Tagged: Comedy magazine

Martha Thomases: Is Comics Distribution Sexy?

Comic Book Guy & Stan LeeOne of the most important but least sexy aspects of the comic book business is distribution. The people who get the comic books from the printer and then send them to your local comic book stores don’t have that aura of imagination we associate with artists and writers. They aren’t publicly literate, like editors and publishers.

(Note: I’m only talking about perceptions here. I know a bunch of people who work in distribution, and they are at least as interesting and varied as any other group of people.)

The first distributors I met were the ones who agreed to take on Comedy Magazine in 1980. The mix included those who specialized in newsstands and those who were more specialty oriented. The specialty mix included not just comic books but also zines and art magazines (we were an art magazine). Some of those became direct market distributors.

Then ten years went by, and I didn’t think about distribution much at all.

When I worked at DC, there were a bunch of direct market distributors. Some were regional. A few were not. They competed against each other. They would pit one publisher against another in an attempt to get more favorable deals. Publishers would do the same to them.

And then, there was only Diamond.

Mimi Cruz, the owner of Night Flight Comics in Salt Lake City, recently wrote an article about how frustrating it is to deal with Diamond. She talks about books that are ordered and never arrive, books that aren’t ordered but show up anyway, books that arrive damaged, and books that are late.

Distributors are only human, and humans make mistakes. We should be understanding of each other. However, one would think that at a time when print media are considered to be endangered species, that maybe self-interest would motivate Diamond to provide better (and therefore more profitable) service. Books that never get on the shelves never get sold. Mistakes that don’t get corrected cost everybody money.

And there is certainly money to be made. Brian Hibbs recently analyzed the most recent data from BookScan, which shows that graphic novel sales have risen more than 17 percent in bookstores. Yes, that’s a category of print media, on paper, with sales growing in the bookstore market. If print isn’t yet dead, that is in no small part due to stories told in pictures.

Savvy comic book stores already order books through book distributors as well as direct market distributors. The discounts may be less attractive, but the books are in stock and, sometimes, returnable if they can’t be sold. If Diamond has a bad week, the store can still get product on the shelves. There will still be new covers to attract attention.

I don’t really have a suggestion (other than, “Everybody! Get your shit together!”). I don’t know that more competition in the direct market would make everyone more efficient. I don’t know if investing in state-of-the-art tech would make a difference. I don’t know if there are things that we, as customers, can do to help.

I just know that when I go to a comic book store, I want to see the new books, and the old books, and books that sit there, quietly, waiting for me to find them.


Martha Thomases: Comic Without Book

Robin WilliamsLast year, I noticed an ad for Apple. I mean, you can’t not notice them, since they air every few minutes. This one was special, though, quoting someone quoting Walt Whitman. I wondered if it was made by the same agency that made the Patti Smith Levi’s commercial. And I wondered why the unseen narrator sounded so familiar.

It was Robin Williams, from The Dead Poets Society.

As I’m sure you know, Robin Williams died Monday. God, I’m going to miss him

Now is the time when I would like to tell you what good friends we were, but that would be a lie. Instead, I have only loved him since the first times I saw him do his stand-up on television shows. I was lucky enough to see him perform, twice.

The first time, back when John and I were publishing Comedy Magazine (and why isn’t there a Wikipedia page, damn it!), was at a benefit for the First Amendment Improv Group. Our pal, Jane Brucker, was the emcee for the show and she had to vamp for 45 minutes because Williams’ plane was late. By the time he arrived, the audience was exhausted, but he put on a full and energetic show. To this day, I don’t know how I had the strength to get home, because I laughed so much my muscles were sore.

The second time was at a fund-raiser for Michael Dukakis. This was in the days before everybody put everything up on YouTube. It was before YouTube. Which is just as well because no politician could get elected after being endorsed by someone whose act was so filthy.

Williams was a brilliant stand-up, and a manic improviser. You can see a bunch of his genius here, but it’s not the same. He was so immediate, so of-the-moment, that seeing old material doesn’t capture the wallop of seeing it as it happened. It would be like watching old episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. One can admire the craft and the wit, but it’s so much less funny when it isn’t happening now.

Robin Williams was, for a time, one of the biggest (if not the biggest) things in comedy. It is to his everlasting credit that he used his celebrity to draw attention to and raise money for Comic Relief <http://comicrelief.org>, which helped the sick, the homeless, and others in need.

His acting work was less well-respected. Many critics didn’t like what they perceived to be a sentimental streak in some of his performances, especially in films like Patch Adams or Hook. I understand what they say, but disagree in some cases. Hook never fails to make me cry like a baby, although as much for Maggie Smith as for Williams.

My favorites of his movies have comics’ connections. I adored Robert Altman’s Popeye, based on everyone’s favorite spinach-eating sailor with a script by Jules Feiffer. Everyone in the cast chews up the scenery with glee, and there is a sweetness with the movie that one does not often associate with Altman.

I equally love Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King. Gilliam, aside from being an integral part of Monty Python, worked with Harvey Kurtzman on Help magazine <http://www.helpmag.com> Williams plays a man driven mad by the murder of his wife, describing himself as “The janitor of god.” Yes, his performance is sentimental. I don’t care.

His television show from last season, The Crazy Ones, wasn’t picked up. He has three movies scheduled to be released in the next year, including a new Night at the Museum.

Sweetness and sentiment are part of the human experience, just like anger and hate. We deny them at our peril. Robin Williams combined them in his work in a way that was cathartic and hilarious.

I only wish it had worked for him.

Editor’s note: Yesterday, Robin Williams’ widow revealed her husband was diagnosed as in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease. He was not suffering from substance abuse issues, but he long had been trying to cope with the disease of depression,