Home News Business News WARLORD OF IO: a symbol for our times

WARLORD OF IO: a symbol for our times


Everyone is justifiably linking to this post at The Comics Reporter as a passionate response to the ongoing winnowing at Diamond that is removing books like James Turner’s WARLORD OF IO from its catalog and why this is bad for EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US.

Unfortunately, what should be the jewel in the crown of multiple comics markets is more like a lump of coal shaped by arbitrarily applied market forces and short-term decision-making into something resembling an armless bust of Black Bolt. The end result is that despite an artistic flowering and sustained high level of craft that might shame any previous era of comics-making, it’s harder than ever to find many comics in the place where for now they should be really easy to find: the shops devoted to them.

While it’s impossible to disagree with Spurge’s basic points — having WARLORD OF IO around is a good thing for comics — every time we read one of these stories, our own problem solving app is involuntarily switched on. The primary point, for us, anyway is this: The comics shop system as serviced by Diamond is no longer (or perhaps never was) an effective way for James Turner to market his books to his readers.

So the question becomes: Can the LCS system be changed to become an effective system to sell WARLORD OF IO? And if they can’t…what can?

  1. I’m missing a few points on the story here, so I ask for clarification.

    Did this book ever make Previews? Or did Diamond block the book from being listed in Previews?

    I only ask because when I order my monthly comics through a mail-order service, I have a few rules, and one of them is to order everything James Turner does. If this had been listed in Previews and I missed it, then either I’m a complete idiot, or there’s a promotional problem at SLG, which would be surprising, as they usually do a decent job of promoting stuff.

    Sorry for the request for clarification.

    If it’s the latter, that a creator whose previous creation (Rex Libris) was rather popular, especially with librarians (which Diamond should be bending over to please), then Diamond’s issues are even worse than the rumored financial problems.

  2. Hi, Ray —

    The book did not make Previews; Diamond declined to list it, based on the sales of Warlord of Io and Other Stories, which was a sort of issue zero of the mini-series plus a few short stories. (I’m the e-i-c at SLG, just in case you’re wondering where this info is coming from.)

  3. So let me make sure I have this straight: a MONOPOLY is BAD for an industry. Go figure. And the question is “how do we fix it”? One assumes we find another distributor to take on the smaller press stuff that doesn’t meet Diamond’s quotas (like, oh, let’s say, Haven Distributors) and encourage retailers to use both distributors. End of monopoly.

  4. So… all these articles about titles being dropped from Diamond…

    Do they include ordering information for people who might be interested in acquiring an issue, but who can not order one via Diamond? (That is, if the comic will still be printed, or made available as a digital file.)

    Solution: Some smart comics retailer with experience in ordering and dealing with small/micro press comics publishers will set up an eBay store. Publishers will sell the comics on a RETURNABLE basis, in packs of five copies. Each eBay listing will feature the cover and two pages of interior art. Multiple purchases can be combined to save on shipping and handling.

    Why eBay? It’s a central, megamall of merchandise. PayPal is secure. Everybody knows it, it’s easy to remember. “You can buy a copy on eBay.”

  5. So the first book, Warlord of Io and Other Stories, did go through Diamond?

    Huh. If that’s true, I’m upset, because I would have pre-ordered had I known it was James Turner. Bleh.

    I’m only holding off placing an order for the Warlord of Io books directly because I’m hoping Diamond gets wind of the furor and reverses their decision. It’s happened before, albeit in a different economy. Diamond, if you’re reading this, reverse your decision, and I’ll buy all of the items through my mail-order retailer.

    Torsten- the problem with your idea is shipping. Distributors solve the biggest hassle of moving comics from publishers to customers, and do it at the best price point for customers. Even if I order, say, five comics from your mini-distributor, I’ve going to pay a significant percentage of cover cost in shipping. That’s going to be a powerful disincentive.

    Also, Diamond might frown upon a comics retailer becoming a mini-distributor and cut off orders. You’d really have to find a business that is not looking to do any business with Diamond.

  6. I’ve been unable to sell any books by this creator, except for special orders (of which we got none of), so I passed on the book. I feel that if more people placed preorders with their LCS (I’m down to 3 customers that actually fill out a Previews form, the rest just keep their standing orders), more indy books would see higher orders. As is, I had zero customers show any interest in this title, including the people I ordered Rex Libris for.

  7. Ryan- I’m a guy who fills out the form, and have for years. Do you do anything to help them fill out the form? Do you offer a newsletter offering favorites or specials to those who pre-order?

    Pre-ordering is a lot of work. It takes me two hours to go through the catalog. In return, MOC gives me 30-50% off my order. If you want your customers to pre-order, offer an incentive!

  8. Even if (hopefully) Haven becomes a good distributor for the non Diamond exclusives, they and smaller publishers are going to continually have a hard go at it until the majority of comics in the U.S. are no longer super hero centric. I’d be real curious to find out what percentage of U.S. comic stores order from any other company other than Diamond (I’d bet it’s way lower than 10% of the total of all comic stores).

    The comic stores that order from other non Diamond sources generally do well with those non exclusive titles, but there’s just not enough of those kind of stores to always make it financially viable for these smaller publishers.

  9. Ryan,

    Honestly, filling out the Previews order is a bit of a pain. Nothing against you, but I work two jobs – one corporate and one freelance – and I don’t want to spend 3 of my free hours each month going through a catalog looking for oddball independent books that interest me. I also understand your predicament because it’s the same one my LCS goes through – 98% of the customers want to buy DC and Marvel books, so it’s only smart for them to spend as much time as possible being the sort of place that caters to that market. They have to have an expert level understanding of the storylines, the creators, the shipping schedules – it’s a tough job.

    I’m just tossing this out there, but I’d be perfectly happy with buying digital files from the company or creator. In fact, I think I’m starting to prefer that idea because I don’t want to go through the hassle of buying and then trying to sell my books anymore. Maybe I’m just getting lazy?

  10. By this time next year, everyone will be able to download this kind of content directly onto their phone / web tablet / Kindle 3. Cheap, full-color, web-friendly, portrait-format touchscreen media browsers are right around the corner, and comics are going to be the killer app. Hopefully!

  11. I think it’s ridiculous to force people to pre-order comics. When I go to the grocery store I can pretty much expect them to carry 30 varieties of salsa and 50 varieties of potato chips and 50 cereals (or more), they don’t just fill the store with Pop Tarts and Coke. When (if) I go to the video store it’s a safe bet they won’t just have 50 titles of the new Hollywood blockbuster but they’ll also have a copy or two of many of the low budget and indy titles I want to get. Comic shops think they can just sell Coke and Pop Tarts and they’re doing their job because anyone who wants celery or pickles had better fill out a form every month to let them know that some people want something besides Coke and Pop Tarts.

  12. This image is the first thing that has intrigued me from the comics world in a very long time. Going to have to check it out.

    Naturally, it’s no surprise to discover Diamond is no patron of the artform.

  13. Also, why can’t Diamond offer their catalog on-line in non-PDF form? It’s ridiculous the price they charge for a monthly catalog. If there was an easier way to pre-order comics I might try it but most on-line places that offer previews of monthly titles don’t list the Fantagraphics, AdHouse, etc. stuff I’d want to pre-order.

    To me there’s a couple of different problems- shops not trying to expand their customer base (how many local comic shops bother to advertise, focus on curb appeal, etc.), the archaic and silly “pre-order” process which was mostly designed to ensure fan boys receive their weekly fix, and the lack of any real lower level distributors- Haven doesn’t seem to have picked up where Cold Cut left off (or maybe it has).

    My best idea for smaller companies to survive in the current situation is for them to “shelter” all their vulnerable titles under one roof- a company-wide anthology that would showcase their editorial vision on one monthly book which would allow for serialization without worry of meeting minimums and also give the company the opportunity to concentrate its marketing power one on core title. If these could be kept affordable enough to survive in the DM it would provide good exposure to readers and effectively serve as marketing for the eventual collections of the various serialized efforts. I basically think Fantagraphics has quietly done this with Mome.

  14. Joe,
    The main problem with your grocery store/video store comparison is that those stores buy items on a RETURNABLE basis, and so, can afford to stock all of those items without having to worry about being stuck with unsold merchandise. Comic shops, however, are stuck with the idiotic system of having to buy everything on a NONRETURNABLE basis, thus causing shop owners to be much more cautious in ordering items that are not a guaranteed sell. This, I think, is the main problem with the direct market and, until it’s solved, smaller press comics will always have an uphill battle.

  15. So what happened between “comics on the newsstand, which were pulled (covers torn off) and returned” to now, where comic shops are stuck with their purchases? How do bookstores work this? Does Borders/Books A Million have to keep their comics, or are they returnable? If so, it seems like there might be a double standard?

  16. Andy Diggle Says: By this time next year, everyone will be able to download this kind of content directly onto their phone / web tablet / Kindle 3. Cheap, full-color, web-friendly, portrait-format touchscreen media browsers are right around the corner, and comics are going to be the killer app. Hopefully!

    A-hyup. Followed up with Print On Demand for folks who want a hard-copy collection.

    The genie is already out of the bottle with kids scanning and “ripping” comics, sharing them on peer-to-peer networks like pirated movies and music. That generation will grow up scratching their heads and wondering why anyone would *bother* to print and physically distribute a 24 page chunk of content that they have to haul themselves across town (sometimes across the state) to get. The floppy/pamphlet/single is going to go (mostly) the way of the 45. They’ll still hang around as a promotional item. In The Future, you might wander a comic convention floor with your wireless device and download the issue while you talk to the creator right in front of you who is showing you the original artwork and some con-exclusive minis with hand-screen-printed covers. (While hovering with your personal jet pack and cyborg helper monkey; hey, I can’t actually see the future).

    The physical object that was originally conceived as ephemeral has been imbued with more value than the physical object itself deserves. The current model is built around the physical object, not the content, to the detriment of the content.

  17. Except that this is a generalization and an assumption,…that there is a large contingent of comics enthusiasts that is so plugged into modern technology that the hard copy version of a comic would be unattractive to them,…which ain’t necessarily so.

  18. I didn’t say the hard copy was unattractive, in fact I suggested the Print On Demand option (which can include Traditional Print When the Demand Reaches Critical Mass). We already see this with web comics.

    The over-priced, poorly distributed, low quality (re: the physical form) hard copy of a small chunk of material that could much more easily be accessed electronically (and is already via piracy) is definitely going to become less and less attractive. See also: “waiting for the trade”.

  19. afdumin, I don’t think video stores order movies on a returnable basis, do they? Otherwise, they wouldn’t have the vast aisles of bargain copies.

    I think one problem is that some people seem to be looking for The ARK which will save us all while everybody else has already made their little rickety private raft and is already planning how to ride out the storm on their own. Most comics people who’ve been around or paid attention long enough have seen countless efforts fall by the wayside and endless amounts of manifestos amount to nothing more than late night post-con bar argument fodder. Everybody who insists someone needs to step up and compete with Diamond obviously hasn’t looked into the cost/logistics.

    People keep waiting for someone to make it official or something, but what we already have now is “the future” that some seem to still be waiting for- a model built mostly around free web serialization with potential for limited collected edition sales in the direct market but with the majority of books sold through P.O.D., Amazon, local stores and cons, and those sales supplemented with sales of original art and merchandise. Most people not working for Marvel and DC are already doing it. If anything, it seems like its only the comics press that doesn’t “get it” since 99% of their coverage still seems to be about the print world and 95% of that being the Big 2. I know Spurge has championed James Turner’s work but I can think of few other places that have talked much about it.

  20. Tom explains the issue in his introductory paragraph:
    “Turner is a comic book maker some people like, others don’t, and the vast majority of comics readers ignore.”

    Again, “…the vast majority of comics readers ignore.” This is not Diamond’s problem. It’s been said time and again that it’s not Diamond’s job to market your book. Even fans of the author have pointed out that they weren’t even aware of the existence of “Warlord of Io and Other Stories”, the preview issue of the series. This sounds more like a case of poor marketing than a poor decision on the distribution end. After all, the distributor is just picking up on patterns – if this is how the publisher promotes the preview, then how are they going to promote the actual series?

    It’s another example of how the “#0”, preview, etc just doesn’t work in many cases today. It’s 2009, and the ashcan belongs in the trashcan. In most cases, it’s just an abridged version of what you’d get if you just waited for the first issue. That mentality is hurting creators, as it’s preventing many from being able to release that first issue. Those previews are only effective if free.

    Tom’s taking the high road, in his “Well, it’s not my cup of tea, but he should still get a shot” argument, but the people have already voted. It would be one thing if the decision had been made based on past Turner work. Instead, the decision was made based on a preview of this very work. If those low orders were due to the fact that SLG didn’t properly promote the book, it’s not Diamond’s fault because no level of Featured Item, Certified Cool, or Indie Edge promotion is going to replace what could be done more effectively at the publisher level.

  21. Not to be contentious, but, I believe that they are two different animals. People who are interested in one format are not necessarily going to be interested in both formats. There are those who couldn’t care a whit about electronic comics and love the physicality of the printed on paper versions for a variety of reasons and likewise vice-versa. I don’t see online publishing as the salvation of comics, per se and I disagree with the idea that the “pamphlet” will necessarily go the way of the 45 rpm single. There are plenty of people who will not only go across town,…but also across country to acquire comics. Comic-Cons seem to be a huge indicator, to me, at least, that there are thousands of people who will do exactly that. Comic books are a different thing from comics.

  22. Of course they’re two different things. One of them is going to flourish, the other one is going to fade and both things are already happening. I didn’t say it was going to happen over night. I also didn’t say the pamphlet was going to disappear completely.

    There are those who don’t care a whit about MP3s and love their old vinyl. But vinyl is still being pressed for audiophiles and collectors. Goodness knows I was pretty bummed by the death of vinyl, but all my love for it wasn’t going to stop the shift in technology.

    A few tens of thousands are not “plenty” enough people to sustain the current, unsustainable model. If they were, the model would be sound and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    Cons that are maybe half-focused on comics not a “huge indicator” of comic book popularity. Consider the floor space given to actual (currently in print) comics versus the floor space given over to: television, film, gaming, toys, collectibles, clothing and comics sealed hermetically and never meant to be read again. Consider the crowds at SDCC camping out in Hall H, the ballroom and the biggest panel rooms versus your choice of empty seats at a comic panel. If SDCC was just about comics, it would be a lot less popular and… that would be great, actually.

    … like the Toronto Comic Arts Festival: it attracts a ton of people whom you would never find at a traditional comic con, or in a comic store, picking up and reading comics that you would never find in most comic stores (but you will find online, in many cases). That’s a new, potentially massive audience, one which has few, if any pre-conceived notions of this business of comics. They don’t have to think outside the box, because they *are* outside the box.

    The revolution is happening without us and whether we want it to or not.

  23. afdumin: You’ve got it exactly backward. The DM, like nearly every other retailer on Earth — including grocery stores, video stores, etc. — buys nonreturnable.

    The primary returnable markets are those that grew out of the US magazine distribution system in the ’30s — newsstands and book stores.

    Think about it: do you really believe that your local Wegman’s can return that cantaloupe for full credit after a week if it doesn’t sell?

  24. Blaming the (few good) publishers for the state of comics distribution is like blaming the woman for getting abused. I think maijia is right on about the fact that its happening but some people still see the old paradigm when they look at what’s happening now. I actually have a friend who’s starting to make some money pressing limited edition vinyl and I notife stores seem to be stocking record players again but that doesn’t mean we’ll ever get to where people are buying a million records from any artist ever again- people have moved on to what is easy, cheap and available even if they preferred and still collect & enjoy the old format.

  25. Wow, exaggerate much there, Joe? However, if you wish to continue on the dangerous precipice of a metaphor that you presented, this is more la case of self defense than abuse. It’s easy to blame the big guy, but this isn’t a case of censorship or even backroom politics. The title had a shot as a preview, and did not float. Now, it would be interesting to know by how much they missed the benchmark, but that’s just numbers. The point is that the series did not have projected sales that would make Diamond any money, and in the interest of business, they decided to take a pass. It’s really a “no hard feelings move”, unfortunately executed in an industry where everything is taken personally.

  26. Those of you out there making the grocery parallels got me to thinking. The Direct Market arose out of problems the early comic shops and collectors had dealing with news stand distribution channels. Now potential customers are not being properly serviced by retailers and the Direct Market and going elsewhere. New distribution methods are bound to occur when the old model breaks down.

  27. Joe Williams,

    Sure, the local video store (which, btw, are almost all gone) will have *SOME* indy releases, but in no way, shape or form will they have them all. Here’s a list of every DVD and Blu-Ray released this week:


    You’re telling me your Blockbuster will have even half of that? And you’re crazy if you think your mom’n’pop video store will carry even a quarter of that. The same applies to supermarkets…there are HUNDREDS of small vendors that most supermarkets don’t carry.

  28. To which I would, respectfully, say,…maija,…so,what? It’s apples and oranges.
    Presenting webcomics doesn’t necessarily provide a solution for people that are trying to get comic books out to people.

  29. Ryan, no doubt. I NEVER suggested they carried them all but most video stores certainly carry the “big” indy stuff. I’d never say a comic shop should carry every poorly drawn mini and I’d never expect every video store to stock every single movie- I hope you were trying to put hotse words in my mouth or intentionally misread what I was getting at. To put it in comics terms: I can find the Ghost World movie at my local video store but can I find the Ghost World comic at my local comic shop?

    Will, I was responding to the point that publishers were somehow responsible for the marketplace. The metaphor is pretty solid in that regard since publishers outside of DC and Marvel are wholly subject to the whims of the Big 2 and monopoly distributor.

  30. And, oh by the way, if the marketplace is so wise and just then why have so many of its biggest successes in recent memory (Bone being the best example) almost been snuffed in the crib?

  31. maija – I’m amused with this talk of the “cons of the future” with fantastical wireless devices and digital comics. The iPhone already has these tech capabilities, it’s more of a matter of getting the software side going. If a meeting I had last month was any indication, this convention of the future will start happening in 2010.
    LCS stores took a big hit when Manga titles started offering more diversity and exposure, and it looks like the next big threat to the LCS model is the webcomics, who don’t necessarily need an LCS to stay profitable. However, this is not the fault of the LCS or the webcomics, as a mutually beneficial deal can happen between the two. Clearly, there’s a third party that’s not acting in a beneficial manner towards their LCS clients, and that’s something that really, really needs to be addressed.

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