Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Local Comic Shop: Your Bestest Friend

Regardless of whether or not you do regular comics or webcomics, it can only help to establish some sort of relationship with your local comic book shop. Not only can you get some great feedback on how to better market your comics, and they are definitely interested in promoting local artists: There is no narrative better than the local boy or girl done good, and being local it means that they help promote that work more effectively than someone that lives anywhere else. This is why it really helps to develop that relationship.

[Keep in mind that everything I say for comic book shops should apply to any book store. Comic book shops are just more responsive, and a more receptive setting. This should not be seen as a reason not to try it, and you should definitely try it.]

The first step for webcomic artists is to create links between the two sites, literally. Local comic book shops are always looking to promote local comics; they are willing to promote any comics really, but they really like local comics, especially if the shop is outside the usually roads, such New York or Los Angeles. The local creator wins by having access to someone who can sell his books.

Which of course brings us to the second thing, which is to discuss selling your books. Even if the shop itself doesn't buy your books directly, they may be willing to discuss commission, where they sell the books and give you most of the money back (stores usually charge 10%-15% for commission sales, though some stores charge more). Combined with some sort of display you should be able to sell more books than usual.

You should also debate holding an author day when you start selling at the store. This is something that you and the store should work (see previous entry for more information). It will take some work to set up, but it should be well worth it.

The local comic book can be one of your biggest supporters, and they can help you in a lot of great ways. Let them know you exist, and see how they can help you. Expect them to ask some requests, as they are a business after all, and it would e a bad businessman that would do something totally for free. Nonetheless, it can be a profitable exchange, and one that should happen for the benefit of both of you. 

Monday, October 06, 2014

Convetions and Legal Issues

Ever curious where you can find the Black Market? Try Artists Alley.

Artists at a convention have always had a fun relationship with the law. Although a lot of artists are there selling products that they own with images that they wholly own, including the characters, you have a lot of others that are using characters that they have no real right to. You can break it down to three issues: fan art, counterfeiters, and unlicensed printers. I'm going to ignore fan art; we all acknowledge it's illegal but it's ignored as long as it stays small. It's the other two that make for some interesting conversations.

Although there are a couple of famous ones, there are a lot of counterfeiters in any given convention. Counterfeiters are a particular evil at a convention because nothing sucks more than putting a lot effort into finding what you thought was a really cool souvenir of someone you really wanted something from only to find out that it wasn't. A person who illegally forges money only creates an inconvenience; a person who forges a signature ruins a life so heavily valued are our memories. It gets worse when artwork from a famous artist is forged; the person deserves to be run out of the convention, and they usually are. Before buying, make sure you do your research on both the seller and the items being sold. When buying, avoid the high pressure and "recently unearthed artwork"; great art sells itself, and artwork with mysterious origins should always be questioned. Just remember that you have no one else but your own self to blame if you pick up bad artwork.

I'm really not sure where to stand when it comes to prints of fan art, however good it is. POD publishers have pretty much given up on it, leaving it to the rights owners to police; most companies don't mind it as long as it doesn't become too big as it works for some great advertising. The probem is that there some gray area, as there is some debate as to whether it is considered derivative artwork or copyright infringement. The latter is patently illegal and opens up the seller to some serious litigation, while the former is allowed under a number of jurisdictions; the idea is to provide a reasonable loophole for smaller sellers to provide a non-competitive means of providing competition in order to keep local markets thriving. Although there are some issues with originality, there are some incredible fanartists out there, especially among the furry community.

Derivative works were originally applied more to crafts than artwork. Local craftsmen would develop a variation on a major manufacturer's invention and want to sell it; the classic example is a boat with a slightly different prow that would work well for the local waters. Lawmakers listened and so derivative works laws were born. Eventually artists would figure it out and apply the concept to their individual art.

There's been some great stuff coming from derivative works. Probably the best example I can think of are the T-shirts combining the TARDIS with Disney Princesses. The problem is the old issue when it comes to forgers (and I'm not comparing them to forgers): These are usually people that have some serious creative talent, and it would be interesting to see what they could to do if they attacked the art world with their own ideas. So while I think that there is a lot of cool stuff being done as derivative works, I would love to see them do a lot more of their own work. Obviously the derivative works, just like the fanart, is way too profitable to ignore.

So with that said, encourage your artists, with your dollars going to the best artists regardless of the origin of their works and beware the fakes. Now I need to go find a T-shirt...Meridia would make a scary Companion. But then again Romana was my favorite. Hey! There it is!

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Difference Between Pastiche and Parody

An interesting issue from a legal perspective is the question of pastiche versus parody. The problem, from a writer's perspective, is that a pastiche can be grounds for a legitimate lawsuit while a parody is protected by law. Knowing the difference between them and an actual standalone character can save a lot of potential frustration.

Let's pick on Superman, who is arguably the most copied character out there. While it's not exactly a unique set of powers, there are a number of other characteristics that identify him as "Superman": He is usually the alpha male in his universe, and represents that universe's perspective regarding what makes for a noble fighter. From the perspective of DC's perspective, there are a large number of different characters that could qualify as a trademark infringement on that particular character. Although DC has backed off a bit from their defense of the character, it is still within their right to defend their copyright.

Image's Supreme is arguably the best example for a straight parody, as is Marvel's Hyperion. A parody does not need to be funny; it just needs to be an honest exploration of what makes the character tick and how that character works within society as a whole. There is some allowance for critique within the definition of parody. Supreme explores Superman as if he was more divorced from his humanity, but was still interested in defending Earth from threats. Suffice to say that he is more violent and less likely to let the villains escape or merely let them return to jail; he acts as judge, jury, and executioner. Although Hyperion is now a bad guy, he was part of the social commentary that was the Squadron Supreme.

On the other hand, a pastiche is a loving tribute of the character in question, a celebration of what makes the character cool and an exploration of why the character is important. Astro City's Samaritan is a good example of this, and all of the details are there, from the job as a reporter to his heroics. As Astro City is look at superheroes and how we look at them, it is a fun look at the stories as they develop. It avoids being a commentary because it has some fun with the idea, developing a world that is unique on its own. Yeah, there is some carry-over, but in general the idea is to mimic the stories rather than make any sort of actual commentary, but to do so in such a way as to add to the mythology rather than merely mimicking it.

From a legal perspective, parodies are fair use and therefore acceptable, while pastiches can be legitimately prosecuted. The issue is that there is no social commentary in a pastiche; while it can be an otherwise fun exercise, the goal is to celebrate the concept while at the same time taking it in a different direction than the creators may have wished. Although comic book companies are less likely to go after pastiches, this should not be seen as permission; comic companies are just less likely to go after them as long as they don't threaten their trademarks and copyrights. There are some groups trying to include pastiches under protected speech, but they have yet to have any luck.

So where does this leave you as a comicker? Have fun, and try to include some social commentary. This may not really protect you, but at least it can make it harder to prosecute you. So get in there and get in some good licks while you can!

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

AUTHOR'S DAY IS HERE!

Every writer should be forced to deal directly the public at some point. Novel writers have a circuit of appearances; besides appearing on shows, they also show up in libraries and bookstores promoting their works. The same should apply to comic book writers as well, and illustrators as needed. If the idea of getting a little public attention appeals to you, you may want to try booking an appearance.

Ironically, comic book writers forget that people are visual-based, specifically that they prefer faces over names, and so they like it when they can associate a face with a name. If a book has a face associated with it, that book tends to sell more; this makes public appearances worth the time invested. Book lovers love a chance to meet writers; some just want to meet the people that write the books, other want to talk craft with someone that has been published. Either way, providing a chance o meet an author can be great for business.

Bookstores try to encourage this, as personal appearances also help sales of other books in the store where the author makes an appearance, so they rarely turn down an author looking for an appearance. It also gives them something to advertise as a happening, especially if the book is at all interesting or the author has any kind of reputation. Keep in mind that the same applies to comic book stores as well as regular book stores; either are usually extremely happy to see an author. Other venues can work as well, such as a restaurant, as long as they work for the work in question. Don't be afraid to try other venues; you never know what will work until you try it.

When you get something booked, work with the venue to maximize the advertising. Make sure that you let your readers know, both through your own website, any allied sites, and through any social media. When the day comes, make sure that you arrive early so that you can set up without crowd interference. Also make sure that you have extra books, especially if you are at a bookstore or comic book shop so you can leave some behind, assuming of course that the manager is copacetic with it.

Have a great day, and have fun. Remember to be reasonably polite, and you should have a great day!