The webcomics blog about webcomics

Shaking Up The Comix Biz

I got to speak with some ladies about big changes coming in comics.

  • comiXology had a press conference yesterday, trotting out the creators of the first tranche of the creator-owned line they’ve put together; Kel McDonald was kind enough to chat with me about some of it. She’s working up a story illustrated by Tyler Crook called The Stone King, and she’s in good company: folks like C Spike Trotman, MK Reed, Hope Nicholson, Rob DenBlyker, KC Green, David Malki !, Branson Reese, Katie Shanahan, Kris Straub, Kris Wilson, and Kris Zach Weinersmith are also on tap (Nicholson editing all those folks whose names come after hers on the list in a collection called Hit Reblog: Comics That Caught Fire, which is a biographical treatment of comics that went viral).

    McDonald wasn’t able to answer a lot of my questions, either because details aren’t public, or because the decisions haven’t been taken yet, but the fact that comiXology (which is to say, Amazon) is moving hard into this has the potential to shift things in the market. To be seen over the next bit:

    What conditions will make them expand this first foray into a general program of creator-owned publishing? And where do the rights reside? From here, it looks like a form of publishing that could equally peel people off of, say, Line Webtoon (digital quasi-publisher, but can’t possibly pay what Amazon could) and, say, BOOM! (which pulls heavily from indie and web folks, and is widely perceived to screw them sideways on getting paid, which is not an approach that Amazon could take¹).

    And, crucially, what about print? comiXology is all about digital, but right now I’ll tell you that no matter how great all of their proposed books look, I won’t buy digital comics that I don’t get to own. Somebody’s slinging a PDF on Gumroad? I’m all over that. But comiXology is part of Amazon, and Amazon has depublished books and removed them from devices for their own contractural reasons. I will not buy a license to read a comic from anybody (but especially not an Amazon-owned company).

    Anyway, Old Man Grumpus over here will be watching all of this very closely. I don’t know that it’s as big a change-maker as, say, Kickstarter has been, but it’s early days.

    Kel McDonald can be found most times during the show, at Small Press table M-12.
    C Spike Trotman can be found wandering the floor, on panels or at the zoo, not stuck behind a table like a chump.
    MK Reed can be found at various panels and signings.
    Rob DenBlyker can be found most times during the show at Cyanide & Happiness, booth 1234.
    David Malki ! can be found most times during the show at TopatoCo, booth 1229.

  • There are no certainties in life, and certainly not in comics, but there is one thing that is close enough to be mathematically indistinguishable from certainty: Gina Gagliano is going to succeed. She is universally beloved and respected in graphic novel publishing, and there is a not a person that can say an unkind thing about her. Consider: a major publishing conglomerate does not start a new imprint on a whim, or without planning, approval, and confidence at the executive level. More to the point: Random House sought her out to head up this new direction.

    Gagliano’s looking to accomplish huge things — at :01 Books she was part of a publishing schedule of 20 books per year, that ran up to more than double that over a period of less than two years; look for Random House Graphic to want to jump into this space with both feet and leverage her past proven abilities, with a publishing schedule at least that ambitious.

    And since we’re talking about a massive corporation, they’ll want to see revenue as soon as practical given the lead times in production and printing² if there’s stuff in the production cycle now, 2020 would just barely be possible for first releases (and honestly, I’d think 2021 far more reasonable, given that she’s starting from scratch and getting ready to put together a marketing plan for books that won’t exist for at least 18 months, lacking a staffed-up office). That’s amazing.

    As I told her, the comics world has huge expectations, but also great confidence. If she accomplishes 60% of what I think she can, it’ll be a runaway success; if she gets to everything I think she can, it’ll be a seismic shift to the industry not seen since … well, since she handled marketing and publicity as her last gig.

    Gina Gagliano can be found on a panel at the San Diego Central Library at 5:00pm Friday, and the rest of the time she’ll be talking to the people that will help her revolutionize graphic novels. If you can help her do that, no doubt she will find you.

¹ Yes, Amazon is a giant bestriding commerce, but I think that fact counterintuitively acts as a brake on them. This is purely speculation on my part, but given the stories I’ve been told about BOOM! not honoring contract provisions, I think their size is the only thing that lets them get away with it. They’re larger than the individuals who’ve complained, but too small for their bad behavior to carry over to where there’s real money.

If comiXology (that is to say, Amazon) didn’t honor contract provisions or got grabby with rights in the ways that I’ve been told BOOM! has, it would have repercussions far beyond digital comics. It’s the sort of thing that would cause large corporations to ask Could this happen to me when I host my stuff on Amazon Web Services? Better play it safe and shift to Azure, and that has the potential to affect about five-six orders of magnitude more money than some electronic funnybooks.

² Which may be even greater if Screamy Orange Grandpa ramps up the trade war with China.

RSS feed for comments on this post.