Write or Wrong #47: Quality Control is Not the Enemy

Write or Wrong: Define Yourself

Like many comicbook creators (and many more than you might suspect, for that matter), Dirk I work a “day job.”

Yes, I love comics with all my heart and I’m 100% passionate about the world of comics, the comicbook industry and the comics my partners and I create… but I’m equally passionate about being able to provide myself and my family with food, shelter and occasional bouts of financial-based entertainment here and there.

Besides, it’s not like being a comic creator alone gets you reasonably-priced health insurance, right?

Well, at my particular day job the months from November to February are the “busy season,” and as a result I historically take a bit of a “vacation” from a lot of comic-related stuff during these few months every year – aside from reading Newsarama every day, updating NIGHTMARE WORLD daily over at Shadowline (you all know we got picked-up over there, right?) and chattin’ with friends and fans at a few of my favorite online haunts. (See my signature at the end of the column if you really want to know what and where they are.)

With my “busy season” over I can finally return to things like this column, and, to no one’s surprise, the “buzz topic” among a lot of smaller-press creators (like me) has been about how Diamond/Previews is raising the bar in regards to their expected/required monetary intake in regards to carrying certain comics/graphic novels.

Since this news originally came out in January I’d assume that most of you know about this – but just in case you missed it – here’s the skinny: If you don’t sell $2,500 worth of orders – your book won’t be carried and distributed by Diamond/Previews.

(Applying discounts and such, this means a small press creator selling solo issues of his or her comic for a $3 cover price would need to sell a little over 1,600 copies to meet the threshold/quota. Yes… that’s a lot of issues to sell.)

What’s more – anyone hoping to have their comic carried in Previews will have to sell that number of comics for EVERY ISSUE EVERY TIME.


The result, as can be expected, is a lot of lower-tier creators (especially) once again crying foul about how Diamond is a “monopoly” and how the new ordering thresholds signal the death of monthly comic publications for small press creators everywhere.

What most people seem to be ignoring, though, is that this is really little more than a “quality control” and money-saving measure being made by Diamond/Previews.

After all – let’s be frank, people – Previews has agreed to distribute a lot of sub-par comics for a long time… and now, due in large part to the struggle economy, I reckon, those days are over.

Am I excited about the fact that – from this point forward – I’ll need to meet a fairly hefty (by small press standards) sales threshold/quote to have my books carried in Diamond’s Previews catalog? Of course not – I’d much rather have them carry my books regardless of how many units it may sell on any given month…

Of course, I’d also like to quit my day job and work on nothing but comics for the rest of my life, retire to a nice secluded island and never have to sleep ever again… but you know what they say about wishes, right?

Poop in one hand and wish in the other – then see which one fills-up first.

If there’s one thing I’ve talked about time and time again over the past 46 editions of this column (all of which are linked-to at the bottom of the page for the time being, natch), it’s that creating comics is not easy and it’s not cheap – especially if you’re doing it on your own.

What I’ve never really come out and directly said until now, though, is that a lot of smaller-press creators have been waaaaaaaaaay too dependent on Previews as a gauge and benchmark of success.

For so many years smaller-press creators have used the fact that their book is in Previews as a badge of honor: “Hey, look! I’m in Previews! That means I’m somebody now!”

Ummm… no.

Getting your comicbook/graphic novel into Previews never has been a sign of success. Rather, it just means that Diamond/Previews feels there’s a possibility they can make money by taking your money.

I realize that sounds harsh, and let me say here for the record that I’m not bashing Diamond or Previews here. Previews is a business, and it’s their prerogative to run their business the way they like. While their new business model may make things a little more difficult for smaller-press creators like me, it’s also important to keep in mind that it was never their job to make things easier for me or others in my position.

Considering that we now live in a day and age (not to mention an economy) when even the “best” (define that as you will) non-corporate comics are struggling to find an audience that can support their publication costs, the fact that so many smaller-press creators are now crying “foul” over the fact that Diamond may no longer carry/list their books for distribution to comic shops in future editions of Previews strikes me as more than a little childish.

Facts are facts, people, and the fact of the matter is that Diamond does not love the comic industry (or at least the smaller-press portion of it) enough to list/carry books that they are going to lose money by carrying.

If you think that Diamond – or anyone else in this industry, for that matter – is going to lose money for the sake of your convenience – well, you missed the boat labeled Kitchen Sink Press by more than a few years. Sorry about your luck.

Again – and I don’t feel I can stress this enough – I’m one of those smaller-press creators who could very well find my own future releases “squeezed out” of Previews if I can’t muster-up the minimum amount of sales necessary to make the quota.

Heck, this presently affects me a lot more than it probably effects a lot of you right now, truth be told.

However, unlike a lot of smaller-press creators out there, I’m not so insular or comic-centric in my business model(s) that I’ve based my professional livelihood on having my product listed in only one product catalog – no matter how overwhelmingly it may be used by the majority of Direct Market realtors.

Again: would I like to have every comicbook I’m ever associated with listed in Previews? Of course! I’d also like to have them put on big fancy displays in every major book store in the country, too... and a pony. I mean, if I’m wishing for things, why not, right?

People, Previews is only one way of going about advertising and selling your comic, but, honestly, unless you have the money for a full-page color ad and a helluva web-presence/fan-base, being listed in the back of Previews ain’t gonna do much in regards to moving copies of your comic unless you’re one of the “Big Four” (Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and Image) at the front of Previews.

That’s not new. What is new, though, is that – through the new quotas – Previews is finally admitting it, too.

Now, since I’m being so honest here, how about you do the same: How many of you reading this column genuinely make it an effort to read (not just scan, but read) the “back” of Previews each month looking for new books by non-“Wizard Top Ten” creators to pre-order and purchase?

I’d gladly eat my hat if it could be proven that more than 25% of the people reading this column do that each and every month.

Honestly, I know I don’t do it every month – and I’m a “back of the book” creator myself!

Sure, sure… there are occasionally some hidden gems scattered back, but there’s also a lot of sub-par comics back there too that – despite the amount of hard-work and love put into them by their creators – are simply not of a professional caliber and, in my humble opinion, have no business being offered for distribution into comicbook shops across the country by the largest distributor in the business.

(If that last comment really offends you, you’re probably involved with a book like that.)

With the situation being what it is right bow, we (smaller-press creators) need to look at the bright side here: With Previews raising the bar a bit, hopefully it will end some of the stigmas facing those of us who are not releasing books only associated with “The Big Four” at the front of Previews.

At the risk of sounding elitist, allow me to be brutally honest and say that I don’t like my work being solicited right alongside books that are drawn by fourth-graders and look like they were printed at Kinkos.

Yes, there was a time when that was how smaller-press creators had to print their comics… but with all of the Print-On-Demand printers out there nowadays those days are over, my friends…

Well, at least if you want your work to be taken seriously.

Hey, I’m a huge advocate of helping anyone and everyone who wants to create comics doing just that – and this column alone is proof of that – but at the same time, that does not mean that all comics are created equal.

Quality control is not a bad thing, folks… nor is running a successful business model.

Will some genuinely good and quality comics suffer from this? Yes.

The analogy I’ve heard tossed around again and again is that, under this new business model, we will never see another comic like Bone rise to the prominence it deserves, as it will be smothered in its infancy by these new ordering thresholds.

I may be the lone dissenter here, but I don’t see that being the case.

What I do see happening, though, is smaller-press creators finally getting that long-needed kick in the butt they need to quit relying on Previews to do all of the work for ’em.

Those of us who truly want to create comics – and be successful at it – are going to have to work even harder at doing so, and for those of us who are serious about our craft (and our business), this should come as a welcome challenge – and it’s this new terrain and ways concerning how to flourish in it that we’re going to be discussing in the next few installments of this column.

I mean, really, I don’t think the landscape has changed for us smaller-press creators that much… I think it’s now just more obvious what the landscape really is.

For those of you who have been here with us since the beginning, welcome back. For those of you new to what we’re doing here, you have two weeks (at most) to get caught-up on the previous installments of the column before we carry on with or without you…

Exciting times are ahead, folks…

Next Time: How to crush the opposition and make successfully make friends and fans in the process.

Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD, which can now be read daily as part of the Shadowline family of webcomics. He is also a longtime contributing writer for Newsarama and a staunch advocate for comic creators everywhere. He lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around MySpace, SoulGeek, Facebook and Twitter. He likes dialogue that promotes insightful and/or deep thought. Keep the conversation going and spread the word, yo. This stuff ain’t gonna be free forever.

Want to read Write or Wrong from the beginning? Here ya’ go!

WoW #1: Introduce Yourself

WoW #2: Thematically Speaking

WoW #3: How Badly Do You Want It?

WoW #4: Meeting Bendis and Finding Artists

WoW #5: Making First Contact

WoW #6: Things Fall Apart

WoW #7: Creation vs Dictation

WoW #8: Kill the Buddha

WoW #9: They’re Not Robots

WoW #10: Dollars and Sense

WoW #11: World Wide You

WoW #12: Always Use Protection

WoW #13: Contract Killers

WoW #14: Take a Look in the Mirror

WoW #15: Words Worth 1,000 Pictures

WoW #16: Mid-Ohio Musings

WoW #17: Seeking What the Masters Sought

WoW #18: Means and Ends

WoW #19: Likeable Characters

WoW #20: “What’s My (Evil) Motivation?”

WoW #21: It’s Not a Race

WoW #22: How to Successfully Play God

WoW #23: “Are you really THAT good?”

WoW #24: Things Fall Apart, v2.0

WoW #25: Climbing Out of the Hole

WoW #26: “See all those people out there?”

WoW #27: “Lose Yourself”

WoW #28: The Tallest Midget in Shortsville

WoW #29: Punisher Skrull Sex

WoW #30: The Wrath of Con

WoW #31: All We Have is Time

WoW #32: Dishin’ with Dwight MacPherson

WoW #33: The horror, the horror…

WoW #34: The End is the Beginning

WoW #35: The Weakest Link

WoW #36: Wrestling with Spidey

WoW #37: It Has To Be You

WoW #38: Step Up

WoW #39: Rage Against the (Pitch) Machine

WoW #40: Interesting Times

WoW #41: “Why So Serious?”

WoW #42: Defining Success

WoW #43: Define Yourself

WoW #44: The Power of “No”

WoW #45: Interview with the Editor

WoW #46: The Other Places

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