07 January 2006

COMMENT: Late-night Speakeasy Musings

I haven't had the time to really follow up on the whole Speakeasy situation myself, but I have been tracking the comics blogosphere which refuses to let the story die, including this rather humorous addition: Speakeasy Comics Archives, wherein a Jonathan Martin is attempting to pull together everything relating to the company's current woes. (CBR and NEWSarama still haven't bothered to cover it, of course.)

Jason Richards - proprietor of one of my favorite comics shops, R!OT Comics + Culture, in Camp Hill, PA - has been the source of some interesting tidbits (as well as some great, heartfelt snark) lately, including this interesting development:

Oh, and by the way, got RIOT's invoice for next week and a slew of Speakeasy titles were listed as being available for Order Reductions due to "vendor late shipping or mis-solicitation"...so, aside from Strangeways and one or two subscriber copies, i reduced them all to ZERO.
The whole order reduction thing is a big deal in the non-returnable direct market, as it's a rare opportunity for retailers to adjust orders on unforeseen dogs so as to not have to eat the cost of comics headed straight for the quarter bins. (ie: most of Speakeasy's current output, and, sadly, many won't be due to their lack of quality.)

With their post-Ardustry deal change in focus representing something of a 180 from their sign-everything-Image-rejected approach at San Diego Comic-Con last summer, it seems like Fortier is in a bit of a rush to remake the Speakeasy roster. There's a part of me that suspects the 1750 internal cutoff that sparked this whole thing was a bit of a passive-aggressive exercise in clearing the decks; a House of M-style reboot, with the announcement (in a rumor column, of all places!) substituting for the flash of white light: "No more creator-owned comics!"

Speakeasy creators all over woke up to find themselves either depowered, or tainted by the stench of failure.

I'm sure Richards isn't the only retailer cancelling his outstanding orders, esecially in light of Fortier's online continuation policy for cancelled titles. Why should a retailer commit to a title its own publisher won't commit to seeing to completion? If anything, the policy encourages retailers to "wait for the trade," the kiss of death for most indies.

And there's now talk of some license they've secured that will be their savior. Because, you know, licenses do that. Transformers at Dreamwave. The Micronauts at Devil's Due. And hey, wasn't Speakeasy's Adam Fortier, the so-called "smartest man in comics," a key player at both of those publishers before they ran into their respective troubles? Coincidence?

The only reason I don't laugh at the license idea quite as loudly as I normally would is because Chris Butcher says he was "pretty impressed" with whatever it is [see the comments section at the link], and I've recently come to think highly of his opinion and insight. Nevertheless, I can't think of a single available license out there that's got the potential to top what Atomika sold for them back in their salad days of slow growth, high-quality titles and tons of marketing.

Star Wars, Conan and Red Sonja are taken, the first two of which are arguably the most successful licenses going right now. G.I. Joe and Dungeons & Dragons are gone, and doing reasonably well for Devil's Due. Planet of the Apes is taken. (By Mr. Comics, the first issue of which was actually pretty good!)

What's left? ROM? Crystar? Chronicles of Riddick? I'd probably buy all three of those, but like Son of Vulcan, I'd be one of the few.

Star Trek? Do Trekkies read comics?

Maybe a Stephen King-type deal with a Dean Koontz or Robert McCammon? Is Peter Straub Canadian?

I just don't see it.

In the end, though, no matter what the license is or isn't, the fact of the matter is a bunch of well-intentioned comics creators are getting shafted, and as much as I despise the lack of business savvy that's so common with creative types, I can't fully blame them because it's clear that most were somewhat unexpectedly kneecapped. Fortier "smartly" built a company that's structured to not lose him any money - effectively a vanity publisher - making promises he hasn't delivered on and is now trying to skirt his responsibilities to his partners. That's just bad business.

[Edited image from despair.com.]

3 comments:

Erech said...

I need to read Butchers site more often. I used to cruise by more frequently. Smart fellow, he be.

Erech said...

[Edited image from despair.com.]

HELLLLLO new desktop background!

Jason Martin said...

Hmmm...
now I wonder what the license is?
I do recall them making a bit of a fuss about the Ardustry deal allowing them to secure bigger/better licenses...
I would think it would be something current.
The rash of 80's licenses are a continuation of insular marketing/positioning that the big two do with their properties, to capture/maintain the aging fanbase. I argue the key ingredient that comics need to reach "new" readers are current hot properties (King is a step in that direction).
More video games, movies, TV etc.
That's what brought me, and a slew of others to comics in the late 70's early 80's...
So it would be encouraging to see a company pursue that more aggressively (like Dark Horse, but hipper). The main ingredient required for that, sorely lacking in the direct market, is penetration. Why aren't publishers with funds positioning stuff in video stores, and outlets (besides bookstores) that are visible to the public?
It just seems that short-sighted reliance on the existing (direct) market is a death wish for the bigger publishers.