Issue #78

I'm burned out this week. I'm burned out on talking politics. I'm burned out on talking comics. I'm sick of TV and movies. (Is there anything coming up for the next several months that looks even remotely promising?) I'm burned out dealing with editors who won't make decisions or can't articulate what they want. With artists who won't just sit down and do the &$%#ing work. And publishers who seem to delight in getting the checks here two days after the bills are past due. I'm burned out on would-be publishers e-mailing me talking great deals, except, hey, they want to own or control it all because, after all, they're the ones putting the money behind it so the risk is entirely theirs. Or the people who e-mail wanting to do this or that with great enthusiasm, and I e-mail them back and say "Great, let's talk" and then they vanish off the face of the earth. (I don't care what the potential deal is, you're almost never going to get a better initial response from me than "great, let's talk.") I'm sick of producers who can't get deals made. I'm burned out on all the petty pissant distractions that make me have to go do something else when I just want to sit at my desk and write something I actually want to write.

I'm a little cranky this week.

Anyone mind if I just write short stories for a couple of columns?

BADLANDS II, Chapter 1, Part 1. Art by Sean Clauretie. ©™2002 by Steven Grant and Sean Clauretie. All rights reserved. No reprinting in any form without specific written permission. Decided to publish at least the first chapter here. It gets kind of nasty – it is called BADLANDS, after all – so if that's not likely to sit well with you, click here instead. (Though this is the "cleaner than print publication" version, since I'm not looking to corrupt any impressionable young minds. Much.)

For those who read the first BADLANDS, this one's set in 1965, and no character from the first series is in it, so don't be looking for them. The floating bits here and there are songs being played on juke boxes and car radios; anyone know of a good music note .ttf dingbat font?

To be continued.

Last week I mentioned a reader's interesting experience with Sprint and overseas service. Here's some commentary from another reader who know more about it than I do:

"I used to work for T-Mobile (well an outsource really), doing cell phone activations. When I worked there 6 months ago international calling was done by Customer Care (they are T-Mobile internal). When somebody asked about International Dialing and Roaming what we had to tell them was that we (T-Mobile Customer Care) had to contact the company that would carry the phone signal over there. It was done via e-mail or fax and the permission request was sent within 48 hours of the customer requesting it. Whether it was approved depended on credit history and stuff like that. They want to make sure you can and will pay the expensive roaming charges. If your credit rating (when you signed up with them) is anywhere from A to C you won't have any problems, provided you haven't had issues paying their bills.

How long it took to get approval depended on the other company in question. We can send them the e-mail request, but when they'll respond to it is something we can't control. I'll ask around tomorrow and see if they know anything about this new thing. I'm still working with the same outsource company, but with a different client. I can tell you that after 9/11 some countries were off limits to international calls, period. Prior to this it was pretty open, they just needed a compatible wireless network in the country to use.

By the way, I can tell you from first hand experience that asking for a supervisor in a call center 99.9% of the time doesn't get you anywhere. The supervisors will almost always back up the agent, and simply say what the agent has already told you. The call will almost never go above that supervisor either. If you ask/demand a supervisor to escalate the call above them they'll simply tell you "No" because the buck stops with them. The people above them do not want to be bothered with escalated calls and consider them to be the floor supervisors job. Plus they can't change anything either. The people handling the call center area and the people making company policy decisions are two completely different breed of cats. The idea that somewhere down the line you'll get a higher up who will listen to you and change policy on the spot because you bitched enough or made sense to them is as likely as Matlock winning a case in a real live court.

In these cases both agent and supervisor are simply following policy the company executives have handed down, and a single escalated call will not reverse it. The supervisors job during the escalation is to simply tell you more forcefully, but politely, what the policy is and offer alternatives if there are any - something the agent should have be doing as well. Often both are told in advance what alternatives to offer customers if they want something the company doesn't want to provide. The companies usually know in advance what their customers want, but whether it's cost effective to provide this (or more cost effective to get them to do something else) is what you're dealing with.

The company has to see that they are losing money, or will make a bunch of money before they change a policy. Maybe after a number of escalated calls over the same issue could change this - but they'd have to do the math first. Losing or gaining a bunch of customers from their competition will make or break this. What would happen is one day out of the sky blue the company executives will hand down the new policy to the floor supervisors and agents and it most likely won't be advertised to the general public. If they are *lucky* the salespeople will find out about it. But usually they don't, until they try to get it done and it goes through. Then the word spreads. From there on out the new policy is followed, until it gets changed again.

And yes, often the sales people will continue to try and push for things they know won't go through. By calling us up and arguing with us, they give the impression that they are on the customers side (who is standing by watching all this). After the arguing is done the customer then likes that sales person (they fight for me!), helps cement that yes they are going to buy a cell phone from him/her. Usually then the salesperson can either try and talk them into getting a plan with us in spite of not getting everything they want, or to go with another provider. But this is getting off track.

I should also let you know that escalating calls also does not cause the call to be monitored. They do have call monitoring and the amount of it can very from place to place. But where I'm at you are monitored once or twice a week (depending on if your Supervisor monitors one call a week per agent along with the Quality Assurance Dept.). If they happen to catch you on a call that gets escalated, so be it - but it doesn't happen that often (only a fraction get escalated and catching one of those is against the odds). Unless the supervisor says the agent did/said something wrong your not going to see the agent punished for the call, unless the agent did something that was somewhat out of line that resulted in you escalating the call. At that point they'll be told they lost points on that call because of it, they might get written up depending on how rude they were. Usually the company see this as a coaching issue and won't do anything unless the agent gets caught doing the same thing s/he knows is wrong call after call. But this too can differ from place to place.

Just felt it was necessary to clear up those myths."

And later:

"At work today I talked to a floor supervisor and agents. They all looked at me with big question marks on their face regarding the gov't having to approve international calling. Simply put, it's not something T-Mobile has to do. Only thing that can block it is bad credit and/or issues with paying bills.

So my strong suspicion is the agent was just messing with your buddy with a Sprint account."

So I guess that clears that up...

More on the quest to improve comics. I'm in too foul a mood to comment on it this week (don't take that as a commentary) but you're welcome to comment yourself by e-mail or on the Permanent Damage Board. I'm also in too foul a mood to put the links here, but if you go far enough down the column you'll find them.

"Comic books are missing something that gives movies, novels and music mainstream success. It's called a free venue. You may have heard Kurt Busiek talk about this in the past. TV and music is free to consumers as long as they buy the equipment to see/hear it with. What keeps the broadcasters profitable and the content free are the ads. Books are different. They are free through libraries and kids are encouraged/forced to read through school, so this is a free venue, but paid for with tax dollars rather than advertising.

Because people are exposed to TV, Music and Books through these venues, they like the medium in general and usually really like some specific content coming through it. People end up buying Cable, see Movies or rent/buy Video's or order PPV's. Music listeners buy albums of their favorite artists at music stores (this prior to MP3's but that's not a debate for here and now). People become book lovers and go to bookstores and buy something to read.

This is what comics needs. One retailer used this idea and posted it on Comicon's message board. He took a bunch of Kurt Busiek comics, ones that started a story arc and stamped the cover with his stores name on them. Inside the back cover he stapled a flyer giving directions to his store. Then he gave these away for free. Put them in waiting rooms of a variety of places and kids plus fathers read them and came into the store wanting to buy that and future issues. The retailer said the freebie's easily paid for themselves with new pull list customers.

Comics once had a free venue with the golden age 'March of Comics' series being free and filled with ads. These went from 1946 to 1982, reducing in size as time went along. Free comics were available prior to them via companies like Gulf Gas Stations and Buster Brown shoes. Western Publishing did lots of giveaways as well. While it's only circumstantial evidence, I can't help but notice that the industry has dwindled since the giveaways have stopped. Obviously everything you said in last weeks column about newsstands not wanting comics is true. The industry fucked itself by keeping the price at 10 cents for 30 years(!).

The comic publishers and retailers could and probably should be advertising to the general public trying to get them where the comic are. But instead of trying to get non-readers to go where the comics are, we should be bringing the comics to them.

My radical idea: Ever see those free newspapers/magazines in downtown stores (ala Village Voice) ? Notice how they are filled with (and paid for) by lots of advertising? We need to do the same thing with comics. Cheaply printed, thick anthologies of free black and white comics paid for by lots of advertising. Distributed anywhere and everywhere we can get away with, with print runs that far exceed the current comic readership in that area to ensure we get *new* customers. Like any new venture the publishers would likely lose money at first, then break even putting them out. Maybe if they run a really intelligent, efficient and tight ship they can post a profit off the freebies.

The free anthologies should follow the 2000AD idea, with stories by consistent creator(s) already in the can and being published without any story gaps between issues. I personally believe in a mix of continuing and 'done in one' stories. Continuing stories to get people to seek out the next issue, but they can't all be that way. If all the stories are only bit pieces of a complete thing, some readers will feel like they are missing out (or not getting enough for their time) and will probably not want to make an effort to get all the issues. Then they won't bother with the next issue, even if it's free. The done in one stories would be there so they at least get some entertainment out of the book that isn't a multi-part story. Then they'll feel confident picking up the next one. We've got to cater to readers that don't want to exert any extra effort to enjoy a comic book.

Size should be smaller than a normal comic to help the costs, I think the the digest size of Archie Comics and/or the Astro Boy books by Dark Horse (and many other publishers have used previously) would be a good size. Ads inside the book should include local comic shops and bookstores.

Publishers would make their money selling TPB's/GN's of the material within the anthologies. To attract buyers they could be colorized, uncensored (include swearing instead of #@&^!$, perhaps extra pages that show the hinted at sex scenes and/or extreme violence) and be printed on better paper and/or bigger format than the freebies. And yes, these should be advertised in the freebies as well. We should have thousands (or millions) of comics readers being told go to your local store and book X by favorite creators Y and X every month. If the ads have any effect, they should improve sales on the TPB's enough to make all this worth while.

Thing is, these could be done right now without threatening the big boys. They can continue to publish the monthly books for the direct market. Since the comics don't cost anything it won't hurt their budget. Since the material in the book won't be strictly dedicated to their favorite superheroes it won't stop them from buying those books as well. The freebies might even see a boost in the monthly sales if people follow the ads into the comic shops and like what they see. I personally believe the non-traditional comic fan would rather a cheapish, non-superhero genre TPB, but whatever. Get them in the door and let them decide.

How one could make the freebies economically possible I can only guess at since I'm not a publisher. But I offer as a guess - hire somebody (probably from outside the industry) that has good contacts with major advertisers and can get them to advertise in the books. These ads would pay for the print run, overhead costs and creators and would be in all free comics regardless of their destination. I suspect the creators would likely have to take a smaller page rate and work on higher royalties (from TPB's) to help the freebie's be economical.

Obviously distribution would have to be done outside of Diamond. Publishers would have to hire people in various cities. The comics would have some blank pages for some local ads. The hired people would go around town getting local businesses to advertise in those spaces. Digest sized books would make good for two business cards on a page, or they could even format the stories to only go half page to let a business card ad go above or below it. Or full fledge ads if they want - if hired people have some artistic/marketing skills they could run a side business creating ads for the companies for those spaces.

The money made from the local ads would go to the local people, but they would have to use it to pay the cost shipping the comics from the printer to them and some storage space for them (which is possible if they were able to fill - oh 10 pages at $100 each. A $1000 would be able to cover that just fine with money left over.) They'd also be responsible for distributing them around town to where ever and to the comic shops (so the current readers don't snatch them away from non-traditional readers).

College or University students are likely source to get people for the sales/distribution end. Particularly those taking art or marketing could do this job. They probably wouldn't get rich doing it, and may only be a part time job depending on how good they are at selling ads, but it would be better than washing dishes or flipping burgers. Just have to hire people that are willing to work on commission. Or heck, anybody that's put out a 'zine before could do this.

Local ads would be sent to the publishers, and they would have to be really careful to make sure the comics with say Chicago's ads get shipped to Chicago and not New York by accident. Plus they'd have to make sure the appropiate number of comics with those ads get printed, as Chicago and New York may have two different circulation numbers. Might have to split up the printing to different printers, if only to help the local salespeople/distributors pay for the shipping from printer to their storage space. I suspect a 5 ton truck or transport would be the most economical way of doing this. Heck, if the sales person wants to save some money they (with a buddy and strong backs) could do this themselves if they rent a truck for a day.

Anyway, enough bogged down details. Free anthology comics for both current and non-readers is the way to go. Out of all the idea's I've heard on how to improve the comic industry, I think the above is the one that could work. I don't say that because it's my idea, but because everything else that's been proposed has major flaws that you've pointed out already. I know this idea ain't perfect, but I think someone with more practical hands on experience could make this work with some tweaking."

One comics note: RELOAD comes out this week. Warren Ellis. Paul Gulacy. Jimmy Palmiotti. What more do you need to know? Don't be stupid. If your retailer doesn't have it, demand it. Buy it.

I'm burned out on pimping my own work, too, so none of that this week.

Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it's not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They're no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don't really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

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I'm reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

My old personal webpage – the one with all the information – has finally vanished, and it's about time, since I left that server almost a year ago. The new one isn't up yet, but keep watching this space for details.

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