Saturday, September 22, 2007

Dave Sim's blogandmail #376 (September 22nd, 2007)


Fifteen Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast That Make You a Good Feminist

1. A mother who works a full-time job and delegates to strangers the raising of her children eight hours a day, five days a week does just as good a job as a mother who hand-rears her children full time.

2. It makes great sense for the government to pay 10 to 15,000 dollars a year to fund a daycare space for a child so its mother - who pays perhaps 2,000 dollars in taxes - can be a contributing member of society.

3. A woman's doctor has more of a valid claim to participate in the decision to abort a fetus than does the father of that fetus.

4. So long as a woman makes a decision after consulting with her doctor, she is incapable of making an unethical choice.

5. A car with two steering wheels, two gas pedals and two brakes drives more efficiently than a car with one steering wheel, one gas pedal and one brake which is why marriage should always be an equal partnership.

6. It is absolutely necessary for women to be allowed to join or participate fully in any gathering place for men, just as it is absolutely necessary that there be women only environments from which men are excluded.

7. Because it involves taking jobs away from men and giving them to women, affirmative action makes for a fairer and more just society.

8. It is important to have lower physical standards for women firepersons and women policepersons so that, one day, half of all firepersons and policepersons will be women, thus more effectively protecting the safety of the public.

9. Affirmative action at colleges and universities needs to be maintained now that more women than men are being enrolled, in order to keep from giving men an unfair advantage academically.

10. Having ensured that there is no environment for men where women don't belong (see no.6) it is important to have zero tolerance of any expression or action which any woman might regard as sexist to ensure greater freedom for everyone.

11. Only in a society which maintains a level of 95% of alimony and child support being paid by men to women can men and women be considered as equals.

12. An airline stewardess who earned $20,000 a year at the time that she married a baseball player earning $6 million a year is entitled, in the event of a divorce, to $3 million for each year of the marriage and probably more.

13. A man's opinions on how to rear and/or raise a child are invalid because he is not the child's mother. However, his financial obligation is greater because no woman gets pregnant by herself.

14. Disagreeing with any of these statements makes you anti-woman and/or a misogynist.

15. Legislature Seats must be allocated to women and women must be allowed to bypass the democratic winnowing process in order to guarantee female representation and, thereby, make democracy fairer.


What I most admire about the new ComicsPRO organization is that they are trying to be realistic and in the back of this issue of COMICS & GAMES RETAILER they have released their first position paper, so they seem to understand that DOING something is a priority. That's a very positive sign and puts them one up on the defunct DLG. Don't make people nervous. Just find a primary retailer issue, identify it, get a consensus on it (over 90%, in this case) and then publicize it.

It seems to me that what they're trying to do is roughly what I was trying to do with the Creator Summits back in the late 1980s – to establish some sensible guidelines to determine where the different levels of responsibility begin and end in the field. The Creators Summits ultimately failed because of the (to me, obvious) inherent cross-purposes represented by the Freelancer versus the Self-publisher. Scott McCloud's Creator's Bill of Rights was essentially a Freelancer document and like most Freelancer efforts over the years, it was largely if not completely toothless and thereby amounted to wishful thinking committed to paper. There is the same sort of danger here. It's a position paper, but you and what army is going to enforce it?

I'm a little more hopeful with the Retailers attempting to do the same kind of thing with ComicsPRO because they have the weight of 90 retailers representing 130 accounts behind them. It might prove to be too large and unwieldy but they have been surprising themselves at how smoothly it actually works as long as everyone is focused on the same thing: figuring out what the problems are, and solving them, rather than just whining about them or looking threatening and not doing anything.

What ComicsPRO is also doing, rather than starting with a wholesale manifesto as we tried to do, is pushing for specific changes they would like to see. In this first position paper what they would like to see is that each variant cover be treated as separate line item on the order form with its own order code so that they can order and reorder specific covers based on demand rather than the present reality where you get a fixed percentage of your order on each cover and if one is more popular than the others, you can't get more of them without ordering less-popular variants.

So here's my commitment to ComicsPRO:

First, I commit to joining the organization for the $300 or so a year. Fax me a bill at 519.576.0955 and I'll send you cheque.

Second, it seems to me that what ComicsPRO needs is some non-retailer support – I recognize the syndrome from the Creator Summits: if we had had a few more voices raised in support we might've gotten more done-- so I'm here to provide at least one voice of support. Concrete example:

I've been looking into the incentive and variant cover end of things for Secret Project #1 and Secret Project #2. So, let me just commit right here and say that if I do them, it will be in complete conformity with the ComicsPRO position paper.

It's not much, but it's a start. And I dare say it's more of a commitment than they're likely to get out of Marvel and DC.

I'm cutting my own throat in doing so because as far as I can see, the incentive and variant cover "scam" is the only way that anyone has found to get retailers to order optimistically. If you have to order 40 comic books in order to get 10 variant covers by Hot Artist du Jour, it is literally worth doing because the 10 covers are guaranteed sales which means you can take a risk on the 30 and in many cases write them off. This is even more pronounced with the incentive covers where if you get a "sketch cover" for ordering 75, you can sell the "sketch cover" for enough money to pay for the 75 and still turn a sizeable profit beside.

It also means that you have 75 comic books when you would ordinarily have only ordered 20. You might as well put them out – which is all Marvel and DC wanted you to do in the first place – and you might find that you sold 30, or 35 or even 50.

In terms of this doing any good, the actual numbers are hidden since the publishers only report the sales to retailers not to consumers. The retailer may have sold 30 instead of the 20 he thought he could sell – which is an overall good, as far as I can see – but his order charts as 75 which paints an unrealistic picture of what books are hot and what books are only hot because the retailer wants the incentive copy – which is an overall bad, as far as I can see. Treating each cover as a separate line item will correct that. The information will be more accurate than piling all four covers' sales on top of each other and saying "This is what WIZKIDS #1 sold!"

It's hard to judge how well the variant and incentive cover "scam" works, both in terms of how much it jacks up publishers' orders and how many times it compels a retailer to order more copies than he is inclined to order that then actually sell. It certainly seems better to have accurate information in all cases. If 90% of the time the retailer could sell more than he thought he could sell then the retailers aren't as good at estimating their orders as they are pretending to be. If the 90% of the time includes "additional sales" of 5% or less, then it isn't a huge problem. If 90% of the time includes "additional sales" of 20% or more than there is a larger problem. If the success rate is only 10% instead of 90% then it is far more of a "scam" than an "incentive". Essentially, as a publisher, you're murdering a lot of trees pointlessly just to create the illusion that you're way more successful than you actually are.

So, I would agree that adopting the ComicsPRO position paper across the board will provide more accurate information and accurate information will tell us whether this is a "scam" that's hurting the business or an "incentive" that's helping the business. I'm more than willing to wait for an accurate verdict before doing an incentive or variant cover.

So, there is movement on both sides. The retailers want to take away an option that I have to boost sales until there is some way to chart those sales accurately. Presumably as long as I have each variant or incentive cover as a separate line item, I'm playing ball. That's all they're asking for. So, I go them one better and say I won't do it UNTIL and ONLY IF there's enough information to determine that it's helping things.

Now, again, these are all small steps and I am one self-publisher, but unless we have these small steps none of us is going anywhere. Frankly, I don't delude myself that ComicsPRO is talking about me or self-publishers or small publishers in general – at least so far. The retail eye is always on DC and Marvel when they use a general term like "comic book industry" or "comic-book field". This is unfortunate because I think they are more apt to achieve genuine results by starting with the publishers who genuinely need them than they will with trying to change the policies of the big companies who take them for granted. So, let me circle back to Joe Field's article in the latest issue:

To put it bluntly, trying to get Brian Bendis to write more story per issue as a way to boost sales, that isn't going to happen, so discussing it is just whining.

Let me try another blunt assertion: the same is true with "on-time" delivery of comics. You know how you stop late comics? You don't order them. Same with late creators. You don't order their books. If it's late, cancel. If they offer you an order adjustment, write "0" instead of 45 or 25 or 100. And you make sure Marvel and DC know that you're doing that and you will continue to do that. Unless you're prepared to do that, again, late shipping is nothing you can do anything about because the only thing you can do about it you aren't willing to do. If you draw a line in the sand and stick to your guns, you will soon find Marvel and DC editors cracking the whip on your behalf. But you have to force them into it. They aren't going to do it voluntarily.

Conversely, if you order 200 copies of a guy's book whose last project was a year-and-a-half late you are telling Marvel and DC very specifically and directly that on-time delivery is of no interest to you. All you care about is getting 200 copies of flavour-of-the-month's book.

Your mouth is saying "No, no" but your eyes are saying "Yes, yes."

I did a monthly comic book, pretty much on-time from 1991 to 2004 and the sales just kept dropping, so it's not as if you are rewarding on-time delivery in and of itself and if you aren't rewarding on-time delivery in and of itself, then you have no leverage to urge publishers and creators to be on-time. "You aren't Brian Bendis, Dave." Granted, but I was on-time. What was my incentive to be on-time apart from my own determination to bring CEREBUS in for a landing in March, 2004 as I said I would in 1979? None.

Let me tackle the problem from a different direction. Right now I'm trying to figure out how fast I can write and draw my new project. I've done a page a day and I've done a page every three days. Over the first two weeks I got 11 pages done. So, roughly I'm at about a page every day and a half. If I can maintain that pace, I haven't got a guaranteed monthly comic (close, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades), but I'm pretty sure I could have a bi-monthly comic. I wouldn't commit to it until I see what my pace is over the course of say three or four months. So, say by January I can tell you. It's a monthly. It's a bi-monthly. It's a quarterly. But I will only tell you what I can guarantee (acts of God notwithstanding). If I get twenty pages done in one month and only ten pages done in the other two or three months, I'm not going to tell you that I can do twenty pages a month. I would go by the least productive month or, at best, an average of the least productive month and the second least productive month. That's what I told you with CEREBUS. I told you I could do 20 pages a month and I did 20 pages a month. Now, collectively, as retailers if you won't hurt Marvel and DC by having zero tolerance of late books then that only leaves you the option of rewarding on-time books. Dave Sim has made this commitment to us, he has this track record, therefore we are swinging major retail muscle behind him and we don't care that you're bringing Wolverine back from the dead as a pre-adolescent zombie lesbian in a four issue mini-series that's shipping the same month that Dave's book is.

So, let me turn the question around, Joe. You can't – or choose not to -- make Marvel or Brian Bendis do anything, so forget about them for the moment. If I come to you in six months and say, "It's a bi-monthly. I can do 20 pages every other month and guarantee delivery." What do I get for that? As it stands, I'll get orders for 9,000 of the first one, 4,500 of the second one, 2,200 of the third one, 1,100 of the fourth one. Again, where's my incentive? The dozen or so retailers who read the Blog & Mail are able to sustain my company with CEREBUS trade sales. Why would I work twelve hours a day to end up losing money on all but the first and second issue of a new comics series? Well, yes, but then I could collect them as a trade, you say.

But, there you're arguing against yourself. Your complaint is that the field is too trade oriented, but what do you think is the net effect of cutting orders in half on each successive issue of a new periodical? At that rate, the trade had better sell in order for me to recoup what I've invested printing up 1,000 copies of issue 4 (sorry, you're right, 1,100 copies of issue 4). And that puts me in a very select Big Box Office Category in comic-book stores for an independent.

As far as I can see, the direct market has sought its own level and found it. As a creator you work as long as you can, as hard as you can when you're bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, realize that your issue-over-issue sales are always going to go straight into the toilet, get a body of work out there and then forget about writing and drawing comic books anymore. I'll live off what I've already done. Who needs the aggravation? The retailers get by on x number of backlist trades that continue to sell, and apart from that they have to stay current with the flavour-of-the-month hit parade/guessing game.

Obviously that isn't in your own best interest, Joe.

I agree with you, that unless we have regular periodicals coming out, the environment is a snake eating its own tail or, at the very least, an environment that is becoming more and more brutal on the retail level.

If you -- that is retailers in general -- won't get together and use the leverage you have with Marvel and DC to change them, then your only recourse is to change the things you can and are willing to change.

So, basically, you tell me. How do I put out a bi-monthly comic for, say, six months – the same thing I did with CEREBUS, I'll give it three issues over six months -- and have the three issues sell roughly the same (as CEREBUS did) or, hopefully, go up in sales? Here you go, you and ComicsPRO are running Aardvark-Vanaheim. You get to decide exactly how the book gets published. I know you can't guarantee sales, but I am more than willing to do everything that you think I have to do to give this book a fighting chance. When has Marvel or DC ever put an offer to you like that? That's more than meeting you halfway. That's doing everything on the promotion side YOUR way.

I'm not just saying that for rhetorical effect. As far as I can see, the ONLY hope I have of generating any sales at all on a bi-monthly title is by doing exactly what it is that the retailers think needs to be done. And to me this cuts to the heart of the issue: CAN the stores do anything to generate sales or do the stores largely just tote up the approximate numbers of guaranteed sales and then add or subtract 2 or 3 based on their gut instincts?

That is, they have five "weird independent" customers and they'd be willing therefore, to order between three and seven copies of whatever I put out. If that's the case there's really no point in my trying to promote whatever it is that I'm working on or to cooperate with ComicsPRO as an organization or with individual retailers. If the plain fact of the matter is that my new comic isn't going to have Wolverine in it, ERGO all I can expect is orders of between three and seven copies, well then let's just admit that that's the case and have done with it. But, then you have to sort of stop talking about changing the field for the better and admit that you have no interest in that: just in whining about all of the things that you'd like Marvel and DC to do that Marvel and DC will never do.

I'm not sure if it's a three-issue project or a four-issue project or an eight-issue project. I also don't know if most retailers would rather that I not serialize it and just wait until it's 80 or 100 pages and release it that way. I agree with you, Joe, that periodicals – Larry Marder's habitual entertainment – are a key part of the field. But that doesn't mean that we're right. It could be that we both have a sentimental attachment to buggy whips. Whatever help I could be with a new bi-monthly title, I might be more help with a never-before-seen trade paperback with potential "real world" appeal.

There are other problems in the way in dealing with ComicsPRO. For me to deal with 90 retailers, I risk alienating hundreds of others. That's a risk I am prepared to take and that certainly constitutes meeting you more than halfway. I'm risking a drastic drop in the sales of the CEREBUS trades to anyone who is, for whatever reason, anti-ComicsPRO. There is no precedent for test-marketing a book in the comic-book field: a creator, a book and a dedicated group of retailers focusing on making it happen in a very narrow time frame. Even if the promotion works and the book becomes a hit outside of the ComicsPRO stores as well, there is still going to be resentment and possibly a backlash. I'm also assuming a good deal of THAT risk. Everyone gets the book at the same time, but only the people kicking in time and money on their side of the fence, their 50% get the promotion and a share in the decision-making about how it's going to be done.

If it tanks, well fine. I'm prepared for that.

I go back to writing and drawing comic books and forget about publishing them or, as I've been inclined to do for a while now, go in the Will Eisner direction. Not his later graphic novels where he saw the 1973 New York Comicon and went "It's time!" and packed it in on the outside world and dove face-first into the direct market and stayed there, but rather his post-SPIRIT response which was, as he looked around the newspaper strip and comic-book field, "There's no place for me here" …whereupon he went off and pioneered the commercial use of the comics form with PS magazine and elsewhere out in the real world. As I look around the direct market, my reaction is, more and more often, "There's no place for me here." Not whiny, not belligerent, just "Face facts, Dave." That's far more my reaction than "It's time!" that's for sure.

CEREBUS is entrenched and the sixteen books sell steadily. Maybe it's time for me to go find out what else is out there in the real world. I mean, I can honestly say, I've given you guys 6,000 pages which I don't think any other individual can say. Maybe that's all that you need and maybe it's time for you to be honest and say that's really all that you're interested in.

Why do I see there as being advantages to dealing with ComicsPRO? Well, again, like all of the Direct Line Group who are still around and the new go-getter retailers, I like to think that there has to be a better way of doing things. One of the things that I think has been missing, as I've indicated here, is that the retailers HAVE to be the ones calling the promotion shots. If something works, it's going to work in every store or almost every store but it's only going to work for a while and when it stops working it stops working absolutely and immediately. As a publisher you have to be doing what works when it works and you have to be ready to stop doing it on a dime when it stops working. The only people who know what is working are the retailers, but there's really no mechanism for keeping non-retailers current on that.

So, I'm basically asking the core question: what works? I have a project that I'd like to test market and TELLING you guys how it's going to be marketed hasn't worked so, I'm all ears. I will happily do everything that you tell me to do that you think works: cover price, format, publishing frequency, overship or no overship, incentives covers, variant covers, advertising, shelf talkers, 10 cent edition, 1 cent edition, fliers, posters, bumper stickers, buttons. I can do SOME signings but I sure can't do 90 of them. So, it seems to me that if ComicsPRO is going to be something more than a talk shop, here's an opportunity. What CAN I accomplish with 90 stores? What can 90 stores accomplish with me?

There's no rush on it. In fact just the opposite. I'm more than happy to just keep the CEREBUS trades in print and enjoy the fact that I can write and draw the kind of comic books that interest me without having to worry about a) how they'll sell or b) how much money I can afford to risk on them or even if I'm going to publish them. If ComicsPRO DOES decide to work with me on this, then there's a rush – a BIG rush -- because then I'm part of that narrow window of opportunity between ComicsPRO being a successful experiment and ComicsPRO being just the latest in a long line of retail group failures.

My Secret Project #2 is really well out of the comic-book mainstream but I think for that reason alone that it has potential for Bringing in New People from the actual real-world mainstream. I have some ideas on how that might be done but it's going to take time and it's going to take money. More time than money, I think. New People are coming in to comic-book stores but they're not being drawn there or lured there and they're not coming in in significant numbers. All efforts to accomplish those three have failed spectacularly in the direct market, going all the way back to THE DAZZLER which, as some of you may be old enough to recall, was going to bring in the disco crowd and shipped, as I recall, a six-figure quantity that everyone proceeded to eat for the most part. I don't want that to happen with my secret project. I'm not looking to stick anyone with books by sounding good. I'd rather ship 10,000 and sell through 10,000 than to ship 20,000 and have the stores eating 10,000.

Yes. I'm here to meet you guys halfway. More than halfway if it comes to that. I think I've already proved that I'm willing to come more than halfway just from what I've written here.

So, now it's time to see some movement on the retailer side. If you're a retailer and you want IN on this, send me a postcard or a short letter to Box 1674 Stn. C., Kitchener, Ontario, N2G 4R2 or send me a fax at 519.576.0955. Give me your contact information and the name of the person I would be dealing with in your store. Tell me if you're a ComicsPRO store or not. If you're part of another organization let me know which one(s). Tell me what you think you would order – sight unseen – of a $2.95, 20-page test market first issue of something by Dave Sim: Secret Project #2. Lowball number and highball number. I'm happy to go "majority rule" on this. If the ComicsPRO stores outnumber the non-ComicsPRO stores, I'll do this through ComicsPRO. If another organization outnumbers them, I'll look into working with that organization. If it's all individual stores not affiliated with anyone, then I'll go with those stores and, basically, form my own promotion/test-marketing retail group. Specify if you want your participation to be secret or not. I'll print relevant responses here without attribution. I will, however, let everyone know how many stores that I heard from.


Tomorrow: To the mailbag!





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.