I stumbled across a copy of Jeff Levine's old Destroy All Comics zine from 1996 and was re-reading a classic interview with Drawn & Quarterly Publisher Chris Oliveros, which contained the following exchange that was interesting to me insofar as it underscored just how much has changed in the world of comics in a little over a decade:
Q: Do you think it's possible that there could be more work in the future where the artist could sit and draw for two years, and release the entire story, or do you think just the way the industry is set up, and with history on the side of the periodical nature of comics...
Oliveros: I think the periodical approach is a good thing. In order for comics to be released in book form, where an author would take two or three or five years to complete this novel, the medium would have to attain this sort of popularity you have in general fiction, where you have fifty or a hundred thousand readers, and your best-sellers have five hundred thousand readers, where because you have this guaranteed income, you can get this advance from a publisher of, I don't know fifty or one hundred thousand dollars, and then you can afford to work on just your own project for a couple years. That obviously will never come to be in comics, so I think, for better or worse we're left with this set-up we have here, where the work is gradually being serialized, which in turn allows the author to collect a royalty on those issues. Without that, comics just wouldn't exist. Whether you like it or not, it allows these works to exist, and it allows the author to make some kind of living while the story is being produced.
Mind you, I would have agreed entirely with Oliveros at the time. And in a lot of ways, I think it still underscores a fundamental challenge facing publishers vis a vis the increasing inevitability of graphic novels supplanting periodicals as the chosen format.
This weekend I visited my parents in California, and this is the house directly across the street from them. According to my father, "That goddamn eyesore's been there for over a year." No further explanation was provided.
Back in those heady 1990s, the guys at our warehouse seemingly had a lot of time on their hands. To wit: these tapes, which have been semi-legendary in inner-Fanta circles for years. Former warehouse staffer Dave Holmes -- also the front man in the legendary Seattle band The Fall-Outs -- routinely entertained his fellow warehouse coworkers with prank phone calls to local radio talk show host Susan Powter. Somehow, Susan never seemed to catch on to the joke. Dave always used the names of his fellow coworkers for the calls, and even adopts a fairly impressive Australian accent when he calls in as "Martin" -- a nod to our Aussie warehouse asst. mgr. Martin Bland (also one of Seattle's best drummers, for bands like Monkeywrench, Bloodloss and Lubricated Goat, not to mention his amazing sound experiments). I haven't heard these tapes in years but listening again now, they're as funny as ever.
Book Expo America, the annual book festival that promotes virtually every major publisher in America, and most smaller ones, announced some changes yesterday: basically, that the show is going to be held in New York City exclusively for the forseeable future, and midweek beginning in 2010. The move was purportedly made to keep costs down for "the major publishers." Which is great if you're a giant corporation based in NYC, but ignores one salient fact: NYC is actually a more expensive place to visit than just about anywhere if you are a publisher or bookseller who doesn't already live in NY. And contrary to what Reed seems to think, there are plenty of us who fit that description.
Paul Constant tiptoes around some of this in a Stranger blog post this morning that I mostly agree with, but I'll spell it out more clearly: Chicago or Vegas (to give two examples) are actually way better level playing fields if the goal is to keep costs down for the industry as a whole, and not just Reed Business and those "major publishers" Reed seems so concerned about.
The BEA in NYC is often insufferable when it opens on a weekday, when every "major publisher" staffer and intern and freelancer who would otherwise never in a million years get sent to BEA in any official capacity is in attendance, either as an excuse to get out of the office or to simply acquire Free Shit. This is not a means to an efficient end.
If Reed wants to attract the widest possible base of all arms of the publishing and bookselling world, it should continue to move around. There are publishers you see at a Los Angeles BEA that you would never see at a NYC BEA, and vice-versa. I presume the BEA has always moved around because this was seen as a good thing, being as inclusive as possible.
This latest announcement is part of a recent trend by Reed Business to seemingly consolidate the entirety of North American publishing into a few major New York City corporations, as seen by its recent cancellation of Book Expo Canada, the largely uninspired New York Comicon, and the latest announcement that Vegas and D.C. are off the table for BEA.
I understand cost-cutting measures, but when seemingly every cost-cutting measure Reed engages in either costs a small publisher like us more money, or simply threatens the greater good of all, and then tries to spin it as a Good Thing, I bristle. We are constantly told we live in an increasingly borderless world, and yet as a publisher, it's sometimes hard to believe.
We'll still continue to exhibit at BEA, it's an important show for us, and New York is always a great place to visit (even if the Javits Center isn't) but let's be clear: this is not about cutting costs for anyone but Reed Business, and the result will do little but enable corporate hegemony at all levels of the book world.
UPDATE: "Enable" is probably too strong a word. "Facilitate"? Anyway, this isn't that big of a deal except I was simply annoyed to read today that BEA will be in the most expensive city in the country for the forseeable future so that Random House or Doubleday can save some money. That struck me as a very Bush administration way of addressing the new economic climate.
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