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Issue #51

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THE PENULTIMATE CANNON

For those of you reading these from the beginning, you may be reassured
that today’s column is a return to the choice diatribes that marked the
first few months of these columns. In the beginning, I was pissed off
about what I saw happening in comics. As the months went by, though, I
found that I could change what I didn’t like in comics with my own
company, and so I really wasn’t that pissed off, anymore. Sure, I’d get
bent at some avoidable idiocy, and I’d let fly a few choice epithets,
haphazardly directed at the offenders, but nothing really has been
giving me that lurching feeling of a loose cannon rolling about the deck
of a flailing ship quite like the missed opportunities I’ve been seeing
lately.

In fact, I’m getting a little steamed because I’m at the point now where
I can see the opportunities coming, and I can see how they’re going to
be missed, and boy does that put a bunch in my shorts. Makes me feel
like Kevin McCarthy at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
unheeded warnings, ineffectually screamed into the night, heard, if at
all, by soulless pod people.

[Free Comic Book Day]

This Free Comics Day thing, for example.

Super comics retailer Joe Field, of the excellent shop Flying Colors, first
suggested a “Free Comics Day” as a way to do some customer outreach.
Savvy marketer that Joe is, he took a look at the pop culture landscape
and figured that with the Spider-man movie approaching, and a
comics-themed novel having won a Pulitzer, why not make a concerted,
industry-wide effort to parlay some of the upcoming mainstream-media
attention into a quick run into the spotlight for the comic book
industry? Joe’s idea was simple: free comics, donated by publishers, all
given out, nationwide, on the same day. What could be simpler?

Well, here’s where we get to that “missed opportunities” thing I was
talking about.

By the time Joe’s simple idea got filtered through the morass of
multi-company bureaucracy, the logistics involved and the usual suspects
putting in their two cents, the whole thing got turned into a cock-up of
Godzilla-esque proportions.

For example.

Long-time readers of this column will recall that I have my own
publishing house, AiT/Planet
Lar.
In my capacity as publisher, I got the Diamond communique about
the Free Comics Day plans. To tell you the truth, I was pretty excited
about it, because as Joe had outlined his idea, I thought it was just
going to go over like gangbusters. AiT/Planet Lar had just shipped
twenty-six thousand dollars worth of trade paperbacks to
retailers, right before Christmas, absolutely free, and that had
been extremely well-received. How much better a day of Free Comics,
supported by all publishers, would work!

So I opened up the email, and I was dismayed to learn several things:

1. The whole thing is in process, already. Marvel, Image, Dark Horse and
DC are doing it. This email wasn’t an offer to my company to give comics
away.

“Huh,” I thought. But we’d already given away a bunch of graphic novels,
and our company doesn’t do floppies anymore, so I figured it doesn’t
really apply to us, anyway. I kept reading.

2. Retailers can order special bundles of low-cost, give away comics.
This one gave me pause right away. What’s “free” about “low-cost”? Why
would a retailer want to do this? Pay to give out a company’s
comics? What’s in it for them, besides a nebulous promise of possibly
gaining new customers, which a smart retailer is already doing? They
get…

3. … listed as a participating retailer on www.freecomicbookday.com . Well, that’s
awfully sporting of them, I thought. So I went to click to the site. You
should, too. In fact, go right now and check it out. I’ll wait.

Did you see that thing? I barely know my Dreamweaver from my Fetch, but
blind drunk I could cause to be produced a more attractive website. This
is the place on the Internet “civilians” are going to be pointed to get
information about the event. It should at least look useful. I’m not
talking about flaming logos, but at least something a little more
involved than reversed type over a text pattern and white type on a
black background on the inner pages. Man, I nearly had a seizure when
that first page loaded up.

But anyway. If you’re a retailer, your value received for actually
buying the free comics that you’re then supposed to give away is being
listed on this website.

Getting back to this missive from Diamond… I read a bit further, and I
find that our (non-brokered) company is invited to “donate excess
inventory which will be distributed free of charge to retailers in
proportion to their orders for the low-cost give-away comics mentioned
above.” I mean, what?

That’s just brazen. Let Marvel and DC and Image and Dark Horse donate
their excess inventory; their deals with Diamond are sweet enough they
won’t miss the money. If Diamond wants to charge even a “low-cost” for
supposedly free comics, give the money to the non-brokered publishers.

At about this point in the letter, I just dismissed this thing as a
noble idea squashed by the realities of comic book commerce. I wasn’t
even really that steamed. I know how the world works.

But then I found out what the brokered publishers are doing with this
opportunity so generously handed to them. Know which books they’re
offering at a low cost to the retailers, to give away free to the
influx of folks rushing to the heretofore unknown comic book shops in
their hometowns?

Spider-man. OK, well, I can’t blame Marvel; I’d do Spider-man,
too, if I were them, what with it being their flagship character and
star of the big summer film. OK; I gotta give ’em that one. A
no-brainer; nice work.

DC? Justice League. Me? I would have picked Superman, but
at least I see where they’re going. Super Friends for the 21st Century.
Fine.

But Image? Tomb Raider. I dunno, lads, how about a comic that’s
not based on a video game?

Dark Horse? Star Wars How about a comic that’s not based on a
movie?

What’s wrong with producing a NEW comic, which showcases all that the
form of comics can do, and not just giving out stuff that’s just sitting
around?

And why make retailers foot the bill? When we were still doing
monthly chapters of our comics, AiT/Planet Lar did a freight-paid
overship; that is, we overshipped by 50% on the orders we received for
Astronauts in Trouble: Space 1959 #1, and we also paid the
freight charges. That means every retailer who received those copies of
books got them for FREE… they didn’t even have to pay to get them to
their store. If they sold them, they got to keep three bucks; if they
didn’t, they could throw them out, recycle ’em, make papier-mâché moon
rockets, whatever. It didn’t cost them anything, because they were
free.

And I’m just a regular guy, who’s convinced a bunch of his talented
friends to let me publish their books. I don’t have corporate resources.
But I can ship out free comics to the retailers, and the brokered
publishers can’t? What’s wrong with this picture?

If you’re gonna call it “Free Comics Day,” make the comics free.


I very much recommend the latest Borderline. you’ll
remember Borderline as the .pdf-only comics news magazine. I recommend
it this month, not because it’s a dense read at 64 pages… not because
there’s an excellent interview by Adrian Brown with me and AiT/Planet
Lar publisher Mimi Rosenheim…. No, I recommend it because Lord Grant, he
of the Permanent
Damage,
lets slip a couple of juicy news nuggets that seem to have
gone largely unremarked upon until now.


Email about this column should be sent to larry@comicbookresources.com.

Of course, most answers to simple questions you may have about me or my
company can be gleaned from http://www.ait-planetlar.com.

While you can get your news about the funny books all over the Internet,
I usually make it a point to let slip at least one bit of information at
the Loose Cannon Message Board that I post nowhere else.