Lying In The Gutters

Mon, September 12th, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Rich Johnston, Columnist

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LYING IN THE GUTTERS VOLUME 2 COLUMN 17

Welcome to the most popular and longest running comics column on the internet. In its various forms, Lying In the Gutters has covered rumours and gossip in the comics industry for twelve long glorious and quite scary years. All stories are sourced from well connected sources and checked with respective publisher representatives before publication. The veracity of each story is judged by me and given a spotlight - Green is the most reliable, Amber means there's likely an interest involved or the likelihood isn't set and Red means even I can't quite bring myself to believe it.

Lying In The Gutters is for your entertainment. Neither Fair Nor Balanced.

TERMS THEY ARE A CHANGING

[Green Light]There appears to have been a major shift in stated solicitation policy by Diamond Comics Distribution, the company which holds a monopoly on distributing the major comic book and associated companies' products (Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, Wizard) to the Direct Market. This Wednesday, it was announced that there will be a $600 minimum on all purchase orders. Which means every listing has to generate a minimum of $600 wholesale (around $1500 retail) before Diamond will pass it on to be filled by the publisher. That's around 500 copies, and this applies to Order Again listings as well.

Diamond have consistently carried out decisions whether to continue listing a periodical based on its past sales, and many titles have been dropped from their Previews catalogue when they have failed to reach certain levels over a period of time and show no likelihood of doing so.

However, exceptions have often been made, and no solicitation has been cancelled by Diamond for sales reasons once it has actually been listed. The orders have always been passed on and, if the publisher is willing, filled.

Now publication plans, made months in advance, are cut off at the knees. Although there are other distributors in the market, they have a small fraction of the potential reach of Diamond. Indeed, because of the importance of Diamond, it is conceivable that small publishers will not distribute through any other smaller distributor, in order to attempt to get higher orders through Diamond and make that all-important $600 order. And those that are cut off by Diamond will only reach a much smaller audience through other publishers.

The $600 represents 40% of the new 'Benchmark figure' of $1500 that each title, including titles made available for ordering again, will be expected by Diamond to achieve.

UPC? Absolutely.

In the same missive, Randle expresses his desire that all comic book titles have barcodes (UPCs). Initially disliked by readers who felt they spoilt the cover artwork, especially on Vertigo titles, these have now become standard amongst the bigger companies and invaluable to many retailers. Randle states "Although at this point Diamond does not require ISBNs or UPCs to sell to the direct market, it never hurts to think about the future. There may come a time when we will not list a book if it does not have this information, so this is a good time to get into the habit of acquiring codes for your product." You've been told.
In a missive from Robert Randle, sent to publisher from Diamond Comics, he states, "What this means is the stringent scrutiny I have been applying to your solicitations has become even more exacting as I will attempt to list only those items I feel will make benchmark, but most especially to pass on those I hold any degree of skepticism on. Your understanding is appreciated in this matter as I will attempt to explain my reasoning whenever it comes into question, but may not be able to elaborate on every item. As Diamond attempts to make a stronger overall catalog, consider this your challenge to create stronger overall product. In the end, the entire industry stands to gain from publishers taking this direction."

It is questionable whether publishers were deliberately not creating strong product, or indeed not doing what they can to maximise sales.

A benchmark of $1500, taking into consideration the standard 60% discount to Diamond, would require the retail amount for each item to reach $3750. For a 3 dollar book, that means 1200 copies sold each.

The Benchmark figure seems to just about cover the Top 300 items in Previews-- although the catalogue lists thousands. Items in the top 300 that don't achieve the benchmark figure include the critically acclaimed "Pakkin's Land" and "Finder," both high profile small press books. There are many, many more books, some equally acclaimed, that come nowhere close. And, as stated, for some the orders will not even be passed on to the publisher. Considering that smaller books often create very loyal readers, a retailer will order a comic, and not be able to supply their customer through no fault of the publisher. That retailer must try to order through a different distributor or go to the publisher direct-- that is if the cancellation of all Diamond orders don't prevent the publisher from publishing in the first place.

While Diamond has succeeded selling superhero comics to comic shops, there has always been the ability and opportunity for a breakout book to seize some of that audience. Surprise titles from smaller of self-publishers have added to the possible diversity and, while often not taken up, have encouraged creators to develop their art, find a small loyal audience and build that into a future. Now, for those on the front line, that opportunity has been taken away.

This new policy also applies to Order Again and Star System items listed (the latter referring to Diamond' back catalogue of trade paperbacks and higher end items), Randle states "O/A's only tend to sell 10% of their initial orders...

"What this means is I am asking you to be more selective of the O/A's and Star Items you request me to relist, and I will be tougher on items overall I choose to enter into Previews. If you do not think your item(s) will make benchmark, please do not ask me to list them. I'd like you to be taking this policy into account when creating your solicitations list each month. In the event you send me a solicitation for an item, and I pass on it, I will do my best to inform you before Previews goes to press."

Most Order/Again items from non-mainstream publishers will not meet the Benchmark figure, and many won't meet the 40% cutoff figure either.

A number of independent publishers that I spoke to didn't mind this policy and some welcomed it, as trimming their competition. And indeed, it may not be the existing publishers who have to worry. Larry Young of AiT/Planet Lar stated that all his books sell above the new Benchmark figure these days, and this won't affect previously listed product. Jeff Mason from Alternative Press told me that he has an existing contract with Diamond that can only be changed by both parties, so his books are immune from this change. And even if it affected them, the big five Premier publishers have a sales representative agreement with Diamond, rather than a sales agreement, which won't hold them to any of these changes.

However, there was fear in the self-publishing community from some. Not wishing to state openly anything that Diamond may hold against them, one self-publisher told me the 40% cutoff means that he might as well quit comics immediately. And one larger publisher told me that he looked to up and coming self-publishers as a way to find committed new talent who could prove themselves, an opportunity to move up the ranks now denied.

And future publishers may not even get a first foot into the market.

Further discussions with Robert Randle do confirm that the Benchmark is just that, and individual circumstances, potential and artistic concerns would be part of the decision making process-- and the new 40% cutoff is also part of that. But in the long term Diamond has to be able to justify such distribution financially.

It's clear that Diamond has had to adapt to the changing market, and has a need to make every move possible to increase profits. Indeed, there has been much criticism that Diamond Previews has grown and expanded while the market for its product shrank. That there is too much product available to maximise profits for retailers and publishers.

But the position Diamond has found itself as a virtual monopoly within the market, mean that its every action can have significant impact. Expect something to challenge Diamond's new policy from other distributors-- or see a marked reduction amongst the small tables at next year's San Diego.

A KISS IS STILL A KISS

[Green Light]Jay Faeber asked if I'd run the cover to "Noble Causes" #17, on sale in December. Pencilled by Shane Davis, inked by Kris Justice, and colored by Ron Riley.

I don't know, Jay, I don't really just plug artwork from upcoming comics, unless there's an actual story involved, it's a little beneath me really, this column isn't a plugarama for any old...

oh...

kissing women...

Jay, why didn't you just say that in the first place?

You know, I feel like pitching a series called "Two Chicks Kissing." William Christensen would publish it last week.

A SIGH IS JUST A SIGH

[Green Light]Robert Kirkman. Acting out an issue of "Invincible" to a too-young audience with the mayor in attendance. Doing the sound effects and trying to censor himself on the hoof.

Go here. I bet he envied his zombies by the end.

Robert Kirkman responded to enquiries, saying "Oh, Rich... you never let us forget the things we REALLY, REALLY want to... do you?"

I hope not, Robert, I certainly hope not.

LINE UPS, THEY ARE A CHANGING

[Green Light]And you thought, while DC owned the comics news this summer, it would possibly drop off into the autumn?

Wrong.

While we're still waiting for the confirmation of all the LITG-reported DC titles, plot twists and cancellations, we thought we'd add to the list.

"Wonder Woman" is confirmed for a restart from issue 1, with "The OC"/"Young Avengers" writer Allan Heinberg writing and Terry Dodson on art.

And as for on "All Star Wonder Woman," Adam Hughes is already two issues into his run written by Geoff Johns.

Dodson and Hughes, each drawing a Wonder Woman title at the same time. Who'd have thought it….

RETRACTION: According to public posts by Allison Sohn, Adam Hughes' partner and art representative, this is false. She states "We have never even seen a script to the supposedly-happening book." Apologies to all concerned.

Mark Verheiden and Ethan Van Sciver on "Superman/Batman."

Ivan Reis pencilling "Green Lantern."

Mark Waid and George Perez are intended to be the dream team for a new revived monthly series "The Brave And The Bold."

Some people are quite glad at DC that certain projects are finally being firmed up. One of Dan DiDidio's habits of late has been to mix up creators on books at the last second, bringing them in to do a specific, often prestigious project, then changing his mind, putting that project on hold (sometimes until it disappears), then switching involved creators to other projects in the meantime. DC has traditionally been a long-term planning company, with schedules worked out often years in advance. DiDio has torn that reputation up, leading to a more responsive, topical and changeable company lineup. And if the creators and editors don't like it, well, DiDio isn't known for mincing his words.

At Chicago, creators were still pitching to take on the Aquaman title-- no decision had been made. And only weeks back, JG Jones was meant to have been "The Brave And The Bold" artist. But a week is a long time in comics these days.

THE DEVIL IN DISGUISE

[Green Light]Kevin Smith has been letting out artwork finished years ago for "Daredevil: Target" #2 by Adam Kubert, originally intended to ship at the very beginning of 2002.

He goes on to state the series will be out by summer 2006.

LES BOYS DO CABARET

[Green Light]German publishers Bruno Gmunder are producing a trade paperback retrospective compilation of the gay-themed comic strips produced by Will Morgan (formerly Howard Stangroom) and Stephen Lowther in the 1980's and 1990's, entitled "Prime Cuts."

Originally published in Gay Comics, Buddies, Meatmen and elsewhere, these long out-of-print stories run the gamut from humour to hardcore, autobiography to adventure, with-- given that both parties are confirmed mainstream comics fans-- a big helping of superheroics and science-fiction.

More details can found here (UK), here (Germany) for October and here (US) for November.

Gmunder also recently published the excellently produced "Tom Of Finland" box set. And Will Morgan co-manages the comic shop 30th Century Comics in Putney, London.

TIM, HE IS A CHANGING

[Green Light]Tim Pilcher (ex-Vertigo UKer and model) and Brad Brooks (ex Les Cartoonistes Dangereux and minus the exclamation mark these days) are both two stalwarts of the UK comics scene. And they both have a new book out from Chrysalis - "The Essential Guide To World Comics." It's described as "a global snapshot of the world's comic industries from the obvious - America, UK , France and Japan - to the esoteric - Malaysia, Hong Kong, Kenya and Turkey."

Cover by LITG favourite Roger Langridge, forward by Dave "Watchmen" Gibbons, it includes such snippets as "outside of the UK and USA nearly every countries' comic industry was either kicked off by the launch of Disney Comics or Kings Feature Syndicate collections, like The Phantom" and "the decline in comic reading in places as diverse as Scandinavia and India wasn't down to the relevantly recent rival-- computer games, but rather the invention of television." or even "we started to notice how many comic professionals gave up a medical career to draw funny pictures. Jim Lee (Korea/USA), Osamu Tezuka (Japan) and Peter Madsen (Denmark)-- to mention just a few-- all studied medicine before moving into comics."

Not so much Freakonomics as Freakocomics. Did you like what I did there?

And they're doing a signing at David's Comics, 5 Sydney Street, Brighton on Saturday 29 October at 2pm. There will be a ex libris book plate given away with every copy sold.

PREACHER MAN

[Green Light]Tom Brevoort did a chat on CBR the other night, and fielded the following question:

"Stony: Hi Tom! I'm a big Priest fan... Is there anything new coming from him in the works? Or even in discussion?

"Tom Brevoort: Not right this second, I'm afraid to say."

So... what happened to the Falcon series, and to the other, unnamed Marvel project Priest had in the works?

Sniff. I'm going for a lie down.

ASHCAN TO ASHCAN

[Green Light]John Reppion and Leah Moore would like to plug an auction to raisemoney for Romanian orphans with AIDS. They're starting with an ashcan of "Albion" #1, signed by "dad," Dave Gibbons, Leah Moore, John Reppion and Shane. There are only 23 that have been signed like this, and for Alan Moore-obsessive collectors like myself, it's quite a draw.

Hang on, why am I telling you this? I should have kept the news to myself. Damn it.

HINE LEGS

[Green Light]On Fanboy Radio this weekend, David Hine told listeners that he will be writing already-Amazon-TPB-listed "Son of M," a spin-off of "House of M."

Art for this six-issue mini-series will be by Roy Martinez with covers by John Watson

The show can be podcasted here.

THE MAN THEY CALL ADAM

[Green Light]Adam Hughes wants to get people to see "Serenity," for which he's doing the cover for the collected TPB that bridges the gap between the "Firefly" TV series and the new movie. So he's giving away free artwork to one person who sees the movie in its opening weekend.

If you're in the US, see it on the weekend starting September the 30th, keep the ticket stub and send it in with your name on the back and your name, address and e-mail address on an accompanying piece of paper. All the stubs will be entered into a draw for a fully finished piece of art.

ADAM HUGHES


PO BOX 190823


ATLANTA, GA 31119-0823

The contest will be extended to other countries with different release dates, with two draws, one for UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, Iceland, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Spain, and Italy, mailed in no later than November 7th. And a second round for Mexico, Sweden, Argentina, Hungary, Netherlands, Denmark, Estonia, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland (German speaking region), Finland, Norway, Turkey and Peru, no later than January 7th.

TOMES THEY ARE A CHANGING

The Guardian newspaper in the UK had a big change today.

Oh, it changes logo, font, colour and size, as well as changing columns, introducing new features and the like.

But most importantly, "Doonesbury" has been dropped. No announcement. No warning. The newspaper's rushed-off-their-feet-today's Press Office confirmed the cancellation and later responded saying that they will be publishing the "Perry Bible Fellowshipstrip" weekly strip.

Later in the day, the Guardian blog responded with G2 editor Ian Katz stating "We felt Doonesbury had a small, committed following but was not read by a large readership. If we're wrong about the number of people who read and love it, we may have to think again." The comments are starting to mount up.

For those Guardian readers in panic mode, they can read the daily strip here, every day-- as well the Sunday longer strip, which The Observer dropped years ago. But I've been reading "Doonesbury" in The Guardian, for twenty-five years now. It's become an essential part of my daily commute-- something the new edition of the paper was supposed to address. I feel at quite a loss. A slight chasm in my routine. It's just not on. I feel like writing a letter.

Anyone who fancies joining me, click here.

UPDATE: Ian katz, editor of the G2 section in which Doonesbury appears has had a volte face. Writing in the Guardian blog, he says;

"I began wondering, and asking around, about how many people actually read Doonesbury. The vast majority of people I asked - and we asked

all those who looked at dummies of the new paper during the research leading up to launch - said they did not. One or two wise heads said

touch it at your peril. They - and you lot - were right, and I was wrong. Happily this particular error of judgement (unlike many of the

countless others I have made) is easily put right: Doonesbury will be back in G2 from Monday. We'll run a catch-up omnibus for the week on

Friday and start the daily strips again next week. (I hope you'll bear with us for a few days till then - I think it would be better to find

it a good home, than squueze it into the first crack we can lever open.) And I'm sorry, once again, that I made you - and the hundreds of fellow fans who have called our helpline or mailed our comments address - so cross. The good news is that we now know just how strongly you feel about it and no damn fool features editor is going to mess with it - for at least 25 years. Now I'm going home, if I can just get off this sword."

Never let it be said that the Guardian doesn't listen. Admittedly it sometimes decides not to act, but at least it listens. Nice one, guys.

SMALL PRINT

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