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Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Nearest Thing You'll Get To A Comics Industry Pep Talk From Me

Get a cup of coffee, tea or whatever you drink, maybe even a snack. This could go on a bit (in fact, it does and I know that because I wrote this after writing what follows!).

You don't sleep much you get more opportunity to think things through.  In the last week I have binged on comic book blogs as well as vlogs on You Tube.  I have mentioned some of them.  I even read some of the comments people left there -the one in which more abusive language was used seems to be aimed at getting more views and to branch on to production outside You Tube (the vlogger actually states that last part).  What I find worrying is that there is no control over comments -racist and sexist in the extreme and even the typical You Tube racist name calling other commenters.

This is the problem.  Yes, people are finally catching on to the fact that the comics media is promoting the Big Two -don't panic, I am not going into all that again.  The point is that even the "anti Comics media" people are biased for their own reasons. Hurl obscenities and call it "freedom of speech" because you know the people who are going to comment or get attracted to your videos.  In the 1980s the radio "Shock Jocks" used the same tactics. It pulls people in and the ratings go up.  You are not adding anything serious to the argument but who cares -you got your ratings.

I read a comment today "comics are dead"!  No. DC and in the most extreme case, Marvel Comics are comatose and floating in the water.  Neither will go back to pulling in old time editors -jeez, Jim Shooter might even back off from Marvel and he knows the business- who know the creators who can write and can draw (I heard from someone the other day that a Marvel artist almost went into meltdown because his computer based system crashed and he had no idea how to pencil without digital -I have seen this myself several times and one artist even screeched "I'm not a caveman -I can't use paper and pencil!" Don't laugh).

Forget it. I just read Secret Empire #0 (on You Tube of all places) and it's art was...not that good and varied from good to bad to "passable".  The writing and dialogue....Not good at all.

But the media fed comic 'fans' who read articles by journalists who have no idea about comics except what they have been fed -for instance: Stan Lee created The Black Panther in the 1970s.  Or "Lee and Kirby created the first non black stereotype character in comics in the late 1960s".  Firstly, off the top of my head...the Panther was in a June or July 1966 issue of Fantastic Four. Kirby is recorded stating that "Blacks were unrepresented in comics".  He talked to Lee and they came up with The Black Panther....trivia in the back of my brain says at one point he was called the Black Leopard to avoid being seen as endorsing the radical Black Panther movement...also, I think Kirby's original Panther costume was quite colourful.  I am going to need to double check this (I never trust anything I write!).  But, again, wrong on different levels: the first "non stereo-typed black in comics"??  There they, as people with no idea comics exist outside the United States, get it wrong. Black characters appeared in the comics of non US publishers and were not always "stereotyped". Even in US comics there were black characters who were not stereotypes -going back to the 1950s.

And if we are talking just Marvel comics (DC had to wait until the early 1970s before they discovered black people) then how about Pvt Gabriel "Gabe" Jones?  Who?  Sgt Fury And His Howling Commandos saw publication in 1963.....

Both those companies are surviving based on movies or merchandising -a major portion of merchandise based on comics from the 1980s because that way they get all the profit not any creators.

What I realised is that many real fans do not go by what they see on The Big Bang Theory or on TV shows and movies. Some who have been collecting for 50 years have even come out of You Tube retirement because people are asking them to make more videos and talk more about comics.  These people and their knowledge put many of the cribbing 'experts' in the comic media to shame.  And out of all the YT comic channels I was subscribed to one after another has vanished so from 40 about 4 years ago at the height of the "comics are cool and hip" craze...5 are still going.  Some of the others jumped onto new crazes and became 'experts' on those. Most of the old fans followed Marvel and DC religiously but now, from almost every title a month to selected titles per month...maybe one or two Marvel and DC. That is losing your core fan base.

DC and Marvel don't care. It's the quick buck they want.  Again, let's not go over old ground.

Smaller Independent publishers are vanishing.  Even You Tubers and bloggers have noticed (maybe if they had read CBO over the last ten years....).  "The smaller guys are just vanishing like crazy!" one says.  Yes. Those still going feel they have to compete with what DC and Marvel puts out "because that's what everyone is buying" so you get all types of super hero comics. Black Tower has horror, science fiction and other genres.  Of course there are super heroes but publishing just super hero  But this is what smaller publishers think they have to do. It doesn't help.

Now, over the past (1997-2017) I have said repeatedly that I will review Small Press or Independent comics.  Whatever arrives I review: that is policy so long as you are not spouting racism or any other type of hatred (oh they have tried).  So why do mainly larger companies such as Cinebook, Titan Books et al send review books?  Well, they know their book will be noticed by a few thousand people (with stats I see how books reviewed even a year ago are still checked out in large numbers).  Also, even if they do not get huge numbers of sales immediately they know their book has been seen and that can pay off in many ways later.

I heard from one small publisher after another how they never think about review copies of their books. Even in the Small Press in the early 1980s we always kept aside review copies, maybe we were more professional!  "I have a pdf" -don't even go there.  Never touch them.  You send a pdf and it does not mean your book is printed.  People send you money.  You vanish and I get "Where's my book? You said...." I learnt very early on and I make sure people know that I will not accept a pdf. Oh, you Mr-I-Have-never-heard-of-you-before, you have a file for me at an online share site? Yeah, 1999 and 2002 taught me where to put your share site (it took others a while and even computer viruses being downloaded on three occasions by one reviewer to learn).

"But postage--"  sigh. Look, no one has to send me a book to review.  You don't want it publicised then don't contact me.  I receive a book I have to give up an hour -a large book 2 hours or more- of my time to read it.  Look through the art and then read it again.  I then have to review the book and include links to the publisher as well as other details some never include (unbelievably, how to buy, price and other basic info many do not include) which means I have to email the publisher or even search online.  Reviewing the book can take 2-3 hours of my time and I do not get paid for that time or get anything out of it other than the trouble of finding a space for one more book on my shelves/floor and reading the book (which is not always a bonus). So you cannot afford the postage to send me a book? And you complain online that "No one will review my books!"

I know that there are horror comics out there. I'm a big horror film/comic buff and you might think someone would look and think to themselves "invite him to this event/send him a copy of my comic" because I tend to promote events I go to, or used to, which means people who might not have WILL read about your event.  They never heard of your comic before but they will now or when they read a review in a month and they are into horror comics.

That is just an example but here is a better one. When Comic Bits, the publication and before it Zine Zone International were going, there was an international readership most fan publications could only dream of.  I was a big fan of AC Comics in its day and I offered publisher Bill Black a no catches free advertising space.  I also suggested he send review copies of books he wanted to promote.  No.  Why not?  I still have the letter in which he states that the US has "about 120 comic companies and there is no point promoting".  People never believed me.  Why in a crowded market would you refuse to accept free publicity because there are a lot of other companies: that would give you an advantage!   I showed the letter and it was read, re-read and read again to see if it was simply just read incorrectly.

You cannot force people to take an opportunity to have free advertising or to get their books reviewed.  It is their choice -if they can't see the benefits then it is not my job to explain it all or tell them how to run a publication (in the past more than a few asked me to do just that!). How serious are you as a publisher? Do you want to do this as a bit of fun? A hobby?  No problem.  Do you want to do this as a serious publisher -stay in it for the long run and, maybe, make money?  Then you take every and any opportunity. There are never any 100% guarantees but if you do not take the opportunities presented then there is no reason to complain later.

Even though I may be limited by languages I know, I would review non-English publications because a comic done correctly will tell you the story in pictures.  I have had publishers how I knew the story if I could not read the language?  Really.  But a covering note explaining story (a typical comic company press release does that)  and where to buy and that's it.

The whole purpose of Zine Zone and Comic Bits/Comic Bits Online was to promote smaller, independent publishers because DC and Marvel get as much free press as they want. Horror, super hero, monster, detective, sci fi, slice of life -I has covered all of that in my reviews since the 1980s. I don't dismiss any genre.  In fact, as some people know, I have given glowing reviews to work by people -writers or artists-  I absolutely hate personally.  I go by what I see and read and though some creators have come close to getting my fist in their teeth in the past that has nothing to do with my job as a reviewer.  People can't see how I do this and I just say it's "because I am a Gemini!"

Take advantage of CBO and its world wide readership.  You may not start being inundated with orders but it gets people to see your book or what your company is doing.  It also means that if you have a web site you can add a link to the review of your book or even take a quote from that review -people still tend to look and see what others think before buying.  If you are a serious small publisher do not go gently into the night -shout and scream!  It doesn't matter whether you are in Australiua, New Zealand, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Ludwigshafen or Stockholm -if you have a love of comics and want to publish your own then do it!

The comics scene is what you make it.  You want to publish do it.  If you, as a reader who has a serious interest in comics ("I love comics!" usually means you just read one or the other or both DC and Marvel) then go out to events and see what you can find.  "But its in black and white" -that will not kill you. In fact, I know people who started collecting mainly black and white comics but hated the idea of no colour before.  Some of my favourite comics are odd, obscure things -even b&w- that as a youngster I purchased with my pocket money despite there being Marvel or DC comics on the rack.  Yeah, I should have realised I was doomed even back then.

Buy and try and you may like or even become a fan.

Long and rambling, I know, but I don't script then edit these posts.  It's what I pull out of my mind as I type.  As your mother said when you walked in on her and your dad that time "You don't like it -don't look!"

That sounded so wrong.

It is down to you, the comic buyer.  You, the small publisher.  You are the ones that can keep decent, well written and drawn comics alive and not turn around and insult readers.  That is really all I can write.

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