I have been told by several sources that there’s a tradition in China. Before you go to University (Or College, for our American readers.), you’re obliged to spend one year working in the paddy fields. The idea is that you have a greater understanding of how all of society works. That you retain a degree of humility and know where you could be, were it not for luck and your happenstance birth. I’m inclined to think that each of us in different parts of the comic book industry would be very well served doing the same for one week a year.
So Retailers would get to sit in on Previews solicitations, Event summits, Art Direction meetings. Comic Artists and Writers could run till for a week The PR people at publishing companies get an insight on how drawing comics against deadlines happens in the real world.
Because here’s my thing;
If you’re dealing with a comic shop retailer at this time of the month,you honestly better be offering them either money or REALLY good product. We’ve all just received this month’s Previews in the last few days, and we’re all going through the monthly process of ‘REALLY? THIS? Who do you think the audience is for this? Why are there SO many books? Stop hiring Brazilian Children to draw your comics, you cheap swine!’, etc, etc.
>And it is a bloody nightmare. We’re all aware of the impending Big Two crash that isn’t going to be swayed no matter how many variants of a build your own Aunt May collect the set we’re offered in relation to which percentage of All New, All Different Avengers we ordered last October (I’m exaggerating, but not by much.) Every single thing in Previews offered has to make money for our stores at the moment. We’re at that point where you, as in you behind the counter, better be able to justify every book on your shelves, both in terms of why you ordered it, and being able to sell it to anyone. Not just the Weds Fix Mob.
We, to quote Former Governor Of Minnesota Jesse Ventura, ain’t got time to bleed. We don’t have time, shelf space or money to spend on dead weight, vanity projects or listening to people whose books are ‘Coming soon. Keep an eye on our website! WINK’ (Yeah, that’s a thing we’ve got time to do, mate. I’ll make sure to keep track of your special project while I’ve got 15 small press people who have completed, quality books they want to sell me and are promising to help promote the business I work at as part of our deal. But I’m going to choose looking at the cat video you just uploaded on your Facebook page over getting their books on my shelves.)
I look at Previews each month in a state of shock, because my theory is that every single thing that has ever manifested itself into the world is something somebody thought was a good idea. I’d honestly love to see the thought process that goes behind some of the things that are offered. It certainly isn’t free to list an item in the pages of Previews, so someone, somewhere has commissioned this art, written this copy, decided on these 10 bikini variants and said ‘Yes. This, here, is the absolute best use of our money and space. The Adventures of Undead Trollop Lass 1 represents the what we want to tell the world we are and what our aims are as a publisher.’
The main reason I want to know is the nature of my job is summed up in two very simple words:
You might be deluded from various podcasts that being behind the counter is putting your feet up behind the counter with this week’s Marvels. Or holding court over a group of like minded people in Flash T-Shirts moaning about DC’s latest relaunch plans.
Your job is simple: Be Oracle.
You have to know everything, because as far as the general public is concerned, you are The Authority on EVERYTHING comics related. Why is Secret Wars late? How much are their comics worth? Is DC: Rebirth going to be any good? Where is the new issue of Image Book X as it was due three weeks ago? They messaged you on Facebook on Christmas Day about the value of their copy of Hammerlocke 5 (SIGNED, THOUGH!) and why haven’t you answered them? What’s a good pub around here? Why wouldn’t you sell my kid ‘Walking Dead?’ He watches it on telly!
A multitude of things you have to know, and be able to explain with authority. Sometimes these answers are very simple. The book isn’t out yet, Amazon just have a bad habit of running items in Previews as being on sale now. Marvel don’t understand ‘timing’, so they give a story about Thor now being a woman to the New York Times when they solicit the comic to be ordered two months in advance by retailers rather than when the book is coming out in the shops, so by the time said newsworthy comic does ship two months later, everyone’s forgotten.
Some things aren’t so simple. One is forced to try and justify that said comic is late, you don’t have a new release date and the artist has just shared the fifteenth link of the day from Buzzfeed on their public Facebook page. (Personally, I’ve given up covering up the actions of the wilfully stupid. If your book is late and you’re daft enough to go on Twitter blabbing on about how much you’re enjoying playing Disney Infinity 3.0, then there’s nothing I can do to help you and the Darwin Awards are probably following you even now.)
Sometimes a comic will be late and not only late, but the publisher will actually take to Social Media to berate paying customers for expecting the comic to ship when..they were told it was going to ship. I’ve often said the relationship between Big Two Publishers and the regular superhero comic customer is akin to a dealer and a junkie, but even the wildest dealer wouldn’t publicly berate their customer for wanting their fix.
And, yeah, on occasion, you run into the child who’s clearly trying out for a real life version of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ by asking a perfectly intelligent question like ‘Why Am I buying Amazing Spider-Man 1 again when I just bought it last year?’. To which, one is forced to bite one’s tongue and not reply ‘Because Marvel thinks you’re stupid enough to believe every issue 1 they publish will be worth lots of money in the future, so you’ll buy multiple copies that you think you can sell on eBay for more than cover price in a year or so’s time.’
As I say, guys, come do my job for a week. Explain basic String Theory to 12 year boys to make sense of your crossovers for 9 months and see how enthusiastic you are about the next time-travelling event you want us to stock, then.
It’s rare, if not downright miraculous when a publisher puts out a press release like THIS, then:
(Taken from the Black Mask Facebook page, Post uploaded 17/02/2016)
Black Mask Studios
Honest. Straightforward. Humble. Could quite easily have dropped whoever let them down in the poo, but didn’t. Doesn’t pass the buck. It isn’t anybody else’s fault. They own up to what’s gone wrong. Explain the new shipping dates and finish on an apology that by the sounds of it, they probably didn’t need to make as what’s happened isn’t their fault.
If you haven’t had to deal with the ego-centric excuse making victim blaming mind-set of most publishers before, then you’ll have to take my word that this is something akin to the Virgin Mary ACTUALLY showing up in a muffin in Mexico. Most of the time it’s our fault for expecting the comic to ship when it was stated to be released.
It’s a major step forward, and an attitude that would go a great deal towards renewing my faith in most publishers in doing whatever it is they’re meant to be doing rather than having a go at other companies for choosing what rating the Blu-Ray of their film is going to be on Twitter or having a go at people for not liking the comics they’ve paid their own money and daring to offer that opinion.
So, Two new rules for Publishers:
One: If you’re not actively emulating how Image solicit their comics in Previews, you are doing it wrong. Image give you preview art of the interior of the books, some of the covers, a synopsis of what the book is actually about and the price. It’s 2016. Vague hints, a couple of character designs and trolling the readers in the copy isn’t enough to convince me to actually give you money anymore. Frankly, your comics don’t sell well enough for me to trust you that much.
Two: When you do screw up, let go of your ego and take the same tone Black Mask did in their public statement. They’ve given me enough information to give to the customers with enough humility to make it acceptable.
Failing that, of course, you can come stand here and deride real people for wanting your comic to be out when you said it would be. To their faces. See how that goes for you.
Love it! LOVE IT! I know that pain all too well, and it's long overdue to take publishers (especially 'major' ones) to task over screwing their readership/public/retailers/etc.