By Christian Beranek
Welcome my faithful readers to another installment of The Life of High Adventure. This time out I interview frequent collaborator, instigator and Super Frat creator Tony DiGerolamo about the future of publishing. Tony D (as fans like to call him) has done it all in the comic book world: He’s been a publisher, a creator, worked on big name projects such as The Simpsons, been a panelist at conventions, written comic book reviews and been reviewed and won acclaim for his webcomic Super Frat (online at http://www.superfrat.com). Knowing Tony D has this vast experience, and in light of the ever changing landscape of comic publishing, I sat down with him to get his take on the industry in terms of past, present and future.
BERANEK: Why did you get into publishing?
DIGEROLAMO: First I got into comics because all the other media rejected me. Film, TV, even *shudder* radio. I published my own comics because I’m a writer and most comic book publisher wouldn’t read a script if you put a Lex Luthor death ray to their head. It was a way to get a chip in the Comic Book Industry poker game.
BERANEK: What were some of the hurdles when your ran your own company?
DIGEROLAMO: The three main hurdles are money, money and money. Unlike a lot of newbies, I had at least done my research: talked to other publishers, gone to conventions and seriously examined the market and what I was up against. I got some great advice from Will Eisner, who taught me pragmatic things like logo design and how to publish within my means. Still, I made some mistakes.
Probably the biggest hurdle was dealing with artists. They can be very sensitive and insensitive depending on their volatility. Artists (and most comic book publishers) aren’t very good business people. They tend to let their emotions sweep them into a project and then get angry when they perceive the project as having failed. Even worse was when they thought a project succeeded. I have a short list of angry artists that are convinced I ran away with bags of cash. The truth is, there just isn’t a lot of money in comics unless you really hit it big. And even then, the money is in almost everything else, not the actual comic book.
BERANEK: What advice would you give someone wanting to run their own operation today?
DIGEROLAMO: Forget print. It’s dead. You can do print comics as a sideline, as part of your merchandise, but don’t design your business plan around it. Today, webcomics are the future. Unlike print where you have to constantly publish just to stay in the public eye, webcomics get you a great flexibility and exposure without putting out a tremendous amount of money for overhead.
BERANEK: Speaking of webcomics, you created Super Frat in 2000 but didn’t release a book until 2006. What were some of the reasons?
DIGEROLAMO: Anyone who has printed a comic in the last five years can tell you, you’ll get clobbered in print. One of my last comic books I personally published was one of my bests. We had given away an entire print run of previews just to promote it and even the printer looked forward to the final issue when I sent it to him. But we got clobbered. I couldn’t afford a massive promotions budget and our numbers sucked.
Today, I could launch that same comic on the web and I’d be almost guaranteed thousands of people would see it. And once I had a fan base, I could then offer to print a webcomic like Super Frat and have an audience willing and waiting to buy. That’s the key, you’ve got to find your audience. The Internet has such tremendous reach, your audience will find you! It’s truly the free market of ideas. No censorship, no control via a publisher— Just straight creator to fan contact.
BERANEK: Congrats on your gig writing for Comedy.com Can you tell us more about it?
DIGEROLAMO: I’m writing the Animation and Comic Book Blog on Comedy.com. The overall website is going to be the hub for everything funny on the Internet. My blog strictly covers cartoons and comics. I cover the news in that area, but we’re always presenting things in a funny way.
BERANEK: What are some things the comic book industry is getting right now?
DIGEROLAMO: Absolutely nothing. Fans are leaving in droves, cover prices are through the roof, talent is abandoning the industry for other mediums, publishers and editors have been creatively stagnating themselves for decades and it is still almost impossible to shop for comics in a way that’s convenient and makes sense to the average consumer. The comic book industry is like a club of fanboys that are exploited by the most ruthless and smarter ones at the top. Almost no one with any kind of position of influence in this business gives a shit about the average fan.
BERANEK: What are some things the comic book industry can improve upon?
DIGEROLAMO: I don’t know if we have enough space on the Internet for me to type it all. The bottom line is, it’s too late to save the model as it exists. Ten or fifteen years ago, maybe, if you had someone that would invest in the long term growth of their readership. Someone with the money of a CrossGen building real talent and not some “universe” of competing superheroes. Here’s the new model assuming you had real money to finance it all:
The object of the game is to build of a brand of quality comic books. In this case, you have to do it on the web. You offer the comics on the web at $1 a piece or $3 in print for an issue. (Single issues should only be printed in short runs to be sold at conventions.) The only printed books that would be solicited through Diamond would be collected trades and graphic novels, stuff that’s perennially sellable. You pimp merchandise as well.
Eventually, you build a website that fans can’t live without. It becomes their community. Picture the Bendis Board except Bendis and his buddies release the comic books there. Your comics and discussion are now all in the same place and you don’t have to fill your closet up with boxes of comics you don’t read anymore. Membership on the site could also be offered where you’d pay a monthly fee for access to all the comics instead of just a selected few. It’s billed directly to your credit card and you stop by whenever you want. You get access to special features that are members only. It’s a social networking site with your favorite characters and creators.
DC, Marvel and Image should all be doing this now, but their corporate mindset will keep them in print beyond the point where its viable. They won’t pull the plug until they’re losing money and by that time, someone like me (with money) will step up and take over. Then the big three will be playing catch up unless their corporate bosses just decide to such down their division entirely.
BERANEK: Where do you see the industry in 10 years?
DIGEROLAMO: As it is now, gone. Comic books, books and newspapers in printed form will become a luxury that most people won’t even want. The dinosaurs will continue to cling to their old ways and a handful of publishers will offer short runs of exquisitely printed material that’s very expensive and high end. But the average schmoe will download your comic on his iPhone and read it on the train to work or on his computer screen while he’s working at home.
Webcomics will completely supplant the printed comic book industry, it’s just a matter of time. Thankfully, this means that superheroes may finally lose their grip on the industry, as Internet visitors are a much more demanding bunch of viewers. The big 3 will use their money, their library and brand names to hold onto fans. I could see Image making a big comeback and leading the way in this innovation, but they’ve passed up opportunities like that before so who knows? Comic book stores will go the way of the record store. There will be a handful of holdouts, but mostly they’ll appear as ancillary stock to something else. Printed comics will be a rare novelty offered only when sales are guaranteed, fans demand it or someone with money wants to splurge.
Maybe like cigarettes, they’ll still be sold overseas for a while, but it’ll eventually disappear there too. The end is coming, fanboys! But as always, in comics, that’s just the beginning.
Christian Beranek co-founded and runs Disney’s Kingdom Comics with Ahmet Zappa. CB has a first look film/tv deal with Disney/ABC via his Lead Pipe Entertainment banner. He has several projects in development around town including Dracula vs. King Arthur, based on the graphic novel he co-created. He is currently working on his first novel and an album. CB is never late for dinner and invites you to add him on twitter: http://www.twitter.com/beranek.