Monday, November 30, 2009

Mash-Up Day

Mash-Up Day is now a time-honored tradition here on Kleefeld on Comics when I can't think of anything comic-related to talk about. I take different comics and switch the text between them to see what I can come up with. (Believe it or not, it's actually sometimes easier for me to do that than come up with my own whatever to talk about.)




Sunday, November 29, 2009

Evolution Of A Book, Part 6

I had the great delight to find a box sitting on my front porch when I returned home this evening, after having spent the holiday weekend with my parents. It was, in fact, my first look at the actual, for-real printed copies of my book. (Comic Book Fanthropology if you haven't been paying attention around here.)

After my initial SQUEEEE!!!! reaction, I actually took a more critical look at the books themselves. This was, in point of fact, the first time I'd ever seen Lulu-printed books in person and I was curious to look at the printed quality.

The covers look great. I was a little concerned about the color shifting one way or another, but it seems to have hit spot-on. I uploaded the cover as a whole to Lulu as one image, and the printing did seem to a scooch to one side, but it's only noticeable in that the title on the spine is 100% centered. It's still well within legibility tolerances, though, and it's only worth noting because I'm a nit-picky designer that way.

The interior looks good as well. Good quality paper, solid binding, very clean trim around the edges. I'm very pleased with all of that. I'm also pleasantly happy with the overall dimensions, too. I was a little concerned that it would feel too light, like you might be holding more of a thick pamphlet. But that's not the case at all. Although it is a bit thinner than other books I made some initial comparisons to, it's hardly noticeable on a quick visual inspection. It looks and feels like a real, bookshelf-worthy book.

The printing itself has some very rich blacks, which make the text and illustrations really pop off the page. The art that has some decent-sized blocks of black look especially good. All of the half-tones work very well, too. I was a little concerned about moiré patterns showing up on some of the pieces, but it only occurs on one and then, only slightly.

The rich blacks do mean, however, the photos tend to run a bit darker than I'd like. Not so dark that you can't see them or anything, but it does obscure some of the background details a little more than I'd like in some photos. On the plus side, there was one photo that I was concerned would be too hard to read well, but the rich blacks make the salient portions of the image quite legible.

The cropping of individual pages varies a bit more than I would've expected. Nothing so drastic as to be of significant concern, but -- again, speaking as a nit-picky designer -- it's not quite as consistent as I would ideally like to see.

As far as issues I had more direct control over, I'm generally pleased overall. I was glad to see my graphic designer "tricks" in the layout worked the way I'd intended, most notably the Fan Profile pages. In looking at the final, printed version, I probably could've stood to add a little more space on all the page margins. But, here again, that's more of a nit-picky designery thing -- there's nothing that's not legible because I ran type too close to the spine or whatever.

Overall, I have to say that I am VERY pleased with how the book looks. I think it turned out exceptionally well, given that it's my first book and my first interaction with Lulu. I will freely admit to more than a bit of trepidation before now on whether I had made any number of "right" choices with this book; those concerns are all gone now. (With the exception of the content itself!) I would absolutely recommend Lulu to anyone hoping to get a book published, provided they weren't trying to get rich doing so!

Feel free to head over to ComicBookFanthropology.com to pick up a copy for yourself!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mitsumasa Anno

The gent at the right is Mitsumasa Anno, a Japanese author and illustrator of children's book. From Wikipedia...
Anno is best known for wordless picture books featuring small, detailed figures. In the "Journey" books, a tiny character travels through a nation's landscape, densely populated with pictures referencing that country's art, literature, culture, and history. Anno's illustrations are often in pen and ink and watercolor, and occasionally incorporate collage and woodcuts. They are intricately detailed, showing a sense of humor as well as an interest in science, mathematics, and foreign cultures. They frequently incorporate subtle jokes and references.

My dad had several of Anno's books when I was a kid and they were truly impressive. I recall pouring over the fine linework and detail he would put into every page. Despite the stories being entirely wordless, they told very clear and concise tales and, in retrospect, very clear comic work told in an extraordinary manner.

I don't think I've ever seen Anno's name in association with comic book storytelling, and thought I ought to call some attention to his work for those who've never really made the connection between his work and the comic medium. My personal favorites were Anno's Italy, Anno's USA and Anno's Britain. Really masterful work, well worth seeking out.

Friday, November 27, 2009

So It Begins!

As promised, today is the day that my new book, Comic Book Fanthropology, begins its serialization over at the obviously named ComicBookFanthropology.com website. Please head on over to take a look. If it looks promising to you, subscribe to the site feed. If it looks really frickin' awesome, buy a copy to put on your bookshelf!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks

The past 12-18 months have really been bat-sh*t crazy and a LOT of people are struggling just to stay alive. I don't usually do this type of thing here, but this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for...
  • Remaining employed during this recession
  • Remaining healthy through worsening health care coverage and plans
  • Being able to deal with financial stresses that have really put a squeeze on my budget
  • My family & friends
  • The support I've gotten while writing my book
  • Being able to stay relatively in touch and in tune with the comics industry despite not being able to afford a single comic
  • Having the wherewithal to deal with having a car being struck by lightning
  • People are still interested in the work of Jack Kirby fifteen years after his death
  • The love and support of my S.O.

Not a particularly long list, but it has, as I've said, been a really harsh year. Appreciate whatever it is you've got.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Spectrum Of Personal Finance

The S.O. pointed me to a series of posts from yesterday by Brian's My Next Buck personal finance series, entitled "The Spectrum of Personal Finance." In Brian's words...
As you know by now I am a comic book dork, and I sometimes make references to what I read here on this blog. Today’s event in particular was inspired by a sort of “color war” that is currently ongoing in Green Lantern comics. If you are unaware, the Green Lanterns have an infinitely powerful ring that is fueled by their willpower. The other colored Lantern corps have rings that are fueled by a corresponding emotion.

In this event I delved into each emotion (compassion, love, rage, willpower, fear, death, hope and avarice) and gave my opinion on how each relates to personal finance.

Worth reading in these economic times regardless if you're following the GL story or not.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It's That Time

Despite my book being finished, the fun isn't over! Tonight's festivities: holiday cards...
Yes, those are specially designed Comic Book Fanthropology greeting cards. They can be purchased in packs of 20 here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Comic Book Fanthropology Is Go!

That's right, True Believers! We are now taking orders for my brand new book, Comic Book Fanthropology! Everything's off to the printers and they're ready for you! There are actually three versions available for purchase: paperback, hardcover and digital. The hardcover ended up having to be a little pricier than I would've liked, but that's largely a function of being able to get the book out to other retailers. (It's not available through Amazon just yet, but it's working it's way through various databases.) The content of all three books is identical, so your biggest choice is just what format you'd like to read it in.

If you're one the fence about purchasing it, head over to ComicBookFanthropology.com. I'll be serializing the main content of the book beginning on November 27! You can get a taste for the book before you spend any hard-earned cash on it!

A NOTE ABOUT HOLIDAY SHIPPING:
Because these are print-on-demand books, it does take a little longer to get the books to your mailbox. Please take at look at Lulu's Shipping FAQ for details about how late you can order one (or more!) of these in time for Christmas!

More Proof They Don't Get It

Julie Larson, creator of The Dinette Set, is the latest in a long line of syndicated cartoonists that's bemoaning the death of newspapers at the hands of the Internet.

As I understand her argument, she's getting paid less now because newspapers and her syndicate are giving away her cartoons online for free. So she's hoping that her television deal goes through because she'll earn lots of money when people can watch her cartoons on TV for free.

Granted, most cartoonists aren't terribly business savvy. But this kind of double-think astounds me to no end. (And it's not just Larson, I should note. Many newspaper cartoonists have made similar comments. Larson has just made the most obvious and recent one.)

Television, radio and newspapers all have run with the same basic business model. You give away your product for nothing, or next to nothing, and then sell advertising space. And you know what? A lot of sectors in the Internet work the same way, too. You don't pay to use Google's search engine, but they earn boatloads of money from the ads that are placed next to your search results. Most of the webcomic success stories work the same way. They give away the content (their comics) and make money on ads (in some cases, via selling their own products through the website).

Take a look at Phil and Kaja Foglio's site...
Big ol' Project Wonderful ad across the top, and a smaller ad for their own company store in the upper right. Both before the comic actually starts.

Ditto for Jennie Breeden...


...And Charlie Trotman...
They're giving away their comics, just like Larson's are being given away. Well, except that the specific model Larson is following clearly doesn't work for her. Namely, the successful cartoonists are syndicating themselves, while Larson is letting someone else syndicate her work for her.

You know, I get that people don't like to change something that's worked for them in the past. Really. I do understand that. But if it stops working, isn't it more appropriate to figure out what does work instead of reminiscing about how it used to work?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Are We There Yet?

The Senior Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer for my entire company spoke a global webcast a month or so back. She started by saying that everyone started going in to 2009 wearing really frightened-looking faces. But now, she added, everyone just looks tired.

Her point, of course, was that at the beginning of the year, everyone was in something of a panic on how to deal with the economic crisis. Lots of people were being laid off, and no one had a clear sense of what was going to happen next. Now, in the last part of the year, those people who are still employed are exhausted from trying to do their job and at least some of the work of the guy who used to sit next to them but got laid off. And the guy who got laid off has been running a mad scramble trying to beat out everyone else who's gotten laid off for fewer and fewer job prospects. Businesses are thrilled these days just to be able to say that they didn't lose money.

More anecdotally, I personally know more people looking for work now than at any time in my recollection. I actually knew fewer people who weren't working back in college! But I'm sure I don't need to tell you that it's rough out there.

I've actually been able to get a lot accomplished with my book over the past couple of months. While there was a lot of me just burying myself in front of the computer for 14-15 hours a day, I did get some assistance from a few kind folks who were able to step away from their own insanely hectic schedules to lend some support.

I want to give a big thanks, first and foremost, to Marvel editor Tom Brevoort. I know his schedule is absolutely nuts and he's got way more work than he should have to deal with, but he nonetheless agreed to write a Foreward to my book. And even after reading an early, way-too-rough-around-the-edges draft, he stood by his commitment and turned in a really stellar piece. It's a much more impressive piece than I was hoping for, and I'm honored that he put as much time and effort into it as he did. Thanks VERY much, Tom!

Next, I want to say thanks to David Gallaher and Johanna Draper Carlson. They both provided some excellent feedback on earlier drafts of the book. I think their input has really helped me solidify and clarify several of my points, and I'm certain my book is better because of their input. Thanks, guys!

I also need to give a shout out to some high school friends, Jeff D and John B, and my old WSU partner-in-crime, David B, for their ongoing enthusiasm throughout my writing process. You guys have been the best cheerleading squad I've ever had! (Seriously, I meant that in the best way possible.) Thank you.

And I'd be remiss, of course, if I didn't make mention of my S.O., who's been very supportive of me and has had to put up with my foul moods when I'd spent way too much time staring at the computer monitor. She gets a more formal thank you in the book itself. :)

I just wanted to take a moment to say thanks to everyone (whether or not I've named you here) for their support during this incredibly unpredictable and bat-sh*t insane year we've had. There's been so much to carry everyone's attention lately, I'm really grateful for everyone who's given me any of theirs.

Oh, and so I don't sound like I'm getting too mushy, I think I've got the book back on my original schedule, which means it should be available for purchase later this week!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Garfield, PhD

It's one of those days again where my brain just is NOT able to come up with some comic-related to talk about, so I'm copping out and presenting one of my... *ahem*... "classic" mashups. I've switched the dialogue in today's Garfield and the latest PhD from a couple days ago. The results actually turned out kind of interesting...

I'm familiar with "Number One" and "Number Two" but I have no desire to know what a "Number 102" is!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra

Today we're talking about metaphors. Just like similes, but without the prepositions.

There was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled "Darmok" in which the crew encountered a race whose language completed confused them. The translators kept spitting out phrases that were interpretable, but not understandable. Things like, "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra." The Enterprise crew eventually realized that these aliens' whole concept of speech revolved around metaphors. They used the example: "Romeo and Juliet at the balcony." That phrase will almost immediately conjure a particular scene and mood and set of emotions, but ONLY if you happen to know the story of Romeo and Juliet!

How about an example from music? You ever see somebody's update on Facebook or Twitter that just includes a few lyrics from a song? It speaks to that individual's tastes in music, of course, but the song itself also carries with it a series of meanings and emotions. The song lyrics, even removed from the full context of the music, carry a connotation with them and can serve as an abbreviated shorthand for the emotional state of the person doing the quoting. They might not be literally feeling or expressing the exact words they cite, but the overall emotive quality of the song (often, a short 2-3 minute rock song focusing on a single theme) suggests whatever complex set of emotions the individual might have difficulty putting into words.

The same holds true for visual metaphors as well. Take, for example, this image...

Two girls, one with a violent nosebleed.

Now, if you're familiar with manga and anime, you probably have a pretty good idea of what this scene is about even if you don't know anything about the origins of this particular image. If you're not quite so familiar with them, you likely don't realize that the nosebleed is not literal, but metaphoric. It symbolizes the girl's emotional state. I don't know for sure, but I'd be willing to bet that in the story, no one comments on the nosebleed itself and, in subsequent scenes, there's no visible remnants of the spilled blood on either the girl or the surrounding furniture.

(I won't go into the precise meaning of the symbolism here, but I'll warn people who might try to look it up: do NOT run a search on "manga nosebleed" while you're at work!)

All of the "classic" visual devices in comics follow the same pattern. Motion lines, dollar signs in someone's eyes, thought balloons, a figure breaking out of the confines of a panel... these are all visual metaphors that are only understandable if someone is cognizant of what the metaphor is meant to convey. We don't literally see lines tapering away from someone as they run quickly, but we know the use of such lines implies motion.

My point here is that, as a creator, you need to keep your audience in mind when writing and drawing your work. The nosebleed reference wouldn't work very well in a Superman comic because that audience isn't "trained" in that particular metaphor. That's not to say that you CAN'T train your audience to understand the metaphors you use, just that you need to make sure that when you use a metaphor that might be unusual for them, they might some additional clues to help in understanding your piece.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Evolution Of A Book, Part 5

So, I'd decided that I was essentially going to self-publish Comic Book Fanthropology. The upsides include lower start-up costs (via POD), more control over the look and feel of the book, as well as not requiring large print runs that end up killing a bunch of trees unnecessarily. The downsides include having to do all of the work myself, including any and all marketing. Here are my thoughts (currently) on some of the various marketing efforts that are possible, and how I might be using them (or not) in conjunction with my book.

Distribution: One of the reasons for going with Lulu as my POD service is that they have agreements with some of the major online book retailers like Amazon and B&N. The odds of me getting into any brick-n-mortars are pretty slim, even within the smaller comics community, if my work can be found while someone happens to be browsing Amazon anyway, that gives me a huge additional reach than just trying to sell from my site here.

Print Advertising: I don't think my book will appeal to the vast majority of comic book readers. I'm fully cognizant of just how niche a market I'm looking at. So I think broad advertising in comics and magazines would be a waste of money. However, there are a few niche magazines that I think cater to a not-dissimilar mindset to my own, and might be worth pursuing. Once my book is actually available, I'll be investigating options with some of the TwoMorrows titles. I'm hoping, too, that because I'm a regular columnist for Jack Kirby Collector, I might get some kind of price discount.

Online Advertising: Again, I don't think my book will appeal to a very wide audience, so I think any broad-based advertising services would be a waste of money. Obviously, I'll plug the book here but beyond that, I think advertising would be limited. Maybe a handful of specific sites, but probably only after the book is out for a little while.

Online Presence: Naturally, I created a web site specifically for the book: ComicBookFanthropology.com. Minimal cost and effort, and it's already getting some traction in search engines. Beginning on November 27, I will be serializing the entire book through small installments every Monday, Wednesday and Friday which I hope will A) draw more traffic/attention to the site, and B) give people a good taste of whether or not it's something they want to purchase. I've touted the benefits of "giving it away" in order to gain readers, and this will be a way of putting my money where my mouth is. I'm willing to bet that the people who read the entire book online and don't buy a copy is outweighed by the people who read some of it and then decide to buy a copy.

Reviewers: I did send out a few initial preview copies to get some basic feedback while I was still writing the book. (That's where David's quote from yesterday came from.) I'll be sending out some other versions of the final final iteration as well to a number of the higher profile bloggers/reviewers in comicdom. That doesn't guarantee good reviews, of course -- for that matter, it doesn't guarantee a review at all -- but the more exposure I get through that, the more people will have their attention given to the book. There IS the potential "danger" that the review copies are poorly received, but I'd like to think that I've done a better job than that. As a complete long shot, I might send a copy to Stephen Colbert.

Mailings: Since this is coming out during the holiday season, I'll also be sending out some Christmahanakwanzaka cards plugging the book. I'm not sure exactly who will be getting these -- probably most limited by a function of cost -- but they'll definitely be targeted to some extent at least. I'm also trying to nail down the timing of when to send these out.

Local Promotions: This is something I have considered, but it wouldn't be a very good experience for anyone in most cases. The POD model would mean that there wouldn't be books on hand for purchase, and trying to send people to the website would yield pretty limited results. If I were to do a signing or reading or something at an LCS, they'd need to buy a number of copies first to try to sell as a third-party retailer. Which doesn't strike me as likely. That said, if a retailer DOES want to buy a bunch of copies in advance, I'd be willing to come out for a signing or something.

The 'Sean Kleefeld Brand': A lot of my book's sales, I think, will ultimately rest of the 'Sean Kleefeld Brand.' That is, I think more people will buy it because they're familiar with me and my work than people who are just interested in the subject. I've certainly received more encouragement/feedback along the "hey, that's so cool that someone I know is writing a book" lines than "wow, what a great subject that ought to be discussed more often." What I'm hoping will happen, as a result of that, is that those people who buy the book because I wrote it will be pleased enough to tell their friends, who then go ahead and buy the book for themselves.

Ultimately, the book is largely going to be a personal referendum on my education. Did the various English and writing classes I took in high school in college sink in? Did I learn anything about page layout and book design with my Bachelor's in graphic design? Will my MBA in marketing let me sell more than a dozen copies of this?

So, like, no pressure, then...

Have I mentioned lately: eep!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fantrhopology Feedback

Yes, I know I owe you another installment of "Evolution of a Book" to talk about my marketing strategy for Comic Book Fanthropology but I haven't had time to write it yet! In lieu of that, though, I thought I could at least taunt you with a quote about the book that Mr. High Moon himself, David Gallaher, was kind enough to send me...

Comic Book Fanthropology is an inquisitive, insightful, and thought-provoking exploration of the fandom phenomenon. Through his own experience and various profiles, Kleefeld weaves an analysis that is as compelling as it is enjoyable.


Of course, I asked him to confirm that he actually read the same book that I wrote. But he certainly did make it hard to take that quote out of context!

Thanks for the very kind words, David!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Passing Without Fanfare

This actually kind of snuck by me: on Thursday, my old FFPlaza.com domain name finally expired. Kind of interesting (in one of those humans-making-connections-out-of-coincidences sort of ways) that that portion of my personal comics history completely closes just as I'm launching my new book.

Feel free to apply whatever significance or meaning you feel is appropriate.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

Evolution Of A Book, Part 4

One of the first things I did when I actually made the decision to write Comic Book Fanthropology was to announce it here on my blog. That was done partially to start generating some interest, but partially to make sure I got my own ass in gear. Since I was writing it for myself -- as opposed to another publisher -- telling the world that I was working on it was a way of forcing some pressure on myself to actually get it done. If I'd have never said anything, I could have sloughed off for a year or three, and no one would know or care. So here I was, researching and writing away with at least the impression that there were some expectations on me now.

After I'd written the first few chapters, I stopped a moment to take stock of how I was doing. Things were actually going surprisingly well and it occurred to me that this might actually take less time than I anticipated. I could easily finish it up by December if things kept going as smoothly as they had been.

At which point, my marketing brain kicked in and realized that if I could actually have it ready by Thanksgiving (only a week earlier than December) I could start selling them in time for the holiday shopping season, and try to play off the increased spending people inevitably do. So I worked out a rough timeline of how long I had to write each chapter, working backwards from my Thanksgiving deadline. Not a leisurely pace, certainly, but easily do-able.

Then I found myself actually looking up info on various Print-on-Demand (POD) services. Knowing that my book essentially catered to a niche market within a niche market, and having talked with other publishers already, I knew this wasn't going be a huge seller. So I decided early on to go the POD route -- there were low set-up costs, zero inventory, and I could take advantage of their distribution network. The downside is that the money I make on each book is pretty low, but I'm not looking to earn a living from this book (and possibly other future ones). In any event, I opted for Lulu, as they seem to have a good track record and, from everything I've heard, turn out some good work from a production standpoint. And part of their process requires me to sign off on a printed copy of the book.

Which means they have to print one up, put it in the mail, and send it to me. Which can take up to two weeks for the hardcover version. Which means I had two move my deadline for finishing everything up and having the book ready to go about two weeks in advance of Thanksgiving. That would give Lulu time to get a proof copy to me, and have me sign off on it, so that it could be available for sale on Thanksgiving. If you don't have a calendar handy, that's essentially this weekend that I need to be finishing up and sending it off.

Around this time, too, I realized that there was a whole other aspect of fandom I should talk about but hadn't alloted for. No problem; I can just drop in another chapter on that and that should cover things. Oh, and I decided one of the chapters I had started was a little too broad and should be broken up into two chapters.

All of which meant that my original timeline went out the window.

I still really wanted to have this ready for Thanksgiving, so I decided I really needed to buckle down and do some literary ass-kicking. My days generally worked like this...

Get up, shower, get dressed, head off to my day job and work until lunch. Spend my lunch hour sitting in the one of the break rooms doing research. Work until around 5:00, and head home for a quick dinner. After dinner, write until 9:00, take the dog for a walk, and work on illustrations and/or layout portions of the book until midnight. Collapse in bed for about 6 hours and repeat the next day. The entirety of my "leisure" activities was watching part of the previous night's The Daily Show while I was eating dinner. I did have some music to listen to while I was walking the dog, but I was usually still writing in my head and not paying much attention to anything else.

I don't mind telling you that, after four or five weeks of doing that, I was pretty well exhausted. It's not an approach I suggest anyone take, unless you're in a position to really dedicate every waking moment of your free time towards your project.

That said, it has seemed to work. The book is essentially done. I have to drop in the Foreward as soon as I get that, and I'd like to throw a couple of pull quotes on the back cover, but it's otherwise ready to go on the stupid-short schedule I set for myself. I think the book says everything I intended it to say, and doesn't look half-bad either. I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing an actual printed copy in my hands; I think it'll look really slick. (In no small part, thanks to an awesome cover! Did I mention Colin Panetta did a fantastic job on that?)

Before I finish up this post, let me point out that I've actually got a website set up for the book itself. Head on over now, and make sure you subscribe to the RSS feed so you won't miss when it starts coming out. Or, better yet, bookmark it so you'll be able to return to it repeatedly and order several hundred copies of the book once it's out!

Up next: marketing strategy!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Evolution Of A Book, Part 3

I've actually been doing research about comic book fandom for several years, so I had a lot of general knowledge floating around in my head to draw upon while writing Comic Book Fanthropology. But once I had the basic structure down, I pulled out all of the books, magazines, articles, notes, etc. I'd accumulated and started re-reading them. For a non-fiction book like this, I obviously didn't want to make any factual errors due to a faulty memory, but I also needed to start picking up some more specific examples, rather than just drawing broad generalities.

This actually turned out to be the first really useful functionality of the format I had set up for my book. Because I had broken things up into smaller subject areas, I was able to target my re-readings specifically to particular topics. I was able to set aside the articles about, for example, Dunbar's number while I was writing the first chapters since that really wouldn't have been appropriate to bring up until chapter five anyway. This way, I was able to stay very focused on specific aspects of fandom and keep the ideas rolling around in my head from straying too far off point.

Generally, I targeted my reading so that I was never writing more than a chapter behind what I was reading about at that moment. For example, I boned up on social categorization theory and wrote a lot on that, but while I was writing about it, I had started reading up on self categorization theory, which I'd planned to discuss in the next chapter. Towards the end, my writing outpaced my reading and I had to step back a few times to catch up. Fortunately, I had plenty other aspects of the book that I could work on!

Simultaneously with the writing, I started going through my comic collection looking for appropriate imagery to use. To expedite my search, I gave myself a number of limiting criteria right off the bat. First, the images had to be black and white. I knew I was going to publish in black and white, and I always hate the way color comics look when they're scanned in and reproduced by just converting them to greyscale. Second, I wanted art that actually spoke to what I was talking about in the book and not just look pretty. That did largely eliminate a lot of genre pieces I could've gone with, but that was kind of the point -- to not spend weeks and weeks looking for good art. One more thing I was keeping in the back of my mind, too, although this wasn't an express criteria for my initial image selections: I didn't want to repeat artists. I want to provide a broad range of examples, and I made a point to select a mix of styles, sources, and cultural references.

Even so, that still left my options pretty wide-ranging, even with the confines of my personal collection. Even though my collection is primarily composed of superhero books, I do have a pretty reasonable number of independent, off-beat personal works that I could tap into. So I pulled out anything that I thought might work and scanned through the issues as refresher, setting aside ones that had potentially useful pieces. Some work I was able to grab straight from memory. Zot #31, Blankets, Smith Brown Jones: Conventional Mayhem and the "Graphamaximo" storyline from PvP were all at the top of my mental list. Others, like Deep Fried, Comics Are Dead and Boris the Bear, came later as I stumbled across a particularly poignant page in flipping through those books.

I actually set aside most of the comics as I found them, creating a pretty large pile of books on the coffee table. I wanted to have a range of art that I could use, depending on where I went with the actual writing.

These pages of art, recently impressed into my brain, actually influenced the writing to a degree. A prime example was a page I found in Bryan Talbot's Alice in Sunderland. (One of the few that are rendered almost completely in black and white.) It spoke very directly to an "us versus them" scenario, as I was trying to elaborate on in one of my earlier chapters. In pulling a written example for that chapter, then, I referred to some experiences people had with Frank Beddor's Hatter M, which is ALSO directly inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. The art then compliments the writing, without replicating the same material or acting in a strictly expository manner. Admittedly, I couldn't get every image to work so well, but I think the majority of my images work better than most accompanying art does for this type of book.

Of course, as I said, this "art selection" was done while I was typing away in a program that I wasn't doing page layouts in, so at this stage, I could really only guess where and how the art might fall relative to the text. But precisely because of the way I was approaching the art -- choosing pieces that would compliment the text but not really be essential to it -- it wasn't all that critical for me at that point. If, for example, I was laying out the book and found that I couldn't use that Talbot illustration, the text would still stand perfectly well on its own.

What this also means is that I wound up with a LOT more artwork that I could've used, but opted not to. There are, in fact, quite a number of passages that were originally written with a specific piece of art in mind that I ultimately didn't use for some reason. Some of those passages wound up getting rewritten or modified to suit another piece of art, and some were left in the book as is. As I said, the artwork was chosen to compliment the text, not explain it.

Up next: slogging away!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Island Mapping

Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure theme park is notable in comic circles for featuring a section devoted to Marvel superheroes. I recall it opened to a fair amount of hoopla back in 1999, but I haven't heard a whole lot about it since. But Wikipedia states that it 15th most visited theme park in the world, so what do I know?

Anyway, of some interest are these two park maps from 1999 (when they first opened) and 2006. Interestingly, the actual illustration doesn't seem to have changed, but the treatment is significantly different.

(h/t Boing Boing)

Evolution Of A Book, Part 2

Of course, deciding to write a book is pretty different than actually sitting down and writing one. So how did I go about writing Comic Book Fanthropology, never having written a book before?

The first thing I did was take inventory of what I have already written. Not so much the content of individual pieces, but the styles, themes and structures that I know I can work with. If I was going to attempt something new, I should use as much as I can built off what I know. Similarly, I wanted to make a conscious note of things I'm uncomfortable with, so I could avoid any major problems that might come with them.

One of the "concerns" (for lack of a better word) I had was that I'm not very good at formally structuring and outlining my work in advance. My tendency as a writer is to determine my start and end points, roll around some ideas in my head for a while, and then just start writing. I let the words flow out as naturally as I can, and just try to ensure that each sentence takes me a step closer to where I want to end up. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this approach, but it does seem to work for me. I actually developed this in high school, doing those classic five-paragraph essays, and I'm usually able to extrapolate longer ideas well enough that I can bang out a 10-20 page essay with little difficulty. But something as broad in scope as a whole book? Maybe I could do that, too, but I didn't want to chance it.

So my first order of business was to develop a structure for my book that took advantage of my typical writing process. Well, I say "structure" but it was barely that formal. What I did was basically divide the overall topic (comic book fandom) into a series of smaller sub-topics. Some were concise and definable ideas (e.g. defining fandom or a brief history of fandom) but some were a little more abstract (e.g. I wanted to spend some time speaking to the notion of fans feeling a sense of ownership of the characters they read about). I wrote down a couple of words to remind myself what that sub-topic was, and ordered them in a way that seemed to make the most sense.

What that did for me was effectively eliminate the need to write a whole book. Really, all I had to do at that point was write a series of 10-20 page essays. I had specifically designed the way the book was laid out to cater to what I consider my writing strengths. Once I had these sub-topics to focus on, I could just roll around ideas about, for example, defining fandom for a while and then just start writing. Once I'd finished that, I'd roll around ideas for my next topic and start writing that. In theory, it would end up not unlike University Press books which have a number of authors contributing individual essays on a general subject. Just throw an "Introduction" and "Conclusion" at either end, and I've got my Table of Contents.

As for the actual writing itself, I opted to do that in Google Docs. I wanted to write the book outside of anything I might use to lay the book out to ensure that I would not be worrying myself about line breaks and page count and whatnot. I wanted to write whatever I needed to write and focus on getting my points across more than how it might look when it was formatted. Using Google Docs, as opposed to OpenOffice or Word or whatever, also allowed me to write from any location with an Internet connection. Any time I had an idea or note I wanted to add, I could drop that in place regardless of where I happened to be, and I didn't need to worry about making sure I had the right version copied to the right drive or anything.

So my original document looked something like this...
Introduction
Defining Fandom
A Brief History
Us vs. Them
Circles of Tribalism
I Yam What I Yam
Promoted from Captain Marvel to Major Victory
What's Yours Is Mine
Participatory Culture
Blurring the Lines
Conclusion

Up next: research!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Evolution Of A Book, Part 1

As you may have heard, I've been working feverishly on my Comic Book Fanthropology book for the past couple months. I've actually had a few people express some interest in my process for the whole thing, so I thought I'd try documenting some of that before it becomes too stale in my memory. First a little background...

The idea for this book actually came to me back around 2003/2004. I had read enough about comic fandom at that point to realize that no one had really addressed the topic in a way that I would've liked to have seen it addressed. Of course, at the time, I didn't have nearly the amount of knowledge that I thought I should have to write such a book, so I simply continued doing research on fandom in general.

Jump forward a few years. I was getting increasingly tired of maintaining my Fantastic Four website; I'd essentially said everything I wanted to say (and then some!) about the comic and the site itself wasn't really a good forum for much beyond that topic. So I started this blog.

I had a couple distinct things I wanted to accomplish with this blog when I started it. First, I wanted to use it as means to document whatever notes and ideas I might have about fandom for future use. I wasn't sure when, of even if, I was going to write Comic Book Fanthropology at that point, but I thought it would be a good idea to make sure whatever thoughts I might have didn't get lost. Second, I wanted to practice writing. I don't do a whole lot of it in my day job, and I wanted to spend time making sure that I'm exercising that muscle. Not only the craft of writing itself (sentence structure, grammar, etc.) but also just the notion of coming up with some kind of narrative more-or-less on demand. I set myself the goal of posting every day precisely to force myself to come up with SOMETHING worthwhile ad infinitum. Admittedly, not all my posts are that good, and I'm not here each and every day without fail, but I think I've managed a decent track record over the past several years.

That second point led to something of unintended, but no less important, side-effect. Namely, that I wound up developing something of a brand identity. The name "Sean Kleefeld" has some resonance in comicdom, in part, because of this blog. I make no claims on my self-importance, by any means, and I really have NO clue how much name cache I actually have. I also have no idea how many copies, if any, my book will sell. But I do know that if I hadn't been working on this blog for the past several years, I would absolutely sell far fewer copies than however many I wind up selling.

So why now? Why write a book in 2009 that I might have written in 2008 or could write in 2010?

Up until about two months ago, there were two reasons I kept telling myself I wasn't writing it: I didn't think I was expert enough on the subject, and I couldn't find a "hook" to hang the entire book on. But then I read a blog post (which I can't find offhand) from marketing guru Seth Godin where he said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "If you're waiting until you have 'enough' information to go forward, when do you think you'll have 'enough'? Is that next week, or next month, or next year?" His point was that that really wasn't a valid excuse to postpone work; if you continue along that line of thinking, you'll never get anything done. And when it was put into that perspective, I realized that I probably knew more about the subject than most people already and whatever I write up will likely provide new insights for a lot of people.

As for that elusive "hook", I figured I'd work something out as I was structuring the book and I just needed to plow ahead with at least planning it. After I saw how I had things laid out, then maybe I could see how I could work in a more organic flow. Get the structure in place first, then worry about the exterior later.

Up next: actually getting started.

Where's Waldo?

Because I'm weird and do stuff like this, I went hunting around to see if I could see editor Tom Brevoort on this past weekend's Saturday Night Live which he attended. Writer/editor C.B. Cebulski has allegedly spotted him in this shot...
... but I'm just not seeing him anywhere. I see one guy with a beard that might be Tom, but the hair doesn't seem quite right. Though, I suppose that might be his hat.

Anyone else have better eyes than I do?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

"Well...

... here I am."

Question For Professional Writers...

As Comic Book Fanthropology will be my first book, I'm wondering if it's normal to panic more as it gets closer to press?

You know, because I've got ISBNs assigned now (not that they're showing up in anyone's databases yet) and covers pretty much done (except for a couple pull quotes) and the book itself is all laid out (just waiting for a tad more info to finish up a couple pages). I'm reasonably confident that it's decently written, but between you, me and the interwebs, I'm getting really, really anxious about it now. Eep!

For whatever it's worth, here's my official bar codes for the hardcover and paperback versions. Some of you cleverer folks might be able to glean a few things from them.


Did I mention, "Eep!"

Friday, November 06, 2009

Become A Certified Comic Book Fanthropologist!

I know what you're thinking! You're thinking, "Gee, Sean, this Comic Book Fanthropology book of yours sounds pretty swell, but I'm just a plain old fanboy. Do I have what it takes to really become a comic book fanthropologist?"

Of course! And while my book isn't out quite yet, you can jump on the bandwagon NOW by getting yourself some gear that will let everyone know just who they're dealing with! Just by reading this very blog, you, my friends, are Certified Comic Book Fanthropologists and there's now booty available for you to proclaim your status to the world!

Utilizing the brilliant artwork of Colin Panetta, we've put together some really sharp-looking materials that will give you all the authority you'll need to walk around comic book conventions world-wide and study the comic fan in one of their native habitats! Order now to ensure that your gear arrives in time for you to utilize it while reading the book!

Naif al-Mutawa Interview

Teshkeel's Naif al-Mutawa was recently interviewed by Riz Khan on One on One. It's one of the most intimate interviews I've seen with him, so I'm embedding part one (of two) below.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Spousal Cooking Shows?

So, my S.O. was watching a YouTube cooking show produced by Jes Brevoort. The recipes looked tasty and Jes did a good job of presenting them.

But what also struck the S.O. were the bits and pieces of Jes' life with her family that poked through from time to time. Partially because it humanizes the whole process, but partially because it provided some obscure trivia about her husband, Marvel editor Tom Brevoort.

And that got my S.O. thinking, wouldn't it be cool to have a cooking show featuring the spouses of comic professionals? A different one every episode. This was somewhat predicated by Blake Bell's I Have to Live With This Guy! but the cooking angle would provide a uniquely interesting hook to things; it wouldn't be strictly a comic book piece, but there'd likely be interesting personal asides throughout the recipes. Personally, I'd like to see what Aarti Sadasivam (wife of PC Weenies creator Krishna) would come up with and my S.O. specifically was curious to see what Matt Sheridan (partner in crime of Templar, AZ's Charlie Trotman) could whip up. And who wouldn't want to see Stuart and Kathryn Immonen tag-team on something like this?

Could be fun. Could be interesting. Anyone want to take a shot at producing a series like this?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Godin On Comics

Actually, that probably should be Godin IN comics. Sort of. Marketing guru Seth Godin has released a super-limited boxed set of his books. I expect it'll be sold out by the time you get there (he's sold two dozen copies while I've been writing this post!) so I've preserved the comic-themed visuals for you here...
No real point here other than, "Hey, Godin's got some good books out that are worth reading" and "Cool! He's using comic-style imagery in marketing them."

Monday, November 02, 2009

Comic Seeker

Aaron Albert points us to ComicSeeker.com which allows you to do some one-stop comic book searching. It actually turned out to be quite useful, in fact, since my father is on the hunt for some old SuperMagician comics. If you don't know SuperMagician, that's because they're actually pretty hard to find even if you're looking for them! In any event, a quick scan using ComicSearch and I came up with a dozen or two issues for sale, and one of them even turned out to be something Dad was looking for!

Definitely worth checking out if you're in the market for Golden and early Silver Age comics.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

We Have A Cover!

What you are looking at, friends, is the cover to my upcoming book, Comic Book Fanthropology. The illustration and design work was done by Colin Panetta and let me tell you that I think he did a phenomenal job on this!

Before I went out in search of a cover artist, I came up with the basic idea of the four figures walking along, a la Rudy Zallinger's "March of Progress." I didn't want to signify an evolution per se, but it's an image that's indelibly tied to anthropology like no other. (I briefly considered an Indiana Jones riff, but discarded it because it's exclusivity to the past and the implication that fandom is dead.) To counter the evolutionary aspect, I specifically was looking to show a diverse group of people in terms of gender and race. Which coincidentally also plays into the approach I'm taking with the book, trying to pull in diverse ideas and examples beyond the typically U.S.-centered ones most authors here in the States use.

I explained my idea to Colin, and he sketched out an idea that pretty well hit the nail on the head right away. I asked for some changes, but he picked up where I was going every time and was able to hone in pretty quickly on what I was aiming for.

I also want to say that Colin really stepped up to the plate several times when he didn't need to. If I showed the slightest hesitation on anything, he jumped in and basically said, "No worries; I'll take care of it." And then he did.

This was actually the first time I've ever commissioned artwork for myself, and Colin did everything he could to ensure that I got exactly what I wanted. So I have to say that I'm very pleased with the whole process and especially the end result. I hadn't planned on renting booths at shows to sell my book, but I'm half-tempted to just so I have an excuse to blow up his illustrations really large and put them on posters and banners!

While I'm talking about Colin, I'll also put in a quick plug for his next issue of Dead Man Holiday which is due out at the end of the year as part of Indy Comic Book Week. Ask your local retailer about it!

One more thing: if you click on the art to get a larger view of the cover, you might notice a bit of extra text at the bottom of the image. That's not just a placeholder; Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort IS indeed writing a Foreward for my book!