Saturday, 1 March 2014

Weekly Update #20: A Solution For Diamond?

Previously on 'A Moment Of Cerebus':
Dave Sim, working with George Peter Gatsis, has remastered the first two collected volumes of Cerebus to restore details and quality in the artwork lost over the thirty years since they were originally published (as detailed here and here). After Cerebus' original printer Preney Print closed its doors, Dave Sim moved his printing to Lebonfon in 2007 as at that time they were still capable of working with photographic negatives and making printing plates as Preney had done. And then Lebonfon switched to digital scanning and printing - a technology which struggles to faithfully reproduce Cerebus' tone without creating moire patterns (as detailed in Crisis On Infinite Pixels). Dave Sim continues to work with Lebonfon to ensure the print-quality of the new Cerebus and High Society editions (as detailed in Collections Stalled). Now read on...
Glamourpuss #14 (July 2010)
Art by Dave Sim
DAVE SIM:
Okay, it looks as if George and Sean have their work cut out for them.  Still no word from Lebonfon on  a) the price for a single signature and  b) what they can do to keep me and Diamond from having to pay 95% of the cost of getting the printing to look like the proofs.

Thanks to Barry D. again. Patreon.com is definitely the kind of thing that I'm looking for since it took me two and a half months to do STRANGE DEATH No.4 and that issue had a good ten pages from glamourpuss that I only had to add comic panels and transition backgrounds to.  No.5 is going to have to be all new so that should tell me how fast or slow I actually am.

Let me try and give you a bit more of an overview of where everything stands now, thanks to a phone message from Brendan (no last name). He wanted to know where everything stands on:

THE GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING
That was an example of a book that everyone told me was a sure seller because copies of the original were going for $50 on eBay and it turned out not to be the case (a sure seller I mean).  Sold a few hundred copies and then zip. I think that's the category that I'm in: stores have limited display space so they special order anything that isn't CEREBUS or HIGH SOCIETY.  That requires Large Printing Bills for books that then trickle out over the course of years.  I really should have stuck with my original plan: telling people that the GSP was designed to help young cartoonists, not as a cash cow, so if they can find the text online, download the text.  No problem by me.

THE IDW CEREBUS COVERS BOOKS
The COVERS books are under Special Projects at IDW which is Scott Dunbier's beat.  That covers a lot of territory, primarily (I'm guessing) the Artists Editions which are one of those "success attracts success" deals.  The more of them come out, the more Prime Comic Art becomes available and then Scott has to prioritize.  I'm not egomaniac enough to think the CEREBUS COVERS are going to be very high up on the immediate list even two years ago when we agreed to do them, let alone now.  They've also reprinted the Walt Simonson THOR edition which means there's a new category:  perpetual sellers.  Again, I don't think CEREBUS COVERS are on that list.  If you can sell another batch of Simonson THORs just by relisting them, you really need to do that.  Also, I think Scott is determined to get ALL the covers and that's one of those things that only patience is going to lead to.  And -- from MY standpoint -- and for all I know from IDW's standpoint -- I'm better off working on THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND which is already going to take years to do.  Three or four years to produce a year and a half's worth of monthly comic books. Stopping STRANGE DEATH to write commentaries on 300 covers -- how much time is that going to add to the wait time?  Rhetorical question.  None of us knows.

CEREBUS ARCHIVE COLLECTION
Well, that's one of those: is this another GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING where people SAY it will sell and it DOES sell but not in sufficient numbers to make it worthwhile?  The other problem is that it pretty much...you know...drops off a cliff. Here's my history as a freelancer leading up to the creation of Cerebus.  Almost got to the creation of Cerebus. All I'm going to hear is "Are you ever going to finish CEREBUS ARCHIVE?" Well, probably not.  I'm glad I got as far as I did but even as a print-on-demand title it sold really badly.  There just isn't a large enough audience interested in How CEREBUS Came To Be.  For my own purposes, I think it helped in an area I was concerned about: putting my version of the history on record.  For people concerned about that.  To the best of my recollection, this is how it happened, these are the important elements and how they interacted. There are a number of different versions out there, obviously. Steve Peters suggested putting the issues up on KA-BLAM, the "other" print-on-demand outfit. It sounds good, but almost ALL of these things are in the "if you can just wave a magic wand and it happens", well, fine, but even the simplest thing takes time. I'd be more inclined to look into Barry's suggestion of Patreon because it's a "bottom line" thing. Here: you've got patrons who have committed for $80 a month. That's $80 you can bank on.

GLAMOURPUSS COLLECTION
Same as the above but with the added problem of getting it confused with THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND before STRANGE DEATH even comes out.  "Oh, yeah. I bought that collection. I thought it was supposed to be a comic book.  What a drag".  The story is ALWAYS going to garbled. ALWAYS.  That having been said, when Lebonfon decided that would no longer store books for publishers, I had to figure out what to do with 6,000 copies of glamourpuss (and NO No.5's. D'OH!!).  What I decided to do was to have them shipped to Waterloo and then sign them all so IDW could use them to promote THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND.  They're all signed and they're sitting there while I look into packaging them here in town.  Which isn't working, I've come to the conclusion in the last few days.  So, soon the whole skid full of books is off to IDW to be... packaged... in some way. THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND: ORIGINS or something like that.  But that's not a top priority right now with me just having finished issue No.4. That's something -- HOW to package them and HOW best to use them to promote THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND maybe a year or six months before No.1 ships -- we will be brainstorming about when I have, like issue 11 or 12 (God willing) done, two years from now?  Three years from now?

THE CEREBUS MISCELLANY BOOK
Same deal as above.  You're talking about a five-figure amount to print it.  You're talking about how do I compensate the people I did jam stories with? Or do I? My view is that they can reprint their own work if they want, but Creator's Rights is usually interpreted as:  cut me a cheque if you use my work.  With JUDENHASS and THE GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING it was a one-time sale.  If someone wants to offer to pay me back for the five-figure printing bill if it turns out to only sell once, but, hey the world doesn't work that way. "Gee, Dave, I thought the CEREBUS MISCELLANY BOOK was a guaranteed goldmine.  Oh, well."  I can't really afford even any potential "Oh, well's" at this point, I'm afraid.

Frankly, my biggest concern right now is the amount of money Diamond has tied up in CEREBUS inventory that isn't moving because the whole process of getting CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY back into print has dragged on for two years with no end NECESSARILY in sight.  I mean, how long is it going to take for George and Sean to have a finished signature or finished book between them? As long as it takes to do it properly.  Then we still have to work out how Imprimerie Lebonfon fits into this.  Are they going to insist on an additional 50% on the printing bill?  What happens if we look at the printed signature and don't like it?

With that in mind, I've floated a trial balloon with Diamond: suggesting that if we get to the finished signature stage and we don't like the quality that Diamond consider doing a run of CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY through Gemstone Publishing, Steve Geppi's publishing arm that does mostly the OVERSTREET PRICE GUIDE.  Basically, doing a version of CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY that they can live with that matches the trade paperbacks as they are now.  A one-time deal -- the Gemstone versions -- just to get copies of the books back in circulation while we keep negotiating with Imprimerie Lebonfon through 2014, 2015, 2016, however long it takes.

I'm not prioritizing the suggestion. I just made it to my Diamond rep instead of to his boss... or his boss's boss.  It takes weeks for any suggestion to make its way to the person it needs to get to in an operation the size of Diamond.  But, I have to look at "Do I see this logjam coming to an end in the foreseeable future?"  Well, I'm trying to stay optimistic but I thought this would all be worked out before Bill Schanes retired as Diamond's VP of Purchasing -- and that was last April.

It's really none of my business as to how "antsy" Diamond might be getting about this.  That's an internal Diamond question.  But I see it as my job to offer a potential shortcut later this year if we get to later this year and nothing is happening.  Diamond can compensate me whatever they want for the Gemstone editions of CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY.  The idea isn't to line my own pockets, the idea is to treat Diamond as the major stakeholder they are.

Matt Demory, my Diamond rep said his Aardvark-Vanaheim file is... bulging.  I have no doubt. All of my faxes and proof copies on CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY are stacked in the corner of the office and the stack is a good foot and a half high.

I wish there was an easy way out of this and, as always, anyone who sees anything I don't see or has a sudden VISION or an answer in a dream  :)  Please, post it here.

Okay, see you all next Friday.

Help finance Dave Sim to complete 'The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond' 
by making a monthly donation at Patreon or a one-off Paypal donation.

Originally serialised within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (April 2008 to July 2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an as yet uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics and specifically focuses on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death on 6 September 1956 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette at the age of 46.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

What was Cerebus selling at its end? 7,000 copies per issue, something like that? Figure that 50 percent of these readers would buy Cerebus Archive -- which I think is pretty high (how many people watch the "behind the scenes" featurettes on their DVDs? How many people would buy a separate DVD of just these featurettes?), but Cerebus readers who stuck through it to the end tend to be pretty loyal. So that's 3,000 to 4,000 copies of Cerebus Archive that we could reasonably expect to sell. And I think that's a pretty generous estimate. So that's not likely to be a cash cow for Dave.

I think much the same can be said of the Cerebus Covers book. Its audience is going to be a subset of the Cerebus audience -- so, fewer than 7,000 copies sold there. I'd like to read Dave's (and Gerhard's, for his photo covers) thoughts about the covers' creation -- but, as Dave said, how much time is that going to take away from work on Strange Death?

Glamourpuss was a failure in the comic-book marketplace for entirely predictable reasons: the customers of that marketplace are not interested in that material. To repackage the same material for the same marketplace seems an exercise in futility. And, as Dave points out, it would dilute the audience for Strange Death.

The Cerebus Miscellany collection looks to be the best bet to sell. It's actual Cerebus material, and thus will appeal to the whole of the Cerebus audience. It's material that's not (easily) available elsewhere. And it might even have some crossover appeal to fans of the other "jam" artists.

So if Dave is considering which project might generate some quick bucks, I'd argue the Cerebus Miscellany is the best bet.

(I also think it's simple and fair to split the royalties on a percentage-of-content basis. Eg., the book is 100 pages; Dave and Colleen Doran did a five-page story in that book; that story gets 5 percent of the royalties; so Collen gets 2.5 percent. (Actually, I guess Colleen, Dave, and Gerhard would each get a third of that 5 percent.))

As for a "Gemstone Edition" of Cerebus and High Society ... If that satisfies any short-term market demand for those volumes, wouldn't it necessarily push back the Lebonfon edition? Readers who want a copy will buy the Gemstone Edition, and the Lebonfon edition will have to wait for another generation of readers (if any).

-- Damian T. Lloyd, moc

Eddie said...

I found someone else who posted a blog a few year about a similar experience he had with Lebonfon with his proofs not matching his printed copies and his theories on why this was happening at Lebonfon's end and the level of customer service he received from them. The link shows pictures as well.
http://thetylerpage.blogspot.ca/2010/04/publishing-part-3-printing-problems.html

Here’s the first part:
I want to step back from the numbers involved in publishing for a minute and talk about some of the technical aspects. Particularly, a problem that I encountered twice and how it was finally solved.

First, let's step back to 2007 when Nothing Better Vol 1 was published. I was pretty excited - I'd won a Xeric grant and was able to spend a little extra money on putting some classy French flaps on the book cover. It was going to look really nice! Files were sent off to the printer and I soon received my proofs. They looked awful. The art looked like it had been run through a copier multiple times. The line work looked fuzzy. I asked my rep at the printer about it (this was at Quebecor/Lebonfon). She stated the poor quality was just the proofs, that the final art would look just fine. I was a little leary. I hadn't had this issue with my previous books. The proofs I got for those looked just like the final art, as they should. But I also knew that Lebonfon was going through some changes, that maybe they had changed their internal workflow and so on. So I listened to my rep at the printer. I should have listened to my gut.

The production on the cover of NB Vol 1 looked fantastic, but the interior art looked fuzzy in the same way the proofs did. I talked with the printer right away and asked for an explanation and a reprint as I was not happy with the quality. I double-checked my files and the proofs I had sent. They were all fine. The pre-press department at Lebonfon couldn't find any issues. After a lot of hassle in which I stressed how unhappy with the quality I was, I finally got a letter from the pre-press manager stating they didn't know what had happened but that the quality of the books wasn't poor enough to merit a reprint. My rep ended up offering me a %20 discount. I got almost $1000 back. So that was kind of good.

I should stress that this issue was not the end of the world. Few people even noticed the problem unless it was pointed out and they looked closely. But as someone who's day-job involves print-related technology, I take a little pride in *occasionally* knowing what I'm talking about, especially when it comes to printing books!

I honestly would have preferred a reprint instead of the discount just because that first NB collection felt like such a big deal to me, especially with the Xeric grant. But the discount did prove to be a bit of a blessing. When it came time to print NB Vol 2 (which I discussed in Publishing Part 1), I took that refunded money from the first book and used it to pay for the printing of Vol 2. So that was kind of nice.

But the thing is, I ran into the same issue of fuzzy art with Vol 2 at first. The outcome was completely different though and I am confident it was because I dealt with a small, local company who was willing to work with me to solve the problem. With the first book at Lebonfon, I was just a small-time customer. Even though I was paying them ~$5,000, it wasn't enough to merit the best customer service they could provide. They took my money, printed my books and that was that. The nice folks at Bookmobile listened though.


Eddie said...

part 2
So what was the problem? When you save or export files to a PDF there are a few default presets for Web, Screen or Print. And all of them have a setting for compressing text and lineart and it is ON by default. The thing I'd learned though, was that when you compress lineart, it looks like crap! The point of using compression is to cut down on file size, but if it compromises the quality of your work then it's not worth using.

I didn't think to ask the printer about it until Vol 2 because the files I sent to the printer both times were full-res PDF files with *no compression* and yet for some reason they were coming out looking like they'd been compressed. It occurred to me this time around (mostly since I've seen the issue at work more and more in the last few years) to wonder if the pre-press workflow at the printer wasn't set up to use default PDF settings. (And oddly enough, I did not have this issue with the test books I had made at Lulu.com.)

When you submit files to a printer someone in the pre-press department opens the files, makes sure everything is there, looks good, and then sends it through an automated workflow to properly set the files to run through their system for print and generate a proof. Part of that workflow would include re-saving the PDF file. And it was then that I thought they must just be using those default PDF settings, including the default compressions settings. I was on to something!

I asked my rep at Bookmobile if this might be the case and she passed that on to their pre-press/setup department. Sure enough, I was right! They generated a new PDF and proof without the compression settings and it looked just great. How I wish I had thought to ask the people at Lefonfon about this, but I also wonder if it would have really made a difference. As a small-time customer they seemed relatively indifferent to my problem and to them, that first book was still 'good enough.'

From my perspective, I'm glad I got to the bottom of the problem because I knew it wasn't something I had done wrong. When you're in a situation like that you feel like you can't rest until you've figured it out. I'm also glad I found a printer to work with who was willing to go that extra step and provide really good customer service.

Even though my problem was solved, I've noticed a lot more professionally published books over the years with this same issue and it's because people don't pay close enough attention and it's always 'good enough' for them. Larger publishers who carry more weight with their spending dollars stand a better chance of demanding reprints or fixes, so this was also a lesson in the dollar being the bottom line with a lot of companies. Unfortunately that's how it works in the world of business and production goods. But it doesn't have to be.

It's also a great lesson in the world of commercial printing that your proof should ALWAYS look exactly like the final product. If it doesn't, don't sign off on that proof until you're %100 satisfied. And if your printer isn't able to deliver the quality of work you want then take your business elsewhere and let your dollars speak for *you!*

Jeff R. said...

I think that the number of copies that The Last Day phonebook sold would be a more useful number than the circulation of the individual issues at the end. But I have no idea what that number is.

Mike said...

A kickstarter that resulted in Dave reading more Cerebus to us is my current wish. I love my High Society audio-visual! I want to hear Bear!
Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Jeff, I agree that we might more finely compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Sales of The Last Day might better compare to sales of a Cerebus Miscellany volume. But sales of a Cerebus Archive series would most usefully compare to the monthly Cerebus title.

And speaking of series, how well do we think Strange Death will sell? A black-and-white comic, a historical biography, about an art style not currently popular, and seasoned with Dave's ludicrous "comics metaphysics", is going to be a hard sell in the direct market -- the only market Dave is interested in pursuing. This is a comic that, like Cerebus, is more for people with an interest in comics as a medium than it is for readers.

People have asked why Dave doesn't release Strange Death as a single volume, especially since he wants to complete it before publishing the issues. I think he's just not willing to let go of the periodical pamphlet format that, to him, is comic books. But the "wait for the trade" mentality is, especially in a case like this, likely to further depress sales of the bi-monthly series.

And, as Dave himself proclaims, his is not a name to conjure with; customers aren't going to line up down the street because Dave Sim has a new comic out. I'm interested to see Strange Death, most people who read AMOC are interested to see Strange Death, but I think we have to realize that most comic-book readers have never heard of it.

I would hazard that Strange Death the series will sell between three and ten thousand copies per issue; I'd peg 5,000. The collected volume will probably do better; if it's kept available, it will probably be a consistent but slow seller, as new comics fans and historians buy copies.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, pos

David Birdsong said...

If I'm not mistaken (or just too lazy to go back and look) The Strange Death of Alex Raymond is going to be in color.

Anonymous said...

For some reason, I'd acquired the impression that there was going to be a colour and a black-and-white version. Did I make that up out of my head? There's a lot going on in here. "Don't you wish you were me? I know I do."

-- Damian T. Lloyd, med

David Birdsong said...

Yeah I think I read there was going to be a color and black & white version. I hope so because I don't exactly jump for joy seeing Dave's art in color.

Anonymous said...

Colour strikes me as a strange choice for this project. Alex Raymond and Stan Drake both did the bulk of their work in black-and-white, and Dave has as well. Still, be interesting to compare te versions.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, rgb

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Given Dave's lack of resources (time and money) and his desire to focus on completing 'Strange Death...', here's the strategy I'd propose (for what it's worth):

a) AV keeps publishing Cerebus Vols 1-16 and forgets about everything else. Nothing else matters right now.

b) All 16 Cerebus volumes need to be in print at all times. Do what ever it takes to make that happen as quickly as possible. Don't let the Lebonfon situation drift any further. It's a distraction and hurting the core AV business. Set a time limit and be prepared to walk away if necessary.

c) A 'CEREBUS MISCELLANY BOOK' could be a useful primer for new readers. Take this project to another publisher and get it into bookstores and on Amazon. Use it to raise Cerebus' profile outside the direct comics market and drive new readers to the 16 AV volumes.

d) Implement an online store solution ASAP and make the 16 AV books as accessable as possible. Don't just rely on the comics-stores to sell them. Potentially outsource this to Top Shelf, D&Q, Last Gasp or *cough* Fantagraphics on some sort of commission deal.

e) 'Official' Digital Comics: Ideally all 16 books would be available online, but if resources (time and money) are limited, pause this project with just 'Cerebus' and 'High Society' being available online. The rest can wait until after 'Strange Death...'.

George Peter Gatsis said...

from the previous POST...

points d) and e) are in the works.

Stay Tooned...

Menachem Luchins said...

As a comic retailer, I just want the first two volumes BACK. I like the Gemstone idea. I've been open a year and I could move 5 copies of the first volume the second I got them into my hands, another 5 within the month, easy.

As a fan, I'd love to see all this other stuff, sure, but the two first volumes need to take #2 priority, to me, right after Strange Death....

And those asking about how well any of the books will sell? It really depends on what the climate is at the given moment it is released. Howard Chaykin and Matt Fraction's Satellite Sam is selling FAR better than Chaykin's Century West and the former is black and white while the latter is color.