Friday, February 16, 2007

Dave Sim's blogandmail #158 (February 16th, 2007)

And the cover to Dave Sim Collected Letters Vol.2 is in black-and-white! Why not colour? Colour is always better than black-and-white! I bet that's another example where this Sim character was just lying there late at night going "You know? I bet if I do the Collected Letters cover in black-and-white MOST NORMAL PEOPLE will find that really IRRITATING! Almost as irritating as me running excerpts that just stop right in the

Oh, hey, here's a couple of non-controversial items from the recent mail. A bunch of letters from Scott Berwanger of Anubis—four or five from just before Christmas and then one dated January 9. Basically he seems to have talked himself into the fact that self-publishing per se is not for him and the more he thinks about it, the more it seems to him that what he needs to do is to get a high-quality high speed photocopier for his studio so that he can hand craft boxed sets of Anubis as he goes along. I'm not sure if it's a widely accepted term but the one he's using is "micropress".

That publication-demon was hanging over me like a storm cloud and driving me nuts, having it looming like that. And as I've said, not knowing what's on the other side of that door, the one beyond Anubis…I guess what I'm driving at here, is that I don't know entirely where I'm going with the book in terms of publication. Maybe there is a conventional publishing life beyond that door—the one between where I am with Anubis now, and the other side of Anubis.

I can certainly see where a level of ambivalence would become a day-to-day companion when you start with the idea that you're not going to worry about or even think about publication until your magnum opus is finished. The multiple options are still always there coupled with the uncertainty of what the state of play is going to be when you do finish in another (ten years? Fifteen years?). I can only reiterate my own level of confidence that looking at the strides that print-on-demand has already made just in the first few years of its existence that—coupled with the nature of unfettered capitalism: smaller, cheaper, faster—the idea of buying your own photocopier might seem completely quaint in another five years when every Kinko's wannabe is able to produce 1,000 copies of a comic book for 15 cents each or graphic novels at 50 cents each while you stand and wait at the counter. I just don't see any storm clouds there.

[That was another interesting moment in Toronto when Chester and I were talking with Peter Birkemoe at the Beguiling and I was mentioning that virtually all of the comic books that creators submitted as contenders for the Day Prize at SPACE were print-on-demand comic books this year. The digest, mini and ashcan format had pretty much gone the way of the dodo just in the space of one year. Peter rained a bit on that particular parade by saying that it was Beguiling store policy not to carry any print-on-demand comic books since there was such an avalanche of them coming out.

When Chester and I got outside, I said to him, "I wonder how long they'll be able to stick with that policy?"

"Until there's a hit print-on-demand comic book that they have to carry," Chet said, without missing beat. "It's the same thing as the stores saying that black-and-white comics don't sell until Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles No.1 came out."

That was pretty much what I thought, as well.]

It's kind of coincidental that amidst the recent flurry of Scott Berwanger letters, I also got a package from Lee Thacker, who started with the micropress model with his 800-page graphic novel One For Sorrow, which he would photocopy and then package individually as eight 100-page perfect bound chapters. As I said in my review of the project in an attempt to sell people on the 128 pounds sterling cover price: "Look at it this way—each copy will be put together by hand and autographed by Lee himself. And what do you suppose those will be going for in twenty years time when One for Sorrow finally gets the wider distribution it deserves? Yes, exactly." Well, Lee has gone the print-on-demand route and has now published One for Sorrow as two handsome hardcovers with a cover price of 40 pounds sterling each. Lee writes:

I thought I'd send you my One for Sorrow books now that they've been printed "properly", and as a replacement for the new work I have yet complete. I don't expect you to spend your valuable time reading the whole thing again, I just thought they'd look nice in the Cerebus Archive alongside the original hand made copies.

I went along to an international comics event last weekend. I managed to sell a total of 5 items (none of which were my One for Sorrow books—softcover versions of Book One – 8 pounds each) but I was expecting as much so, although disappointed, I'm not too discouraged. There's another show in London in March, so I'll try again there.

It's hard to know what sort of conclusion to draw from this. Obviously this is one of the storm clouds that Scott Berwanger is dreading: what if I get Anubis done and publish it and I still can't sell any copies? The optimist in me thinks that it's a matter of the market catching up with the pioneer efforts that have been produced largely in a vacuum. How many completed 800-page graphic novels do you figure are out there? Not many I don't think. Obviously Cerebus, Finder, Usagi Yojimbo and others have demonstrated that there is a demand for longer graphic novels but I suspect at this point that the demand is not enough to overcome sales resistance on the part of retailers to move too far over in that direction. A graphic novel is still largely envisioned by the retail community as something between 70 and 150 pages with Batman in it. Outside of that construct—no fantasy or superheroic elements (which is a problem Scott Berwanger won't be facing with Anubis), no star name cartoonist cachet—it's just too much of an uphill struggle to expect someone to pay roughly $160 US for a book in that category or for a retailer to devote the time and energy to persuade even his indy customers to take a chance on it.

I mean, part of me thinks what Lee Thacker needs to do is to take the books to a show and set up two or three easy chairs and get people a cup of tea and just have them read the first fifty or sixty pages until they're hooked. Of course comics-buying dollars are at a premium these days and I suspect that a lot of customers still wouldn't go for it. "No thanks, mate. If you're that confident in the material half an hour from now, I'll be handing you eighty quid and I've already got that money earmarked for the Marvel Essentials volumes I'm missing." That really gets into the long-term direction of buying habits and customer interest in the marketplace. Most comic fans don't try Cerebus or Love and Rockets or other indy books until they've exhausted their super-hero jones (along about the time that they notice that the nine Spider-man comics they're buying every month don't remotely connect with each other or make any kind of internal logical sense). With Hollywood Super-Hero Blockbusters still dominating the environment what I see is mostly a potential indy market but probably another decade down the line when everyone who got drawn into or back to comics by the first Spider-man film have hit that super-hero exhaustion threshold. At that point, I think at least potentially interest will shift to larger self-contained stories—one 800-page story with a beginning, middle and end rather than 800-pages of an endlessly continued story that never gets anywhere near to a conclusion or resolution.

It's a theory anyway.

Anyway, the One for Sorrow hardcover books are available from Raw Shark Comics. Email Lee at for more information. If you're a Cerebus completist, you'll have to buy volume one just to get my introduction (which Lee put together from the above-mentioned review). Not the best idea in the world to have an intro in your book by the Pariah King of Comics, but he asked very nicely and had no success selling the books up to that point so, where's the harm? was my theory. It's a really good story and maybe it can overcome that Pariah King taint.

Lee also writes

I have managed to complete a four-page strip ["Sparky Falls in Love"] for Steve Peters' next Sparky comic [Sparky in Love] which I've also enclosed for your perusal.

It's a very pretty colour strip so I can definitely understand Steve's regret that he'll have to print it in black-and-white.

I'm enjoying looking at the new work you've been producing via the Internet site and, as always, look forward to your thought-provoking writings. The last Following Cerebus (with Neal Adams) had some very interesting moments. I especially like your "to get flowers or not" dilemma.

Wishing you health and fulfillment in 2007…

Well, so far the health thing hasn't worked out so good. One bad month followed by eleven good months? God willing. I also hope to catch up on everything I've had to let slide for the last month and actually get back to work on my own comic book before February is too far along. Jeez, I'm starting to turn into one of you guys—excuses, excuses, excuses and no pages to show for it. Maybe I should change my billing to The Artist Formerly Known As Twenty Pages a Month.

And I bet the two versions of One for Sorrow will be a Gold Star in the Cerebus Archive one day.

Tomorrow: More Non-Controversial Mail Just The Way You, The Discriminating Blog & Mail Reader, Like It!

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If you wish to contact Dave Sim, you can mail a letter (he does NOT receive emails) to:

Aardvark Vanaheim, Inc
P.O. Box 1674
Station C
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 4R2

Looking for a place to purchase Cerebus phonebooks? You can do so online through Win-Mill Productions -- producers of Following Cerebus. Convenient payment with PayPal:

Win-Mill Productions

Or, you can check out Mars Import:

Mars Import

Or ask your local retailer to order them for you through Diamond Comics distributors.