Considering the current economic downturn and Diamond’s new policy changes, I thought it might be worthwhile to talk to some of the small press publishers out there to see how some of these changes are affecting them, if at all. This then, will be the first in a hopefully ongoing series of conversations with industry folks, starting with Fantagraphics editor and promotions manager, Eric Reynolds.
Q: How many pamphlets do you publish right now?
A: Right now, I guess we publish Castle Waiting, Tales Designed to Thrizzle, Uptight, Angry Youth Comics … there’s one I’m drawing a blank on. They’re so infrequent these days. There’s one more issue of Raisin Pie, the Rick Altergott series that will eventually come out.
Q: What about Meat Cake?
A: Meat Cake is up in the air. I guess that’s still ongoing. We published the last issue maybe six months ago. She seems like she’s doing them once every year or two at this point. I guess that one’s still ongoing too, although I haven’t heard anything about the new issue of that one in quite awhile.
Q: So would any of these titles be at risk under Diamond’s new policy?
A: No. Don’t get me wrong. I think the new policy has potentially adverse effects across the board for everybody but in regard to our own periodicals we don’t anticipate any of them being affected by this, based on prior sales.
Q: What about some of the graphic novels that you have coming out or are out right now?
A: They’re even less affected. I can’t think of a single book that we publish that’s hit the minimum in the last couple of years.
Q: Can you think of a point where you might have to take that into consideration when looking at a future publishing project?
A: Well, I guess the obvious thing to say is that we’ve been scaling back on periodicals in general over the last couple of years. I guess I would say that these policies certainly won’t encourage us to start too many new periodical titles, if that makes sense. We’ve been trying to avoid them as much as possible over the last couple of years with the exception of cartoonists that just really, really want to work that way. I think that trend is only going to continue. But like I say, we have no intention of canceling anything.
Q: Do you see this as the final nail in the coffin for the indie pamphlet?
A: My only hesitation there is that I guess you could easily perceive it that way, but more to the point, this trend has been going that way for quite a while. I would argue that the pamphlet format in indie comics was already dead. You could even see it with us going with Love and Rockets and Sublife in a different format. But by the same token, if someone’s really committed to it and really tenacious about it I think you can still do it.
I dunno. I have very mixed feelings about it. It’s easy to declare this the final nail, but I just think if not the final nail, then everything but was already in place prior to this and I don’t think there are that many publishers for whom …
Let me put it this way. I think some publishers are probably using this new policy as an excuse to curtail their pamphlets than I think it’s a hard cause and effect. I don’t begrudge anybody doing that, but my point is the writing was already on the wall. I think publishers were already steering away from periodicals by and large. I read an interview with Mike Richardson not too long ago prior to the Diamond policies talking about how they were really scaling back the pamphlets and they’re one of the few publishers that’s still been really agressive in that format.
And you’ve seen the alternative publishers like us and Drawn and Quarterly and Top Shelf — well Top Shelf’s never been a big pamphlet company — but us and Drawn and Quarterly definitely trending away from them for several years now, so I think this maybe is helping some publishers make that final leap. But again I’m reluctant to say it’s the final nail in the coffin. Two Drawn and Quarterly artists [Sammy Harkham and Kevin Huizenga] announced they were ending some of their titles. This is purely my own opinion, but I think they could have continued to publish more issues of those titles and still have been able to distribute them through Diamond. They’re just sort of seeing this as an inevitability. They might as well embrace now rather than later. They just don’t necessarily have to right at this minute.
I don’t want to sound like I’m an apologist for Diamond, but I do think that some of the rhetoric out there is a little crazy, because really good art comix in periodical form have not been able to get any traction in the comics market for several years. I don’t know that this necessarily affects what is the big problem which is the direct market is just not a very welcoming environment for that sort of material. Whereas I think what these policies are really going to affect are a lot of really bad unprofessional genre comics, cardboard reiterations of the same old shit basically. And that’s not a bad thing.
I don’t know. I personally as a publisher, who takes a lot of pride in what we do, I can’t lie and say I’m sorry to see a lot of the worst poor-selling stuff in Previews go away. I have concerns that in that cleaning house that some good stuff is going to be tossed out with the bad. But I don’t know what the answer. The only other sort of alternative is having Diamond making aesthetic judgments, which is a scary prospect.
Q: Now you’re one of the only smaller publishers outside of the big two to have any sort of exclusivity deal. How do you think that would affect a book or comic that was borderline?
A: I think if something was borderline because of our exclusivity and because of our having a 25 year relationship with Diamond they would not be too strict with us. That’s my guess. I know that from experience. There is some value in having a long-term relationship with them. But that’s probably a little different from the relationship some of the other indie publishers have with them simply because the fact that Fantagraphics has been around since the birth of the direct market. For whatever that’s worth.