Issue #30


Listen up.

It's time for me to drop a bomb on you, just like it got dropped on me, so this week's column is big. And I don't mean word-count big either, I mean change-the-industry big. This week we're going to deal with the most potentially Earth-shattering topic that the comic industry has right now. And when you're dealing with something that has the potential to change everything in the comic industry, there is no way it can be fit into just one column. But we've got to start somewhere…

So allow me to introduce you to the International Comic Arts Association.

As a comic retailer I tend to get a lot of things in the mail. From various bills that keep my shop running to comic preview copies from creators and publishers, to CDs from my amigos' bands, to strange letters from shady characters. I won't tell you it isn't exciting whenever I see a new package come in the door, because it always is, but even so, it isn't very often I get the kind of mail that absolutely blows my mind. However, this week I did.

Encased in a sexy translucent blue envelope was a gorgeous informational booklet about a new comics trade organization, the International Comic Arts Association. And as good and professionally put together as it looked inside that envelope, it was when I opened it up and began reading the organization overview that my mind was blown.

Putting together a comic industry trade organization has been a hot topic of discussion on industry professional forums among comic creators, publishers and retailers for the past six months. It's no mystery that the industry desperately needs one, and it's something that everyone seems to agree could really benefit the entire industry, particularly folks like myself who work the retailing end of the equation.

The common knowledge that the strategic business alliances, enhanced communication, and unity that are part of a trade organization's membership would be instrumental in helping grow our industry, particularly during the period of unprecedented attention that we are seeing right now. And nearly everyone in the industry is interested in seeing those grand, sweeping promotional efforts that a trade organization could bring to the world of comics, and that's exactly why trade organizations are such a white-hot topic amongst comics professionals.

And suddenly, someone presented a solution. And that solution was the International Comic Arts Association. There didn't need to be six more months of discussion about how a trade organization could be brought about, or what kind of mission it would have, or who was allowed membership, or who would do the work to get it off the ground… because it was already done.

For the past five years Erik Enervold (Art Director of Joliet Pattern and initiator of the FCBD signage program) has been developing the ICAA, a non-profit trade organization to represent the entire comic industry. He's already done the work to get by-laws down and mission statements written. We're talking about an actual comic industry trade organization, that is already organized and has a small but dedicated full-time staff to run it. And judging by the grab-the-bull-by-the-horns attitude of it's founder, it's pretty apparent that the ICAA is serious about making the organization's goals a reality.

Now you might not be able to hear it, but that, my friends, is the bomb dropping.

Trade organizations, as you may or may not know, are cooperative groups that support and promote a certain trade. Anyone who has ever thought that pork was the other white meat or that beef was what's for dinner have thought so because of the trade organizations that support the pork and beef respectively. Pooling funds, contacts and resources to generate nation-wide advertising to promote interest in a certain product is one of the best and most powerful things that a trade organization can do.

Not coincidentally, the ICAA is focused directly on these sort of nation-wide promotions, and have a branch set up to manage them. It's called the ComicArts AdCouncil.

The ComicArts AdCouncil is one of the primary focuses of the ICAA. This on-going project is designed to initiate large advertising campaigns to promote comics to new audiences through print, radio, billboards, direct mailings and even television. It doesn't take a genius to understand that this is definitely where the industry joining forces will make the most difference. It is pretty rare that an individual publisher, retailer, creator or even fan has the funds available to advertise even at a local level. And despite a lot of discussion about how great a "Got Milk?" style comic ad campaign would be, it hasn't happened yet, and isn't likely to without a trade organization backing it.

This ICAA program is all about gaining national and international mainstream exposure for the industry as a whole. The AdCouncil will also work to get advertising revenue for its members by connecting companies wishing to advertise in comics with publishers. And the more money that is going into our publisher's pockets, the healthier the entire industry will be.

Similarly, the ICAA has program to ensure that when mainstream media wants to cover comics, the comic industry is ready for their close up. I think this is a great idea that would be simply impossible for a single retailer like myself to achieve. Nothing short of a national (or international in this case) coalition would be able to make any sort of real impact in this area. The ICAA is prepared to do just that and the best part about this media-marketing strategy is that it is a multi-pronged attack.

First you've got the ICAA Media Council, a group of comic industry professionals who will represent the industry like the creative, sophisticated, exciting, and alluring arts and entertainment community that it is to the mainstream media. It's amazing to me that this all-important area has been so overlooked in the past. If our industry's going to be getting interviewed on Entertainment Tonight, I want us to put our best face and foot forward.

Press Pass is a monthly newsletter that the ICAA will distribute to their media contacts. Essentially, this is a collection of press releases prepared to attract more media attention and to ensure that the mainstream media receives accurate information about the comic industry… not to mention that it is the single best idea I've heard all day long! Seriously, if all the ICAA presented was this one idea, I'd still think it was worth paying my membership fees for and sign up. What reporter doesn't like great stories served up on a silver pre-researched platter?

As regular readers of this column already know, I support growth of the comic industry through some hardcore guerilla marketing. In an earlier column, I detailed my Commuter Converter program through which the Isotope street team gives comics to commuters or simply leaves comics on public transportation. This program alone has brought in many new guests and first-time comic readers into the door of my comic shop, and I'm pleased to call it a complete success. Now imagine what it would be like if this sort of program were happening nation-wide and was bringing people into our comic shops in every city in every state… and what if you worked in some way to get those comics into the hands of kids…?

The ICAA's Comics Outreach Program is designed to get comics into the hands of the public. The program uses donations from comic publishers, creators, fans, and retailers to give out to potential new readers. These comics will be shipped to schools, children's hospitals, after school programs, boys and girls clubs, and other youth organizations.

And how about getting comics into the hands of teachers and students? Yep, the ICAA has that in mind too. The ICAA CLASS Project is aimed at promoting the use of comics in the classroom by designing literacy, English as a Second Language and other classroom cirriculum around comics to be donated to schools.

If charities are more your cup of tea, the ICAA has two programs that should be right up your alley. Comics with a Cause is an program intended to raise money for charities while raising the awareness of comics, and the ICAA Seasons Readings program supports charitable organizations, such as Toys for Tots, that donate gifts to families that might not otherwise be able to afford holiday presents. This program also hopes to represent comics as a relatively low cost form of entertainment to families without a much expendable income.

I was also impressed that the ICAA had a program that sounds remarkably similar to one I've heard suggested by several parents both in my store and on the Internet. The Comics Kids Club is a program that is intended to be advertised to parents, grandparents, and teachers as a way to promote literacy among children.

As you can see from my abbreviated descriptions of the ICAA's organization overview that I received this week, I wasn't kidding when I said that the International Comic Arts Association was multi-pronged and full of diverse and unique ideas to get comics and our industry more exposure. But a good trade organization isn't all about exposure and advertising, and important as it is for a trade organization to promote their product to the public, these organizations also have an obligation to support the people who are involved in the industry.

So, in addition to providing advertising and outreach to the non-comic-reading public, the ICAA also intends to provide programs to support the existing comic industry, retailers, creators, publishers and fans, as well. And we're talking about everything from scholarships to recommended reading lists to industry achievement awards to business education… but I think I've probably hammered you with enough information on this trade organization already and that's for another day and another column.

Certainly the ICAA is still in it's infancy, with these packages going out to a handful of retailers and publishers just this week, it's likely the membership is nothing to boast about just yet, but you've got to respect the ICAA's approach to getting things done. And not messing around when it comes to putting it all together in a smart, flexible, cohesive package.

For me, one of the things that I really appreciate about Mister Enervold's approach to the trade organization is that it offers more than just cookie cutter options to approaching solutions to solving our industry's problems. The diverse group of creators, retailers, publishers and personalities whom the ICAA has culled quotes from is evidence that this trade organization will be open to all kinds of ideas. They even used quotes from me, culled from this sometimes controversial series of columns, so it's pretty apparent that this organization is open to some unconventional ideas as well as traditional ones.

(On a personal note, I was blown away to see those quotes from myself in the ICAA organization overview and prospectus, right there alongside quotes from Will Eisner, Art Spiegelman, Warren Ellis, Mel Thompson, Jim Valentino, Chuck Rosanski, Scott McCloud, Joe Field, Maggie Thompson, Steven Grant, Joe Quesada, Bud Plant, Mike Allred, Stan Lee, Daniel Schorr from National Public Radio and Pat Schroeder the president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers. That was truly an honor, and I hope through the course of my comics career I can make as much of a positive impact as those others have.)

Another thing that I really appreciate about the ICAA is that it is, as I said, open to the whole industry: retailers, publishers, creators, and fans. This means that members of the blogeratti, for example, have the opportunity to join and to have a voice in shaping the future of the industry. And in my mind that is one of it's biggest strengths, because it taps into the industry's passion for comics and allows the potential for out-of-the-box-thinking in a way that a more exclusive organization never could.

Strength in numbers. Strength in innovation. Strength in diversity.

You might be wondering right about now what I've got invested in the ICAA to devote so much time, column space, and energy to it. Well, let's see… I haven't even sent them even a nickel, I had nothing to do with setting the ICAA up (although I've pledged my support for just such an organization in the past if it ever got out of the planning stages), I don't personally know Erik Enervold, and I sure as hell haven't been bribed to write this column. So I guess I don't have a damn thing at all invested in the ICAA.

But then again…

As a comic retailer who wants my industry to grow as strong and healthy as it possibly can be, I've got everything invested in smart, innovative, and potentially huge ideas like this one. The ICAA presents an excellently executed idea that comes at the perfect time to take advantage of a comic-hungry public who just need to be told that comics do, in fact, still exist and where to find them.

And hell yes I like that!

I joined the ranks of comic professionals because I wanted to do my part to make a difference in the industry. To me, it was pretty obvious that comic retailing was one area where the industry desperately needed fresh voices and some new approaches, and that's why I'm a comic book retailer. Sometimes you've got to get out there on the front lines and hold your ground. Sometimes you've got to make your stand because it's the right thing to do. Sometimes you have to stand up and be counted. That's what I'm doing, and that's exactly where I want to be.

The ICAA is not an idea that's so crazy it just might work. It's an idea that's so sane it can't fail.

The time is now. The tools are at our disposal. All it's going to take now is for people to find the courage to step forward and make a difference. I can't speak for anyone else… but James Sime is ready to stand up and be counted. I'm making the decision to get in on the ground floor of what could possibly be the most important and most influential comic industry event of our lifetimes.

Hey, International Comic Arts Association, I'm with you. As soon as this column goes in, the check's going in the mail.

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