INSIDE IMAGE COMICS
PART THREE: B. CLAY MOORE
In a recent Newsarama article, Jim Valentino was quoted as saying that he anticipates "spillover" from the Epic submission process as aspiring creators receive their rejection letters from Marvel and then turn to Image as their next best bet. Hmm, I wonder if any of those people have been reading this column. And have noticed how we've touted Image as the best creator-owned deal available to newcomers…
Those of you who have been following this series of columns by now have probably picked up on a pattern of questioning. I asked Jay Faerber, Mark Ricketts and (in this column) B. Clay Moore a lot of the same questions about publishing projects through Image Comics. I wanted to see how their responses might differ based on their experiences and personalities and the types of books they put out. Although the results aren't as telling as I'd hope, and they reply to some questions in almost the same manner, many of their answers do compliment the others' and I think that if one reads all three interviews one should get a good picture of what it's like to pitch, plan, and publish a creator-owned book through Image Comics. And that was the whole point of all of this series.
One thing that does distinguish each interview, though, is the personality of the creators. So, if these guys were in a boy band, Faerber would be the "leader," the not-so-new kid who's been around the block, the one with the most industry experience; Ricketts would be the "clown" for sure, always amusing and in synch with the funny; and B. Clay Moore… maybe he'd be the "dark and brooding one." The bad@$$. The rhymes-with-witch. What do you think the "B." stands for? It ain't Backstreet.
I've been friends with Clay for five or six years now, and have been entertained by his often cynical, jaded outlook on the comic book industry, and life in general. Read on, you'll see, it's quite amusing, really. And consider the comic book extension of this personality, a critically acclaimed series that is equal parts nostalgia and hard-boiled attitude. It's even got the word "Dick" in the title…
TORRES: Let's get the really important stuff out of the way first: What do we need to know about your book "Hawaiian Dick?"
MOORE: Three issue miniseries, the first of what we hope will be many. Basically, we call it "tropical noir." A blend of 50s hard-boiled detective fiction, cocktail kitsch, and the supernatural.
TORRES: What's the actual plot of this debut miniseries?
MOORE: Byrd, a former stateside detective, has been thrown off his police force and ends up in Hawaii, where he assists an old Army buddy, and Honolulu detective, in cases that fall just outside police jurisdiction. Tracking down a stolen car turns into a kidnapping mystery, with zombies and warrior ghosts thrown in.
The trade, titled "Hawaiian Dick: Byrd of Paradise," will be out in late August. The entire three-issue mini-series is included, with over fifty pages of extra material. We're including background info on the characters, illustrated drink recipes, the comic strips that up until now have only appeared at Image's Web site, and lots of other goodies. Steven Griffin's design work is insane. You won't find a better looking trade this year.
Steven, it should be mentioned, has also been nominated for the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award, to be given out at this year's Eisner Awards in San Diego.
TORRES: So, people are eating it all up.
MOORE: Like chocolate.
TORRES: How did the project wind up at Image?
MOORE: Well, we had originally assumed it would wind up in black and white at a more "indy" publisher, so we worked up sample pages in black and white...but we also did a couple of full color "Sunday" style pages... On a whim, I handed the pitch to Jim Valentino in Chicago, and shortly thereafter we got an email from Image asking us to publish through them. So, realizing it would be a chance to do the book in color, and reach a wider audience, we jumped on board.
TORRES: You forgot the part about me helping you polish the pitch, forgoing the Wizard Dance Party, and instead spending all that time in that hotel room the night before you whimsically handed it Valentino.
MOORE: I went to the party, bitch.
TORRES: Oh, come now, don't give me all the credit for making that treatment work! You were in the room, too.
MOORE: I'm trying to think what you added. Nope. No memory. I think you wanted me to call it "Strengthorina."
TORRES: Nuh-uh. You can rightfully take the credit for that gem. But we'll let the lawyers work it out.
MOORE: Sure. As soon as you settle with James Robinson.
TORRES: How's it been working with Image on this?
MOORE: Great for the most part, to be honest. They've thrown us a ton of support, and have gone out of their way at times to help promote the book.
TORRES: I've talked to other creators about publishing a book through Image and how it's basically like self-publishing from the production standpoint. Care to talk about your experiences getting an issue from your hard drive to the printers?
MOORE: Actually, the book now goes to Image first. Then they send it to the printers. But, yeah, it's up to us to make sure the files are working and will look good when they print. Well, in our case it's up to Steven Griffin, the artist, and he does his best to get whatever assistance he can from Image's graphics guys. It's not an easy process. We handle all facets of production... lettering, coloring, assembling the book.
TORRES: How much say do you have in the selection of film outputting? paper stock? where it gets printed?
MOORE: Image will allow us to do just about anything we want, so long as the book isn't losing money. This series was printed at Quebecor, in Canada, which is sort of the "default" printer. But many books are now being printed in California, and we may look into that next time. I don't anticipate any problems getting that done.
TORRES: What about release dates? Or even before that, the format of the book? Did you want a three-issue miniseries to begin with? Or did Image suggest or advise on what was more economical or more likely to sell this book?
MOORE: Image pretty much left it up to us. We proposed it as a three-issue miniseries. They informed us they loved the color in the "Sunday" samples, but were fine with us doing it in black-and-white if that's what we wanted. But they're always willing to add their two cents if we ask for advice.
TORRES: Who made the call as to when the book was launched? What factors went into that decision?
MOORE: Well, we talked with Image about what their schedule looked like, and about how soon we could be ready to publish. We originally intended to release the book in February or March, but there were holes in the schedule for December, and they asked us if we'd be willing to bump it up (though they left it up to us). We decided to go for the earlier release date. Plus, since Image was launching the superhero line after the new year, we didn't want to get lost in that shuffle.
TORRES: Your general thoughts on the "best" time to launch a new book in this industry? Around convention season? During lulls when the bigger companies aren't putting much out? When? Why?
MOORE: Honestly (and you may disagree with this), I think you can throw all that conventional wisdom out the window. I think the keys to a successful launch are more related to how well you promote your book than the timing of the release. Still, there are probably benefits to promoting a new book during convention season, but with the prevalence of the Internet, I'm not sure it's enough to make a huge difference. My point being you can reach "key" people on the net as easily as you can at cons.
TORRES: So, you advise that people take full advantage of the Internet as a marketing tool. Any specifics you'd like to share? Where to hit? Who to hit? How?
MOORE: Everyone you can. If you're starting from ground zero, it's up to you to get the word out. There are forums out there that cater to retailers, pros, fans... comic book "news" sites that are always looking for new books to spotlight. I've done interviews for sites with tiny readerships that have led to fruitful connections. I know some people question the value of Internet promotion, but for someone trying to get their name out there for the first time, I think it's essential.
TORRES: And as far as publishing through Image is concerned, there's no one there to do that for you? You have to pound the pavement yourself.
MOORE: Well... no, that's not entirely true. They handle marketing to some degree (press releases, "house" ads in other Image books, news items at the Image Web site), and, of course, the space in "Previews" is courtesy of Image. Put it this way: I don't expect Image to line up interviews for me, but they have. But Image Central is run by a small staff, and they handle a lot of books, so it's in my best interest to promote myself as much as I can, as well.
TORRES: If someone were to ask you about the Image "deal," what would you tell them? What to expect from it. What is expected of them. Break it down for us...
MOORE: Well, it's that simple, really. You own the rights to the characters, and have complete control over the property. You make your money off the initial sales, and then off of reorders, so it's a backend deal. Since Image was founded and exists as a creator-friendly entity, people are free to leave when they want. Sometimes someone else waves dollar signs or some apparently sweet deal at creators, and they walk out the door. Others - like Steven and I - think the benefits of publishing through Image are strong enough to keep us around.
TORRES: Backing up a bit: Let's talk about the differences between publishing a color book and b/w one through Image. What do you risk, one versus the other?
MOORE: Color books are a lot more expensive to publish than black-and-white ones, so you have to sell a lot more to break even. That's one reason you'll see color books drop the color after a few issues, or after an initial mini-series. And the difference is quite substantial. A book like "Paradigm," from Image, can sell around 5,000 copies a month and is doing pretty well. That wouldn't be nearly enough return to support a color book's cost.
TORRES: What do you mean by "well?" I'm guessing there are people reading this, hoping to get picked up by Image, realizing all the work it will take once a deal is struck and wondering: "Can I quit my day job yet?"
MOORE: The answer to that question is no. Do not quit your day job. I honestly don't know how much money those guys make selling 5,000 copies an issue, but if you're making any money in comics, you're doing pretty well. When I say "well," I mean well enough to keep publishing the book, assuming they have other income coming in.
TORRES: Would you like to quit your day job and do comics full-time?
MOORE: Yeah, that's the goal. However, I realize it'll be easier to quit the day job (and I've quit it in the past, only to return) if I can expand my writing into other media. I always want to do comics, but I'd rather be doing any kind of creative writing than selling widgets for a living.
TORRES: I was going to next ask what you thought it would take to get to that point of quitting one day. So, you believe it might have to involve doing something outside of comics? And do you see this par for the course these days? Meaning, "there's no money in comics so don't put all your eggs in that basket, kid?"
MOORE: Well, people take heat for trying to get their work sold to Hollywood. But the reality of the situation these days is that Hollywood money can sometimes provide a decent cushion for people who just want to make comics. It's easy for Rob Liefeld, who made millions just doing comic books, to dump on current creators for probing that market, but most guys I know poking around in Hollywood are just trying to find a way to pay the bills while they keep doing comics. You can make a decent living doing comics. But, yeah, it's never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket, especially one as fickle as comics.
TORRES: Wow. I remember when you gave me a hard time for even just thinking this a few years back. What made you change your mind?
MOORE: Who are you again?
TORRES: Barbara Walters. Wait for the tree question. It's coming.
MOORE: What I don't like, J., is seeing people tailor shit with Hollywood in mind. I don't like calculated concepts.
TORRES: Even if it's to pay the bills?
MOORE: Those things usually reek of contrivances, and they rarely seem to pay off for creators.
TORRES: When you speak of Hollywood, you do mean the one in California, right?
MOORE: Oh, I get it. You've been pitching shit to Hollywood, Quebec.
TORRES: So, you're saying if you're going to sell out, make sure it's one of your original ideas?
MOORE: I'm saying, don't sell out. But don't be afraid to take the money when it's offered.
TORRES: Uh… yeah. Anyway, speaking of selling, you said you submitted the "Hawaiian Dick" proposal to Valentino just for the heck of it. But they liked it. What do you think did it?
MOORE: Well, I know Eric Stephenson, Image's Director of Marketing, loved it from the start, and he's been our biggest supporter since day one. I think it was just a unique concept, with good art. And we put together a very thorough pitch.
TORRES: What did the pitch include?
MOORE: An ounce of crack and coupons to a whorehouse. Um...let me think... Concept art, the Sunday strips, several pages from the story, and a detailed breakdown of the plot. Again, I'd refer people to Image's Web site for a pretty solid submission guide.
TORRES: What was the overall page count of this pitch? How much do you think presentation counted?
MOORE: My pitch was pretty thorough. Again, it wasn't exactly aimed at Image, so... it ran maybe 20 pages. But only a couple of written pages. I think the presentation counted, if only because we didn't just waste paper. We had very solid character sheets and concept sketches, pages from the story, and a brief but detailed synopsis.
TORRES: Okay, play along with me here, the first thing a writer needs to do if they're considering Image as a publisher is...
MOORE: They have concept in hand?
MOORE: Find an artist.
TORRES: Good answer. The next step is...
MOORE: Find a good artist, mind you. Don't kid yourself.
MOORE: Meaning don't work with a guy just because he's willing to work with you. If good artists won't work with you, it might be a hint that your story isn't as strong as you thought it was.
TORRES: How do you handle the payment thing? What about copyright? Contracts?
MOORE: It's up to you. Seriously. I'd suggest you have something in mind, and then be willing to negotiate with the artist. And weigh how much he brings to the project. Chances are, he's bringing a lot. I think a written agreement between writer and artist is a good idea, and I'd run it past a lawyer.
TORRES: Any other advice then, apart from following the Image submissions guidelines?
MOORE: Yeah. Spend less time worrying about submission guidelines and how much money you'll make and get something done. Too many people seem ready to jump to the "published by Image" stage before they even have a book to pitch.
TORRES: Good advice. I'm glad I gave it to you all those years ago.
MOORE: Jay Torrino? Something like that, right?
MOORE: I'm sure I know the face...
TORRES: Finally, if you were a twee what kind of twee would you be?
MOORE: I'm all about twee pop, Barbara. Or is that not what you meant?
TORRES: I would have said Hardwood.
MOORE: I would have said, "A big fuckin' tree, man."
TORRES: Okay, hurry and tell us about "The Last Resort" before I run out of tape!
MOORE: Four monthly issues, debuting in September, and the first issue is solicited this month in "Previews." Byrd - in a spiffy new car - is hired to investigate the mysterious sabotage of a brand new luxury resort on the bay, and finds himself town between rival gang families in the process. More plot, more characters, more gunplay, more ghosts, more drinking, more explosions, and more-
Next week: "One Plus One" writer Neal Shaffer probes "100 Bullets" writer Brian Azzarello while yours truly prepares for "Comic Book Idol."
Meanwhile, drop by the Open Your Mouth message boards to discuss what kind of twee you would be.
Thank you for your attention.