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Waiting For Tommy XXX
By Richard Johnston
 
PART ONE: CIRCUMVENTING QUALITY

Now why would you want to do such a thing? Surely the comic you're publishing is excellently written, beautifully crafted and is bound to create a generation bonding moment that will be remembered on nostalgia shows to come? Well, possibly, but this is comics. Competition is tough.

Diamond have a retail advisory board, made up of retailers who judge comics submitted for distribution. When Diamond is asked to distribute a new comic from an unknown publisher, they demand a completed issue first, which is then judged by the panel. Very, very few make it through. After all, in a market that values revived kids cartoon concepts from the eighties rather than anything new that someone wants to say, what have you got that will make you seem worthy? I'm sorry, but keenness just won't cut it.

So, how to get round it? After all, you're just starting out in comics, they can't expect another fully fledged Jeff Smith, can they? And look how scrappy early Cerebus was, that would never pass muster today. Hell, current issues probably wouldn't pass muster either, what do you want, blood?

Well, first, let's look at the Jon Lewis option. When his Xeric Grant award winning title, True Swamp, was published, it got into Previews by the skin of its teeth in a much more generous "comics boom" age. It sunk, both in sales and perceived quality of art - Diamond refused to continue distributing it. All it took was True Swamp fan Jeff Mason to publish it through Alternative Comics and hey presto, Diamond took it back again. The Jon Lewis manoeuvre describes the process of getting your book distributed by stealth, by getting under an existing imprint distributed by Diamond, so it slips under their quality-threshold radar. Larry Marder did something similar with Beanworld, and Image Central has made an industry out of it. The creator still does all the hard work, but no longer has to deal with the pain of getting distribution.

Another variance on that is the fake publisher. Paul Pope got THB, again another title with non-traditional art styles and a very non-traditional format, by pretending he was a creative find by new publisher Horse Press. Suddenly it appeared that a proper publisher was taking a risk on this new guy, so why shouldn't retailers or Diamond? Ha. Paul was Horse, just as David Lapham was El Capitan and Martin Wagner was Double Diamond.

For my first self published title, Dirtbag, I went overboard getting distributed. It was pretty much my number one goal. A year before the first issue came out, I went round the local comics convention with sheets of A3 Bristol Board. I explained I was looking to get sketches for the cover of my first comic book... Simon Bisley was the first, with his Manic Mandrill and others soon followed. The same was repeated six months later, now Jeff Smith, Paul Grist and, thanks to Eddie Campbell, pretty much the entire Vertigo troop. A signing a few months later brought me Bryan Talbot and unexpectedly Neil Gaiman, doing his 'Sandmouse'.

Who cared about the insides? The covers sold the comic from an unknown British guy. When many far better new self published titles, such as Very Vicky were struggling to get sales of even triple figures, I stormed into four figures with my first title.

A number of other creators have been successful getting a barnstorming quote for their first issue, but that's getting easier by the day. With so many pros online, participating in message boards, with their own websites even, the ability to contact individuals and get that all important Diamond-convincing quote has never been easier. And who are Diamond to disagree with the opinion of a comics master? Some can be deceptive though. the "a great title" quote by Jack Kirby for Martin Wagner's Hepcats, was in reference to exactly that - the title, not the comic.

But when it comes to it, this is all window dressing, designed to convince Diamond that yes, they should distribute you. But is this the problem? When so many requests to Diamond are turned down, should anyone be requesting at all?

How about just telling Diamond that they are distributing your comic. Make it a de facto state of affairs. If you don't actually ask Diamond to distribute your comic, then they don't have to make a decision. This saves them precious time, money and resources. Hell, you're doing them a favour.

This is the equivalent of getting backstage to a gig by just walking in, like you own the place. If you act like you're meant to be there, often people will probably agree, and not bother you. Hell, I've got into the offices of the BBC or TV production studios that way. Seriously, if anyone wants to invade a nation's broadcasting houses, give me a shout.

So in your letter to Diamond, don't give them any reason to reply. Set everything out: the title and credits of your comic, the page count., whether it's in colour or not (and the likelihood is 'not'), the retail price (go over $3 at your peril), the price you'll sell to Diamond (go with 60% off cover price to be safe), the month in which the comic will ship, the Terms of Sale (Net 30 is standard, where Diamond pays you 30 days after receipt of goods), include solicitation information (name dropping anyone you can), a cover... and here's the nest clever bit.

Why you should be eligible for a Cool Cat or Spotlight listing, a way to raise your profile in Previews. Hell, just because you're a first time publisher, no reason you can't get a better profile. Dirtbag got a spotlight and a highlighted listing from the first and second issues.

Remember, if you ask to be distributed by Diamond, they have to spend time and money to say no. If you don't ask, just tell, it'll save them so much effort, they're bound to be grateful.

With the market declining of late, and more and more creator-owned titles bonding to existing publishers in order to reduce business and admin costs and effort, as well as raise their profile, there's a gap in the market for interesting self-published titles again. An internet to promote them, and a market waiting for the next big thing to exploit.

Look, if they'll buy Civilian Justice, they'll buy anything, right?

But if you find this advice useful, send me a ticket for the movie-of-the-comic premiere.

NEXT: How to STAY in Previews when the sales start to fall.

Rich Johnston writes the comics industry rumour column Lying In The Gutters, currently rather popular. Why not pop by?

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