Kim Thompson Died a Month and Four Days Ago...


((As ever and always my own opinions and speculation follow))

(J_Smitty_ enters a small and darkened room.  The feeling is almost claustrophobic.  He twitches, nervously, almost reflexively as a panel slides back to reveal a small figure barely perceptible and perched on the sill of the opening – cloaked in darkness)


“What have you come to confess?”


“Sir, I only just picked up my first Fantagraphics book at the tender age of 33.”


(The little figure sighs deeply and shifts its weight - testing the heft of something)


“10 hail Kim’s and take this brick with you!”




First, you should probably all take the time to read Tom Spurgeon’s detailed and wonderfully complete obit over at the Comics Reporter:

Second, in that wonderfully complete obit there is only one mention in passing of George Herriman.

Herriman's Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse, are how I came to know Kim Thompson and more importantly how I choose to believe K.T. (as he often signed) viewed death and its power – or lack thereof.

In the final volume of Fantagraphics odyssey effort to reprint every available Krazy Kat work we find a one page tribute – written by Thompson – in memory of series editor Bill Blackbeard.  You can find a more comprehensive look at Blackbeard here:

He was an amazing man – his quest was beyond tilting at windmills and yet, he’s very nearly pulled it off and I am PROUD to live in Columbus, Ohio where the majority of his collection has come to rest at The Ohio State University.

But, back to Thompson.  I’ve scanned the page because you need to see it.

Bill Blackbeard

Thompson shines here as everything he’s been made out to be over the course of his monumental career:

A sharp editor (Three paragraphs to sum up a man’s life with love and affection)

A skilled translator (How to see the utter beauty in what many saw as obsession)

An unparalleled publisher (Who often and seemingly chose projects he believed in would succeed through the cumulative will of the people involved more than any “commercial appeal.”)

In a time when things come and go – when the news cycle is faster and more than anything a hungry beast waiting (impatiently) to be fed – it’s important to remember that a legend has passed and little more than a month ago.

It’s important to remember how he viewed death and what he may well have hoped would be his legacy.

I believe Thompson didn’t place these works in front of us because they were important or the best.  A publishing strategy so laborious and fraught with peril couldn't come from such a conceited place.  He published them, translated them, labored over them and dedicated his life’s work to them because he wanted us to enjoy them.  He wanted it to be perfectly fine for an avowed comics fan to pick up one of these things 25 years into his comics reading life and be changed by them.

And, in a good world, our continued enjoyment and love of his work will be his reward.

Love Wins

(I first saw this picture in Joe Hughes' obit over at Comics Alliance.  I have no idea where it first appeared.  No idea of its context or origin.  I include it here because it's true...and damn funny)

A Few Good Links

Since it was so deep in a grown-tiresome thread, you probably missed this, but I loved loved loved Steve D's post here.  

Tom Spurgeon is back with another fabulous round of Holiday interviews, and while I don't know how many people go here without going thee every day, I wanted to really point out the interview with The Beguiling's Peter Birkemoe. It's super rare to see in depth interviews with retailers, and I wish we had more such interviews and profiles. I used to (when it was still a monthly magazine) beg The Comics Journal to do a few interviews with pioneering retailers before it was too late and we lost that history to second hand stories. There are times when I feel like I'd pay for the plane tickets if we could get Gary Groth to interview Jim Hanely. Anyway, great interview, go read it.


(This piece on the TCJ website recently was very nice as well)


And then, yeah, this week's Must Read is now Spurgeon's interview with sometime Savage Critic Tucker Stone (You can write about comics you like, here, Tucker, with no editorial interference or fear of/for reprisals on my end!) -- which is just astonishing, and all-too accurate about far too many things. I think Tucker's off in a few places, about the audience and what it wants, that's probably borne from me having a two decade long view of retailing, and his considerably less than that, but that's a 40 minute type-a-thon for another day. (Mostly: the audience DOES WANT Better comics, but mostly they want comics, so when Better comics aren't available, they're going to buy what's there.... or give up on the form, like much of the last decade has been.)

Actually, the one place I'll take the most issue I'm not certain that Tucker is using "ethical" correctly -- a lot of the politicing and infighting he describes is, I don't think, either ethical or not; it's simply how groups of humans behave. At the end of the day, I can't say that there's a world of  difference between "being told the 'true story of why Mark Waid was fired'" and discussing being told that in an interview, y'know? I don't think EITHER of those actions have ethical weight. An ethical action would be the suggestion Tucker made about Pondscum (is that really true?)

I don't know, maybe I'm too numbed by comics after a quarter century of it, but I honestly don't think that the Platonic Ideal that Tucker seems to be presenting (eg: that the Image artists didn't, as a rule, create anything substantially NEW or groundbreaking, having won their freedom) is even a fair burden to put on a person -- some cats just want to get paid to draw, y'know, and doing comics is a helluva lot more fun than van wraps and advertising. They don't HAVE to want to do capital-C Comics,

Wanting better and expecting more is wonderful, but people have to take that first step for themselves.


Anyway, I have to run to pick up supplies for the CE eggnog & brandy thingy (not really a "party" per se) on Christmas Eve (starts at 5 if you don't have better plans on a Saturday night Christmas eve!), I swear I want to write reviews, but this time of the year is brutal for time....




Good morning, internet! You know, I think Spurgeon just did a big disservice to Tucker by reducing 10k words (!) to "Tucker Stone: Various"! Foo! On the other hand, his defense of Alan Moore was the most right on commentary I've read this morning, so I guess it balances out... (Has anyone noticed that Spurge actually sorts his links by character count? Sure, it makes it look a lot more readable, but mein gott that's some OCD-ish-ness right there!)

Anyway, the newest TILTING AT WINDMILLS is up at CBR, go read it.

I think I might have touched a nerve this time, because it already has 20 replies on CBR (that's rare, even after a week), and most of them are from people with under 5 previous posts....

Interested in your thoughts, as always.


Tom's fault

I haven't been writing lately for maybe a million reasons: been lazy; Ben's started school again, throwing my schedule back into adjustment; Mercury is in retrograde; I fucked up in posting something, and have been gunshy since; trying to focus on my actual business (the one that makes me money); I'm just not feeling oh so much of the current output of my biggest partners; I'm just a very very bad man -- take your pick, they're all part of it. I've actually mused on "shutting down" this site -- well, I wouldn't get rid of it altogether, but maybe it's time to admit that hoping that people will write for free (since advertising pays about $20/year to each contributor) doesn't really fit the internet in 2010. I dunno.

(though, Jeff and Graeme's podcasts are pretty awesome, damn it)

But Spurgeon "called us out" today, and made me feel bad enough about it that I thought I should at least post SOME kind of review while I try and figure out how to get my groove back, so here is a trio of books from this week...

5 DAYS TO DIE #1 (OF 5)


Ah, here's to synchronicity: two weekly five issue mini-series that share a common theme spelled out in the titles, arriving exactly the same week (in a five Wednesday month)

Before I talk about content, let me note that weekly almost-anythings are not the greatest sales idea in the current climate -- absent some sort of retailer protection (like partial returnability or the like), such things are utterly and completely doomed to have insignificant orders and support, and almost certainly aren't going to make them up in reorders because of the mechanical realities for most retailers in restocking. Because of how we do reorders, there's basically no chance of me getting restock on a (theoretical) sellout of #1 before #3 arrives, and FOC (in the case of the Marvel series) doesn't work either because we're currently FOCing #4 this week... and #1 has been on sale for (as I type this) 41 minutes now.

Plus, most retailers really don't like or want mini-series, especially short short ones like 5 issues -- we have every expectation that the collection on these is going to come much sooner than later, so why stock any inventory on the periodical? There's no real way to make any money of it, especially on a weekly series (see previous para)

In the case of Marvel's, specifically, I also want to call out how the book was solicited -- as "HEROIC AGE ONE MONTH TO LIVE #1 (OF 5)". The actual object that shipped? No HA branding anywhere to be seen, and it is suddenly called "1 Month 2 Live" (thanks, Twitter!), which really scans as a Long-I "live", and sounds more like a popstar live tour than anything else. When checking in the books yesterday afternoon, I couldn't figure out why I couldn't find the book on the invoice (alphabetically "1" comes before the letter "o"... let alone the letter "h") -- it took me a couple of minutes to puzzle out what the original title should have been.

Anyway, yeah, same basic premise involved in these two books -- a guy living an unhappy life finds out he's terminal, must figure out a way to deal with that.

In the IDW version, we've got a pulpy crime take -- Writer Andy Schmidt gives us the hardboiled stuff, and Artist Chee goes all monochrome with it (though, really, the book is in color, just seldom more than one per page), but I found my credibility strained from post-diagnosis moment one -- the protagonist is told he has five days to live, IF he stays in bedrest; otherwise he's likely to die faster. Plus, if that wasn't enough he has whiplash too. So of course he gets into a physical altercation in under 5 minutes, and is shown in a violent shootout later that day... but to no ill effects.

More generally, I wonder how often someone is told they have a month or under to live when they have no symptoms otherwise -- the IDW take at least gives a somewhat plausible explanation of a car accident, but we're meant to beleive in the Marvel take that he's had terminal cancer for a while, just didn't know it. That doesn't actually happen, does it?

The Marvel version, which will, strangely, have five different creative teams over the five issues (say goodbye to a satisfying TP read, then!) is, this issue, by Rick Remender and Andrea Mutti. Remender's script is unremarkable, but moves things along briskly, and Mutti's art is very "Marvel house style": reminding me of, mm, Paul Ryan, maybe. Because it is a Marvel comic, in the Marvel Universe, of course the protagonist gets superpowers (from, ahem, being force-fed medical waste by central-casting junkie/robbers) -- though, in a pretty uncanny bit of plothammering, one of the robbers turns out to be working for the "big bad", and doesn't realize he's hunting for the protagonist...

Both comics were competant, if uninspiring, but I think I liked the marvel one a smidge more -- in the IDW one I just couldn't get past the in-an-accident-gets-up-and-is-fine staging, while that's a fairly natural superhero trope. Plus the Marvel one was a bit denser of a read. But they're both, essentially, OK stories.

NAMOR, THE FIRST MUTANT #1: So, here's the thing: if you want a monthly ongoing regular comic series to work (and this is billed as a monthly, ongoing book, not a mini), then you need to introduce your protagonist clearly, establish a goal (or goals) for them, and show us thier supporting cast and world so that we have a reason to want to come back for the next issue (and the next FIFTY after that!)

What you kind of don't want it to do is start off in the middle of another crossover, and spend all of your time dealing with what appear to be unimportant plot points from that crossover while not really establishing anything about your protagonist whatsoever.

Like: what's all that (in the title) about Namor being "the first mutant"? That's not mentioned or referenced especially in the text, nor does it seem to be particularly relevent to anything that's going on in the actual plot. I mean, you and I know what they mean by that, because we've been reading comics forever, but I can't imagine what a theoretical "new" reader would make of the supposed setup here at all.

If you haven't read X-Men comics in the last few weeks, I'm not sure that you'd get what Namor's doing, or why it would be important -- he's trying to get Dracula's severed head? Why? THIS comic doesn't tell you.

The "supporting cast", such as it is here (I can't name one character involved, less than 8 hours after reading it) are generally unlikable, and don't like/respect Namor at all, who is portrayed, as usual, as a complete asshole, anyway.

While the art by Ariel Olivetti is terrific (as usual), I can not, for the life of me, understand who this book might be aimed at, other than absolute X-completists who will feel compelled to buy it because of the word "mutant" in the title.

(which, by the way, even Marvel doesn't seem sure what the book is called -- the indicia and cover agree on "Namor: the First Mutant", but the "next issue" page seems to believe it is called "X-Men: Curse of the Mutants -- Namor")

Either way, as a discrete unit of entertainment, this was, well, EH, I guess, since I'm not hot on utterly unlikable protagonists; as the first issue of a monthly, ongoing series? AWFUL.

VERONICA #202: There's a new cute boy in town... and he's GAY! That's pretty much all there is to this, other than lots of characters trying to trick/punish Ronnie for her vapid selfishness. Which is fine.

There's really not much in the comic about being gay... which is really probably fine, given the target audience of Archie comics. Really, I am more interested in the possible socialogical ramifications of "America's Most Wholesome Teen" comics having a gay character WHERE IT IS NO BIG DEAL.

It shouldn't BE a big deal, duh, obviously, but if I had to point to one thing in the whole universe that makes me think that all fifty states will recognize Gay Marraige in my lifetime, I might offer this as Exhibit One -- the absolute and complete casualness that everyone (well, except Ronnie, but that's because she's frustrated she can't get at Archie through the new kid) accepts and welcomes the gay character suggests to me that the cultural shift already happened, and it is just a matter of time before the laws of our land catch up to it.

The problem with the comic, to me, is that the New Gay Kid, Kevin Keller, really doesn't seem to have much going for him characterwise. In fact, they make the really really weird decision to have his most notable characteristic to be precisely that of Jughead -- he can eat a whole lot (but, I guess, not get fat) -- in fact, he has several eating contests with Juggie to really underline that. Oh, and I guess he likes texting (presumably to his boyfriend, but it is underplayed) Ultimately, I don't see where this character goes next, or what role he plays that Jughead couldn't handle just fine.

I'm so not the target audience for this -- I'd personally call it pretty EH -- but I have to admit that Archie has got me looking at more Archie comics in the last year than I've read in the prvious decade, combined, so they must be doing something right Mamoroneck...

That's what I have for you today, Tom -- as always, what did YOU think?


Spurgeon interviews Hibbs

Over at The Comics Reporter. Tom pitched it to me as "Stump the Hibbs", though he veered away from that pretty fast once we were talking.

I wish the first question hadn't been The First question, because, upon reflection, I would have questioned the very basis of a Vertigo/Art comics split -- selling comics to adults is selling comics to adults, and there's a point where you have to Let The Market Decide. Still, it was The First question, and you're still feeling each other out at that point...

I truly don't understand why one would want to categorize things that tightly -- and I don't think those kinds of divisions make a lick of sense in 2010 (if they made any sense ever in the first place) -- if someone can cogently explain the difference between, say, Peter Bagge's OTHER LIVES and the latest HATE ANNUAL, which were released within weeks of each other this year, then maybe I'd get it. AFAIK, OTHER LIVES is "creator owned", and, presumably, is given Peter what he feels is a "equal or better deal" that he'd get from another publisher, so who cares WHO the publisher actually IS? When was the last time you said "Y'know what I want to see? A Miramax movie"?

Anyway, go read, and feel free to comment here, since Tom doesn't have a comments section. He usually reads here though, so good odds of having both of us see your comments....


Am I weird for...

... having the two people I most wanted to have a long conversation with at WonderCon by Heidi MacDonald and Tom Spurgeon? Mission accomplished, too.

Fun time tonight at the Cartoon Art Museum's party -- thanks to SF's own Comic Outpost for stepping up and paying for the refreshments.

Less than 24 hours to our own bacchanalia -- I think it is going to be epic!


Favorites: Blankets, plus a Tori Amos video

[This is a reconstructed post from Google Cache; originally posted by Sean!] Greetings, fans of savagery! Been a long time since I posted here, and I’m barely doing so now, even. I just wanted to direct your attention to an interview I did with Tom Spurgeon as part of The Comics Reporter’s holiday interview series on the Books of the ’00s. Mine was about Craig Thompson’s Blankets, a book I’d eventually have gotten around to writing about for my Favorites series here at SC. So if that’s the sort of thing you’re interested in, check it out.

On a semi-related note, here’s Tori Amos performing her song “Bells for Her” in 1994 — it’s both my favorite Tori Amos song and my favorite song that uses the word “blankets.” Synergy!


Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in

I mean, if I had just waited 20 minutes to post, I could have done this in the first post, but then Tom has to go and post something from Eric Reynolds...

First off, seriously, "Bookscan Analysis as Direct Market Public Service Announcement"? Really? I feel like I've been told to get off Tom's lawn for playing too much...

Eric's comments are wonderful, but I don't really see that they have much (if anything) to do with anything that I actually WROTE, as opposed, possibly, what people might want to think that I wrote.

If someone can point me to anyplace where I've represented the BookScan numbers to be anything other than what I say they are -- that they "don’t, in any way, represent all 'book stores' selling comic book material." That "Also, remember that this analysis represents RETAIL SALES. This absolutely doesn’t include anything like Library sales, or School Sales, or things like book clubs and so on. Those are not RETAIL SALES." Or that at any place in the piece that I ever represent these numbers as anything other than "sales from the stores that report to BookScan", then I would dearly love to see it.

I've also never suggested, thought, implied, or even believe that virtually any publisher anywhere could survive or prosper without ALL channels working to sell books. Again, if anyone can cite a statement like that, please feel free.

I like Fantagraphics' output. A lot. They are clearly an important publisher in terms of the bodies of cartoonist's work they are bringing to the market, and many of the things they publish are among my best sellers.

I might be worth noting that the word "Fantagraphics" doesn't appear in this year's column whatsoever, and I make a single passing reference to one book of theirs (as noted before, intended purely as a follow-up from the '08 column), and a handful of the cartoonists they publish. The context of that statement is, at least I think, to express regret and amazement that those cartoonist's works aren't selling better, via the stores that report to BookScan, then they are.

Eric says, "I did a cursory look at a half-dozen titles from the last couple of years, and in some cases, our library/institutional sales can amount to as much as 30-50% of our overall book trade business. This is one stream that does not report to Bookscan..." which, as far as I can tell, is exactly what I said! It's also largely irrelevant -- the BookScan analysis is NOT a report on everything that sells in non-DM channels. I directly and repeatedly say that. I directly and repeatedly say that this is retail sales (repeat it with me!) "the stores that report to BookScan".

Further, BookScan is sales made to consumers -- not wholesale. Let's say, with no basis in reality, that 1000 stores that report to BookScan rack L&R #2, that could mean that there are 1000+ copies out there on the racks awaiting purchase by some sophisticated buyer with taste. Awesome. BUT THE NUMBER OF COPIES THAT SOLD TO A CONSUMER (via "the stores that report to BookScan"!) is 374 copies. If anyone, anywhere, has any evidence that this is not a factual statement, then I'd like to hear it.

That DOESN'T MEAN that FBI should abandon the bookstores, or that those are not "good" sales, or anything else that Tom or Dirk would seem like to spin as something that I am implying. I am not.

If people want to engage in arguments that *I* am not... well, I can't stop you, but there's no other possible way for me to respond except for "I never said that. I never implied that. I don't believe that. And anyone who does is, actually, not very smart, whatsoever."

Look at the numbers for what they say. Criticize me for things I actually say -- that's totally fair game. But don't criticize me for what you infer that I am saying, because that inference is on the plate of the reader, and does not bear any relationship to either what I wrote, nor what I believe. I think we'll all be much happier that way.

Eric concludes with "I don't pay attention to Bookscan too closely, but one thing I've gleaned from reading Brian's annual essays is that either he reads way too much into Bookscan numbers, or we pretty dramatically buck the conventional wisdom of what Bookscan "means" in the bigger picture."

At a guess, I suspect the latter is the case. As for the former, the only thing that I'm really "reading into" BookScan is that a work as (in my personal opinion) over-reviewed and mediocrely done as, say, Stitches, sells like 30 times better than something as transcendent, and created by cartoonists at their peak of craft and skill, as L&R.



Only Nixon Can Go To China?

Tom Spurgeon has some excellent comments up about my BookScan Analysis, and I feel compelled to engage his commentary. This is not a Blog War, but I'm hiding most of this behind the jump for those of you who Don't Like To See The Parents Fight...

Let’s start with motivations, which works nicely as a “response” to numbered point #1 ("I know I'm grateful...It's fun to see how certain books did on the chart"). First and foremost, I'm getting the Top 750 out there, and if you don't like my analysis, in the words of the great "Scoop" Nisker, "If You Don't Like The News, Go Out And Make Some of Your Own"

The entire reason I bother to write that beast every year is because *I* want to see the bookstore data. We’ve known that data was there, but it used to be locked up in a black box. I wanted to see it, so I called in favors and got it set free, and my assumption has always been that if I want to see it, then others do as well. As long as I had it, I might as well actually write about it and expose that data to a wider number of people.

I’ve always disliked and mistrusted the few shimmering glimpses we get at the data, generally because it is coming from people with something to lose (read that specifically as “access to the data” in the main) if they get too specific about their reporting. That’s why we get ICv2 headlines that say things like “Watchmen #1 on BookScan for xth week in a row”; which I find to be more frustrating than illuminating. I mean, what does that mean in any kind of broader context, or in relationship to other things? Comparative analysis gives a much better picture of what the trends and things really are.

So, yeah, I want that information out there, and I want it out in a venue that it might attract some attention and be searchable rather than, dunno, putting it up as a torrent or something, where only people who know to look for it might have a chance of finding it.

I think that books, in general, are weird because it is very hard to get specific data about how well they’re doing – I love the existence of a site like boxofficemojo because it presents virtually any piece of information you might want to know about a film’s performance in a pretty easy to find format. I also like sites like John Jackson Miller’s Comichron because it attempts to do much the same for the comic book industry. Its major flaw, however, is that it ONLY does it for DM sources of information.

So: at my core the reason I write this every year is to give a chance for that information to be out, natively in the wild, and to be a part of the Historical Record.

I will tell you this: I’m not convinced that my analysis is really any good. I mean, if you have like 6 spare hours, go through and read all seven years of analysis, one after another, and look at how much my tone and methodology has changed. In year one, it is really about 90% Direct Market, and maybe 10% bookstore because what I was actually hoping in my heart is that someone else would actually take up the data and perform their own analysis on it, so that I wouldn’t have to.

As I came to understand, over the years, that no one was going to bother to do that, I’ve gotten closer and closer to writing something actually worth reading – the first 3 (I think?) years had entire “What about the Direct Market?!?!” sections that I ultimately abandoned as being counterproductive to the exercise.

Anyway, my motivation to release this information is simply that: I want the information released, I have a long standing and “well respected” comics industry opinion column, it seems like a good match.

But, I also have to think of what I understand about my audiences.

Primarily, I write for and to other Direct Market comic book retailers. That’s the entire point of these columns. Remember, TILTING started in the controlled circulation COMICS RETAILER magazine, only ever seen by 5000 people, maximum.

Secondarily, ever since I made the switch to the wider internet with Newsarama, and, current, Comic Book Resources, I feel like I have to spend a reasonable amount of time writing for the “lay” audience. Which is why you’ll see me over explaining things, sometimes (“What is an SKU?”, that kind of thing), because I want the layfolk to at least have a notion of what I’m talking about. More importantly, my “lay” audience is mostly comprised of folks who are really really interested in the Direct Market version of “comics”. That is to say, disproportionately interested in “mainstream” Marvel and DC superhero comics. That it to further say, I believe that 75% or better of the people who read TILTING know nothing whatsoever about the industry except whatever “common truths” they’ve managed to absorb, and repurpose to their own ends.

My tertiary audience is that of the “Decision makers”, and it’s tertiary because they have much better data than I do, have to balance the needs of a much wider range of participants, and because they’ve already made their decisions. The chances of my actually directly impacting or changing any decision made is vanishingly small. I’ve been writing columns for nearly twenty years now, I know that very very well. At absolute best, I can hope to possibly influence some potential future decision by adding to consensus (and, in fact, I think that one of my leakers gives me data for precisely that reason)

So this comes to Tom’s point #2 –- "Hibbs' qualitative analysis is so infused with this highly insistent defense of the Direct Market" -- yes, it IS a DM oriented column for a DM oriented audience written by a DM oriented participant. I literally don’t know if it is *possible* for it to not be “infused” with a pro-DM slant, given its genesis, and ongoing status. I write 11 months of the year in a DM-oriented fashion, it is extremely difficult to expect me to not do that on the 12th month.

In my “defense” (though I don’t think this is something that needs a “defense”, per se – because I think it IS extremely valid) not only do I specifically (overly?) point out my biases and directly ask for other perspectives, but I’ve made my best faith efforts over the years to become as dispassionate as I can be. Again, read the way the commentary has changed over the course of seven of them: it has gone from DM-centered to DM-“infused”. I count this as a victory!

Having said that, I have to tell you that in the Best Alternative Universe Ever, I’d rather read a 20k word essay on the Annual BookScan analysis by Tom Spurgeon, than writing this shit myself, because I think he’d do a much better job of it than I ever would in keeping Professional Distance. He’s a Reporter by nature – I am an Opinion Columnist.

Tom’s point #3, and the first of the “big, sweeping problems” is “I can't figure out who on earth holds the positions he insists on dismantling.” And I guess Tom and I just travel in different circles. Again, Tom does note people “in a difference-making position”, but, as I said before, they’re my tertiary audience. Because I hear a lot (a LOT) of misinformed, or downright wrong statements from both my primary and secondary audiences quite a bit. Now, I will grant you that “bookstores will save everything” was actually replaced in 2009 by “digital downloads will save everything”, and that my own conflation of the two may be at fault here, but anything that I wrote stemmed from something that I’ve heard recently as a continued meme.

Let me sidebar for a second and talk about my working method. Because there’s a certain amount of boilerplate that I only rewrite slightly (for instance, just about everything before I get to the actual yearly overview), and there are all of the charts that I’m just adding new rows to, I actually just open up the previous year’s column and start editing and rewriting. Typically I go into each section, add two pages of carriage returns, then start writing the new piece. After I handle a subsection of each section (say, “10 ten books over all” followed by “top 5 dollar books” and so on – though I don’t explicitly label those subsections, that’s how I write it, in order to stay sane), I’ll scroll down and see what the results were in the previous year, and add in any relevant comparisons (“such and such grew by this much/lost this much”)

So, because of this, there are sometimes things I return to simply because I talked about it last time. Example: the citation of L&R #2. So, there are a handful of things in any given report that will be “last year’s discussion follow-up” items.

Anyway, for Tom’s #3, I guess I’d say “I’m writing for a mass audience for whom a significant number still hold these views as not-debunked; and not really for the ‘intelligentsia’ or 'Decision Makers'”. It is fair to question whether that is right or wrong decision (or if I’ve over-inflated in my head the actual response) but that’s what I’m thinking.

Also, I hear similar kinds of things from new entries into the market quite a bit. I get lots and lots of blind “I’m going to be a new publisher and this is how things work!” emails, maybe more than Tom does? Admittedly, virtually all of the people who come in with those thoughts either get gutted instantly, or quickly modify their tune, but while it is true “Everyone that matters knew this years ago,” some of the people who will matter 20 years from now are likely starting their education today.

For Tom’s #4, ("Hibbs admits the numbers are untrustworthy in a lot of ways... and then compares them anyway and goes on to make sweeping statements...") I think there’s value in comparing two relative performances, even if they’re gathered by wholly different methodologies and are less-than-perfect measures in the first place, as long as you know what the limitations of that data are going in.

That is to say, looking at the number sold for Fables, Y or Sandman in Direct, and comparing as a percentage to the Vertigo Crime line, and that looking for that same number sold for Fable, Y, or Sandman via the stores that report to BookScan compared as a percentage to the Vertigo Crime line, and seeing that it follows basically the same pattern that the Minx line did before it, and drawing a conclusion from that… well that seems like a fair conclusion to make. That doesn't mean I inherently believe that either set of numbers are actually 100% accurate (or tracking the same things -- no not at ALL!), but that a trend can be perceived. Is that perception right or wrong? Dunno, that's why I put it out there, let's have a conversation on the merits of the argument itself?

So, I don’t want to necessarily disagree with Tom’s point, but to say that I think that I’ve handled it appropriately, and I’m much more eager to engage on the specific conclusions than on “Don’t cross the streams, that would be bad” as a general point.

And I think (repeat: think) that I either slather any direct comparison between channels with Weasel Words (“I would strongly suggest that this indicates”, yikes!), or I do so otherwise only in the abstract. If there are particular and specific instances anyone disagrees with, I’d be glad to discuss them. No, strike that, I would be ecstatic to do so!

Tom’s #5 ("...bookstore vs. DM argument takes over those sections even when it's not brought up. "), I appreciate his acknowledgment that it might be his personal weakness. And I think some of it is, because I’ve tried, continue to try, and will continue to try to tone it down over the years.

I like his questions, though! The answers are...

"Could this leave bookstores open to someone suggesting they have the next Watchmen in the form of some Green Lantern book?"

More willing to try something new that hasn’t ‘proven out’ in Direct first, but not so willing as to position a capey book that flops in Direct. ‘Earth-One’ would seem to be our next available test, as it was positioned as a ‘bookstore initiative’ as I read it.

"Will they favor the shelving of DC books for a while?"

Potentially, but of course, Chain bookstore shelves are ultimately For Sale, plus there’s a pretty big X-factor in ‘how many of these books are selling on Amazon, et al’, where there isn’t ‘shelving’ in the way you meant it.

"Will this make it that much harder for Marvel to kickstart their post-Disney purchase bookstore program?"

I’d think not; why would it? And those shelves are For Sale, anyway.

"Were stores stuck with Watchmen copies as the cycles worked themselves out?"

Unlikely to be ‘stuck’ that significantly, because I bet you $1 that result is as much a function of expanding the number of storefronts carrying the book in the first place as it is from copies-sold-per-store, and IF anyone was carrying way way too much inventory, and if DC did sales into bookstores even remotely in parity as they did in the DM, they were taking full 100% returns on that one book, as needed.

"Are they asking for new Watchmen material?"

No clue from me. Ask Dan DiDio.

OK, that was fun, and I wish the entire post was just that!

On Tom’s #6 ("I think Hibbs vastly underplays the recession."), I am not sure how so? And in regard to “And if everything must be a market to market dick-measuring contest, it also makes perfect sense to me that a market serving relatively casual readers is going to be hit harder in the first 12-15 months of a recession than a market serving the most devoted fans.”, I have to say “huh?” Or did you not see the sentence about the DM being down FIFTEEN percent, which is a LARGER drop than the bookstores? Muh?

#7 ("I think Hibbs underplays the effect the quality of books has in a lot of comics' sub-markets."): Wait, now you’ve totally lost me. You’re positing that quality of a work is the most important reason it does or doesn’t sell? Really? That’s why nothing by, say, Urasawa, hits in the Top 750, but Naruto is #1 in manga? Is he saying that Stitches is externally and qualitatively a better book than, dunno, Optic Nerve? (*I* don't think so!) I don’t know how to engage that one at all! Quality doesn't have but the most cursory relationship to sales, look at the music, TV or film charts, if you doubt that...

#8 ("I think Hibbs overplays a manga "freefall.""): Fair enough. Actually, if you go back and look, those 3-4 paragraphs are almost completely lifted from the ’08 report, because I felt it was still pertinent, but yeah, fair enough.

I very very much look forward to any independent analysis that Tom can muster, and, like I said, that’s what I absolutely hoped would happen when I started this 7 years ago. (Not just Tom, I mean – I’m always hoping for 4-5 competing analyses!)

As for Tom's "challenge", I will forthrightly state that I don’t envision anytime in the future that I say *nothing* about the DM or my own individual experiences. That’s not why I write TILTING, and if I'm not entertaining/being relevant to my perceived audience, then I don't expect to keep it. But I will promise to at least to continue to be conscious of it, and to continue to try and tamp it down if I keep getting access to the data (which is, by no means, guaranteed)


Of Cabbages & Kings

Tom Spurgeon has Yet Another Excellent Essay on Diamond's new benchmarks. You should go read it.

Here's the thing though: let's assume that every rational human in the world agrees with the central premises of the argument -- every work deserves a chance on the market. I'll stipulate that; I certainly believe it personally.

Now how does that happen?

This isn't just an idle question -- the answer to that is, possibly, the most important question you might answer all day.

Tom, God love him, doesn't have any answers. Saying "it shouldn't be this way" really isn't enough.

Let's look at the components of the Direct Market, after the jump.

CONSUMERS: Honestly, a fair chunk of the issue is your own fault -- you, collectively, have decided that you aren't as interested in buying serialized comics as you once were. That's fair enough, and I Get It -- there's more being produced than you can possibly keep up with, and the Collected Edition is (nearly) always a better package: no ads, no waiting for the Rest, typically cheaper than its components, and so on. Like I said, I Get It.

But if you say "I'll just wait for the trade", you're automatically decreasing the size of the audience. Why? Because: x% of you will keep waiting even once the work is out. Another x% of you is going to balk at the prices needed to finance "OGN" work. Another x% of you are going to completely forget that the work is being produced -- if LOVE & ROCKETS is produced only once a year, where's the percentage for the Hernandez Brother's readership to come in looking for L&R more than once a year? ONCE YOU BREAK THAT PURCHASING HABIT, it is extremely hard to get it going again. If you're only looking once a year for something, then you're just as likely to only think of it every 18 months, 24 months, whatever.

You CAN change consumer behavior: make it clear that material will NOT be collected until x months, or by providing material in the serialization that will NOT be collected, maybe even ever. But what most needs to be done is to DRIVE CONSUMERS INTO THE STORES ON A REGULAR BASIS. "Alternative" and "art" comics have done a, frankly, shit job of that in the last decade. I suspect that war is already lost.

RETAILERS: Yes, some suck. Maybe even "many". Potentially (though, really, I don't think so, but let's grant the possibility) "Most".

Also: there aren't enough retailers, not by half. Tom's got to drive two hours to find one that may or may not have the item he wants in stock. The guy he links to on DC's "Wednesday Comics" project can't even get a good answer on whether or not his order will get filled -- that's mediocre (at best) customer service.

But retailers in hard goods are, by their very nature, conservative creatures. It is much more difficult to go out of business by selling out of something than it is from having far too much stock. This is just the reality of how things work. Even IF the store is dedicated to having the widest, most diverse stock, and is aggressive about tracking down as many things they can and making it trivial for the customer to find or reserve the item they want is going to have holes. I know I sure do. I can't stock EVERY comic. I don't have the physical room to do so.

There are ways around retailer's natural conservatism: free copies, returnable copies, extra discounts, well-orchestrated promotional plans designed to drive consumer interest and drive consumers into stores (be they DM or not), but all of those things cost money, time, and effort; things that, generally, are out of the range of some/many/most publishers to do.

But, seriously, look at the titles that have been impacted by the Diamond policy -- how many of them have had any particular lever designed to drive consumer and retailer interest?

PUBLISHERS: "I published it" is not a marketing plan.

I have all of the love and respect in the world for an outfit like Slave Labor -- they've been in the game long enough, and Vado's got reasonably good aesthetic instincts. And if someone wanted to advance the argument that, say, "if you've been a profitable publisher for [10, 15, 20] years, then Diamond should automatically distribute anything you care to print", I'd probably be willing to fight for that POV.

But "I published it" is not a marketing plan.

Heidi has a thread on this topic, too, and there's a comment over there from a consumer who talks about how he dutifully reads PREVIEWS every month, and fills out preorders, and he's a motivated and interested purchaser of James Turner and he still missed the "special" (sorta-#0) version of the book.

The orders on that version were low enough that Diamond decided not to stock the mini-series.

Cause, meet effect?

DISTRIBUTORS: Look, the central problem is Diamond has a semi-monopoly lock on Direct Market sales on four of the top five producers of comics (IDW, who was #3 for at least one month, is not a brokered publisher through Diamond, though I believe they ARE "exclusive" through Diamond within the DM). Or to put it another way: they control well over 80% of the volume that DM stores order through Diamond.

This really doesn't give any other DM distribution choice anything to work from except for "the crumbs"

[I added the "DM" qualifiers above because you can certainly order Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, IDW, FBI, etc etc from someone OTHER than Diamond, but you'd have to be fairly mental to do so, given the differences in discount between Diamond and other "ID" distributors (B&T, Ingram, whoever)]

Distribution is a hard game in the best of times -- its a really thin margin you're working on -- but I'd call it nigh impossible when you can't even access 80%+ of the potential sales.

Diamond believes that they need to cut unprofitable items from distribution. THIS IS SOMETHING VERY HARD TO ARGUE WITH. I sure can't suggest that one of my partners do something that doesn't make them enough money to continue operations. The only real argument is that they're cutting their nose to spite their faces -- that by knocking down books without giving them a viable and honest chance they're running a real risk of losing out on million copy sellers eventually down the line (otherwise known as the BONE argument), but I certainly can get why a distributor might not be interested in, y'know, playing the lottery. It seems to me that just a single BONE-level success MORE THAN outweighs the nickle-and-dime losses of a hundred other books, but the wrinkle is that by being contractually obligated to distribute whatever the fuck the "Big Four" decide to crap out means they're almost certainly losing money on a huge swath of THAT material.

(Like, say, most 1:10 variants -- those almost certainly are money losers for Diamond in most cases)

In other words, The Big Four are probably eating up most of Diamond's "mercy fuck" budget by overproducing a bunch of marginal shit that no one really wants. In a way, I feel like Diamond's policies are nearly aimed at Marvel and DC, but they contractually CAN'T dictate shit to Marvel and DC, so they have to do it where they're contractually able to do so.

This is changeable. Not easily so, but it is theoretically possible.

Possible scenario #1: The REASON the "Big Four" have brokered exclusive deals with Diamond, and the "next big ten" have non-brokered exclusive deals is because Diamond is basically the only viable choice. One publisher confided in me that virtually every non-Diamond attempt to distribute in the DM ended up going out of business owing that publisher huge sums of money.

So, possibility #1 is someone with stupidly big piles of money, and a WHOLE lot of patience sets up with the goal of directly competing, head-to-head, with Diamond. This person would be GUARANTEED to lose money (big huge scary towering piles of money) for AT LEAST three years. It is my understanding that Diamond brokerage deals are on something like 3-year revolving contracts. IF there was someone with equivalent infrastructure and staffing and knowledge and ability they'd at least have the possibility of luring Marvel away, and possibly several of the others, but, yeah, you could maybe get Marvel at contract renewal time, IF you could convince Perlmutter that they could save a few thousand dollars a quarter.

I don't see this scenario playing out because there probably isn't anyone rich enough who is also STUPID enough to try and take Diamond on head-to-head, on the POSSIBILITY that some pubs might switch... especially since they'd almost certainly have to UNDERCUT Diamond, and my understanding has been that Diamond wrote themselves a really stupid deal where they really don't make THAT much from distributing The Big Four. But it COULD happen, I guess.


Possible Scenario #2a: Geppi's non-Diamond empire continues to do what it appears to be doing right now: collapse. The Pop Culture Museum, Gemstone, whatever else, and they collapse hard enough to "Take Diamond With Them", and DC *has* to play its "too big to fail" clause that is reportedly in their contract, buying Diamond outright.

In this scenario, Marvel pulls out as soon as they POSSIBLY can, because they don't want their fortunes tied to their #1 competitor (especially when said competitor has become just a fraction of their new comics sales). Marvel finds someone else to distribute their comics, and, assuming said company doesn't completely fuck everything up, sending hundreds or thousands of comics retailers directly out of business (Cf: Heroes World) -- and that's a REALLY BAD ASSUMPTION -- then maybe just maybe you can start a viable second national distribution option.



Possible Scenario #2b: With no external prompting, Marvel decides to try the HWD option again. It could happen. Some of the people in charge are just nuts enough to try.

There would be a REALLY ugly couple of months though, but it, conceptually could lead to a second viable national distributor.

The real problem with either 2a or 2b is that you'd still be looking at NON-INDEPENDENT distribution -- both Marvel and DC, from good intentions or poor ones, are likely to make a lot of moves that would benefit themselves, but no one else. History, I think, is on my side on that one!


Possible Scenario #3: The Justice Department investigation of Diamond that Chuck Rosanski instigated was never CLOSED (to my understanding), but rather, put into abeyance. There's probably a much better legal term, but I don't know it.

Justice COULD reopen that investigation, and with a new administration in charge that is potentially much less pro-Big Business Monopoly, they could decide to split Diamond up.

I'm not so sure that this idea doesn't scare me more than 2a and 2b combined, in terms of short term fallout, but I guess it could lead to 2 viable national distribution organizations that would actually be open to potential competition. Probably not, but maybe.


Possible Scenario #4:

Someone like an Ingram or a B&T decide to try and court the DM, and to add periodicals and DM-like terms to their portfolio of services.

I think this is unlikely because there aren't enough viable free-agents amongst publishers to make enough of a profit from, but I suppose it COULD happen. Again, you'd be losing money for a good long while in getting this established, but, if you already have "a" distribution infrastructure in place (though one VERY DIFFERENT than what DM retailers would require!), you'd probably be losing a lot less money.


Possible Scenario #5:

Something Happens to make Diamond Realize the risk they're taking with Our Future. Like if, somehow, WARLORD OF IO becomes some sort of major international hit, on the level of TWILIGHT or something, and everyone could point at Diamond and say "See...?"

50/50 odds that would cause them to turtle even more, but, hey, you never know!


Possible Scenario #6:

Publishers of all shapes and sizes actively promote what they publish, creating consumer pre-order demand for all manner of "non-traditional" works, which spurs retailers to take more chances, and makes it so that Diamond's benchmarks never even come into play in the first place.

At the same time, publishers take a serious look at their offerings, and knock off all of the crap there really isn't any audience for (and yes, I'm including shit like DC doing a TP of the most recent EL DIABLO mini-series, which sold all of 4k copies of its last issue, sheesh!)

See, I sorta think that if you can't generate at least $30k retail in sales on your initial offering, then you probably shouldn't be publishing nationally anyway. That's like $10 per store! That's also WAY above Diamond's benchmarks, but what I'm advocating is publishers taking this kind of tack themselves, not having it imposed from the outside. AND I WOULD EQUALLY SUPPORT THIS THINKING FOR MARVEL & DC!

While this will never happen, this is the one genuinely plausible scenario which would basically guarantee material making it to market -- if you create a real and significant interest in and for your work, then it is likely to work for ALL participants.


Potential Scenario #7: the retailers all lose their minds tomorrow, and we mercy fuck the hell out of everything -- we order every single thing offered to us, in strong quantities, just because we want to see books survive. This is about as likely as a gigantic rainbow meteorite striking the earth, transforming us into a race of prancing unicorns who crap chocolate ice cream, but lets keep it on the table anyway. If I, and every other retailer who ordered rack copies of the WARLORD OF IO special, simply doubled our orders, we could have kept the mini-series alive. [Put aside that I still haven't SOLD all of the rack copies of WoIO that I bought!]

I actually DO have a Mercy Fuck budget... well, not "budget" per se, but I am willing to MF some books some times, if they're the kinds of things that I want to encourage my industry to become... but I don't think anyone is well-capitalized enough to sustainably do that over the long haul we'd be talking about, and it would only encourage more people with LESS talent to try to hop on our sweet sweet MF train.


Possible Scenario #8: People say "Aw fuck it", and just skip the DM altogether.

I wish these people luck.

Obviously it IS doable, because there ARE a tiny handful of people able to earn out and cash in whether that's through a mainstream book publisher or through the internet in some fashion, but I truly think that for every success that way there are going to be twenty crash-and-burn failures.

At the end of the day, I kinda don't think that if you can't get x thousand people to buy your physical, tangible $x comic book, that you're probably not going to be able to get enough sales from your digital version that only costs a fraction of $x to make up the same kind of revenue stream.


I really didn't structure this right -- I should have #6 be the concluding thought, because that's the only actually VIABLE plan in the bunch. AND, more importantly, it is the only one that doesn't rely on SOMEONE ELSE COMING TO SAVE YOU.

I might have missed one though, it's possible. Do YOU have any better ideas?



Spy vs. Spy, Spy vs. Nature, Spy vs. Himself: Douglas on Kindt and Bendis/Mack

SUPER SPY and NEW AVENGERS #39. Below the cut lurk spoilers (well, a plot summary, really) for the latter. Hence, the cut. For those who care about such things.

Tom Spurgon wrote the other day in his you-must-go-read-it best-of-2007 roundup that " I have a selfish reason for wanting to bring more people to the conversation on [Matt Kindt's] Super Spy: I think the book is good, but I can't figure out how good, and I'd love to see a range of writers and thinkers muse on it in public to help me along. It's the most confusing book of 2007 to me, and for that one of the most compelling."

I read it at last yesterday, after it had been on my shelf taunting me for months, and... well, I'm confused too. I think it's Very Good, but that's kind of a split decision between the elements that work beautifully and the ones that don't work at all. It's one of the most formally grand comics I've seen in a while: 37 interrelated stories about espionage in World War II, each one written and drawn with its own distinct formal guidelines (not necessarily a specific style, but particular drawing and writing techniques, POV, etc.). They form one kind of story in the order they're printed, but that's not chronological order; they can also be read in chronological order by the "dossier numbers" printed at the beginning of each one. They're mostly black-and-white with a single tone color (which changes from time to time), except when they erupt into full-spectrum color in a few passages, generally for pastiches of old comic strips. But the whole book is actually in full color: its pages' blank space is mostly the mottled color of yellowed WWII-era newsprint, with crumpled corners and other marks of age and abuse. There are stories within stories (with the inevitable reference to the 1,001 Nights); there are hidden messages everywhere--everyone seems to be a spy, sending secret information and desperate requests to other spies while trying to act natural--and anything that looks innocuous in one story is inevitably revealed in another to be the vehicle of a hidden message. (A facial mole is actually the mark of an espionage mole: it's a dot of microfilm!)

Cool, yes? Yes, and as somebody who is inordinately fond of complicated formal structures in art in general, I do like it an awful lot. But the places where it falls down are some of the more old-fashioned, prosaic virtues, like character and figure drawing. The story is populated by a whole lot of characters, all of them spies trying to advance their personal and political agendas at any cost--but I found when I'd finished it that I only remembered the name of one of them, Sharlink, "the Shark," a classic femme-fatale type. The espionage material is standard-issue coded-transmission stuff, and characters are broad central-casting types; people discover that their lovers are spies for the other side and betray each other in a strangely facile way; an exotic dancer's desperate, unusual movements are Morse code: "my cover is blown, they're waiting for me, must escape tonight." (And he telegraphs a lot of the "secrets," too: one character explains how he's going to hide a message in every fifth word of a comic strip, and not only do we see every fifth word of the strip circled, but we subsequently see someone picking out those words.) Kindt's artwork is really lovely as cartooning-based drawing (line, tone, composition, abstraction), but it's a little bit off in the context of a story: characters are awkwardly different-looking from panel to panel, facial expressions are vague approximations. I definitely want to read his future comics, but like I said, I'm confused about what I think of this too.

NEW AVENGERS #39: Now, this is a Very Good and very interesting espionage-fakeout narrative--nowhere near as formally impressive as SUPER SPY, but a terrific piece of Bendis serial writing. The plot (SPOILERS like I said) is that Echo and Wolverine have a strange and slightly flirtatious conversation, and Echo heads to Matt Murdock's law office, where she encounters Daredevil; when she asks him a question he should know the answer to and he tries to cover up for the fact that he doesn't know what she's talking about, she realizes something's wrong--and Daredevil reveals himself as a Skrull, who attacks her. But Wolverine's followed them, and fights the Skrull, who gets away. The injured Wolverine explains that "if I was a Skrull looking to sink their claws into our little team, you'd be the one I'd go after," and Echo realizes that "they were going to kill me and replace me." Back at their HQ, Maya seduces Hawkeye; when she wakes up, she looks through her fingers at him.

There are three ways to read this story. The first is to take it at face value. The second, which I suspect is the case, is that Echo has in fact been a Skrull for a good long while--that she's already been killed and replaced, long since, and that her fight with the Daredevil/Skrull this issue is a game to clear her in Wolverine's eyes, since Wolverine is convinced that she's the most likely target. (And then what's going on with her and Hawkeye? Well, he's a Skrull suspect as an unlikely returnee-from-the-dead, but it's still a little confusing.)

And the third is that not only is Echo a Skrull, but Wolverine knows it but doesn't want to let on that he knows. (That "does he know about our past?" routine at the beginning of the issue may be the same kind of leading question as Echo's "Why did you send Captain America to me?" I know Echo and Wolverine worked together in the past, but can anybody who knows her history better than I do tell me if they were ever romantically involved?) Which means--after all the times in this series when Echo has responded to what someone's saying even though her back is to them--that when Wolverine's lying behind her and says "(She can't hear me...)," he knows she can hear him, and is saying it for her to hear and be deceived...

Or, you know, maybe everything is what it seems to be. But how much fun would that be? I have no idea how this will read once we see the whole story (Mack, certainly, is drawing much more straightforwardly and less inventively and attractively than he has with his other Echo material), but for now I'm delighted.


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....