Arrow Comics is designed to be creator-friendly. Arrow doesn't OWN a single property they print. We aren't some big conglomerate deep-pocketed corporation with oodles of cash at our command. We don't have toy lines, and to date we haven't printed gimmicky covers, alternate covers, or silly "demon blood lust" chick books (though that MIGHT change in this up coming year...). Some folks would say we were nuts to have ever started this venture. Honestly, I can see their point when the creators we were trying so hard to be friendly to bite our hand, spit in our face, and then try to go out of their way to defame us.
You might have seen a title we once offered entitled "The Road To Zombieopolis". We solicited for the first issue of a three issue arc this last December. It is the creation of D. J. Coffman with the help of Jason Embry and a few others whose names escape me at the moment. It's a good property, very solid with a lot of potential. As I mentioned we solicited for the first issue in December. This is something we DID (note the "DID") pretty often as Arrow. We would find titles that we thought had potential and solicit for the book, to try to get this upcoming artist's work out there. Zombieopolis was one of those books. We liked its' people and welcomed them aboard under good faith.
D. J., who has an extensive marketing background, talked over with us what we could do for a promotional campaign. Coffman wanted to go heavy into the web and we were behind letting him. Arrow's previous experience with any kind of advertising campaign always turned out to be a waste of time. I have repeatedly BEGGED for anyone to tell me a successful media campaign for an alternative book within the last three years that has worked. I have not seen ONE. Ads in Previews don't work (and are the equivalent to the cost of printing an issue just to run ONE.), direct mail postcards straight to the shops don't work (we tried it.), Calling the shop owners and sending packages of preview Xeroxes don't work either (again, we've tried it.). To date I have yet to have faith in ANY marketing, or promotion that could pump a book's numbers outside of industry buzz, and now, I'm not that sure about that. That's not to say that we don't have the money to spend, we CHOOSE not to spend it on things that give us little recognition. Advertising, to me, has to deliver a certain kind of response to be worthwhile at all. So far I haven't seen it, and that goes for the web coverage for Zombieopolis as well.
Zombieopolis had HEAVY web exposure, and some media buzz coverage. All to no avail. The book's numbers TANKED. Right around the 480 mark. We were faced with the rough decision of printing the book, and taking a heavy loss on #1 (and the additional harder loss of #'s 2 &3.), or postponing the book and looking for a way to repackage it. We (publisher Scott Moore and myself) decided that the BEST way to treat this project was to not print it. Yes, finances was a driving factor. Who of us has at least 1500 bucks sitting around to have sitting in a warehouse as issues slowly get sold to a break even point? And that was IF the numbers stayed stationary from issues 1-3, which to our experience has yet to happen, more than likely we would tie up THOUSANDS. Which alternative publisher's got that kind of money to hibernate? No one does. No one as small as us at least. It did prove to me though that the web, for all the good it COULD do, is NOT the end-all savior of comics. IT DIDN'T HELP ZOMBIEOPOLIS A WIT.
In case you haven't noticed, comics are in a slump, especially alternative comics. Few alternative companies are even holding there own at this point in time, let alone still producing the same volume of books that they were even three years ago. Arrow isn't. We aren't dead by ANY stretch, no matter what you've heard, but we aren't raking in the dough either. We've printed more books looking at that delicate line of "break even" than we did the year before, and we've solicited for a number of books that we've had to cancel or postpone in order to find another way of getting them out to the public. I warned Drew of this going in, and KNEW he had that idea before we even solicited for the first issue of his book. I never imagined the numbers would come in this low, and told him so, ESPECIALLY with the web backing him up. I was wrong.
Zombieopolis was NOT an exception. We've canned some excellent books over the last year, all of whom were at the quality level of this book or ABOVE. I can give you the list; Max Velocity (which we've run in the back of Spank The Monkey #'s 2-4.), Red Vengeance, Puss-n-Boots (which IS a REALLY viable product. One that we WILL have out eventually.), even books that I was working on (Allison Chains and Spank The Monkey's Skip Month.) have been canceled. Why? Because I had a hard-on to cripple the titles? Because I'm filled with self-loathing enough to hurt books I was personally involved in? Because we just can't have enough rumor and innuendo flying about us having financial problems (the company ISN'T- certain books ARE!), being dead, or just not being at all? Or was it because we LOVE building up new talent just to topple them, shoot their expectations, and destroy their confidence? No to ALL the above.
You see, Arrow isn't the kind of company to "use" someone's property to boost their own. We ALL share the same rules here. If a book pulls poopy numbers the book doesn't get printed. BUT, at the same time we stay VERY faithful to these books, and work VERY hard to get them exposed, if not resolicited then re-formatted. Up until this time we were pretty successful about doing that, it's just that some folks can't be patient enough for us to find that way.
The numbers were too low on Zomieopolis, the expenses would be too much and, I THOUGHT we had amicably settled with the creators of the book to wait. It was better to re-tool the FORMAT of the title and release it at another time. I suggested a graphic novel, we're looking into doing that format as a way of getting around the low numbers and getting us greater exposure than just the constricting comic market. I also told them that if they had a solution to our problem of having books sit in stasis and money tied up in them, that we wanted to hear it. You know what? WE'RE STILL WAITING!
So today I pop over to Zombieopolis's web site, to read the announcement that they've found another publisher, and upon further investigation that they've said some pretty callous, snide, crap about how we've treated them, what we "promised" them, and how "unprofessional" we are (Well, the last part I'll gladly admit to. We are "unprofessional", THANK GOD we're "unprofessional"! I'll explain that point in my next "rant"). The rest of their ranting is probably due to their inability to understand how we can't afford to print them.
It's a crude kind of rejection, to not have high enough numbers to print, and one that I truly understand, and have felt at least twice before myself with other publishers (one on a color superhero deal that would have made me SO "mainstream" that it scares me now!). Of course, I had little idea of how they felt they were so badly treated until now. I THOUGHT we had an understanding. MOST publishers have that policy, it only makes good business sense, but I guess they figured we were too "unprofessional" to figure that out.
Our BIGGEST MISTAKE in this whole matter was that we didn't get a contract to them. Quite honestly I didn't think of it, AND IT WAS NEVER ASKED FOR! From ANY of the creative team. Sometimes things get overlooked. It wasn't intentional, but I guess you could call it "unprofessional". It WON'T happen again.
So, if you look, we've removed all mention of Zombieopolis from our site, except here of course. We've sent back all the artwork, and I publicly apologize for what ever happened. I'm glad they've found another publisher for the work, Zombieopolis is a great idea and a property that deserves to be seen. Plus, I'm glad I don't have to worry about just how they'll get printed, now I know.
Maybe now I can concentrate a little more on my own stuff. You see whenever we have to postpone a book it worries me, and worry keeps me from working like I'd like to.
Finally, Arrow Comics is now changing its' policy on submissions, solicitations, and agreements with ANYONE bringing us a project. From now on we'll be "professional" enough to hammer out EVERYTHING IN WRITING before committing to print (it'll only be safe to keep this back-stabbing crap from happening again.), AND, just so you know, we'll be looking at A LOT less material from outside our immediate group here. We'll be working MUCH more slowly than the last two years to build up what FEW projects we do decide to print, and we'll be A LOT more careful to keep whatever misunderstandings like this from happening again.
And we'll be taking a lot LESS chances than before, on new work, on new talent, and quite frankly on people we don't know well. Which is a true shame because there's a lot of good stuff out there, with no printer even remotely looking for new things (except for "mini-comics formatted stuff that even FEWER people see than "alternative" comics.), let alone new talent to work on it. Maybe we'll have more books in the positive numbers that way. Maybe I won't have to feel like crap telling someone we just can't see a way to print their book, just to be verbally spat upon on their "web-site". Maybe we should start those "Demon Bloody Chick Books." Lord knows we'll make more money.
And if we can't learn from our mistakes what can we do?
Thank you Zombieopolis, and good luck.
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