Support Shawn's writng with a donation

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Shawn’s plan for rebuilding the comic book industry.

There’s no one silver bullet that will fix close to two decades of systemic structural damage in the comic book industry. It’s going to take a long-term comprehensive business plan that includes retailers, educators, and forming a stronger relationship with the general public.

So how can the industry turn it around? Well, here’s what I’d do if I were editor-in-chief at a major comic book publisher:

Create core products for children ages 7 and up. Currently, the average age of a comic book reader is over 35. Most publishers like DC comics want to target readers ages 18-24. But they’re missing the chance to target an audience of twenty million independent readers currently in elementary school. Children usually start reading on their own at seven, and there needs to be an effort by comic book publishers to reach an audience of younger readers who will be the future of the industry for the next twenty years.

The comic book industry needs to make children ages 7 and up its primary target audience. In the middle of the biggest baby boom since World War II, there needs to be focus on promoting comic book characters that are child and family friendly.

Develop all-ages content with an emphasis on independent readers. When it comes to comics, All-Ages content sells the best. When comics are accessible to younger readers, they become something families don’t mind sharing and spending time reading together. Comic books need to go back to being family entertainment with good moral messages that promote positive values and good social behavior.

Show the public the value of comic books. To the general public comics are just funny books, disposable entertainment. Many don’t see the influence of comic books on much of the culture around us or its impact on the life of a child. The industry needs to tell more of the stories about people and famous people who were influenced by comic books throughout their lives.

For myself, comic books were the gateway to reading. They were the way I learned how to read, developed new vocabulary words, and learned about a dozen different science and historical subjects and career fields. I wouldn’t be a writer today if it weren’t for the comic books in my brother’s collection I read as a kid.

When comic books are a part of a child’s life, they open their imaginations and encourage them to try more challenging reading material when they get older like novels and classic literature.

Bring Back the Comics Code. The comic book industry has been a rudderless ship ever since it abandoned the Comics Code. Right now anything goes. Sex, nudity, graphic violence, profanity can be found in a Superman or a Batman comic. There needs to be an industry standard regarding content that every publisher has to follow. The Comics Code created a standard that all comic book publishers had to follow. That standard made parents comfortable about giving comic books to children and major retailers like Wal-Mart and Target comfortable about stocking them.

Bring in Early Childhood/Educational Specialists to consult/assist Editorial on content. Comic books can encourage a child to read. But I feel the content needs a strong educational component as well. I’d like to see more involvement from people with backgrounds in Early Childhood development and educational specialists in the editorial process. I believe these specialists could help with making sure comic book content educates readers as well as entertains them.

People with backgrounds in Early Childhood/Education would help with making sure stories featured strong vocabulary and themes that promoted good values. Moreover they’d ensure that children would learn something from a comic book, whether it be something about history, art, or concepts in science or mathematics.

Win back the moms. Mothers and Grandmothers are the ones who give kids money for comics. They control what goes in and out of their homes. Comic books are seen by many women today as extremely antisocial and misogynistic; that’s why they won’t let their kids, especially their sons read them. Women have no interest in buying comics for their sons nowadays because they feature images of scantily clad females, and panels featuring violence against women like Green Lantern’s girlfriend Alexandra Dewitt killed and stuffed in refrigerators, or major characters like Barbara Gordon shot and paralyzed by the Joker.

There has to be an effort to win back the moms and get them to support their children reading comic books again. To earn back that trust, comic books have to go back to being all-ages entertainment that promotes good social values and encourages children to read. Presenting more positive balanced images of female characters will go a long way towards persuading mothers to let their kids read comic books again.

Make an effort to reconnect with readers. The Comic book industry has withdrawn into itself becoming a reclusive secret society with its own secret set of social codes. Being closed off from the general public like this for close to twenty years has alienated many of the casual customers parents and the general public. Worse, it has made them apprehensive about sharing comic books with their children. I feel there needs to be an effort by everyone working in the comic book industry to reach out and connect with the public and show them the faces of all the hardworking men and women working behind the scenes of their favorite comic books. I feel if people formed a relationship with the people who work in the comic book industry, people would take more time to support comics.

Offer employment opportunities/make it easier to break into comic books Right now it’s harder to get a job in the comic book industry than it is to sell a script in Hollywood or publish a book with a trade publisher. Because the industry is so full of recluses at every level and so resistant to bringing in newcomers, it has stagnated creatively for close to twenty years. I feel there needs to be an effort towards making the industry more accessible to new artists, writers and computer designers. New creative blood could breathe new life into the comic book industry. But it can only do that if it were allowed a foot in the door. I’d make an effort to hire those new artists and new writers.

Along with the changes in marketing I would make an effort to promote diversity in the comic book industry. These would include:

Hiring more women and minorities in editorial. Editorial at comic publishing is mostly white and mostly male. That’s led to a comic book world that’s mostly white and male. I feel if more women and minorities were working in editorial there’d be a lot less misogyny, sexism and violence towards women in comic books. And I feel if there were more minorities in editorial there’d be a lot more diversity in the world of comic books.

Presenting more positive balanced images of women/female superheroines. One of the biggest black marks in comic books has been the depiction of women. Oftentimes, women are objectified, degraded and sexualized in comics. Many times they are the victims of brutal violence as in the case of Alexandra DeWitt, Sue Dibney, Jean Grey, and Barbara Gordon. This has to stop if the medium wants to reach an audience of new younger readers.

One of my goals as a writer personally was to write more balanced multi-dimensonal female characters like Marilyn Marie, E’steem and Isis. I’d love to see stronger more independent female characters in comic books like Catwoman, Spider-Woman and Storm and I’d be willing to give these books and characters all the support they needed.

Presenting more positive balanced images of African-Americans and minorities. Comic books have always been a white male stronghold. That’s also why they’re not selling. America is becoming more multicultural and that’s not reflected in the comic book industry. I believe if comics were more multicultural, there’d be an increase in sales.

Hiring more women writers. Reading a lot of well-done webcomics and online strips by women, I’d love to see more women involved in the creative process with comic books If I were running a comic book company, I’d make an effort to hire more women writers and I’d make sure to get their input on the development of any female characters being produced.

Hiring more minority writers. The comic book industry is 95% white and 95% male. Efforts at diversity in comics have failed because the concepts come from white males who create characters minorities can’t identify with or relate to. I feel there needs to be an effort to hire more minority writers so characters of color can be as multidimensional and complex as their white male counterparts.

Hiring writers and artists not from the comic book industry. In a stale industry like comic books, there’s a desperate need for a fresh perspective. Sometimes a new writer with a different point of view can revive interest in a character that wasn’t selling. Sometimes a new artist can make readers look at the world differently.

Along with efforts to diversify the creative staff in the bullpen, I’d establish standards for content. These would include:

Create new characters. There hasn’t been a new breakout superhero since The Punisher in the 1970’s and there hasn’t been a new breakout supervillain since Bane back in 1993. Comic books are a blend of art and politics and the best characters are commentaries of their time. Younger readers want characters they can relate to and identify with, who deal with the problems they’re having. They don’t see that in many of the older characters now. Comic book companies need to start focusing on creating new characters that reflect the world going on today and deal with the issues kids are facing in the world today.

Get rid of the tight continuity. Continuity can be a tool when used effectively, but it can also bog a character down. I’d like to set an editorial standard where events in one story don’t directly affect events in another. They could be referenced, but it wouldn’t be a hard and fast rule. This would give writers and artists room to tell their own stories without being bogged down by another writer’s baggage. I feel as long as a writer stays within guidelines and standards for a character they should be able to tell a variety of stories.

Get rid of the numbers. Sure numbers have been a tradition in comics for close to 75 years. But a #1 issue no longer matters in an age where series are restarted every 24 to 36 months and titles are on their fifth and sixth volumes. With comics featuring the same character getting cancelled so quickly, a month/year filing system would be more efficient.

Get rid of the adult content. I was flipping through a Justice League comic book and I was shocked to see nudity and sexual content. In an Avengers issue I flipped through characters like Captain America used mild profanity. And in a comic storyline called Identity crisis there’s a rape that’s covered up by superheroes.

Sorry, but this stuff isn’t gonna sell with the moms, aunts, and grandmoms who give their kids money for comics and have control over what goes in and out of their homes. When they see books with graphic adult content like this, there’s no way they’re going to allow them into their homes.

If Comic books are to make a return to profitability content must be G-rated or PG at best. No nudity, no foul language, and no sexual content.

Get rid of the gory graphic violence. Rapes, mutilations, bloody murders are the norm in today’s comic books. It’s the kind of stuff that makes many people correlate comic books with antisocial and criminal behavior. Many comics today feature the kind of disturbing content that led to congressional hearings and Seduction of the Innocent back in the 50’s.

While violence has always been a part of superhero comics, today’s comics feature gory graphic violence reminiscent of EC comics horror titles back in the 1950’s. That stuff is inappropriate in a medium that’s supposed to be for the youngest of readers and a gateway to reading.

Make good guys good. Today’s superheroes are shades of gray, being neither good nor bad. While that type of complex character has its place in adult literature, it has no place in a comic book. Comic book heroes should have good moral character, promote good values and stand for what is fair and just. They’re role models for children and their behavior should be what we want children to act like when they grow up to be adults.

Make bad guys bad. Today’s bad guys are not bad, they’re just plain sick. The behavior of villains today borders on sociopathic. Bad guys in comics today just go too far, and their actions are just inappropriate content for children and young adults.

When it comes to the actions of characters in comic books good or bad Editiorial has to draw a line in the sand. There’s a fine line between solid and sordid storytelling and it’s time comics went back to producing solid stories presented in good taste.

Stop the franchising of characters. It’s hard for Superman to stand out when there’s Superboy, Supergirl, Steel and a dozen other characters doing the exact same thing he does. It’s hard for the Hulk to stand out when there are red and green versions of him. Not everyone needs to be a superhero, nor does every supporting character need to be superpowered. The reader needs the civilian/supporting characters to identify with and relate to as much as the hero. More importantly, these civilian/supporting characters show the reader why a character like Superman and the Hulk are special and why they’re one of a kind.

Get rid of the multiple titles for one character. When a character makes multiple appearances in multiple titles it cheapens the value of that character and makes the reader to take them for granted. If a character has one title and makes sporadic appearances in a team book, then it makes them excited to pick up the next issue of the solo series next month.

Stop with the deaths/Coming back from the dead. At one time a death in comic books was a major event. When a character like Bucky died it had a deep and lasting impact on the reader. It gave readers an understanding that being a superhero was a dangerous job full of risks, and that heroes were brave people who were willing to sacrifice their own lives to do what was right.

Unfortunately over the past three decades death in comics has turned into a gimmick by desperate writers to spur sales during a slow period. Almost every character in comic books has died at least once, some twice. That has cheapened the impact of death in storytelling. Worse it’s prevented the growth and development of characters and prevented them from actualizing their potential.

The devaluation of death in comics has led to readers becoming apathetic and indifferent about what goes on in serialized comic books. It gives them no incentive to continue reading. Why should readers invest time and money in buying a comic where a character dies if they’re going to come back in six months, a year or even twenty years ago? If comics are to return to prominence, Dead characters should stay dead.

On the business side, I would focus on rebuilding the network of retailers who sell and distribute comic books. One of the reasons why comic books have had poor sales since 1993 is because close to 90 percent of the comic book stores have gone out of businesss. Worse, many of the outside retailers like CVS, Target, Supermarkets and mom and pop stores were burned by a direct market policy that make comic books unreturnable leaving them stuck with thousands of copies of worthless books in their storerooms. In an effort to get the retailers to start stocking comics again I would:

Offer to buy back old stock from non-comic retailers. As a gesture of goodwill to get retailers like drugstores and mom and pop stores stocking comics again, comic book publishers should offer to buy back all that unreturned comic stock from the 1990’s-current that’s rotting in stock rooms and on magazine racks. Many retailers were burned by the comic book speculator boom of the late 1980’s-1990’s and comic book publishers need to make an effort towards re-establishing a relationship with the thousands of stores across the country who were stuck with hundreds of thousands of copies of worthless comics that still haven’t sold to this day. Those thousands of copies (some of them 10-15 years old) should be credited at wholesale price to retailers in an effort to clear the shelves for new product.

Offer full returnability on all new print titles. In addition to buying back old stock for credit, comic book publishers must offer to take back product that doesn’t sell. This means if the titles don’t sell, the retailer can return them for credit on next month’s issues. Offering returnability on titles gives non-comic shop retailers like drugstores, grocery stores, supermarkets and big chain retailers like Target and Wal-mart a reason to stock print comics on their shelves. Long-term this increases the exposure of comic books in retail venues and allows younger customers like tweens and teens an opportunity to purchase them.

Offer retailers a more durable comic product with a longer shelf life. The 32-page comic book is becoming unsustainable as a product and not profitable as a business model. High printing costs, high retail prices, limited durability and a short shelf life will render the 32-page comic book obsolete in 5-7 years.

In order for American comic book publishers to compete in the 21st Century there is a need for a comic book medium that’s more durable, has a longer shelf life, is retailer friendly and a better value for consumers. Paperback digest Magazines like Naruto and Shonen Jump will be the future for the Amercian comic medium and the industry needs to start shifting its efforts towards publishing these new products now instead of later.

Offer optional a la carte ordering to non-comic retailers. Larger retailers like Wal-Mart, Target CVS, Rite Aid and Supermarkets mom and pop stores should be able to order titles that sell without having to carry other poor selling second and third-tier titles in the line. Most larger retailers would probably pick up books with more popular characters, but these titles would be in venues they weren’t in before.

Offer comic shops exclusive titles. Larger retailers will probably stock many of the more popular characters. However, second and third tier characters don’t sell well in traditional retail because they don’t have a large enough audience. For those titles, it would be more effective if they were sold exclusively in comic shops. Comic shop exclusive titles could give kids an incentive to visit a local comic book store for that title and search for others.

Offer free eComics. eBooks are a big market. But in order for the comic book industry to gain access to that market they have to establish their reputation for producing a quality product. The younger generation of readers may know a few superheroes, but they need a reason to CARE about them enough to read about their stories regularly. To build that reputation, comic publishers should start offering a free eComic or two to give readers an incentive to try the comics. If people like the sample, they’re more likely to try the product at the shop.

I was a big fan of comics since I was four years old and they were my gateway to reading and eventually becoming a novelist. It deeply saddens me that the industry is in this two-decade slump, and I’d love to do something to help save the medium for the next generation of readers. While my plans detailed here aren’t perfect, I feel it’s better than participating in the vicious cycle that continues to drive the industry into the death spiral it’s in right now. Nothing would bring me joy like seeing a young child reading a comic book again and finding the gateway to reading.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Sad State of Affairs in the Comic Book Industry.

Reading more about the DC Comics relaunch the more I realize how out-of-touch people in the comic book industry are. People in the comic book industry seem like they’ve been going around in circles repeating the same mistakes which caused the industry to collapse in 1993. And they’re in such denial about the problems plaguing the business that it seems like they have no chance of breaking free of the vicious cycle, waking up and joining the rest of us in the real world.

Reading about DC’ Comics’ plan for new targeting new readers has me shaking my head. Their idea of younger readers are 18-24 year olds.


The average age of a comic book reader today is over 35. But the geniuses in the comic book industry think 18-24 year olds are the group of younger readers who will reverse close to two decades of slumping sales.


18-24 are the age ranges where people start growing OUT of comics and into reading novels. So the influx of new readers to the medium would be neglible to the older readers who are leaving. Worse, in a few years, the average reader age shoots back up to the over 35 demographic.

The comic book industry needs to understand that the younger readers they need to be targeting are tweens and teens in the 7-18 age range. Ages 7 and 8 are where most small children start independent reading. It’s a time where they buy the books they want to read with the disposable income given to them by parents and grandparents. Money that’s currently being spent on songs on itunes, apps, games, game tokens, Tv shows, and ebooks. Kids aged 7-18 represent a group of younger buyers ten to twenty million strong who could possibly reverse two decades of slumping comic book sales and create a new customer base over the next fifteen to twenty years.

Other media companies understand how big this demographic group is and are targeting their entertainment products towards this younger audience. Disney and Nickelodeon understand tweens and teens ages 8-18 are where the most money are and that’s why most of their sitcoms are targeted towards youngsters in this age range. They’ve made billions from licensing products from their shows like Hannah Montana, True Jackson VP and That’s So Raven while the comic book industry continues to lose thousands of readers a month.

It’s also why publishers of YA literature like Scholastic and spend so much time stocking their shelves with books targeted towards 7-14 year olds. Harry Potter and Twilight have millions of readers anticipating the next book or the next movie while the comic book industry continues to lose thousands readers a month.

And it’s also why WWE continues to have millions of fans all over the world. Pro wrestling targets kids ages7-18 and the industry moves billions of dollars in merchandise, pay-per-views, and millions of young viewers who are growing up with the product while the comic book industry continues to lose thousands of readers a month.

But the geniuses in Comic Book industry now think 18-24 year olds are where the money is. Brilliant.

What makes these demographic plans absurd is the fact that there’s been a huge baby boom going on in the United States since 2000. There’s currently a growing audience of younger readers in elementary school ready to read on its own. And those kids would be eager to choose comic books if they were presented to them.

But the geniuses in Comic Book industry now think 18-24 year olds are where the money is.

Seriously, if people in the comic book industry were smart, they’d be targeting the 8-18 demographic in the hopes of building a customer base that will stay with them for a decade or more, not 18-24 year olds that will outgrow the medium in a year or two.

Then there’s DC’s comics plan to launch 52 titles in September and more after that.


Wasn’t publishing hundreds of titles what collapsed the comic book industry in 1993? Back then Marvel had close to 175 titles, DC had close to 70 or so titles, Archie comics had over 35 titles, Image Comics had over 20-25 titles, and the now defunct Valiant Comics had a dozen or so titles on the shelf next to those. There were so many comic books clogging the shelves the market became saturated with product.

Hasn’t anyone in the comic book industry taken a look at their own history? More importantly haven’t they taken a look at the U.S. real estate market in Nevada and California recently?

Those real estate pros followed the same crazy business practices of comic book publishers and saturated the market with properties. That flood of product caused the entire U.S. housing market to collapse.

When there’s too much product available at one given time on the supply side it decreases demand for said product. That drives down prices. Worse, it drives down the value of said product to nothing. Basic economics.

Right now there is no market for comics because there is no demand for comic books. Adding large quantities of books to the supply chain doesn’t increase demand for them.

Almost twenty years after the collapse of the comic book industry the approach to business continues to follow the same vicious cycle while the rest of the world has moved on.

And while the comic book industry continues to target older readers with hundreds of brand new titles, it still refuses to deal with the distribution issues that have kept comics out of the hands of readers for close to two decades. None of these relaunches, new costumes or new number one issues matter because customers can’t find the product at a retailer that’s NOT a comic book shop or a bookstore.

Comic book publishers just can’t wrap their heads around the fact that when their products aren’t on the shelves of national and regional retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, CVS, Rite aid or a Mom and pop store where readers aged seven and up frequent no one will be able to buy them. More importantly, if comics aren’t on these retailer shelves where customers can SEE them, no one will KNOW about them or CARE about them.

Insanity is doing the exact same thing and expecting a different result.

And I feel many who work in the comic book industry have lost their minds.

Most businesses understand that if something isn’t working, they stop doing what they were doing and try a different approach. Moreover, they study the approaches that other industries are doing and try to apply some of those strategies to their business.

But for most in the comic book industry their idea of a new approach is an event like a death of a major character, a new costume, a new logo, or a new number one issue.

These are same things comic publishers have been doing for close to twenty years. The same things that drove away an audience for a generation.

But with each new effort delusional people in the comic book industry actually believe things will change for the better.

Unfortunately, the publishers in the comic book industry don’t understand that comic books are still all being sold in the same venues to the same audience of older readers. Moreover, they continue to be distributed in the same venues to the same audience of older readers.

So how are the comic books going to reach the new readers if they’re sold in the same places?

No one has figured out the answer to this question in the comic book industry.

And I don’t think they ever will because everyone is in their own world. Denial is a way of life among people in the comic book industry. Everyone from the fans to the writers, artists, and editors are refusing to see the truth about how bad things are.

If the comic book industry wants to return to profitability, the people in the industry from editors to artists, to writers and even comic fans are going to have to WAKE UP and LOOK at their industry the way the REAL WORLD sees it. Until everyone can face those harsh realities regarding the sad state of affairs regarding the approach to business within comic book industry then nothing is going to reverse the decline of comic book sales.

Can the comic book industry turn it around? I believe so. It just takes a different approach to business.

In the Next blog I’ll detail my plan for turning around the comic book industry.

Monday, June 27, 2011

July's YA eBook Exclusives

July’s YA ebook exclusives are a pair of prequels to Isis. These include:

Baptism of Blood: The Origin of E’steem


In this second prequel to Shawn James’ Isis, E'steem learns the truth about her Katian heritage. She joins Seth and his campaign to overthrow the gods of Heliopolis, looking forward to the day she can avenge her father by killing Osiris.

And Trial of the Goddess

Crime and Punishment in the realm of the Egyptian gods.

For the first time since the trial of the evil god Seth, The Court of the Elders is brought to order. Ra, Chief Justice of the Elders issues a warrant for the arrest of Isis, the long-lost daughter of Osiris. In the aftermath of a horrible tragedy, she’s brought to court to be tried for crimes against the gods. Crimes punishable by death. Will the gods offer her a second chance to be redeemed? Or will she suffer the same fate as Seth?

These action-packed African-American fantasy stories are FREE.  Get em' for your nook, Kindle, ipad, ipod, tablet PC, cell phone  for your PC today!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Independent Bookstores Charging for a Booksigning

Way back in 2010 when I first released All About Marilyn I wanted to do a book signing with Hue-Man Bookstore. They wanted to charge me $200 for an hour of time in the store.

I walked away.

The craziest part of Hue-Man’s contract was I was supposed to supply all the books, and I had to share the profits 60/40 with the store.

I smelled a rip off then. And I smell one now.

Now I read in the New York Times that some small independent bookstores have taken charging for booksignings to a new level. In addition to charging authors for using the store space for a booksigning, some now are charging customers for attending a book signing.

The independent bookstore owners’ reason for this? Frustration. Many say they can’t compete with Amazon’s low prices. Moreover, some small bookstore owners are upset because people come to their stores, browse their shelves, type the names of titles in their smartphones and head over to amazon to buy them. Others are aggravated that people even bring books they bought from Amazon to book signings. Bookstore owners see charging for book signings as a way to pay their bills in a struggling ecoonomy.

I see charging for booksignigs as a great way for small independent bookstores to shoot themselves in the foot. Seriously, I see this type of short-sighted business practice backfiring on bookstore owners.

Charging customers for admission to a book signing isn’t the way to win customers over.

Neither is charging authors for a book signing or displaying books.

Book signings usually cost small bookstores little to nothing, especially if the author is bringing their own books. They’re usually a gesture of goodwill between the community and the book retailer. Book signings are more than an opportunity to meet and socialize with an author or celebrity, they’re also an opportunity for the small bookstore owner increase the exposure of their business and show customers how important their bookstore is to the neighborhood.

Charging customers to attend a book signing takes away from the goodwill and strains the relationship between a local bookstore and its community. Long-term these types of business practices alienate longtime customers and makes them think twice about shopping there. Moreover, it keeps casual customers who would have come in off the street from attending the event and seeing what’s available at the bookstore.

On the publishing side, charging authors to appear at book signings prevents small press authors and self-published authors promoting their books in the local marketplace. And it’s usually books by local authors that are often the bread and butter of small independent bookstores’ sales. When local, small press, and self-published authors are hosted at book signing events at independent bookstores it generates buzz throughout the community that gets people eager to go to bookstores instead of ordering a book on Amazon.

I know business is hard at small independent bookstores, but there are better ways to keep a handful of people from bringing their own books to a book signing. For years Barnes & Noble has made it clear that the author will not outside merchandise while at the event. Small Independent bookstores could enforce such a policy as well. It could be clearly on posters stated that the author will not sign anything except the new book at the venue and a purchase of the new book is required to get a signed copy.

And if small independent bookstores want to increase foot traffic, it’d be in their best interest to stock self-published and small press authors regularly instead of relying heavily on New York Times Bestsellers. Readers tend to buy these niche books when they see them because they can’t find them in the big shops like Borders and Barnes & Noble. And if the price is discounted, these niche titles sell faster at retail than they do on Amazon. A trip to the bookstore is oftentimes cheaper than paying for shipping and faster than waiting for UPS or USPS to deliver a box to a customers’ home.

I’ve gone to small bookstores like Hue-Man in Harlem to promote my books and I’ve been treated with apathy and indifference by the staff there. And this was when I was offering them books to stock in their store for free. With small bookstores struggling for business in the face of fierce competition from e-commerce and e-books, giving local authors like myself the cold shoulder is not a way to foster goodwill and get us to support their businesses.

Now some of those owners are turning their frustrations at customers. All of this anger isn’t constructive, nor will it allow a small bookstore owner to survive in the face of growing competition in cyberspace. Instead of alienating people, small bookstore owners need to get creative and show the community why their local independent bookstore is important. Events like booksignings and readings don’t just sell books, they include the community and allow bookstore owners to form a relationship with people in the neighborhood. Yes, small bookstores are struggling, but there are better ways to make money than charging customers for attending a book signing.

Last year I did my first booksigning at the Monroe College Bookstore. It was a great experience and I’d love to do more. However, I don’t believe in paying a bookstore to host a booksigning. Nor do I believe customers should have to pay to meet me or any author. When I come out to a bookstore, the financial profit is secondary. My primary goal with a booksigning or a reading is to form a personal connection with readers and show them why the book I wrote is special.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why I No Longer Shop at Brooks Brothers

I was regular shopper at Brooks Brothers since December of 2000. It was a great place to buy clothes. There was a great mix of conservative clothes that could be mixed and matched to go from business to casual a guy could build a wardrobe with. Most importantly the clothes fit a regular working guy.

Then came the Fall of 2008.

Sizing went from an average build to small. An XXL jacket was sized so small it fit like a large. Pants went from regular rises with a waistband to a low rise so low you could barely get them on your thigh when you went into the fitting room. Shirts went from one regular size, to a variety of new sizes like  slim fit and extra extra slim fit.

Shopping at Brooks Brothers went from being fun to frustrating. As I tried to sift through the new confusing smaller sizes I became annoyed. I hated buying shirts I had to size up to get to fit. Jackets I couldn’t get to zip up, and pants I couldn’t even get on.

And as a result of this craptastic new sizing, Brooks Brothers went from getting over $1000 in sales from me to $0. There were two casual jackets, a winter coat and several pairs of Supima cotton jeans I didn’t buy because the sizing changed.

And with the new 2010 fall lineup my frustration with Brooks Brothers was turning to anger. The entire line up was filled with meterosexual trendy hipster dumbass bullshit. The same kind of crap that’s sold at The Gap, J.Crew, Ambercrombie & Fitch, and Desigual. The kind of clothes people wear when they’re trying to be cool but ain’t.

Seriously, Meterosexual trendy hipster clothes don’t make anyone look cool. Meterosexual trendy hipster clothes just look like someone tries too hard to be cool. They’re the kind of clothes an insecure person wears when they’re trying to get people’s attention with STUFF instead of their PERSONALITY.

And as a former “Nice guy” in recovery for seven years going on eight, I can tell you THAT SHIT IS A TURN OFF.

Want to know what’s cool? Having the ability to create my own style. Having the ability to mix and match pieces to create a look that fits ME, not some look some jackass saw in some shitty TV show and is trying a copy.

After tossing the fall 2010 Brooks Brothers catalog in the trash, I began to look at their competitors like Pendelton, Cutter & Buck, Bill’s Khakis, Ben Silver and Orvis who hadn’t shrank the sizing of their clothes. That field coat? I bought it from Orvis. Those jeans? I Bought them from Cutter & Buck and Pendelton. My twills? I bought them from Bill’s Khakis.

A man wants basic pieces he can mix and match to create his own style, not trendy shit that’ll be out of style in a season.

Meterosexual trendy hipster dumbass bullshit doesn’t belong at Brooks Brothers. Brooks Brothers is supposed to be a store where professionals  buy clothes that allow them to transition from the workplace to casual by changing a piece or two. A classic Brooks Brothers white shirt dresses up with slacks and a tie, and dresses down with jeans and Chelsea boots.

Seriously, What man wants to be seen in shit like this?  Or this? These shirts look like a tube of go-gurt. And this shirt looks like something a chick would wear.  And I'm still trying to figure out WTF is THIS? 

Real men don't wear shit like this.

Even with the small sizing, confusing fits, and craptastic design I was willing to give Brooks Brothers a chance.

Until this week.

The straw that broke the Camel’s back for me with Brooks Brothers was what they did with the Semi-Annual sale. Instead of pricing items individually, now the discounts only come if you buy multiples. You get 25% off two items and 40% off four or more shirts. So this basically means everything is FULL RETAIL PRICE unless you buy a bunch of stuff.


So in order to buy the new smaller sized Meterosexual trendy hipster Bullshit clothes from Brooks Brothers I can only get the discount I only get when I buy two or more?

Yeah, that sounds like a business plan from a hipster dumbass. The kind of poser who wears a slim suit and a slim tie and watches Mad Men and THINKS HE'S COOL.

The kind of executive who THINKS They’re being SMART but they ain’t. The Kind of guy (Mickey Drexler) who ran the Gap into the ground in 2000. Remember The Gap? The place where you could find those mix-and-match pieces that could be dressed up or dressed down? The place people of all ages shopped back for workwear and playwear in the 1990’s?

They went down the hipster dumbass road in 2000. They started pumping out crap like low-rise pants and slim fit shirts instead of traditional stuff like Khakis, rugbys, jeans and Big Oxfords. The trendy stuff you could wear at a nightclub but couldn’t wear to work or school. The colors went crazy and nothing could be mixed or matched. Shopping became frustrating and by 2001, The Gap went from being the place people went to shop to being the place people avoided when they were going to shop.

And 11 years later They STILL haven’t recovered from their fashion faux pas.

And it looks like Brooks Brothers is headed down The Gap’s Road to Ruin.

I’m through shopping with Brooks Brothers. I’ll shop at their competitors where the pants have seats, crotches and a rise. Where shirts are loose and have room to MOVE. Where jackets have room to fit a sweater or a sportcoat under. Where a Discounted price is a Discounted price.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Halle Berry’s Dark Tide Casts a Storm Over Black Cinema

Black filmmakers have made a lot of progress towards improving its quality over 2011. Films like I Will Follow, Mooz-lum, and Jumping the Broom have been well received by audiences and critics. In their limited releases they’ve provided a diverse array of Black experiences onscreen and some much needed diversity from formulaic ghetto comedies and poorly made Tyler Perry films.

But now a storm brews over these bright spots in Black Cinema. Dark Tide, A shark thriller starring Halle Berry is making the rounds at trade shows and looking for distribution. After reviewing the trailer, I can honestly say it’s a candidate for one of the worst films of the year.

Dark Tide is a poorly made film with a jumbled mess of a story, horrible cinematography, choppy editing and terrible acting. The production standards on this film are so bad they make Tyler Perry films look like they’re well-crafted. And I didn’t think it was possible to surpass Tyler Perry in making a bad film. Yeah, the quality is THAT BAD. Seriously, I’d have to say Dark Tide is the kind of film that Crow and Tom Servo would have a blast roasting on MST3K if it were on the air.

Now if Dark Tide were just some ordinary B-Flick starring some no-name actress I wouldn’t care. But Halle Berry is an Academy Award winning star whose poor business decisions affect other brothers and sisters in the entertainment industry. Her last three films flopped at the box-office, and a fourth Frankie & Alice was so bad it only made $7,000 at the box office.

The long-term impact of Dark Tide could cast a cloud over Black cinema for years. If this poorly made film does receive theatrical distribution, it could derail all the hard work numerous small independent Black filmmakers are making towards improving the quality of Black cinema this year. And if Dark Tide fails at the box-office, it could cause a chain reaction on the business side of Black Cinema that’s just starting to recover from a disastrous 2010.

Long-term Dark Tide’s failure could cost independent black filmmakers financing they desperately need to produce their films. Getting financing from investors for Black films is tough, and it only gets tougher when a Black film fails. When an Academy Award winning actress like Halle Berry stars in her fifth flop it deters investors from investing money and resources in other Black film projects. That keeps filmmakers with better quality stories from reaching the marketplace.

Dark Tide’s potential failure could also prevent now completed Black films from getting distribution to theaters. Several quality black films touring the festival circuit are in the process of getting bought by a studio. Financially the difference between a theatrical release and direct-to-video can be millions of dollars for these projects. Films slated for theatrical release often get promotion budgets, studio support, and exposure to a larger audience.

However, direct-to-video distribution can stigmatize a quality film and reduce its exposure to obscurity. Worse, Direct-to-video is often associated with low-budget poorly made films and can discourage buyers from purchasing what could be a quality Black film, and prevent it from being profitable.

Long-term Dark Tide’s failure could prevent black films from getting greenlit in the future. Studio executives and production company executives are already apprehensive about making films with African-American casts and African-American leads. There are some executives taking risks on greenlighting Black films again, and buying screenplays for Black films. All it takes is the failure of one film at the box-office to stall these projects in limbo once again. When studios and production companies lose money on an African-American film, they don’t make other films with African-American casts or lead performers.

Dark Tide cost $15 million to make, but the long-term damage from this film’s release could cost the Black film industry millions more and put thousands of brothers and sisters out of work. Black filmmakers have made so much progress towards improving Black Cinema this year and I’d hate to see that change of course run aground by Halle Berry and Dark Tide.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Impact of Halle Berry on Black Cinema

I don’t know Halle Berry at all. Heck I’ve never even met her. So this blog isn’t personal.

I’m writing about Halle Berry from an objective reviewer’s perspective and a business perspective, the same way studio executives, producers, and directors do. And from that standpoint she’s not that pretty.

All I know of Halle Berry from is her body of work. And from that resume of performances I know that she started out as an actress with a lot of promise. Her work in early films like Jungle Fever, Losing Isaiah, and Introducing Dorothy Dandridge showed a great amount of passion and heart. I felt her energy and spirit in every performance.

However, in her later years her body of work stopped being strong. After the first X-Men Movie something got lost. A spark. That passion. That heart. Then Came Swordfish, a gratuitous nude scene and her onscreen energy wasn’t the same. Monster’s Ball may have won her an Oscar, but it was clear she’d lost her soul as a performer. After that Oscar win her acting became more flat and uninspired. In films like Their Eyes Were Watching God, Catwoman, and Perfect Stranger It was like watching a DEAD woman onscreen. Looking at her early work and then her later films It’s like watching two different women onscreen.

Looking objectively at her body of work I saw her strengths and I saw her weaknesses as an actress. While Halle Berry is attractive and very talented, she has lacked in several areas craft wise as a performer. First off, she has no charisma. That prevents the audience from connecting with her in lead roles. It prevents her from disappearing into a character. It prevents the audience from seeing her character or her character’s problems. It prevents us from feeling her character’s energy. And if an actress can’t get the audience to see their character, identify with their character or their character’s problems they won’t be able to relate on a personal level when watching a movie.

Halle also lacks the ability to convey emotions effectively. Due to her lack of charisma, we rarely feel her characters emotions. This weakness doesn’t come across in most dramatic scenes, (drama is easier) but it shows up consistently in comedy where the small nuances of within facial expressions are crucial for telling a joke. She lacks subtlety; we can’t tell how she’s feeling by just a look or a glance in a single shot. Moreover, we don’t feel the “vibe” (subtext) between the lines when she speaks. And it’s this inability to transpose the subtext between the lines of a screenplay that keeps her from having effective chemistry with her co-stars, leaving her performances stiff and awkward in romantic scenes.

In addition to lacking charisma and emotional conveyance Halle also lacks screen presence. When she’s onscreen she isn’t the center of attention; the audience doesn’t feel like it has to pay attention to her. when she’s onscreen by herself she’s mousy and awkward and doesn’t take control of the scene. Worse, she gets overpowered by stronger actors like Robert Downey Jr, Terrence Howard, Penelope Cruz, and Ruby Dee. A lead actress has to COMMAND the screen when they’re on it and Halle Berry isn’t aggressive enough to do that.

Without these two elements it’s impossible for an actor to carry a movie for two hours. Moreover, it’s impossible for the audience to CARE about the film they are watching for two hours. And if the audience doesn’t CARE, then it has NO REASON be compelled to watch the movie. It has NO REASON to be COMPELLED to pay $12 of their hard-earned cash to watch a movie.

Compound this with the numerous POOR CHOICES she makes regarding projects and it’s clear why her career is in trouble.

Right now, Berry picks projects that aren’t a good fit for her. While many of her early films (especially the African-American ones) played to her strengths, Many of the roles she’s starred in post-Oscar play up all her weaknesses. In Gothika she was overpowered by stronger performers like Penelope Cruz, Charles Dutton, and Robert Downey Jr who had much stronger screen presences. Catwoman was an edgy role that required an actress have an aggression, intensity, and a strong screen presence. She looked like a wimp. Perfect Stranger was role that required a charismatic personality which had grit, tenacity, and toughness. With Halle It felt forced and awkward. Their Eyes Were Watching God required an incredibly strong screen presence and an intricate nuanced performance to make us care about Janie Crawford’s struggles and understand her plight as a black woman. Halle looked lost and confused for most of the movie. And her more recent films like Things We Lost in The Fire and Frankie & Alice left the audience indifferent about her performance and the story onscreen.

And Indifference in the movie business is BAD. Indifference does not generate buzz. It doesn’t sell movie tickets. It doesn’t generate word-of-mouth that gets repeat moviegoers. In the film industry indifference is the KISS OF DEATH.

Actors who make the audience indifferent are BAD FOR BUSINESS. Studio Executives HATE THEM because they can’t open movies. Screenwriters HATE THEM because they can’t carry a STORY. Seasoned Directors HATE THEM They can’t emote properly and draw audiences into the story. Seasoned Producers HATE THEM because they are a BLACK HOLE of time and money they can’t get back. While they may have a name, they just aren’t worth a serious investment.

Do I hate Halle Berry? No.

She makes me indifferent.

So why am I concerned about Halle Berry making me indifferent? Because I understand the long-term impact of Halle’s poor business choices on Black Filmmakers, Black actors, and Black cinema overall.

And that makes me passionate.

When a Halle Berry vehicle fails, it makes nervous studio executives think twice about casting other black actresses in lead roles. That costs sistas who are better performers WORK. There are a dozen black actresses who can carry a movie from start to finish but are denied a chance because studio executives look at the poor box office performance of a bad Halle Berry movie (the black female A-lister who can’t open strong) and that lead role winds up in the hands of a Latina, Asian, Indian or a White actress.

When a Halle Berry vehicle fails, producers who already fear making Black movies become more apprehensive about greenlighting projects with black women in the lead roles. So when Hollywood’s leading black actress picks poor quality projects like Catwoman, Perfect Stranger, Things We Lost In the Fire, Frankie and Alice or Dark Tide that can’t open well or can’t get distribution, it makes executives think twice about investing $15 or $20 million into the budget of a film featuring another black actress in a lead role. That may not be a lot of money to Ms. Berry, but to a small very creative filmmaker and a very talented actress, it could be the breakthrough project that opens doors for them.

When a Halle Berry movie fails, it hurts many smaller black female filmmakers. Many sistas have great films touring the festivals and are deserving of distribution. But thanks to Things we Lost in the Fire not being able to pick up an audience and the one-woman disaster Frankie and Alice, not even getting out of the gate, those small independent films aren’t going to get a chance to get picked up for distribution or an opportunity to find an audience.

And when a Halle Berry project like Catwoman goes into production and fails the impact is like an EARTHQUAKE. Those Black fantasy, and science fiction movies brothers and sisters clamor for? DEAD BEFORE THEY’RE EVEN PROPOSED. You will NEVER see a Black Buffy the Vampire Slayer type movie, Xena: Warrior Princess type movie, EVER. Why? Hollywood put up $ 160 million on Catwoman and came back with a LOSS that BROKE THE BANK. Hollywood was once burned on Homeboys in Outer Space and Mercy Pont, twice burned Pluto Nash, three times burned by Catwoman. Now studio executives won’t even consider a fantasy or sci-fi project with a black lead. Sad shame, because I know there’s a market for an African-American fantasy/Sci-fi film. If they had the right story it could be a blockbuster.

Ultimately, when Halle Berry’s projects fail at the box office it KILLS several other Black film projects in development. When one black movie fails, two more others don’t get distribution. Three more don’t get financing. Five screenplays by black writers that were under consideration don’t get a greenlight. Ten more don’t get optioned.

Sure Halle won the Oscar, but in her current role of A-list superstar she’s killing the black film industry. Worse, she doesn’t see the domino effect her poor business decisions have on others. Every bad movie she stars in keeps several good ones from making it to market. It keeps other talented sistas out of work. And it keeps black audiences from getting quality films.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

All About Marilyn Summer Paperback Sale

I’m cutting the retail price on All About Marilyn's  paperback edition for the summer reading season. It’s a great book for the beach, the plane, the train, or reading before bed. If you love reading about Hollywood and the entertainment industry, you’ll breeze through this fast-paced screenplay in no time.

I really want to get more people reading over the summer, and I’m doing all I can to offer a variety of products to readers in every price range. From 99 cent eBook novels to free eBooks for tweens and teens, I’m hoping I can provide a story for every reader who wants one.

I’m also cutting the price on Marilyn because I want to get more African-Americans reading screenplays and reading about screenwriting. There’s a desperate need for more African-Americans behind the camera and I’m hoping this summer some brothers and sisters check out All About Marilyn or All About Nikki and learn how easy it is to write their own screenplays or even make their own movies and TV shows.

So pick up a copy of All About Marilyn at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or other Online retailers today!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

eBooks under a buck

The summer reading season is upon us. And to encourage readers to try a title or two I’m having a sale. The eBook versions of my paperback novels are 99 cents until September on Amazon.

(Nook Versions will be on sale soon; Pubit just doesn't seem to want to change the price for some reason...)

I want to get more people of reading during the summer, and I know money is tight in a lot of households is tight. So I’m cutting prices on all my eBbooks. So try a Shawn James eBook under a buck for your Kindle, ipad or your cell phone. Read em’ on the beach or on the plane, on the train, in the car or at the park.

Links to the eBooks under a buck:

Isis for kindle

All About Marilyn for kindle

The Temptation of John Haynes for kindle

Friday, June 10, 2011

Is there a market for Black Films at the International Box-Office?

Is there a market for Black Films on the foreign market?

When it comes to box-office African-American films tend to struggle in American markets and do even worse business in foreign markets, where film studios reap the most profits. I have to wonder: Is there a market for Black films outside of the United States?

I believe there is a market for Black films in the foreign market. However, African-American filmmakers and actors are making the wrong products. Urban comedies and Race dramas may do well with African-American audiences but leave foreign audiences cold. Part of that has to do with craft, the other with premise. If Black filmmakers can overcome these barriers, I believe they can break through to the foreign market.

Craft wise most African-American films just aren’t made well. When foreign audiences watch American films, they tend to follow the actions of the characters while listening to the dialogue dubbed in. Because many black films feature poor transitions between scenes and poor shot framing, it’s very hard for audiences outside of America to follow the action that’s going onscreen.

Worse, most black films tend to have a lot of dialogue. Most Black films “tell” a story first and don’t “show” what’s going on. Foreign audiences with language barriers struggle to follow a Black film because the characters talk so much and do so little.

To experiment with this, watch a classic film with the audio turned off and no subtiitles. Then watch a Black film (not a Spike Lee Joint, Doug McHenry film or a Kasi Lemmons) with the audio turned off with no subtitiles. Because key scenes are missing or not shot properly and characters talk so much it becomes very hard to watch the story.

Another issue is Premise. Films that do well in International markets tend to be action films, animated films, dramas, fantasy films epics and romantic comedies. These are genres most black films usually aren’t made in.

It’s clear there is a market for African-American entertainment abroad it’s just not being tapped properly. Hip-hop stars do better in foreign markets than in the U.S. and many African-American TV shows find an audience outside of the United States. African-American athletes have legions of fans outside of the States, as do African-American actors. If African-American films are to branch out to International markets and compete in foreign markets, Black filmmakers are going to have to start thinking outside of the limitations of Urban comedies and race dramas and focus on improving the quality of the films being produced.

The international audience wants film products in genres like Fantasy, Science fiction, and action/adventure. Because foreigners follow the action going on the screen and not the dialogue the storytelling Black filmmakers who want to compete in foreign markets in addition to US markets will have to adapt their styles to be more action-oriented and less dialogue-oriented.

Cinematically, transitions will have to be edited to flow from one shot to the next and shots framed to be clear.

Regardless of genre, most stories that do well internationally tend to have universal themes that transcend race and relate to the human condition. That and a lot of explosions and shootings.

Can Black filmmakers break out and compete internationally? I believe they can. There may be some challenges, but I believe Black films can find a market overseas.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Distribution and Pricing-The hardest part of Self-Publishing

So you’ve written the great American novel.

Now how do you sell it?

That’s the question many authors don’t have an answer for when they go into self-publishing.

The biggest mistake many self-publishers make in getting their book to market are with pricing and discounts. Many writers often write a great book only to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to pricing their titles for retail sales.

Readers aren’t going to pay $21.99 for a novel. That’s not a competitive price for fiction.

To get a competitive price an author has to go out to the bookstore and look at the books in their genre. Look at the barcodes and price complimentary titles from low to high.

After checking out those books it’s time to do a little math. In self-publishing the formula for a retail price of a book is usually calculated by the number of pages times the price per page plus the price for a cover. For a paperback book this formula would be:

240 pages x 0.013 a page +0.90 = $4.02 for the printed book.

To gain a profit for the publisher, the price of the printed book ($4.02) is multiplied by, 2.5 or 3.5 times. This multiple varies by subject matter and content. A specialized nonfiction book would be much priced higher than a novel.

Using the formula for the paperback book mentioned above:

$4.02 x 3= $12.06 (low)

$4.03 x 3.5 = $14.07 (high)

(These numbers are usually rounded to a retail price of $12.95 or $14.00)

Why is the price multiplied? A smart self-pubisher understands that the sticker price won’t be the actual retail price. The retail price on the barcode is usually mitigated by a retailer discount. All publishers offer a retailer discount to give bookstores, vendors, and other retailers incentive to stock their titles because they’re getting them for a little above the printing cost.

A competitive retail price for a book factors in the printing cost and a large retailer discount. A publisher can stock books on with a minimum 20 percent discount. However, brick-and mortar bookstores won’t stock a title without a minimum 40 percent discount. Some of the larger retailers won’t even consider stocking a book on their shelves without a 55 percent discount.

To get the retailer discount:

Multiply the retail price times the discount then subtract the product from the retail price On the $12.95 book with a 40 percent discount:

$12.95 x 0.40 = $5.18 retailer discount

$12.95 - 5.18 =$7.77

On the $14.00 book with a 40 percent discount:

$14.00 x 0.40 = $5.60 retailer discount

$14.00 - $5.60 = $8.40

This retailer discount usually brings the price customers pay for a book in the stores and online down to $10-$12, a price that allows a self-published title to compete with other trade publishers.

What the author makes in royalties is the remainder from the discount subtracted the printing costs.

On the $12.95 book with the 40 percent the formula would be:

$7.77 - $4.02 =$3.75

On this book the author makes: $3.75.

On the book with the $14.00 price tag:

$8.40 - $4.02 =$4.38
So the royalties would be $4.38 on the $14.00 title.

If the discount is lowered, to twenty percent these royalties can pay much more to the author than the standard ten percent off the cover price publishers offer. $3.75 and $4.38 per copy is much more money to make than $1.29 and $1.40 per copy.

The second component self publishers struggle with in marketing their books is distribution. Most titles published and self-published are distributed in the U.S., Canada, the UK and the European Union are distributed through Ingram and Baker and Taylor. In fact most of the paperback titles by houses and self publishers are printed through Ingram’s Lightning Source!

There are smaller local distributors with their own discount formulas, who serve vendors and small bookstores but Ingram and Baker & Taylor are significant to self-publishers because they offer titles to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online retailers.

Self-publishers who are serious about having a retail presence not only need to offer Ingram and Baker& Talyor a deep discount, but they are also advised in order to they have to make their books returnable.

Listing a book as returnable means books a retailer buys can be sent back to the publisher in the case they don’t sell for credit on new titles. Usually this process takes years; returns cost a retailer money. So usually bookstores and other retailers will discount a book or remainder (sell it to outlet stores like airports) before returning it to a publisher for credit.

For a self-publisher listing a book as returnable may seem risky, but it is worth it. Along with the lower discounts, it gives retailers incentive to stock an author’s titles on their shelves.

Getting those titles on the shelf? Well, that’s another story. An author will have to get out their best suit, a sell sheet and go out and press the flesh at local bookstores. They’ll have to build word-of mouth through readers to get a “buzz” at bookstores to get them to order their titles.

The DC Comics relaunch From a Self-Publisher’s Perspective

DC Comics relaunch From a Publisher’s Perspective

In a previous blog, I ranted about why I was upset about the DC comics relaunch in August. As a long-time comic fan I’m irked about it, but as a publisher myself I have to wonder if Dan Didio and Jim Lee really thought this out from a business perspective.

As a publisher, I’m still scratching my head on why DC is launching its 52 new titles in the softest months of the publishing year. No trade publisher releases anything significant in August-October. If their goal is targeting younger readers, I’d think they’d debut a flurry of titles during the San Diego Comicon, the biggest trade show of the year. At SDCC, hundreds of thousands of casual buyers will be eager to try new product. It’d be the place to hand out free comic samples and get the word out about their new titles.

But August-October? Those are dead months in publishing. Most of the casual readers DC needs for this relaunch to work have bought their beach books during May, June and July. The summer reading season will have passed.

Late summer-early fall isn’t a month where readers, especially younger ones are going to be focused on spending money on buying comics. The tweens and teens will be buying back-to-school items like school supplies and clothes. If they are buying books they’ll be school related.

And on the other end of the spectrum, the older teens going to college will be buying textbooks. Textbooks that cost anywhere from $50-$200 a pop.

Because most younger readers will be focused on back-to-school, Most smart trade publishers usually don’t publish new fiction titles in August. They save those big fiction launches for November to capitalize on the Christmas rush. They also launch a lot of new books in January, because people have gift cards and are eager to spend them on books they wouldn’t usually try. So the timing of this relaunch makes absolutely no sense to me.

What’s even crazier about this relaunch of DC comics is that Didio and Lee still haven’t dealt with the distribution issues that have plagued the comic book industry for close to two decades. While there’s a lot of talk about digital comics, most of the younger readers DC is banking on still won’t be able to find the printed books because they still aren’t stocked at College Bookstores, Wal-Marts, Sears, Targets, Rite Aids, Newsstands or places younger readers are shopping at for school clothes and school supplies. Didio and Lee still forget that most of these retailers still don’t stock comics due to the fact they aren’t returnable for credit.

If this relaunch is going to have any impact at attracting new younger readers, DC is going to need shelf space at big box retailers and supermarkets. A few extra racks in the magazine of the Barnes & Noble isn’t going to help with sales.

Currently on the floor plan of most bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble Comic books are in the magazine section which is FAR away from the YA and children's books. In some cases YA and children’s books are on another floor. If DC is serious about targeting younger readers they need to talk to Barnes & Noble about having their product placed on the sales floor with the YA and children's fiction so tweens and teens can see them, not in the magazine section where they’ll be ignored by women.

In addition to this relaunch of DC comics in print, there’s a lot of talk about DC eComics and how digital comics being the wave of the future. DC’s editors are banking on it to get the younger readers, but I don’t believe the hype. Didio and Lee don’t understand that epublishing is still a tertiary revenue stream (audiobooks are second) for most publishers, not a primary one.

I also know DC’s $2.99 price tag is for a 32-page eComic book is on the high end of the eBook spectrum and many digital readers may balk at that price. In the digital publishing marketplace readers can get a whole 400 page novel for $2.99 or less.

From my experience with eBooks I know new eBook products usually sell well when they're cheap and DRM free, so they’ll be swappable and tradeable among multiple devices and multiple users. Usually smart publishers use eBooks in conjunction with a print promotion towards developing a rep and word-of-mouth, so I don’t understand why DC isn’t releasing a FREE e-title or two to readers. That would work to their advantage, especially with lower-tiered characters or other obscure characters most readers don’t know about In a 52 title launch I feel some of these eComics should be FREE to entice new readers to give em' a try.

But the publishers and editors of DC comics are still thinking like it’s 1994 not 2011. Publishing has changed a lot since then, and I feel DC comics hasn’t adapted to the new world of media or has an understanding of how to target younger readers in print or the digital medium.

From my perspective as a publisher this whole relaunch of DC comics just seems poorly planned and poorly put together with no thought of competition, demographics or even the economy. Many are on tight budgets these days and are looking for ways to cut back on spending. Starting the DC Universe over may give those readers with limited incomes reason to stop buying comics altogether. Seriously, who has over $155 these days to buy 52 comics?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

DC Comics Reboots....AGAIN

Starting in August DC Comics will be starting over its universe with 52 new #1 issues.

For the Umpmillionth time.

I’ve been through this crap with DC comics in 1986 and 1994. I stopped reading comics in 1995, but from what I’ve read the DC universe has been rebooted in 2004, 2006 and now again in 2011. DC has gone from a multiverse to a single universe back to a multiverse again. Does any of that make any sense?

It doesn’t to me and I’ve been a comic fan since I was four years old.

Five reboots in 25 years and people say DC comics are harder to get into than they were in the 1970’s. Want to know why it’s hard to get excited about DC comics? Every time readers get excited about something some hotshot writer or artist changes it. CONSTANTLY. No one stays in the same costume, or the same secret identity at DC. Hell, no one stays DEAD at DC these days. (Except for Ted Kord, cause someone at DC hates him right now) And because nothing ever stays consistent at DC comics, that’s why no one CARES about DC comic books again.

And want to know why no one cares about DC comics anymore? Along with the confusing continuity and a kajillion universes are the STUPIDEST STORIES IN THE HISTORY OF COMICS. For the past year Superman has been walking cross country to FIND HIMSELF. Recently he renounced his American Citizenship after going to Iran to help out with an anti-government protest. What kind of hippie bullshit is this? This is Superman, the man of steel, truth, justice and the AMERICAN Way. More powerful than a locomotive and faster than a speeding bullet.

Someone at DC needs to understand people don’t plunk down cash to read Superman comics with him doing punk shit like traveling across the country to find himself and fighting for Iran. That’s like watching WWE RAW to see John Cena debate politics with Rey Mysterio.

And just like people pay money to watch John Cena and Rey Mysterio kick ass in the ring, those same people pay money to read about Superman kick some supervillian’s ass in Metropolis.

If superhero comics are gonna survive they need to get back to the basics. Heroes stopping bank robbers, supervillians, and robots. People in tights kicking ass and taking names. Superheroes are an escape, a break from our lives. If I want deep and introspective I’ll go read a novel.

Which is what the current crop of over 35 comic book readers need to do instead of ruining the medium for the next generation.

Want to know what’s ironic about this fifth reboot? DC says it’s trying to reach younger readers. Younger readers who haven’t cracked open a comic in eighteen years due to high prices and the problems I listed above.

Seriously, I doubt those same kids will be coming back to comics if DC is going to continue to offer them stories about Superman going to find himself for three bucks a pop. Unless Superman finds himself kicking some ass and tearing up shit, no kids are going to care.

Seriously, what younger readers are going to buy 32-page comic books that cost a whopping $2.99 a copy at retail? Comics that aren’t available at Wal-marts, Targets, supermarkets, and places CHILDREN GO? That retailers refuse to stock because they can’t RETURN THEM?

But those distribution issues don’t matter to the eggheads at DC Comics. According to DC, there will be E-comics for the kiddies to put on their ipods, cell phones and ipads.

At the low price of $2.99 a copy.

Wow, that’s a real value to a kid with a $10-$15 allowance.

A kid can get 3 songs on itunes for that. They can get 3 episodes of a TV show, or credits for an online game for that much. Hell, you can get a full 400 page novel like The Temptation of John Haynes for $1.99 on Smashwords, or a YA eBook on Amazon for about the same. And those books and songs are DRM free, which means you can swap them from device to device to trade and share with your friends.

Oh and did I mention there are numerous better Webcomics like Something*Positive, Penny & Aggie, Girls With Slingshots, Shortpacked! Ctrl+Alt +Del Treading Ground and Questionable Content available for FREE all over the net?

Why should a kid spend $2.99 for a crappy DC comic when they have a bunch of better, cheaper entertainment options in front of them? Options that cost less than the price of 52 comic books?

Doing the math: 52 comics x $2.99 = $155.48.

$155.48? What 10-12 year-old kids have $155.48 available to spend on comic books?

A kid could buy three WWE pay-per-views for that much money and have some cash left over for some WWE action figures. At least John Cena will still be the champ when it’s all over.

And what the editors at DC comics don’t understand is that it’s socially it’s much more acceptable to kids to say they’ve seen the latest WWE pay-per-view than say you’ve read the latest Superman or Batman comic book. Comic books are at the bottom the social food chain. Always have been and always will be.

Besides, a child can keep up with what’s going on in the WWE after a month or two. I can’t say the same thing for DC comics. I needed a Tylenol after reading about some superheroes on Wikipedia and I haven’t read a comic in seventeen years. Yeah, it’s that aggravating.

Seriously DC Comics don’t need another reboot. What they need is a strong editor to supervise their titles. Someone who will set a direction for the company’s numerous superhero titles with a focus on action and adventure equal to that of a summer movie. Someone who will make these artists and writers check their egos at the door and put the characters first. Someone who won’t care if you’re Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee, Geoff Johns, Brian Michael Bendis, Ethan Van Scivier or Grant Morrison; the mission of the character and premise of the comic comes first. Someone with the balls to tell these hotshot creators that to their faces, and will let the door hit them in the ass if they don’t get it. A leader who will keep things consistent so events in each title flow into each other. Someone like the late Mark Gruenwald. The late Dick Giordano The late Julius Schwartz and Jim Shooter. A no-nonsense BOSS who will put their foot down and get these creative types to understand that they aren’t bigger than the characters they work on. That their work has to fit within a commercial standard that appeals to readers of all ages. Books that were easy to read, easy to follow, and most of all fun to read.

If they had a strong editor at the helm, then DC comics wouldn’t need to reboot every eight seconds, introducing the eighth or ninth version of whatever Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Salli Richardson Whitfield- An inspiration and Muse to a Black Freelance Writer

Actress Salli Richardson-Whitfield has been a muse to my writing for many years. From her voice over work in Disney’s Gargoyles to her performances in films like How U Like Me Now, Posse, A Low Down Dirty Shame, and Black Dynamite, her work has inspired many of the characters in the stories I’ve written and showed me that it’s possible for Black performers to do work that’s unique, distinct and out of the box.


My first exposure to Salli Richardson-Whitfield's work was watching the Disney animated series Gargoyles after I graduated college in 1994. I was always a big fan of fantasy and science fiction, but it made me proud when I learned that the two leads for the Disney animated series voice-overs were African-American. Up until recently it was very rare that any animated studio hired African-American actors for voice-over work, and for any person of color to get a job in this field meant they were exceptionally talented. Salli's multidimensional portrayal of Detective Elisa Maza on Disney’s Gargoyles had heart soul and passion, and conveyed more emotions than on the surface of the animated cels. She had incredible chemistry with co-star Keith David on that series, and their acting with just voices was so strong I felt like I was watching a live action drama at times.

Salli’s voice work on Gargoyles showed me that it was possible for an African-American female character to carry the lead in a fantasy/science fiction television series. Watching that series and reading Milestone comics back then made me believe that it was possible for an African-American to write Science fiction and fantasy stories. More importantly, it made me believe it was possible for an African-American to write fantasy and science fiction stories with brothers and sisters in the lead roles.

The sophisticated presence, charismatic personality, and intelligence  Salli conveyed in her performances inspired me to create E’steem the evil she-demon who antagonized  Isis. I always felt that Salli’s articulate intelligent way of speaking lent itself to a charming, cunning villainess, not unlike Disney’s Ursula, Cruella DeVil, or Maleficent. Why not a hero? For most of her career. Salli has played the hero in most of her movie and TV appearances. And that wouldn’t be anything new for me to write. Besides, A well, crafted heel carries the storyline to the climax. They’re the characters we remember most. And E’steem was one of my best villains. As I was writing Isis in 1999, I often imagined Salli Richardson’s E’steem going head-to-head with Halle Berry’s Isis.

Inspiration struck me again a few years later when I caught a repeat of Salli’s guest appearance on The Jamie Foxx Show. Seeing a short-haired Richardson in that episode helped me flesh out the character of Cassandra Lee. I’d been struggling with developing her for a couple of years until I caught that rerun. When I saw her with that short haircut and portraying a cuter, playful and softer character it gave me the idea for the cute pixie-haired baker who lived in Brooklyn.

Watching her performances, I always saw the potential for great comedic talent in Richardson, but no one in Hollywood ever took a chance on it. I always felt a quirky style of comedy be a good fit for Richardson’s acting and a great way to show off the comic talents. I was proven right when she displayed her comic skills years later in the Eureka series on Syfy. As I was writing Cassandra, I often imagined Richardson handling business in her own sophisticated way in that whimsical story about a Downtown Brooklyn Bakery.

Watching more of Richardson’s complex and multidimensional portrayals of her characters in films like How U Like Me Now, Posse, Sioux City, and her later work on shows like NYPD Blue was one of the reasons I was motivated to resurrect the E’steem character after she was killed in Isis. Appreciating the nuances in her work in those films made me eager to write a more complex character that had more depth and layers and a storyline with more subtext. As I wrote The Temptation of John Haynes I made the E’steem character less a fantasy character and more human and multidimensional, someone the reader could identify with and relate to. While I was writing the book I would imagine the scenes in the story transpiring like live theater with Richardson playing off Will Smith’s John Haynes and Keith David’s Lucifer. 

I’ve never met Salli Richardson-Whitfield, but her work has had a profound impact on me and the stories I’ve written. Whenever she's onscreen I always enjoy her work; her acting is often consistently strong and she virtually disappears into any character she portrays onscreen. I’ve always felt she was one of the best actresses of her generation and deserved more acclaim than she’s received. I’m hoping larger audiences of brothers and sisters will come to appreiciate her body of work filled with a diversity of unique roles and complex multidimensional performances.