Thursday, 7 June 2012

Do It Like A Rockstar!

(from a blog post at Escape Pod Comics, 4 June 2012)
...Dave Sim was comics' first Rock Star - showing up at signings in limos, hosting late night comic con parties and generally having a hell of a time. But he was also the kind of rockstar that [Amanda] Palmer is: encouraging others, inspiring them and turning the business of comics on its head. Other people had self-published before Sim, but few did it with the business acumen and drive that Dave did. With his modest success, Dave created a space in the back of his monthly book to showcase other independent creator’s work. And he was almost always ready to help people interested in self-publishing - when his Kickstarter campaign launched multiple creators tweeted about Dave's selfless help. But back to my main point: the fans - Just look through the letters columns in the back of Cerebus and you will see a kooky bunch trading in-jokes, discussing their lives and the work. One of that bunch would be Dave Sim, who always seemed more like a moderator than some Great Creator responding to his worship; something that the few creators who even answered their own letters back in those days often came off sounding like. 

And what fans! There were oddballs galore: vampires and feuding siblings and hateful love triangles, all people letting their freak flags fly in a safe and understanding environment. Some even went on to become fairly powerful forces in the comic industry themselves. And it was this connection with fans that gave Cerebus, an independent black and white comic with a cover price ⅓ higher than almost everything else in the store, monthly sales in the sort of numbers that Marvel, DC and Image would kill for today. And it was this same strong fan base that, as Stephen Bissette pointed out, allowed Sim to change the entire comic industry. 

When all the distributors implicitly refused to carry the first Cerebus "phonebook" (A tome collecting 25 issues of the Cerebus saga in one, square-bound, 500 odd page book) their argument wasn't really that bad. Simply put, it had never been done before, stores weren't going to stock it and fans weren't going to buy it. Comics just didn't come that big. All this was true. Dave, after getting feedback from fans, mostly in letter columns and at conventions, decided that it just wasn’t true. He printed an initial run of 5,000 books and offered them directly through the back pages of Cerebus. One need simply mail a money order or call up his office with a credit card and the book would be shipped out. Retailers, who Sim has always been a huge supporter of, could get multiple copies at a discount. 

When the initial run of 5,000 books sold out (quite quickly, actually) the retailers relented and begged Sim to let them carry his book. Dave, always one to force others to stick to their guns, refused. He relented on subsequent books and eventually on all of them, but he never stopped trying to prove that it was the artist and the fans, not the giant corporations and not the distributors, who had the real relationship. 

Look around your local comic shop, or any bookstore with a "Graphic Novel" section. Are there square bound books? Books that exceed 80 pages? Damn right there are. Dave Sim literally reinvented the way that the comic book industry did business, more than once. And he used it by knowing, trusting and respecting his fans and by never letting his work get diluted by anyone else's vision of it. Amanda Palmer has set the stage for a new revolution within the music industry, here's hoping that she's as successful as Dave.

Amanda Palmer's recent Kickstarter campaign raised $1,192,173 in a fundraiser that ended on 31 May 2012. Although other enterprises at the crowd-sourcing website had passed the $1-million mark before, hers was the first musical project to do so. You can donate to Dave Sim's Kickstarter fundraiser right now, helping him to make all 6,000 pages of Cerebus available online.

1 comment:

Dr. Fleming said...

I love tremendously this blog and, inherently, the people who do it. I hope it never dies.