Welcome to SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you to put your burning questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics professionals.

The Panel lives or dies by your contributions; please email them to The Panel and we’ll add them to the list…

This week’s question comes from me and is as follows:-

“What advice would you give to a small press company who wants to go to Diamond to get their comics to a bigger audience and what are problems they might face on the way?”

Vince Moore:

The best advice I could give is do the best product, no matter what the genre, the company can. That is the best way to grab Diamond’s, and thereby (hopefully) retailers’ attention. Bad product, story and artwise, won’t last long in this game, even with Diamond’s help. Next piece of advice is have as much work done as possible before going to Diamond. And have your finances so well in order you could stand going a while (6 to 9 months, possibly) before you receive a check. Meaning, if you can’t afford to print six to nine issues of a book before you solicit to Diamond, you are playing with fire.

As for the problems, they are many. Not getting paid in a timely fashion. Not having product ship to the stores even though it shipped from the printer to Diamond (in my retail days, I have heard of this happening on more than one occasion). I’m sure there are other problems I’m not even thinking of. The best recourse is to try to search out companies one admires and simply asking them how working with Diamond goes. You may not get any definite answers one way or another, but you would build up a sampling of outcomes which would give you food for thought.

The best advice is to not rely on Diamond alone but work on many ways to get your books to market.

Vince Moore is the editor for DarkStorm Studios, a comics company started by Kevin Grevioux of Underworld fame.

Alonzo Washington:

Diamond has sold out the small press publishers. All they think about is money. That’s what a company is supposed to do. However, Diamond does not want to develop new talent. If your book is not selling like a major publisher you can forget it. Diamond sucks ass. Once upon a time they worked with independents and that’s why Spawn, Savage Dragon, Jim Lee and others exist today. However, the future of comic books is in jeopardy because of the demand put on small presses to sell like the big boys. Superman, Batman, X-Men and Spider-Man are a sure thing. So Diamond does not try to grow new characters and talent. Diamond should cater to growing the entire comic business not just Marvel and DC. So if you are going to Diamond sell a lot of freaking comic books!

Alonzo Washington is the creator of Omega Man and a noted black rights campaigner.

Alan Grant:

The major problem they’re likely to face is Diamond itself. I believe the distributor demands any new title be able to sell around 3,000 copies, which is asking a lot of small press material.

The other thing a lot of people forget is that, between them, the distributor and retailer cream off between 50 and 60% of the cover price. If your comic costs 2 quid, you’ll see less than half of that to cover printing, advertising, writer and artist, etc.

The best piece of advice is: get somebody famous to do your first cover (or three). Not easy, I know, but Diamond will always listen more carefully when known talent is involved.

Alan Grant, writer of Dredd, Batman, and the slightly mad Doomlord, can be seen currently with Arthur Ranson on Judge Anderson in the Judge Dredd Megazine, and the superb Com.X trade collection of The Last American.

Clifford Meth:

Create quality products. Good writing & good art sell themselves. That was Aardwolf Publishing’s motto 10 years ago. And they’re still doing it.

Clifford Meth is loved by Harlan Ellison, hated by Gary Groth, and doesn’t know which is a greater distinction. His current book is god’s 15 minutes.

Stephen Holland:

Firstly, don’t use the term “small press”. It sends out all the wrong signals about how few units you evidently envisage shifting and, as a result, how little money Diamond Distributors can look forward to making by carrying your book.

If I had my way, the term “small press” would be made a criminal offence – along with the words “Forbidden” and “Planet” employed in conjunction.

Although I may be slightly biased there.

Secondly, your first impression counts, so as well as making sure your punctuation is spot-on, try to find endorsements from as many fellow comic book professionals as you can, but perhaps just as importantly, garner some quotations from retailers who have already successfully stocked and sold your work.

This applies equally to approaching comic shops directly. Everyone involved, including ourselves, is interested in one thing: sales. Of course we’re interested in quality and indeed satisfied customers, but quality and satisfied customers equal sales. We want money. (See term “small press”).

It’s retailers whom Diamond will be dealing with, and if you can persuade either that they’re missing out on moolah through your proven success elsewhere, they may feel jealous enough to distribute or stock their book.

Do not make anything up: it will come back to bite you. One creator claimed his work was (I paraphrase – it was a while ago) “comparable to other titles Page 45 sells in such high quantities”. Bollocks, was it. I seem to recall biro being employed in the artwork. Thankfully they agreed to “cease and desist” otherwise they’d have been named here.

Thirdly, buy Dave Sim’s “Guide To Self-Publishing”. He’s the single most successful self-publisher, it addresses approaching Diamond and how the whole distribution process works, as well as legal issues, the work ethic and other basics. It’s still in print and available from all good retailers. Oh, and after you’ve read the final chapter, I’d like to make it clear I receive no royalties whatsoever.

Hopefully someone from Diamond’s on this list. If not, I’ve some email addresses for the editor.

The only problems I envisage from this task will depend on the publisher’s professionalism and the quality of the product.

Lastly, if you intend to take an advert in Previews (Diamond’s monthly phonebook of solicitations for comics, distributed to all retailers and available for potential readers to purchase) please include interior panels, not just the cover. We need to know if you can tell a story.

Okay, that wasn’t quite lastly. Lastly, good luck. The more new voices we have in this medium, the better. Diversity is all.

Hopefully another question coming along is, “Okay, I’ve persuaded Diamond to take my comic, how do I best tempt readers to order my book through them – or indeed other distributors?”.

I’ve loads of advice on that. As has Warren Ellis. He’s a master of marketing, and you can buy his thoughts in “Come Home Alone”, “Bad Signal” and “From The Desk Of Warren Ellis”. Available at all good… yeah, you know what I’m saying.

Stephen Holland runs Page 45 – a comic shop in Nottingham – with Mark Simpson and Tom Rosin. He can also be found, monthly, in Comics International.

Donna Barr:

Go to www.diamondcomics.com and follow the instructions.

Do the same for Cold Cut.

Get the Comic and Game Buyer’s Review Magazine from Krause, and find a list of all the distributors. Contact all of them.

Go to their websites, too.

Do interviews. Give out free samples. Get reviewed.

You know — the usual.

Donna Barr has books and original art at www.stinz.com, webcomics at www.moderntales.com, www.girlamatic.com, and has POD at www.booksurge.com Nothing she won’t try, at least once…including writing a column for SBC at this link!

Kwanza Osajyefo:

My advice to small press companies is “band together.” Together independent publishers represent at least 20% of Diamonds market share charts. Consider the number that does not even make it into Diamond and there is a sizable slice of the comic book industry. My advice would be for some of the more successful indie companies to put their heads together and create a joint label through which to publish their material. They could continue to operate as they always have using a single “company brand” to give all their books a prominent place in the Diamond catalog, preferably a company starting with the letter “A.”

There are a number of arguable reasons that this won’t happen; quality control, preservation of existing brands and bad reasons, like ego.

Overall I think that it could work. It might be a Utopian ideal but it’s really the best alternative in my opinion.

Kwanza Osajyefo is the founder of funkyComics, home to Jim’s Ninja and a number of other forthcoming comic book properties.

Bart Thompson:

Since Approbation Comics is a small press company it’s a bit hard for me to answer this question, but I’ll give it a shot anyway from my perspective, what I’ve done, and what mistakes I’ve made and learned from. First, if you’re just starting out, you really need to do your homework. Research the industry from ALL aspects… business, creative… the works. Read those Wizards (I started collecting around issue #30 and I went back and found #1-29 over the years), get those Write Now and Draw magazines, read the weekly Comic Book News, and so on and on (Comic Buyer’s Guide, online resources, etc.). Get a copy of the Cerebus Guide to Self Publishing… over the years Dave Sim’s comments, thoughts, and essays have been words of wisdom and one of my comic bibles. There are tons of other books out there… if you want to be a publisher, you gotta try and learn as much as you can about everything: business, publishing, writing, penciling, inking, coloring, lettering, advertising, editing… the works. Start e-mailing printers and getting quotes (as I’m sure you have a comic in mind if you’re not already working on it)… read everything they give you front to back. Ask Diamond for their info for new publishers and read all that from front to back. Get you some black binders from Office Depot or Staples, hole punch all these pages, and organize them all in binders. Label those binders, because if you’re like me you’ll soon have about 20 black binders and you’ll need to know what’s in them at first sight.

So you’re about to or currently working on your labor of love. I’m sure you’ve seen what’s on the shelves currently and what’s come out the past 5, 10, and 20 years… you should have noticed the trends, what has risen against impossible odds, what many projects failed miserably. Is your project like any of them? If so, you need to do some soul searching if this is something you need to invest time and money into. What do you do? More than likely you’re a writer, but you may be an artist or both. Recognize your strengths… I’m a writer and artist, but art takes so much more out of me and with writing I can be a writer, editor, publisher, promoter, organizer, etc. As an artist I wouldn’t have any time to do anything else, plus I’m slow and a perfectionist, so I have to delegate art to others. So you’ll have to go on a talent search. Look around your city and online for the missing pieces of your creative team… be up front with them. If you have money to pay, use that as your lure. If you’re like most of us poor publishers, let them know that. If your idea is that solid, people will still come.

So get to work on your comic… keep in mind all factors of quality and keep in mind that your labor of love will be competing with everyone else- Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, so on and on. Pull out all the stops to make your book shine like a gem on the shelves. If and when you have that, follow all the guidelines Diamond provided to you and things should be cake. I’ve heard many problems from small press publishers with Diamond. Personally Diamond has been great in my experience- very helpful, very considerate, and they get the job done. I hope this helped!

Bart Thompson is the founder of Approbation Comics and creator of “Vampires Unlimited”, “the Metamtoids”, “ChiSai”, and “Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs Zombies”. The Myriad 6-issue anthology will be released early 2005, so be sure and pick those up!

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