Pipeline: Augie's Comics Advice, Purges and the Future of Cons

Tue, March 5th, 2013 at 1:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

THE FUTURE OF CONVENTIONS: STREAMING

I watched Eric Stephenson moderate a panel at Emerald City Comicon this weekend. The ECCC gang had a wide selection of their panels available via a live stream. Sound and video quality were excellent. It was one camera pointed at the panel zooming in and out when different speakers talked, but it worked. You don't need multi-camera live editing wizardry. The sound quality was excellent, so long as speakers used their microphones, and the video showed the large projected screen without an issue. You could read what was on there.

I hope other conventions jump on this great idea. Granted, it adds an extra level of effort to an already complex event management project, but the potential for a great pay-off is huge. I can see it very easily becoming an alternate revenue stream for conventions. Give a few away, but offer a pay account to view even more panels. Bonus points for keeping recordings of the panel to view at any time. Sell a package deal of all the videos for one low price. I hope a couple of the streams show up on YouTube for everyone to sample.

Right now, you can buy the ECCC package for $15 to see the panels that were streamed. The panels from Hall B are available for free, including the one from DC where you can watch Cully Hamner and Ethan Van Sciver sketch live while answering questions.

What's taken comics so long? You could make an argument that most comics convention presentations are poorly organized commercials staffed with people who aren't great public speakers, so who'd want to pay for that? There's a lot to be said for that, as opposed to a technical conference that teaches its attendants useful things for their career or hobby. But I think there's enough fan sentiment to carry the day. And I think you might also see a bump in quality for these road shows if everyone involved knew they're be available for all to see for the rest of time.

Imagine the biggest panel rooms of the show in San Diego every summer being viewable from home. Imagine intermixing the videos or slide shows on the multiple screens throughout the largest rooms over the internet. Hollywood might still block those from streaming out, in their infinite wisdom, but you'd have a separate channel to grab from to send out to the internet, making for a better image on your computer of what are often the most important parts: the advance promo art. San Diego's remit is to bring pop culture to the masses, right? They've already outgrown their venue. The only room for expansion they have is the internet. It's time to move that way for them.

It's new ground, but Emerald City Comicon was the first to pave and drive across it. Good job.

THE PURGE: END OF PHASE ONE

At long last, after many months, I'm free of 27 boxes worth of comic books that once threatened to overtake my house.

In the end, they're now the property of WildPig Comics, whose semi-annual sales are the stuff of East Coast legend. People love themselves the bargain bins of trades, and now WildPig has a fresh stock of goodies to put out at the next sale. If you're there, perhaps you'll be buying part of the "Augie De Blieck Signature Collection" that lacks only my signature and any sense of historical importance. (The next big sale is part of the Comic Geek Speak Super Show happening in Reading, Pennsylvania next month.)

The process started a few months ago when I went through the accumulated bookshelves and boxes filled with books-with-spines. I sorted through them, keeping the best of the best and the ones I've enjoyed the most. Everything else had to go. That included books I've never read. Let's face it: If I haven't read the book in the ten years I've owned it, why am I keeping it? Why do I think I'll suddenly have a huge opening of time to read it anytime soon? It's time to cut the cord.

Most of the decisions were easy. There were lots of books in there I bought out of habit. Some I upgraded to hardcover editions. Some I just plain didn't like. Others I liked, but doubted I'd ever refer back to again. They weren't "important" enough to keep around.

Then I went through all the boxes and put together an Excel spreadsheet listing their contents: Title, Publisher, random notes to help distinguish similarly-titled books, cover price, and the box number holding the book. That took a lot of time, and I didn't finish the second half of it until after I talked to WildPig's owner, Chris, and we had agreed to terms and I needed to figure out just how many books I had. I didn't realize the enormity of the list. In the end, the list contained 950 line items.

Being a geek, it bothered me a little that I didn't make it to 1000. Maybe I did: I found two boxes I forgot to inventory when I was putting everything together the night before Chris came to pick them up. I'm saving them for the next purge. (More on that later.)

Chris was kind enough to drive his van up to my house to pick up the books, which is good because my car wouldn't have held them all. He cut a check, we loaded the boxes up in five minutes, and the job was done.

No, I'm not telling you how much the check was for, but it was pennies on the dollar. It didn't bother me too much, though. This is found money. It's cash in exchange for a lot of stuff that just took up space. The ability to stand up in my den, spin in a circle with my arms out, and not hit a longbox is worth it. Also, I've tried to sell this stuff piecemeal by myself. It's a lot of work. It's too much work for too little money. How does the old saying go? When you're young, you have too much time and not enough money; but as you get older, you have more money and not enough time? Granted, I still don't have enough money, but the trade-offs you're willing to make to buy yourself time are more noticeable. Getting rid of those comics in bulk is worth making a little bit less on them. I can put -- and have been putting -- that time into reading comics, writing more reviews, learning a new programming language, and just relaxing. I do far too little of that last item.

Plus, let's be honest, most of it wouldn't command big money on eBay or anywhere else. Comic buyers are bargain hunters. eBay and aggressive reprint plans have driven back issue sales into the cellar. The busiest bins at comic book conventions are the cheap trade bins, or the 50 cent floppy bins. Those racks of long boxes with Silver Age comics? Ghost towns for a special niche clientele. (Given the higher price, they don't have to move as much inventory, so it probably all evens out, but still. . .)

Instead, I have a clear room, enough money to buy a new desk that I'll be putting into it as I plan on spending more time at the computer for some projects, and a huge weight off my shoulders in finding a new home for what I have. And, yes, I'm very happy that someone else will be able to get these books. I'll admit the thought had occurred to me that the easiest thing to do would be to take the boxes to the recycle center and dump them with the rest of the paper goods. I couldn't stomach the idea of the books just being wasted like that, though.

This process only gets easier now. Having done it once, I suspect I could do it again. I've already put some books aside for the next purge, alongside those boxes I found too late in the first. It's now only a game of chicken to play with myself: What books are "important" enough to keep? How low can I set the bar to ditching books? Will some of those books that seemed too "important" to get rid of suddenly seem useless and disposable? I'll give it a couple of months before I think too hard on that.

This is only half the purge, though, and it's the easy half. I haven't touched the long boxes. I still love those comics, many out of pure nostalgia. And their worth is painfully tiny, particularly since most of them came out of the 90s when print runs were enormous and quality was not always great across the board. Even WildPig doesn't pay much for them -- half the pitch there is that they'll recycle the worthless ones for you, so you don't have to toss them in the recycle bins yourself. Let them do the dirty work for me. That's a winning game plan.

I like my newly streamlined collection. The large bookcase I have in the den here is filled only with the best of the best. My library is not all-inclusive nor is it exhaustive. It is, instead, a highly curated thing where each item has been carefully thought through and deemed "important" or "interesting" in some way. At some point, I think it's a phase every collector goes through. Back issue bin diving and rampant accumulation is fun and it's a stage we all go through. After a while, though, taste and quality will win the day. I'm happy there.

WHEN I RULE DC. . .

Jerry Ordway had a blog post up this weekend that is, to put it mildly, depressing. Here's a good sampling of it:

I was offered, and accepted an exclusive DC contract in hopes that this would somehow help me to land a regular assignment, and steady work. After 9 years, still being the guy who was thrown at late deadline material, I was still not any closer to getting regular work, nor was I being treated by the company as a valued employee. In my last year on exclusive contract, I was starved of work. Kind of had to believe, but there it was. The contract had no clause to require DC to give me a minimum amount of work, as the issue never could have happened, or so I thought at the time. I drew the last two issues of JSA so that the regular artist could jump onto one of the new "52" comic launches. After that, I spent the summer trying to use whatever connections I had to get work-- any work. I was then given a short Batman themed story to draw, a story that was never published.

It's an echo of the kind of story we've heard from other 90s DC stalwarts, like Chuck Dixon and Norm Breyfogle.

In Ordway's case, it's triply frustrating because he has such a great and unique style. It wouldn't be pity work, at all. Paired with the right inker and colorist, his work can be just as vibrant and dynamic as the best of today's younger crop of artists. There's no need to marginalize the man, so I just don't get why it's happening.

When I'm insanely rich and willing to lose most of that in a publishing company with my singular vision leading the way, you'll call me Mark Alessi.

No, no, that's not what I meant. When I execute my hostile takeover of DC Comics, I'm giving those three guys regular work, and handing Superman over to Mark Waid to do with what he wants. What's the worst he can do? Turn him electric blue, give him a mullet, take off his outer underwear, make him wear jeans, kill his parents, have him spy on Lois Lane with his x-ray vision, or have him walk across the country? Too late.

I trust those creators to produce some amazing comics for the year my financing will hold up, before I'm forced to sell for pennies on the dollar because there's no money in comics publishing anymore. But it'll be fun while it lasts, right?

The biggest shame would be that Dixon would have had a dozen more scripts in the can when I fold, just because he always works so far ahead of schedule. I hope the vultures who buy me out see fit to use them.

Personally, if I were a creator starting a new book with a good chance of Hollywood buy-in, I'd hire Ordway to draw it in a heartbeat. As dynamic and powerful as his art is, it's also very believable and down to earth. His people look like real people, and we know he's good with likenesses. (Check out the Batman movie adaptation that ruined the movie for me. The comic looked even better.) Let him drawn the IP-bait and share in some of the rewards for making something so very understandable to the Hollywood buyers. (Paging Mark Millar and Robert Kirkman...)

CAREER ADVICE TO ONE AND ALL

Here's the thing I've learned from following different industries:

There's no such thing as job security. It's a myth. Even if you think your big corporate job is safe, they can fire you tomorrow on a whim.

By working for other people, you limit your potential income.

By working only for a wage or one time rate, you limit your potential income. There are only so many hours in a day. You can work them all, but then you stop earning money.

The best money is the kind you make when you're sleeping.

In the world of comics, this basically translates to the following bullet points:

Own your own stuff.

Freelancing for Marvel/DC is a short term thing. Only do it if you have a larger goal in mind that it will lead to.

Work hard to control your own career. Don't work at the sufferance of others. If you need them more than they need you, comics will break your heart and, most likely, your bank account.

It feels like the next generation of comic creators understands this pretty well. Maybe the great TokyoPop implosion a few years back was the watershed moment. I don't know. But it's good to see people investing in their own work more and more these days. Maybe the lessons are starting to rub off.

PIPELINKS

  • Jimmie "Bomb Queen" Robinson's new five issue miniseries, "Five Weapons," kicked off last week with a terrific first issue. It uses the all-too-frequent viewpoint character who's new to a location learning about it as a proxy for the reader, but the place is interesting -- a school for kids training to be assassins. It's an interesting group of characters inhabiting the school, and Robinson packs the pages with background gags that are worth the price of admission, themselves. There's also a nice twist in the final pages that'll help push you along to the next issue. Robinson's art is a little softer for the book. It looks like the book is shot directly from very tight pencils. Paul Little's coloring scheme is subdued and desaturated, with the black lines all knocked out with color. Recommended.

  • A couple of years ago, I reviewed Sean Wang's "Runners" graphic novel, which was a few years old, even then. The good news is, there's a follow-up book coming out now, and Wang is funding the printing of the book -- in full color! -- through Kickstarter. It has already reached its goal, so you're effectively pre-ordering the book now with some bonuses as you go. You can read the whole story from his website if you like, or contribute towards the Kickstarter to get your very own printed edition. I'm in the middle of reading the book right now, and hope to have more to say about it next week.

  • Crossing geekdoms here: Gary Bernhardt's "Wat" lightning talk runs about four minutes. But if you're a Ruby or JavaScript programmer, you'll appreciate the humor. The trick he pulls off near the end with Batman is brilliant, in a very geeky way.

  • The Beat has the great story about Rian Hughes and friends taking back the night from Roy Lichtenstein, by re-appropriating the Pop Art Thief's "art". If you can't fight 'em, copy 'em! Or, if you prefer, fight fire with fire!

  • Eric Stephenson's recent speech to ComicsPro wasn't announcement-filled, but was a nice rah-rah effort for the publisher. And, as always, Stephenson has a point of view and isn't afraid to express it. I like that.

  • An email from Derrick W. in response to my column last week discussing the ridiculously high price of digital "Previews" pointed out that the printing part of the dead tree book price isn't that high. He's right. If you just took the pre-pick-and-packing paper printing portion of Previews' publication out of the equation -- I've been reading too much Dr. Seuss recently -- the proper price wouldn't drop more than 25%, I'd bet. It's everything that happens because it's a dead wood product that raises the price. You have the shipping, the warehousing, and the physical store selling. The comic shops get a cut and the distributor gets a cut. Now, the distributor is the same as the publisher in this case, so you'd think there'd be slightly greater savings. Also, as an email from Doug T. points out, the digital edition is available only at your local comic shop, so the retailer's portion of the profit is still built into the price.
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TAGS:  pipeline, dc comics, jerry ordway

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