Pipeline: Digital Diamond, Batman Beyond & Frank Miller

Tue, November 15th, 2011 at 2:28pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

A SUGGESTION FOR DIAMOND'S NEW GAME

How long before Diamond develops its own Kickstarter-like website to help publishers pre-sell their books?

Isn't that what Kickstarter really is? It's becoming a new mechanism for people without startup funds to publish their books by selling copies far in advance. And, for those patrons who contribute more, they get a little extra something for their troubles, whether it be a signed print or a credit or whatnot.

It's the perfect business for Diamond to be in. In fact, it might be the business Diamond need to be in. For starters, Kickstarter can completely work around Diamond. The pre-sold comics from the campaign are shipped directly to the people who funded it. Yes, part of the project's goal could be to afford to ship a comic to the Direct Market through Diamond, but it doesn't have to be. Perhaps a book will be profitable enough to rely on just direct solicitation. In those cases, comics are being distributed around the country and the world without Diamond getting its cut. I can't imagine Diamond is happy about that.

Right now, the numbers of comics going through Kickstarter versus Diamond is relatively small, but we're also in a period where people are feeling out the best ways to use the service. Is it for art books? Is it for reprints? Is it for a monthly comic to get a jump start? Is it only for graphic novels?

If Diamond were future-looking, they'd see this as a competitive threat and act on it, quickly. Do they need to pro-actively offer special deals to people soliciting through Kickstarter? Or do they develop their own comics-centric knock-off site and then take a smaller cut of the fundraising total than Kickstarter in exchange for the distribution rights, perhaps even exclusively?

Diamond could bring pre-sales to a whole new level, without ignoring the Direct Market and ticking off retailers completely.

Diamond has at least two problems with this, though:

First, they might not have the money. Steve Geppi's financial woes have been well-documented, and rumors about Diamond's solvency float around a couple times a year. They make for great blog headlines forecasting a future with a collapsed Direct Market, but nothing ever happens. So far. That day won't be strictly in the future forever.

In any case, there would be a big developmental effort in putting this project together. Even after that, Kickstarter employs an editorial crew to screen projects and reject the poorly-conceived ones. Would Diamond be willing to fund that? Would that just create more of the same controversy about Diamond not helping out the little guys?

Perhaps Diamond could fund their Kickstarter clone through Kickstarter? If you donate $100, your first project will go into their system free of charge. Donate $1000 and Steve Geppi will give you a comic book, too. I doubt Kickstarter would accept the project, but you have to admit that the audacity to attempt the movie would create a large buzz.

Secondly, Diamond doesn't have the high profile of Kickstarter outside the comics community. Kickstarter works because it's not just The Wednesday Crowd that funds these projects. There's a larger set of eyeballs out there.

It would not be an easy road to travel, for sure, but how long can Diamond rely on their current business model? Distributors are middle-men at a time when the internet helps to cut them out of the picture entirely. They need a different style of thinking, and perhaps a new world view on the comics industry to survive past the next few years. I don't think Diamond Digital is it, but at least it shows they're thinking in those directions.

Kickstarter isn't the only website that should be in Diamond's crosshairs. Why doesn't Diamond have it's own Groupon clone, too? I'm sure Thwipster is happy to have the market all to itself, but how long can that last?

Comic book distribution is a field ripe for disruption. Digital comics isn't the only angle on that. I hope Diamond is paying attention. Merely facilitating the shuffling of periodicals around the world isn't enough to sustain a business anymore. In an internet age of disintermediation, a comic book distributor stands on shaky ground.

BURYING THE DIGITAL LEDE

DC is looking to tick off some retailers by announcing that "Batman Beyond," a comic which didn't sell super well in the Direct Market, is going to be a digital comic first, to be reprinted in a print collection later on. It's a smart idea, sure to help draw traffic to their website on a weekly basis while promoting the comic as a free read to all of the internet.

From a comic fan's point of view, I'm thrilled to see they're not cheaping out on this. It would have been easy to use this as a training ground for unproven talent at low page rates, but instead DC has drafted strong creators with proven track records: Adam Beecham, Norm Breyfogle, Dustin Nguyen, and Derek Fridolfs.

Yes, that's right, Norm Breyfogle is drawing Batman again! That right there makes this whole publishing plan worth it.

It's about damned time.

Now, can we get some reprints of his classic work with Alan Grant? Wait, even better, let's get a new printing of the original graphic novel he did in 1991 with writer Alan Brennert:

Yes, "Batman: Holy Terror." It was the first DC Elseworlds book, and it preceded Frank Miller's by twenty years. Speaking of whom:

BE STRONG, FRIENDS

To my friends whose politics tend towards the opposite side of the spectrum from mine, I wish you all well this week. It's been a tough week of flagellating in public to try to work out what it's like when a favorite creator turns out to have a political ideology so different from your own. It's not enough to think that the man might be, perhaps, reading a particular political situation incorrectly or mischaracterizing a certain group of people, but now you have to go back and frown at all the books you once loved, because they were created by the same mind that you don't understand today, right? It's a healing tool to crank the sarcasm and name calling up to compensate for this sense of betrayal you're all feeling. I get it.

For those of us whose politics trend more conservatively, it's an internal battle we've fought from the beginning. You get used to it after a while. You learn to read the works and not the creators, though you'll more clearly see the politics in the books now. It's just that for the last twenty years, you agreed with all of those creators who injected politics into their titles. They were transparent. Aside from an occasional Chuck Dixon comic, you haven't had to worry about those "lunatic right wing extremists" writing comics, have you? You could just ignore them.

But what happens when your creative heroes disagree with you so strongly, particularly when it goes beyond the limits of the kind of inside baseball that Alan Moore so often dedicates tracts towards?

Frank Miller has just made you question your world. It's healthy for you. Enjoy.

If you need help, crack open your collection of "Doonesbury" strips until the pain goes away. Or "Sandman." Or something NPR might recommend to you.


In comic shops now and well worth the price of admission: the "Reed Gunther" trade paperback by Shane and Chris Houghton, via Image Comics. Great, all-ages, funny and fun bit of comic bookery there. I'll try to do a full review next week.

We might just have a theme week next week, as I've also read Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos' "Cow Boy" book-in-progress and loved it. All I need to do it through in a "Lucky Luke" review and the next column is already written.

Elsewhere on the 'net, you can see more pictures of the Big Apple Circus at my photography blog, AugieShoots.com. My main personal blog is VariousandSundry.com, where I wrote this week about NBC's "The Sing-Off," I show I adore more than I probably should. I'm also active on Google+, particularly with the ability to share stories from Google Reader.

Twitter @augiedb || E-mail || Pipeline Message Board

TAGS:  pipeline, digital comics, kickstarter, batman beyond, frank miller

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