Image isn't doing any kind of party this year, but probably my favorite bar in the whole wide world is tucked away in Seattle's Pike Place Market. It's called The White Horse Trading Company and I've been darkening their door on a yearly basis for close to a decade now.
Check it out, and stop by if you're in town for the convention:
There's been some talk lately about how many of our new series have been selling out and going back to press. When I talk to various people, they always assume I'm thrilled about that, and I can't lie: It is nice to have that kind of publicity.
But it's nicer to actually have books in stores.
The best advertising for any product is its availability. With comics – there's no better sales tool than actually having it there on the rack. Whether a customer is specifically looking for a given title, or casually browsing the new releases, it's being there that matters. If it's not there, on that rack, it's a missed opportunity. Even if more copies are on the way, or a new printing is planned, there's no guarantee the opportunity to make that sale is going to come around again.
Selling out – it's great PR, but ultimately, it's not exactly great business. It creates a roadblock between readers and the material they want to read, and between retailers and the books they want to sell. In short, it does more harm than good.
It's been suggested that the simplest way to avoid selling out is simply to print more, but it's actually not that simple, otherwise every publisher would would do exactly that on a regular basis. Generally speaking, though, we don't do that, because printing more means spending more, not just in terms of the basic printing costs, but in terms of freight and storage, too. Printing more involves taking a risk. It's a calculated risk, because orders allow us to gauge interest in our titles, but it's a risk nonetheless, especially given the vagaries of the ordering process as a whole.
See, the way things work right now, is we get initial orders for a title about a month before it ships. As I write this, orders for titles shipping in May are coming in. Later, about three weeks before a title goes on sale, we get a second set of numbers, based of the Final Order Cut-off, or FOC. Those orders can go either up or down, and those are the orders we base our print runs off, because that's really the last chance to order before we go to press. If there's a huge fluctuation in orders, then we'll adjust our print run accordingly.
The problem we're currently encountering, though, is that even though there is Final Order Cut-off date, orders continue to come in after that. Some might say that's not a bad problem to have, but in reality, it leaves us scrambling to fill those orders, or to do a second printing.
Second printings are tricky, for two reasons: 1) The primary goal is to make the sold-out material available again as quickly as possible, and 2) There's no real way of telling how much actual demand there is for a second printing – even if a book sells out, it's entirely possible it's meeting most if not all the actual demand. Sometimes second printings are printed and sell only a few hundred copies, making them a huge waste of time, trouble, and money for everyone involved.
But we often do second printings, and in the interest of that first point – getting them into the market quickly – we typically have a standard quantity we stick to so that we can go back to press proactively the minute we know demand has exceeded our expectations. When books are selling out before they reach stores – as in the case of things like Prophet or Saga or The Manhattan Projects – we pull the trigger sooner and sooner.
When we went back to press on Saga #1, we printed double what we normally do on a second printing. We figured by going well over the amount of our standard second printing, we would circumvent an immediate sellout of the second printing.
We were wrong.
When orders came in for the second printing of Saga #1, not only did our print run – and again, this was a print run that was twice what we normally would have done – fail to meet demand, it didn't even meet that demand by half.
A couple retailers have made what I consider to be a fair comment: We should have known a new series by Brian K. Vaughan would do well and could have printed way more than we did.
But using that exact same logic, here's the thing:
They also could have ordered more.
Especially since we offered an incentive for Saga #1 that made it returnable for retailers willing to order more copies. In fact, that incentive was available to retailers for Saga #1-3, along with the first three issues of books like Fatale, The Manhattan Projects, Secret and Thief of Thieves.
We set our print runs based on the information we have at press time, and that information comes to us via orders. As much pride as I have in the talent we work with, and the books we publish, I'm not a mind-reader. I also can't predict the future. If I could, I guarantee you, our print runs aren't the only thing that would be a lot different.
I go on the information I have at hand, and as it happens, I deal with that information cautiously, because Image Comics is not owned by Warner Bros. or by the Walt Disney Company. We don't even own the comics we publish. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples own Saga. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips own Fatale. Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra own The Manhattan Projects.
I kind of look at what we do here at Image as something akin to managing an investment. Each comic we publish represents individual money for the creators involved – there's not some huge corporate slush pile that guarantees everyone a page rate. Decisions on things like overprinting and going back to press are made on a case-by-case basis, because given the variety of material we publish and the wide array of talent we work with, there's no way across-the-board thinking could ever apply to each individual title. So I try to be as prudent as possible when making decisions regarding the comics we publish.
It's not all that different from how retailers run their stores, I'm guessing, because we're all in the same business, and we all have more or less the same concerns, whether we're placing orders or setting print runs. At the end of the day, none of us want to get stuck with comics we can't sell.
By the same token, though, being placed in a position where we can't sell comics that people actively want is not in our mutual best interests, either.
The best we can do here is respond to the information we're given as fast as possible, and honestly, I don't know that we're getting the most accurate information. At the very least, we're not getting it when we need it.
To drive that point home, consider this:
Unfilled orders for Saga #1 – across three printings – are over half of the initial orders for that title.
That means that while strong in the overall scheme of things, initial orders were actually too low for a title that by all accounts, everybody knew had tremendous sales potential. Orders were low enough that even when we generously overprinted on both the first and second printings, we could not meet demand – on a title that various retailers are now using as an example of how we should have known better.
But the only way we can know better, is if we actually have orders that support that knowledge.
I don't advocate retailers ordering with wild abandon anymore than I am in favor of blindly overprinting in large quantities, but the best way to avoid these constant sellouts and multiple printings, is by supporting titles that legitimately deserve it, by getting behind series and creators that are going to help grow a more sustainable direct market.
There's not a single title we currently publish that is part of some event-oriented marketing scheme. We are not out to create short-term spikes. We lived through that war, and we've learnt our lessons well. That's why we're committed to publishing the absolute best comics we can, with an eye not just to selling them month-to-month, but over the long haul – as trades and hardcovers that grow sales and keep readers coming back for more.
Bottom line: We all lose when we sell out.
Sure, it gets Image some nice PR, and there's a lucrative secondary market for sold out books with high demand, but that stuff is fleeting.
We've all got the same goal – and that is to get books in the hands of readers.
Glory #25 is at the printer now, and let me tell you: Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell have outdone themselves. The solicitation copy in Previews was intentionally vague – "500 years later. Mars," it read – but the surprises in store this issue more than justify that particular approach.
I'm biased, to be sure, but if you're aren't reading Glory, you're missing out.
How every single person in this country isn't filled with absolute loathing for the Republican party amazes me. The above cartoon by Jonathan Schmock isn't really that much of an oversimplification of where we're at right now. Republicans want to make sure corporations can do whatever they want, regardless how harmful to the economy or the environment, but by all means, let's try to get bills passed in Wisconsin that equate single motherhood with child abuse, and let's vilify Planned Parenthood and contraceptives.
If you're even halfway intelligent and you believe these people aren't your enemy, you are fucking delusional.
If you haven't been following The Darkness, David Hine and Jeremy Haun take over as the new creative team with this week's issue 101. Meaning now is a good time to start checking it out.
David Hine also writes a wonderfully weird series with artist Shaky Kane, The Bulletproof Coffin, and wrote and drew the incredibly disturbing Strange Embrace. He does dark really, really well – and when Top Cow's Matt Hawkins told they'd tapped David to write The Darkness, it just seemed perfect. He just has a completely different sensibility than almost anyone else who has worked on this book in the past, and I think anyone who liked their superheroes to be a little strange is going to love his take on this character.
Jeremy Haun worked with David for a while over at DC – they did some Batman stories together – but he actually started out at Image, way back in 2002 with an offbeat series called Paradigm. After that, he did a cool superhero book set during World War II, called Battle Hymn, and he just gets better and better. Seeing the pages for his first couple issues and watching him get comfortable in this new world just reinforces that notion, and I think his run on The Darkness will wind up being some of the best work of his career.
You'll be able to check it out for yourself this Wednesday, but if recent history is anything to go by, this book isn't going to be around too long...
It's interesting to tell friends that I had the good fortune to see Nick Lowe perform live London, only for them to respond with a quizzical look as they mouth the words, "Who's... Nick Lowe?"
Usually, I say he's the guy who did "Cruel to Be Kind," but failing that, I'll note that he wrote "(What's So Funny) 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding." Most people associate that song with Elvis Costello, though, which then kind of puzzles me, because if you're familiar with Elvis, it seems only natural you'd know Nick Lowe produced his first five albums, along with his mid-'80s classic, Blood & Chocolate. And if you're aware of his work as a producer, you must know he produced The Damned's debut, Damned Damned Damned.
But ultimately, the sad truth is that the various components of Lowe's career are better known than his name. Which is a shame, because over the last 40 or so years, he's established himself as one of pop's best and brightest, and completely at odds with conventional wisdom, he has actually gotten better with age. The '80s weren't really a great time for him, but starting with 1994's The Impossible Bird, he has recorded a series of albums that mix country, soul, crooner jazz and pop to stunning effect. The Old Magic is his latest, and despite that goofy sleeve, it's very definitely a career high point.
Often, when I'm compiling top 10 lists for artists with decades-long careers, I invariably notice most of my choices come from their earlier albums. A solid half of the list of my favorite Nick Lowe songs below is from the last 10 years, and tracks from all five of his "comeback" albums are included, with only two of his late '70s hits making the cut.
So, if you're reading this and you're wondering, "Who's... Nick Lowe?" the answer is one of pop's greatest treasures, and there's never been a better time to discover the bittersweet charms of his work than right now...
1. "I Read a Lot," (The Old Magic, 2011)
2. "I Trained Her to Love Me," (At My Age, 2007)
3. "Cruel to Be Kind," (Labour of Lust, 1979)
4. "What Lack of Love Has Done,' (Dig My Mood, 1998)
5. "Lately I've Let Things Slide," (The Convincer, 2001)
6. "The Beast in Me," (The Impossible Bird, 2004)
7. "I Live on a Battlefield," (The Impossible Bird, 2004)
8. "So it Goes," (Jesus of Cool, 1978)
9. "Has She Got a Friend?" (The Convincer, 2001)
10. "House for Sale," (The Old Magic, 2011)
More Paul Weller – this time a series of clips from his recent performance at BBC6's Maida Vale Studios. Four great tracks for the new album, plus a few nuggets from the past. He's only scheduled shows in New York so far, but I'm really hoping he plans a larger US tour to promote Sonik Kicks at some point...
To paraphrase something Image production manager Tyler Shainline said to me earlier today:
When did we start using "remaster" as a euphemism for "rape?"
And okay, maybe that's a bit strong, but with the new 3D version of Star Wars Episode I still stinging the eyes of audiences everywhere, and a hardcover version of Bat Man: Year One in stores that is in absolutely no way an improvement over the original, Marvel just announced they're doing a "remastered" version of Amazing Fantasy #15 featuring the first appearance of Spider-Man.
I assume this is to tie-in with the release of the upcoming reboot of the film franchise (itself a bit unnecessary), but after seeing the cover for this new version of Spider-Man's origin story, I'm really not sure who they're aiming this at. The original line work by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko is totally obscured, and a classic cover has frankly been rendered something of an eyesore. I mean, I am a huge fan of Dean White's color work, but looking at this, all I can think is that somebody directed him to color this as though it were a velvet Elvis painting from the '70s. Does that wow new readers in the 21st century?
I've written before about my growing disenchantment with oversized hardcovers, like Marvel's Omnibuses, DC's Absolute editions, and even the big slipcased The Walking Dead and Invincible books we publish here at Image, but one of the deciding factors in consigning that format to the void on a personal level was the "remastered" The Mighty Thor by Walter Simonson Omnibus. Steve Oliff is another colorist I have a tremendous amount of respect for, but I don't think re-coloring those stories benefited the work in any way. I bought that book and then immediately sold it, putting the money towards seeking out the original issues.
I think there's something to be said for leaving well enough alone. There's a clarity and charm to the original coloring on these classic comics that seems to work fine for licensing – you don't see "remastered" versions of the artwork on t-shirts, coffee mugs and refrigerator magnets, just as there's something almost undefinably cool about the original Star Wars films, before Lucas began his apparently lifelong mission to defile them again and again. Maybe it's just the fan in me – because even after close to 40 years, I still love comics and comic book art – but mucking about with all this stuff just seems to devalue the work of the original creators and reduce the impact of work that has rightfully stood the test of time.
My friend Paul invited me out to see Nick Lowe and his band at the Leicester Square Theater while I was in London, and it was just an incredible show. In addition to playing a number of songs from his excellent new album, The Old Magic, he amiably trawled through an extensive back catalogue that includes such classics as "Cruel to Be Kind," "(What's So Funny) 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding," and "I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)." Even that didn't prepare me for the brittle splendor that was his final encore, a solo rendition of Elvis Costello's "Alison." Even after hearing that song for years upon years, to the point where one wouldn't be chastised for thinking nothing new could possible be wrenched from it, Lowe transformed the song into something so emotionally charged and raw that it very nearly made me tear up. And looking 'round the audience as we all clapped, I was definitely not alone.
And as a postscript to that magical evening, I've woken up with "Alison" stuck in my head ever morning since.
So, what better excuse rundown of my favorite songs that incorporate names into their lyrics and titles? Compiling this list actually turned out to be harder than I'd originally assumed. When I was much younger I used to say that songs based around names were typically pop fluff, but considering that such monsters as "Ziggy Stardust," "Lola," "Caroline No," and "So Long Frank Lloyd Wright" only narrowly escaped this list, it's clear my youthful ignorance was showing every time I unwisely uttered that particular complaint.
1. Elvis Costello - "Alison," (My Aim Is True, 1977)
2. The Beatles - "Sexy Sadie," (The Beatles, 1968)
3. The Four Tops - "Bernadette," (Reach Out, 1967)
4. The Left Banke - "Walk Away Renee," (Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina, 1966)
5. Spearmint - "Julie Christie!" (A Different Lifetime, 2001)
6. Pink Floyd - "Arnold Layne," (single a-side, 1967)
7. Scott Walker - "Jackie," (Scott 2, 1968)
8. Roxy Music - "Virginia Plain," (Roxy Music, 1972)
9. Ryan Adams - "SYLVIA PLATH," (Gold, 2001)
10. Steely Dan - "Rikki Don't Lose That Number,"(Pretzel Logic, 1974)
Hot on the heels of Image Expo, we are presently gearing up for the Emerald City Comicon in Seattle.
This is one of my absolute favorite conventions of the year, and I'm really psyched that so many Image creators are making it out this time around: Ed Brubaker, Joe Casey, Nathan Edmondson, Joe Eisma, Jay Faerber, Chris Giarrusso, Joe Keatinge, Robert Kirkman, Erik Larsen, Ryan Ottley, Tim Seeley, Marc Silvestri... Honestly, I could probably fill up this entire post with all the names, but that's just a small sample.
Marc Silvestri did the cover for this year's program guide, and as with most of his work, it's insanely awesome. So awesome, in fact, that ECCC head honcho Jim Demonakos is making it available as both a limited edition print and a t-shirt.
The show runs Friday to Sunday, March 30-April 1, so if you're thinking about going – now's the time to pull the trigger. It's an amazingly well-organized convention that is always a lot of fun, and as a bonus, Downtown Seattle is an incredible place to hang out after the show, with restaurants and bars galore. I usually have such a great time when I'm in town for ECCC that I go home and wish I actually lived there. It certainly doesn't hurt that I spent around six years up in that area as a child, but seriously, it's a great city and as comic book conventions go, ECCC provides a truly wonderful experience.
...and during my trip, I had the very good fortune to see a taping of the Jonathan Ross Show, featuring the following performances by Paul Weller:
Also managed to get a copy of Weller's new album, Sonik Kicks, and the advance praise it's receiving is not at all overstated. As a longtime Weller fan, it's been really wonderful to see him go from strength to strength over the last several years. I personally can't subscribe to the popular notion that the four albums he recorded between Stanley Road and 22 Dreams were some low point, but I do think it's clear he's going through the kind of later career renaissance only a handful of artists are lucky enough to enjoy...
So, there's a video for Paul Weller's new single, but we can't watch it in the United States. We can listen to the song – but the actual video is restricted to the UK.
That seems counterintuitive to promoting a record, but even after all the lessons of the past decade or so, the music industry remains quite strange.
The song itself is supposedly a bit of tongue-in-cheek commentary on what some view as Weller's mid-life crisis, following his marriage to the much younger Hannah Andrews. Whether that's the case or not, it's a nice bit of Kinks-esque pop that bodes well for the upcoming Sonik Kicks, which is out at the end of the month.