Loose Cannon: Issue #51

Fri, January 11th, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Larry Young, Columnist

THE PENULTIMATE CANNON

For those of you reading these from the beginning, you may be reassured

that today's column is a return to the choice diatribes that marked the

first few months of these columns. In the beginning, I was pissed off

about what I saw happening in comics. As the months went by, though, I

found that I could change what I didn't like in comics with my own

company, and so I really wasn't that pissed off, anymore. Sure, I'd get

bent at some avoidable idiocy, and I'd let fly a few choice epithets,

haphazardly directed at the offenders, but nothing really has been

giving me that lurching feeling of a loose cannon rolling about the deck

of a flailing ship quite like the missed opportunities I've been seeing

lately.

In fact, I'm getting a little steamed because I'm at the point now where

I can see the opportunities coming, and I can see how they're going to

be missed, and boy does that put a bunch in my shorts. Makes me feel

like Kevin McCarthy at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

unheeded warnings, ineffectually screamed into the night, heard, if at

all, by soulless pod people.

[Free Comic Book Day]This Free Comics Day thing, for example.

Super comics retailer Joe Field, of the excellent shop

href="http://www.flyingcolorscomics.com/">Flying Colors, first

suggested a "Free Comics Day" as a way to do some customer outreach.

Savvy marketer that Joe is, he took a look at the pop culture landscape

and figured that with the Spider-man movie approaching, and a

comics-themed novel having won a Pulitzer, why not make a concerted,

industry-wide effort to parlay some of the upcoming mainstream-media

attention into a quick run into the spotlight for the comic book

industry? Joe's idea was simple: free comics, donated by publishers, all

given out, nationwide, on the same day. What could be simpler?

Well, here's where we get to that "missed opportunities" thing I was

talking about.

By the time Joe's simple idea got filtered through the morass of

multi-company bureaucracy, the logistics involved and the usual suspects

putting in their two cents, the whole thing got turned into a cock-up of

Godzilla-esque proportions.

For example.

Long-time readers of this column will recall that I have my own

publishing house, AiT/Planet

Lar. In my capacity as publisher, I got the Diamond communique about

the Free Comics Day plans. To tell you the truth, I was pretty excited

about it, because as Joe had outlined his idea, I thought it was just

going to go over like gangbusters. AiT/Planet Lar had just shipped

twenty-six thousand dollars worth of trade paperbacks to

retailers, right before Christmas, absolutely free, and that had

been extremely well-received. How much better a day of Free Comics,

supported by all publishers, would work!

So I opened up the email, and I was dismayed to learn several things:

1. The whole thing is in process, already. Marvel, Image, Dark Horse and

DC are doing it. This email wasn't an offer to my company to give comics

away.

"Huh," I thought. But we'd already given away a bunch of graphic novels,

and our company doesn't do floppies anymore, so I figured it doesn't

really apply to us, anyway. I kept reading.

2. Retailers can order special bundles of low-cost, give away comics.

This one gave me pause right away. What's "free" about "low-cost"? Why

would a retailer want to do this? Pay to give out a company's

comics? What's in it for them, besides a nebulous promise of possibly

gaining new customers, which a smart retailer is already doing? They

get…

3. … listed as a participating retailer on www.freecomicbookday.com . Well, that's

awfully sporting of them, I thought. So I went to click to the site. You

should, too. In fact, go right now and check it out. I'll wait.

Did you see that thing? I barely know my Dreamweaver from my Fetch, but

blind drunk I could cause to be produced a more attractive website. This

is the place on the Internet "civilians" are going to be pointed to get

information about the event. It should at least look useful. I'm not

talking about flaming logos, but at least something a little more

involved than reversed type over a text pattern and white type on a

black background on the inner pages. Man, I nearly had a seizure when

that first page loaded up.

But anyway. If you're a retailer, your value received for actually

buying the free comics that you're then supposed to give away is being

listed on this website.

Getting back to this missive from Diamond… I read a bit further, and I

find that our (non-brokered) company is invited to "donate excess

inventory which will be distributed free of charge to retailers in

proportion to their orders for the low-cost give-away comics mentioned

above." I mean, what?

That's just brazen. Let Marvel and DC and Image and Dark Horse donate

their excess inventory; their deals with Diamond are sweet enough they

won't miss the money. If Diamond wants to charge even a "low-cost" for

supposedly free comics, give the money to the non-brokered publishers.

At about this point in the letter, I just dismissed this thing as a

noble idea squashed by the realities of comic book commerce. I wasn't

even really that steamed. I know how the world works.

But then I found out what the brokered publishers are doing with this

opportunity so generously handed to them. Know which books they're

offering at a low cost to the retailers, to give away free to the

influx of folks rushing to the heretofore unknown comic book shops in

their hometowns?

Spider-man. OK, well, I can't blame Marvel; I'd do Spider-man,

too, if I were them, what with it being their flagship character and

star of the big summer film. OK; I gotta give 'em that one. A

no-brainer; nice work.

DC? Justice League. Me? I would have picked Superman, but

at least I see where they're going. Super Friends for the 21st Century.

Fine.

But Image? Tomb Raider. I dunno, lads, how about a comic that's

not based on a video game?

Dark Horse? Star Wars How about a comic that's not based on a

movie?

What's wrong with producing a NEW comic, which showcases all that the

form of comics can do, and not just giving out stuff that's just sitting

around?

And why make retailers foot the bill? When we were still doing

monthly chapters of our comics, AiT/Planet Lar did a freight-paid

overship; that is, we overshipped by 50% on the orders we received for

Astronauts in Trouble: Space 1959 #1, and we also paid the

freight charges. That means every retailer who received those copies of

books got them for FREE… they didn't even have to pay to get them to

their store. If they sold them, they got to keep three bucks; if they

didn't, they could throw them out, recycle 'em, make papier-mch moon

rockets, whatever. It didn't cost them anything, because they were

free.

And I'm just a regular guy, who's convinced a bunch of his talented

friends to let me publish their books. I don't have corporate resources.

But I can ship out free comics to the retailers, and the brokered

publishers can't? What's wrong with this picture?

If you're gonna call it "Free Comics Day," make the comics free.

I very much recommend the latest

href="http://borderline.mediahall.co.uk/">Borderline. you'll

remember Borderline as the .pdf-only comics news magazine. I recommend

it this month, not because it's a dense read at 64 pages… not because

there's an excellent interview by Adrian Brown with me and AiT/Planet

Lar publisher Mimi Rosenheim…. No, I recommend it because Lord Grant, he

of the

href="http://www.comicbookresources.com/columns/?column=10">Permanent

Damage, lets slip a couple of juicy news nuggets that seem to have

gone largely unremarked upon until now.

src="http://images.comicbookresources.com/dot_blue.gif" width=440

height=2 ALIGN="TOP">

Email about this column should be sent to

href="mailto:larry@comicbookresources.com">larry@comicbookresources.com.

Of course, most answers to simple questions you may have about me or my

company can be gleaned from

target="_blank">http://www.ait-planetlar.com.

While you can get your news about the funny books all over the Internet,

I usually make it a point to let slip at least one bit of information at

the Loose Cannon Message Board that I post nowhere else.

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