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Issue #51

THE PENULTIMATE CANNON

For those of you reading these from the beginning, you may be reassuredthat today's column is a return to the choice diatribes that marked thefirst few months of these columns. In the beginning, I was pissed offabout what I saw happening in comics. As the months went by, though, Ifound that I could change what I didn't like in comics with my owncompany, and so I really wasn't that pissed off, anymore. Sure, I'd getbent at some avoidable idiocy, and I'd let fly a few choice epithets,haphazardly directed at the offenders, but nothing really has beengiving me that lurching feeling of a loose cannon rolling about the deckof a flailing ship quite like the missed opportunities I've been seeinglately.

In fact, I'm getting a little steamed because I'm at the point now whereI can see the opportunities coming, and I can see how they're going tobe missed, and boy does that put a bunch in my shorts. Makes me feellike Kevin McCarthy at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.unheeded warnings, ineffectually screamed into the night, heard, if atall, 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, firstsuggested 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 landscapeand figured that with the Spider-man movie approaching, and acomics-themed novel having won a Pulitzer, why not make a concerted,industry-wide effort to parlay some of the upcoming mainstream-mediaattention into a quick run into the spotlight for the comic bookindustry? Joe's idea was simple: free comics, donated by publishers, allgiven out, nationwide, on the same day. What could be simpler?

Well, here's where we get to that "missed opportunities" thing I wastalking about.

By the time Joe's simple idea got filtered through the morass ofmulti-company bureaucracy, the logistics involved and the usual suspectsputting in their two cents, the whole thing got turned into a cock-up ofGodzilla-esque proportions.

For example.

Long-time readers of this column will recall that I have my ownpublishing house, AiT/PlanetLar. In my capacity as publisher, I got the Diamond communique aboutthe Free Comics Day plans. To tell you the truth, I was pretty excitedabout it, because as Joe had outlined his idea, I thought it was justgoing to go over like gangbusters. AiT/Planet Lar had just shippedtwenty-six thousand dollars worth of trade paperbacks toretailers, right before Christmas, absolutely free, and that hadbeen 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 andDC are doing it. This email wasn't an offer to my company to give comicsaway.

"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'treally 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"? Whywould a retailer want to do this? Pay to give out a company'scomics? What's in it for them, besides a nebulous promise of possiblygaining new customers, which a smart retailer is already doing? Theyget…

3. … listed as a participating retailer on www.freecomicbookday.com . Well, that'sawfully sporting of them, I thought. So I went to click to the site. Youshould, 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, butblind drunk I could cause to be produced a more attractive website. Thisis the place on the Internet "civilians" are going to be pointed to getinformation about the event. It should at least look useful. I'm nottalking about flaming logos, but at least something a little moreinvolved than reversed type over a text pattern and white type on ablack background on the inner pages. Man, I nearly had a seizure whenthat first page loaded up.

But anyway. If you're a retailer, your value received for actuallybuying the free comics that you're then supposed to give away is beinglisted on this website.

Getting back to this missive from Diamond… I read a bit further, and Ifind that our (non-brokered) company is invited to "donate excessinventory which will be distributed free of charge to retailers inproportion to their orders for the low-cost give-away comics mentionedabove." I mean, what?

That's just brazen. Let Marvel and DC and Image and Dark Horse donatetheir excess inventory; their deals with Diamond are sweet enough theywon't miss the money. If Diamond wants to charge even a "low-cost" forsupposedly free comics, give the money to the non-brokered publishers.

At about this point in the letter, I just dismissed this thing as anoble idea squashed by the realities of comic book commerce. I wasn'teven really that steamed. I know how the world works.

But then I found out what the brokered publishers are doing with thisopportunity so generously handed to them. Know which books they'reoffering at a low cost to the retailers, to give away free to theinflux of folks rushing to the heretofore unknown comic book shops intheir 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 andstar of the big summer film. OK; I gotta give 'em that one. Ano-brainer; nice work.

DC? Justice League. Me? I would have picked Superman, butat 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'snot based on a video game?

Dark Horse? Star Wars How about a comic that's not based on amovie?

What's wrong with producing a NEW comic, which showcases all that theform of comics can do, and not just giving out stuff that's just sittingaround?

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

And I'm just a regular guy, who's convinced a bunch of his talentedfriends to let me publish their books. I don't have corporate resources.But I can ship out free comics to the retailers, and the brokeredpublishers 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'llremember Borderline as the .pdf-only comics news magazine. I recommendit this month, not because it's a dense read at 64 pages… not becausethere's an excellent interview by Adrian Brown with me and AiT/PlanetLar publisher Mimi Rosenheim…. No, I recommend it because Lord Grant, heof the PermanentDamage, lets slip a couple of juicy news nuggets that seem to havegone 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 mycompany 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 atthe Loose Cannon Message Board that I post nowhere else.

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