19 December 2005

LINK: Even More on Speakeasy

Chuck Saterlee pulls the curtain back a bit further over on the Bendis Board thread that started it all. I'm quoting it in its entirety as I wouldn't be surprised if he was asked/made to delete it at some point, as it airs what could charitably be called dirty laundry.

My name is Chuck Satterlee and I have/had two books with Speakeasy. The titles are SMOKE & MIRROR and OF BITTER SOULS.

My association with Speakeasy has been decent on a personal level and disastrous on a professional level.

To start, I have never had a personal problem with Fortier or anyone else, but I am very dissapointed in the way the books were managed.

I'll just lay it all on the line.

To start, I (as a creator) helped to pay for a Speakeasy Comics Party in San Diego. I paid $750.00 for that. I was the person responsible for actually getting them some banners through my friends who had the abilility to make them. You see, one of the first things that pissed me off about Speakeasy was their unprofessional presence in San Diego. The booth was a hodge podge of organization and without MY banner, they would not have even had a Speakeasy logo...IN SAN DIEGO!!!!!!!!!!! Also, I worked with the people who produce the television show Entourage on HBO to get a huge Speakeasy banner (made by my friends) shown in the episode where the Entourage guys go to Comic-Con. Adam had nothing to do with that past signing a release. Let's move on to Chicago. They used the banners from the Entourage shoot and they still do. I also tirelessly stated in interviews that I was happy and I pushed Speakeasy and Speakeasy titles.

Also, my group was a well oiled machine. We turned in projects on time but that just didn't seem to matter. The books still found a way to come out late. That is damn frustrating and I never received a acceptable answer for the delays. One time, when I spoke to a senior management person at Speakeasy, he told me that SMOKE & MIRROR #2 had "fallen off a truck"...yeah...he really said that. In San Diego, another senior managemnet member of the Speakeasy team told me to keep a look-out because he was expecting "Harvey Weinstein" of Miramax fame...really. Since that, I have taken everything they say with a grain of salt and never let on that I had frustrations. I simply started to look for another publisher.

Also, I am still trying to figure out what we get for our fees.

We have to spend a certain amount on a fee. Then we are also charged for printing and another amount for the ad in Previews (which nobody reads anyway for the most part). The fee is my biggest question mark.

I did the following:

I marketed my books at my expense.
I procured all of my own interviews (except one for silverbulletcomics).
I paid my own talent. (artists, etc...)
I had my book pre-pressed
I paid my own travel expenses
I paid for Speakeasy ( a good percentage) parties
I procured banners for them
I delivered my books on time


Let me also explain another point...

I also allowed them to print ads for their company owned books in the back of my books. I say allowed because, if I am paying for printing...which I am...then ALL of the content is my discretion. So...I allowed them to print ads for their books in my books. I must state that I have absolutely no problem with other creator owned books in my books, but the company owned stuff I have a problem with. They purposefully print larger ads for their books in Previews and I have my suspicions about who pays for that. But since I can not prove anything, I will not state who I think is paying for it.

Here is what I got for the fee

Late shipments

Almost non-existent accounting (even after several requests)

No marketing support

Almost non-existent communication (at one point, I had a serious question and I had to wait for almost three weeks for a call back....now I am a little slow, but if I am doing two books per month, that adds up to $3500 per month in feees. That would make me a client. That would qualify me for a call back I would think in a more timely manner...say...two weeks.)

No proofs or blue-lines (I have never seen a bok before it was printed. I said I trusted them before and when I was naieve. However, after issue 1 of Smoke & Mirror came out with the credits on the inside back cover and an ad on the inside front cover, I got a little pissed off. I thought we could at least count on them to look at a proof, look at the original file and make a f'ing determination if it looked the same. I was dead wrong. I can not tell you how many printing errors there have beeen in Speakeasy books. It ius a major reason for late shipments. Rocketo #2 had an upside down back cover and a senior member of the staff told him that "nobody would notice" but Frank insisted on the reprinting.

All of this said, I have had financing problems but I fixed them now. I have been shopping for another publisher and I found one. In fact, I am very happy at my new place and I am not the only Speakeasy creator to jump. I can tell you that I know of four to five others who are planning to jump to other publishers. I can not say who I am jumping to yet, but I will after it is safer to do so.

I will add that, while Norm Breyfogle is not a gigantic name anymore, he is still a household name in this industry. He is the quintessential Batman artists for a lot of guys and gals. A good bunch of us came up reading Breyfogle and GRant's Bat stories. Norm is my partner for Of Bitter Souls. They had a household name and they did nothing to make that work to their advantage.

Their contract, which I am not allowed to divuldge due to a NDA I signed, has many stated duties that they are supposed to do as a explanation for their fee. They have, at last count, been in breach (IMO) of almost 11 of these duties.

I beleieve in my heart that Speakeasy management is not made up of bad people. I also believe that the problems that have arisen in Speakeasy have made Speakeasy management a bit on the desperate side and good...or bad...desperity can bring out the worst in some people.

My books will go on. I am happy about that. I will be leaving Speakeasy with a wealth of wisdom I did not have prior to our time together. For that, I am thankful. I do wish that nothing would have gone wrong and I would have been publishing with them for a long time, but maybe the education is worth the trouble. The books have also afforded me the ability to get ntoiced by other editors at the big two.

When I shopped my books around, I did stop by IMage where they were flattly rejected by Erik Larsen. He was not shy about his rejection either. I just want to close with something.

A lot of people knock Erik Larsen. I don't. He personally did not like my books and he told me so. He didn't say I could never pitch again. He simply did not like the books I offered at the time. I must say that he is at the very least...an honest guy. A creator knows where he stands with an Erik Larsen. I feel as if I have been less fortunate in that department with Speakeasy. I just can honestly say I have no idea what they are ever up to.

In closing, let me also say that I never found Marshall Dillon at Speakeasy to be anything other than an honest, hard working guy. Again, I do not think that the Speakeasy upper management were born bad, I just think the circumstances have created some desperity.

Oh yeah, they sent me extra books to sell, which I intend to pay for, once everything is settled.
I can't imagine Adam Fortier is thrilled with the amount of attention this story is getting, as everybody seems to be blogging about it, and several creators have come out expressing various levels of displeasure with the new policy, as well as their overall experiences with the fledgling publisher. Satterlee, though, is the most damning so far, getting as specific as I've ever seen someone get in a public forum, seemingly inching right up to the line of what might violate his NDA.

For my article, I asked Fortier a few questions about their Creator Services, as posted on their web site, but due to space considerations, was only able to fit one of them in, about their direct and mass-market penetration. Here's the other two, plus one about how he feels they compare to Image:

ME: Let's break down some of the statements you make in your "Creator Services", as presented on your web site.

"Through our Printer contacts and relationships, signing on with Speakeasy can save you incredible and quantifiable amounts of money on printing and pre-press, allowing you a bigger and better return on your project."

Define "quantifiable" for me. ie: If I self-publish a 32-page, full-color comic and print 5,000 copies for, say, $1.50/copy, how much are you going to save me? How has your ability to save money on printing been affected by the unexpected developments with Lamppost that delayed several of your titles? Are you getting as good a deal with Quebecor? Did the switch have anything to do with the new cutoff policy?

FORTIER: It's not a hard and fast number, it will change from month to month, based upon the last prices charged, etc. I'll save different amounts for different people, depending upon what they were last charged. That's not to say we guarantee anything, simply that we strive for it, and we believe that we can, on average, save people money. For Lamppost and Quebecor, it's had an effect on our schedule, but these aren't the only printers that we talk to , nor the only ones that we use. It's about always being on the lookout for a new opportunity, but recognizing when reliability means something as well. Printing was an issue in regards to cutoff policy, as printers in general were requesting larger minimum print runs as a result of dwindling profits.

One thing to note in regards to printers, especially Canadian (as a number of comic book printers are) is that in the last two years (or maybe three) the the US dollar went from being worth 1.60 Canadian dollars to recently 1.15 Canadian dollars. This has a serious detrimental effect on profits, and means that many printers can no longer look at publishing comic books in the same light.

ME: "From the writing of the product solicitation, to securing contests promoting the creators and the project (both online and in print), interviews promoting the creators and the project (both online and in print), creating awareness and support at the retail level, and more, Speakeasy is with you every step of the way, developing your brand, and insuring success."

Give me three examples of specific marketing efforts Speakeasy has successfully undertaken on behalf of a creator-owned project. Were the costs for these efforts included in Speakeasy's fee, or is this an optional service for additional cost?

FORTIER: The costs for these are included in the fee, not additional. As for examples, we make calls to numerous retailers (and I mean literally hundreds) to discuss upcoming projects, we talk to online sources for interviews, set up online advertising, promotions through diamond, etc. We try to do as much as we can with each book, but also note to the creator that it's important they spread the good word themselves as well.

Also, we simply cannot guarantee coverage. I can't guarantee that you'll do an interview at a certain time with a certain creator, it's ultimately up to you. Same thing with contests, and ultimately ordering. The goal with publishing is to try to do as much as possible so that some of it goes through. You cross your fingers and hope that the guys on the other end of the e-mail dig things as much as you do.

ME: Besides their premier publisher status, if a creator has the opportunity to publish a project with Speakeasy and Image, why should they go with Speakeasy?

FORTIER: It mostly comes down to individual taste. I will freely admit that there are things you get from Image that you can't get from us, but we handle projects differently than they do, and sometimes that matters more than the other things. By and large we're different from Image, and there aren't a whole lot of comparisons to make either way. If you want to know why people go with who they do, it's most likely best to ask them yourself. I'm a salesman, so I'm always going to want people to sign with me, so I just might be a little biased.
Speaking of biased, Rich Johnston, who "broke" the original story last week in his rumor column, has been hitting a few of the message boards and blogs where the situation is being discussed, seemingly running interference for Speakeasy, defending the change in policy and continuing to put a postive spin on the whole situation. He's also solicited "hard questions" to put to Fortier in the aforementioned Bendis thread, so it'll be interesting to see what his follow-up is this week as he certainly can't ignore the story now.

In the end, he's slyly wrung a bit of promotion for his own Speakeasy project, The Flying Friar, a one-shot graphic novella that won't have to worry about subsequent issues going the online-only route. Be interested to know what his pre-order numbers were/are and whether or not he'll have to front the printing costs for it, or if his pitchman duties balance the books.

Stay tuned...

15 comments:

Rich Johnston said...

For fuck's sake...

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

LOL! I'm sure those very words have come from many a comics publisher's mouth in response to an LITG story, yes?

BTW, I added a yellow traffic signal to the post for you, since that last bit was pure speculation on my part. Though I must say, your follow-up today, while much more your muckracking style than the original post, was still subtly slanted in Fortier's favor, with nothing more than an "Adam, thank you for your time." in response to his Alias-like counter to Dub's email. IIRC, you weren't nearly that easy on Pat Lee.

Erech said...

"This has a serious detrimental effect on profits, and means that many printers can no longer look at publishing comic books in the same light."

This part lost me. Someone make my tired brain understand the logic of this.

Jason said...

I'm not shilling for anyone - Guy, you know I speak what's on my mind at all times unless Josh pulls my leash. But, to be honest, as a business man during the day when I make my bank and someone who knows a lot about when to talk and when to keep one's mouth shut - I don't feel too much for Chuck on this one.

I mean, seriously, who the fuck would blow 7.5-ducks on a party for your publisher? And then complain about it? Save face, dude, there's nothing gained there. No tears shed for bad choices.

Having said that, I do appreciate YOUR honest-to-god no-nonsense "You want answers I want the truth" type of shit you're doing.

But, as far as this goes, all evidence suggests Chuck allowed himself to get fucked, if that's the case, and that's the problem with comics - too many dreams and not enough street smarts to make them work.

Kurt said...

Erech,

Without knowing the specifics of the print industry I can only speculate. But since I love to speculate…

A stronger American dollar would buy more Canadian goods & services. Let’s say the ratio is 1 US dollar = 1.5 Canadian and let’s say a Canadian printer charges $1500 Canadian to print 100 comics. So that costs me, the US comic publisher, $1000 US - which I consider a good deal because the US printer wants to charge me $1250 US for the same service.

Then the dollar weakens (let’s avoid the conversation of why this happens and just accept that it does) and now 1 US dollar = 1.1 Canadian. This effectively makes the Canadian goods and services about 25% more expensive to US consumers. All of a sudden it’s costing me $1250 to print my comics whether I go US or Canadian and the US guy is closer and I’m a loyal buy American guy (so long as the numbers work)…

Leaving the Canadian printer with basically two choices, lower prices or lose business. Either affects his bottom line in a very negative way. And this doesn’t even consider contracts he might have signed that lock in the lower price, the net affect the changes have on his paper supplier(s), etc.

They don’t call economics the dismal science for nothin’.

Kurt said...

And Jason, I’ve got to say, I don’t know about you, but I also think Fortier waded hip-deep into “shut your mouth” territory in Rich’s most recent LITG column. It was an interesting read but not what I would expect from someone who’s had active conversations with Grafiksismik’s lawyer. Since the dispute is clearly ongoing some form of “no comment” would generally be the only response – no matter how bad it might look. And the whole paragraph about the studio’s bankruptcy? Wow.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Jason said: "I don't feel too much for Chuck on this one."

I hear you, and to a certain degree, I'm with you. He got a raw deal, but it was largely a result of a lack of business savvy on his part, something I have no sympathy for when it comes to creative types. You can't be so hungry to get your shit out there that you let yourself get taken advantage of. It's not like there isn't a million similar cautionary stories out there to learn from.

"This has a serious detrimental effect on profits, and means that many printers can no longer look at publishing comic books in the same light."

I think Fortier was partly referring to the printers themselves, too. Short run comics are not a highly profitable venture to begin with, and Quebecor is a huge company so when margins get tight, I can see where smaller publishers can take a hit, either in costs or prioritization. Even Image has had several titles experience printing delays recently, and I wonder how much of that is the need to gangprint enough 5,000 run titles to make it cost-effective.

Kurt said: "Fortier waded hip-deep into 'shut your mouth' territory"

Also known as Mike S. Miller/Alias territory. The "smartest man in comics (tm)" really came off sounding like a bit of jerk there.

Erech said...

Kurt, no I get what you are saying totally. The way. Adam phrased it just didn't seem correct to me, but yeah. Like, just because the exchange rate isn't in the US favor anymore, doesn't mean that Canadian printers are charging any less than before for their service. Quebecor doesn't seem like a company dumb enough ever to lose a profit, and there are few US companies with the service and skills to match. Just seems like novelty publishers like this are using that as an excuse to hide behind, I mean, in the great scheme of things, are we seriously blaming profit loss on the fucking exchange rate? And was Speakeasy even in business when the rate was that favorable, hasn't it been on a steady downswing for the last 4 years?

I had a whole big thing written out here, but eff it, I'm too lazy to want to debate this this morning. I do concur on the party $$ bit Jason said too, that one seems like tough teets to me.

Jason said...

Kurt -

I'm not saying anything about Fortier on this one. Josh said our official statement in Guy's interview and I don't want to confuse it at all.

What I am saying is, we all made a choice when we signed on. And we can't say it was a good choice or a bad choice looking at the situation now because when we made that choice things looked different.

Did we have any real indication that we would be where we are right now? No. But did we have any hard proof? Not really, and we (as in H&B) went into it as a business venture knowing that there was an adding risk but for hoping for a better pay-off.

Chuck sounds like he went into it viewing Adam as his friend and Speakeasy as his investment – you don’t invest in a publisher, a publisher invests in you.

And, if the publisher doesn’t invest what you feel he should invest – you handle your business behind closed doors and don’t scream to the masses about fairness. What’s it going to do for you except potentially break your NDA, tarnish your name as a business man and a level-headed publisher and get you in legal trouble? The people he’s preaching to don’t care about him or his book, they care about the drama. Even Guy, who’s posting this and showed his journalistic saavy already, did he follow it up with some questions about On Bitter Souls? No – because it’s a non-issue.

And now, if down the line I’m the editor at some company I’d be reluctant to take Chuck on because I don’t know how much he’s saying here is true or what he’d say out of vengeful spite.

That’s all I’m saying, nothing about Adam or Speakeasy. I just think it’s a shame people in this industry don’t know how to own-up to their own decisions.

Kurt said...

Jason,

I wasn’t trying to lead you down the path of taking a shot at Fortier. And I respect the fact that you don’t feel compelled to air your dirty laundry or take cheap shots at Speakeasy (assuming you have any or want to). I think Fortier should have taken that same high road, no matter how teed off or attacked he feels or how truthful his comments were.

The sad part is that it’s now gotten to the point where I’m surprised when these discussions don’t go public.

Jason said...

The sad part is that it’s now gotten to the point where I’m surprised when these discussions don’t go public.

Because nothing good ever comes of that from the people doing the discussing. Ask Pete Rose or that guy that had sex with Paula Abdul.

Chuck's little fart over on the Bendis Boards seems more like an attempt to promote his books. Whereas everyone else is trying to turn this into a teaching experience in their own way, the only message here is a) don't give money to your publisher and b) his book is being looked at by another publisher.

Rich Johnston said...

"Speaking of biased, Rich Johnston, who "broke" the original story last week in his rumor column,"

vs

"it'll be interesting to see what his follow-up is this week as he certainly can't ignore the story now."

I have never ignored this story. I kicked it off in the first place.

"In the end, he's slyly wrung a bit of promotion for his own Speakeasy project, The Flying Friar, a one-shot graphic novella that won't have to worry about subsequent issues going the online-only route."

I was originally worried about a series being cancelled mid run, or, say, the third issue never coming out. That's why I went for the done-in-one model.

"Be interested to know what his pre-order numbers were/are and whether or not he'll have to front the printing costs for it, or if his pitchman duties balance the books."

I believe the latter.

Chuck Satterlee said...

I am honestly surprised anyone is posting this. It was obviously a mistake. Rich Johnston told me about this blog. I have learned a bit more about the comic media world today. I will keep future comments to myself. I have taken down the post on my own accord.

Also, when I say I have learned a bit more about the comic world today, I mean about how it works. I find no fault in my post going up here even if I wish it hadn't. I wrote it...so there it is. If I didn't want it, I shouldn't have wrote it. Lesson learned.

Please understand that it is frustrating to keep quiet as long as I have, but I will go back to the quiet mode and look on to greener pastures.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night. :)

Chuck

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Rich said: I have never ignored this story. I kicked it off in the first place.

I meant you had no choice but to do a follow-up, especially after your own potential bias was called into question. Of course, your allowing Fortier an open forum to blast Dub without a single question afterwards still had the whiff of pro-Speakeasy bias to it. Not even a sarcastic mention of what kind of car he drives? You're slipping.

Chuck said: Please understand that it is frustrating to keep quiet as long as I have, but I will go back to the quiet mode and look on to greener pastures.

I'd say "quiet mode" is what allows publishers like Speakeasy to end up in situations like this, scooping up starry-eyed creators with little business sense, who believe the PR hype and don't do their own due diligence, finding out the truth the hard way, and often doing so too late to keep from getting burned. In the end. it's a lose-lose situation for everybody.

jason @ RIOT said...

hey!

i thought i broke this story originally! hell, Rich e-mailed me before he printed his column last week.

*grumble, grumble*



hehe. :)