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Sunday, 11 March 2018

Epic Sunday Comic Sermon

I was once talking to a group of people and at one point one member of this group looked at me and said "You're spoilt for comics is the problem".

I cannot remember what I was bemoaning other than the fact that there was no real variety in comic shops any more and that a lot of what was appearing was just bland re-hashing of old ideas. Now, you may think that I tore into this defiler of my incredible reputation :-/  No. I would sooner have someone say something that challenges something I say and that helps me look at a viewpoint from another angle than the fake smiling "Oh, yes. Quite right".  Type.


In fact, this was said as a fact and I agreed. I have hundreds of Small Press and Independent Comics and my Independent Comics I mean here from smaller publishers in the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.  From the 1960s-1990s, black & white or in colour.  I have thousands (no, I never counted and have no intention of counting them) of Marvel and DC comics. Black and white British weekly comics, a couple hundred hard back annuals and shelves of graphic novels, books on comics history and magazines on the same subject.

Languages (I am not multi-lingual but comics being sequential art means if that puts you off then you ought to not be reading comics) these books are in: Chinese, Korean, Hindi, Finnish, German, French, Dutch, Russian, Polish, Danish, Czech, Japanese, Spanish and so on and so forth. Australia, New Zealand and the United States obviously are covered by English as a language!  The only place I do not have a comic from is Antarctica....if the two people who viewed CBO from there have not been overcome by the invading alien parasitic life form then there is something to get you busy and famous: a comic made and published in Antarctica.

I do have hundreds of CDs containing comics in many languages sent to me by collectors over the years.

Yeah.  I'm spoilt for choice.

But here is a point: I would not be in this position had it not been for me avoiding browsing only at the DC , Marvel or other mainstream comics. That bunch of comics in a box in the dark corner?  I want to know what's in there.  And I have found what, to me, are both gems and bargains. In other instances people have sent me their comics to review or ask for advice and then there are the comics from companies I have helped and promoted in the past. Then we have those people who say "You like comics. I don't want these any more so I sent them to you".

Spoilt.

I love art -fine art to Dali to...comic art. Even art drawn by my niece and nephew that are full of creative, daft innocence and nothing to do with comics!  

My Hallway Gallery has art from Donna Barr, Mike Western, John Cooper and even classic postcards. The only art you will not see on show is my own. Not even in my own room. I do have a Judge Dredd sketch drawn by "MacMaybe" (Paul Ashley Brown) in 1996 that you will see in occasional photographs of Room Oblivion.

I have so many -many- trade journals as well as editions of Diamond Distributors Previews Catalogue that if I got rid of them I could....move in more comics.  I read these publications cover-to-cover and I talked to shop owners, comic dealers, people buying comics but unlike most I did not discard what I heard and saw/read. 


From 1994 until 2009 I wrote a British Annual Comic Book Industry Report full of statistics on sales (in the UK very difficult since companies never give genuine sales figures), both current and predicted future trends, statistics on population and the potential comic reading groups and also how to attract new readers and notes from fan surveys I had carried out. In the first year the report was 80% accurate.  I sorted out the mistakes I had made (trusting publishers words rather than looking at printed facts and so on).  By 1999 the report was 95% accurate. I had predicted trends in comics as well as which companies were going to fall -Dark Horse UK, Trident Comics and even the events that were to see the whole Marvel UK-Panini situation.

Again and again I heard "No. You've got that wrong" and "How can you possibly predict ----- is going to fail based on analysis?" and even from some management "Yes. Well, we'll not pass this on to the boardroom. That might cause problems".  The whole reason for my infamous meeting with Robert Maxwell at the time that he and Rupert Murdoch were toying with the idea of forming comic publishing houses was that Maxwell had others check what I wrote and confirm them. We all know what happened with Maxwell Pergamon Publishing and Fleetway.  If not -look it up!

Back in the days when Yahoo 360 was where your blog went (Yahoo closed them down and they are doing the same now with their Yahoo groups) there was CBO. I wrote about how comic events were pushing comics more to one side in favour of toys and merchandise. The same with comic shops and there were so many problems that started showing themselves and others must have seen these but just could not be bothered saying or writing anything.

In the 1980s we had the "Distributor Wars" and in the UK every dirty trick was employed by one against another. That whole story has yet to be told but I was in one London store when two customs officer with police closed it down while they checked the stock. A certain distributor had tipped off customs that illegally imported "porn comics" were in the store.  There were none but it closed the store and on it went until the store owner changed over to getting books from the distributor causing the problems.



Monopolies in business are illegal, especially in the UK. Diamond is the only exclusive comic distributor to every store.  If you were with me on the old WordPress CBO you will recall the comic shop owners who would not complain about this monopoly officially ("as it will affect my orders") but were vocal -and wanted me to sort the matter out. My response was simple: it was the comic shops affected and so it was their fight. It stopped there.  The result? Higher prices (competition between distributors means that the retailer and customers get far better prices), shabby order deliveries with some damaged comics or less comics than a store ordered -it goes on and on. 

Here is how it is supposed to work.

Comic Company distributes through several distribution services =

Retailers order from the distribution service that gives them the best price =

Customers buy at shops that have the best priced comics.

Which =everyone making money and a healthy industry.

Here is how it works:

Comic company uses one exclusive (illegal monopoly) distribution service = Bad service.
You see Previews which, they admit and I have this in an email from a few years back, lists every sort of comic available but (1) they do not distribute those books because they will only ask for titles that can 'guarantee' a certain high number of orders and (2) they will not push or promote. 

Retailers get a poorer service that they have no sway in. Having to pay higher prices, face delayed orders, having to return (long process) damaged, badly packaged orders) and (in the UK) have a very restricted order list. 

Customers are screwed. You ask for a title from an Independent publisher and months later and many dumb-ass excuses later you still do not have the book "Don't hold your breath waiting. We won't be getting it" so you order online and get your book and the retailer screams at you "How does this help my business -you buying online?" Keep that thought.  And there I am talking from personal experience.  The fact that the manager-owner stood several feet away while a member of his staff berated me in the most insulting manner and just shuffled his feet when I asked "Are you going to allow your staff to talk to one of the first customers in your store when it opened and who promoted your business?" Well, in the old days I would have punched out the staffer. But I knew the fact that walking out of the shop without taking my standing order and not going back had a bigger impact.

If your shop owner is friendly ask if you can see the Diamond retailer order catalogue he/she has to order from.  I never knew about this until one friendly retailer told me "I can only order from the retailer catalogue".  Some confusion and then I was shown the catalogue. I am not sure whether this exists in the US or not but it means retailers in the UK are very restricted in what they can order. But they won't kick up a fuss because "It'll mean a delayed or 'gone missing' order"

Comic buyers complained that the day after the Brexit vote it was announced that comic prices were to be increased -as I had predicted months before- to a point that many could not afford their 15-20 titles per month.  Orders cancelled.  Fewer comics ordered. Retailers felt that more than any customer complaint about not getting their books.



Brexit had nothing to do with the increase of comic shipping/the comic price the day after the vote. we were and are still in the EU.  It was another excuse to buy in less of a selection, increase prices and blame "Brexit" -this happened from supermarket food, clothes and much more. The UK has gone from Customer Service to "You take what you are given at the price we want you to pay!"  Here is an example.  VHS videos.  Most houses had video players and recorders then, without any warning to customers the video players, tapes and add-ons just vanished.  Suddenly higher priced things called "DVD players" and DVDs appeared on shelves in all the shops.  No consumer choice just "This is what you will buy".

Another: digital TV.  It was decided that everyone in the UK had to go from analog with TV via aerials to digital.  You had to buy a digi-TV box for a few channels that were free and if you did not have a TV set that had a plug in feature you had to buy a new one.  TV channel service/subscription and all that extra cost with the consumers having to deal with (and still do) losing channels because the service is over stretched and beyond capacity or..I am not kidding...being told that you may have missed the most important match of the season but once demand decreases you should be able to watch TV again...WTF?   I just got rid of television.


I was once in Forbidden Planet (Bristol) and chatting to the manager there. He pointed to one of my comics and told me the "variant cover" was really cool.  He pointed to it up on the wall so I asked why it was on the wall and was told "That will set you back £50 to buy" and my response was automatic "F*** off!" we did both laugh though!

Now comic shops go for what is promoted and what they are told will sell -usually Marvel or DC or something the distributor gets a bigger cut from (oh yeah.  The percentage they ask for depends on the publisher). 

1.  "Hey -buy Avengers: these will be worth a fortune cus o' the movie (in 50-70 years and if every other copy is destroyed)!"  

2.  "Hey -buy Dr Strange these will be worth a fortune cus o' the movie (in 50-70 years and if every other copy is destroyed)!"  

3.  "Hey, buy Wonder Woman these will be worth a fortune cus o' the movie (in 50-70 years and if every other copy is destroyed)!"

4.  "Hey, buy this Thor comic these will be worth a fortune cus o' the movie (in 50-70 years and if every other copy is destroyed)!"

5.  "Hey, buy these Justice League comics these will be worth a fortune cus o' the movie (in 50-70 years and if every other copy is destroyed)!"

6.  "Hey, buy these Iron Man comics these will be worth a fortune cus o' the movie (in 50-70 years and if every other copy is destroyed)!"

7.  "Hey, buy the Captain America comics these will be worth a fortune cus o' the movie (in 50-70 years and if every other copy is destroyed)!"

8.  "Hey, buy Two Hot Girls On A Hot Summers Night and Maeve tie-in graphic novels these will be worth a fortune cus o' the movie (in 50-70 years and if every other copy is destroyed)!"

9.  "Hey, buy these Guardian of the Galaxy comics these will be worth a fortune cus o' the movie (in 50-70 years and if every other copy is destroyed)!"

10. "Hey, buy these Deadpool sucks comics these will be worth a fortune cus o' the movie (in 50-70 years and if every other copy is destroyed)!"

11. "Hey, buy these X-Men and Wolverine comics these will be worth a fortune cus o' the movie (in 50-70 years and if every other copy is destroyed)!"

12. "Hey, buy these Black Panther comics these will be worth a fortune cus o' the movie (in 50-70 years and if every other copy is destroyed)!"

One of those is a personal fantasy -Dave Gordon will understand.




I have another 20 of these "Hey, buy these comics" if you are interested?  If any of this bull-shit was true then the comics I have would see me out of financial non-existence and very well off.   I have a LOT of first issues 1950s-2000s and they sell for, if very lucky, a couple of £s more than when they were bought.  Most are "give aways".

Retailers know this -look at some of the You Tube comic shop videos such as Comic Book Palace and you'll see what the honest retailers say.  I gave up on several channels from shops as every week and one comic after another, one new 'toy' after another were all the hot items everyone needed. So why do some tell you "It's hard for a retailer to make their business pay" -they have all these hot and very much sought after items in their stores?

I saw when action figures were suddenly taking up a lot of comic store floor and shelf space.  Then statues were added.  Gaming cards and Role Playing Games.  Comics were being pushed to one side: "back issues" in boxes were crammed with issues from the last six months.  I know of one shop in a major city like Bristol that carries 1980s and other back issues. Oh, it's now "Entertainment stores" and "Pop Culture Stores".  

There was and is no real attempt to bring people into stores for old comics -all of that money goes to Ebay dealers and if you are in the UK you know that means very high prices, insults if you make a serious and reasonable offer and not necessarily getting a comic as described ("grading is up to the individual so **** off!"). I need to point out that there are two good back issue sellers on Ebay I know of and they do tend to be receptive to offers.

It's the next big thing (for six minutes)....next big thing....next big thing...no building up a core group of customers.  I was surprised to see a youngster buying comics in an episode of Comic Book Palace. I was present on two occasions when a shop owner treated youngsters in such a disgusting way that I was very vocal and 'suggested' he ought to apologise. He did. He hated me but I think he hated anyone who never purchased 50 comics a month as "future investment" and parked their big Jag outside on the pavement -I know from someone that particular fella sold all his 'investment' from the 1970s for £200 -$300?- after 35 years.  That did not even cover what he had paid for the several thousand comics originally.

Manga.  Manga will save -it will SAVE- British comics!!!  How did that work out then?  Oh, a flash-in-the-pan.  There are still Manga followers out there but far from shelves and floors being crammed with Manga books it's now more selective.  It was a trend and made quick money but that was it. I can list the number of publishers who just put everything into Manga and went out of business despite top quality printing and great series -Dr. Master Publications being one.  Again, based on other countries, I pointed out that this was a fad. Short term.

In France, yes I do so hate to refer to France and hurt the feelings of the England rugby fans even more (BWAHAHAHAHAHA!) but there you can find Franco-Begian comics as well as Manga and books by Chinese creators. 

Anime and Manga, though.  Combined they .....cosplaying.  Yes, cosplayers will swarm in to buy comics for their inspiration.  Can I just say that whoever thought that really does need someone to look after them.  Judging by forums, interviews, etc, only about 25% of cosplayers buy comics. 

Cosplayer "I don't know anything about the movie character but the outfit looks so cool!" 

Interviewer: "Hmm. It was a comic character first -from 1977"

Cosplayer: "Really? Well I don't read comics but it looks cool"

or:

Cosplayer: "I'm cosplaying the Big Bang Theory character Stan Lee"

HTF does that make sense?  Or the confusion on the cosplayer's face (male and female -why not?) when it's pointed out that their name tag reads "Stanley"!!  :-)

I once walked through a crowd of young cosplayers as I tried to get into Forbidden Planet (Bristol) on a Saturday morning.  I was told that this was a regular thing.  Did they buy many comics? Not really but...it brightened things up. Before anyone says anything I know cosplayers and there are some great outfits that are just incredible.

All of this makes a big mess. And what happens?  

Comic company editors blame the comic buying fans and accuse them of all sorts of prejudices but not their faults.   Not their fault that they do not know how to put a comic together or edit or find really talented story-tellers and artists -ignore the old time pros who fans loved and whose books they bought.

Comic retailers blame customers for cancelling so many books and not supporting their business. Yet they still do not stock a wider variety of books.  In some US comic store videos the owners proudly display their "home made" or Small Press comic display because it encourages new customers and new talent -unbelievably they even encourage youngsters in and families. I am in 'shock'.

It is, put simply, the customers fault.  During the 1980s I bought every Marvel and DC monthly comic. No £40, £50 or £120 cover variant price tags.  I watched how You Tube comic reviewers, within a month of the 'Brexit' price increase started going from 20 titles to 15...then 10 and now some get 5-7 a week.  the most common thing I hear or read is "There are some comics I really like the look of but just cannot afford taking a chance and buying now -it's just too expensive!"  There; lost casual sales that might lead to regular sales.

Distributors need to be cleaned up.  Or, put another way, the monopoly needs to be broken. A group, or just one, retailer(s) hiring a good lawyer who can challenge the distribution monopoly in court or present the facts to the Department of Trade and Industry could start things rolling.  A monopoly has to be brought to the attention of the relevant authority.

Comic events need to get the old (if any are still around in the UK) back issue comic dealers back in and not over charge.  One American who was working in the UK between 2016-2017 was able to get to large and small comic cons in the UK during that period. He stated that "In the UK they do not look for or sell back issues unless from the last year.  There are very few comic dealers". Or as someone put it "These ain't comic events...they are...'pop culture' events now.  Comics have very little to do with them!"


The comic events should include everything from Small Press (but not make it the majority) and, why not cosplayers and comic related merchandise but this should not be the bulk of the event.  Emphasis has to be on old and, yes, some new comics though the newer comics you can just go into a comic shop and buy.

Comic shops wanting to survive need to get out of the run-by-mates-for-mates and with a very narrow DC, Marvel and hot Image titles.  There are a lot of these fan run shops and they tend to struggle or go out of business within a certain period. A comic shop is a business and if you want it to survive then expand what you stock: Independents and Small Press included.  If your distributor will not provide the independent comics you want as the store owner then go elsewhere.  Get a back-bone it is your business not theirs.  Progress, expand or go out of business -but so many go out of business and the excuse is "People just stopped buying comics!" or "Everyone else's fault!"

The problem is from the very top to the bottom of the comics industry. I have a letter and several emails from smaller comic publishers and when offered the chance to send their books to CBO for review the excuse given not to is "Well, there are so many publishers out there its not worth bothering" -I am not joking: I have that in writing. It is totally nonsensical -if there are so many you need to grasp every opportunity to promote and sell your books. 

The "But I'd need to post a copy!" excuse is a joke.  You publish a book then you should look at having at least ten copies to send off for review. Reviews do not guarantee sales but what they do is make sure people know you are out there and what title(s) you have -you may see sales at a comic event from the review.

Now, I know Titan Books, Cinebook the 9th Art and other publishers do see sales spikes after CBO reviews.  Even some Small Pressers have seen sales.  But Independent publishers can be their own worse enemies.

At comic cons I used to introduce myself and explain about reviewing comics, etc..  Oh, yes I can have a review copy -at half the cost.  Chris Staros -I still have the emails- once told me to introduce myself when Top Shelf were at the Bristol Comic Expo and he would sort out some review books. I did. He did -at a discount cover price. I said "No thank you" and walked.  Not the first time this has happened.

But time and again I read and I hear "No one will review our books so we don't get sales" followed by whine whine whine and triple whine.  Over-and-over-and-over again I say "send me the book -I'll review it!" whine whine whine whine...or nothing.  Now, a blog that has a world-wide audience of up to 5,000 a day and where links to posts are sent to social media and adding to views -you might think that would be a place any thinking publisher wants to get their book reviewed. Not so it seems.

I am very sympathetic to any independent comic publisher (obviously) but I can only do so much to help.  I cannot drag books from their hands as they kick and scream "postage!" and "Too many publishers!" at me.  Just contact me at hoopercomicsuk@yahoo.com and ask how to get a book to me. Do not ask about sending online or pdf files.  Those go into Spam.

One day comic marts may need to return in force to counter the pop culture events that do not (whatever they claim) care about real comic book fans.  They just want money.

I am still waiting for a Chinese entrepreneur to step into British comics but until then the fans need to try to take comic events back. 

No debate intended here just my thoughts and if you don't like them -tough.  If you are one of the same-old same-old  'comic personalities' who appears at every event -not interested.  Let's just decide to at least to try to do something.



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