Twist Street

Sam Westing, Barney Northrup, Sandy McSouthers, Julian R. Eastman, & Me

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Yet this person (twiststreet above, who is Abhay Khosla) went on to list what they thought Mike was doing wrong,but did it in a weirdly spiteful way.

Let me see if I can put in a Read More here so I don’t clutter up people’s dashboards…

First, I can’t control what “tone” people read into things.  I never have been able to control it, and I don’t make it my business to control it.  I’ve hung around long enough— people just read what they want to read into things, and project whatever anxieties they want to project. (I’ve been guilty of that too— can’t judge it; that’s just how people do.)  

If comic people want to hear that there’s this unknowable amorphous cruelty holding them back out there, then I’m sure suggesting that there sure seems to be a lot of specific errors being made makes me a convenient bad guy.  Okay.  Fine.  Good luck with that.

Second, he’s talking about business.  If he can’t find people to sell things to, I’m not angry or trying to be “mean” or spiteful about it.  Something’s obviously gone wrong (and whatever went wrong apparently struck a chord with the dozen people who reblogged that onto my dashboard)— why would you not try to figure out for someone who is literally expressing hurt about their business right directly in front of you what went wrong, instead of treating business like it was some cosmic mystery of life?  He’s not talking about life, family, relationships, health, dreams.  He’s talking about sales of product.  It’s business talk.

In order to get some data, here are the last few books I’ve purchased along with their prices:

Assuming you bought that in a month and that’s representative of a monthly budget, you’re spending $4,000 a year.  Of your list of 13 books, you describe only 2 as being the equivalent of the books he’s selling, which amounted to about $500 a year. (Let’s assume you have a living situation with infinite space to store all these books and not try to factor in the costs of storage— let’s not get fancy.)  

The question that raises is this: assume a smaller comic budget; which would be the first books you wouldn’t have bought?   It would seem to me, given the sales numbers being stated, that for most people, the answer is the 2 that were the equivalent of the book he’s selling.  

Also, I look at Joe’s weekly comic roundup at the Journal.  He usually identifies I’d say two “Top Picks” of the week which fall at a $20 price point, plus of the remaining books he identified, I’d say the majority are usually in the $15 on up price range.  So even with a $4,000 a year habit— a significant quantity of work is invariably getting past you.  

However, they all range from $12 to $26, which is maybe one meal out with some drinks or a small trip to the grocery story. I think this is really typical for book prices.

It’s just a small trip to the grocery store.”

$20 in and of itself isn’t an outrageous cost for a graphic novel— of course not.  But to suggest there aren’t consequences of a price point on the sales level of a product?  I don’t have the most educated understanding of economics but that’s not my understanding of how money works.

And I spend $20 too.  But for the right people or the right projects.  Anytime I see a book, at $20, I have to do a quick math in my head of whether it’s worth it, which factors in whether I’m dealing with someone with a track record, or whether I can get something else for that $20. There are going to be losers with that math.  So then we look at what he or his publisher have done to avoid being one of those losers and…

Sure, he can’t control the price.  But he has to control the rest.  If I google troop 142 previewnothing comes up.  Amazon comes up first for me.  Then Wikipedia.  Then, Goodreads comes up.  How am I the bad guy for taking the time to check and saying so?

I’ve worked in bookstores and comic book stores for 8 or 9 years now, and I see people lay down this much money for books by someone they haven’t read. Maybe they hear about it from friends, from reviewers, or from booksellers, or often on public radio, which makes sense, since NPR’s audience usually has some disposable income.

I can’t argue with success!  Oh wait….

 So, here’s my confusion as to our two opinions— my opinion is that if we assume the people who bought his earlier work didn’t hate it, then something negated any word of mouth he generated.  I’d suggest it’s the price point in combination with his relative obscurity (which Darryl Ayo suggests I’ve overstated, which is fair— I respect what Darryl has to say) and some very fixable weaknesses as to directing his books to their proper audience.  You’d suggest…that lots of people have oodles of money and are happy to spend it— and, what, they’re just avoiding this guy??  

How am I the spiteful one?

The other thing about price is that no one really has to pay

There’s a price tag on the books.  

And my librarian background makes me really against labeling books in general. Grouping them by age can be useful in helping people find what they want, but there are so many younger people that want to read “real” books

He has a cover that makes his comic look like a children’s comic.  If children buy it, at least looking at the first handful of Google Image results, they’re going to get a lot of swearing and drug use. Nothing about his art style, the cover or the title says young adult.  If the publisher text is on the back cover (which I haven’t seen), that text is not really saying anything about what the book is.  

(It’s by a publisher whose other work includes “the physical and emotional traumas of an STD” (that’s the one I know from them), a lady’s memoir about having a broken heart, a comic about “violent and unexpected manifestations of sexual connection and romantic possession as the gaylord phoenix searches for his lost love”, Iron Bound— that’s supposed to be a cool crime thing, right?  So he’s not getting any kind of “Brand” help there because I don’t know what Secret Acres’s brand is, other than “I think they’re from Brooklyn”). 

Can the people who would like his book identify that it’s been made for them?  His numbers suggest the answer to that is no.  

As to the OCD/what-book-is-first thing, this is another “Who cares?” for me.


If someone cares about this, though, I understand, and I encourage them to use the resources available (bookstore employees, the internet, paging through the books) to find a solution.

They found a solution.  Their solution is buying someone else’s comic.  Provided they put that text on the back cover.  I can’t tell from the publisher website.  The publisher website doesn’t even have a preview of the book on it (or if they do I couldn’t find it easily— maybe I’m blind).  (Maybe that doesn’t matter in a world of Google Image.  But it’s not really a great sign.)

As for that part about Mike’s books not being library-oriented, that is totally false. Libraries and librarians have this maxim: “Every reader, his or her book. Every book its reader.”

You misread what I said.  I didn’t say his books weren’t library oriented.  I said I can’t guess whether his publisher is— Secret Acres.    I’m sure libraries wouldn’t shy away from herpes comics, but I would guess there are librarians out there slightly more hungry for young adult and kids books. I would guess that’s where the demand is.  And they have a young adult book? Hopefully that’s working out for them.  The rest of their catalog is just all over the map though.  I can’t guess how that world works. If there’s no commonality to a catalog, does that help or hurt with libraries?  I can’t say— hopefully it doesn’t hurt…?  But I doubt it helps.

Other than Love & Rockets, who has made that work?  There’s a certain challenge there even if everything else goes great)

Avengers, X-Men, Wicked & the Divine, the aforementioned Wrenchies and Beautiful Darkness and more are ensemble casts.

The X-Men?  Wicked & Divine is a new comic by a guy who wrote the X-Men.  This is not his audience.  If he’s competing for the X-Men audience with his indie graphic novels, he’s really lost in the woods.

As for Beautiful Darkness— that book?  If that’s your competition, you have got to have a very strong piece of material with a very clear sales pitch to convince people to buy his books rather than that book.  That book is fantastic.  Here’s some text from their back cover: “Unsettling and Gorgeous Anti-Fairy Tale” … “searing condemnation of our vast capacity for evil”… A SPECIFIC CHARACTER is then mentioned: “Join princess Aurora and her friends” … “delicate watercolors” … “harrowing look behind the routine of politeness.”  

That describes Beautiful Darkness.  That lets you know what you’re buying.  The back cover has a drawing of a dead body covered in fleas on it— there’s no question marks as to who it’s been made for.  D&Q did a solid, solid job selling that book.  There’s a pdf preview of it on their website, and they preview the exact right portion of the book to give a person a sense of what it’s about.

The “interesting dilemma” issue is harder to quantify, but I thought Angie Bongiolatti offered a number of interesting dilemmas.

None of them are in the product description.  You’re confusing content and marketing.  We’re not talking about content— I haven’t read the stuff; I’m sure it’s great; I’m sure he worked very hard on it; but he couldn’t sell it.  

Are the dilemmas mentioned on the back cover?  I can’t tell.  Here’s the Eleanor Davis quote that may have gone somewhere on the book and is on the publisher website: “I love Angie Bongiolatti and its swimming cast of characters, even as I cringe to see myself there: sad and stupid, selfish and small, needing a shower”.  Needing a shower?

What was your business model?

"Make a book, get it published by a publisher" seems to be his business model, which has worked for hundreds of years and is still a goal of many people.

It doesn’t work.  It hasn’t worked for a long time now.  And many of the people you think are successes, you’re just looking at their highlight reel.

 Still, his accomplishments are huge, and I think they deserve respect.

…?  Anyone who completes a graphic novel has my respect and sympathy.  It’s physically exhausting work and when he talks about the hobbies he gave up so he can do it, it’s painful to read because I’ve made those choices myself.  But he’s not talking about failing at being an artist.  It sounds like he feels relatively good about his accomplishments and choices there— and man, that’s REALLY not nothing.

He’s talking about being a businessman.

Which is really the heart of my disagreement with this whole thing: the lack of respect. Why did it begin with an admission of adding insult to injury? I think that is a bad thing. When I’m injured, I want to lay down and heal, and I think that someone that admits to taking time to add insult to that injury is at least a little bad. Abhay’s whole article could have easily been phrased neutrally by taking out the first line and getting rid of the double and triple question marks. It could have even been phrased positively: “Here are some things I’ve noticed and how I might address them.”

BUSINESS?  Comics people have to sugarcoat business talk too…?  Even business talk has to be positive-positive happy slappy “everyone’s the best” candy talk?  FOR BUSINESS?  

If you can’t be tough-minded when you’re talking about selling products, then maybe you shouldn’t be a businessman!  I don’t want to sympathize with a guy’s slow journey to the poor house.  I don’t want to be the nicest guy around a barrel full of fire that we’re all heating ourselves around.  I don’t want to be the friendliest guy in that camp at the beginning of They Live.  I mean, I listen to some business-oriented podcasts— I read game post-mortems (and those people are… making true dreck), and most people I’ve heard when they’re talking about selling product…. They’re not sugarcoating what went wrong.  They’re not just throwing their hands in their air and saying “I didn’t think life would turn out this way, my job’s a joke love life DOA” (just wanted another Jennifer Aniston reference).  Yeah, it sucks when you’re an artist and you just want to be an artist having to put on a business hat.  It SUCKS.  It’s the worst.  I don’t do it— a lot of people don’t do it— but he chose to do it, and he doesn’t get to just be an artist.  that’s not our world.  I wish it were our world.  I have friends who’ve spent years frustrated with how hard it is selling things and who’ve had to think about stuff— they all wish they could just write or draw or whatever.  But they want to be in that game— they couldn’t live with just having a few people on the internet look at their stuff and hit like.  That has consequences, and they live with those consequences.  And it sucks.  But that’s the cost of doing business.

I’m not criticizing him or his books, and still I have to put on clown makeup and have a little horn I blow after every sentence like “haha or maybe I’m wrong, keep reaching for the stars, everything is okay, life is fun”-???  That’s bonkers.  That’s straight-up bonkers.  I’m sorry if your feelings or anyone else’s feelings were “hurt” or if I wasn’t “nice enough" about all the failing going on, but whatever part of me is supposed to cower about my opinions I guess is broken or I’m the bad guy or whatever but… I’m not living in a mumblecore movie when the conversation is about marketing and selling product.

(Source: mikedawwwson)

Filed under Worst Hobby or Worstest Hobby?

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    The truth of any art career is that you never make “it”—it makes you. A life in the arts is not for sissies and after...
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  12. jojostory reblogged this from mikedawwwson and added:
    And while I’m collecting advice for comic artists, here’s something else to add (mostly as a note to myself).