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Map of US Stay at Home orders
The map here shows places in the US (in red) where there is some kind of "Stay at Home" order from the state or local government or (in yellow) where there are mandatory "non-essential" business closures. That's as of yesterday mid-day. The colored portions of the map represent 77% of the population.

This obviously impacts a very wide swath of people. Looking at just the obvious ones tied to the comics industry, there's retailers who can't open their shops, distribution workers whose warehouses are closed down, creators who can't attend now-cancelled conventions... With the primary distribution network down, publishers and the freelance creators that work for them, don't have any way to ship their comics so, while they all can work from home readily enough, there's nothing to do with their comics once they've finished them. Consequently, many (most? all?) creators have been given a "pencils down" order. Basically, don't bother actually working on your comics now because we don't know if/when they'd actually ever get published.

However, there has been discussions and rumors going around that some of the larger publishers might continue comics production again, either using digital only and/or other distribution channels. There's nothing solid on either of those fronts as far as I'm aware as of this writing, but it's led to a great deal of speculation. Retailers are, not surprisingly, worried that if their regular customers switch over to digital channels, there will be no way to get them back into physical stores. Others throw out that, to date, there's been almost no overlap in print and digital customer bases so that won't happen. Still others have suggested that some kind of split-proposition might be feasible -- where readers pay for physical books by calling their local shop, get a voucher for reading the digital versions now, but then don't pick up their physical copies until shops re-open.

The alternate distribution channel thing is a whole other can of worms. Will that open up the distribution market so that both retailers and publishers have more leverage? Where retailers could demand, for example, that all publisher titles are sold on a returnable basis? Could publishers demand, from the other end, that the distributor take a smaller cut of the profits, making comics more profitable for the publishers? There's less than zero concrete information here right now.

Fanboys versus Zombies #2
All of that is up in the air right now -- not to mention that we still have no real idea on when this pandemic might come under control and, by extension, how long it will disrupt the flow of business -- so it's impossible to predict at this point what the industry will look like a month... three months... six months... a year from now. How many businesses won't be able to survive? How many publishers? How many creators start pursuing other lines of work just to make sure they have income? There are so many variables at play at the moment, I think anyone could make any sort of wild guess and they'd be just as likely as any other. Hell, at this point, you can't even rule out the comics industry being a moot point because zombies have overrun the entire planet!

In a recent Mile High Comics newsletter, Chuck Rozanski noted that, for the past decade, he's deliberately tried to pare down his new comics sales. He said, "we have since reduced new comics to less than 20% of our gross revenues, and pretty much zero as regards our earnings... we have invested huge sums of our precious working capital into purchasing vast quantities of back issue comics, graphic novels, toys, statues, and other pop culture merchandise. In effect, we converted our entire business into a “pop culture repurposing center,” with our core business now being focused on helping to facilitate secondary market..." In other words, new comics has become a fairly negligible part of his business and he spends most of his time/effort buying back issues and the like to re-sell. Did he know a pandemic was going to sweep through the nation and substantially disrupt the comics industry? Almost certainly not. But he did see the weakness of the direct market system, and tried to plan around that.

I began suggesting nearly fifteen years ago that comic shops needed to be more than places that just sell comics. That a good portion of the reason people like going to a comic shop week in and week out is the communal atmosphere. Where you walk in and everybody yells, "Norm!" Where you can sit down and order a burger while you read the latest issue of Superman. One of the reasons I've been saying that is because new comics simply cannot be your sole means of income. And I don't even say that because of the direct market problems specifically, but because as a business, you should never rely on a single revenue source like that.

Here in the 21st century, most business gurus will tell you that both you as an individual and businesses of all sorts need to be nimble. That the pace of technology is such that major disruptors can come along at any time from anywhere, and can completely up-end your business. And while that advice is generally given in terms of other businesses either taking over or eliminating the need for your niche, it also works well in time like we're experiencing now -- where the status of a pandemic changes on a daily basis.

I'm not judging comics folks -- at any level: retailer, creator, publisher, etc. -- for not being more nimble to better weather this storm. Comics is an insanely difficult business in the best of times, and many, many people simply cannot get far enough ahead to start the planning necessary to be nimble. US culture/society is honestly not built for getting ahead; it's built to hold people in their place precisely so they can't get ahead. This cornoavirus pandemic is a major disruptor for the entire country, not just the comics industry. And it will sadly shutter tens of thousands of businesses and tragically kill hundreds of thousands of people. And it won't be the fault of those businesses who never open their doors again, but it is worth taking a look at what happened to them as a broader learning of how the US economy actually works. And while no one can predict what will happen next in this nightmare roller coaster that is 2020, hopefully you might be able to glean at least a few insights on what direction you need to be headed for when the next disaster strikes.
Ghost-Spider #6
Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, posted an announcement late last week in response to so many people being stuck at home because of the pandemic. It reads, in part: "Today, the Internet Archive is working with hundreds of public, school and university libraries to digitize their core collections and make them freely available over the Internet... This week, the Internet Archive created a National Emergency Library of 1.4 million digitized books to serve the needs of students, educators and learners who can now access them from home." Clicking over to this so-called National Emergency Library, the only real explanation reads, in total: "Announcing the National Emergency Library, a collection of books that supports emergency remote teaching, research activities, independent scholarship, and intellectual stimulation while universities, schools, training centers, and libraries are closed."

All of this sounds very good and altruistic. Except maybe it isn't. Not exactly anyway. I'll let Hugo and Nebula award winner and writer of things like Marvel's Ghost-Spider, Seanan McGuire, explain...













Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: Team Us

Kleefeld on Comics: About Diamond...
https://ift.tt/33Id6IB

Kleefeld on Comics: TwoMorrows Announcement/Sale
https://ift.tt/3bvGMvv

Kleefeld on Comics: The Only Living Girl v2 Review
https://ift.tt/2QMs9vL

Patreon: Webcomics Textbook: Critical Uses: Discussing Webcomics, Part 1
https://t.co/jsQLjvHLFF

Kleefeld on Comics: Comparable Goods Redux
https://ift.tt/2UJB9CU

I seem to be running out of steam towards the end of the week lately, so I'm re-running a post from 2014...



Superman by Frank Cho
Let's say you've got this cool new comic you've done. Maybe it's a webcomic, maybe it's a series of floppies, maybe it's gone straight to the graphic novel treatment. Doesn't matter. You might describe it in a shorthand that sounds like...

"It's a cross between Superman and Liberty Meadows."

Or...

"It's kind of like Death Note meets Spy vs Spy."

And you're thinking to yourself that part of your goal is woo in readers who already interested in those comics. That makes sense, right? If they've expressed an interest in one comic, they might express an interest in your comic that has some of the same elements. Maybe they will, maybe they won't, but you've at least got a frame of reference to start with.

Another way you might describe your comic might be...

"It's just like Deadpool, but funnier."

Or...

"It's the next Pearls Before Swine."

That's a harder sell, because people know that it's almost certainly hyperbolic. Plus, you're making a direct comparison to a single, well-done comic (you wouldn't be comparing yourself to a piece of crap that nobody liked, right?) and you're expressly saying that yours is better. At least with the mashup version, you're acknowledging multiple sources of inspiration and the comparisons are more oblique.

Regardless of how you're approaching selling your as-yet-unknown comic to someone, here's something to keep in mind: you are not, I repeat, not in competition with whatever you're comparing it to.

If you like Superman, there is no substitution for Superman. You can get kind of close with Supergirl or Captain America or Superduperman or your Superman/Liberty Meadows mashup, but those are not Superman. They would only serve as possible substitute for Superman if Superman were not available.

Comics are not commodities. They aren't interchangeable. You can't simply swap Superman with Moon Knight and expect readers to be happy. That should be fairly obvious, right?

(By the way, I'm talking primarily about characters and titles here, but the same applies to creators. People might read Superman because of the writer on the book, and will happily switch over to Captain America if the author starts writing that title. But if that's the case, they're not going to be swayed by your character analogy/reference in the first place; you'd have to say something more along the lines of "I write kind of like a cross between Scott Snyder and Gail Simone." In any event, the basic concept I'm talking about here will still remain the same.)

Your competition is not against those other titles that you compare yourself to. Your competition is actually whatever title(s) the reader likes about equally to yours.

Think about it this way... what if you ranked all the comics you currently read in the order that you enjoy them? One being the title you like most of all, two being your second favorite, and so on. If this new comic is #12 on the list, your competition is #11 and #13. Because if the reader has to start cutting back on their reading for time or budget reasons, they're going to start by trimming off what they like the least. They're not going to drop their #1 favorite book unless they absolutely have to. But their #12 book? That's not going to be as painful a decision.

So if your Superman/Liberty Meadows mashup ranks at #12 for somebody, you are competing not against Superman but against whatever is in spot #11. Maybe that's Archie. Or maybe Rat Queens. Or maybe Walking Dead. Whatever it is, that's what your comic has to become better than if the reader decides they can only afford eleven comics now.

Similarly, you also have to remain better than whatever is at spot #13. Because they're trying to become better than #12 -- your Superman/Liberty Meadows mashup! If you start going farther down the list, you risk greater and greater danger of being dropped.

You, as a creator, can't know what every reader's list looks like, and you can't know how your comic rates in the minds of the readers relative to everything else they read. So all you can do, really, is put out the best comic you possibly can.

And not worry about whether you have to be better than Superman.
The Only Living Girl volume 2
The Only Living Girl by David Gallaher and Steve Ellis is a sequel to The Only Living Boy, which I apparently reviewed the first volume of which WAAAAAY back in 2012. That was an action/adventure story, kind of a cross between Kamandi and Flash Gordon, with the protagonist being a 12-year-old boy named Erik. The Only Living Girl sees Erik return to the "patchwork planet" he traveled to previously, but he's now joined by his friend Zee, the daughter of Doctor Once who Erik fought with before! As you might surmise from the title, this story centers more on Zee.

This second volume, just released, sees Zee and Erik joined by Morgan as they seek out the Primordial Intelligence, who supposedly has the answers to saving the planet! Despite the previous books setting up a relatively large cast, their quest in this volume has the trio isolated from all their former friends. They land in a new city which contains the Primordial Intelligence, but they find they have to navigate a culture that's run very differently than ones they're accustomed to. Fortunately, they're assisted by their new friend Badou, who learns a few surprising truths about his own culture in the process!

If you're familiar with the work of David Gallaher and Steve Ellis already, this book falls very much in line with the level of quality you expect from them. This volume stands up quite well against all The Only Living Boy books and the previous The Only Living Girl volume. I don't recall looking at the follow-up volumes for The Only Living Boy for this, but this particular installment also holds up very well on its own. If you haven't read any of the previous books, you can dive in to this one with no difficulty.

I like Zee as a protagonist more than Erik. As the daughter of a genius scientist, she's pretty smart herself and proves herself quite capable time and time again. Her young age means that she's not exactly science-ing solutions left, right, and sideways or anything, but her intelligence does shine through in more than a few instances when she subverts unsaid expectations and makes very pointed observations about their situation and surroundings. Erik almost (but not quite) falls into a sidekick type of role, but with Zee as the titular hero of this series, she gets more opportunity to shine than Erik does.

Gallaher uses an interesting device here, where Zee has something of inner monologue throughout the story. While he's used it before in this series, it's a little more prominent here and I think does a good job fleshing out Zee's character to a level comparable to Erik's, despite Erik having had much more story time with the first series. It not only establishes the dynamic she had with her father growing up, but also shows a lot of the struggle she faces internally while trying to mask those same struggles to the outside world.

Ellis' artwork is always a pleasure to look at. His work has an energy to it that feels like a quick sketch, but closer examination shows what look like carefully crafted linework. With only three characters getting picked up from the previous books, he had his work cut out for him in the character design department. He turns out some interesting and effective designs there -- many of which fall under the 'monster' genre that he excels at -- and I particularly liked the Jack Kirby feel to Primordial Intelligence.

Overall, it's a fun book and a welcome addition to the series. I'm already eager to see what comes next! The Only Living Girl: Beneath the Unseen City just came out so you should be able to pick it up at your local comic shop if they're still open at the moment. If not, you can certainly order it through the usual bookstore chains.
I've been writing for The Jack Kirby Collector for over fifteen years, and I've also made some (decidedly minor) contributions to Alter Ego and Back Issue. The TwoMorrows magazines are very much in line with what I like in comics history/archaeology, and I was supporting them for years even before I first became a contributor. With Diamond stopping the shipment of new products for the foreseeable future, this puts a dent in many publishers' coffers, including TwoMorrows. I want to see all of the TwoMorrows mags continue, so I'm replicating below an announcement from publisher John Morrow...



TwoMorrows Logo
TwoMorrows Publishing needs your help

Things are topsy-turvy at TwoMorrows right now in light of Diamond Comic Distributors temporarily shutting down, but here’s where things stand for us.

Basically, for the short term at least, our survival will rely on mail order and digital sales. That’s why I’ve just launched a 40% Off Magazine Sale, to boost mail orders and get us through the difficult next few weeks. We’re fully operational, and any in-stock items listed on our website will be shipped immediately. So if you’re able, please place an order online to help us weather the crazy days ahead. For easier ordering, download our new 2020 Digital Catalog at this link: http://www.twomorrows.com/media/2020InterativeCatalog.pdf

Copies of our World of TwoMorrows 25th Anniversary book are scheduled to arrive here within a week, at which point we’ll immediately start shipping them to everyone who directly ordered from us and through Kickstarter. The Limited Hardcover Edition of WOT is only available from us, not through comics shops, but we’ll also have plenty of softcover copies available.

Like other publishers, we rely on Diamond and comics shops for the majority of sales of our new releases, so the shutdown is really going to hurt us (as it will comic shops). Diamond’s copies of World of TwoMorrows, Alter Ego #164, Back Issue #120, BrickJournal #62, and RetroFan #9, won’t get to stores until the shutdown is over. But just like the WOT book, our mail order customers won’t miss out on those—we will fill webstore orders as soon as our copies arrive in the next three weeks, and subscribers will also get their copies on schedule, as long as the post office stays open.

A word of warning: For anyone planning to buy BrickJournal #62 or RetroFan #9 at Barnes & Noble, it now appears none of the copies we are sending them will make it to B&N store shelves, and will be destroyed. So the only way to get those issues is through your local comics shop once they reopen, or directly from TwoMorrows. Because of this, we expect these two issues will sell out quickly after release, so don’t delay pre-ordering them.

Lastly, we have several publications ready to go to press as soon as Diamond is ready to receive new shipments. We will adjust our upcoming release dates then, but know that work continues here on all your favorite books and magazines, thanks to our dedicated editors and contributors.

For 25 years, we’ve had the most loyal, supportive fans in the industry, and when this storm passes (and it will soon), with your help, we’ll still be here producing the industry’s best publications about comics, Lego, and pop culture.

Best regards,
John Morrow, publisher
TwoMorrows Publishing
The big news in comics yesterday was the announcement from Diamond that April 1 will be their last shipment of new material in the US. (March 25 for the UK.) As effectively the only distributor of comics in the US, this puts a screeching halt to the already-drastically-reduced business comics retailers have seen in the past week or two as various cities and states go on different forms of lockdown. Technically, yeah, a shop can still reorder existing books Diamond already has in their warehouses (perennial sellers like Watchmen and Maus for examples) but from a practical perspective, that doesn't really give shops anything to work with. The bulk of their week-to-week sales are in new comics.

Retailers are upset. But not just because of the wrench this throws in their business, but because this was handled very, very badly by Diamond.

The first problem here is that this was something that Diamond could easily have seen coming. Hell, I saw this as a big potential issue last week and not only is comics distribution not my business, but I don't even think about comics retailing all that much! Offices across the nation started moving people to working remotely over a week ago. While you could argue Diamond wouldn't want to close its doors (since much of their work can't be done remotely) until/unless they got official orders to do so -- California didn't issue a stay-at-home order until March 19 -- I think the writing was pretty clearly on the wall that that was coming. Admittedly, a week isn't a lot of time to plan for completely reorganizing your business, but Diamond's announcement seems like they were caught unusually flat-footed here. As if they didn't start thinking about it until New York's stay-at-home order went into effect on Sunday. Their announcement sounds very reactionary, and like they haven't given a lot of consideration of the impact their decision will have throughout the industry.

The key phrase in the regard is, "With these changes in our distribution strategy, we will work with our publishing partners to develop programs that will address product already in the pipeline and what will happen when we resume distribution." That makes it sound like they haven't even talked with Marvel, DC, or Dark Horse yet, much less any of the smaller publishers. Whether that is the actual case or not, the impression it gives is that there is no plan beyond the books that are on trucks already en route to Diamond warehouses. By all accounts, Diamond did not discuss any of these plans with retailers, or even provide any guidance on what they might be considering. Both the timing and the execution here completely blind-sided retailers.

Second, the announcement didn't come from Diamond initially. Bleeding Cool reported on it first, with other outlets following up throughout the afternoon. Diamond didn't release their formal statement until almost the very end of their work day. So retailers are not only looking at this as significant business problem, but one in which they're not even given enough consideration to be informed directly. They have to hear the news from third party outlets. They're being insulted on top of being screwed.

Sisyphus cartoon
To further compound the insults, the statement is, frankly, pretty condescending towards retailers: "For those retailers who remain open in various forms, I encourage you let loose your own creativity... Special sales, promotions, and even eBay can help you bring in cash during this trying time. Product for which you’ve already paid may well hold some of your answers." Really? Get creative? That's your suggestion? Have a sale? Like shop owners aren't already scrambling to put together any and every plan they can think of to make sure they're able to keep their doors open? Traditionally, comic shop owners are in it because they love comics, not because they've got astounding business acumen. But the ones that stay in business more than a year or two are able to do so because they've figured out how to sell comics. They know who their particular audience is, and how to speak to them. Suggesting that maybe they should try pushing the stock they already have is kind of like suggesting Sisyphus try pushing the boulder up the hill instead of up the hill.

We have, by Brian Hibbs' estimations, roughly half of comic book shops in the US already having to close their doors thanks to various city and state lockdowns, and are entirely unable to even receive this and/or next week's shipments from Diamond. Oregon retailer Books With Pictures put it succinctly...
These are shops that now have boxes of books already waiting for them -- boxes of books that they have to pay for -- but are unable to even get a hold of, much less actually sell. It doesn't take a math whiz to realize that's a good way to lose a lot of money!

Look, this is a highly unusual set of circumstances the world is dealing with right now. The word "unprecedented" is arguably justified here in its literal definition. Based on what I'd been hearing from economists and from the numbers I was seeing, I've been saying since early last year we would have a recession by mid-2020. The coronavirus isn't causing what was already a downturn in the economy, but it is speeding it up and making it deeper. And whether every person on the planet practices social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 until we find a cure/vaccine, or we just say "screw it" and let millions of people die in a sort of nihilistic form of Darwinism, this will fuck up the economy. None of that is Diamond's fault. But their response here is, while absolutely necessary in its basic concept, in its execution very poorly laid out and will sadly probably speed along the demise of more than a few comics retailers.