Saturday, 7 January 2012

Self publishing comic books! A revealing passage in Tom Spurgeon's holiday interview with Jeff Smith!

I didn't know even Jeff was having problems circa 2001. All through the '90s all you had to do was keep putting your periodical out and you stayed in business. Even Steve Bissette (Interviewed two days earlier in the same place) could have done well if he'd just kept putting out the comics instead of throwing up his arms in despair as early as 1994. It was that simple. Well, when I say simple I mean I was in freefall the whole time. Every now and then an updraft would instantly take me back to a higher position, but then a minute later I'd be in freefall again. The thing was that it was measurable and predictable. You could draw a graph with the curve heading toward the floor and make a serious plan of running your book into the ground within a specific number of years, months and weeks. Gary (Strangehaven) Millidge used to get mad at me when I'd talk like that, seeing it as defeatism, which it certainly never was.

However, around 2001 it all got complicated. To stay on top of things it was necessary to get into the bookstore market, and start dealing with returns and all the horrors that entails. I got out of publishing my monthly comic in 2002 and left the lucrative From Hell book under Top Shelf's management. Shortly after that our bookstore distributor went bankrupt. Then our printer went bankrupt, no doubt partly due to everybody getting out of printing the regular black and white comic books (even Cerebus had come to a close). Jeff in time solved the bookstore problem by going with Scholastic, but here he is in 2001:
SPURGEON: Is there an example of a bad time? Because your career path looks pretty positive from the outside-in.

SMITH: [laughs] Well, good. I'm glad. [laughter] 2001 was a bad year for me. We had a lot of money troubles. I got into these rows with Dave Sim and Linda Medley, and it was very demoralizing. I forgot how close we came to going out of business. We put a bunch of money into toys -- toys were really big -- in 1999 and 2000. We didn't lose any money in the long run, but it tied up a whole bunch of money for a long time... I was slowing down my output right around that time, because I was getting into the heavy parts of the story and it was hard to write. Just a lot of factors came together. I forgot how tough that was. We had to let all our employees go. We had to leave our office. I completely forgot that there was a year when Vijaya and I and Kathleen -- Kathleen Glosan, our production manager -- the three of us were all in my one-room studio above the garage trying to survive. Eventually we did.
I was never operating on the same scale as Jeff, but in 2003 we had to turn my home studio into a bedroom. The intention was to build a shed next to the house for me to work in, or for somebody to sleep in, but that looked like being too expensive, so I moved my operation onto the far end of our dinner table, a big eight foot long polished oak object. For a year or so my life consisted of going from one end of the table to the other.

Then another upheaval changed everything all over again. That's how it goes in this nutty business.

3 Comments:

Blogger @Chris_DFS said...

We're like a loyal dog that keeps coming back after getting kicked.

7 January 2012 4:20:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Catherine Lindsay said...

That makes me feel so much better about my 12 square metres. I can go from the table to the desk to the bed. Our capacity for creativity is infinite though, so in that way it's we artists who are rich, no matter how narrow our abodes have to be to enable us to survive and get the work out there.

8 January 2012 7:58:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Fred MANSON said...

As an "old" artist (I am not old!!!), I had transformed a part of my apartment as a studio. But creativity wasn't always here, as if I had lost it in this "separation". Now that I am living again with my mom in a bedroom (IT jobs have killed my mental health - thank you "dear and well paid jobs"...), I want to have again a desk to draw the many stories I have in mind.
I think that the physical place where our creativity is at its maximum level is linked to our feelings.
I am feeling very well in my little chamber than I was feeling not so good in my old flat.
It is like a cocoon of creation. It seems that all the ideas are kept in one and only one place.
And the best is that if you have an idea in the middle of the night, you just jump from your bed to your desk, draw what you have in mind then you return to your bed, exhausted but happy!!!

9 January 2012 8:43:00 am GMT-5  

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