Outspoken comics creator Ulises Fariñas reached out to Comics Bulletin this week to let us know about some changes to how he was going to be handling pre-orders for his comics. We were intrigued, so we decided to talk to him about his plans and the direct market in comics on the whole.
Nick Hanover for Comics Bulletin: Pre-ordering is something even comics lifers have a difficult time understanding, so to start, can you give a quick and easy breakdown of how pre-ordering works in comics versus how it works in, say, videogames?
Ulises Fariñas: Haha, I wouldn’t even know. As a customer, I go to a store or online, give someone money, and in a few months I have my game. But in comics, I have to follow dozens of creators, each of them with different order forms, fill them out, and bring them to a comic shop, and hope that they order the book? I wouldn’t know, ‘cause I would never do something so convoluted for a $4 product.
CB: Why do you think the industry has been so reticent to change this system?
Fariñas: There’s too many reasons, but part of it I believe is that retailers, publishers and their distributor [Diamond] are all in a broken relationship to suck out as much profit out of a shrinking customer base rather than expand to new readers.
It’s like a drug dealer: get them hooked first, and then start cutting the product more and more. They keep buying, so why change anything?
New artists, new creators, they don’t want them to reach new readers, they want them to join the system and shut up. Blaming the customer is a lot easier than making a good comic, supporting new voices, and hiring more than a few diverse creators.
CB: How did your plan for an alternative pre-ordering model come about?
Fariñas: I read a post from a creator blaming me (all readers, I mean) for their book failing. I thought “Man, I ain’t ever putting more effort into buying a comic than I have to put in to buy milk.”
Honestly, if publishers actually curated what they put out, instead of having one writer writing four or five books, then we could actually see what books succeed because of lack of pre-orders versus a lack of faith from the publisher. Putting out tons of floppies is a good way to move another Batman book, but new ideas won’t succeed in that environment.
To clarify: I want to say, if one writer is writing like 3/5th of a publisher’s line of “diverse content” and I’m not into their work, that means I’m not buying 3/5th of their entire “diversity” promotion. It’s not diversity anymore, and the excuse becomes, “See, you don’t support these books!”
CB: Some indie creators have done similar things with pre-ordering, usually through Kickstarter or other crowdfunding platforms. But you’ve teamed up with a specific shop– Escape Pod Comics. What are the benefits of having a shop on board? Did you feel it was necessary to have an LCS on board in order to dissuade retailers from viewing this as a threat to their system?
Fariñas: I wanted to do something that was easy to handle, that was simple to understand, and work with someone already putting comics into people’s hands.
But ultimately, I would want every artist to do this. I hate answering a “where can I get this” question with what amounts to “Figure it out, and if you don’t, you’ve failed comics.” Why the fuck are we “fan-shaming” people?
But local comic shops need to adapt or die. If “I want to make it easier to buy comics” is a threat to their security, they probably are a pretty crappy store.
CB: There’s a general sense that comics publisher cling to the pre-ordering direct market system so tightly because it removes all risk for them and puts all the risk on the shops and fans. Are there risks that you’re concerned about with this more fan-friendly alternative model?
Fariñas: I think this works well within that system. Escape Pod Comics is already ordering my books, and now they have new customers who can tell them exactly what they want and pay right away. I’ll do the same with books I’m publishing with Buño.
If I could do this for every book on the market, if I could just click “buy” and I know my LCS will send me my books come due, I would. The fact that the Previews catalog doesn’t work that way boggles my mind.
CB: Right, but do you have any concerns about any of the roadblocks comics creators have hit with self-shipping crowdfunded projects? Like shipping costs or delays?
Fariñas: Not really, but I think something like Kickstarter shows the demand for alternatives to a single distributor. It’s one of the main reasons I haven’t Kickstarted projects myself.
CB: What are some lessons you think comics could learn from other media on this front?
Fariñas: I think all media is trying to figure out how to get the product into people’s hands. With books, it’s a little more challenging because I don’t think digital is going to replace paper ever, it just is easier to read off paper, more satisfying. But this started with me thinking “I want a Grubhub for comics!” If mom and pop, Chinese take out and diners can figure out how to use an app without thinking it’s threatening the model of food delivery, then comic shops can figure out how to sell comics without screaming that the sky is falling.
CB: Earlier you talked about the way publishers are exploiting diverse voices. Do you think chipping away at the direct market’s hold on the industry will also allow for better representation in comics? What are some other areas you expect to see get shaken up in comics and other industries soon?
Fariñas: Comic shops aren’t going to take risks on a book that they think is just going to sit in a longbox taking up space, but they won’t take those risks if the publishers are relying on variants and reboots and event books to prop up their sagging sales.
How much can a publisher say they believe in a new creator if they are telling retailers, buy 300 copies of this shitty event comic so you can have one variant edition of some other shit comic to sell on eBay?
They repackage the same product over and over again and then complain no one is buying.
In terms of shakeups, I think comics will see something approaching unionizing or organizing amongst creators in the next fifty years.
CB: In your post about this pre-ordering system, you also mention that you’ll be giving people sketches “and/or other goodies” to entice them to pre-order through you. What are some goodies fans might expect to see? Your merch game has always been pretty strong, is there a chance we will be seeing, say, a monthly Ulisesbox in the near future?
Fariñas: I got a lot of comics that I’ve done covers for, but I feel weird selling them at cons, since I didn’t do stories for them or anything. Pug Burger stickers and some new stickers will be coming soon too. There won’t be a Ulisesbox, but this is the closest thing to it.
CB: Last year you launched your own imprint, Buño. How has that been going? What can we expect to see from Buño this year?
Fariñas: We got some new titles coming out, and this was when I really began thinking how cumbersome the pre-order process is. I’m hoping with all our new books that we will be able to reach even more new readers this way. Between writing, drawing, editing and publishing, distributing on top of that is just too much for one person to do.
CB: Outside of your own work, what are some comics you’re especially excited about this year?
Fariñas: I’ve been checking out that Alien series coming out from James Stokoe and Dark Horse, that looks boss.
CB: If comics were wrestling, which rival project would compete with one of yours for the belt?
Fariñas: I would love to put Amazing Forest against any anthology that’s come out in the last year, cause we the best there is and all other anthologies are for suckers.