Friday, 4 July 2014

Weekly Update #38: Sitting On A Crumbling Ledge

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
1.  Crisis on Infinite Dave Sim File Copies averted
2.  File Copies prove to be the best restoration raw material available
3.  Long term concerns:
      a) drop-off in sales on CEREBUS ARCHIVE which is financing the restoration
      b) can the pool of CEREBUS fans be expanded through outreach?
4.  The Off-White House will entertain its first researcher 29 September to 10 October
Happy 4th of July and 7th of Ramadan everyone!

Bit of a crisis this week.

I had left a phone message with Pete Dixon of PARADISE COMICS last month when Sean was gearing up for his restoration work asking Peter to send a few issues from the Dave Sim File Copies...

TMI ALERT FOR THOSE WHO HATE CGC "SLABBING" TMI TMI TMI TMI SKIP ALL OF THE ITALICIZED PARAGRAPHS THAT FOLLOW IF YOU HAVE NO INTEREST:
 -- the 20 copies of each issue that were bagged and boarded and put away on publication (I got the idea from hearing that Bill Gaines had put away 20 copies -- turns out to have been 10 -- of the original EC comics) that Sean had said he didn't have very good resolution on in his sources, while I sent him the best copies I had in the Off-White House (a 1995 printing of the CEREBUS trade and SWORDS as it turned out).  

Peter is accredited by CGC as being able to authenticate signatures for their Signature Series:  if Peter says he saw you sign a comic book, that's good enough for CGC.  So that's what Peter did on 13 March 2004 -- the day #300 hit the stores: witness me and Gerhard sign all of the Dave Sim File Copies, which Peter now has custodianship of: as a way of verifying that they are the Dave Sim File Copies and not just books that I signed for someone else.  

They haven't all been encapsulated by a long shot.  

First of all, it costs a lot of money per book and second of all there's something called the CGC Census which keeps track of all the books that have been encapsulated and what they are graded at.  So, if you're reading a Heritage Auctions catalogue and they're auctioning a -- say -- 9.4 CEREBUS No.2, they can tell you how many encapsulated copies there are, how many in that grade, how many higher and what they sold for.  The FULL stats are available at a place called GP Analysis.

The idea was to encapsulate some and sell them and use the proceeds to encapsulate the others.  If we just got all of the No.2's encapsulated that would skew our Census.  

"20 copies in 9.8, one higher", let's say.  That doesn't look particularly rare which would drive down the price.  

There's SOME interest, but basically just in the first 20 issues or so which are the hardest to find in the best condition.  

MY interest was to have the best copies in the Cerebus Archive, so basically I'm skimming the occasional 9.9 and really exceptional 10.0 Gem Mint for permanent preservation as the books are getting encapsulated.  BTW The Dave Sim File Copies have a few of the earliest 10.0 Gem Mint books in the CGC Census.  There's interest in those, but more as "1978 Gem Mint 10's" than in anything having to do with CEREBUS.  

We tried auctioning a few 9.8's through Heritage and got...very spotty...results. To the extent that the best solution seemed to be to just forget the whole thing for a decade or so. Literally. I'm Mr. Long Range Planning as you know. It's been about five years since Peter and I had a serious discussion about what we're going to do and it will probably be another five years until we have the next one. These things take time.

And, as I say, my interest is in making sure that the Cerebus Archive retains the 3 of the 20 copies that have the highest grade attached to them. The rest aren't going to go DOWN in value, so there's no motive to flood the market. Starve the market until you need the market.        
I didn't have much confidence in the File Copies for restoration purposes.  My concern with them, at the time, had been that they be in as close to perfect condition as possible, bagged and boarded and then put away.  It was Deni's job, originally, then Karen's, then Monique's.  When Monique left we were up at issue 135 so I figured there would be no shortage of mint copies at that point, so Ger and I stopped bagging and boarding them.  We'll see what posterity has to say about that.

I figured Peter pulled the books, FedExed them to Sean, Sean looked at them and went "Meh." and that was it.

I realize part of that reaction comes from my use of the studio copies -- the complete set of CEREBUS that is unbagged and unboarded and pretty much falling apart -- that I use anytime I have to refer to something. Just this past week when Tim at AMOC faxed me for anything I had on Dan Vado. I knew there were Petuniacon photos of him and roughly where they were. Shuffle shuffle shuffle, flip flip flip. Issue 65.

I just ASSUMED that the File Copies were the same as the studio copies, none of which I would have used for restoration or as good example of printed CEREBUS.

So the day before yesterday, Peter leaves me a phone message.  "Dave, you left me a phone message last month when I was in New York. I just remembered today.  Give me a call."

You know when they say that you have ice water pour into your bowels?  I always thought it was an expression.

Here we are -- tick tick tick -- against Lebonfon's clock and Sean hasn't even SEEN the File Copies. So I phoned Peter and Peter was very YIKES and I made the decision to send Sean all 25 issues. Peter. You have to get on this.  Which he did.

Peter doesn't get as much credit in the field as he should so let me say right here that he is probably the only comics dealer that virtually EVERY OTHER comics dealer would trust with his life.  Or, even more significant, his best comic books.  Dealers are notoriously "whatever" about their lives in comparison.  So, I knew he would get the job done, even though he had left his message about 4 pm on Wednesday and I hadn't called him back until I got the message around 5 pm.

Didn't think about it again for another half hour or so.

Today's the 2nd I thought.

Tomorrow's the 3rd.

Friday is...the 4th of July.

"Peter!"

He already had the package wrapped.

"It has to go out tonight."

"Well, it's not going out TONIGHT.  The FedEx guy has already been here.  It'll go out tomorrow and it'll be there on...the..."

He's obviously looking at Sean's address.

"Where's FedEx in Toronto?  Peter, it has to go out tonight."

"I'll go online and check."

And that's where we left it.

Fax comes in from Sean the next morning.  "Peter made it happen!"

I don't even want to check and see how far FedEx is from Paradise Comics and do the math.  "Let's see. I spoke to him at...6:45...FedEx closes at 7:30?  8?  And it's...THIS...far away.

Anyway, like I say, a shout out to the guy that virtually everyone in the comics field that he touches on would trust with their lives.  Or, as I say, their comic books.


2. And it turns out that the File Copies are the Best Source possible for Sean's purposes. The only exception is #5 which is better in SWORDS.  He and Mara had checked as far as No.13 when I heard from him yesterday.

Anyway, since this is the only MAJOR story happening in the CEREBUS world right now -- and, as you can see, there are a lot of twists and turns yet to go -- I've asked Sean to post BULLETINS in the countdown to Lebonfon's deadline.

Ultimately, when the book is printed, I'm going to get Sean to give us all a guided tour of the restoration. If you have a copy of the restored book, we'll invite your input.  What I'm suggesting is that Sean do some "high end" work on the book once he has all four signatures up to what he considers a good journeyman version and then as many pages as he can to Legacy Edition level.

Then we all have to have a serious talk about what it's going to cost to do Legacy Edition level restoration -- which will tell us how long it's going to take (roughly).  With our Patron Retailer's $10,000 contribution (and THANK YOU AGAIN, "TF") and Sean and Mara's on-going experience with how long it takes to do what as the "canary in the mine shaft".

When the first $10K is gone, we look at where we are and that should give us a ballpark figure on all 6,000 pages.

3.  I always have to be looking WAY up ahead on how things are going and I have to say that my biggest concern is what I assume is a built-in drop off in Kickstarter sales on CEREBUS ARCHIVE which is what's financing the restoration.

I think I'm safe in saying it will drop, we just don't know by what.

Taking out an ad in PREVIEWS was/is a bit of a risk. We have to sell roughly 50 copies of NUMBER ONE just to pay for the ad. Is that going to happen? We don't know. I'm assuming we can sell NUMBER ONE and NUMBER TWO and NUMBER THREE in perpetuity but in very small quantities as soon as they have Diamond order numbers and barcodes on them. That was one of the things that I tried to "build in" the other way. John should be able to put together 1 or 2 copies and ship them to Diamond and there will be the same fixed cost. We don't have to do a print RUN. Each one is expensive, but should be profitable.

Anyway, we seem to be sitting on this crumbling ledge.

As an example -- when we pitched Kickstarter #2, ahead of time, to the 1,100 people on Kickstarter #1, we got 90 people who reserved CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE, but only 70 of them actually pledged, despite John contacting them several times. Don't want to rain on anyone's Independence Day Parade, but that big a drop is not a good sign for the future of CEREBUS ARCHIVE.

What I've found -- and this is anecdotal -- is that only a small percentage of CEREBUS fans are even aware of A Moment of Cerebus and what we're trying to do here. It's been ten years since the book ended. It's not a Hot Topic of Conversation in comic-book stores (most of which are, likewise, not aware of what we're doing here).

I appreciate that people want to make me feel famous and admired and secure but...uh...we're ARE on this crumbling ledge.

What I'm picturing is some means of trying to contact "alumni" CEREBUS that (obviously) doesn't involve spamming people but which (also obviously) involves spamming people.  Let me, Luddite that I am, pose the question:

Is it spamming if CEREBUS fans -- looking at the names and addresses of the CEREBUS fans that appeared in the book over the years -- tries to find those people on, say, Facebook and asks to "friend" them and wonders (e-mail aloud) if they are aware of A Moment of Cerebus and the efforts to restore the trade paperbacks with the CEREBUS ARCHIVE Kickstarter campaigns?

I mean, it's a quandary.

You have to do it in an organized way -- you can't have two dozen CEREBUS fans all sending e-mails to the same people (who may -- and, my guess, most of them do -- absolutely HATE CEREBUS and Dave Sim at this point).  And if you're organized -- dividing up the number of issues "I'll try to find and contact everyone in #74 to #84" -- well, then, you're spamming.  But you're spamming as an individual.  And they're individual e-mails.  Is that spamming?

Are there enough of you who are even interested in doing this?

I'm just asking because sustainability is a core on-going problem.  I'll keep living, personally, below the poverty line in order to make preservation possible.  But, you know, a crumbling ledge is a crumbling ledge.  And, really, I don't think it's possible to CREATE a new CEREBUS audience.  It's a comic store thing and the stores, realistically, say "I have two CEREBUS fans and they have everything. All I can do is sell two of whatever Dave produces to those guys.  There is no audience and no potential audience beyond that."

I mean, REALISTICALLY.

So the only possibility is for me to give all of you the benefit of the doubt that there is this large untapped market out there.  And what I see is "People who used to read the book but aren't likely to ever hear anything about it in Our Information Age".

I've asked John Funk to post the invoices for his work on the Kickstarter campaign every Friday in the comments section so everyone can see...uh...how fast the ledge is crumbling (you...uh...might want to consider edging over this way a bit) (there, that's good).

Anything else you can do on your own to help the situation -- and if you have a better way of contacting CEREBUS alumni, we're all ears.


4.  Looking on the bright side!  One of the people now joining us here on the crumbling ledge is Dr. Paul Williams of the University of Exeter from whom I've just had a letter today informing me that he has, indeed, gotten the funding for his plan to research The History of the Graphic Novel (1970s to 1980) and will be here from 29 September to 10 October going through as much of the material as I have on hand as he can get to in that space of time.

He won't have a climate-controlled basement research centre I'd like to have here on day, but he is our first official researcher.

And he's actually been following all of this stuff on A Moment of Cerebus.

Will wonders never cease?


5.  And a plug for Sgt. Christopher Woerner who sent me his new book REVOLUTIONS.  Just to give you an idea of how high my regard is for Sgt. Woerner's writing, Mimi Cruz sent me a copy of Christopher Hitchens' ARGUABLY collection of essays which also came in today.

Obviously I disagree with Hitchens about religion but agree with him about the threat of Terrorist Islam -- and I have to call him my top "must read" columnist on ANY subject -- agree or disagree -- when he was alive.

But I have to say it was a "no-brainer" that it was Sgt. Woerner's book that I was flipping through and reading compulsively even though I had ABSOLUTELY NO TIME TO DO SO today (or any day, for that matter).

He mentions in his cover letter that he sold a grand total of 12 copies of his first book, DOUBLE, which he self-published a couple of years ago.

He's reading this, I know, so hopefully he'll let you know how you can order a copy of his book or books.

He personalized the copy writing that I said to him, once, before his first (of three) tours of duty in Iraq "The War on Terror needs writers".

And he sure hasn't been slacking off.

Keep 'em flyin', Sarge!  And have yourself a happy 4th of July!

See you all next week!

Help finance Dave Sim to complete 'The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond' 
by donating at Patreon.com or via Paypal.

Originally serialised within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (2008 to 2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an as yet uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics and specifically focuses on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death on 6 September 1956 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette at the age of 46.

12 comments:

Dave Kopperman said...

I'm not sure how viable an email campaign would be, but perhaps a Facebook campaign? I've certainly posted about Cerebus enough, and people who know that I'm a fan of the book and the artists send me links as they appear.

Of course, of the five friends I have who are serious comics readers, all of them are more than passingly familiar with the book, and all have read about as far into it as they enjoy it (including one who actually had a backup story appear in the book). These are also the friends that I bought copies of #300 for, when it first came out.

Nevertheless, if there were a concerted campaign of some kind that had enough legs to be considered true new reader outreach (which the Archives are decidedly not), I'd post about that on a daily basis.

I should note that I am one of the Constant Readers (as Stephen King refers to his audience) who has not pledged for the first Archive. This is for the very specific reason that I simply don't have enough interest in the art that Dave was producing back then as art. It has historical significance, but it's going to get pretty far along in Portfolios before we hit one I gotta have just because I gotta have.

Speaking only for myself - the major Cerebus fan who simply doesn't have the collector mentality - what would get me interested in the Archive Project would be themed portfolios. Let's say selected Odd Transformations pages? That would be a portfolio of some of the most sumptuous art the title produced. Or a folio of the best instances of specific characters throughout the run - like, say, the Cockroach, in all his iterations. That could work on two fronts - something for the longtime readers, and something to generate non-reader interest.

This might be a crazy question, but has the possibility of applying for a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts come up? THAT could be a good potential for a public outreach campaign - one that focuses on the contributions Dave has made to the medium both as an artist, but also as philanthropist and (for lack of a better word) philosopher. There are a couple of stumbling blocks to overcome, not least of which the unwillingness to do conventions - but there has been enough of a groundswell of interest in revisiting and reevaluating the work in recent years in serious, scholarly ways that I think a very serious case could be made that the board would consider.

Tony Morris said...

The Archives do sound like a great idea, but it's not going to be until at least Jaka's Story that I'm going to be interested in getting them. And I'd assume that there's going to be at least a few other people like me out there where the draw is the quality of the art itself rather than the importance of the selected pages story-wise.

Paul Slade said...

Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing.

It might be worth considering the themed approach suggested above as that would allow you to offer some of the later pages straight away while the "first splash" awareness of the Archive project is still there.

Or how about just letting people choose whichever ten Cerebus pages they want from the entire 300 issue run and sell them that little bespoke portfolio in the Archive format? People might be prepared to pay a higher price for a bespoke portfolio like that, which could provide some valuable extra cash.

Barry Deutsch said...

I'm another fan who will definitely buy later Archives. I can't afford to buy every single Archive, so it seems sensible to wait for ones which have artwork I'll enjoy.

I like Dave Kopperman's idea of "themed" Archives, but it may be too late to rethink the approach?

If it's not too late to consider a different approach, other possible themes could include "Astonishing lettering," "Celebrity cameos," "innovative page layouts" (given Dave's output, there could be a whole bunch of portfolios with that theme), "the seriously bloody pages," etc etc.

David Birdsong said...

"Themed" portfolios? Someone please stab me in the face. What happens when the sweet stuff is done? A nice bunch of text pages? The way Dave is releasing them now is about as good as it will get. I would be fine with them in strict order, but this way JAKA'S STORY shows up in the fourth archive (unless CHURCH & STATE is two separate volumes in which case it goes to archive number five). Patience please, we will get to that point before you know it and then we can have all the pages at actual size reproduced exceptionally well and complete from issue 114-300 plus the earlier formative moments.

Of course on the current schedule we will all be dead before it's done and most likely just about all y'all will give up on it soon enough and kill it anyway.

Sorry, it's been a long week, but is it too much to ask to slow down and do this thing in order or sort of in order without just demanding the greatest hits and bailing on the rest?

Jason Winter said...

How about revisiting the idea of the Cerebus covers book? I think it would be of great interest to Art fans, as well as Cerebus fans.

Dave Kopperman said...

David Birdsong - to respond to your surprisingly negative comment: with 6000 pages of art to draw from and one of the most multilayered narratives ever created, I doubt we'll run out of the 'sweet stuff' very soon.

Note that my suggestion was in response to Dave Sim wondering about ways to both keep the interest in the Archives project going, as well as ways to access the untapped market out there of non-readers. There is also a third market, to which I belong (as well as others who responded positively to the Themed Archive suggestion), of people who would be more interested in laying down money on later work than the early stuff.

I feel you're assuming some sort of 'us versus them' mentality about all this, with the comment "and most likely just about all y'all will give up on it soon enough and kill it anyway." I find this particularly odd, since the stated purpose of these Weekly Updates is to discuss potential ways to generate more income for the restoration and reprint project. You have to know that everyone who comes here to discuss this has a deep interest in seeing that goal be achieved.

David Birdsong said...

David Kopperman please accept my apologies if I offended you. You do make some valid points about reaching some casual fans that might not otherwise be at all interested. I really should not post on this blog from an emotional place. The emotion in this case was doubt. Doubt that the fans will see this through. Doubt that it will last long at all. Doubt is a child of fear and there is really no excuse for braying in public out of fear.

I stand by my own selfish desire to see these artist editions of CEREBUS ARCHIVE come out in order in large part because of the way we tend to collect comics. We start with issue one and over the years we watch the collection grow and get out that old stack of comics and re-read them from time to time. I see this as a chance to repeat that progress in a way that allows us
to see the work evolve over time. Like I said, I would rather see it in strict chronological order, but I will take it as it comes.

Dave Kopperman said...

David B: No offense taken. I think there's always a danger with things like the Archives Portfolio project of the cart leading the horse - particularly when it's something we might want on an emotional level.

I don't know the full history of it, but I think there's some parallels here with the Animated Portfolio - something that was a passion project that turned out to not have enough market draw, resulting in a huge debt for AV.

ChrisW said...

Just as a devil's advocate, how many people can we really pull back into the world of "Cerebus"? Even if every Cerebite tries their hardest to find everyone who ever was or ever might be interested? The people who loved the wacky Elrod/Lord Julius/Roach issue, the "High Society" fans, the "Jaka's Story" fans, those who have interest in the words of #186, "Rick's Story" and the Cerebexegis? [And they do exist.]

Even if we missed sleep and meals to make this happen, we'd likely alienate anyone who stopped reading 'when Dave went nuts' and not appeal to anyone who could see good things in the later issues. I skim the "manosphere" [Google it, if you don't know.] There are men willing to read Dave's thoughts on women, if only they knew he existed, and there are men and women who believe in marriage and scripture who would be tickled at his thoughts on those subjects, if they only knew he existed.

And I don't see any way to make them know he exists. If there was a collection of his essays, or collection of the relevant "Cerebus" issues [Which issues? Relevant to whom? I don't know] and some sort of fan convention that he could at least break even on, by selling books, doing sketches and being his vastly-entertaining self, then maybe.

It's easy to come up with ideas, but we're talking about someone who wants to spend as much of his time as humanly possible creating new comic book pages, and as fans, that's what we want him to do. He can't afford to take any ideas - his own or from others - and have them turn out wrong. At least following his path the way he's done so far puts all the pressure on him. He's the idiot who decided to do a 300-issue series and not let Marvel or DC alleviate any of his burdens.

We might as well suggest he sell everything to Marvel/Disney now (except the artwork) in exchange for a decent standard of living for the rest of his life and even if a kick-ass "Cerebus" movie is made 40 years from now, the comics will be public domain. At least Marvel would respect the work [I can't believe I just wrote that sentence] and it might be conceivably be better for Dave.

See? There's an idea. I'm not pretending it's a good idea, or any more realistic than being bitten by a radioactive spider, but it's an idea. And Dave would be foolish to place all his bet on that idea.

But short of an idea like that, I'm not sure what we can really do to help. The "Cerebus" audience that made him famous is far afield from the "Cerebus" audience I first joined, and we're light-years away from that in 2014.


Is there some internet concept where we contribute a nickel or a dime or a dollar every day to Dave, in exchange for his survival/creating new comics pages? It sounds like the natural result of a Kickstarter campaign (and something about the idea makes me think I've heard of it before; probably in connection with Dave) but it's the only other good idea I have.

David Birdsong said...

Chris it's called Patreon.com. There is a link for it on this blog. Go to the top of the page and look over there on the right.

M Kitchen said...

Here's an idea!

You know how in packs of Pokemon Cards you can get a Rare Foil card?

What if in CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER TWO there is a special eleventh BONUS page.

It could be a page from WAY later in the series, showing the refined art. Or a colour cover. Or something else that we'd otherwise be waiting 20 years for.

I know that kids these days will buy the whole pack of Pokemon cards just to get that Rare Foil.