Indie comics publisher About Comics is no publisher manqué: the company has published books by Gail Simone and Charles Schulz. But it’s also a small indie comics company in a world where the margins for that are getting tinier and tinier. To that end publisher Nat Gertler—who marks inventing 24 Hour Comics Day among his other achievements—has formulated a new publishing plan. Although About has a strong slate for the year with never before reprinted comics by Schulz and a new comic by MEN IN BLACK creator Lowell Cunningham, Gertler is no longer going to offer new products to the direct market. Instead, About’s offerings will be available via print on demand…and of course electronically.
Gertler stresses that he has no beef with Diamond—and existing About products will continue to be offered through Diamond. It’s just that the costs for storing and moving physical objects has become non-cost effective.
You can read Gertler’s complete statement below but we should note the the e-reissue market is just going to get bigger and bigger. Slews of obscure but worthwhile comics from the past are already available in e-book formats. And more will come as the long tail wags further and further.
Here’s what About has planned and why they made the move:
About Comics will no longer offer new materials to the direct market.
To be clear, we will continue to offer existing titles through Diamond, with whom we’ve had a good business relationship for over a decade. However, over the last several years, between whatever changes have been going on in the market and whatever imperfections and limitations we’ve had in addressing that market, we’ve been ineffective at launching new direct market product. Add in that our storage provider raised our rates by 60% last year, and it made little sense for us to continue with inventory-based product and traditional distribution.
However, About Comics is not going out of business. We (and I should note that’s a “corporate we”; About Comics has always been a one-man operation) are switching our publishing focus to zero-inventory publishing – that’s print on demand and digital. These are not new formats for us; we put out our first cartoon book for the Kindle way back in 2007, and last year we did a fair amount of prose in zero inventory formats under our prose imprint, Combustoica, most notably the reprints of the classic 1960s Israel Bond, Oy-Oy 7 spy parody novels. We actually put out only one new book to the direct market last year.
What we are up to:
• A heavy push of new titles into print-on-demand – some of these are already available through Amazon, others will be shortly.
◦ Bridge Mix collects just the cartoons from Charles M. Schulz’s It’s Only a Game which are about bridge, to create a book aimed at bridge players – a market which would not be well reached through the direct market.
◦ 96 is a collection of my own four 24 hour comics, and there will be teeny-tiny demand for that. And half of it is in color, which is something we’ve never done for the direct market for any book.
◦ Miss Caroline – a book of cartoons about being a little girl in the White House, first published in 1963 and not returned to press in almost half a century.
◦ Roadways – the high-adventure miniseries by Jeff Lang, Ted Slampyak, Steve Lieber, and John Drury, collected for the first time.
◦ We’re waiting on paperwork that’ll allow us to immediately release two more Schulz books (God’s Children – cartoons about kids and the church; The Zipper on My Bible is Stuck – teens and the church); scheduling is being worked out for Fusion, the serialized graphic novel by science fiction writer Steve Barnes, Albedo’s Steve Gallacci, and The Weasel Patrol’s Lela Dowling; and a deal is being ironed out for a children’s book based on a respected comic strip.
• Releasing a new comic book by the creator of The Men in Black, Lowell Cunningham, illustrated by Ralph Miranda. Jack Ooze is a short comic (8 pages), an origin story for a strange crusader. That will be available through Comics Monkey in time to play off the attention for the new Men In Black film.
• Entering the audiobook market with Loxfinger, the first of the four Israel Bond spy parodies. We’re just finishing the editing of it, and that will be available through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.
• Bringing to print-on-demand About Comics books that have fallen out of print or out of distribution. We’ve already put up our reprint of Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang from February 1922, and we’re waiting to get a few small corrections that Gail Simone wanted to make to our You’ll All Be Sorry collection before putting that back up. Other books will soon follow.
• Producing material for other publishers, with the prime example at this moment being Charlie Brown’s Christmas Stocking, a collection of two genuine-Schulz 1960s Peanuts Christmas stories which have never been in a book before; that will ship in November from Fantagraphics.
• Providing comics-related services to folks outside of the comics field – if you’ve seen Sherbrooke Liquor’s beer bottles with art by Steve Rude or Scott Shaw! (or the upcoming wine with a Paul Smith dragon on the label), those are things arranged by About Comics.
And, of course, we are reaching out for further projects… there are a number of comics stories long out of print and never in book form that should be available. We’re also seeking the rights for number of additional prose projects, particularly well-respected material that has been out of print for an inexplicably long period of time.
Pulling out of the direct market has meant pulling out of one project; we’ve negotiated with Steve Bissette to withdraw from publishing his Tales of the Uncanny: N-Man and Friends project. But that project will still be coming out, just without the About Comics imprint.
I will miss being in the direct market. Our relationship with Diamond has generally been a good one, and I have a genuine love for comic shops and respect for the folks who run them. Wherever possible, I will try to find ways to offer our print products to comic shops that really want to carry them. But really, we’re working under the same motto that we’ve long been using: “Publishing things that oughta be published.”
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.