Top Shelf Productions


a week and a day later...

June 16, 2007

Alan David Doane posts a thoughtful 2-part essay on the state of the industry, and the state of comics shops over at the Comic Book Galaxy blog.

I must say that i echo Alan's thoughts here as if they were my own. The dismal failure of 90% of the comics shop owner/managers to provide comics to a wider audience is mind-boggling to me. I won't say retailing is easy, by any means, but neither is it a rocket science.

So many times i've visited stores in new cities, with nary an art-comic on their shelves, where the dork behind the counter says, "Well, they don't sell." Duh, dude!! If you don't have them, people can't buy them! I'm not talking about somewhere in the middle of Kansas, i'm talking about super liberal college campuses (like where i went to school in Eugene, OR), where alternative comics would thrive.

One time, i checked back on a store who had purchased some comics from me at our standard wholesale discount, to see if they needed a restock. Sure enough, the comics had sold, but when i asked if he'd like more, he mumbled, "Thank god those are gone," as if he'd finally rid his store of a flea-infested stray dog. He MADE MONEY on my comics, but acted as if i were putting him in a bind. What the fu*k!@?

And sadly, in as much i think Diamond runs a very tight, friendly, and professional ship, i'd also agree that they aren't doing much by way of educating the retail community, or providing tools to help stock for a broader audience. They too cater solely to the men-in-tights and event cross-overs crowd, for short term benefit at the expense of long-term health. (And let's not get started on Previews.) Like David, i wonder if (direct market) Diamond, and by extension Marvel and DC … in targeting and serving mainly aging fanboys … won't eventually feel the pinch of this short-sighted thinking, and see the number of in-store consumers, as well the number of direct-market comic shops continue to dwindle, even as graphic novel sections in the book trade swell, in response to the most diverse and hungry real-world audience as the industry has ever seen.

It's somewhat hard to believe, but having polled other indy publishers, we've come to the conclusion that "maybe" 250 comics shops in North America represent 90% of our direct market sales. There's possibly 3,500 comics shops (or some weak iteration thereof, in the form of a baseball card store here or a hobby & games store there), and it's difficult not to wonder, and dream "what if?" even half of these shops truly knew the scope of PROFITS to be made in the emerging market for non-spandex comics? What would happen? Are you high? Our bottom line would quintuple! Our books would break-even right out of the gate... gasp, we could afford to nurture our talent for what they really deserve, improve production values, attend more international comics festivals, .... ah, the list goes on.

(Dream on, Brett.)

• Here's one for the "formalist geeks" in comics... Tom Hart writes in a recent email:
"Having recently seen Lars von Trier's The Five Obstructions, I found myself excited and inspired by the challenges and compelling dialogue that develops between the two artists. So I have asked formalist and friend Matt Madden to challenge me with 5 similar obstructions for my daily Hutch Owen comic strip that runs in two papers, in New York City and Boston.

"Bear in mind I create one of these a day, and they have to be printed at about 6 inches across, but aside from that, I've asked Matt to force me to upend my own patterns.

"Matt offered the first 'obstruction' this weekend and I've probably already failed it, but it's been posted at the address below.

"You can track the entire project (it will probably last a full week more) here and then see it in print the following week in the newspaper or online.

"Feel free to watch me flail around desperately."

Sequart releases the first book in their new line of reference books, from the Sequart Research & Literary Organization, called Grant Morrison: The Early Years.

From the press release:
Grant Morrison redefined comics in the late 1980s and early 1990s from his trailblazing creation of ZENITH, through his metatextual innovations on ANIMAL MAN, to his Dadaist super-heroics in DOOM PATROL. Along the way, he explored the Batman mythos with his multilayered masterpiece ARKHAM ASYLUM and the literary GOTHIC storyline.

According to the book's author, Timothy Callahan, "the book explores the unifying themes of Morrison's early work, providing a close analysis of stylistic and structural techniques..."

Grant Morrison: The Early Years examines five of Morrison's works in detail, using plain language to open up Morrison's sometimes difficult texts and expands the reader's appreciation of their significance, creating a study accessible to both Grant Morrison aficionados and those new to his work. An extended interview with Morrison on his early career rounds out the volume.

Brett says: Whoo hoo! I'll definitely be checking out this baby! I'm a huge fan.

Here's what the Bush-licking Neo-Con think-tank guys have wanted all along.

• And yet another theme song for a Top Shelf book comes our way, along with an excellent interview with Jeffrey Brown, speaking about Incredible Change-Bots, courtesy of Pirooz Kalayeh.

Pirooz is the author of the graphic novels GOLDEN ASHTRAY and WHY DO MEN DO STUPID THINGS FOR ASS?. He makes music with THE SLIPSHOD SWINGERS. His blog is called SHIKOW. He lives in Seoul, South Korea.

• The art from James Kochalka's Little Paintings 2 show at Giant Robot SF is now up for sale online.

• Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes do a fun online comic strip set in a public library, called Unshelved. They recently did this excellent strip about Owly as part of their Book Club, which promotes books within the actual strip! Thanks to Jim Demonakos for the tip.

• Here are some pics that Jeff (Tales From The Farm) Lemire took of the Top Shelf window-display at Forbidden Planet in New York.

As well a picture of his booth at the Windsor Art Show, and the 5' x 9' painting he did of some of the characters from Ghost Stories (the follow-up to Tales From The Farm, and the second book in the Essex County trilogy).

This is a great example of a cartoonist who understands the value and import of getting out there, and getting his work to the people. Like the old adage says, one fan at a time.

Finally, i finally found some time to read the new anthology Syncopated Vol. 3, edited by Brendan Burford, and i must say it's a delight. I've always been a sucker for well-told historical comics, and this book (Burford's stated goal is especially in providing first-person accounts) succeeds admirably. I actually enjoyed virtually every strip, but there were a few stand-outs. First, yet more from the brilliant mind of Nick Bertozzi. He's been doing more and more material like this, and i LOVE IT! (Nick, looking for a publisher to collect all of these?) Greg Cook turns in more elegant, understated and sublime cartooning. And youngster Jim Campbell provides my favorite strip in the book, with a rollicking story about a young Teddy Roosevelt.

I think i read that Brendan will be at MoCCA next weekend, so i'll have to pick up a copy of issue #2, which sports this gorgeous cover.

Reading Syncopated inspired me to dig up two bookmarks i had buried here on my desktop, essays that Tom Spurgeon had written, one about the death of King Features head-honcho Jay Kennedy, and the second about a wunderkid whom Kennedy had groomed to succeed him if and when the time came, named Brendan Bruford. Impressive. This young man seems to have a bright future ahead of him, and i wish him the best of luck.

Thanks to Tom for two fine essays.