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More on the Future of Comics and PEACE PARTY

A retailer speaks
Some thoughts on publishing from comic-book retailer Steve Bates:


I'll reply only to this message, though my thoughts are also in response to your other e-mail (re: Internet PP). I'm also sending copies to some of my customers and fellow retailers (plus a few small press publishers and comics creators), inviting them to join in on the dialogue.

First, understand that I am a "traditional" comic book fan. I LOVE those flimsy, serially-produced, newsprint, stapled bad boys. I own a few trade paperbacks and graphic novels, but I'm just an old-fashioned kind of guy. So, I wish everything (cookbooks, the Bible/Koran/Torah/Tibetan Book of the Dead, Chiltons auto manuals) was published in the "comic book" format.

That being said, I know it's like saying "I love dinosaurs" or snail darters, or carrier pigeons. Comic books WILL cease to exist one day. I say this as an interpretation of economical and sociological factors I have little or no control over. But I'm NOT a half-empty glass kind of guy, either. It's evolution, plain and simple. To paraphrase the great Glen Larson, creator of the "epic" BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA, "there are those who believe" comic books are the end-stage of words+pictures. Pfah! Cave paintings were just the beginning! Hieroglyphs were not the final pictogram on literature! The Yellow Kid was merely an innovation! Why this arrogance and sentimentality about a form of literature that's only existed for 100 years, give or take?

What will comic books evolve into? Possibly on-line, downloadable graphics with actual sounds, voice actors, SFX, music, and the whole shebang. CGI characters are getting very good, especially in Japan, and big companies like Marvel, DC, and Image, have long toyed with computer graphics (and all have a real presence on the Web, as well). Perhaps these items will also be available on DVD-like discs, as well. But I'm seeing real-world industries increasingly using the Web to sidestep packaging, distribution, and outside marketing. I do my Diamond Comics orders on their website now. They save my data until I come back. There's no downloading of catalogs, no file uploads or transfers, and it's incredibly easy (I do refer to a traditional paper catalog right now as I in-put data). I filed my taxes at www.turbotax.com, and paid about $10.00 less than I would've if I'd purchased the software at BestBuy (more environmentally-friendly, as well). So this is one long-term possibility.

Short-term, graphic novels and trade paperbacks will usurp comic books. They're self-contained. The average reader (not comic book reader) would balk at buying a novel one chapter at a time (ask Stephen King's publisher), and if comic-related material is going to break out into Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, and the like, it can NOT be serialized. There's also the practical aspect of packaging and display. GNs/TPBs display easier, more like "real books" with a visible spine and some "meat" to them. And you don't have to worry about a clerk rotating the stock as often (weekly/monthly) or stocking back issues ("Yeah, I've got chapters 2, 5, 6, 9, and 15, of that book. Chapter 12 was written by this hot new writer, and it sold out the first day. You can buy it on eBay for about $25.00. So, are you ready to check out? Sir? Sir? Where are you going? Don't you want to buy the portions of the story I DO have in stock?").

What do I recommend for PEACE PARTY?

Trade paperback format. Self-contained story arcs (6 issues/chapters worth or so). Color. Accessible price point ($9.95-14.95). Distribution through EVERY POSSIBLE SOURCE (I know you've already explored many creative avenues already, but don't ignore the financial realities of those monster booksellers, either). Good artist (especially on the cover). Peripheral products/licensing; try to line up toy deals and animated series and a movie deal before you ever solicit—while this type of stuff is usually unrealized, the influx of cash can help you get from "Go" to "Park Place" (or at least "Ventnor"). A CD soundtrack released simultaneously or bundled with the book. Internet support—character bios, making of stuff, reviews, select pages. Free copies to supportive retailers like me. And a hundred other things I haven't thought of yet.

PEACE PARTY, by its very nature, has an uphill battle. It's a super-hero comic (a dying market?), with the trappings of a small press black and white alternative (a dead market?). It's about "Indians" (to the average mainstream reader) or Native Americans (to the smaller, more culturally-alert crowd). It involves Native mysticism and religion (not much support from Pat Buchanan, I'd bet). It's written and illustrated by talented but relatively unknown creators. And those are the good points.

But (as we've discussed before), PEACE PARTY just wouldn't be PEACE PARTY if it were illustrated by Rob Liefeld, and your themes and ideas were subjugated to make the project more (easily) marketable. You MUST remain true to your vision, sink or swim. Look at Dave Sim, Richard and Wendy Pini, Terry Moore, Paul Chadwick, and a few of the creators on my e-mail list above (hey Larry! Dan! Gary! Randy! Chris! George! Shannon! Don! Barry!). These are all guys who have stuck to their guns (and drawing tables) and do the work they choose to do, regardless of the financial realities involved. I know for a fact many of them go in the hole to publish their books. But it's all about vision, man. Do you have something you must share with the world? An inner demon gnawing to get out? A story to tell? Then tell it. And damn the torpedoes.

I hope my ramblings are useful. Good luck and good sales.

Steve Bates, Manager, Bookery Fantasy

Rob's reply
Thanks for the input.

I love comics too, but I loved them just as much when they were 12, 15, 20, or 25 cents. I don't think the quality has improved enough to justify the price increases. Sure, the stories and art are usually better, but are they 10 or 20 times better? I don't think so.

Superheroes may be tapped out, but I think there's room for a new twist on the genre. I'm thinking less of spandex and world conquerors the further I go. I have an advantage over someone like Don McGregor, whose DETECTIVES INC. has to compete with thousands of intelligent detective stories. Not many creators have tapped into the growing interest in multicultural subjects (and no, making the sidekick or teammate black doesn't count).

I'll probably try to finish the first PEACE PARTY story arc as a graphic novel. But I don't know about color. Doesn't that double the production price? Is the lack of color a significant obstacle for books such as the CONCRETE TPBs?

I'll definitely hit the major booksellers if I have a TPB to promote. I haven't bothered with them yet because I don't think many carry comic books, especially independent titles. Regular books are a different matter.

Toy and CD deals in advance? Hmm. I'll be lucky to get the TPB out to all the book reviewers who should review it. <g> It's definitely a drawback to do this all myself without a collaborator, friend, or spouse to rely on, but I'll try to work some deals.

I can do something about the Internet support—character bios, "making of" stuff, and so forth. I have all that material and will post it eventually. Week by week my site is expanding, and I try to give people reasons to visit it.

I'm committed to publishing PEACE PARTY. Eventually I'll have more resources to devote to it. The question is whether I'll manage to do two or three measly story arcs, like most creators, or whether I can turn it into a cottage industry, like Dave Sim with CEREBUS or the Pinis with ELFQUEST.

We'll see....


Publishing Indian comics (1/26/05)
While I sought the advice of people such as retailer Steve Bates, people now seek my advice on publishing Indian comics. Here's what I told one fellow who wants to do a comic about "a Kiowa-Apache who is enslaved by Spanish conquistadors in the mid-1500s":

>> We are looking for a comic publisher to pick up this book (and the series). We are also considering grants to self-publish this work. Can you give us any insight or direction in those directions? <<

I'd say it'll be hard to find a comic-book publisher interested in historical fiction...or Indians...not to mention historical fiction about Indians.

It'll also be hard to find grants for self-publishing if you're a group of individuals working as a for-profit business. States and cities sometimes offer arts grants, but they're usually for museums or artists who can put on public shows. If you were a nonprofit yourself, or could hook up with a nonprofit—a historical or western society?—you might be able to get a grant that way.

I wouldn't count on getting funding from a gaming tribe, either. Everyone thinks of that and I'm sure tribes are inundated with thousands of proposals. After developing contacts in Indian country for almost 15 years, I'm still working on that angle.

I don't know if you know it, but Indians and comics are hugely popular in Europe, especially Germany. It's possible a German publisher might consider publishing an Indian comic that an American publisher wouldn't. This is something I'm going to look into myself.

I'd also consider self-publishing it yourself if I were you. That's probably what I'll do with the next edition of PEACE PARTY. You may have to max out your credit cards or get a second mortgage on your house, but no sacrifice is too great for your comic, right? <g>

Tony Caputo published a book on self-publishing comics. Dave Sim published a guide to self-publishing comics. Both are worth looking at—the former for technical issues, the latter for reasons to self-publish.

I'd strongly urge you to try selling everywhere besides comic-book shops. The typical comics reader isn't going to be interested in your materials. But schools, libraries, museums, bookstores, gift shops, trading posts, and powwows might be. And think about trying to sell your comic overseas, although I haven't done that yet.

I hope to publish other people's work myself someday, but I'm a long way from that. I'm having trouble even getting artists to dedicate themselves to my work. If you have artists whom you don't have to pay, you have a leg up on me. I may go to mostly prose stories to make up for this problem.

See the PEACE PARTY postings in the Author's Forum for more of my thoughts on doing Indian comics. Good luck!

Rob Schmidt

PEACE PARTY's future
The latest PP creations
More of Steve Bates's thoughts on PEACE PARTY
PEACE PARTY plans 2000+

Related links
Writer Don McGregor's thoughts on marketing indy comics
Rob's thoughts on marketing indy comics
The future of comics

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