the guy who sued Marvel and won" coupled with "It's the creator of FCBD" got a number of both retailers and vendors to take the organization a whole lot more seriously than they might have otherwise.

But, like I said, it was really Amanda who did most of the hard work.

Anyway, in the original charter we wrote we put in term limits for Board positions, because it does no one any good to have calcified leadership, but somewhere between years one and two, because the membership hadn't yet grown to the point of the organization being self-sustaining, it suddenly started seeming like there weren't going to be enough people to step up to leadership positions, and that it was much more sensible to remove the Term Limits provision... otherwise we might not HAVE a Board.

Then what started happening was that it became fairly clear to me that incumbents, pretty much, can't be voted out of office. It's not that other smart retailers aren't willing to step into leadership positions, but that being an incumbent pretty much means you win because everyone is familiar with you.

You can double this problem for me, personally.

If I chose to, I've little doubt I could stay on the Board until I die, who is going to vote off <<booming voice>> BRIAN HIBBS?

Well, they probably should, actually -- I'm what is politely known as a "loose cannon". Hell, I've nearly sank things for the Org, single handedly, at least twice (and maybe more) because I just go off and do my thing, and I don't play all that well with others. The way I fucked up with my review of Superman Earth One is your prime public example.

As I say, I could stay on the Board forever, as the bylaws are written, and I'm certain I'd keep getting the votes, but I also think that we've got a perception problem among certain prospective members that the org is "controlled" by "the California Elites", and, even without this (wrong!) perspective, I think that just generally having a constantly refreshing leadership is the way to go.

My current term will be up at the end of the 2012 annual meeting, so I'm announcing now that I will not be running for the Board next year. I think I've achieved the goals that I set out to accomplish -- the organization is now truly viable and self-sustaining and there is literally no chance that its going to go away like many of the other Noble Failures of orgs past.

I'm announcing this an entire year before the next set of elections so that people have enough time to actually think if they want to step up to join the leadership; to plan, and campaign. Historically, we start looking for new prospective Board members like 2-3 months before the elections, but I want people to have enough time to really weigh their choices and options.

ComicsPRO probably needed <<booming voice>> BRIAN HIBBS to get established, to get going, to get cemented in people's mind that this was real and true and viable, but I think it is time to bring in some fresh voices and fresh visions, and so this will be my last year on the Board. ComicsPRO doesn't need me any more, and that, in a way, is the best sign to me that we were right all of those years ago for the need and the power of a retailer trade organization. If it can survive (and thrive!) without me in a leadership role, then we've really and truly done it.

This doesn't mean that I might not want to come back some day -- it may be that in 2014 I get super itchy and decide to run again, but for at least two years I'm going to step back and let someone else do all of the hard work.

Like  Hector Godfrey says to Seymour at the end of WATCHMEN, "I leave it entirely in your hands"

Long live ComicsPRO!


ComicsPRO '11: Bonfire

One of the last bigger observations I want to make is that, regardless of whether or not you think that the Direct Market, as currently constituted, is doing a good job or a lousy job at being the stewards, "geek culture" really is the Ground Zero for culture-at-large. And the DM environment is the incubator of that "geek culture". For decades, really, we've begged and pleaded to be taken seriously by the world at large. One of my go-to stories has always been that, 10-ish years ago, the quickest visual short-hand to show emotional or intellectual retardation in an adult was to show them with a rolled up comic in their backpocket. "Please please love us!" we geeks and nerds and losers called and cajoled, and a lot of us ended up growing up and taking over entertainment, and, you know what? They love us now.

Steve Rotterdam made the observation last weekend that something like 20% of global box office is now generated from, or informed by, comic book culture. I can't find any specific link or something to back that assertion up, but it certainly sounds right to me -- the Geek Shall Inherit The Earth.

The difference, as I've said many many times, between the Mass Market retailer and the DM is that we're just another category to "them", but that the DM actually both gives a fuck about, AND actually understands our customers -- we kind of have to, because we fold if we don't.

There's a crazy power in specialty markets, in what I call "tastemaker" environments. Rotterdam calls them "firestarters" instead, but that's pretty much six-of-one/half-dozen-of-the-other. The fact that we DON'T have a centralized buyer controlling our 2400-ish venues, that things sometimes are hard-to-impossible to do because we constantly have to "herd cats" of a whole lot of independently minded people, this is a strength, not a weakness. The "DM" will never declare bankruptcy and close 1/3 of its outlets in a monolithic block like how Border's has just announced. We may have 2400 problems, but we also have 2400 really smart people working their hearts out to try to solve those problems.

I've named checked Steve Rotterdam twice now, and that's because I think one of the smartest presentations I saw last week was on Steve (and Ed Catto's) new venture: Bonfire.

The basic idea of Bonfire is that major brands and major advertisers WANT to connect to "geek culture", but that these big companies don't really "get" us in any kind of a intuitive way. Taking a bottle of soda and throwing a cape on it doesn't actually "connect" to us in any kind of an authentic way. There's a tremendous amount of possibilities that can be had, but someone who "speaks the lingua franca" needs to working as an intermediary. I don't know how to talk to a soda company, they don't know how to talk to me. That's what something like Bonfire is for -- to connect the two.

As Tastemakers, I think of someone like Neil Gaiman. Neil is a very talented writer. But there are a lot of very talented writers out there. One of the reasons, beyond just pure talent, that Neil's career took the trajectory that it did was precisely because of stores like my own that got squarely behind his creative output and proselytized it to our customers. I have no doubt that Neil would still be a successful creator if there wasn't a Comix Experience, but I think that, at least, we (and scores of stores like mine!) helped strongly to move him up to the next chessboard.

WE are the Dreamers of the Dream; WE are the Makers of the Music, as Mr. Wonka said.

I don't really want to step on Steve's Elevator Pitch (because he's going to deliver it way better than I ever could), but there's immense possibilities in bringing in money from outside our market, and molding it so that it fits our market without us giving up anything whatsoever. The 3/4 formed notion would be something like strongly branded event that is sincere in connecting creators to stores and consumers and finding sponsors to underwrite those events, and for them to draft along our winds.

Picture 10-12 stores all across the country having a simultaneous signing with 10-12 upcoming creators one night. You create a catchy catch-phrase for the overall venture, and you line up a sponsor or three to, say, provide refreshments, cover all travel and promotional expenses, and to do NATIONAL ADVERTISING for the event as a whole. Trying to do something like this purely within comics would almost never happen because so few of us have the kinds of resources it would take to mount this in the right way -- but bring in like a high-end vodka company  or something like that that's looking to create authentic awareness of their product, and you can do something of real needle-moving significance on what is probably less than .01% of their annual marketing budget, and which will have better, more direct results.

That kind of thing is really the lowest of the low hanging fruit when we have this amazing network of passionate, independent stores. We just need someone to connect the dots.

Steve's left what I assume is a six-figure salary to try and  create this start-up, and while I never directly asked him the question, I strongly suspect it would have been a significantly harder decision to make if it hadn't been for the basic infrastructure that the very existence of ComicsPRO creates.

People ask a lot "yes, but what does ComicsPRO *do* for me?", and it's really hard to communicate that the basic overall professionalism of comics retail has been improved by the very existence of a retailer trade organization. ComicsPRO can't "take credit" for, say,  Street Dates, but I firmly believe that if there wasn't a ComicsPRO, we'd still be saying "Man, wouldn't it be nice if our partners trusted enough to ship us comics so we didn't have that Wednesday AM race?"

There are lots and lots of plans and programs and things coming -- things that I can't talk about because it is for our vendors to announce their own plans -- things that I think that ComicsPRO validates and facilitates because we retailers are finally getting our shit together and collectivizing our strengths. This is powerful stuff.

Steve and Ed may come along in a minute or two to tell me I'm nuts, but I don't think that will happen for the same reason that the ComicsPRO meeting was a significant phase of Bonfire's launch -- it is easier to identify opportunities with a group of like-minded people than it is to try and contact each individual participant individually.

I have one more ComicsPRO '11 post, but that's going to come tomorrow.


ComicsPRO '11: Speed Dating

I don't know how many of you have been to a trade show/Diamond Summit, that kind of thing? Generally speaking they're run a lot like comic cons -- there's usually a trade show floor, with normal booth setups, handing out shwag to try and get attendees' attention. There's often also a number of panels, which too often become bitchfests... especially when you get some peeps wasting the global retailer time with "last week my shipment had a 15% damage rate, what are you going to do to make me whole?!?!?!", rather than being more universal like "can you discuss overall national damage rates, and what steps you're taking to lower them?"

ComicsPRO doesn't have a "dealer's room" set up, we're more about the panels, and we try to set parameters for them, going in ("this is the time to talk about digital, this is the time to talk about physical distribution issues" and so on), but even those have morphed and changed over time. In meeting #1 we spent what felt like 3-4 hours discussing "org business", and here at meeting #5 that was down to under 20 minutes. But we still have a *few* relics of a "comic con", like putting 16 publishers up on the dais and giving them each 5 minutes to make a speech (though, like the oscars, that often becomes 10...) as they go down the line... but even that i think will probably disappear next year.

We don't have any "fans" there (well, we're all fans, but you know what I mean), nor any "pros" (Jim Lee and Todd McFarlane were there to speak as Publishers, not sign autographs -- though Chris Roberson turned up after hours on the Boom! RV), and we're not really open to the "press" (though I keep pushing every year for us to figure out a clear way to involve Heidi and Tom, at least)

(Todd, in particular, had some really terrific ideas of things the entire industry could do... and a few that were probably right up on the edge of anti-trust no-nos, but those can all be sorted through later. And Todd was especially gracious with me, despite my buttonholing him the moment he stepped into the hotel from his flight, and talking to me for about 45 minutes or so, hitting many/most of the topics he'd discuss the next day with the entire group. I *think* it was good "prep work" for him?)

But the real push, and the thing that makes ComicsPRO different from any other industry meeting is we're about DIALOGUE, not MONOLOGUE. While we haven't done formal polling, I'd guess that most attendees would say they got the most benefit from things structured around open Q&A, rather than our decreasing relics-of-how-things-are-done-elsewhere.

This year we made on SIGNIFICANT change to structure, and that's that something approaching a third of the meeting time was handed over to "Roundtables", but what is really in truth Speed Dating.

(I saw "we", but it is really clear that the overwhelming majority of  meeting thought and planning and execution squarely falls on the shoulders of Amanda Emmert, and she KNOCKED IT OUT OF THE PARK. All hail 'manda, she's awesome!!!!)

What we did was divvy the retailer attendees into groups of ~5 people, and, over four sessions, had each group spend about 10 minutes with a specific publisher. The 10 minutes were up, and, boom, we get up and move to the next publisher's table, eventually cycling through 20 tables, over two days.

The publishers entirely controlled the conversation -- they were free to use them as "pitch time", or for Q&A, or just "what can we do better/what's working well", and almost all of them used their time very very very wisely.

I think most of them filled up entire notebooks with notes of things to try, things to avoid, things to help everyone sell more comics. It worked very very well, and there was something grandly egalitarian that a smaller publisher like, say, Top Shelf had completely equal weight in this exercise to a Big Boy like Marvel.

I think we're universally agreed that this was a great way to do business, and that, time permitting, it should even be expanded next year.

The other thing that was super-productive this year was BarCon -- the hotel bar had these nice stepped terraces where you could have private conversations in a large group, and they also stayed open late "enough" -- not like Memphis where they shut down at something dumb like 11 PM. Some of my most productive time was in the 1-on-1 that BarCon can allow, breaking down opposing viewpoints to come to a common consensus and reality.

And, after that, we had the Boom! RV out in the parking lot where copious beer flowed after bar-closing time, and everyone who entered left with a big glowy smile on their face.

(though, I have to say, I think I saw more publishers getting falling-down drunk this weekend then retailers...)

(not that there's anything wrong with that!)

(And, no, I'm NOT naming names!)

I honestly and deeply believe that more real and productive retailer business was accomplished at the ComicsPRO weekend than is managed at San Diego, NYCC and Chicago, combined. We were focused in a way nothing has ever been focused before. If you're a retailer, and have only ever been to a comic book convention or a Diamond Summit, you have really no idea what the potential is. Come to ComicsPRO in 2012 and you'll really see something!

This is THE SINGLE BEST venue both for publisher-to-retailer (and/or distributor-to-retailer, and possibly distributor-to-publisher, but I'm not one of those, so I can't say for 100% sure) business in any year, and we're only getting better at facilitating that DIALOGUE.

It's also an epic event for peer-to-peer education -- there's not a single person who probably didn't walk away with twenty ideas to make their individual retailer operations better. Something I think the Summit-style fails pretty miserably at.

Its funny, we have this great weekend, and we come back home to a pair of threads on The Beat which are pretty much "The DM sucks" (though thanks to Kurt and JJM in particular for keeping the level of discourse there high), and how we're all doomed, and print is dead and whatever, but if you'd been there this weekend, you'd really see just how completely crazy wrong that all is. The DM has no where to go but UP, and with the kind of leadership and stewardship on evidence this weekend, I think we're going to get there.

Not smoothly, no... nothing ever works out exactly the way we want it to, but there's so much crazy potential that we've barely began to touch, and it's meetings like ComicsPRO that care going to make these things happen.

More in a bit!


PS: Let's have a moment of silence for Comic Relief. While something will rise, phoenix-like from the ashes of that, a specific shining example of a specific period of time has passed, and we're all a little poorer for it, even if you don't know that.

ComicsPRO '11: CP's Bus Ride of Doom!

Y'know, given that my next TILTING is like 3 weeks away (well, I *could* do something and Jonah, I'm sure would print it, but I like to keep my schedule for sanity), I'm thinking now that maybe I'll just write a series of smaller posts about the ComicsPRO '11 meeting as we go along. We'll see how this goes. Spurgeon characterized from the last post that the meeting was "good", and let me tell you that this is wrong.  The meeting was GREAT. Superlative. Splendiferious. Astounding. Amazing. Spectacular. Web Of.

Honestly, and this is my really-I'm-not-lying-to-you voice, there's not a single more productive weekend of the entire calendar year. I can't tell you a lot of what made it so good because I'm effectively under NDA (not signed, but "these are adults dialoging with one another and not to be shared on the internet", if you see what I mean?), but maybe I can hint around it a little bit.

In the comments of my last thread, or maybe it was one of the two on Heidi's blog (or maybe both!) was one of those things I hear a lot: "The problem with the DM" (he said, paraphrasing) "is that too many stores suck"

Let me actually step back half a step before telling the rest of the story, and mention that, for a number of retailers, I'm <<Booming voice>> BRIAN HIBBS

I mean I'm just a guy with a medium-sized neighborhood comic shop who happened to be in the right place at the right time to get myself a soapbox, and after standing on said soapbox for two decades, I'm, for lack of a better term a "celebrity retailer". If you asked 1000 random comics fans to "name a retailer", I'm fairly certain that my name would be towards the top -- but not because I'm the biggest, or the best, or the smartest, but because I have a long-running soapbox, and I've gotten fairly OK at using it (I still need some work, really!)

But, in reality, I'm just a guy with a neighborhood comics store. I'm not smarter or better than any other retailer, and I'm certainly not holding the keys of the "right" way to run a comics shop.

But, you know, for some I'm <<booming voice>> BRIAN HIBBS, and they take what I say pretty darn seriously indeed.

Even if I share the name of a really lame Spidey villain.

(The Kangaroo, if you didn't know)

Right so, he said, somewhere back in the narrative, on the last night of the meeting, Chris Powell organized a bus trip for about 40 retailers to... well, get on a bus and go tour other local Dallas stores.

I'm not going to specifically name the stores, though each will probably be able to figure out who is who, and if you're in Dallas, you can probably figure it out too. But maybe not, and I'm not trying to write a Yelp review or something, but make a much broader point at the end.

So: four stores. 40 retailers. About four hours. Oh, and beer. Lots of beer.

The first stop is "a typical comics store", in that it was a bit disorganized (it HAD an organization, but you'd need to hang around for a few weeks probably to fully absorb it), was a bit maze-like, clearly had been through several different re-rigging of the store's signage or display, and, y'know, none of them had been completely completed, or maybe even thought-out outside of the context of "hey wouldn't that rack look better over there?" as opposed to "how does this all fit together?", if that makes sense? They had a TON of stock. Really really really diverse, but not, necessarily, organized in a way that you wouldn't walk out of it thinking "Yeah, they're mostly mainstream". I think that would be a fairly shitty conclusion to come to, but it's really more about presentation than anything else. This one is an archeologist's dream -- everywhere you turn you can find something need. Seriously, spin in a circle, and follow where your finger follows, and you'll find something cool.... but one of my traveling partners opined they'd never take their kids in there because they'd be afraid a rack would fall over on them. (that's a bit harsh)

The second stop, well the only word to describe it is "sexy". Sleek, modern, incredibly clean and streamlined. I mean just staggeringly beautiful, and appealing to civilians in every way. Your Mom would shop there. She'd walk across the street through traffic to shop there. Seriously, it's GORGEOUS. Even the staff. Each one was more teeth-achingly beautiful than the next, it's the kind of staff where you know 20% of the customers come just to stare at them and have furtive thoughts. But when it came to the actual product on hand... well, I'd probably rate it as by far the worst store on the tour. There just wasn't a lot of "there" there. Total absence of the "ten books I'm unfairly judging that a store should have", big stock gaps in important series. A close look at their product selection shows that a fair percentage of it, though merchandised like a Goddess, is really old, stale stuff that *I* would have liquidated half a decade or more ago.

The third store is what you'd think of as a comics shop from like 20 years ago, back when it was absolutely common and expected that "comics store" also meant "games store". And that "comics" means "We carry BOTH kinds: Marvel AND DC". This is one of the places that being <<booming voice>> BRIAN HIBBS came in. The owner came up to me and actually apologized for not having enough indy books. "I really really have tried to stock them. We bring them in, we physically put them in people's hands, and we talk them up, and my customers just don't want them." And I'll tell you what I told him: screw that kind of elitism. A store needs to carry what their customers want, not what the internet intelligentsia says they "should". This store, it seemed to me, was really really good at serving their Marvel and DC and gaming customers. The staff CLEARLY cared about what they were doing, and the store was a great example of how you do gaming and mainstream comics and MAKE CUSTOMERS HAPPY. Who cares what "artsnob967" says on the internet? Who cares that <<booming voice>> BRIAN HIBBS wouldn't find a lot of interest -- you're there to service the customers that come in, not the ones that don't.

The last store was a chain store. It looked like a chain store. It just reeked of chainism all over it, but it was also incredibly well organized, stocked in depth with a wide variety of things, and, if you were cool with walking past the first 50 feet or whatever of pop culture knickknacks (very very well merchandised and designed), you'd find out that they're also a very diverse comic book store, too. Not quite as deep or wide as store #1, but absolutely acceptable in every way shape and form. My log line was "I'd certainly shop there, but I wouldn't really feel that great about it, it being so corporate" But, again: who the hell cares what *I* think?

Four stores, each ABSOLUTELY DIFFERENT IN EVERY WAY SHAPE AND FORM from the one before -- An archeological comics store, a sexy showcase, a game/mainstream hybrid joint, a totally chain store. And each and every one of them had something to recommend, something that made them special, and you could tell by looking that all of them were successful, that all of them received a great deal of love and passion, both from the staff and their customers, and that each of them was right for their customer base! Each one of them reflected a vision. Maybe you don't like their vision, but, you know what? Unless you live in Dallas, and are taking money out of your pockets to buy products there, your (and my) opinion doesn't matter.

You don't get to  decide. Did some of these stores "suck"? Well, man, let me tell, I can easily find something in each I don't like, that might earn them that sobriquet, especially from the sneering internet, but the only things that matter are "are they profitible?" and "Do they serve THEIR customers (not YOU, but THEIR customers)?" And judging by what I saw on the tour, they're all looking really good by those criteria.

There's room for a dozen different models of retail, and just because YOU think "the industry" should move past Marvel and DC, exclusively (and you're not going to get me, as an individual, disagreeing with you too much about that), that ISN'T the case for a tremendous amount of readers out there. Readers who are taking money out of thier pockets and buying stuff and making thier own choices, thank you very much.

I think it's fucking awesome that comics can contain the RADICALLY different approaches that we saw on display on the tour -- there's not one right way to do it. And that's NOT a weakness, not by half, that's a crazy strength, and it is among several reasons that comics aren't going to match the exact path that happened in other media retailing when it came to societal changes.

That diversity is crazy wonderful, and it's just one of the reasons ComicsPRO is crazy wonderful, as well.

More to come later...


Jim Lee's Digital visual analogy

I'm just back from Dallas, and the 2011 ComicsPRO meeting. It was a very very very good meeting -- there is literally not a more productive weekend in comics on the calendar, though a lot of what happened and was discussed won't, necessarily, interest you the consumer. I will, I think, have a much fuller report in a few weeks in  the next TILTING, but in the meantime I want to share one bit while its still fresh in my mind.

A lot of time was spent on discussing Digital, as you might expect, but early on on the first day, DC co-Publisher Jim Lee made a visual analogy that sort of guided my thinking for the rest of the weekend.

Jim held up two hands. In one hand he had a regular 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper, and in the other, he had a piece of dental floss. The former, he said, represented the revenues from print comics. The latter? Revenue from digital.

Now, clearly, digital will continue to grow -- heck, maybe with a lot of effort and brain cycles, it might even grow to be the size, say, of an index card, but the actual real on-the-ground reality of digital comics sales are that they are a virtually (heh) insignificant way of making money for the publishers.

This same idea was echoed again and again and again by each and every publisher at the meeting, and even the very providers of digital services: this is not a significant revenue generator as of yet, and certainly NOWHERE NEAR able to match, let alone surpass, the sales from physical print comics.

We're a niche market. A successful niche, to be sure, but a niche nonetheless, and not one that simply putting comics content in front of civilians will INHERENTLY and effortlessly drive sales of any huge value to the overwhelming majority of the market participants. As near as I can tell, most to the evidence says that digital is selling primarily to the lapsed or geographically-unable-to-participate markets (40%, I kept hearing over and over again, of sales are coming from Europe) (40% of a piece of dental floss, remember!)

If you're a rah-rah digital booster, that's perfectly fine. But I'd ask you not to make the same mistakes of the previous generations of fans-but-not-business-people who have said things like "If only we had comics related movies, that will fix all of our problems!" or "Manga sales are going to solve all of our problems!" or "If only we were in bookstores, we'd solve all our problems!" or any of that. All of these theories have turned out to.... well, not be reality-based is the kindest way to put it.

Digital isn't a magic bullet, and virtually every person with an actual business involvement in the production and sales of comics understands this. Digital is magic dental floss.


Superman: Earth One

About 2 months ago I received an advance copy of  the SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE original Graphic Novel. This was an uncorrected proof, and was a bit rougher than other galleys I get -- there's only about a dozen pages in color, other pages were inked, but not toned, while there's even a few pencil-only pages. I get a lot of galleys from many different publishers, but this one came under the auspices of a ComicsPRO program, and I made a fatal error of thinking of it while wearing my "Critic" hat, rather than my 'retailer" hat (I wear far too many hats) DC was (and, let's underline this very strongly) justifiably upset that I screwed up my hats, and as soon as I knew of their displeasure, I pulled the review, and apologized abjectly to DC through both official and unofficial channels. I screwed up, it was entirely my singular fault, and I strongly hope that DC will not penalize ComicsPRO retailers for my error (they haven't sent out another preview since -- which may or may not mean anything... or it could also just mean I personally have been removed from DC's advance lists, I'm really not sure)

Either way, I erred deeply by posting the review 2 months ago, and I sincerely apologize for potentially jeopardizing some of DC's promotional plans (among other things: sometimes "big media" are only interested in reviewing projects like this if they're given some sort of "we're first!" privileges. I don't believe that this changed any of those plans, but it COULD have, and it was wrong of me to post the pre-publication review)

However, the book is out now, so it's back to being fair game...

Here's the balance of what I originally wrote, then I'll come back at the end to talk about the final and finished book...


Obviously, since I'm reviewing from a galley, it is possible (though not, in my experience, likely) that some things will change about the final version. Take this with a lump of salt (not just a grain)

Also: there will likely be spoilers here. Generally when I review things, I assume you have a copy, so it's more of a conversation than this will be.

So, let's start with the easiest thing: the art. I didn't like it very much. It isn't that Shane Davis is an incompetent artist or anything, but his style is a little too scratchy to my tastes, overly rendered, without a strong enough foundation of story-telling or page layout that I would really want in an OGN series supposedly aimed at new readers. It's like, I don't know, pre-X-Men Jim Lee or something -- you can see he's got enough basic chops to develop somewhere interesting, but he's just not quite "there" yet. There's more than a few sequences where I can only kind of tell what is supposed to be happening, which is kind of a problem, really...

I wonder about the audience/remit for this line -- everything would seem to indicate the idea is to create NEW "Superman" readers, especially ones in bookstores (otherwise why even DO an OGN?), but I don't know that I can see this particular work really hitting with someone who hasn't read comics in a while -- in is, in my opinion, both simultaneously too crowded and hectic and, well, bombastic, while it is also a bit dull in places.

Part of the problem is, I think, that it seems like it is trying to serve too many masters at once -- the emotional heart of the story is really Clark Kent trying to make a decision about whether or not he wants to be a hero and protector (as his parents want), or whether he wants to follow his own desires to "fit in" (which, for some reason, mostly seems to spin around financial renumeration) and become a football player or a research scientist or anything else where he'd be able to excel with his alien powers.

However, this is really kind of a false emotional dilemma, if only because it is about SUPERMAN -- we know that, by hook or crook, he's going to put on the costume and become a hero sooner than later, not just because of the character, but because of the writer and his expressed love of the nobility of Supes.

It isn't that you can't do "Questioning Clark", but you kind of have to do it much earlier in his life, otherwise you sort of undercut the drama. Superman is better than we are -- he HAS to be, or he isn't "Superman". His lessons about strength and power and helping people and the dangers and risks it entails all need to come when he's a kid, or, at latest, as a teenager, not until after he's left college. While I understand that for most normal Earth-humans the timeline of questioning works fine, Clark ISN'T a normal earth-human, he's SUPERMAN, and by the time he enters Metropolis for the first time he might not be wearing the costume, but he needs to be well set on that path. Hell, by the time I was 20 I knew just what I wanted to be and do, and I followed that path the best I could -- Clark should be WAY ahead of dumb ol' me. So the timing really really didn't work for me.

The other "master" here is the need or desire to also have a giant-threat blockbuster summer movie-style action sequences. These are delivered adequately, but, despite a noble attempt to tie it back into Clark's backstory, I don't think it really works at all. I'll probably get back to that in a bit here.

Let's talk a minute about the OGN structure -- the suggestion is often made by many that OGNs are "better" because they can let a story breath, without the need for "artificial" breaks rigidly enforced every 22 pages. I could maybe possibly accept that (especially in light of semi-arbitrary 22 pages thing), except that I think that long stories really do need "Chapters", and the best kind of "chapter", be it in straight-up prose, or the commercial breaks in a TV show give you that same kind of "Wait, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!?!?!?!" feeling. That's a lot harder to sustain over 128 (or whatever) pages, and I'm not certain I can think of any comics projects that have worked that way -- even well-regarded works like, say, ASTERIOS POLYP or WILSON or MAUS have "chapters" that break the pacing up and give you minutes to pause or reflect (or even just barrel ahead).

SUPERMAN EARTH ONE has some really clumsy-ass pacing, and it really doesn't breathlessly sustain itself over its whole length. This is sort of most glaring in a fairly early scene that switches away to the Army having some fragments of Kal's ship, and a lot of blah-blah-blah about the government trying to understand it, and where it came from, and reverse-engineer it or whatever. I can see why these scenes were included (to provide a certain amount of [fairly unnecessary, at the end of the day] exposition, and to set-up a future thread on the Government trying to track Supes and so on), but really all they do is crash the forward momentum of the book to a halt, while not adding anything all that important to the narrative... certainly nothing that pays off in this volume. It might not be so bad if the Army officer or the scientist involved were given some characterization or motivation or something, but they're largely ciphers as presented.

(Also: you don't create a foil in a Superman comic with an "L" last name, and not give them an "L" first name -- she's "Sandra Lee" here -- but that might just be my 60s-influenced mind speaking here!)

So, yeah, I actually and truly think this would have been better if it was written in "22 page chunks" because that forces a kind of economy in plotting and information release. ONE page of "Look, the Government!" might work, but five pages of it just drags on too long, and moves the focus from where it needs to be.

(I actually think that comics, in general, would be helped immeasurably if we had a return of EIGHT PAGE stories to teach people the economy of craft, but that's a piece for a different day)

When the "Big Bad" comes along... well, the first problem is that he looks a bit too much, facially, like Lobo. There's also a lot of shaky motivation going on here, tying in the baddie into Krypton in what just seems a pretty flimsy way to this reader, with the INDIVIDUAL motivation of the INDIVIDUAL badguy being a particularly dopey kind of generic and simple revenge, rather than any kind of a PERSONAL motivation. this is why Lex Luthor works so well as a Superman foil -- he has an identifiable motivation (jealousy) to motivates him. The Baddie in this comic could be a hired gun for as much individual passion/motivation he brings.

There's also the slight problem of an entire alien invading armada, attacking worldwide (they show us at least 6-8 cities under attack, and giant drills that will destroy the world like Krypton), but only a single Alien has a speaking part, and once Superman punches him hard enough, the entire threat dissolves utterly. Ugh!

So, yeah, plot, structure, motivation, virtually none of it worked for me -- and I walked into this really hoping to be in love with it, and all I really got was a fairly bloated and muddy story. The worst thing is that I think that this probably could be "fixed" with 2 or 3 more drafts, and some real editorial oversight, and a general tightening of character and incident.

Did I like any of it? Well, yeah, I liked almost all of the scenes set in the Daily Planet, and I especially liked "Ultimate Jimmy Olson" (though Lois was fairly dull), so there's that -- I'd like to see JMS bring this version of Jimmy into the "real" Superman title... it wouldn't even really need to be a "retcon".

Though, having said that about the Planet, there's a scene where Perry White makes the point that news is meant to be facts and news, and not Editorialized (Kurt Busiek kind of did this scene better in ASTRO CITY, in that story about the Shark God and the Silver Agent), but at the end of the book they run the actual stories that the Planet runs on Superman (Clark's "interview" with Superman that gets him the job, that one), and damn if it isn't as editorial as-all-get-out. Damn it.

Ultimately, I think this OGN goes on too long, tries to be too many things, is is tremendously weak on characterization and motivation, except for the false emotional dilemma of  "should I sell out, or put on the costume?", and doesn't really add do anything to appeal to the theoretical audience that it is shooting for, and, in Savage Critic terms, that, sadly, makes it AWFUL.

Normally I'd ask "What did YOU think?" at this juncture, but you won't be able to for like 5-6 weeks...


Hi, back in the present now!

The final book is pretty handsome, actually -- I like the "European" style (not dustjacketed) hardcover, and the book has good "hand" for the $20 price tag, and I like the embossing on the cover too.

The color "solves" some of the art problems (though, still not on the storytelling front, really), but it adds some new ones -- flashbacks aren't colored distinctively enough to show the time jumps, in my opinion.

There weren't any substantial (or any? I'm not going page-by-page or anything!) changes to the text, and if anything, my opinion on the essential moral weakness of this Clark is now magnified -- I don't like this guy, I don't like his avoidance of being Superman, and I especially found Ma & Pa's scenes to be fairly inexplicable in making him a costume or whatever.

There's a line at the end that I glossed over in my first read that I think encapsulates my problems with this as a Superman comic -- in the (kind of) Fortress of Solitude scene Clark's super-smart metal says to him "Your task is to survive.  To use your powers well and wisely. And to avenge the murder of your homeworld." (emphasis mine)


To me, at least, Superman isn't about vengeance -- not even close. In fact, Superman is about exactly the opposite. Superman is the guy who will do anything possible to avoid a fight -- precisely because he knows we're better than that, even the screwed up people. Superman is about HOPE. About making things BETTER, about showing that even the worst situation can be made better if someone reaches out a hand in help and understanding.

In the '78 film my favorite scene might be the tiny little sequence where he stops to save a cat from a tree. Yeah, that's maybe a little cornball, but that's Superman. He's more powerful than anyone, anywhere, but "power" doesn't mean a lot if you're not trying to help people with it.

THAT is a metaphor that we need, that we should embrace -- not this whining, myopic coward who won't step forward until the entire world is being threatened.

DC has already announced a second printing, so I guess this is having some early success in the DM at least (if you have a Baker & Taylor account go look at the velocity of backorders there; this doesn't look so hot in the bookstore market as I'm reading the indicators), and good for them, I guess. But I really disliked this book, and I stand by my AWFUL assessment.

If I were to hand a Superman comic to a "civilian", I'd want them to buy ALL-STAR SUPERMAN instead.

What did YOU think?


If you're going to WonderCon on Friday...

2:00-3:00 Everything You Wanted to Know About Comics Retailing—But Weren't Afraid to Ask!— Join ComicsPRO board members Joe Field (Flying Colors Comics, Concord) and Brian Hibbs (Comix Experience, San Francisco) for a free-wheeling exploration of the world of comics specialty retailing. Field and Hibbs are two of the industry's most vocal leaders dedicated to improving the profession of comics retailing. Get the inside scoop on ComicsPRO, Free Comic Book Day, the new edition of Tilting at Windmills and the proverbial more! Room 232/234

Hope to see you there!


Retail Weekend Fun II: Electric Boogaloo!

Right, now for a response to Tom. Again, his original commentary is here, and my response and his as well is here. Normally, I wouldn't turn something into a BLOGWAR! but Tom doesn't have messaging on The Comics Reporter, and I find his "letter column" kinda problematic (I actually hadn't even noticed the post and response until early today, to be honest), so I thought putting it somewhere when there's relatively open comments might be a good idea.

(Sorry if you feel end-runned, Tom?)

I'm going to try to do as little of quoting and counter-quoting that I can, just because it is messy and too internetty for me, but I might have to resort to it at some point.

More or less going from top to bottom, I guess we should talk about "evidence".

Tom seems to think that we need to attach some kind of specific numbers to this. I'm just trying to figure out both the how and the why of it.

In terms of the how, I don't see how we can do it without specifically singly out individual publishers. And I don't see how we do that in a public position paper without looking, frankly, like assholes. Further, it's not like we keep revenge logs where we write all our wrongs down. I can tell you that I am down (not "done" like I originally wrote, sheesh) a couple of hundred dollars in retail sales each year in the aggregate, of stuff I know. How specific do you want me to be? I had three different customers tell me that, sorry, they weren't going to buy LOST GIRLS from me (two of them preordered) because they bought it in San Diego. There, harm done. I lost at least two copies of BONE ONE EDITION, same thing. A copy of BLANKETS. Those are the ones where I clearly and specifically in detail remember the exchange with the customer, because those are big expensive books. There's half a dozen other ones each and every year, but I usually just file most of them in the *sigh* portion of my mental hard-drive; I don't recall the details, because life's too short.

I guess we could poll the membership and aggregate some numbers, but then I get to the Why? portion of it. Singling out specific vendors is only going to make them more defensive, I think, and I'm unconvinced that ComicsPRO has a large enough membership yet to even begin to present the full picture -- any specific number member stores can show is going to be under-reported by some significant factor just from that. And under-reporting a problem is much worse that not reporting it at all in a negotiation, in my opinion.

I'm telling you, specific examples above, that I've been done harm. I also believe that there's other harm done where customers didn't specifically tell me that they bought it at a show, but of course I can't prove that. OTHER retailers also will happily tell you about books here and books there they've been impacted by. What I'm not getting is why people (not just Tom) are questioning us on this. Harm has been done, maybe not massively towering masses of it, but here's a group of diverse retailers saying "We're harmed by this practice, please knock it off", it isn't just taken as read that we have been so?

See, cuz I think when you ask "how much harm", it seems like that opens up "well that's not 'enough'". What if we can only "show" within ComicsPRO membership, 20 copies of LOST GIRLS that didn't get sold when they were expected to. Is that "enough"? What if its only 10? What if it is only my 3?

For me, markets need Hippocratic Oaths too -- First thing do no harm. Selling in advance of your primary sales force being able to do so seems foolish. Can you think of any other business where that would be considered acceptable?

I guess maybe the question is that Tom doesn't see this as "harm", which OK, fair enough I guess, but when a customer comes to me and says "I am not going to take my preordered copy of this book, because it was at San Diego first", I don't see how else it can be taken?

Tom says "Also, to flip it around, are you saying that the publisher should sell $4000 fewer copies of Lost Girls overall to people not served by good comic shops because a couple of your customers may prefer to buy it from them directly?" and I think this is where some of the disconnect is coming from.

The issue is selling the book before it is released to the market -- people not served by good comic shops are STILL going to buy the book at the con, whether it was released AT the show or not, BECAUSE IT IS NEW TO THEM, whether, I repeat for emphasis, it was released AT the show or not! Every single one of those dollars will still be spent, there's no possible loss there.

In addition Tom asks "Have you ever been denied the chance to buy books at a con at a direct-order discount? Have you ever been lied to about a book being made available at a con?"

For the first, well kinda yeah -- Chris Staros flatly refused selling me any copies of LOST GIRLS direct, he insisted that all orders go through Diamond because he wanted to make sure that their orders there were as large as possible. Which means we were locked into that distribution channel.

For the second, the end of SWEENEY TODD pops into mind "No, no one ever lied/said she took poison/never said that she died". So, no, no one ever LIED as such -- but they've certainly committed sins of omission over the years where they didn't tell us they WERE. Which to me is, in effect, if not strictly taxonomically so, is the same thing. If you present a product to me as "new", I have (what I feel to be) a reasonable expectation that means that all channels will be getting it at effectively the same time. If that isn't the case, that's where we have a problem.

Tom goes on, perhaps baitingly to ask "Wait: so some stores aren't hit by this practice? Which ones? Why? Why if you have this information isn't it a part of your position paper?"

What I was trying to indicate is that not all stores are at all times impacted by every potential example equally -- MY customers are extremely likely to attend WonderCon and APE, fairly likely to attend SDCC, occasionally attend Mocca or SPX or NYCC, virtually never attend Wizard World: Anywhere. The specific and individual level of harm and concern varies for me individually with the individual show and the individual books that debut there.

Then there are stores who, say, aren't in the continental USA, or who only take preorders with prepaid credit cards, or whatever other reasoning there may be. Maybe they are in rural nowhere and were considering order 1 copy of [whatever], but read the boilerplate and decide not to, and so on.

What I do know is that over the last, sheesh, decade or more I've been speaking to publishers about this, note one has been interested in putting "this item may ship sooner to other venues before Diamond can deliver it" boilerplate on books they're intended to debut at a show.

Sorry, I'm getting really quotey here at the end. Tom: "I don't get this at all; are retailers really less amenable to being transparent about their sales practices because it might cost them a few sales and more amenable to eliminating that sales practice altogether and all of those sales? That makes no sense. Which publishers have you spoken to that indicated this?"

I think Tom means "publishers" for that first "retailers"? If not, I don't understand the question, if so then... I guess so? My sense of this issue, as always pursuing it as an individual, was that publisher reps (and pick one -- Top Shelf, D&Q, FBI, Cartoon books, and so on, all the "egregious ones", the ones where *I* see my personal impact from) was that I've always and uniformly dismissed because my concerns were unique as a snowflake to me and my individual business, so no, they weren't going to do a thing about it on the chance that it could hurt them elsewhere in an already perilous market.

But here's the thing that gores my orb, and probably doesn't touch yours: the Polite Unique Snowflake Brushoff that I got from Top Shelf was precisely the same kind of Polite Unique Snowflake Brushoff I got from Marvel over the late and missolicited titles. That's why we've got ComicsPRO, and that's why I believe in jointly issuing this kind of Position Paper is a really good thing. We may all be Unique Snowflakes, but a whole lot of us have common cause and common concern.

Sorry, here's where I'm the most internetty -- quoting myself first, then Tom now

(Also: allowing after-the-fact adjustments on orders generally delays books even further)

I wasn't talking about that.

Sure, but you can't withdraw the mechanical elements of distribution from the timeline. Allowing order adjusts is at least a month-long process from announcement to collection of changes, so doing so is almost always going to make a book ship later and not sooner.

I'm nearly done here, promise! Tom: However, my sympathy ends when it comes to advocating a system where people can't pursue whatever commercial means they wish, particularly when they're more than happy to reap the whirlwind when it comes to the results. I've never seen a publisher beat his chest in public that it isn't fair that you shouldn't adjust your orders to whatever you think is the likelihood you'll sell something.

First off, I can't personally recall any situation where a book has been made order adjustable after point-of-solicitation because of convention sales. I may be wrong, but I can't recall one. Further, publishers who aren't brokered are virtually never allowed to be made adjustable in anything like a meaningful timeline -- numbers are firm once you enter it into the ordering program and press "send", that's it, no tapbacks.

That's probably not important, really, because the first sentence is the one that kills me. Tom we're most emphatically NOT advocating a system where people pursue whichever commercial means they wish -- what we're saying is that the gun of the starter pistol should be going off at the same time for all and any channels. I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with Top Shelf selling LOST GIRLS at a con. I have every problem with them selling it weeks before me, however, to my group of customers who are naturally the earliest of early adopters, on hard non-returnable non-adjustable orders. If they started selling LOST GIRLS at a Wednesday night Preview Night, and the book had been in stock at stores that same Wednesday, then game on, that's absolutely fine -- the playing field is level. We're sure as heck not advocating the limiting of anyone's potential venues, just asking them to watch their timing so there aren't intra-channel conflicts!

Finally, finally, we end this reply with Tom's final paragraph:

(In fact, here's a question: if you guys are all in agreement on this, and the position breaks down so cleanly like you say, why hasn't there been economic consequence? It's been years. No publisher I know has complained that they've been punished by stores even one little bit, and if you're losing orders, why the hell wouldn't you make adjustments? Are we supposed to believe you're just all really nice? Slow to react? Didn't realize it was happening? What?)

I think its pretty difficult for retailers to determine which books will be affected by which publishers -- the attendance line up for shows changes and moves too quickly, and it isn't like retailers have any easy central source to figure out who is where on what days specifically selling what.

It is often also hard to determine exactly and precisely which books will be impacted, nor specifically by how much. That's because that publishers who do this are usually the ones with... fluid scheduling and release dates. Short of purposefully underordering every title scheduled to ship from February to September on the off hand chance that I catch the one they're going to screw me on... man that don't make no sense.

From my point of view as a retailer, I'm trying to maximize sales, not minimize them, so forecasting to worst-case-scenarios isn't a really smart thing to do if you're trying to make a profit.

Right, I think I'm typed out about now, and I'm sure you're all sick of hearing my voice, so I'll leave it there.

Everyone is welcome to chime in with their two cents of opinion....


Retail Weekend Fun

Lots of retailer-driven conversation this weekend, and we'll get to the main show in a second, but I realized I forgot to post a link to the newest TILTING AT WINDMILLS on Newsarama. This month I dissect a Dan DiDio quote about branding and COUNTDOWN, as well as talk about the move to an "annual" format for LOVE & ROCKETS. If you have anything you want to chat about that piece, but don't want to dive into the morass that is Newsarama's Board feel free to use the commenting section below!

On Friday, ComicsPRO released the newest Position Paper on Pre-sales at Conventions. Oddly, you wouldn't know from the actual news sites, I've yet to see anything turn up on them as of yet.

I'd also strongly suggest that people go and read the comments on Johanna's piece about the paper, as I think there's a lot of pretty high-level quality commenting going on by many retailers there.

There's also Tom Spurgeon's thoughts here, as well as my reply to Tom, and his reply to that over here. We'll get back to that in a little while.

Finally, there's a plethora of commentary by Alan David Doane.

So, go read all that and come back.

I'm going to start with that last one, because ADD and I... well I don't know, we generally don't get along, I guess? He's famous for saying "Die, Direct Market, Die!", and as a participant in the Direct Market I oddly take offense to that!

Some of Johanna's comments also fall under the "Well, a lot of comic shops suck; so screw them!" defense (though Johanna, at least, tends to be much more deeply nuanced and also tends to be at least concerned with the changing and/or increasing demographic of READERS who, say, don't want to drive xx miles to a quality comics shop, or would rather buy on-line for a variety of reasons, etc.), so let's start off there.

OH, and lest it be misconstrued, I am, as always, speaking as an individual here, not as a representative of ComicsPRO or its Board.

ComicsPRO is an organization of Direct Market retailers who are trying to make things better for ALL retailers. I have and will probably always stipulate that many stores stink on ice, but I don't see any real relevance in that in terms of a ComicsPRO position paper.



(Well, or at least insofar as I know of their individual operations through anecdote and conduct -- I've certainly not personally visited more than a quarter of the membership, at most)

ComicsPRO is, by and large, "the best and the brightest" retailers. The smart ones, the passionate ones, the forward-thinking ones. The ones who outreach to their communities, the ones who get nominated for Eisners, the ones who strongly support as wide a range of material as they can. They're the early-adopters, they're the knowledgeable fonts, they're the communicable-passion carriers who work god-damn hard to move comics forward.

So any argument or debate that is predicated on a "DM stores are lousy, so why should we support stores that don't support us?" is, I think, shredded on contact with ComicsPRO membership -- these stores are NOT lousy, and these stores DO support you.

ADD's suggested position paper (his last link above) is pretty laughable in consideration of ComicsPRO's membership. I'm reasonably sure that virtually 100% of the membership would meet virtually 100% of ADD's requirements. And the ones that don't are actually a matter of ADD's preferences or misunderstandings rather than actual signs of professionalism.

Here, I hadn't intended to do this, but since I have that window open, let's discuss a few of those points.

Professional comic book stores do not favor one genre or sub-genre over another.

Professional comic book stores recognize that all comics are comics, no matter what country they originate from, or what format they are published in.

I might (just barely) support language that said "Professional comic book stores recognize that all comics are comics, no matter what country they originate from, or what format or genre they are published in", but as written this couldn't possibly be something that ComicsPRO could possibly endorse.

Why? Well, let's put it this way, would the American Bookseller Association release a policy that said that Mystery- or Science-Fiction-focused bookstores couldn't be considered "professional" bookstores because of their mono-focus? OF COURSE NOT. In exactly the same way, and for exactly the same reasons, ComicsPRO can't and wouldn't say "you can't focus on action/adventure genres" -- in exactly the same way we can't and wouldn't say "you can't just focus on manga" (as a small handful of stores in America are doing)

Like ADD, I personally and individually want to see stores offering me the kinds of comics I enjoy as a reader -- be that PERSEPOLIS or GREEN LANTERN or BONE or EXIT WOUNDS or FART PARTY or whatever; but unlike ADD, I know for a fact that business owners have every right to make the decisions they want as to THEIR vision of THEIR stores. Some retailers are in conservative communities, some retailers are running pop-culture stores, not comics-as-literature stores, and some retailers are simply following the trends of what their actual customers are actually buying, and weighing their stores appropriately. Who the fuck am I to tell them they're wrong or right?

Taken literally, ADD's first point would mean that a manga cafe like New York's Atom Cafe wouldn't be considered professional, and couldn't join ComicsPRO. (They haven't, but of course they COULD)

If what you want to say is that "Professional comic book stores are quick and willing to take reasonable special order requests" then that might be something that could hold up -- but you simply can't insist that a Mystery bookstore sell cookbooks to be considered professional.

I'm totally sympathetic to what ADD's intention here is -- he wants more stores that a family of four can walk into and walk out with something for each person, but that's not something that can be "legislated" or codified in a way that won't exclude some one you didn't intend, or, for that matter, that would stand up to anti-trust scrutiny.

And frankly, I'm not sure that there aren't quality professional retail stores that ALAN (and I!) wouldn't shop in but that DO satisfy THEIR customers in that all-four-walk-out-happy, just maybe not all four with a comic.

Moving forward, Alan offers this one:

Professional comic book stores recognize the transition from periodical pamphlet comics to more appealing and enduring graphic novels, and accommodate the readership’s clear preference for comics with a spine and a complete story.

Much like the above, I think you'll find that many many stores are not experiencing this. Stores that are not, in any way, "unprofessional"

I'm a book-oriented store, I've championed comic BOOKS nearly my entire professional life (Man, it was me and Rory Root and Bill Liebowitz in that LA conference room nearly 20 years ago now that helped convince the DC that, yes, there was a tremendous potential in their backlist. It was maybe 20 titles deep back then?) so you don't have to sell me on the concept, kiddo -- but the periodical is still a VERY viable format, and one that if you even just glance at ICv2's reports is pretty clear is still on a multi-year growth curve.

Books are TOO, but like the above, there's absolutely no way we can (or should) legislate what or how people stock or in what balance.

As I say, I run a comic BOOK store, I prefer selling trades to periodicals, and that's where our focus and energy is, but periodicals still sell VERY well, and, increasingly to the very "civilian" customers that ADD makes sweeping pronouncements about. DARK TOWER, BUFFY SEASON 8 are great examples -- those sold like MONSTERS, largely outside of the "Wednesday regulars", and people seemed to LIKE the serialization (they kept coming back, after all). For us, at least, the collections of these comics are doing well, but we sold at least 5x on BUFFY #1 than we did of v1 TP, and DARK TOWER is probably run 7x or so.

This is the last one, ADD says:

Professional comic book stores actively seek to buy from a variety of distributors, not relying on one monopolistic distributor for the entirety of their business, and not settling for receiving books “whenever Diamond ships them,” but rather, as soon as they are available, in order to better serve their customers.

Heh. OK, first, you're not going to get a ComicsPRO position paper that will specifically call out one vendor or supplier by name. Besides being beyond tacky, and needlessly confrontational (and more on that later), there are federal anti-trust issues that would absolutely forbid that. Jinkies!

Second off, regular readers will know that I have my fair share of complaints with the way Diamond conducts business, but one thing that Diamond usually does pretty well is moving items from point A to point B accurately and quickly.

In terms of exactly what moves when, these are largely questions of point of printing and point of receipt and timely notification of solicitation. There's plenty of plenty of stuff that comes faster via Diamond than it does from B&T, or even direct from the publisher.

But speed alone isn't the sole consideration here -- there's also cost. There's a lot of calculation that needs to be made in terms of shipping costs, manpower, and discounts when looking at what is the "right" source to buy from. For example, I buy most of my "New" Fantagraphics books from Diamond, UNLESS it's a book that I'm ordering 10 or more, then I'd go to B&T, UNLESS its 20 or more, then I'd probably go direct to FBI. It's all a matter of discount and shipping costs -- buying that book from FBI means I have to pay shipping on it, whereas B&T has $1 freight. With B&T, the increase in effective discount is about a half-percent better on 10 or more copies over Diamond, otherwise Diamond is the cheapest source. Diamond's also the SOLE distribution source for much of FBI's periodicals. If you buy a book NEW from FBI direct, you get a much better discount, but if its shipping from the printer, the freight costs tend to eat all of your profit because they're sending a single title. If you wait for it to ship from the FBI warehouse along with reorders, you're often adding a week or two to the process.

And so on and so forth.

On the other hand, I buy virtually none of my FBI backlist from Diamond -- that either goes direct, or formerly through Cold Cut, and some through B&T if I need something right away. Diamond's my tertiary source because of their reorder fee, and often lackluster stocking commitment.

The decision of WHERE to source a book is very much an INDIVIDUAL BUSINESS decision, and has more factors than ADD seems to want to allow for. And I'm not so sure that speed of delivery alone is the right metric to judge for a profit-focused/needed small business.

Otherwise, I wholly agree with ADD's other points -- being clean, organized, well lit, open on time, and so forth. But there's a big part of me that feels that's like issuing a position paper stating that we feel that water is wet, and the sky looks blue, and that fire can burn. There are pretty much already zero-point conclusions for ComicsPRO's membership.

Months ago there was a bit of discussion about having a professional standards paper, but no one stepped forward with a first draft, so I think it went into limbo. But I'll tell you what, I'll post a link to that discussion (and this one) in the ComicsPRO message board, and we'll see if we can find any advocate for putting out a Standards paper. Again, water is wet, but it certainly can't hurt...

I have a little more to say, because I want to comment on Tom's comments, but let's save your attention span and put that into a separate post. See you in an hour or two, I hope....


Still catching up

I actually thought about changing the name of the blog to Graeme McMillan's Savage Critic for the week, since he's been carrying all of our asses this week... Anyway, about 60% of my ComicsPRO emails and calls have been made, I completed ONOMATOPOEIA this morning (gonna be amusing to photocopy it "while" we have a major signing going on), and the new TILTING AT WINDMILLS is up at Newsarama, wherein I talking about the ComicsPRO meeting.

Reviewish stuff...soon. BUt probably not before Sunday, honestly.

Also, one thing I didn't get into my column (it didn't seem to fit the tone), but I pasted it off into Notepad so I wouldn't lose it:

Let’s end this with the third weirdest thing about the trip: The Orleans hotel has a check cashing service these days. If you haven’t been to one of these old-school Vegas hotels, you need to understand that the hotel lobby is the casino. In order to get anywhere in the hotel, you have to pass through the casino. So, five to ten times a day I’m walking through the casino, and past the check cashing line, and during normal 9-5 business hours that line is the longest line in the whole joint – usually 40+ people deep.

Like any check cashing service, it’s pretty clear that the people using it are generally poor – that’s why most of them are using such a service in the first place. (and let me say that using these services is a really bad financial deal, and should really be avoided in anything except the most desperate of times) It’s really pretty evil to set up a checking cashing deal in the middle of a casino – way to stack the house against the poor twice over – but what astounded me even more was that the casino had waitresses serving booze to the people in line.

Only in Vegas, I guess.


Hibbs says "Bye-eee!"

Off to Vegas, be back on... well from your POV, probably Sunday. (Maybe MOnday, when I think of it) Sorry I've been slack the last few days -- lots on my mind!

One other thing I forgot to mention: in addition to the shipping-from-Diamond list I posted, we ALSO got these items in this week, via Baker & Taylor:

ALIAS THE CAT HC (Kim Deitch) BLINDSPOT GN (Kevin Pyle -- I really really liked this one, though it's a smidge expensive for how long it takes to read) FLIGHT v1 & v2 -- the new "Ballentine" editions PROFESSOR'S DAUGHTER TINY TYRANT -- both from FirstSecond, and, I think, the strongest two books in this "wave" of releases.

As far as I know, we're the only store in SF to have these books currently, as DIamond hasn't distributed them yet. That's one reason I bought them via B&T.

In addition to that, they're CHEAPER from B&T -- Diamond offered them all at a "H" discount (max 40%), while B&T had them for about 46%, once you calculate the free shipping, the extra pre-order discount, and the additional "pay on time" discount.

Plus, they're returnable. (not that I order anything to return - but its nice to know that option is potentially available)

So, the BOOKSTORE distributor beats the COMICS-SPECIFIC distributor on a) time, b) discount, and c) returnability.

There's something very very wrong with this picture. (which, amazingly, will get worse once they're no longer "new" -- Diamond's discount will drop to a pathetic 37% on these as reorders, while I can not possibly order them for B&T for less than 43%)

Can you guess one of my prime topics for the ComicsPRO meeting?

Anyway, see you in a while!