Monday, March 30, 2009

Superheroes cannot save us: The plunder of the Direct Market

"The most important (misconception) being, that increasing creator owned work is somehow going to "save comics", whatever that means. It makes good sound bites but that's about it."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA

"...the fault lays almost exclusively with these small press publishers. I am at a loss to think of any other industry where companies regularly form to create product that there is no demonstrable demand for, and whose chances for survival (not success but survival) are firmly attached solely to their ability to leech customers away from an existing consumer pool."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA

"Publishers selling directly to consumers has some controversy attached. A lot of retailers in the comic book direct market take a very dim view of direct sales to consumers, especially at conventions. While it may not be a realistic view, it is not uncommon for retailers to view attempts to sell to the consumer as a direct attack on their store, regardless of whether they actually stock the product or if the sales generated actually come from their zip code."
-Todd Allen, Publisher's Weekly.

Once again, PLANETGRIFFIN is back to kick sand in the eyes of the bullies that rule the beaches and to ALL of my fellow NEXT 100, I've got to say it: What kind of shit is this?!

In a recent forum, Robert Scott of the Comic Book Industry Alliance gave the performance of a lifetime in supporting ComicPRO's assertions of small press publishers trying to gain access into the Direct Market... Scott feels that only through the Direct Market can indie pubs hope to 'survive' in, what he calls, an 'existing consumer pool'... Now, considering the now infamous 'Diamond benchmark hike' has already jeopardized many an upcoming publisher, Diamond has continued with this NEW slap in the mouth: Diamond now REFUSES to carry any title that cannot make the 'benchmark' within 60 days of initial release, nor recommend said title to any of Direct Market stores that are registered through Diamond.

In other words, your first shot in can also be your last.

This is the reason why people don't like going to the community pool in the summer, cuz you will ALWAYS have fools who piss in the water! And yet, people like Mr. Scott are daring to tell consumers, in so many words, that Mainstream is the only swimming area we should adhere to, yellow water and all! To top it off, Mr. Scott also seems to highly support the efforts of diminishing the publishers who sell directly to the consumers (i.e, internet sales, convention sales, etc.) and/or those publishers who do not support the Direct Markets' 'Brick and Mortar stores'...

"I will not... support a business model (online only) that I feel is harmful to the industry as well as one that the CBIA was founded to help brick and mortar retailers fight."
-Robert Scott, Spokesperson of the CBIA

I've said before in an earlier post that I still find it amazing when indie creators who come out with good product soon become fawned over by the BIG comics companies who wouldn't hire them BEFORE they came out on their own, give them 'important' titles to work on; hoping that while the creators' raise awareness over their styles, the indie creation that got them noticed IN THE FIRST PLACE slowly fades into 'remember when' lore... (Come back THB, come back...)

Ladies and Gentlemen, independents are slowly being herded into a new type of concentration camp--- Nuremberg for the comics' set--- a new comics code--- and the Direct Market is afraid that someone will stand up and say it loudly: "I am the bastard child of William Gaines and I'm proud of it!"

Quick history lesson: Men In Black was a humble Malibu comic that no one seemed to notice back in day, until it was discovered by a young A&R assistant in San Diego... Once Hollywood began buzzing about it's new discovery, mainstream began to take notice where once they didn't care. In the opening credits of the film, you'll notice that it says ' BASED ON THE MARVEL COMIC BY...' That's right, Marvel bought the Malibu comics imprint just in time to make that proclaimation. Considering that the film literally boasted 1.2 Billion worldwide, it damn sure didn't hurt Marvel's future.

Imagine what it could've been if it remained an independent creation? New contender, maybe?
Because the comic fell into the category of '... a product with no demonstrable demand', you must now FINALLY take the time to realize how important the Next 100 will be over the next few years! Mainstream realizes that the comics field is becoming the incredible shrinking medium and that it's continued survival rests in containing the remainder of the comic buying public to remain loyal to their brand.

Superheroes alone won't save us...

Tim Kring and Jeph Loeb can't save us...

Cross promotional Hollywood tie-ins won't save us...

We must save ourselves.

I am the bastard child of William Gaines--- and I'm proud of it!

Special thanks to Vivid Productions

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Frank told it straight: History for the independant Pt. 2

On a clear evening back in 1996, the Diamond Retailers
Meeting in Pittsburgh would make comics

history with their keynote speaker of the evening: Frank Miller.
What follows is the transcripted

speech that blew the roof off the convention hall.

"To begin with, I would like everyone to stand up

in a toast to Don Thompson, the world's

greatest comics fan... The audience unanimously stands...
I would also like to offer a

a toast to Jack Kirby, the world's greatest comics artist...
Applause... An Age has passed

with Jack's death. I will not call it the Marvel Age,
because I do not believe in rewarding

The entire room is stunned beyond words...

"When I was a boy, I remember a kid in my neighborhood
named Freddy Markham who used to

bully me for being small and weird...
Comics are weird, sure... You see, I believed, as a

kid, that I was Superboy...
Audience laughs, but still reeling from the earlier punch...

even wore the Superboy costume underneath my school clothes. I knew that I would be invincible.
Until Freddy beat me up that fateful day---
I grew up on that day too, because I learned

that I was really Spider-Man. Laughter.
Spider-man had problems too, you know... As time

went on, I would fight back and eventually earn
Freddy Markham's respect...

I had learned to survive.

"Our forefathers stormed the beaches of Normandy,
defeated Adolf Hitler, thus saving the

whole world, and along the way, they brought us comics...
But history is often written by villains.

We must not forget our history...
We must honor our dead.

The Outside World... Too many people don't
know the truth about our history. People don't remember

the great infamy of comicdom--- I'm speaking of the
Comics Code of Authority. Even in the paranoid

1950's, despite what Frederick Wertham said about
the medium in his Seduction of the Innocent, the

U.S. Senate committee vindicated comics by saying
that comics were not to blame for juvenile delinquency.

Now... Why would a vital industry castrate itself?
Well, the industry had a problem.

The problem was a man named William Gaines.
William Gaines was that rarest of creatures...
An intelligent publisher whom the other publishers

couldn't compete with fairly... So they made the
Comics Code to destroy him...
Frank begins to recite

from the original Code; emphasizing the banning
of keywords 'crime', 'shock', 'horror', and 'fear' in book

titles... "Yes, Misconceptions... Our industry
cringes like a battered child...

'Nobody'll bother us if we apologize.'
'Warnings on the cover will protect us.'
'The Stormtroopers will let us go if we say we're sorry.'...
The Marvel table at the front of the room is

agitated at this point... Let me tell you, cover advisories are
NOT protection, they ARE, in fact, a BEACON

to our would-be censors. We need to stand up to Freddy Markham.

"Look folks, it's all a matter of choices and whether we'll
be left free to make them. We're in the publishing

business. We sell comic books. Bookstores don't put
warnings on the covers of novels. Book publishers don't read

manuscripts, asking themselves 'Will this rate an R rating?'
Cover advisories will move us away from the safety of

publishing. Again, we must stand up against Freddy Markham.

"Look at people like Neal Adams, a visionary hero who fought
for artist's rights. In the early days, at least one publisher

would routinely shred original art as a matter of policy.
More often than not, the completed art pages would be given back---

to the writer, not the artist. Neal Adams taught us that company loyalty
is an oxymoron...
Some cheers, some jeers from the crowd...

"I knew Jim Shooter wrote this title called Legion of Super Heroes,
but I didn't know that HE was Duo Damsel...
The room howls

in a mix of cheers, laughter, and outrage from the front tables...

"Marvel Comics thinks that fans are so stupid they can't tell good books from bad... But even they can be forgiven of this, since
their sales aren't leaving in droves, like the talent is... The front tables are awash in embarrassment while the rest of the crowds
cheer... Hey, I knew the rules coming in the door... They can fire you whenever they want; it doesn't matter if the title is
popular or not... Ask Chris Clairmont--- ask Louise Simonson--- ask Jo Duffy...The room is in cheers...
" I love Sin City. I write it. I draw it. There will be no fill-in issues. I can make that promise because I OWN Sin City.
Back at Marvel, Todd McFarlane and his talented band of merry men were among the highest paid creators in
the industry, but they knew that the best they could achieve was the status of well-paid servants... So they quit... And even
better--- they all quit at once.

So Marvel shook its collective heads, saying 'they'll be back'... And I'm sure that as they lay in their beds at night, they
asked themselves--- 'Did we just make the biggest mistakes of our lives?' But Image succeeded. Wildly. Why do so many people
hate them so much? The number one comic is creator-owned, so why isn't every artist in the industry celebrating?

"Because change is always scary. The comics industry can become better than ever.

The room erupts in a standing ovation, complete with howling cheers.
And a highly pissed off Jim Shooter, who quickly exited the room.

The speech itself was a bitch to track down, to no surprise... Many people who read comics today actually had NO IDEA that this event took place back in the day! Wizard magazine printed the transcript of this way back (issue 73, I believe), despite the fact that only six years
later, they would find themselves in Frank's crosshairs during an address at the Harvey Awards... April 28, 2001... This one is one that bears the most weight today because it's just as timely today as it was 8 years ago:

Thank you. It’s kinda hard to be cranky at a pace that’s not manic [laughter]. Most of the reason I get cranky is when perfectly sensible people act in perfectly stupid ways. Like in comics, like right now. I’m talking about how comics people relate to the rest of the world. It’s really strange. It’s really weird. It doesn’t make any sense. Think of it like, we know we need a lot from the rest of the world. We’re trying to be really good. We’re showing our sunny best to the doorstep. We bring flowers and presents and ring the doorbell and then we run like hell. We got issues, the kind we can’t stuff into a mylar snug. Is it a love/hate relationship or is it a lust/fear relationship? I don’t know. We’re confused. We’re sending more mixed signals than the Florida electorate.

Just listen to us.

"Excuse me? Rest of the world? Please notice us. Please notice us. Way over here--- the guy with the bad haircut, that’s me. Excuse me, rest of the world? Please… don’t notice us. You might censor us. Please. Please. I’ll censor myself so thoroughly it’ll make your head spin. I’ll be vewy vewy qwiet. Excuse me, rest of the world? Please give me Hollywood money
[laughter]. Just a little bit of it. Just a little of what you’ve got would mean so much to me. Excuse me, rest of the world, once you’ve had your way with me. Once you’re… done with that, you don’t have to leave a note or anything. But please don’t laugh at me."
Mixed signals is damn confusing. Still and all, we live here and we better figure out what the hell we’re doing. The Direct Market is about as hale and hearty as a beached whale and Marvel Comics has spent the last few years muttering to itself and pushing around a shopping cart
[laughter]. So failing to look for new readers and new venues would be eight kinds of stupid, we gotta shop around.

Two questions then: What do we want from whom? And what do we have to offer?

First off, then,
[scornfully] "the rest of the world." It’s really sad that so many of us call it "the outside world." Sadder, worse yet, is that we call it "the real world." If it’s real, then what are we, fake? So having established that we are not a laboratory experiment or an incredible simulation, let’s postulate that the very large part of the world that is unconcerned with comic books is not an alien planet. We’re part of it, it’s our world too. So what do we want from it? Let’s just think clearly, what do we want from this world? More readers? Well, absolutely. Money? Sure. With money just make sure that you read the fine print, keep your eye out for two terms, "perpetual license" and "your first born." And don’t drop the soap [laughter].

What else? Respect. Mass market acceptance. Well, with that, kinda like a gerbil being dropped into a Cuisinart, it gets a little dicey. After all, there’s a reason they call it the mass market. It’s massive. It’s fat, it’s big, and it’s dumb as a post. You see, it all gets down to mouths. Not brains, not heart, not soul, just mouths. It all gets down to food. This will make sense soon, I promise.

People who call our culture a consumer culture are on the right track, but they don’t go nearly far enough. Ours is a devouring culture. Our choices of words are revealing, look at how even in our own field the creative work is called "product." It’s just product. Look at how artists, writers, brain surgeons, and pig farmers are all lumped together under the term "provider." If she saves your life on the operating table, she’s a provider. If he flips your burger, he’s a provider. Would you likewise lump together Walt Whitman, Michelangelo, and Rosie O’Donnell as content providers?

Product. From Denny’s to McDonalds to Texaco to Exxon, the mass market makes one preeminent demand of its product and that demand is that it be consistent. You wanna know what you’re gonna get. No challenges, no surprises, a cheeseburger in Boise must taste and look exactly like a cheeseburger in Seattle. Everything has gotta be easy to swallow. Everything has gotta be the same every time, no challenges, no surprises. Of all of the homogenous products ingested equally today, the most uniquely predictable is entertainment. Vast media entertainment. Hollywood. Swimming pools and movie stars
[laughter]. And don’t get me wrong, working in Hollywood can be a gas. It’s a fun business, a glamorous business, a sexy business. But the operative word here is business.
You must never forget that when you’re dealing with these folks. It’s business, it’s always business. You’ll meet lovely people, sweet people, even honest people, really. I’ve met
[pause] two [laughter]. The honest people are the ones telling you that you’re as disposable as used cat litter and just as valued. Endure the happy talk, but be aware that it’s friendship when they want free work out of you and it’s just business when they turn around and fire your sorry butt. Expect to be fired, it is an axiom in Hollywood. You’ll hear it from any veteran screenwriter between bitter sips of whisky at Musso and Frank’s, you will be rewritten. It’s not becaus anybody’s being particularly malicious, most of the time anyway, and it isn’t necessarily because what you write sucks. It’s the money, honey.

Comic books cost, what, about two grand to publish? That isn’t even a tip for a caterer. The stakes are so high, they paralyze the mind here. They need so many butts in so many seats that they can’t afford to annoy, offend, or confuse anybody, ever. Product has got to be safe, dependable. No challenges, no surprises. You wanna know what you’re gonna get. It’s a pleasant and ruthless business, Hollywood is. So when they come calling, and they will come calling—these days movie options are falling across our field like pieces of the Hindenberg—when Hollywood comes calling play it smart.
If you want to play the game, stay smart. And never forget that you hold the only card that counts: ideas. Stay smart, don’t be snowed. They’ve got all the money in the universe. They’ve got offices the size of football fields, they’ve got gorgeous trophy wives, and they’re so awfully busy that they’re chatting in a cel phone and watching dailies when you’re trying to talk to them. And they even refer to really famous people by their first names. But they’re running a little dry when it comes to ideas.

That’s not exactly right, they’ve got ideas, they got bags of ideas. There are very talented minds in Hollywood and lots of them, and there are people who work very hard and aspire to bring fine ideas to fruition. There’s even a tiny handful who’ve achieved something really wonderful, but God, so much of it ends up as roadkill. It’s the money, honey. The money and the fear, they’re close personal friends. There’s another close personal friend who happens to be his boss and he’ll fire your close, personal friend the instant your project doesn’t look that sure. The sure thing. Safe. Consistent. Predictable. Easy to swallow. So even when ideas are generated in Hollywood, they might as well be submitted to the Talibhan Arts Council

And here we are. We’re just ripe for the picking; we’re just bursting with fresh ideas. We must look like a pinata to those folks, and they’re certainly treating us like one. Give it a whack, break the sucker open and see what falls out. These ideas that we’ve got, it’s not that we’re smarter than Hollywood—well, yeah, we’re smarter than Hollywood—but it’s not that. It’s that in comics we can take an idea the distance without running up the national debt. Our ideas don’t need to go through that abortion clinic they call "the development process." We’ve got what they want because they can’t make it happen. We have to know this, we have to be aware of this. So if you’re gonna do business with Hollywood, never think of yourself as a second class citizen.

Stay smart, stand tall and steel yourself. Get ready. Know that one of three things is gonna happen. Thing #1: Your creation will be translated to a work of utter genius. It will make millions and millions and millions of dollars and Gwynneth Paltrow will call you seven times a day and Jennifer Lopez will drape herself all over you as you accept your Oscar for best picture. Thing #2: You’ll make some pretty good money, but that creation that you took all that time writing and drawing will be remembered for all time as one really crapo movie. Thing #3 is where things get really depressing. Thing #3 is where your creation is consigned to the elephant’s graveyard. The elephant’s graveyard is what I call a certain set of shelves that just about every development executive seems to have. These are shelves piled high with dead screenplays. I know this sounds strange, I’ve seen a lot of them. I don’t know why they display these unproduced, unloved, God forsaken scripts from movies that never got made all stacked like cord wood, but they do. And it’s weird. Stay smart. Get it in writing. Don’t put your baby on the block unless you’re ready to see her sold and stand tall. If they talk to you, they want what you’ve got. Nobody’s doing anybody any favors out there.

And keep this in mind, if you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. If you lie down with tapeworms, you get
[holds up a copy of Wizard] tapeworms [laughter]. I feel that’s over Hollywood. That’s the only reason publishers kow-tow over this rag, this bible written by Satan. Hollywood executives are notoriously poor readers. And they really are. Why do you think they hire people called "readers?" [Laughter]. Duh. Readers. Those are wanna be writers who provide coverage and that’s a term you’ve gotta love. Coverage. I mean we’re talking about scripts, not the damned Gulf War. These envious wanna-be writers provide coverage for executives who don’t read much. And get this, they’re proud of not reading. One TV guy I met, full of hyperactive disdain, he sniped at me, "I don’t read comic books. I read scripts." You’re lost pal.

They don’t read comic books, they read Wizard Magazine! Or at least the publishers think they do. Either way the result is the same. For all the disgust you’ll hear about Wizard and its shoddy practices when you talk to publishers and marketing folks—and I have yet to hear a single good word from anybody about this thing that ought to come on a roll—for all of that, the publishers kow-tow. Even though this tree killer here regularly cheapens and poisons our field. Aesthetically and ethically, they grovel.

Even though this monthly vulgarity
[rips off front cover] reinforces all the prejudice people hold about comics [rips out pages] they cry to all the world that we’re as cheap and stupid and trashy as they think we are, we sponsor this assault. We pay for the @#%$ privilege. But really, when will we finally get around to flushing this thing, this load of crap, once and for all [tosses torn magazine into a trash can onstage. Applause].
And when are we going to finally realize what we’ve got? Just look at the candidates for these awards that are coming up. Free minds, free hands, producing work that no committee could come up with, no development executive could allow, no focus group could approve. Minds like Harvey Kurtzman’s alive now and working. Look at what we’ve got. What we have in our little field—and it’s little, but it’s smart, damn smart—what we have is magic. Magic that certain people are eager to bottle. Deal with them then, if you wish, but don’t look up at them. Look down. And be certain of this, our field will pull out of this slump and won’t be Hollywood that’ll rescue us. And it ain’t gonna be the internet either, it’ll be the books. It’ll be the comic books.

To all my NEXT 100 readers out there, after reading bits of history like this, you can't help but think to yourself (even just a little) 'Frank told it straight'.
History lesson's over. Back to work!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A message to all the Grindhouse Goodfellas...

After a LONG hiatus, ( a little too long) I have once again returned to reclaim the pyramids!
I have been super busy since my last entry... Well, that and my computer finally crashed... What can you do? This is a gentle reminder to all my NEXT 100 peeps out there that the rants and raves shall get better with each entry--- as well as continue the hunt for the hot NEXT 100 out there--- which is getting easier due to the current state of affairs... Even in my absence, the same crap continues, which makes revolution all the more forthcoming... You know what 'they' say: " There's nothing new under the sun... But underground..."

The ArtNinjas are coming... New Comic Cinema is coming... Old Towne Tobaccy is sayin' 'smoke 'em if ya got'em, cuz you'll need'em'...
And so on...

Ladies and Gentlemen, if comic creation were like building cars, then we should be out there building the kind of lean, mean, New American Muscle machines that Detroit lost the nuts and bolts to make 30 years ago! I'm super grateful to those who are tuning in and turning on, and to those who waited for the return of the PlanetGriffin team to regain it's orbit. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you...

To all my Grindhouse Goodfellas out there, I salute you! Now, back to work!