Friday, March 18, 2011

Well, this is totally fascinating to me. In your free time (ha ha) check out the book "Rebel Without a Crew" by Robert Rodriguez. He essentially worked the same way you describe here, virtually editing with the camera. This technique allowed him to create his first feature film, EL MARIACHI, for just $7,000. Oddly, I create a comic more like people put together a TV show, "shooting" out of sequence, going back for "pick ups" etc. I used to feel bad about it until I read that's how Jaime Hernandez does it, so now I just think I'm a genius.

Not really.

How much alienation do I feel from the comic book field? Almost total, I guess, but I've always felt that way. When Amelia started, we got excellent reviews, but low sales, when I started getting nominated for Eisner and Harvey awards, that made a slight difference, but not much. The real ace in the hole for Amelia turned out to be librarians. Around 2005, I contracted Harold Buchholz to work for me on a freelance basis. This was another counter intuitive move, because at the time I was paying Harold, I still had to keep a full time job myself, but Harold is an amazing person, and understands the comic book business inside and out. He actually IS a genius, in my view. So he started analyzing where the sales of our trade paperbacks were coming from, and libraries were a huge, huge percentage. He then devised a way of figuring out library check out rates across the US. This technique was super time consuming, but worth it because we found out that AR was the 4th most checked out graphic novel among kids. The other results were shocking as well. You had to go all the way to number 13 before you found a superhero book. So, we started hitting library shows and book shows just as much as scomic book conventions, and this paid off almost immediately.

But comic shops were still comic shops. The ones that invested in Amelia tended to see a nice return, and the rest pretended it didn't exist. Which is what I see as the biggest problem the direct market has had and probably always will have. If something does not conform to their own already established view of the market, it gets ignored. It's not that those stores think of me as Jimmy Gownley the small presser, it's that they don't think of me at all.

Since Amelia has always survived as a series of small successes across a bunch of different venues, it doesn't really bother me. Those "funny conversations" happen a lot though. I have been lectured about the biz many, many times by people who have had like three issues out, and sold a few hundred copies. One guy I remember seeing at two Baltimore shows in a row, and he was just bubbling over with his success. He said he really admired my ability to "struggle along". He was even going to plug Amelia Rules! in his upcoming free comic book day book (which WAS very nice of him). As for him, his success was happening "Almost too fast." His new trade paperback was also just about "to drop" and he gave me a free copy. The next year, Karen and I are at the same show, just browsing the aisles, and I come across a two dollar trade paperback box. There are about 15 copies of this guy's trade. I pulled one out and showed it to Karen. "I guess it happened too fast," she said.

I remember being lectured by a VERY big name about how this idea of publishing a kids' comic was just suicidal in today's market, and that he just KNOWS I'm spending all my parents money on this (I was like 34 at the time!). All the while, I had a check from a book fair sale in my back pocket that was going to pay Harold's salary for the next TWO YEARS. But I just stood there and listened, because what are you going to do, you know?

Even when I was just a fan, I never felt a part of the comics world. As a kid, I lived nowhere near a comic shop. My dad would drive me 70 miles to one maybe twice a year, and that was it. I never contributed to fanzines or anything. My friends were never interested in comics. Shades of Gray was about as far away from a fanboy type comic as you could get, so this kind of isolation is nothing new.

Plus, I actually kinda like it. I love that I can have an eight book deal with one of the largest publishing houses on the planet, and still feel that it's me versus the world.

Now I'll ask YOU one. Michael (Strange Attractors) Cohen and I were talking about Glamourpuss lately (which we both LOVE), and your experiments with non fiction comics. As more and more narrative elements creep in to Glamourpuss (like the Alex Raymond/Stan Drake story) do you find yourself being enticed by the idea of writing fiction again?
about an hour ago

Thursday, March 17, 2011

There are a few major advantages. The first being that it greatly reduces the element of risk. Amelia Rules! really didn't begin to grow until it was able to be sold outside of the direct market. In a lot of ways, it was the opposite of what comic shops really want, so I needed to take the book out into other arenas, but most of those arenas come with the huge risk of returnability. Compound that with the fact that at the time we were beginning to place Amelia into the chain bookstores, the whole IDEA of a kids' graphic novel section was a risk. Both Borders and Barnes and Noble launched their kids' graphic novel sections with Amelia as one of the core titles. Great to be sure, but literally NO ONE knew if a single copy of any of these books would sell, and if they didn't sell I would be the one responsible for the returns. Obviously, now that risk is assumed by Simon and Schuster.

Also, with this particular deal, because I had already published 4 volumes myself, and because there was already an audience to be tapped into, S and S was willing to make the commitment to not only license the existing 4 volumes, but also commission 4 new ones. That was great because, like you said, it becomes easier if you know how far into the future you can plan. Not just with the day to day stuff like paying your mortgage, but creatively as well.

There is a certain prestige and clout that comes with the name Simon and Schuster that automatically transferred to AR once the first book was published. This isn't really something that matters to the readers, but in a lot of the behind the scenes dealings it makes a big impression.

And lastly, there is a nice feeling when you get a package in the mail, and it contains a copy of your book with a note that says “Congratulations. Your book has been reprinted.” and that is the ONLY part of the process you needed to even think about.

I remember when we sold a “Best of “ collection to Scholastic Book Fairs. They ordered so many copies that we were able to OVERPRINT 10,000 to experiment with. An order came in from one of the library wholesalers for, I think it was 3,100 copies, and my father in law was at our house. He offered to help me ship them out. To reduce overhead I always filled the orders myself, which is insane, but that's me. When we got to the warehouse, and he actually saw what we were going to be doing and the size of the boxes, he went kind of pale. I said, “I know, but it keeps you fit. Can you imagine how strong JK Rowling must be?”

I'm glad I don't do that anymore.

As far as drawbacks, for a lot of people, I imagine there would be none to speak of. Especially if you came out of traditional publishing. But, when you self published for so long, it is difficult to get used to relinquishing control, and to trust others with the work you have put so much care into. I have had a very nice relationship with the people at S and S, but that's really just luck. It is possible we could have gone with a different publisher, and I wouldn't have had such an easy time working with them.

My editor Namrata Tripathi is a really great person, and very smart. She makes suggestions, but it is really up to me whether or not I follow them. I almost always do though, because one of the decisions I made before signing was that I was going to try to understand the system, and use it to it's greatest advantage. Part of that means trusting your editor.

There was really only one MAJOR disagreement. I wanted to call Volume 6 “Tanner Rocks!” No one else thought this was a good idea. Nami really fought against it. She tried to sell me on every other title under the sun. Finally, she took a line of dialog Tanner has occasionally spoken, and suggested “True Things (Adults Don't Want Kids to Know). This was a brilliant idea, because since I had written the dialog, it was easier for me to accept. Anyway, I grudgingly allowed the title change. Since the book has been out many, MANY people have told me they love the title, and more than a few have said they bought the book BECAUSE of the title.

Still, it's tough to give up control.

OK, Now I'll ask you one...

I worked in TV for years before quitting to be a cartoonist full time. You did Cerebus for decades before launching your own internet TV show. Can you talk a little bit about the decision to launch such an ambitious project at the same time you are producing Glamourpuss? And also, do you find producing Cerebus TV to be creatively fulfilling in it's own way?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My chat with Dave Sim Continues...

First, I just want you to know that I guarantee that "Bubble it out" and "Let me love you over to the edge" will become common phrases in the Gownley household from here on out!

Also, I found your whole second paragraph really resonant. A friend of mine is starting a long term project and has started to notice people seemingly accidentally setting themselves up as obstacles. My only advice was "Get used to it."

But the opposite can be true as well. Unexpected support, or those strange little "coincidences" that allow huge breakthroughs to occur.

Which brings us back to your question...

I remember the moment of Amelia's creation vividly. It was in my basement apartment just outside of Harrisburg. Karen lived in a basement apartment as well, on the other side of the Susquehanna River, but she was over visiting. My art desk was in a corner of the living room, and Karen was sitting on my crappy $300 Boscov's (a local dept. store) couch.

I had signed on with Caliber to produce Shades of Gray, and was working on what I knew would be the last issue. I was just fed up, and disgusted, and sick and tired of cross hatching. (If you go back and look at mid nineties small press comics, it's hilarious how many people were trying to draw like Gerhard without, y'know, knowing how to draw. "If I just cross hatch enough, that will fix everything!") Without giving it a moment's thought, I took the page I was working on, flipped it over, and drew this little girl. She looked almost exactly like she would look in the first published issue.

I held it up and said; "Hey Karen, what do you think of her"

"She's cute."

"Yeah. Maybe I should do something with her."

Karen says she remembers me saying something about the girl looking like a troublemaker, but I don't remember that part.

I DO remember saying; "What should we call her?" We both thought about it for about ten seconds or so, and then said simultaneously… "Amelia."

I know nothing about Amelia Earhart other than what everyone knows. I had a very minor acquaintance from years ago named Amelia Something, but no one who would inspire me to pick that name.

Honestly? I just think it was her name, y'know?

Of course, Karen and I know each other pretty well. About a month or so ago we were taking a walk with the kids, and we weren't talking or anything, just out enjoying the local nature trail in silence. About 20 minutes into the walk, apropos of NOTHING, Karen goes; "Which one did they almost leave off?" And I said; "Man Sized Wreath."

Not "Hey Jimmy, which song did R.E.M. almost leave off their 2008 album "Accelerate"? Just "Which one did they almost leave off?"

Karen? anything to add?

Ok, Now I get to ask YOU one… Pretty much since I began being interested in comics, people have been spouting doom and gloom about the future of the medium, but for every disaster, it seems something good or at least new comes out of it. What do you think are the tone or two MOST POSITIVE aspects of the current comics environment for a young cartoonist?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dialog with Dave Sim: Part 3 Karen's response...

First, I must say I’m very flattered you asked! It’s not often I get asked about my perception of this whole comic book experience.
As for Amelia’s “birth” moment, I remember it exactly as Jimmy does (and perhaps, oddly, with more clarity than the birth of our own children, since I was heavily drugged during their birth…and Amelia’s inception, not so much). If your question is a larger “What on earth did you think about this 180-degree turn?” then that requires more thought.
Jimmy had been plugging away at Shades of Gray for years. But toward the end I could tell it was becoming less joyful and more of a burden. He was ready for a change, that was clear. Was I surprised that this change came in the form of a little girl cartoon character who had absolutely no resemblance in style to anything I had ever seen Jimmy draw before? Yeah, a little. What I remember being struck by is how naturally Amelia’s art style came to him. Unlike Shades of Gray, which seemed like so much WORK to draw, the style of Amelia seemed much more intuitive to him. I’m not saying it’s not work, there just appeared to be no struggle – as if this style was always the way he should have been doing it.
The book being in color was, for me, a no-brainer. I was dragged…er, I mean, introduced, to black & white comics and the self-publishing movement when I met Jimmy. I always said that gave me a unique perspective because I wasn’t a part of it, I was an outsider looking in. And to me, the average consumer, kids books were in color. Period. So if Jimmy wanted to do a kid’s book, it had to be in color. Period.
I never discouraged him from doing it because there never was never a need to. We weren’t married at the time, we didn’t own a house, we didn’t have kids, so what the hell? If you’re going to attempt to do something crazy, you might as well do it when you’re in your 20s and your responsibilities are minimal.
And sure, I enjoyed (and still enjoy) the experience, even though this journey has been incredibly stressful and times and the hardest thing I can imagine (next to taking care of newborn twins. That wins first prize, hands down).
I’m not an entrepreneur my nature, so if left to my own devices, I’d probably be looking at a very basic highway kind of drive through life. Jimmy enjoys the scenic route. And admittedly, it’s a lot more fun. In fact, it’s been a blast. I have a lot of great stories and some of the best times of my, and our, lives have been at comic book shows & events, and I’ve met some really dear wonderful friends through it all. In the time between Shades of Gray and doing conventions for Amelia, I really missed the comic book people. I was actually eager to get back into it.
Beyond that, I’ve gotten a lot of out of it professionally. A person learns a lot of skills when self-publishing. I have ten times more confidence now than I did before Amelia. I know how to design publications and all about working with printers and paper samples, etc. I can organize events, speak decently in public, and can work through just about any problem. So I’ve gotten a lot out of this as well.
Lastly, I’ll add that Jimmy is a cartoonist. Not just because that’s his job, but because it’s an intrinsic part of who he is. I guess in some alternate universe when he held up that little sketch of Amelia I could have said, “No. Absolutely not. I’m not doing this anymore” but to what end? I might as well have asked him to turn into a different person. It simply wasn’t an option, nor did I want it to be.

I will now thank you again for asking me to be a part of the discussion and gracefully bow out so that Jimmy can continue to get his geek on...

Karen Gownley

Ok, so there you have it! Thanks Karen. Ok, now I'd like to ask Dave one.

I started reading Cerebus when I was 14, and I always took it for granted that you would make it to issue 300.

I mean, why wouldn't you?

Now that I've produced over 1,000 pages of Amelia Rules!, I honestly can't comprehend how you did it! My question is; over the course of 26 years, 300 issues and 6,000 pages of Cerebus, was there ever a moment when you really, sincerely thought you were not going to make it? And if so, how did you work through it?

Dialog with Dave Sim: Part 2

Dave's portion is conducted by fax. Click on the image to enlarge.

Did everyone see what just happened there? My very own dialog just got hijacked!!


While we wait for Karen to respond, check out Dave's blog post from 2006 about his early impressions of AR! and Karen for that matter...

Dialog with Dave Sim: Question One from Dave...

I guess it depends on how you look at it. My dad was a coal miner, and then worked highway construction. So relative to THAT, no not really tough at all. But it's a lot tougher than, say… putting out a few mini comics.

At the time I created Amelia, I was ending Shades of Gray, and wasn't sure if I wanted to do another comic book series. Then one day, this character just appeared out of nowhere. Literally, I just flipped the SOG page I was working on over, and doodled this little girl. I pretty much decided then and there that I was going to be working with this character.

When Karen and I both said the name "Amelia" simultaneously, that clinched it.

But deciding to go with Amelia as the main character created a number of obstacles.

A humor comic. For kids. Starring a 9 year old girl. Sold only in comic shops. in 2001.

I mean, even I can look at that and see that it's insane. To try to combat these obstacles meant I had to do some other things which seemed counter intuitive. Color was the big one. The audience I was publishing for really wasn't going in to comic shops, but I had to have faith that they were out there somewhere. Since comic shops were the only venue available to me at the time, I figured I could at least get the character out in the world, and see what happened. The individual comic books only needed to break even, or at least come close. I had a career as Art Director for a TV station at this point, so I didn't need the comic for my livelihood.

Thinking long term, I figured kid's comics really should be in color. I was already picturing the graphic novels in book stores approach, or even better Scholastic Book Clubs, and fairs. To me, reaching kids in these venues required publishing in full color.

It was really touch and go at the beginning. The first issue sold 3100 copies, which was right where it really needed to be, but of course there was the inevitable drop off with issues 2-4. I remember the 4th issue, the Christmas story sold around 1400 copies through Diamond. But this was still ok, because I was thinking long term.

In spring of 2002 I met (re-met really, but that's another story) Harold Buchholz, who was an all ages print broker at the time, and who now works at Archie. He devised a way of taking the overstock of issues 1-5, and stripping the covers so that they could be rebound as a trade paperback. That worked great. The print run sold out in a few weeks, and really made Amelia financially viable again.

Ultimately, I guess I was vindicated. The original comic books never sold that well, but the trade paperbacks have been great. For me, the real milestone is that Christmas story, which may have only sold 1,400 copies as issue 4 of the comic book series, but has since been reprinted TWENTY times in four languages, and has sold well 100,000 thousand copies.

One funny thing I remembered while typing this. I handed a copy to Evan Dorkin at the 2001 Pittsburgh Comic Con. He flipped though it and said; "Color! I hope you don't lose your house!"

If there is one thing I noticed is lacking from cartoonists, it's a sense of perspective. I mean printing that comic cost like $2,000. Who's house costs $2,000?

Ok. Now I'll ask YOU one…

Ok, You mentioned here that you thought self publishing in color was crazy, and you wrote elsewhere that you considered advising me to give up. Why didn't you?

Dialog With Dave Sim!

Join me and Cerebus creator Dave Sim, as we embark on "Now I'll ask YOU one..." a dialog. Dave's posts will be made via fax, and mine will be posted here, and on the Amelia Rules! facebook page. First post comoing up in a bit. Stay tuned!