This one is odd...it didn’t actually run as a TaW.
Because I used a letter from Neal Adams as the starting point of this column, JJ decided that he should run this piece in the letter column of CR, rather than as a Tilting.
Still, in MY records, this is #23.
ANYway, Neal Adams did a whole-fucking-lot for the comics industry. He was also one of the loudest and most vocal proponents of creator’s rights at a time where it was virtually guaranteed you’d get blacklisted for taking that stance.
But he was the WORST fucking comics publisher you can even BEGIN to imagine.
Continuity stopped publishing comic books shortly thereafter.
TILTING AT WINDMILLS #23
By Brian Hibbs
Sometimes it's a real struggle to write a monthly column (I don't see how people like Peter David manage to do it on a weekly basis): I can struggle for weeks on end to find just the right topic at times. Not so this month.
This month I'm a full two weeks ahead of deadline.
Why, you ask? Simple: Comic Retailer's letter column.
This afternoon I received a copy of January's CR, and found innumerable grist for my mill. Let's start simple: Neal Adams.
O.K., everyone, go to your pile of back issues and dig out January's issue. Flip to page 16, and read the letter from Neal Adams. I'll wait till you’re finished...
...all done? Good. Let's begin.
This letter is so filled with nonsense, distortions, and just plain ignorance of the way the market functions, that's it's nearly impossible to know where to begin. I'll be linear, and start at the top, and move down.
To begin with, the cynic in me inherently distrusts any letter that begins with, in effect, "look how swell we are" – usually this is a clear sign of smoke screens to mask an inferior message. But, since "quality" is an issue that Adams is predominately concerned with (at least insofar of his perception of it goes), let's address this head on:
Continuity's books fucking suck.
I'm willing to defend this assertion: Continuity's comics feature wooden writing with inanely simplistic or wholly nonexistent plots. The artwork is bad swiping of Adams own style. This is not to say that I don't like Adams' art – I quite do. But I (and the majority of my customers) find the slavish aping utterly unappealing. And the editing is atrocious, rife with misspelled words and ungrammatical sentence structure. My opinion is clearly backed up by my customers’ buying habits: we now are completely unable to sell any Continuity comics at all. (customer dissatisfaction is equally clear by looking at the sales charts: Continuity's best-selling title, Armor, took a 56% drop from issue #1 to #9 on Diamond's charts, and an astounding 78% drop from #1 to #8 on Capital's charts!)
But let's put that aside for the moment, and talk about shipping schedules. Yes, it has been S.O.P. at Capital and Diamond, at least, to require resolicitation or full returnability if an item ships later than 90 days after it was scheduled (Though, as we all should know, Capital has closed this to 30 days while Diamond is in the process of instituting 60 days) However, the mere ability to deliver material late does not imply it is a right to do so. Continuity has long had the absolute worst performance records in its decade or so (or has it been nearly two? Either way a long time) in the business. "With Deathwatch 2000 we rededicated our company to a monthly schedule" Neal says, recognizing, one presumes, that it was systematic late shipping that has made Continuity such a joke over the years. And yet Continuity seems to think that "April shipping" means "July".
Let me put it this way: most buildings have emergency exits, right? When you want to leave a building in a normal course of affairs, what do you do? Go for the front door? Or make for the emergency exit? Late shipping policies are like emergency exits. If you have to, you can use it, but normally it should be avoided, and kept clear for, well, emergencies.
Unfortunately, Continuity (which, let me reiterate, has had a history of flagrantly violating the most basic of vendor/merchant contracts: delivering a book when scheduled) once again opted to unfailingly use the emergency exit right out of the (second) gate! Want proof? Here's a chart.
Title Month Solicited to ship Date Delivered (Weeks Late)
------------ ----------------------------- --------------------
Armor #1 (DW 1) April 1993 5/5/93 (1)
Hybrids #1 (DW 2) April 1993 5/5/93 (1)
Megalith #1 (DW 3) April 1993 5/5/93 (1)
Ms. Mystic #1 (DW 4) April 1993 5/19/93 (3)
Earth 4 #1 (DW 5) April 1993 6/2/93 (5)
Cyberrad #1 (DW 6) April 1993 5/19/93 (3)
Armor #2 (DW 7) May 1993 8/11/93 (11)
Hybrids #2 (DW 8) May 1993 9/8/93 (15)
Megalith #2 (DW 9) May 1993 8/4/93 (10)
Ms. Mystic #2 (DW 10) May 1993 8/11/93 (11)
Earth 4 #2 (DW 11) May 1993 9/8/93 (15)
Cyberrad #2 (DW 12) May 1993 9/8/93 (15)
Valeria #1 (incentive) May 1993 9/1/93 (14)
Armor #3 (DW 15) June 1993 9/22/93 (12)
Megalith #3 (DW 16) June 1993 9/22/93 (12)
Ms. Mystic #3 (DW 17) June 1993 9/22/93 (12)
Hybrids #3 (DW 18) June 1993 10/5/93 (14)
Earth 4 #3 (DW 19) June 1993 10/5/93 (14)
Cyberrad #3 (DW 20) June 1993 -- (24+)
Valeria #2 (incentive) June 1993 -- (24+)
Armor #4 July 1993 10/13/93 (11)
Hybrids v. 2 #1 July 1993 -- (20+)
Hybrids: The origin #2 (a) July 1993 12/14/93 (20)
Megalith #4 July 1993 12/1/93 (18)
Earth 4 v.3 #1 July 1993 12/14/93 (20)
Ms. Mystic v. 3 #1 July 1993 9/29/93 (9)
Cyberrad v.2 #2 (b) July 1993 12/14/93 (20)
Valeria #3 July 1993 -- (20+)
Bucky O'Hare #1 (c) July 1993 -- (20+)
Crazyman # July 1993 " 8/25/93 (4)
Samuree #1 July 1993 9/1/93 (5)
Armor #5 August 1993 12/1/93 (14)
Hybrids v. 2 #2 August 1993 -- (16+)
Hybrids: The origin #3 August 1993 -- (16+)
Megalith #5 August 1993 12/1/93 (14)
Earth 4 v.3 #2 August 1993 -- (16+)
Ms. Mystic v. 3 #2 August 1993 12/1/93 (14)
Cyberrad v.2 #3 (d) August 1993 -- (16+)
Valeria #4 August 1993 -- (16+)
Bucky O'Hare #2 (e) August 1993 -- (16+)
Crazyman #2 August 1993 -- (16+)
Samuree #2 August 1993 10/13/93 (7)
Armor #6 September 1993 12/8/93 (10)
Hybrids v. 2 #3 September 1993 -- (11+)
Hybrids: The origin #3 September 1993 -- (11+)
Megalith #6 September 1993 -- (11+)
Earth 4 v.3 #3 September 1993 -- (11+)
Ms. Mystic v. 3 #3 September 1993 -- (11+)
Cyberrad v.2 #4 September 1993 -- (11+)
Valeria #5 September 1993 12/8/93 (10)
Bucky O'Hare #3 September 1993 -- (11+)
Crazyman #3 September 1993 -- (11+)
Samuree #3 September 1993 -- (11+)
NOTES: There are also 33 titles solicited for October, November, and December that I haven't bothered listing because none of them have come in yet!
The numbers in parentheses after the date arrived is the minimum amount of weeks the book is late – counting a "April" book as due on the last week of April. Obviously if you hold a more stringent definition, these numbers greatly worsen...
(DW #...) = The chapter number of theDeathwatch 3000 crossover
a) = resolicited from a previous 3/92 due date
b) = resolicited from a previous 12/91 due date
c) = resolicited from a previous 4/92 due date
d) = resolicited from a previous 4/92 due date
e) = resolicited from a previous 7/92 due date
Obviously this chart makes it clear that Continuity hasn't ever shipped one single book during the month it was solicited. Even Image can't make this claim. Not only that, but they can't even put out a crossover in correct order, nor even complete it! They shipped Megalith #4 & 5 simultaneously; and they completely skipped Valeria #'s 2 to 4. (also, Hybrids: the Origin is described as a 3 issue series, when they later solicited for #4 to 6). I could go on and on.
What a sad and sorry record.
Oh, but Neal Adams and Continuity are nice guys, yes they are! After all, they gave us "premium" comics ("that guarded against any difficulties that might show up"...which is exactly the opposite of the point of incentive comics: they're not there to "appease" us after we've been screwed, they're to reward us for supporting your line!) -- Neal even provides a chart of his own to show how nice he is...except he forgets to remind us that we needed to invest $12.50 retail for the Megalith/Hybrids #0s, and $75 retail to receive each Valeria premium, and that not all of them made it to retailers: I assume a Valeria Fur is supposed to be Valeria #2, based on the description of that item, and I've never even heard of a Hybrids #0 Red (nor is it mentioned in any of Diamond's catalogs in the last 9 months), so instead of $40 low/$105 high it suddenly becomes $20 low/$50 high. A vasty difference when you're talking about an average of a $43.75 investment to see that "return".
Of course, the ironic part here is that the "value" of the "premiums" is due to speculators, which Adams spends many a paragraph decrying. Stores that sold these books ("guarding" us, I suppose) are selling to speculators not readers. Those of us that gave them away (the only right thing to do – we have them because the customers wanted the comics) did not a priori "assured a solid readership" – the quality of these books were so low that none of my customers wanted any more. After the first wave of books, I got cancellation after cancellation notice from my subscriber customers for the entire line.
But, before the books actually arrived, there was interest. In fact, there was a lot of speculator interest: I know of many stores that were requiring purchase of all 6 April books to get the premiums. Many (though, admittedly not all) of the purchasers of these sets were looking to make some money of the "value" of the "premiums" even in "reader-driven" stores
O.K. Neal, let's talk comics:
1) There are far more than 300,000 comic-book readers who shop in U.S. comic shops. There are well over 6000 retail locations in the US. Simple division would mean that the "average" comic has a customer base of a measly 50 people! 50 people? It would be nearly impossible to sustain a store on that small of a base (not that some stores aren't that small, but they're the exception rather than the rule) – figure there are at least one million people buying comics regularly from the direct market. To suggest less would be absolutely insane!
2 and 3) Market size has nothing to do with the basic responsibilities to the market. These include such things as on-schedule shipping, shipping in proper order, accurate solicitations, and not deceiving your customers.
You have the audacity to suggest that retailers who are being hurt by Continuity's incompetence are instead for some reason "shifting the blame" for other companies? Man, are you way off base! Look at your shipping record, look at your plummeting sales – a lot of retailers got hurt by your inability to do your job properly. Yes, we also got hurt by other companies, but the issue before us, right here, right now is your culpability, and flagrant irresponsibility towards the market.
Of course retailer's problems are with Continuity, 2% market share, or smaller. Any company that spits on retailers and our customer base needs to be exposed. A defense that "we're smaller than Image or Marvel – go pick on them" just doesn't wash. If you're not with us, you're against us. Are you so wildly out of touch with the way that retailers do business to not understand that by not delivering an April book in April you do irreparable harm to the retailer’s budget? Many of us have to budget as close as possible : the decision to carry a Continuity title often means that we'd have to not carry something else that would potential make us money. When that book is not delivered in time it a) costs us money (in Loss of Opportunity, among other things), and b) kills the sell-through as the customers (who have budgets too, y'know) spend their money on other things.
You're right, sir, this industry's problems have caused a glut, and killed many retailers. And you are clearly, and without argument guilty of perpetuating this problems: both on the front end of tying up our cash flow, but on the back end as well – by actively seeking to attract the speculator dollar: 7 out of ten 1993 solicitations feature "incentive" comics, and all 10 feature "enhanced" covers on the majority of the line!!
You ask if all retailers have become speculators. Beyond the fact that the very nature of ordering in the direct market is a form of speculation, if retailers turn towards speculation, it's because companies like Continuity foster a climate for it to thrive in. Especially when you can't even count on publishers to actually deliver the comics when they promise
No one wants to make you a "scapegoat" (no matter how much rhetoric you try to heap on) – simply to live up to your responsibility to the market place, and to retailers. Believe me, if you were the paradigm of virtue you seem to believe you are, then no one would be making noises. We retailers may be pretty screwed up in a lot of ways, but we don't bitch when we don't need to – None of us have the time to waste.
Finally, you may want to think that the retailer's voice is raised in "animosity and anger", but nothing could be further from the truth. This is merely business. You can't screw the retailer any more, without screwing the whole industry even harder. This isn't the comics market of 1985 any more. Hell, this isn't even the market of 1990 any more! Things have changed, and you can't afford to screw up any more. All publishers. Every one of them. You say "cooperation counts". Fair enough. Shape up, live up to your side of the agreement and maybe you'll get some good will.
Lord knows you aren't going to get it by screwing the marketplace, then trying to cover it up with empty and hollow rhetoric. I say to publishers large and small, tiny or tall: either shape up or get out. We don't need any more bad publishers who undermine the retailer’s ability to survive.
Anyway, enough of that.
I have two more letter column comments yet to go (but I promise I'll make these shorter...really)
To Jerome Piroue: you'll note that in the January issue it went back to "Brain", even though Don & Maggie fixed it in December. Sigh. If it says Brain this month, I'll scream! Anyway, the problem that I see with lower, tighter ordering, with higher publisher overprints is that the reorder mechanism just doesn't work (I placed 18 reorders last week...all on mainstream stuff, too, and had a 0% fill-rate), and that publishers often can't get space at the printers in a week. It'll take 3 or 4 days to figure out that a book is gone, nationwide, so you figure it'll be at least two weeks before a book can be in our hands (and that's only if we're talking about Marvel or DC, who're buying such massive run-time, they can shuffle things around better. 3 to 4 weeks is far more likely, and, by that point, most material (barring your occasional Death of Superman) is very difficult to sell.
I'll tell you why I want small returns: while I do choke hard occasionally on any given title, I'll generally more affected by the "nickel and dimes" – the 3 copies of Captain America left after cycles, the copy of Silver sable. It's deadwood at that point, and any individual book isn't much, but together it's dragging us down. Also, one would think that reorders would be that much more available under a system of returns – what didn't sell for you might be just what you need.
To Craig Stormon: No doubt you could find things I'm doing wrong. I can positively identify at least a dozen of them or so, myself.
I never claimed I was perfect. These are just my observations about the industry. But (permit me to be immodest) I was kinda figuring that being nominated for an Eisner, winning "best comic shop in San Francisco" in one of the most crowed markets in the US, and being allowed to write this very column would give me a certain cachet.
Well, perhaps not. Heh.
I'm very sorry for you that your artist left. But it's not the retailer’s problem.
I'll tell you, what irritates me is publisher’s knee-jerk reaction that retailers lobbying for returns are people looking to shift the blame. It was bull when McFarlane said it in Wizard, it was bull when Neal Adams said it 2 letters up from you, and it's still bull now.
Retailers are asking for returns because the mechanism of the direct market doesn't work anymore: cycle sheets are meaningless these days, everything is a shot in the dark. I've been in retailing for nearly 10 years in some form or another, and I'm telling you the market has changed. Every day I hear a new horror story about stores, good stores, mind you, not fly-by-night cardvestites, on the verge of going under. We're not over-ordering intentionally, we're doing it because most of the numbers are purely guesses. Did you know that some 40% of the top 200 comics are at an issue number lower than #6? Given that it takes at least six months to find a books true level of sales, that's a tremendous amount to guess right!
Every retailer is feeling the pinch right now – this isn't scam artists trying to get over. This industry is going to need a fundamental change in the way we do business, or we're going to lose a lot of good, smart retailers. My opinion is that partial returns, with appropriate charges to offset damage to publisher and distributor is the best of our several options.
But, really, it's not shifting blame, and if you can't see or understand the current state of the market, then why are you in publishing?
Goodnight, my darlings, I'll see you in 30.