|The Future of Girls' Comics
||[Sep. 30th, 2008|05:34 pm]
Minx has just kicked the bucket. Tokyopop has certainly displayed its first (hundred or so) throes of death. And the future of girls' comics is left hanging upon a few rare (though deliciously wonderful) titles from Scholastic and Aladdin.
Not only do we have an economic crisis on our hands, we have a comics crisis! Except for a few select titles, comics sales have continued a slow but steady drop throughout the year, and none of this has been helped by the bankruptcy of top investors in our economy, coupled with the slashing of Borders staff and titles way back in June (was it only June) that has seriously affected at least one major sector of the market. (ie: returns)
Now, this isn't the Apocalypse. And it isn't the end of the world. But this is a serious threat to the wonderful spread of diversity in comics we have all been witness to over the last ten years. We've seen this industry bud and grow to include, if not a wealth, at least a significant cache of diverse and talented creators given decent-paying jobs that wouldn't have been available to them in previous years. At least, not since the 1920's. Maybe these new jobs weren't the BEST paying jobs, but they offered opportunities that promised growth and expansion and eventually . . . better pay. A decent living doing something we all love.
But that may all come to a screeching halt. With the demise of the two main outlets for homegrown girls' comics in the US, there comes the stinging question of, "What next?" Women like myself and many of those who worked for Tokyopop and Minx are now left jobless in an increasingly hostile market that just doesn't seem to want to publish girl-oriented comics, and when it does, we get pushed into filling a certain style or niche that is then marketed to a general audience where it just doesn't fit . . . or simply not marketed at all.
What worries me is how this trend is destined to continue. Will other publishers manage to pick up the slack were Tokyopop and Minx have failed, or will girl-oriented comics fall once again by the wayside, having been sloughed off as a statistic somehow "proving" that girls either a) don't read comics or that b) girls only read manga?
In 2004, when I first dove into this industry as a professional (ie: getting paid to do what I love best), it was alive and vibrant with the color of so many inspired voices, young and old alike. The veterans in the group knew not to get our hopes too high, but the optimism and hope of youth and naiveté were infectious; new companies began publishing manga, and original titles directed at girls started popping up all over the place, in bookstores and comic stores alike. There were the two obvious, Tokyopop and Minx, but there were also Seven Seas (Amazing Agent Luna), Del Rey (the Avril Lavigne GNs), Scholastic (The Babysitter's Club and Breaking Up), Aladdin (Chiggers), and rumors amongst big publishers like Penguin, Puffin, Simon & Schuster, of more to come.
But what has come? The only dedicated line to girls' comics (Minx) dropped beneath the surface without so much as a warning splash, and the remaining publishers publish girls' comics now so sporadically, that you'd wonder if they're really publishing anything at all anymore. You have to hunt for what DOES get published and cross your fingers that eventually something new will come out. All that's left for those who need our comic fix in the months (or years) in between is manga, but for those of us who have developed a craving for homegrown fare (with stories about local girls and local issues), this is little conciliation.
With the downturn of the economy and the lack of new investments, I am deeply worried that the death knoll of the American girls' comics industry may be sounding. Who has the money to invest in a genre that remains yet unproven to have a strong, stable (paying) base? Back when Minx was getting started up, Shelly Bond stated directly that it was the girls reading manga she wanted to get to read Minx titles. This was a proven market. This was the market they were going to forcefully extract from companies like Tokyopop and Viz and win over to their side. Not once do I recall anybody mentioning creating new markets and building an audience from scratch.
If there's something we can give Tokyopop real credit for is hiring creators who offered something wildly different from everything else that was available that appealed to a wildly different audience. Unfortunately, the pay was pale in comparison to the rising cost of living expenses (for those of us not at home) and the editorial oversight considerably lacking along with a million promises that left many creators feeling bitter and reluctant to finish their series (myself included). And as like begets like, Tokyopop's sporadic treatment of creators created a sporadic product that was oftentimes riddled with errors and lack of editorial oversight. "Steady Beat" 1 had over 150 errors, including missing dialog, wrong characters speaking, and two chapters shunted to the next book. You can't tell me that something like that doesn't affect sales. Yet, somehow, it was still nominated for the ALA's Great Graphic Novels For Teens list along with other noteables like "Dramacon", "Queen Bee", "Sorcerer's and Secretaries", and "The Babysitter's Club: Kristy's Great Idea". I wonder sometimes how Tokyopop would have done if they had not only paid better but given their books more development time to go over with a fine-toothed comb. Prose novels get a year for promotion. Tokyopop books received three months.
Minx, at least, made the effort to promote their books. It may have been the wrong audience, but nobody can say that DC didn't at least try. And perhaps this is why Minx failing will send far greater ripples across the industry than Tokyopop's flailing ever did. Future investors will look at Minx and say, "They made comics specifically directed at teen girls. They MARKETED them to teen girls. They hired promo people who seemed to know what they were doing. And they still failed." And these investors will tuck tail and run, run, run in the other direction, seeing the girls' comics market as a great black hole of investments never returned, never asking the fundamental question, "Was it done right?"
Companies such as Yen Press and Viz have been tentatively opening their doors to men and women such as myself who'd been proving themselves, working on dedicated series, men and women whom had been forgotten and abandoned, bundled and packaged and thrown out with supposedly excess trash. And while some of us have been picked up and dusted off a bit to be put to work on something else, I don't believe it's enough to sustain something that should be its own industry. Not if we're going to build an industry not just for ourselves, but for our daughters and our daughters' daughters.
So what can we do to revitalize and bring back hope to the girls' comics industry? Well, here's a list:
1) There needs to be at least one dedicated publishing line of girls' comics (or imprint). The industry is still small, and so that these titles don't get lost in the haystack, they need a flag for girls to rally under, something we can immediately recognize as publishing a particular genre and that we can make a beeline to in the book or comic store when we're out to buy more.
2) Loud but consistent branding. This is something Viz has down pat. Their shoujo titles fall under the "Shoujo Beat" imprint with a specific logo on the spine, a dedicated webpage, and even a dedicated magazine introducing readers to their titles. If I see the "Shoujo Beat" logo on the spine, I know immediately what to expect. As for consistency . . . Tokyopop tried branding the genres on titles, but the methods and styles were so inconsistent, that you didn't know what you would get from one month to the next. On one hand, the logos they used on the spine all looked so alike, that it was almost pointless to have them there in the first place. On the other hand, the lack of consistency of spine font titles made it impossible to do in real branding in the first place. which leads us to:
3) Don't underestimate the importance of the spine. When I was designing book covers for my publishing company five years ago, was it the front I gave priority? No. It was the spine. Consider it a miracle if you get your book to face outwards for more than a week . . . if at all. It's the spine that you have the .08 seconds to grab the attention of your readers. It should be at the very least, readable, at the very most give a reader a clear idea of the style and content of the book itself while lending some sort of appeal for them to pick it up. Which leads into . . .
4) Book length. The wider the spine, the longer it takes for a browser's eye to pass over it, the longer you have to convince them to pick it off the shelf. Now, I will never say books should be longer for length's sake, but something I believe the Minx titles (and even the Scholastic, Aladdin, and Oni titles) have yet to pick up on is that the current lengths of their books hurt their chances of getting picked up by the casual browser. "Breaking Up" is woefully short, especially for what is a YA title. Books like "Chiggers" and "The Babysitter's Club" are midgrade books and therefore allowance for shorter length can be made considering most of the books in that genre have a tendency towards shorter lengths, but I still believe that even slightly lengthier books would help their casual impulse sales. EVERY sale counts!
5) Organization. As creators, we should be compelled already to seek one another out, not just to pass on potential job information, but to discuss and compare issues like pay, benefits, the ups and downs of exclusivity, current story ideas, events, offer encouragement and advice, etc. And publishers should encourage this free flow of information, not hinder it, because it creates a community that feels empowered and enlightened. Again, Tokyopop attempted some of this . . . but quickly let the ball drop, which was almost worst than if they had done nothing at all. However, a close-knit community means that when one falls, there are those to help each other back up again. Like any union, these are issues we must all work on together and let of any ideas of jealousy and competition . . . something many publishers encourage in the hopes of driving down pay and cowing creators into submission. If publishers knew better, they'd realize this hurts not only creators and themselves, but the quality and quantity of work as well. A well-treated creator creates good work. A poorly-treated created creates mediocre or poor work. Encourage community.
6) Create more self-contained stories. I know, I know, the manga industry thrives off of the series model. Get someone hooked and they'll follow that series forever. Or so we're told. But the Americas just don't have the infrastructure for this kind thinking for homegrown titles. Creators don't have the capacity (at this time) to create an infinitely lasting series published in monthly or bi-weekly installment. That takes a crew. Inkers. Toners/colorers. Layout. An outstandingly efficient editorial staff. These kinds of serialized titles come out every three to four months, whereas the current homegrown 160-page graphic novel comes out once, maybe twice a year (but usually once). That's an awefully long wait for the next installment! Published books need to be complete stories, not partials. Otherwise, you've already lost at least half of your audience by the time the next book rolls around.
(edit: addition) Also, self-contained stories help to bring in new readers to comics because of the issues many of these new readers find offputting about starting a serialized comic in the first place: where to start, what's the background behind these characters, what if there's a volume missing, etc. The ratio of series comics/gns to self-contained ones are drastically weighted towards series, and offering more alternatives will help to draw in more readers unfamiliar with the medium itself. It's a bit like offering more movies to balance against all the television. Some people watch more of one than the other and many like to see both. But if you are offering all television and no movies, there's a whole crowd you're still missing out on.
7) PAY BETTER!!! And I don't mean a 10% increase. I'm talking 300% to 500%. When I signed on with Tokyopop four years ago, the average contract was $10,000 (I made just slightly more, but not much), but the average book was taking 9 months to a year. Many of these artists were living with parents or relatives at the time of signing their contract (myself included), but the majority of us have moved out by now and have a living, breathing human being to shelter, clothe, and feed. Eventually, we will have families of our own. $10,000 or even $15,000 isn't enough to live off of in most American cities. Tell me $20,000, I'll think about it. Give me $35,000, and we'll start talkin'. $55,000 plus, and I'm just about yours, plus I can hire a small staff to get this book out fast and efficiently, and I'll guarantee you a quality that will blow your brains out and will sweep art-inclined readers off their feet.
8) Longer lead times. I can't speak for Minx, but I can speak for Tokyopop: the comic industry simply does not currently allow enough promotion time for graphic novels. Little floppies produced once a month are one thing. A big, honkin' GN is another. The lead time for promotion in the prose industry is six months to a year-and-a-half. The average lead time for promotion in comics is three months. Heck, that's hardly enough time to get listed in Diamond's Previews, nonetheless get sufficient reviews and distribution and develop potential PR outlets. There are tons and tons and tones of free promotional outlets out there and I can tell you the comics industry doesn't utilize even 1% of them, neither do they push enough at those that do.
9) Stronger editorial oversight. When I turned in the scripts for books 1 and 2 of "Steady Beat", did I get an copy back of my script marked up with red ink? Did I get an email of tweaks and changes? Did I ever get a phone call from my editor saying he had certain part of the book he wanted me to clean up or change? I received nothing. Script in. Thumbnails. Pencils. Inks. Final pages. My book was not edited until two weeks before press (with three months lost time begging my editor for edits after I turned in the original script). Not only should editors be responsible for making sure the content of the book is an appealing, smooth story with strong, consistent dialog, they need to be capable of being responsible by not being burdened down by too many titles with too short of a lead time. The biggest complaint with many of (at least) Tokyopop's series was a perceived lack of editorial oversight. Scripts and layouts should bleed edits.
(edit: addition) As Chris Butcher points out over at comics212 as well: ". . . editing and producing books for a young adult audience is a very specific skill, and one that is coveted by some of the biggest publishers in the industry." Not only should these books have strong editorial oversight, every genre needs to be edited by the right people. Meaning editors who read and love the kinds of stories they edit and whom have immersed themselves in a dedication towards improving their genre.
10) Publishers shouldn't give up just because a few titles fail. A lot of people were disappointed that Minx rolled over after not even two years in the market. And right as there seemed to be a marked improvement in the quality and consistency of their titles. If a line is failing, a publisher should ask, "Why is this failing and how can fix this?" instead of declaring, "We give up!" Remember, you can sell anything (just ask the dirt industry) and most fixes are easy, simple, cost-effective solutions. DC could have pulled allocated marketing resources and instead focused on pushing the Minx titles in direct market stores (where they were being read by more than their intended audience and doing quite well) instead of book stores (where they were failing miserably). They could have focused on making thicker books that stood out more on the YA shelves. They could have focused on making more appealing spines and covers (I'm sorry, but they were really horrible covers). Tokyopop could have done something similar: focused on discovering EXACTLY who the niche audience is for each book (heck, we filled out questionnaires doing exactly that) and focused their attention on many small efforts aimed at building a stable base instead of a few single broad efforts that were doomed to failure from the beginning by missing the intended audience completely. There were all sorts of easy fixes that were neglected due to both companies greed and desire to find the perfect "hit" instead of realizing what most publishing houses already have: that building a dedicated YA audience takes patience, time, and effort.
There are many things I believe the industry could do to build and improve the girls' comics industry, but these are just the top ten things I believe would make the greatest of a difference in building a stable industry with a strong, devoted readership, otherwise we're under threat of the industry disappearing completely. That's talented, capable creators out of work. That's potential revenue lost. That's a downsizing of the entire comics industry and a shrinking of diversity and in the pool of available talent. And lest talent is a bad, bad, bad thing for the general health of this industry. Less talent means less competition. Less competition means an ever downward spiral of quality in anything but the dominant genres of superhero and edge comics.
I am not privy to all of what's going on behind the scenes at the major publishers right now, but I consider myself pretty well-connected, and there hasn't been so much as a whisper of available work for girls' comics creators except a few open doors at Yen press and a glimmer of light at Scholastic and Aladdin for those who are willing to cast aside the majority of their manga influence--an influence that is so deeply ingrained and embedded in the psyche of so many of us as to against all grain to do away with completely.
Even Viz's current open call to creators specifies 18+ stories only.
The solutions are obvious: at least one publisher needs to step forth and make a dedicated effort to rally these artists and writers beneath an imprint with a strong sense of focus on girls' comics with a diverse line of girls' titles, or we creators need to pursue the only alternate routes left to us: give up and sell our souls as a work-for-hired pen or keep those souls and dive into the rough and tumble market of self publishing. The local markets are ripe, so this isn't the worst alternative (and one I've been contemplating as possibly being even profitable), but it cuts out the national market until such a day as shipping costs decline and the amount of spending money in the pockets of book-loving Americans once again goes on the rise.
Unfortunately, that may be a long way off. A strong publisher needs to take the reigns, learning from the rights and wrongs of previous attempts from other publishers, and start a dedicated line of girls' comics on their own.
I dare them.
Have you considered approaching Image Comics? Yes, they are 90% superheroes etc, but they've published some interesting stuff over the years. Not sure if it'd be any better than Tokyo poop, but it might be worth a try.
Unfortunately, Image has a business model I don't believe works well with this genre. They've published a few GNs, but they've all been oversized collections and anthologies with an art book price tag, and price makes a huge difference in drawing readers entirely new to comics in general. One of the reasons manga has been so successful has been its price point, and if we're to create a strong presence in the market for girls' comics, titles should be consolidated under a few concentrated sources instead of spread thin through publishers who typically represent an entirely different genre.
Image also (generally) doesn't pay out advances, instead adopting a policy of "pay after cost" plus office fees. I'm instinctively wary of such business models as they tend to attract those who care first about being publish, second about being paid. I certainly enjoy being published, but I'm not going to put hard time into creating something that potentially could never pay. I'd rather self publish! Then at least I'd be making all the profits and have full control over the end product. :)
I was mostly thinking of when they published Lea Hernendez' work, Cathedral Child & Clockwork Angels, both in the regular manga format. Price was good, too.
I wasn't aware they paid like that, tho. Sorry!
My experience with Image was great, I was pleased to be there again for Comic Book Tattoo, and will be there again for a graphic novel in the future.
No, there's no up-front, but creators keep full ownership of their work, and the headaches of printing, distro, and some publicity are carried by Image. A wise creator, no matter where they are, puts in the hours promoting their work.
Image does pick and choose what they will publish, they do have an interest in books at least paying for their printing and overhead.
You can't forget that Image is where a low price-point tankubon-sized creator-owned graphic novel was published first. Or that their model has worked for about fifteen years.
I'm lucky Seven Seas designed such great spines for my books. I still look at them and think, "I'd pick this off the shelf - and it's my book!" They have some great designers working for them!
And ditto on the stronger editorial presence. I'm very cranky right now because of all the changes I have to make before my deadline, but I know the book will be stronger for it.
(Just wish we got paid more in this business...)
I haven't actually seen the spines for "Hollow Fields" yet; the bookstore near me doesn't carry any Seven Seas titles anymore! However, next time I'm at the comic store, I will look for yours. :) Your covers and previews have been gorgeous, and I'm surprised I haven't bought them yet. Usually my mind turns blank as soon as I step into Austin Books & Comics since it's so massively HUGE and it has to be something that came out that week or on an endcap to jump out at me. *writes down to look for next time*
And word about getting paid more. It'll happen, but we may have to twist a few arms to get there. :D
Wow. Well said.
I totally agree with you. Someone should make you head of one of these businesses and get this stuff underway!
If I had a financier or another company backing me, I would absolutely want to commit to a long term endeavor such as this. And I wouldn't even use it as a spring board to publish my own comics like some people we know
Girls' comics are my passion. I want to see more girls reading good comics with a strong personal message, and since I don't have the money to fund other artists to do it, I make them myself. :) :) :) Maybe someday though. *grin*
Hahaha. So true.
I've been thinking that for a while, you know and are into not just comics themselves but the industry and have so many well stated and round ideas that it's almost sad no one has been like: "We need to fund Ms. Rivkah, that would be awesome"
And I agree. I think a big thing a LOT of comics miss for whatever gender or age group of reader is a strong personal message. Hopefully with time, with not only you, Svetlana, many others in the industry as well along with others that are working towards breaking into the comic scene themselves. : )
Making comics of your own and not only encouraging others to take a stand, and giving these people the information they need you are doing MORE then enough to see a bright future with not just girls comics but comics the comic market in general. : )
I'm curious, how much money would it take to run a company? And with our economic crisis, would it even be wise to start one, or better to wait it out?
A girl's fiction line would promote a focus on girl's GN fiction (meaning YA, mid grade, and all ages) to give it a solid base to spring from, but would also keep the edges fuzzy as to what that includes. There are plenty of books that appeal to both sexes and all age groups that are published by imprints that typically focus on girl teen fiction. Making it "girls' fiction" doesn't mean any specific themes or genres nor does it necessarily mean a girl protagonist or female writers/artists (though obviously, this would more than likely be a large majority), but it does mean a general focus on issues that girls can relate to, be it in a real-life or fantasy setting.
As for whether or not there is an audience, I think this is something we disagree on (The Beat article I linked to provides a lot of examples from other creators). Minx had an audience, but the majority of their stories contained the same outsider girl-looking-in-with-disdain themes with protagonists you could practically interchange from one story to the next. It was a very niche audience, and one that did well with the niche but not in the YA fiction marketplace, which is where DC was headed with this in hopes of a breakthrough. Some of their later titles seemed slightly different, but unfortunately, the whole line has now been shut down before it even had time to give a true indication as to whether it could reach a larger audience or not.
A "girls' comics line" (and I use quotes because I mean this in the loosest terms possible), in order to be successful, would have to diversify and focus on filling many different niches within its genre while avoiding blanket stories that attempt to appeal to "anyone and everyone", stories which often unfortunately lead to watered-down lukewarm versions of something that might have originally been much stronger and built a stronger, more dedicated audience.
I believe the audience for these kinds of comics are not these fairytale "crossover" manga readers that DC was trying to entice (an audience that didn't really exist as I saw few people who adore manga having even marginal interest in the Minx titles) but rather girls (and yes, boys too) who currently aren't reading comics at all, because the content THEY like to read isn't even offered. When have you ever seen a girl's fantasy or magical realism GN? How many slice-of-life teen GNs that were NOT goth or estranged, bitter artists? (a theme a little too close to home, perhaps?) Sports girl competition and empowerment GNs?
Looking not just at comments on my books but also comments from several creators who create these kinds of stories, many of our readers were neither manga nor comics readers. I often receive letters from people who had never before picked up a comic or read manga and yet loved "Steady Beat" (often from the recommendation of a friend or because of an interest in the content). I think THIS is the kind of audience publishers should go after. In order to expand the pool, they need to focus not on stealing readers from other publishers or genres (such as expecting girls manga readers to read girl American comics) but instead reaching entirely new audiences who've never picked up a comic in their life. And these audiences must have a reason for picking these books up, meaning outstanding stories and outstanding art to go with a range of diverse stories.
Sadly, I agree with you that there are few publishers who would be willing to take the risk now. Which is why I'm frightened about the impact Minx's failure will have on the potentiality of such future projects. And why I wrote this article . . . so that people can better understand that there are ways to build a sustainable business in this genre.
I think other issues that still need to be ironed out are where such books should be shelved (prose or graphic novel section in bookstores, manga or graphic novel section in comic book stores?) and better direct marketing techniques . . . all details that can be figured out by small-scale experimentation to find out what works and what doesn't, and then implementing the successful solutions on a larger scale. The only people I see able to pull something like this off currently would have to be a major publishing house with the infrastructure already in place . . . or a financier with a lot of cash to spare, which unfortunately is perhaps one of the last things our economy has to offer in its current condition. Not a lot of people throwing money around right now, except the government. ;)
I agree open communities are important. I've seen this more in the comics industry than anywhere else. At least you guys did often blog about your contracts and news. Comics news sites and blogs also post news of problems going on with publishers. This didn't happen much in the fantasy art community until recently when I bunch of us ran into a bad company. Everyone was afraid to talk about it, but finally we've gotten over that started helping the younger artists more.
I just failed on my spine I guess :) I sent something to print with a black spine because I was tired of looking for a printer and didn't feel like redesigning the cover.
I could marry you for typing this up in such an organized fashion. These are all concerns I had for this industry, and not only did you make a list of everything that needs to be addressed, you offered solutions to the problems. I hope that if/when I carry more weight in the industry, my voice will able to speak loud enough to illicit change. Until then, here here, Rivkah.
Well written! We've all felt how shaky the manga industry has been lately, but I didn't realise girls' comics were even worse off.
I think your right about communication. There should be a comic creator's union or something.
Thank you for writing this up, your analysis has given us something to think about.
As always, yours is a voice that needs listening to ^_^
It's a case worthy of debate. I was sorry to see Minx go, and was one of those stung in the Tokyopop changes. We do have to consider as well though that it's the audience that is the biggest problem here, more than the creators/publishers. As I said to someone else recently, female comics readers can be hugely stubborn and proud (I include myself in this, haha). Tell us 'hey girls, this book is written with you in mind' and we're like to run a mile; subtly add the right features to lure us in, but market the comic at everyone, and we're hooked. It's a delicate balance that somehow, the shoujo scene in Japan has got right; partly because of its different reader base maybe (girls over there aren't so scared of being - well - girls), and partly because the shoujo selection is a vastly varied one often focusing on male characters as much as the females.
We're seeing a rise in more generically targetted titles and their popularity. Titles like Runaways or Death Note - that seem to target no specific gender - have enjoyed huge success. So maybe we're reaching an age where gender classification is becoming old news?
the DFC over here has been an experiment in just that. Aiming comics at younger readers, but with no particular thoughts over which gender will read which titles.
I'm interested in seeing how far this concept will go. It's getting harder and harder to predict which gender will enjoy which titles, so because of that maybe it's the pre-classification that causes the trouble.
Just an aside, a book that I feel can be used as an example is the fantastic DEMO by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan. A stunning book, I loved it. Introspective, observative, thought-provoking - It's the kind of reading that could have easily been classed by some publishers as 'one that girls will enjoy', but if it had been marketed that way, would it have actually turned more people away than attracted them? Just one I'm pondering in my mind.
Anyways, great points made, Rivkah. Thank you. ^_^
That bit on Viz is actually pretty interesting. I personally have been musing about either submitting to Dark Horse possibly for one of my Sci-Fi titles that can go either way in terms of Genre. From what I gathered with them though they're only looking at those at conventions? (something about that has always bothered me but anyhow)
I'm still for now torn between the ideas of putting everything up online free to the public and see how it goes or shoot for a publisher.
But lovely overview, as always.
Thanks for the correction! I just went and fixed it. :)
I understand where you're coming from about it being "girls" comics, and I share some of that discomfort as well. "Girls comics" (in the definition of this essay) should be a broad term to include as many topics and styles and issues as possible, with the only criteria being that these stories contain topics and issues a girl can relate (and yes, many men as well, but specifically girls/women). Prepubescent male superhero fantasies obviously don't fall into this category, neither do male gang violence stories . . . but there's a lot that does, all the way from cute puppies to kick-butt robot ninjas to deep sea diving to girl gang violence and inner-city issues. :)
Oh, and I should probably go and revise some of my statement about self-contained stories. I think a fully-fleshed line can sustain a good mix of both self-contained stories and regular series, but that the self-contained stories need to be weighty enough to stand off the shelves on their own (and allow readers the length of time to really dive into the story).
Something I didn't put up above is that self-contained stories should help to bring in new readers to comics because of the issues many new readers find offputting about starting a serialized comic: where to start, what's the background behind these characters, what if there's a volume missing, etc. The ratio of series comics/gns to self-contained ones seems drastically weighted towards series, and hopefully offering more alternatives will help to draw in more readers unfamiliar with the medium itself. It's a bit like offering more movies to balance against all the television. Some people watch more of one than the other and many like to see both. :)
Thanks for the insightful article and the information on how Image works. I thought that if I could ever sit down and crank out something, I would submit to them, but I don't like that model. It might not be so bad since I have a full time job, but I don't know if I'd like to do something that doesn't see any profits. I know you should be creating mostly for the sake of creating, but uh everyone would like to get a little money from their creation if possible. ^^;
I must admit until I read about it in your article I didn't even know the Minx line existed. I've been reading about it now and I'm sadden to see the opportunity go.
It's made me think about where are you going to go with stories that for those of us who are manga influenced and want to write what is typically called girl's comics are supposed to go. It never really seemed an issue before but suddenly reality hits you cold in the face.
I do think the idea about a business focusing on "girls comics" would be a good idea and perhaps even following the manga format in having "phonebooks" to serialize stories would be a good idea. HOWEVER even in the girls manga magazines like Betsufure etc, they include one shot stories. While they might not be as long as a regular original graphic novel, if artists did enough one shots you could collect them into a graphic novel, and that would right there include a nice introduction to a certain artist. It might take some time, but the artist's whose collected one shot GN who sold well enough, could perhaps be invited to do a series in the magazine.
I think they are doing alright with Shojo Beat, but there is no original material in it.Reading chapters of the mangas that they eventually release is a nice introduction, but I really find it redunant. Why would I want to read the story in Shojo Beat when I could wait for it to come out as a GN? Maybe some people are more impatient, I don't know. It just seems like a waste of a format that could launch artists and maybe even help girls comics here.
Oh, lady, you are so friended now. We need to talk comics at a show sometime, you are right on the money with that book spine thing.
What about publishing graphic novels with a regular NY publisher? They seem to be popping up all around the YA book universe -- two years ago "American Born Chinese" won the Printz award (like a Newbery for YA) and then "The Arrival" by Shaun Tan (sp?) won I think a Newbery Honor this year. And my daughter is crazy about the Babymouse series. There's a number of agents that market both authors and illustrators ... and you've already made inroads to the ALA Graphic Novels list, which is an awesome selling point right there.
Just my .02!
1) I know of only one successful publisher of books for girls: American Girl. Their fiction is mostly of their featured characters, but their non-fiction is like the Girl Scouts of America: crafts, socialization, how-to.
2) Branding... there are imprints, but aside from series, it's mostly based on age, not gender. Reading level is very important to librarians and teachers, since skill level varies among children and teens. Story is also a concern, especially in Middle America, where the wrong book can become "the Wrong Book".
3) The spine is important, but that's a small part of the bigger picture: how does the book look, and even more important, what is the trade dress? I liked the Minx covers, they completely ignored the consensus of graphic novel design and instead used a trade paperback inspiration. Trade dress is shorthand a browser can use to locate a book on a shelf. Is it the size of a graphic novel or manga? Is the publisher logo legible and always in the same place on each cover and spine? Is the volume number on the spine?
4) Book Length... the problem here is economic. How long does it take to produce a page? How does the page rate affect the cost of the book? How much does each additional page add to the production costs of the books? Will the deadline affect the quality of the book?
5) Well... yes, there should be a Comic Book Writers (Creators?) of America organization, just like SF, Mystery, Romance have. Unfortunately, as with publishers, the trail is littered with professional organizations that tried and failed. I would suggest joining the Grapic Artists Guild, and then creating a subgroup for comic book professionals. There are other organizations which focus on illustration, and, of course, the National Cartoonists Society.
6) The best series are self-contained. A great example is the "Caped Sixth Grader" series. There are recurring characters, character development, but there is enough exposition to help the reader catch up from previous volumes. The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter is also good! (Both are prose, but would be so cool as comics!)
7) Better pay... well, I don't have any information on what prose writers are offered, but it's probably similar to comics publishers, with royalties against advances. (Although, in comics, there are usually more than one person working on the title.) (If sales don't cover the advance, you don't pay it back, but you probably won't get another contract.) Tokyopop prints about 10,000 copies of a new manga title. Of that $10 price, maybe half (or less) goes to the publisher, with distributors and retailers marking up the price (retailers buy books at a discount of 45-48% off the cover price). If a dollar goes to the author, then that's $10,000. When you were published, were royalties part of the contract?
8) 9) That's sloppy, and with "traditional" publishers getting involved with graphic novels, the weak and lazy will disappear.
10) I think Minx should have followed the model of Vertigo... produce generic titles (like "My Faith in Frankie") and then when there is enough of a backlist, create a new line.
Now... you've forgotten one other publisher which is having phenomenal success with YA and children's graphic novels: First Second. "American Born Chinese" won the Printz Award for best young adult novel, and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Lat tells a wonderful story of growing up muslim in Malaysia. "Alan's War" is a great WWII memoir. I don't know if I could pick their worst story... so much is excellent.
If you go the webcomics route, you have three choices:
1) Diary of a Wimpy Kid. post the stuff for free, build up a loyal audience, sell the rights to a major pubisher.
2) Girl Genius. post the stuff for free. self publish the volumes.
3) Wowio. post the stuff by subscription. self publish or license.
Whatever you choose, Rivkah, I'll be there to check it out. Your style is great, and you are driven and talented!
(And will someone please reprint "Wandering Star?! That's a title to build a line around!)
|From: lilrivkah |
2008-10-02 06:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Girls' Comics
Thank you for the added info and insight, and I should probably say what I said to Ross Campbell up above: "Girls comics" (in the definition of this essay) should be a broad term to include as many topics and styles and issues as possible, with the only criteria being that these stories contain topics and issues a girl can relate to (and yes, many men as well, but specifically girls/women). Prepubescent male superhero fantasies obviously don't fall into this category, neither do male gang violence stories . . . but there's a lot that does, all the way from cute puppies to kick-butt robot ninjas to deep sea diving to girl gang violence and inner-city issues."
So, in the context of this essay, I mean "girls' comics" in the very broadest sense possible with a strong YA slant and vehemently agree with you that any segregation should be upon the basis of age, not gender. Which is why I use "girls" and not "women's". ;) Children's publishing requires, I believe, an approach from an angle divergent from what was covered here.
So why choose gender as the basis of this essay if I believe the actual segregation should be upon the lines of age rather than gender? Primarily because there is still yet a significant dearth of girl-appropriate comics, especially for those under 18, and I feel there needs to be significantly more push at the outset of any new line in order to make up for the lack. It would be up to publishers whether or not to continue the bias after the initial push (considering whether the bias is more profitable than opening your doors to wider, more inclusive ideas), but I believe there's a lot to be gained for creating a generally girl-focused line of comics: not just in creating inroads to new readers but also inroads to new areas of marketing and PR, magazines, television shows, and news outlets that traditionally mock the 30-year-old male in his mother's basement signature comics reader and would inhale the idea of girls making, reading, and promoting comics. It was sort of done before . . . but the momentum, unfortunately, never truly carried through very far. Why this was . . . I have many opinions, but would rather not state in a public forum for fear the burning rafters should come crashing about my head (and of breaking live journal with what's bound to be a long and winded post).
I'm certain I left a number of titles and names out of the list of who's done or had success in YA comics literature, and I'm glad you mentioned First Second, because I've heard wind of even more children's work from them. IDW is diving into children's publishing, as well and Marvel's "Power Pack" series has been just wonderful. Image's "I Kill Giants" is gorgeous. Do you know of anybody publishing midgrade GNs, though?
|From: lilrivkah |
2008-10-02 06:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Girls' Comics
"I liked the Minx covers, they completely ignored the consensus of graphic novel design and instead used a trade paperback inspiration."
Really? I liked the basic concept and what they were trying to do but found the rather generic stock photography a distraction from the overall design. I also thought the color schemes and layout designs didn't do much to pop the books off the shelves. These covers seemed (to me), passable but still generic for what was considerably off-beat interior content.
IMHO, the company that has the best cover design in the industry is Vertical. Their covers are a remix of traditional interior art given a pop-art sort of Andy Worhal / Roy Lichtenstein feel: an excellent sense of color scheme meant to pop off the shelves with textures and patterns that lend a sense of uniqueness. You know immediately these are comics (the point shouldn't be to trick prose readers as to what's inside in the hopes of shocking them into buying the things but to compel them) but neither are they the cheesy dodge-and-burn covers of most floppies nor the flower- and robot-strewn watercolors of most manga GNs. And while every Vertical cover is different, there is a common theme in style so that any Vertical book is as easy to pick out (even from its spine!) like a cow atop a haystack. I can spot a Vertical book from the end of the book aisle. THAT is great design. And I at least check what's new out every time.
I never read comic news any more (I think I'm now sort of an ex-comics writer) so have only just found out through your LJ that Minx was cancelled.
You probably know at the time Minx was in mid flow I ended up pitching a book to Shelley Bond - one of my last comic projects I was pitching, since the music video thing was really taking off. To say it wasn't exactly a meeting of the minds would be an understatement. What Joanna says here
really sums it up for me... a combination of editorial seeming to be not interested in working with women creators as they liked to be the only girls in the sandbox with the boys, and an effort to try to make the books as "cool" and "trendy" as possible, with the predictable results of when 40 year old people in comics try to be down wit' the kids.
Keep heart. Minx wasn't it; the imprint was never going to be. Comics for any audience - not just girls - very rarely break out into the mainstream, but when they do, it's because they're damn good stories
. And if it's a damn good enough story, it will get picked up by a mainstream publisher. Hell, look at Twilight
- I'm sure the writers of fantasy and sci-fi hereabouts can tell you how hard it is to succeed in that
Oh and advice I've had from literary agents (no, I'm not writing a prose book, I don't have time and it would probably suck) is that even for prose book writers trying to get a debut novel published, you have to write the entire MS first. So the "paying creators while they work" is really a very unique thing to the comics industry. Everyone else expects you to suck it up and work 2 jobs, then finish the project and take it in completed form to the publisher.
This is, ironically, how my friend John Dunning got his graphic novel "Salem Brownstone" picked up by a mainstream UK book publisher. He then got a small advance to work on his novel, but not nearly enough to live on. So he still works 2 jobs. The arts: you can't make a living at it, but you can get rich.
You're exactly right -- and with big advances hurting traditional publishers now, some publishers are looking to paying much smaller advances or none at all in return for higher royalties. Having a finished product when it comes to a graphic novel wouldn't work as well, since it makes the editing process harder, but a finished script would be a good place to start, and unless it's work-for-hire, most publishers aren't going to pay a graphic novelist while they work on that script.
And $55,000 for an advance! Good lord, I'm embarrassed to say how much larger that is than my salary. Who can afford that in comics? Only those publishers who aren't going to give girls' graphic novels a real chance to succeed.
"Having a finished product when it comes to a graphic novel wouldn't work as well, since it makes the editing process harder, but a finished script would be a good place to start, and unless it's work-for-hire, most publishers aren't going to pay a graphic novelist while they work on that script."
I've thought about this before, and think what should be the standard practice for anybody who wants more $$$ upfront should be a completed script with completed layouts (large thumbnails / rough sketches / bluelines) and several finished pages. That way, the publisher gets an excellent idea of exactly how the entire book will read, but edits will remain relatively easy to implement.
With Jane's S.O.S., I completed an entire mock chapter plus three pages sans tones/color. For the next series I'm working on (a YA self-contained graphic novel), I'm laying out the entire book. This is the kind of stuff you can juggle with another job the same way writers oftentimes juggle another job while working on a manuscript. Comics, however, are far too time-intense to complete entirely beforehand, and like you said, having a completed comic would make it difficult to edit without some extremely painful reality thrown in the artist/writer's face.
I disagree. It's hard to overstate how much traditional publishers don't understand graphic novels - you really *do* need to have a finished product for them, they just do not know how to deal with a script alone, or work with an artist. They want to play in this interesting market, but they're scared about the upfront expense and things they don't understand - like lettering! Srsly, the fact that John's GN wasn't lettered already was almost a dealbreaker, or certainly an obstacle they were nervous about overcoming.
The traditional publisher attitude is that they really want to see the whole book, to make sure 1) you can actually finish a whole book; and 2) that it will be good. Also, hard times, they don't want to pay you an advance to finish it (jen is right, from the anecdotal evidence I've heard - NOBODY is getting advances these days). So if they're not going to pay you to finish it, might as well finish it anyway.
I really believe if you want your GN picked up by Random House or Headline or whatever, you have to draw and letter the whole thing. Which yes, makes editing difficult. But strictly between you and me, this "editing" thing of which you speak, it is a rare questing beast, cousin to the snark. I have hunted for it for many a year*.
*to be fair, I have heard great things about Slave Labour and your approach to editing.
Last comment of night.
Comics, however, are far too time-intense to complete entirely beforehand
This is VERY much the attitude of entitlement that keeps comics out of the mainstream publishing world. You know some novelists take up to 5 years to finish a book? I do not intend to be combative but the book publishing world moves very slowly, very conservatively and does not want to give you any money to complete your manuscript.
I guess I can only speak for my own experiences, but having written both a novel (and halfway into the second) and written and drawn several graphic novels, I found the graphic novel experience far more emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially draining (as well as a greater drain on time) than I did writing a novel which I did while juggling a part-time job and working on layouts for "Steady Beat" 3. Writing, drawing, and inking just the first chapter of "Jane's S.O.S", however, meant putting everything on stand-still until it was done for fear of it never getting done. I'm not saying it's impossible . . . but you wouldn't get the rate of graphic novels out that you would of books if you expected graphic novelists to have the entire thing done up front: inked, toned, and lettered. I think having pencils or layouts, however, offer a sufficient compromise (though this certainly doesn't guarantee you'll get picked up!).
This is a $55,000 advance for a 250 page GN, btw (what I believe is the ideal page range for YA GN fiction). That's about $220 a page for something that would roughly take about a year to two years to complete.
I have to admit . . . it amazes me when publishers (or companies) are willing to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars on risky marketing but won't invest that instead on paying their creators (or employees) better which would inevitably result in having a better product to sell in the first place . . . a better product that does a better job of selling itself for free. Just by being a good or great instead of a mediocre or poor product.
Well, they're a bit Darwinian about it. They figure the people who really want to do it will make the art/write the book/etc anyway.
It's not there's a lot of waste going on here in risky marketing. There just is not That Kind of Money, especially not to pay up front. And there is not hundreds of thousands of dollars to put into risky marketing here, either. But we're small time, and work like most small presses, with small advances, decent royalties, and artists expected to pitch in on marketing, and that's not what you're talking about.
As for money buying quality and quality leading to more money -- I'd like to think that's true, but graphic novels that I've edited that I consider good or great (Midnight Sun, for example) sell terribly. So I don't know about that.
"and that's not what you're talking about."
Nope. (or rather "yep") :) I'm talking about the big-leagues investors (or publishers) getting in on this, that they need to do more than dip their toes in the water (like they're doing right now) and that we need to convince them to do so for the benefit of their companies . . . that going at it half-assed isn't what's going to bring them the most profits.
Companies at least need to pay enough for their creators to live off of or provide the alternative by paying for shelter and food while those creators are working for them, and I'm only speaking from experience here: when you're in the middle of a project and it's choosing between continuing that project at the risk of starving to death or getting a job that puts food on the table, you choose the job that puts food on the table . . . and the project waits and waits and waits. When you're in the middle of a series, that means an excruciatingly painful drop in sales (we're talking orders halving every six months you put this off).
Creators who don't have to take other jobs get books out faster and therefore turn faster profits for the companies they work for, more quickly building name recognition and therefore a dedicated base of readers guaranteed to purchase every one of their books.
I'll have to disagree with you about waste in marketing, however. I originally meant it on a general level (with all publishers, not just the GN or comics market), but I've seen Tokyopop literally flushing cash down the toilet on a multitude of projects destined never to go anywhere or on vanity projects meant to stoke the ego of its owner. Minx also had a marketing budget (it's hard to ignore the boasts they had about it) but IMHO, it was a budget they didn't need and should have instead sought free avenues promoting their books: charity and community events that fall in line with the content of specific novels, talking to magazines and newspapers targeted at their audience (not just buying ad space . . . and I question whether DC really knew the audience for these books), getting interviews for creators and artists, offering workshops, and doing focus group testimonials with teens who have read and loved the books. How you go about getting all this matters as well . . . Tokyopop tried all of this, but their PR was flighty and never ever pushed hard enough (their marketing and PR never seemed to realize that "no" doesn't mean "no" but rather "convince us, first"). Fudge . . . they couldn't even organize book signings in creator's home towns half of the time.
I'll try not to get started on that, though . . . I'm not here to slam anybody, but to try and figure out what could be done better, and I'm happy to hear every point--be it agreement or disagreement--because it creates constructive discussion that hopefully gets everybody thinking and working towards solutions that benefit us all. :)
If you don't mind me asking, who are your distributors for "Midnight Sun" and SLG in general?
Diamond Books and to a smaller extent, Last Gasp. Haven still distributes to some comic book stores, but for bookstores, it's Diamond.
If you don't mind my being too inquisitive: since it looks like SLG publishes more than 10 books a year, have you tried getting distribution with Ingram or Baker & Taylor as well, or have a reason for not going that direction? What kind of response have you had using Diamond for distribution to bookstores? Do you allow returns?
SLG has produced some pretty damn good books, that even if I believe they often lack in length, ya'll exceed in having creators with a strong and unique visual style that should appeal to a wider audience (or to a stronger niche audience). I've never bought a book from SLG's line, but I would promote them simply from the covers and what little I've seen every time I flip through them. What kind of promotion does SLG do, or do you leave it mostly up to the creators (as I would presume)?
And I say Baker & Taylor because that's the major distributor to libraries (including school libraries) in the US who can be huge purchasers if you believe your books have literary merit, which I certainly would believe they do.
I'm sorry, I mostly deal with the content of books and managing schedules, so I can't answer all of these questions with a lot of depth. I do know that our books are available through Ingram and Baker and Taylor and that we do allow returns. We send out promotional preview copies and promotional items to comic book stores (we also give the promo stuff out at conventions) and preview copies to bookstore buyers, preview copies to select reviewers, but a lot of promotion is done by creators, through their blogs and established audiences from their webcomics and that sort of thing. We've just started putting up free webcomics of books before their published, so we'll see how that does.
I would like to publish longer graphic novels, but the stories we've gotten don't warrant being longer, and I don't believe in pushing page count over the natural length of a story.
I've just friended you so you can post without being automatically screened. You have delightful answers and great insight that I think other people should have the benefit of seeing right away. :)
"I don't believe in pushing page count over the natural length of a story."
You don't know how happy that makes me to hear that. Tokyopop can be bashed over the head a few times for doing this, but perhaps in the opposite direction by compressing stories that would have followed a longer page count given their natural course or by breaking up stories into unnatural segments that detracted from the overall story being told.
It's interesting there aren't many longer stories out there, however. Do you believe there are any specific reasons for this?
(And ha. sorry for quizzing your brain. You have a lot of interesting things to say, though, and a different perspective/experiences to go with it.) :)