15 September, 2005

Neilalien Commentary and Links to Diamond Stories

Considering how detrimental an effect comics monopoly distributor Diamond's new "Benchmark" policies could have had on early work by James Kochalka (and many other artcomix creators) ever getting to readers, I want to link to Neilalien's comments on (and links to other stories about) this egregious, wrong-headed policy.

My biggest problem with the "Benchmark Policy" is the apparent fact that small-press publishers and self-publishers can have their work accepted into the Diamond Previews catalog (essentially the monthly guide to upcoming comics, like it or not -- and I personally fucking hate it), interested readers can tell their retailer they want to order a given work -- and possibly even prepay or give them a deposit for it -- and if the "Benchmark" isn't met, the item may very well likely never ship from Diamond.

I can't imagine a more destructive policy for non-superhero comics; under this policy, every lousy John Byrne/Geoff Johns/Jeph Loeb piece of corporate, factory-produced swill will ship without fail (if not always strictly on time, as is the wont of the "Big Two"), but some smaller titles and works by new creators will get orders and yet never end up in the hands of readers who want them, are willing to pay for them, and maybe already have.

How many new and recent readers, experimenting perhaps for the first time with the non-spandex ghetto at the back of the Previews catalog, will experience that particular kick in the teeth before giving up? Why would you keep ordering stuff that never arrives? This policy will most catastrophically affect the very readers we need in comics -- new ones looking for comics beyond the cape-fetish crap that will always be there, until the Direct Market finally, willfully swallows its own tail.

Look, if Diamond accepts a comic into Previews -- and for the sake of this discussion I'll concede that it's their catalog, and they can accept or reject any comic -- at that point, since the catalog goes to both retailers and readers/consumers, Diamond has a moral, ethical and should-be-legal obligation to ship all the material they are offering for sale. If they can't properly market the books in the catalog to the retailers that buy them, then they should at least accept the responsibility to ship all orders they do receive on works they agreed to include in the catalog.

This puts all the risk of the comics industry on the backs of retailers, creators and publishers, and reduces the gigantic corporation Diamond Distributing to the role of roadside flea-market manager. They're happy to take the money and dreams of any sucker who wants to set up inside, but if there's any problems, complications or special needs, well, the manager's already a half-mile down the road spending his profits at the local titty bar. Too bad. "Fuck off, artcomix" is the message, and artcomix better goddamned well be listening. Diamond's move, intentionally or not, cuts the throat of the very best, most visionary comics, ones not even created yet. Comics Warren Ellis once called "What's new and what's next."

We have the makings of a resistance movement here, and now is the time to react, organize, and counteract. I've already got some ideas, and am talking to some friends, new and old, about ways to use this disaster to make the position of artcomix in the market stronger than ever, at least for retailers and readers who want what's new and what's next. And if you don't want that, if you want what's old and worn out, well, Diamond clearly is your buddy, and will embrace you all the way to the bottom.

One thing that I emphasize over all else is pushing comics forward, and Diamond's new move represents peristalsis; not moving comics forward, but downward and out through a spandex-clad sphincter, right out into the bowl, where they can and will be flushed away. Neilalien's comments on the value of what he calls the "anything-goes unmoderated forum-bazaar" of comics are 100% right-on and really, the last word that needs to be said on this issue.

Support your local comics retailer, especially the ones who support alternative distributors like Cold Cut and FM, and don't take the lazy route of relying solely on Diamond and its callous, monopolistic policies to stock their stores. Putting all your faith in Diamond to do what's best for comics is like putting all your financial investments in Enron. It seems like a really, really good idea until the bottom falls out and there's nothing left.

Update: Vermont cartoonist Rick Veitch concurs.


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