Posts Tagged ‘Independent Publishers’

Rebuilding Riverdale At Whose Expense?

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

The magic number must be 75! It is no mistake that Marvel, DC and now Archie Comics, all of which published their premier iconic characters between 1938 and 1941, have rolled out celebrations of their 75th year anniversary finding interesting ways to reboot their entire universes in the process.

DC rebooted with Flashpoint, then The New 52 and now Convergence. Marvel is rebooting with Secret Wars and the establishment of Battleworld. Now Archie is planning to “Build a New Riverdale” with a controversial Kickstarter.

No coincidence that, as copyright law stands today, characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Prince Namor, The Human Torch, Archie and most of the gang living in Reverdale are sitting on the precipice of public domain as their copyrights, whose duration is 95 years from first publication, are set to expire within the next 20 years.

All three publishers are scrambling to recreate their brand to distance the next generation of consumers and those that follow from the classic versions of their characters guaranteeing that their origin stories and adventures will  be considered outdated and unmarketable. In the meantime, trademarks of every variation of those characters, their costumes and logos which can be prevented from ever expiring will be maintained an marketed as aggressively as possible.

So while Archie is rebuilding Riverdale and seemingly throwing out any style guide that remotely looks like the characters originally designed by Bob Montana, they are just ensuring that nobody else can tell a story about life in Riverdale without infringing on their trademark. Soon Archie and the gang will have as many different looks and styles as Batman has logos.

The funny thing is Archie wants our help and is seeking $350,000 on a Kickstarter campaign to do it!

Why?

According to Archie publisher Jon Goldwater, they just want to get the new product to market as fast as possible and have their funds tied up in a deal to expand digest distribution into Target and Wal-Mart stores.

What is Target and Wal-Mart’s sudden interest in Archie all about? If they wanted comics wouldn’t they be going after Marvel or DC first? Something is in the wind. Probably the “Riverdale” TV series that will soon be coming to FOX. All that exposure has got to be killing them!

In their rush to market these new projects by selling direct to the audience through Kickstarter, they also managed to offend their most ardent supporters, the retailers in the Direct Market. They should’ve seen that coming! Publishers like Marvel, DC and Archie are the bread and butter of the Direct Market retailer. When these publishers venture into a direct-to-customer distribution system they simply cut the retailers out at the knees.

Retailers are not the only victims. So are Indy publishers that have come rely on crowdfunding as a means to generate precious preorders on a product that may not meet the sales requirements of distribution through Diamond. A company like Archie, seeking a huge some of money in a campaign will crowd out smaller publishers, especially those that are now producing comics that compete directly for the audience that Archie has appealed to  for decades.

This is the same technique that Marvel and DC employed in the 1980’s when they were threatened by the emergence of successful independent publishers in the fledgeling Direct Market. They simply flooded the market. More product does not mean that consumers will spend more money. Consumers have a limited amount of funds and when more product is introduced into a market it only means that the consumer now has to make choices on how they spend their money. The winners are usually the ones that have a big enough budget to promote their product and an already committed audience. That is not the small indy publisher.

How many Kickstarter campaigns have you read about in the news feeds this week besides Archie’s?

Point made.

If Archie reaches their goal, that is $350,000 that is not going to other crowdfunding campaigns. It is also $350,000 not venturing into a comic shop.

Archie wants to rebuild Riverdale by strip-mining the resources of the current comics market all in an effort to erect a bulkhead that will secure them from public domain which is intended as a reward for a culture that supported their work for 95 years. In the process they describe themselves as small and scrappy, yet tread on those publishers that  genuinely meet that description. Their campaign does not even offer great rewards! Supporters are asked to pay twice as much for product that will soon be available in stores.

Archie is a company that has been around for over 75 years with celebrated characters that have been in films, cartoons and live action series on TV. They have managed to maintain a presence with their comics outside of the Direct Market with their digest format, a  feat that even Marvel and DC cannot claim. Now they have a deal with Target and Wal-Mart and a television deal with FOX, yet they still need $350,000 of our money to launch three new comic books, something the’ve been capable of doing themselves with no problem for three quarters of a century. Sounds like an easy way to get a lot of free advertising with a major dash of greed.

Not-so-poor or  little Archie wants our help but remember who loses in this one… everyone but Archie Comics. If their campaign is a success, they are laughing all the way to the bank, where they should have gone for a loan in the first place.

Gerry Giovinco

Halloween and Comic Books: A Frightful Pair

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

Last week’s blog Before Cosplay there was Halloween got me thinking that Halloween and comic books have a much deeper and horrific connection than dressing as our favorite character.

Though your average person may immediately think “superheroes” when they hear the term comic book, any comics fan knows that comics as a medium covers a vast array of genres of which superheroes are currently at the forefront.

Just look at the offerings here at CO2 Comics and you will see a sampling of the broad range of topics that comics can cover.

Actually, throughout the late 1940’s to the very early 1960’s, it was horror comics that filled the newsstand shelves. The terrifying comic books had such a dominant impact on the industry that they ignited a witch-hunt fueled by Dr. Fredrick Wertham’s writings in his book Seduction of the Innocent. The ensuing hysteria led to hearings by the  Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency and resulted in the comics industry adopting a self-imposed form of censorship called the Comics Code Authority.

For many the true terror was not the content of the comic books but watching them being burned and censored in a place like America where the freedoms of speech and press were being so harshly violated.

Comic books continued to have mildly scary themes with plenty of monsters, vampires and werewolves but they were watered down for decades until different forms of distribution allowed underground and  independent publishers the opportunity to produce comics without the vice of the Comics Code Authority.

Now there are plenty of truly scary horror comics available again to inspire the many ghouls and zombies that will wander from door-to-door this Halloween.

The monsters you encounter in forms of fiction like comic books are a healthy reminder that good and evil are relative, measured only by the extremes of each other. Horror stories allow our imaginations to witness the fear of indescribable terror without physically experiencing it. They allow us to develop defenses that will hopefully protect us from the real monsters that lurk in the world.

So grab a flashlight and a good horror comic book then crawl under the covers in a really dark room and read till you are scared to death! Then remember, when you are celebrating this Halloween, that some of those monsters in frightening costumes may be real.

If you are not careful you could easily become a bloodied victim, dismembered and buried in a shallow grave while your eyeballs float, suspended in a thickened liquid that fills a vintage mason jar capped with a rusty lid, proudly tucked away on the top shelf of a mildew encrusted Frigidaire in the basement of a quaintly-painted, suburban townhouse inhabited by an unlikely serial killer named Pinky Silverberg, the innocent looking, wide-eyed waif  who sold you that scary comic book at your local comic shop.

Happy Halloween!

Gerry Giovinco



The Alternate Reality of Dark Horse Comics

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Mike Richardson, the publisher of Dark Horse Comics made it very clear that winners do attempt to rewrite the history books, creating an alternate reality that would make any comic universe proud when he made this statement:

“I don’t know if anyone understands today that we spearheaded the creator-owned movement. Image was years away, and any kind of company that offered those rights and those freedoms hadn’t happened yet. We spearheaded that, and I think that fact has been lost over the years.”

Mike Richardson

People that know anything about creator owned comics and especially those that actually care about creator owned comics definitely do NOT understand the point that Mr. Richardson is attempting to make because it is a complete fantasy with no basis in historic reality, whatsoever.

Dark Horse does not even have the longest history of publishing creator owned works of current comics publishing companies. Hell, even Marvel and DC were writing creator owned contracts and offering royalties to creators before Dark Horse even opened its doors! The Big Two had to in response to a gang of Independent publishers that were successfully producing creator owned comics that posed a significant threat to their market share while siphoning away top talent.

Creator ownership is a simple concept. You create it, you own it and that is how copyright law works. Since 1976 the creator owns the work from the instant it is created wether it is filed and registered or not. This excludes, however anything created work for hire in which case it belongs to the company that commissioned the work on their behalf. If you open a comic book or any other work and it says “© Joe/Jane Creator” it is creator owned.

What you do with your creation after you create it is a different story. In the comics industry it was common practice for a creator to sell the entire rights of their creation to a publishing house. This was usually done in the hopes of getting steady work and in the case of some of the more savvy creators a small stake in royalties. Siegel and Shuster sold the rights to Superman for $130 while Bob Kane, reportedly, always held some small stake in Batman.

This practice of buying properties outright was unlike typical book publishing where authors retained their copyright and were paid an advance by publishers for the rights to publish their work then paid royalties on each book sold. This publisher/creator  relationship would endure for a specified term outlined in an agreement which would also include termination clauses and opportunities for revision of rights to the creator.

So this concept of creator ownership has never been anything new, it was just outside of the business tradition that had been established by comic companies who argued that the low price of comic books made them such a low yield product royalties would be negligible.

A quick history lesson for Mr. Richardson since he obviously missed it:

It was the Underground Comix movement in the ’60s and ’70’s that proved that creators could self publish and develop markets to sell their material in. If anybody spearheaded creator owned comics it was this group.

Just a few Creator Owned comics published before Dark Horse existed

When the Direct Market was created by Phil Seuling in 1972 he created a distribution system that was user friendly for creator owned comics. Bud Plant’s Comics & Comix published some early creator owned comics like The First Kingdom by Jack Katz which began in 1974 the same year that Mike Friedrich began publishing Star*Reach. Mike was a huge advocate of creator ownership and represented a number of great comic talents as their agent. By 1977 Heavy Metal hit the racks with creator owned material while Aardvark Vanaheim and WaRP Graphics were self publishing Cerebus and Elfquest respectively. Dean Mullaney formed Eclipse in 1978 and we witnessed the first defectors from Marvel when Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy create Sabre which was also one of the first graphic novels.

Just a few publishers of Creator Owned Comics

The floodgates opened in the 1980’s and a strong wave of publishers all with creator owned contracts poured on the scene, Pacific, First, Comico, Capital, Aircel, Vortex, Fantagraphics, Continuity, Mirage and others all produced creator owned projects well before Dark Horse showed up.

These publishers refined the model that Dark Horse adopted. ADOPTED! Dark Horse may have spearheaded survival in the volatile comics market that sank most of those early publishers by the middle of the ’90s but they certainly did not spearhead the concept of creator ownership.

Each of the publishers had their own way of exploring the terms of the contract with creators. I can only speak for what we did at Comico and we were always proud of how creator friendly and generous our contracts were. Comico paid full page rates that were comparable to those paid by Marvel and DC. In those days that averaged about $200 a page for writing, pencils, inks, lettering and coloring. We paid royalties after each issue broke even which was roughly after 30,000 were sold at which point we split the net 50/50! In those days it was not uncommon for an issue to sell between 60,000-100,000 copies so creators did quite well and they completely owned their property.

I have always been impressed with Dark Horse. They became the company that Comico was always intended to be. Comico discovered new talent,  worked with established pros,  had success with licensed properties and was highly innovative and focused on quality, but  unfortunately made mistakes that led to the company’s failure. When I look at the success of Dark Horse I see confirmation that Comico had many of the right ideas as did most of those early independents that made for one of the most exciting eras of comics history.

It is an insult to see those accomplishments dismissed by a respected guy like Mike Richardson who obviously did his homework but rather than give credit where it is due, chooses to rewrite history to benefit his latest marketing plan.

He is not alone, Image shares the same glory complex, as if they were the first Independents, the first pros to walk away from Marvel and DC but they never would have had the chance if it were not for a host of others that did it over a decade earlier and built a viable market for them to succeed in.

Acknowledging history goes a long way towards gaining the respect you desire. Why waste energy and goodwill fabricating history when you should be focused on making and celebrating your own.

Out of respect I did leave a voicemail for Mike Richardson with his administrative assistant, hoping to get a better insight to why he believes his position but as of this writing the call has not been returned. I guess it got lost in the alternate reality of Dark Horse Comics where the accomplishments of true pioneers no longer exist.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



The New 52: Disrespecting the Dead Guy?

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Knee-jerk reaction? Maybe, but when I saw a headline on Bleeding Cool that the late Jack Kirby was being used as a character in DC’s New 52 I almost had an aneurism.

What are they thinking?!

Fanboy homage  aside, Jack Kirby is a man whose legacy is, beside being arguably the greatest and most dominant comic creator of  all time, that he and his heirs have been stripped of creator ownership of most of his creations developed  in his five decades in the business. We are not talking deprivation of scant royalties either. He was significantly responsible for the most marketable characters at Marvel, a company that is currently worth several billions of dollars. Jack Kirby has been violated by the industry he played a major role in building. Gang raped by the industry that he dedicated his life’s work to.

I was surprised to discover that Kirby had actually spent more time working for DC than Marvel over his long career and, though this does not account for the ton of work he did for the company in the 40’s and 50’s, it is well documented that DC has fairly paid royalties for his work done late in his career. They proudly claim  that Kirby made more money off of his work  from his New Gods characters than he made from all of his work done for Marvel, citing royalties paid for appearances and merchandising related to the Super Powers series.

That, of course was a different DC comics, lead by creator friendly Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz who pioneered royalty sharing and creator ownership at a time when independent publishers were forcing the Big Two to recognize the value of creator’s rights.

The new DC, purveyor of the New 52 that is aggressively bastardizing their entire line of characters in a strategic effort to prevent copyright reversion and the immanent threat of public domain, is not so creator friendly.

Ask Alan Moore whose WATCHMEN was ripped from his control and whored out without his consent long after he had been courted with promises of creator ownership of his work. BEFORE WATCHMEN was a slap in the face to anyone who thought DC actually respected creator rights.

Ask Gerry Conway who recently reached out to his fans in an effort to be notified when his creations would appear in various media so he could file forms to be paid royalties due through DC’s “equity participation program.” Conveniently, the new DC is not in the business to notify the creators when their characters are used. The burden of discovery is on the creators and payment is not retroactive.

Ask Jerry Ordway whose work defined DC Comics back in the 80’s and 90’s. He cannot get a lick of work today from the company he helped keep afloat in turbulent times.

Ask the heirs of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster who watch the iconic character that these two men created be endlessly rebooted to the point of mutilation where Superman and his story are no longer recognizable, all to protect DC’s ownership of the IP.

The New DC, has no respect for the creators, the characters or the fans. They are run by a narcissistic band of privileged fanboys, focused only on their own singular vision and the bottom line.

So, the thought of Jack Kirby appearing as a character in the New 52 stirs the acid in my gut and makes me want to puke. Kirby deserves better than to have his likeness paraded in faux homage as a cartoon character in a comic book. I imagine the Kirby character showing up in future encyclopedias of the DCU, in animated series and in 3DCGI video games, all with a DC trademark attached.

Worse yet, I imagine Marvel falling in line and parroting DC. Why not? He’s a historical figure. “We’re only trademarking our rendered interpretation of him, like Disney did with Pocahontas.

I’m sure this rant sounds irrational but tell that to fans of Bruce Lee.

Audrey Hepburn,

and Fried Astaire

who have seen their idols resurrected from the dead by advanced media technology to sell whiskey, chocolate and vacuums. At least these commercials were made with compensation to the appropriate estates or heirs.

There was a time when DC would go to great lengths to gain approval of a celebrity’s likeness. They required Neal Adams to get approval for the 170 famous faces that he drew in the 1978 Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali wraparound cover!

I guess they don’t feel the need for approval to use Jack as a character because he is dead.  What’s he going to say, “I’ll sue you?”

While DC is squeezing yet another buck from the legacy of Jack Kirby,  his granddaughter, Jillian, is plugging along with her Kirby4Heroes kirby4heroes.com campaign to raise money for the Hero Initiative to support other comic creators in need. That’s what Jack would have done. It’s what would have made him proud. Her Kirby4Heroes facebook page is a glorious celebration of the joys that her grandfather brought to all of us and the impact he had on popular culture.

She and her family have taken the high road to place Jack on the pedestal he has earned. Do they deserve, as heirs,  to be compensated handsomely for Jack’s contributions to the industry? Absolutely! But it is more important to them that the good will of his name be maintained in a dignified and positive manner.

Jack took enough abuse from the comics industry when he was alive. Can we please show some respect now that he is gone? He will have been 100 in just four years. Is it possible that his centurion celebration will be one of honor rather than a crass marketing bonanza benefiting those that need it the least?

I pray that I see no Jack Kirby action figures with a jointly owned Marvel/DC trademark stamped on his ravaged behind.

Making Comics Because  We Want to

Gerry Giovinco



Making Comics is Risky Business: Part 4

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Over the years the business risk of making comics has shifted as has been outlined in the previous three installments of Making Comics is Risky Business.

Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3

As promised in this last article on the subject we will now take a closer look at the risky business of speculation and why crowd funding is the future for comics publishing.

When Phil Seuling developed the concept of the Direct Market in the late 1970’s he predicated it on the existence of comic book specialty shops that were springing up across the country, most of which depended on sales of collectible back-issues, the value of which were marked up considerably on many depending upon their rarity and conditions.

Though back-issues at the time were still generally affordable, they established a precedent for what would constitute speculative value. Premiere issues, popular creators, significant events and, of course, mint condition comics became sought after commodities by comic collectors who became the backbone customers of the Direct Market.

As the rising prices of collectible comics became a recognized investment, collectors began to buy multiple issues of their favorite comics, one to read and others to  squirrel away in mylar bags, preserving their mint condition and hopefully driving up their potential value.

The customers became speculators and took over the position of financial risk takers in the comic market. Professional speculators bought specific issues in quantity, artificially driving up demand and inflating aftermarket retail figures.

Retailers and publishers took advantage of the speculator market and a secondary market of collectible supplies like bags, boards and boxes sprang up.

Independent publishers benefitted greatly from the speculative nature of the market during the 1980’s as collectors feared missing the next “Holy Grail” guaranteeing that at least premiere issues of almost any title could receive respectable sales figures.

As Independent publishers began to proliferate in the market presenting themselves as serious competition for Marvel and DC, the Big Two, in defense of their reign, launched an all-out assault of first issues featuring popular characters and creators. Focusing on the speculative nature of the market they employed novelty devises like mini-series, variant covers, crossovers and events to successfully flood the competition out of the market.

By the mid 1990’s the Direct Market was a bloated mess of over-inflated and over-hyped product that nobody wanted or could any longer afford, crashing the market and even forcing Mighty Marvel into bankruptcy. Diamond stood as the only surviving distributor to a market that was once serviced by over a dozen.

Through it all the emergence of the graphic novel and the success of imported Japanese Manga paved a road into traditional bookstores challenging the Direct Market’s role as sole provider of comics to changing readership. Digital media, however was lurking in the background, poised to change how comics could be delivered to a world wide audience.

Eric Millikin's Art

The development of the web comic, which began with Eric Millikin’s Witches and Stitches as early as 1985, grew through the 1990’s and has flourished in the 2000’s, has changed the rules for creating comics completely and for the first time put the risk fully on the shoulders of the creators as, in most cases, they are the sole publishers and maintain complete autonomy of their works.

Though it requires minimal expense to post comics online, the true cost in publishing web comics is in the time it takes to create the material and cultivate the audience. Monetization of the web comics remains the biggest challenge as web comikers struggle to find ways to profit from their works. Most creators that have managed to bridge that gap have done so by rolling their web content into print product or digital downloads for mobile devices to be sold for retail.

Minimizing their investment risk, these unique independent publishers have taken advantage of today’s technology to put that risk into the hands of the consumer. Using Print on Demand suppliers like Lulu, CreateSpace, Comixpress, Ka-Blam, and others, they no longer need to sit on large quantities of expensive unsold books waiting for sales. Books are printed to order and shipped directly to customers, avoiding the need for distributors and returning a much larger portion of the profit to the publisher who is most often the creator themselves.

Steve Gerber

Finally, creators have found a way to control their properties which have been historically robbed from them by comic publishers for the last seventy years as wonderfully described by the late Steve Gerber in this recently resurfaced article Truth, Justice, & The Corporate Conscience, which I beg you to read and share with every comic creator you know.

The modern comic publisher also has a new tool at their disposal to minimize their risk and further enlist the consumer to share the burden. Crowdfunding through services like Kickstarter , and Indiegogo , capitalize on the strength of social networking and perks offered by campaign developers to essentially pre-sell comic projects.

Comic creators set a goal that represents the investment they will need to produce their project and they request financial support through pledges on these crowdfunding platforms. For various levels of financial support, rewards are offered as incentives. Though these rewards often vary considerably they generally include a printed copy of the project being promoted establishing a new form of marketing and distribution. If the established goal is not met, pledged funds are not collected and rewards are nullified.

Because crowdfunding does such a wonderful job predetermining the success of a project, some observers are viewing the phenomenon as a new form of market research avoiding the need for agents and pitchmen to sell a concept.

So, yes, making comics is risky business as has been proven over the last seventy-five years but it doesn’t have to be as risky as it has been. Now is the time for creators to take advantage of the resources available to them and take control of the direction of the industry so that they, themselves, can enjoy the riches provided by their creations rather than some domineering corporation that views creators merely as cheap disposable labor from which to capitalize on.

Carpe diem!

Gerry Giovinco

Recreational Cartooning

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

This weekend past Bill Cucinotta and I manned our booth at the second annual Asbury Park  Comic Con which for this year and last was held at an unusual venue, a bowling alley. Asbury  Lanes wears its retro heritage on its sleeve and and glorifies its half-century existence in vintage style throughout. A quick spin through their website shows that it is a teeming hotspot for the gathering of subculture enthusiasts. Punk Rockers, Hot Rodders, Burlesque Beauties, and Pin-up wanna-bees all make pilgrimages to the historic bowling alley that more accurately operates a a Rock club. Housing its own  bar and lounge, Asbury Lanes makes for a fun, casual, and quirky environment for those who enjoy life outside of the box.

Comic fans that climbed out of the longbox on Saturday were treated to a relaxing, one day event that featured a respectable list of indie creators and G.I. Joe legend, Larry Hama.  For us, the big surprise was a visit to our booth by John Workman who has done everything imaginable, production wise, in the field of comics. A tremendously talented craftsman and all around nice guy, John thrilled us with stories from his days at Marvel, DC and Star* Reach. Bill and I are big fans of comic history, our main reason for publishing David Anthony Kraft’s COMICS INTERVIEW the Complete Collection, and we were tickled to point out that Volume One of the collection did contain a wonderful interview featuring Mr. Workman.

John Workman in COMICS INTERVIEW: The Complete Collection Vol 1

Having had a chance to work my way around the convention, talking with creators, publishers and fans alike while savoring the atmosphere of the classic lanes I began to formulate a  new perspective regarding the creation of comics. Something I like to refer to as “Recreational Cartooning” became evident to me.

In what we consider the comics industry, there seems to be a prevailing sentiment that there is an overabundance of material competing for a limited audience which is creating a frustration for creators who are struggling to support themselves by making comics. A discouraged creator at the convention muttered the phrase, “Everyone and their mother is making comics.” as he rationalized poor comic sales.

The is no doubt that there are more people creating comics now than ever before in history. This is an extraordinary time for a medium who’s industry leaders, in the late 1970’s,  were so concerned that that there would be no successors to an aging creator pool that they instituted apprentice programs to cultivate new talent. Comic artists, at that time, were trained to create comics in a very specific way to satisfy the editorial needs of a very limited number of publishers.

Today, thanks to the internet, a wide array of independent publishers and an unimaginable number of people creating comics, there is more creative freedom and the output of comics could not come in a greater variety of styles, formats, and modes of distribution. More importantly, people are creating comics for different reasons.

Throughout the first half of the history of the industry I think it is safe to say that creating comics was specifically an end to a means. Creators made comics to make money. They cranked them out for a page rate and were not even concerned about residual income. Their original art was considered disposable once the films were made and there was no aftermarket for their art. The creators that made lifelong careers out of comics were the few that had a true affinity for the medium. Most others used the comics industry as much as it used them. To them it was a mere stepping stone to a career in creative media.

People who create comics now have a different connection to the work. I believe most of these comic creators make comics because of a strong personal attraction to the medium. They make comics, first, because they love to and secondly, hope to find financial rewards from their work. It is this paradigm shift that has many creators struggling to make sense of their place in the industry because the equation making comics = making money is no longer always true.

Dean Haspiel, Seth Kushner, George O'Conner

I had this discussion with Dean Haspiel. That creators, in order to maintain an income from creating comics, must be prepared to continually hustle to find ways to generate revenue with their work. Dean said, “the trick is to have your comics make money for you while you sleep.” This is done through royalties or what is known as residual income, something that was unheard of in the comics industry for decades but is the staple for success in other creative media and fortunately part of the current economic state of some of the current comic industry.

This is where my term Recreational Cartooning comes in.

Maybe it was because we were sitting in a bowling alley but I began to compare comic creators to bowlers.

I imagined casual bowlers who pop into the lanes occasionally to enjoy playing with their friends or bowling just because they liked to and found it relaxing.

Then there are bowlers who join leagues and play on a weekly schedule, some of them even own a ball or bowling shoes but they play more for the fun and social aspect of the sport.

Some bowlers join leagues that are highly competitive. They play to win, they take the sport seriously, but at the end of the day they go home to wake up to  a real job to support their bowling interest.

Finally there are bowlers who turn pro. They dedicate every waking moment to the sport. The search for sponsors, travel and compete against the best bowlers in the world for cash prizes that will support them as professionals. They must stay on top of their game at all times or risk losing it all.

Pro bowlers are rarely intimidated by recreational bowlers. They will encourage them and inspire them even train them. They appreciate that recreational bowlers represent the large portion of the pro bowler’s fan base and are necessary for the economic survival of the sport. They also appreciate that only a rare few will rise to the pro level with the talent and commitment to the sport that is required.

The pro knows and endures the struggles to maintain a career and may often find themselves creatively using their skills or accomplishments to generate income through appearances, lectures, teaching or merchandising. They understand that success can be fleeting.

With the recreational bowler in mind, Recreational Cartooning can apply to  anyone making comics because they love to but are not interested or able to support  themselves making comics. Like bowling, it should be OK to enjoy making comics just because you want to.

As an industry, comics should  support the recreational cartoonist as part of the complete landscape rather than be intimidated by them and their efforts. Their product may or may not not be distributed by Diamond but it is influencing trends that will impact the whole industry. Already they are driving forces behind many of  the small conventions springing up across he country and they are proving to be a niche market in and of themselves. The recreational cartoonist is necessary for the survival of the industry and the medium.

I will always make a point to encourage anyone interested in making comics to jump in ad give it a try. There are so many options to be able to create and publish comics. Budding comic artists don’t ever have to be the next greatest master of comic art but if creating a comic gives them a feeling of joy or accomplishment then I applaud them for trying. Who knows, they may someday be the next genius of the industry and I sure don’t want to be known as the guy who said they were wasting their time.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco

Corporate Comics, the Exodus…Again

Monday, June 25th, 2012

There has been a lot of buzz lately about creators walking away from cushy contracts at Marvel and DC to strike out on their own, the most recent being Paolo Rivera whose eloquent blog post on the subject offers wonderful insight to his personal motivation.

The reaction from fans and comic related news media would make you think that these creators are venturing to the dark side of the moon on the first experimental space vessel not built and commandeered by NASA. This reaction mystifies me because it shows a disregard of the history of comics and the vibrant atmosphere of the current comics marketplace.

People that are surprised that top rated talent are leaving the Big Two should rather be asking, “why has it taken so long?”

The pros and cons of working for corporate comic companies have been established for decades.

Sure, you get to work on characters you know and love, there’s a steady check so long as you are a hot commodity, maybe some benefits, maybe some royalties, oh and the exposure to Marvel and DC‘s huge fan base can elevate you to star status. But in the end you own nothing, you had to be careful to create only within the parameters of the existing universes or run the risk of watching a character you created make beaucoup bucks for the corporation while you get nothing in return and, when you are no longer hot or are out of favor with the editing staff, there is no work and you live as a pariah.

There was a time when working in comics was the most loathsome career path for a writer or artist. Lousy page rates, no royalties, rights or recognition. You worked in comics merely as a stepping stone into advertising, television or film. This was true until the sixties when Marvel, or more accurately Stan Lee, made working in comics seem almost glamorous. The money got a bit better and creators began imagining actual careers in the field. By the late seventies creators began to realize that even though their names were plastered all over the books, they were still not getting much in return for their efforts and especially their unique creations which were now wholly owned by the corporation they worked for.

Creator’s eyes were fully opened in 1978 when the first Superman movie was released and they watched Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster battle for morsels of the enormous profit generated by the character they had created and sold for $130 nearly forty years earlier.

It became clear that there was a deficiency in the business model of the comics industry. Why was it necessary for the comics publishers to fully own the copyrights and trademarks of all the intellectual property they published? Other book publishers do not operate this way and neither do other forms of entertainment where royalties and residuals support creators long after their work is created. Don’t get me wrong, there are good and bad contracts  everywhere necessitating the need for lawyers and agents but it sure is nice to have the opportunity to negotiate your terms.

The success of the Underground Market in the sixties and the rise of the Direct Market in the late seventies created opportunities for comic creators to work outside of the traditional corporate confines of the comic industry. Creators, disgruntled by the usual terms with which they worked at corporate comic companies, turned to the successes in these markets and began to strike out on their own. Many targeted the Direct Market that had established a secure venue for such properties as Jack Katz’ s First Kingdom, Dave Sim’s Cerebus the Aardvark, and Richard and Wendy Pini’s Elfquest. This defined a new model where creator’s could find success owning their own characters and marketing direct to the distributers with the benefit of minimal risk provided by guaranteed pre-orders and a no-return policy.


Alternative publishers took note and began contracting creators defecting from the corporate comic companies, offering creator owned contracts that included fair page rates, and royalties. The eighties opened the door for true creators rights and as the alternative competition gained a foothold in the industry, the corporations  began offering publications that were vehicles for creator owned properties and they structured some type royalty arrangements.

Since the inception of the Direct Market there has always been an opportunity for creators to have alternative options. Marvel and DC, however, have maintained  a strangle hold on the Direct Market which they control by sporadically flooding the market with superfluous content in an effort to successfully drive out or contain alternative publishers. There have, however, been a few exceptions where talent has been able to break free with enormous success and plenty of other instances where independent creators have had comfortable, rewarding careers by most standards.

The Direct Market is no longer the panacea it once was for comic creators who now realize how easily the market can be manipulated by the Big Two and the near monopoly of its primary distributor.

Fortunately the internet has provided a wide open space for creators to play and have direct access to the customers themselves. Print on Demand providers and affordable, minimum-quantity print runs has eliminated most of the upfront risk of comic production and crowd funding has created an avenue for advance orders establishing revenue streams.

Competition is brisk and there are more comic creators than ever before, presenting a huge variety of unique creations that go well beyond the constrictions of the superhero genre. The distribution of digital content for mobile devices is giving comic creators the opportunity to reach new markets that just a year or two ago may have seemed impossible.

This is possibly the best and most challenging time to be a comic creator ever.  Working for a corporate comic company is now a choice, not the only viable option if you intend to have a career in comics. Corporate creators have a better understanding of their role as  cog in the corporate wheel and are more careful as they juggle being creative without abandoning rights to personal creations.

Corporate comics are once again a stepping stone to a respected career but creators no longer need to leave the comics industry. They just need to declare their independence and take control of their destiny as comic creators.

The revolution to establish these freedoms for comic creators has spanned decades. There have been many victories and many casualties. Alternative companies have come and gone, creators have basked in the limelight then vanished from the radar. Some have celebrated success while others have anguished over failure. Through it all it has been the audience that has benefited the most, paying witness to a variety of comics that would never exist if they were limited only to the corporately owned IP of two publishers.Next week, as a nation, we celebrate the independence of the United States of America, a country that established freedoms and inalienable rights that did not exist prior to the signing of the Constitution. Those same rights grant us the opportunity as comic creators to freely express ourselves through our work and to pursue a free and open market. As a comic creator, take a stand  and be independent. As a comics fan, support independent, creators and publishers.

As a comic community declare every Independence Day as Independent’s Day and applaud a bright future for the art of creating comics.

Thirty years ago as two of the co-founders of the alternative comics publisher Comico the Comic Company, Bill Cucinotta and I were focused on these same ideals. Through Comico we had many triumphs yet succumbed to tragic failures.

We never lost the dream.

This Fourth of July weekend we will celebrate our third year in our new publishing incarnation as CO2 Comics. We will be rejoicing our continued freedoms as Independent Publishers, armed with technology that did not exist thirty years ago, experience, and a continued love for comics. Our Declaration of Independence will be the announcement of three new print publications that will be immediately available to our readers.

We know how exciting it is to publish comics beyond the walls of the corporate comic companies!

So next time you hear about a comic creator’s exodus from the corporate comic world just remember, “it ain’t anything new.” It is an opportunity created by the efforts of many over many years.  Show your support, buy their comics and celebrate their independence!

Celebrating Thirty Years of Comics History!

Gerry Giovinco


Stop the Presses: Part 4

Monday, April 9th, 2012

I recently acquired a DC Comics Production Handbook that was produced in 1989. It was quite clear from the contents that the industry then was clearly moving away from newsprint and focusing on the finer production qualities of better paper stock that we are now used to.  Some explanations in the handbook contradicted information that I posted in Stop the Presses Part 3 and, being that I am always happy to stand corrected, I am sharing these new insights.

As mentioned in Part 3, World Color Press’s Sparta plant played a dominant role in comic book production from the 1940’s to the 1990’s but, though I credited this to their use of the  web offset press, the DC Handbook claims that all the Sparta newsprint comics were printed on letterpress which used plastic coated plates to press ink onto the absorbent stock. The letterpresses at Sparta could print two 32-page comic books at a time and would produce up to 15,000 copies of each interior an hour.

By the late 1980’s, DC Comics, along with every other comic publisher at the time, were exploring other printers who were producing comics on better paper stock allowing for greater color capabilities. DC used the offset presses at Ronald’s Printing out of Canada.  The manual sites that Ronald’s M1000-B offset press could produce 60,000 16-page sections (signatures) an hour which according to my math is the same speed as the letterpress.  (1 32-page book = 2 16-page signatures X 2 books = 4 16 page signatures. 4 signatures times 15,000 = 60,000 signatures an hour. No?)

According to the manual color adjustments on the offset press had to be done while the press was running  and could waste as many as 10,000 copies before a proof was okayed. Sheet fed letterpresses stop while color adjustments are made and waste far less paper.

The 1989 manual also makes a startling claim that, with all factors involved, they could not make any money on a comic book selling less than 20,000 copies! There seems to be a lot of titles below this number on current sales charts, so either production costs have dropped or the higher prices of today’s comics can support this decline in figures. I’m sure it’s not because DC likes losing money.

The DC Comics Production Handbook went into a lot of other now obsolete but fondly remembered production techniques such as color separations, blue boards, coding for flat color, photostats and even pasting up word balloons. The Digital Age of art production has changed all of those things and the comics industry got its initial taste of that with First Comics‘ 1985 publication of the all digitally produced comic book SHATTER by Peter B. Gillis and Mike Saenz.

Nearly thirty years later coloring, lettering, and even artwork is being done digitally. This is true of printing as well. Though digital printing may not be the cheapest way to print it is giving many publishers an opportunity to be able to publish in very small print runs because of the lack of set up costs. Previously much of the initial cost in printing was tied up in the production costs of films and plates requiring minimum runs in the tens of thousands before a comic could recover those costs. Now it is possible to print just one copy of a comic book and, though the unit cost is much higher than a comic printed on an offset press, there is no need to have a warehouse of unsold comics to meet the limited demand of a niche product.

Print on Demand (POD) providers have created an opportunity for independent publishers to create beautiful editions of their publications in nearly every format imaginable. Creators and publishers just need to upload digitally formatted content to the POD providers site, usually at no cost, and order a printed proof that generally takes no more than two weeks to arrive. Once the proof is reviewed and and any changes made the books can be made available for sale or ordered in quantity for distribution.

David Anthony Kraft's COMICS INTERVIEW: The Complete Collection Volume 2

CO2 Comics has taken advantage of this POD production process and has been able to produce the beautiful 640-page David Anthony Kraft’s COMICS INTERVIEW the Complete Collection Volume One of this eleven volume project has already been made available and Volume Two is currently in production. Other new print projects will be announce very shortly so please stay tuned for the exciting news HOT OFF THE PRESS!

Celebrating Thirty Years of Comics History!

Gerry Giovinco


Stop the Presses: Part 1

Monday, March 19th, 2012

The new trend in the production  of the traditional comic book pamphlet is the self-cover format and it has people talking. Some are disturbed by the idea that the form of the product  is being dictated too heavily by production costs, especially now when comic book prices are generally three to four dollars. Others are waxing nostalgic, calling for a return to newsprint interiors and flat color in an effort to maintain  tradition.

The irony is that the format of the comic book as we know it has always been dictated by cost and convenience. The earliest comic books were conceived as a way to keep presses running in print shops. Their size was determined by the maximum number of pages that could fit on a print signature without excessive, wasteful trim.


Much of the technology developed for the printing of comic books can be attributed to World Color Press,  a company who for decades was the largest and most innovative printer of comic books.  Even their central location in Sparta, Illinois facilitated the least expensive shipping nationwide.

In the 1980’s when independent publishers began producing comics on paper grades that were more expensive than traditional newsprint it was not because they necessarily wanted to. By that point in history World Color Press was the only game in town and publishers had to line up for a coveted place on their print schedule that was dominated by product produced by Marvel and DC who could squeeze competition off the presses simply by increasing their line of comics. This practice of manipulating the instigated a lawsuit by First Comics in 1984 siting anti-competitive practices.

Forced off the presses in Sparta the new wave of indy publishers went to printers that though they could not compete with World Color’s prices on newsprint, they could offer specialized production of comics on improved paper stock that would allow these new publishers to compete with Marvel and DC on a quality level that could justify higher pricing of comics. Popular stocks of paper called Mando and Baxter were much denser and brighter than newsprint and gave publishers an opportunity to explore full-color in ways that they could not before.

The superior production quality allowed the independent publishers an opportunity to gain a foothold in the growing Direct Market. Watching the competition grow forced Marvel and DC to eventually adopt the new production standards constituting their own price increases which evaporated the expendable income of the comic book consumer, crippling the market and ringing the death knell for most of those early independent publishers.

Advances in digital printing production have made printing on newsprint no longer an affordable option for comic books. The current self-cover format is most similar to the production of circulars that we get in the mail or in our newspapers for free every day, keeping with the time honored tradition of producing comics as cheaply and as conveniently as possible thus ensuring the medium’s perception as disposable entertainment, at least to the casual reader.

Comics in print will never go away. There will always be a place for comics preserved as graphic novels or presented in a deluxe format to be held and admired but if the tradition of producing comics in the most cost effective and convenient manner is to be maintained, the days of the pamphlet are surely numbered. The cost of producing comics for digital distribution are so negligible compared to print that as soon as a reliable distribution method is in place and fully accepted by consumers you can be sure that industry leaders will be quick to pull the plug and yell, “Stop the presses!”

Celebrating Thirty Years of Comics History!

Gerry Giovinco


How to Get Rich Making Comics

Monday, February 6th, 2012

First and foremost, if your reason for making comics is to get rich quick, get prepared for a big disappointment! Making comics is an art and, like most art forms, there is a long line of practitioners aspiring to emulate the success of a limited few. Those that have attained riches from making comics are a rare breed and thanks to unscrupulous publishing practices that have been the norm of the industry for decades many deserving comic artist have been deprived of fame and fortune.

I remember reading a list of the top ten grossing entertainers in the world sometime during the 1980’s. Two on the list were comic artists, PEANUTS creator Charles Schulz and GARLIELD creator, Jim Davis. They were right up there with entertainment titans, Michael Jackson and Bill Cosby! That was when I first realized the full fiscal potential of making comics. Schulz and Davis were both syndicated comic strip artists proving that there was commercial power to mixing words and pictures on the page.

This type of economic success was not available to comic book creators at the time for one key reason, Work for Hire. Most comic strip artists maintained ownership of their characters but in the comic book industry the publishers owned the characters and creators only received a page rate for their services with no ability to share in the success of the work through royalties.

This all began to change in the 80’s as the industry pushed for creator’s rights and independent publishers sprang up, willing to publish creator owned work. The newly devised Direct Market made it possible for these new publishers to explore the potential of sharing profits with creators. It also made it possible for creators to self publish their work.

1st five Comico Covers

Comico's 1st Color Books

This was our motivation when we created Comico. We knew that the best option for profiting from comics was to work for ourselves rather than be just another cog in the works of industry giants. As this same notion began to proliferate throughout the industry, comic artists did begin to realize the wealth that was possible. Two major examples of the earning potential of comics can be attributed TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird and SPAWN creator Todd McFarlane who all made millions from their creations.

So, if you want to get rich making comics there are a few things to know.

Creating a successful comic or character is like winning the lottery. The odds are so great. It gets even more depressing when you see the long list of incredible talent that are the competition but no one can guess what will strike the nerve of the market. Like the lottery, you cannot win if you do not play, so jump in and create!

Do what you love and love what you do! Many will tell you this is the key to success. Bullshit!

But this will make the struggles a hell of a lot more bearable. Creating comics needs to be your passion. Make them because you want to and love doing it. Create characters that you know and love and need to share with the reader. Your ability to bring those characters to life is what will make them desirable to readers. Passion is infectious when it is executed with skill.

NEVER GIVE  UP THE RIGHTS TO YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY!!! Own your characters, never sell them unless the price is so unimaginably mind-boggling that you can’t say, ” no”. If you do sell your characters, don’t look back, it is time to reap what you have sown.

YOU WILL NEVER GET RICH JUST BY MAKING COMICS! This could change if the digital market takes off but there is just not a big enough comic reading market today to make you filthy, stinking rich. You may get pretty comfortable but not uber-loaded. Creators make the big bucks through licensing and merchandising. The comics are the launch pad for your property, where the character comes to life and proves it has legs but from there it is time to go to market and make movies, toys, pop tarts, you name it. That is where the money is.

What’s that? Your a comic artist not a salesperson? Then get a publisher that will do the work for you or get yourself an agent or a marketing agency. Go find Jerry Maguire and start yelling, “SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!” Video game developer, David Perry, does a great job explaining the need to merchandise here in one of his lectures.

It’s an awesome read and though it’s about licensing video games, you can easily see how it relates to comics because his point is that characters drive licensing and merchandising more than anything else.

Now you know that, yes, it is possible to get rich making comics but it requires a lot of love, a lot of work, a lot of luck and a lot of wheeling dealing. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

See you at the bank!

Celebrating Thirty Years of Comics History!

Gerry Giovinco



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