Was reminded of an interview I'd done when trading emails with my good pal Charlie Adlard this weekend about online interviews we've done that have never been posted. Right around Christmas last year erstwhile blogger (that one's for you
, Mister Doane) Kurt Addams posted an interesting three-part discussion of superheroes, springboarding off something I'd written at Warren's old forum. The first part's here,
and it prompted me to write to ol' Kurt and offer him my thoughts in an interview to be posted on his blog. We had some pleasant exchanges over the holidays and into January, and then I just stopped hearing from him. Hope he's OK; he probably is just out of comics. Easy to lose enthusiasm when other things are going on.
Anyway, after speaking with Charlie, I rooted around and found my answers. I'll be Dave-Simming it, here, by only posting my answers, but you can pretty much glean what Kurt asked me to elicit my responses.On the less tortuous path of breaking in to comics:
"Yes, that was exactly what I'd meant. There's an old marketing truism that it's easier to create your own category to rule instead of take on established interests, and that's what I was getting at. Marvel and DC have a seventy-year head start on everyone, so that's an uphill battle. I'd said later, create your superhero comic if you like, but if you're looking to enter the field, there are less-plowed acres to till. Superhero and artcomix audiences are well-served; more 'mainstream' stories are wide-open, and easy pickings."On advice to newcomers:
"A set of comics creators who offer us up a superhero work better have a unique take, or a story that resonates in some way with the AiT vibe. I'm sort of flabbergasted with commentators who think we're 'anti-superhero' as it's clear we just aren't, with the three FOOT SOLDIERS volumes, and HENCH, and CODEFLESH, and my own PLANET OF THE CAPES. You could even slot the four SKY APE volumes into that, and pretty soon you see superheroes are fully ten percent of our company's backlist. But people see what they want to see, I suppose...
"But if someone is pitching us a superhero project, it has to add to the scene in some way, and the superhero genre is pretty picked-over, to my mind. If you have an excellent idea for a compelling story featuring a dude with a magic ring or something, you really are better served by proving you can write or draw very, very well in the form first and *then* pitching DC your Green Lantern story, rather than doing a knock-off of some sort and trying to get Mimi and me to publish it.
"PLANET OF THE CAPES, for example, wasn't just Brandon McKinney and me doing 'versions' of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and The Hulk in an independent comic book form; clearly we were commenting on the state of the comics industry by using archetypes *from* comics. I've gone into this elsewhere, but the whole thing's a huge allegory for how we saw comics, then: two huge superpowers battled for control, while seemingly working with a savvy but un-powered section and a powerful but uncontrollable section that resulted in obliteration of the whole thing. 'Nobody learns anything, and everybody dies' is seeming kinda prophetic, now.
"So that's the kind of thing I suggest, if a creative team absolutely, positively *has* to address the superhero tropes. Bake a cake like only you can, and forget about making sure the frosting tastes like everyone else's. The frosting's already being taken care of."On releasing
Continuity on to the web pre-publication:
"This sort of question is very hard to answer, because trying to quantify marketing initiatives is sort of a chump's game. The only way to gauge success is to do a thing, and then travel to the universe where Spock has a goatee where the thing was not done and measure the changes, right? :)
"CONTINUITY was a very interesting test-case, because usually I do marketing experiments with *my* books, so if things don't work out, it's only me impacted, and if things do work out, we can implement them later for the benefit of our creators. The size of the ASTRONAUTS IN TROUBLE: MASTER FLIGHT PLAN collection was just us testing the book-trade's lament of 'we want 6x9 manga-sized books.' That worked very well, and so we released the DEMO collection at that size and it's sold gangbusters. Now, I'm sure DEMO would have sold relatively similarly if it was 7x10, because Brian and Becky were on their games, but at least we can tell folks in the book trade and in the libraries that we are responding to their needs...
"But Jason McNamara and Tony Talbert were gung-ho with me to test the whole Napster-esque legal-download thing for comics, so we posted the pdf at the same time that direct-market preorders were due and popped open a couple of beers and sat back to see what would happen. Initial orders of our books in the direct market are in the 1000-3000 range, depending on project and creative team, and that's where CONTINUITY fell. About average for an AiT book. The month that the pdf was first offered, it had on the order of 30,000 individual downloads. That tells me that the Internet audience and the dead-tree enthusiasts are basically two different sides of the stadium.
"So, we got a very good bump in attention in general which has to be a favorable thing, but is pretty un-quantifiable in terms of sales. It's my *feeling* that it was a positive thing overall, but feelings don't pay the rent, right? CONTINUITY hit about what I was expecting, so we learned quantifiably that Internet eyeballs and paying customers are two different things, and I sure do appreciate Jason and Tony sticking their necks out with me to find out that that was so. That really could have backfired on us, but I'll give the pdf thing a 'neutral-to-positive' score. Nobody got hurt, but nobody broke out the Cristal, either. It told us something about the state of comics in 2006, so it was a valiant effort."On the graphic novel format:
"Rich Johnston famously gave me credit for a similar thing with our 'Waiting for Tommy' interview, with his 'Larry Young reinvented comics for the twenty-first century.'
and 'A target for comic activists and always happy to stick his head over the parapet, his public statements have shocked as much as they have delighted - he is clearly a man who not only speaks his mind, but is happy to be the arbiter of his own taste.' and 'It's arguable that comic companies have grown a lot smarter, marketing-wise, since Larry Young stepped up. Is it egotistical to believe that some of your best ideas have been swiped? And is it always flattery/good for the industry as a whole/standard business practices, or do you think a little development or focus group contribution could have come your way - much as companies sometimes pay original creators for "homage" covers?'
"I suppose I still feel about this as I did when Rich asked me: that it sure is flattering that you think *I* had something to do with a sort of Renaissance in treating the comic book industry as a marketing-rich environment."On old-money New York publishing houses starting to publish graphic novels:
"Well, I guess there is a little bit of 'it's the early bird who gets the worm, but the *second* mouse who gets the cheese' kind of thing going on there, but one of the things AiT offers the audience that no other publisher can is the strength of our high-quality brand. You know what you're getting when you order an AiT book: a high-quality, entertaining read. I suppose I stopped worrying when three consecutive books, SMOKE AND GUNS, FULL MOON FEVER, and SUNSET CITY, three wildly different books from three very different creative teams, all had initial orders within *eight* copies of each other. That told me we'd reached a good level for entertaining our audience; that, as a rule, if you didn't like one of our books, maybe next month's offering will be more to your liking."On message boards and "Loose Cannon"
: "I don't know what shocks people about me being me. I suppose it might have something to do with email and the absence of tone and body language and the additions of culture differences and nuance and context and whatnot. I mean, I may think I'm sitting down at a virtual bar having a cyber beer with a couple of buddies when I'm posting on the Internet, but some reader might be thinking that every stray email from me is a pronouncement from high atop Mount AiT. I've certainly learned to have more fun on the Internet and less Trying To Put Forth My Point, because it's not worth people developing blood feuds over a simple mis-communication that would never have happened if we were in the same place together, conversing.
"But your point is a fair one, I think. There are certain sorts of folks who will always have a problem with people who don't conform to their own view of propriety. I was raised in New England, where a certain forth-rightedness is not only encouraged, but valued. Someone in, say, the Midwest, might think that kind of cut-to-the-chase sort of interaction is the very definition of coarseness and boorishness. I was watching Matt Damon on INSIDE THE ACTOR'S STUDIO last night, and he had a great bit about how in Boston, people use the 'fucking' as a bridge between thoughts. 'So there I was at the the T stop... ah... fuckin'... oh, yeah, I remember what I was going to say.' Cussin' and no-nonsense just didn't really seem to be that out of the ordinary, to me... said the actress to the bishop.
"But people come from all over, and I try to look at things from others' points of view a little more, now. I am the very model of a modern major-general.
"As to LOOSE CANNON, anytime I think I have something that's worth the attention of Jonah's audience, I'll send him an article and see what he makes of it. I like being a Columnist Emeritus over there... Nowadays, I try to maximize my time, as we're still producing the good books, but between me wanting to get back to fiction writing and all the other-media irons we have in the fire, I find my time to mix it up on the Internet is severely limited."