COMICS TRADE ORGANIZATION... IT'S WHAT'S FOR DINNER!
It's potentially the biggest comic industry news of your lifetime and it has the potential to change everything when it comes to getting comic books into the hands of the uninitiated.
It's the International Comic Arts Association an international, industry-wide trade organization devoted to comic books… and it's the stuff that comic book dreams are made of!
A few weeks back I wrote a very popular column introducing you to this organization, I talked about what this organization can mean to the future of our industry, and took a look at the huge variety of programs that the ICAA is designed to make a reality. And this week the Comic Pimp is going to introduce you to the man behind the whole show, learn more about the organization, and supply you with all the International Comic Arts Association information that you've been hungering for.
Comic Book Resources and I are proud to be on the cutting edge of this news story and to feature this exclusive interview with ICAA Founder and Executive Director Erik Enervold. So without further ado…
James Sime: Before we get into the question and answers, let me say thanks for taking the time to answer these questions for my readers and I, Erik!
Erik Enervold: My pleasure!
James Sime: Let's get right down to it, shall we? I've been pitching the International Comic Arts Association to everybody within earshot for the last month. I know what I think is really exciting about it, but the ICAA is a huge undertaking covering a broad spectrum of ideas, and I want to hear what you think the ICAA is all about. What is the ICAA all about?
Erik Enervold: Simply put, The International Comic Arts Association will soon be the comic industry's first trade organization and promotional board designed to unite and serve all aspects of the industry. Our main objectives include promoting the industry and the artform to wider audiences and, even more importantly, as a professional trade organization to help support those who work in the industry. These objectives can serve each other by providing professionals the tools, information, and resources that they need to promote themselves and their businesses- which in turn will ultimately help to promote the industry and comics in general. By bringing the industry together in cooperative efforts we will most definitely strengthen the industry.
James Sime: My uncle is a dairy farmer in my home state of Wisconsin and I'm sure if we asked him he'd tell us how vital the International Dairy Foods Association has been for the milk industry. But we both know that milk and comics aren't exactly the same thing. The comic industry has gone all this time without having an industry-wide professional trade organization. Why do you think the comic industry needs one?
Erik Enervold: To be honest, I still find it incredible that the industry has gone this long without one. The comic book industry is one that could greatly benefit from one. You can look at any other industry... and I do mean any industry... and you can be sure that they have one if not several organizations devoted to further their common goals. You would be surprised at some the obscure industries and occupations that have trade organizations serving them. The American comic book industry as we know it has been around for nearly 80 years, I think that it's about time we took comics seriously... not only as a storytelling vehicle and the incredible artform that it is- but as a business as well.
For as long as I can remember there has been a lot of discussion among professionals in the industry about reaching new audiences, promoting comics and the need for an organization such as ours. These discussions have gone on for a long time and no one seemed to have a solution or be able to do anything about it. So, we decided the time was right to quit the talking and start taking some action to make a positive, long-term change in the industry. The industry has had increased opportunities for exposure and promotion in recent years, but there has always seemed to be way too many missed opportunities in this industry.
Comic books unfortunately are not necessities of life for most people. They are not even an impulse item anymore since they are only available in very limited outlets. The general public, for the most part, has no idea that comic books still exist so they have absolutely no reason to go to a comic book store. A focused effort to promote the industry needs to be coordinated and executed. Even an awareness campaign to let them know we are out here would be greatly beneficial. We have to give them a reason to get into the stores... show them what they are missing. A trade organization can help make that happen. With all of the creative individuals working in this business you would think that as an industry we could come up with some creative solutions to bring comic books to a wider audience.
James Sime: I'm sure my readers will be interested in learning more about the man behind the ICAA, as well as the organization itself. Tell me a little bit about yourself. What's your background? Have you created other trade organizations or is this something you did just for the comic industry?
Erik Enervold: My background is primarily in graphic design and advertising. I've worked either freelance or on staff for several advertising and design agencies doing everything from logo design, to print ads and brochures to retail signage and packaging design to pre-press work... most recently as Art Director for a large Point-of-Purchase Display company. Doing things such as designing, prepress and overseeing production of retail displays for large national clients such as McDonald's, Alcoa, Dairy Queen, Anheiser-Busch and others.
In the comic industry, I managed a comic store for quite a while and tried to save the store from an owner determined to fail. One of those guys who was more concerned with getting replica light-sabres for himself at cost than promoting his business. Ultimately, I went to work one day and found the store no longer in business. I was also the editor-in-chief of the short-lived industry magazine ComicsPro in the early 90s... right about the time the bottom fell out of the distribution system. I've also worked in the industry as an artist, letterer and doing pre-press work preparing comic books for printing. And most importantly I've been a fan and reader for about 20 years now.
James Sime: You've put five years of your life and no small amount of money into creating and developing the ICAA. You obviously have an amazing amount of passion for this organization to have invested so much into it before you decided it was ready to be brought to light. What made you decide to create the ICAA in the first place?
Erik Enervold: Well, that is a very long story that actually had its beginning several years earlier. The initial idea had stemmed from several conversations that I had had with Phi Yeh of Cartoonists Across America sometime around 1995. These were conversations discussing the dismal state of the American comic book industry- especially when compared to foreign markets and how much more the artform was respected in other countries. This would lead to discussions about how there really was no one reaching out to new readers and promoting the artform to the general public... creating a new generation of fans and readers and how retailers, creators and publishers really had very few resources available to help them promote their products and their stores. We would talk about ways that the industry could reach these new readers.
These ideas stayed with me and planted a seed that would start to grow a few years later while I was working at an ad agency. While there I found myself designing literature for the American Warehousing Association (or something like that) - detailing their programs and member benefits and upcoming trade show. Not to diminish the important work I'm sure this organization does for its industry... I couldn't help but think to myself..."there is a trade organization for companies that put boxes on shelves and not one for the comic book industry? An industry that deals in consumer product?" This is really what motivated me to get the ICAA going. A short time later I found myself writing down ideas, designing logos, doing research, and starting to get the groundwork in place. The plans have gone through several changes and improvements and have been reworked numerous times, including three different names for the organization to get to where we are now.
James Sime: Based solely on a few hundred packets sent out to select retailers, publishers, and industry movers and shakers… even before you've officially introduced the ICAA to the world the buzz on this organization is incredible. I've seen articles about the ICAA on websites for mainstream marketing and media insiders, and it's impossible to miss how much the organization has lit comic industry messageboards on fire for several weeks now. How do you feel about all the pre-launch anticipation and excitement the organization is generating on-line already?
Erik Enervold: The interest and support we have has been very encouraging. This just solidifies our belief that such an organization is greatly needed and that people are ready for it. Some online message boards have been lit-up with discussions about the ICAA. While I would love to be able to personally participate in all of the discussions, I'm just happy that we have got people talking. Over 500 people have signed up for our mailing list in the past week plus I've had numerous people approach me about volunteering or helping with some of our programs, media inquiries, people wanting more information, people sending me their resumes. The fact that we have not even really announced the organization on a very large scale yet makes this even more encouraging. The industry is definitely ready for this.
James Sime: You can bet that I'm ready! I'm pleased to tell you that I'm really impressed with the variety of the smart guerrilla marketing ideas that the ICAA is designed to tackle. What are some of the programs that you think will make the most impact on the comic industry?
Erik Enervold: Only time will tell of course, but I feel that the industry could benefit most from the business services and benefits that we plan to offer to our professional members. Helping comic companies more effectively promote their products to retailers and then providing these retailers the means to better promote their stores and products in their local markets to the general consumer. Most importantly, for the industry to truly grow we have to get new faces into our existing direct market comic stores. Creating new promotional opportunities for our professional members to take advantage of... helping our members help themselves will ultimately help the industry.
Additionally, I think that our outreach programs could have a great impact on improving the public perception of comics and improving comic book readership. Through direct outreach to possible new readers and promotional outreach to the media I think a great deal can be done to change public opinion. We have already seen a great improvement and more media coverage of the industry in the past couple of years, a greater acceptance of comics in schools and libraries, comic book properties being translated to other media at an increased rate. A concentrated effort needs to be made to continue this momentum and build upon it. No more missed opportunities.
James Sime: One of the most ambitious plans of the ICAA is the ComicArts Ad Council. And one of the most talked about promises of an international comic industry trade organization is a national ad campaign along the line of the dairy industry's "Got Milk?" Can you tell me a little bit about the ICAA's plans for promoting comics to the general public?
Erik Enervold: Well, there seems to be the misconception that the ICAA plans to come out immediately with a "Got Comics?" type campaign. This is not our intent and I don't think that there would be any quicker way to make the organization fail then to launch a gigantic advertising campaign. While it may be great to be able to run ads in Entertainment Weekly with celebrities endorsing and announcing the virtues of the comics artform - right now that is not very realistic. Perhaps someday it could be. The ICAA's approach will be more gradual and focused on specific groups. More grass-roots type ad campaigns. We plan to market comics in different ways to different specific, target markets. We will be coordinating focused campaigns aimed at librarians, schools and educators, parents and kids- each with their own spin. Careful planning will make these as effective as possible without breaking the bank. The ComicArts Ad Council will also create new promotional opportunities for our members through joint advertising. Additionally, we will plan to advertise comics to advertisers. Draw some mainstream companies and ad agencies to the comic book industry. To show them how effective comics can be in reaching specific markets. Hopefully, to infuse more revenue into the industry.
Perhaps someday we WILL have celebrities asking if you've "Got comics?" but I think a smarter more controlled approach needs to be taken to build an effective advertising campaign over time. I can however very easily visualize something like the American Library Association's "READ" campaign or a "Reading is FUNdamental" or the Association of America Publishers' "Get caught Reading" type campaign developing through the ICAA one day.
James Sime: The comic industry would certainly benefit from a national ad campaign, in my mind that's the brass ring we're all reaching for, and without an organization like the ICAA that's just not going to happen. So it's understandable that it is one of the things that people are going to get excited about when they talk about the ICAA. But while we're waiting for the right opportunity to roll around, the ICAA has a plethora of other programs designed to spread the gospel of comic books to the world. Why don't you tell my readers a little more about a couple of these other programs?
Erik Enervold: Well, a lot of the ICAA's plans are very common sense approaches to marketing. I think it can be the little things that have big results. I strongly believe that the industry has the most to gain, especially initially, by increased media coverage. PRESS PASS is a way for us to get news and information about the industry to more media outlets. PRESS PASS is basically a newsletter that will be designed for journalists and news editors that contains industry press releases, news and information. PRESS PASS will put this information in a convenient package making it much easier and more appealing for the media to cover the industry and provide them with the resources and contacts to get additional information quickly. It's not that the mainstream media doesn't want to cover the industry it's just that they don't even see us or realize that there are stories, events and publications worthy of some news coverage. PRESS PASS will allow the ICAA and the industry to establish long-term relationships with the media that can pay dividends well into the future.
Along those same lines, another simple idea that I believe can go along way in establishing media relations and improving the public perception of the industry is the ICAA MEDIA COUNCIL. The ICAA Media Council will be a group of comic professionals from all segments of the industry who will serve to represent the comic book industry to the mainstream media. This group will work toward the common goal of helping promote and better represent the comic book industry to the media and the general public. When the ICAA receives a media request, we will work to put the most appropriate member- or members- of The ICAA Media Council in contact to assist that journalist in covering the industry, or in many cases may call on the services of the entire Council for assistance. Say someone is doing an article about romance comics of the 50s, while I really could not help them much- hopefully we can put them in touch with someone who can. The ICAA's goal with this program is to help generate more frequent, more favorable and more accurate coverage for the industry in the mainstream press while providing a valuable service to news writers and journalists.
James Sime: I know we're still in the very early stages of the ICAA, but judging by the initial reaction to the pre-launch word that's been spreading like wildfire throughout the industry, how long do you think it's going to take until we start seeing some of these programs happening?
Erik Enervold: Some programs and projects will be begun almost immediately and our business services and benefits for our professional members will be available as soon as we launch. I would expect that people will start seeing a lot of activity and effort from the ICAA within a couple of months as we begin focusing and establishing our marketing and promotional efforts. The rate and the order that we get our programs get going will be based on necessity and how fast our membership grows. Our core programs should be established in the next six to nine months and I would expect that we will be running at full speed within the next year.
James Sime: I know I keep saying this, but one look at the prospectus and it's apparent that there's a lot of really great, innovative ideas presented here. What kind of input did you get from people in the industry while you were putting the ICAA prospectus together?
Erik Enervold: Actually, we have kept the development of the ICAA very quiet and only a handful of people even knew we were putting it together. We did this not because we did not want people to know about it, but because we wanted everything to be in place so we could hit the ground running. We had a great response from those who had seen the plans in the early stages, mostly professionals that I personally know in the industry and a few retailers that I had talked to about it. This input helped us to focus on the more important programs and improve a lot of our plans.
Since your first column let the cat out of the bag... and gave it a swift kick in the ass- we have been bombarded with an outpouring of support. People are already lining up to join, to help and to be a part of a positive change in the industry and we haven't even "officially" announced the organization or promoted the ICAA at all yet. This has been extremely encouraging and reinforces the reasons that this needs to be done. Of course, there are always those people who are eager to tell you something can't be done, or you will fail and nitpick certain things in our plans…
James Sime: That segues nicely into my next question. The ICAA prospectus is gloriously professionally looking but as with anything glorious, there's always bound to be some critics who disagree with your methods or who think you've got your head in the clouds. Do you think that some of the feet-dragging you've encountered from this segment comes from sort of a this-must-be-too-good-to-be-true type of reaction?
Erik Enervold: Exactly. We expected to encounter some resistance because there are always those who fear change. We can't let any of those people discourage us at all. We have to take their input and use it to improve the organization as well... to see the organization and our plans from a different perspective. This can also help make us be better and more effective. I am looking forward to proving these people wrong and showing them what can be accomplished with a focused effort.
There is no doubt that the plans for the ICAA are big and very ambitious and that scares some people. But the way we have the organization designed will allow us to build it over time. As our membership and our opportunities grow so do our programs and projects. The prospectus really helps show what we have in mind for the future and illustrates how serious we are about it. We also have a lot more plans and programs that were not included in our initial prospectus because we wanted to focus on the more important programs and the ones that need to be accomplished first to allow the ICAA to grow. Once we accomplish goals A, B and C we can move on to create D, E, and F.
We are actually doing something. Believe me, if I heard better ideas to improve the industry from someone else- I would be the first in line to support them. We have rolled up our sleeves and have picked up our bats... it's time that we all step up to the plate and take a swing that will help the WHOLE team win. Strength in numbers has always been the best way to survive. While everyone in the industry doesn't need to be with us, we would certainly hope that they won't be against us.
James Sime: While we're talking about the "controversial" aspects of the organization, I know there's been some discussion and disagreement within the professional community about allowing fans to be part of a trade organization. While I think it's one of the ICAA's real strengths, can you tell me why you think it important to involve fans in the ICAA?
Erik Enervold: There is no one in this industry more passionate about comics then the fans themselves. That is, in fact, why they are called "fans". We feel that it is important to get fans more involved in the industry... to return some of the excitement that used to exist in comics fandom. Membership in the ICAA will allow these fans to show their support of the industry and help support its future growth and give them more active participation in the industry. There is no greater form of advertising than word of mouth. So, if you can get fans excited about the industry or its products, that excitement can be very contagious. This can go a long way in helping promote comics. I don't believe that millions of kids spontaneously picked up Harry Potter at the same time. It became popular due primarily to word of mouth... kids thought it was cool so they told their friends and so on and so on. Eventually the media wants to report that these kids think this book or product is cool and that helps the fire spread. The same CAN be accomplished with comics... we just have to show kids how cool comics are. Start the fire so it can spread. And I don't even mean millions of kids... I would be very happy with thousands.
Additionally, allowing fans to be members will provide our professional members with a captive audience for increased promotions. It can also help with demographic and market research and allow the ICAA to have easy access to consumer opinion. Fans will not be involved with business decisions or even be privy to business or professional information within the ICAA. And I really doubt that they would want to be. Allowing fans as members is all about opening lines of communication within the industry. If fans are kept more appraised of industry news, events, publications and products and are more involved and excited by what the industry has to offer - I believe that this can contribute to increased sales and customers in comic stores. We have to keep the fans and readers that we have now interested so that they continue to be involved in comics... but we also have to get these same fans excited enough about comics that they bring their friends into the stores with them.
James Sime: I love tackling big ideas and I love wild ambition in the name of comics, but I'm also interested in the nuts and bolts of the organization. What kind of staff do anticipate you will need in order to run and manage the ICAA?
Erik Enervold: This, of course, will be greatly determined by our membership and the rate that it grows. I am anticipating that we can accomplish our goals initially with the handful of us already involved and start to get our programs in place. As we continue to develop the organization other staff will be needed to fill specialized roles and run specific programs. At full capacity I could see us employing 10-15 people as long as our membership warrants it. Our efforts will be greatly supplemented by an army of volunteers when at all possible. We have had a great number of people already lining up to help so I don't think that will be a problem.
James Sime: I know you've been preparing for this for a very, very long time, so I know you've got the next few months well prepared for. Tell me about your plans for the official launch of the ICAA. How are you going to get the word out?
Erik Enervold: This is the week we're going to be launching the ICAA! Our Web site will be up and running in a matter of a few hours which will make it easier for people to learn about the organization and our many programs and projects. Once the site is live, we will be following that up with a major press release campaign both in and outside of the industry to "officially" announce the ICAA. This will be followed by membership and fund-raising drives and we will begin to get our programs up and running. I'm sure other plans will develop as we begin getting media inquiries and our membership starts to grow. You can definitely expect to be hearing a lot more about the ICAA in the coming weeks and months.
James Sime: That I don't doubt! Judging by the huge amounts of emails and phone calls I received from my last column here on CBR I know that retailers, publishers, creators and fans are wanting to get involved. What can people do to help the ICAA?
Erik Enervold: Well, of course, the most obvious way to help is to become a member of the ICAA. The biggest way to help us initially will be to help spread the word about the organization and our efforts in any way that you can. Link to our website, mention us in your books, donate ad space in your books or hand out flyers in your store... we plan to make it very easy for people to help us. Professionals should also make sure that they have us on their press release and review mailing lists. Some of our outreach programs are already underway, so people can help us their by donating unwanted comics and graphic novels and putting them to good use in our library and outreach programs by putting them in the hands of potential new readers. People can also help by donating items that can possibly be used to sell or auction off to raise money for the organization. Also, volunteer opportunities will soon be abundant so people can help by volunteering their time and support. An online volunteer application will be on our website as well. If there is a way that people think they can further our efforts or have an idea or service that can help the industry or serve our membership they should contact us.
James Sime: Looks like you and the rest of the comic industry have got our work cut out for us! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions Erik, but before we go do you have anything you'd like to add?
Erik Enervold: I just want to thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm and for allowing me this opportunity and a forum to shed a little more light on the ICAA and our efforts. If we can get people half as enthusiastic about our efforts as you are, then I see a very bright future ahead for the ICAA and for the industry. Thanks, James.
James Sime: No thank you, Erik. Here's to the future!
You keep hearing about the ICAA's prospectus, and now you can download it and find out all about it yourself! Be warned this is a large .pdf file and may take a while with a dial-up connection. Download it here.
Click over and celebrate the imminent launch of the official International Comic Arts Association website at www.comicarts.org.
Show your support, ask a question, write the ICAA a letter of encouragement, or send the hard-working comic book heroes something to show your appreciation with the following address:
The International Comic Arts Association
252 ROBINSON DRIVE
MORRIS, IL 60450
Or contact the ICAA through email here: firstname.lastname@example.org
… and if you're still looking for more ICAA love, check out Mike Bullock's excellent article over on the Broken Frontier.
The Comic Pimp forum is all about cool things like comic trade organizations, great comic books, and the future of the industry. Talk about industry issues, ask questions, preach the gospel of the great comic books or discuss this very article on the Comic Pimp Forum. I'll be around.