FEATURES

A Plague Comes to SPX

The Small Press Expo is being held in Bethesda, Maryland this weekend. It will be the twenty-fourth incarnation of the celebrated festival, which has become one of the cornerstones of the indie/alt-comics convention schedule and is widely considered by creators, publishers, and fans as the best place to reconnect with the comics community and get excited about the medium all over again. These are the very same people who should take this year’s Amazon sponsorship as a personal affront.

The digital platform comiXology is a marketplace for comics that are read on tablets and Kindles. With its dominance in the early days of digital comics offerings and its highly-touted “guided view” feature, Amazon recognized a potential commercial competitor and gobbled them in 2014. I was able to get past the problematic nature of Amazon-owned comiXology sponsorships at SPX in the past, but this year is different for several reasons.

First of all, Amazon has proven time and again to be a straight-up reprehensible company. Warehouse workers are pissing in bottles because they aren’t allowed breaks and ambulances are called regularly for people too tired or too dehydrated to stand. Cities are dropping everything to create promposals in hopes that they can be the next one gentrified by Amazon’s second headquarters. They have patented new technology to monitor hand movements of their labor force and also keep them in literal caged cubicles. Jeff Bezos is worth nearly 160 billion dollars, but peoples’ entire lives are being devastated. And for what? Cheaper books? So we don’t have to stop at the drug store for toilet paper? Some sort of imaginary efficiency? Yeah, sure, invite them to the Ignatz Awards!

At SPX, Amazon will be premiering a new comic in their line of comiXology Originals called Hit Reblog: Comics That Caught Fire. This comic is purposefully showcasing Amazon’s new print-on-demand technology for the small-press crowd. A free poster and volume of the comic will be given to everyone attending and there is an exclusive signing just for exhibitors. This is an overt play to get you onboard and consider their POD tech for your future comics releases. Not happy with the downfall of our country’s entire retail sector, Amazon now wants in on that little zipper bag full of singles you keep under the table at conventions.

ComiXology Originals and Hit Reblog is doing what the tech industry almost always does — taking something that already exists and making it worse. What are they doing that is so innovative? Printing webcomics on glossy paper. Amazon wants to be your printer, distributor, and, most likely, publisher and editor. But consider the repercussions. The erasure of these services will decimate what little industry we even have. This is not to mention the hit on artistic freedom and intent. I’ve held a comiXology Originals comic in my hand and can assuredly attest that Amazon’s cookie-cutter mechanisms and printing knowhow cannot replicate the electricity of Lale Westvind, the human touch of Eleanor Davis, or the vulnerability of Xia Gordon. They won’t include things that make small press books unique, like the patch on the cover of Noel Freibert’s Spine, or the all-black-everything pages of Mirror Mirror II, or the amusing bells and whistles that adorn all Perfectly Acceptable Press publications.

SPX might also want to consider the possible consequences of Amazon's apparent aspirations to take over small-press publishing. Will artists have to order and pay for their own books to be printed on demand to sell at shows? Would this make smaller conventions obsolete? What will happen when Amazon starts messing with your set prices? ComiXology already did it to Marvel earlier this year, so why not you? I’ve worked enough tables to notice the people who take photos of things like Pogo books only to go home and get it cheaper on Amazon. Just wait until they do that for your new debut and Amazon undercuts you on your own mini-comic. Amazon doesn’t care about quality or community, let alone you and me.

The cute, big-eyed Trojan horse is at the gate. I hope that cartoonists continue their passion projects in spite of algorithms and automation, and create more weirdo zines that spit in the face of everything Amazon represents. This weekend at SPX, I hope exhibitors and attendees alike throw so many Hit Reblog copies in the trash that the venue has to restock on garbage bags. Only $5.99 with Prime.

RJ Casey is an employee of Fantagraphics.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story referred to Hit Reblog by saying it "looks slopped together specifically for this festival." In fact, it was assembled earlier.]

FILED UNDER: , ,

69 Responses to A Plague Comes to SPX

  1. Cheese says:

    So Fanta will be pulling it’s books from Amazon and Comixology, I presume?

  2. Adam says:

    Wow, Cheese. Happy that Mister Gotcha logged on. Such a clever contribution. Thanks for sharing!

    https://thenib.com/mister-gotcha

  3. As a semi-related tangent, I made the mistake of trying to use Amazon Fulfillment to fulfill my last Kickstarter. It’s a long story of misery and stress and learning about the secret support tier you get by sending a complaint to Bezos, who discovered they are bureaucratically incapable of putting a delicate oversized book into sensible packaging for you.

    Don’t. Just don’t. Stay away.

  4. Cheese says:

    Adam, you don’t think that an employee of Fanta, on a site owned by Fanta, calling out one of the industry’s most beloved institutions for allowing Comixology to sponsor a meet and greet, while they themselves are partnered with Amazon and Comixology isn’t a little hypocritical? It’s a little more than consumer complaining about a company whose product they own, as the Bors comic points out.

    But hey, I get it, Amazon is actively targeting Fanta (and IDW, 1st Second, and all the 2nd/3rd tier publishers) , they should be mad, and if they’re going to be outspoken about it, and call them a “plague,” then they should put their money where their mouth is. Amazon is not targeting spiral bound minicomics, hand-made art objects, or risographed zines, as this article claims.

    Also shitting all over the folks involved making the boring, but not offensive, Hit Reblog book is, well… shitty. It wasn’t slapped together for this one show, it’s got 60 or so pages of new material and was put together by a woman who runs her own publishing project and also runs a local comic convention. I’m gonna bet she didn’t wake up this morning saying, “Boy howdy, I sure hope Fantagraphics calls me a plague today!”

    Amazon treats it’s employees like garbage, there’s no denying that. But they also run the most popular crowdfunding operation that funds hundreds of comics a year, and Comixology, who has their own shortcomings, provides an international distributon system for indie artists like no other.

  5. Adam says:

    Cheese:

    I don’t fucking care if it’s “hypocritical” by some dipshit, logic lord rendering that somehow puts Fantagraphics and Amazon on equal footing. But don’t worry about me, I’m sure they’ll reward you for being a quisling with extra Bezos juice when you kickstart your next comic book.

  6. Milton says:

    A large part of your argument is incredibly elitist. There are some artists out there that can’t afford the overhead involved in using antiquated printing technology like risograph and don’t have the networking that some of the bigger names in mini/micro published comics derived from the shows they can’t spend the money to attend. The same people that are going to utilize Amazon’s distribution to not only purchase but also publish their work are the same people that couldn’t possibly afford to purchase books like Mirror Mirror 2 ($40 for 200 pages? I have a 1 year old to feed!). All you’re really doing here is shaming people for utilizing a cheap, easy technology that can get their work into the hands of people worldwide. You might as well be saying that the only people that should be allowed to make art are those that can afford the most expensive implements to create it.
    I do agree with your apprehension on Amazon taking an interest in SPX, though. Large corporations are destroying the comic show and one would hope that the more independent minded shows would refuse such monetary investment.

  7. Milton says:

    Adam:
    How is it dipshit logic to call that out? How much of Fantagraphics sales are derived through their involvement with Amazon or Comixology? It’s not about equal footing. It’s about saying “Do what I say, not what I do.”

  8. Cheese says:

    You’re a lovely person, I hope you get everything you deserve in life.

  9. Adam says:

    Cheese, look, I’m sorry. You’re right. I am being an asshole, unfair, and it’s not constructive.

    I just feel like we as artists should engage with RJ and Fantagraphics at the level of “when you know better, do better.” As people on the bottom rung of American society, we need as many allies we can get against companies like Amazon. They have shown themselves to be absolutely merciless in what they will do to poor people to make more money than they’ll ever need. Fantagraphics raised the first alarm about the implications of their POD plans a month ago, I think rightly so. And has been navigating the very difficult waters of serving their artists while preserving their independence in an economy that incentivize their destruction in just about every step along the way.

  10. DW says:

    Milton, if I tell you that big box stores like Target and Walmart are terrible to their workers and generally harmful to retail as a whole am I being an elitist? If you tell me that you shop at those stores because you have a one year old and have to stretch your budget does that mean this issues disappear?

    That’s essentially what we’re talking about here- the same mechanisms, the same potential dangers. I’ll agree that bespoke riso printing or something like Mirror Mirror II are perhaps poor counter examples to the potential benefits of Amazon because they are necessarily more expensive, but Amazon JUST started its printing on demand services, POD places have been around for years. There are also plenty of options for fulfillment. Amazon isn’t the only game in town unless we treat it like it is. So just as there are alternatives to shopping at big box stores on a budget there are alternatives to printing and shipping that don’t involve Amazon and don’t cost as much as more expensive options.

    To that point I would just like to say that I feel that indie and alternative comics audiences are perhaps more friendly to the idea of actively avoiding corporate giants like Amazon which, to me, is at least a little glimmer of optimism.

    But yeah, this shit is fucked.

  11. Sammy says:

    People get the world they deserve-the SPX crowd has “grown” and changed from a (mostly) artists first gathering where the majority of the people there implicitly understood the political implications of where they stood, along with a desire for cultural independence, to one where getting a job working on the new She Ra cartoon is somehow something to be proud of. Let them enjoy their Amazon made comics, let them choke on ’em!

  12. Hi Amazon doesn’t publish Hit Reblog, I do. If you don’t like the book or its content, I have no problems with a review stating such, but you’re attacking a Canadian small press and the webcomic cartoonists I work with in your attempt to discuss comixology’s sponsorship of a festival, which are wholly unrelated elements. We all worked very hard on this book, which premiered two months ago, the timing of this provided a good opportunity to celebrate the book at spx. Comixology is our distributor, however this article seems to believe they are the publisher and thus you feel free to demean the production of the book. The book was not “slopped together for spx”, it’s the result of a year of hard work and research. I’ve never recommended anyone throw away any publishers’ books, so I’m not sure why you are, just because you’re not pleased with the distributor and printer we chose.

  13. Milton says:

    DW-
    I will say that it’s still elitist but for a reason I don’t think you thought about. People who work at Target or Walmart get paid so little that they can only shop at places like Target or Walmart. For food, for clothes, for everything. They don’t get other options. It doesn’t make the issue disappear. It puts it in a very different context and it makes the basis of the argument essentially an elitist screed against people doing what they believe they can afford.
    Amazon has been doing print on demand under the name Createspace for over a decade now. It’s only drawn attention now because places like Fantagraphics see it as a financial threat since it’s now connected to Kindle or Comixology. I do find it frightening that Amazon has decided to begin cultivating it’s own content but you honestly don’t need to buy it. If people don’t buy it, Amazon will give it up in a heartbeat. They’re only in it for the money and people won’t spend money on garbage content.
    Also, I know that indie and alternative audiences view POD with absolute derision, regardless of which service you use. I publish books through a POD publisher and go to shows where the other artists won’t even meet eyes with me because I’m so far below their concern. It may give you hope but it makes a desperate creator like me feel like shit.
    I agree that Amazon is evil. Supremely evil. So is Target and Walmart. All I’m saying is that throwing POD under the bus, as this article does, alienates a portion of the artistic community that may otherwise be on board with you. This article absolutely shits on people who don’t have the means to make and distribute zines or riso printed books at these shows that the creators only dream of being able to go to.

  14. Tim Hodler says:

    Hope:

    Nowhere in the story does Casey say that Amazon is the publisher of Hit Reblog.

    Obviously not everyone will agree with his conclusions or argument, but I don’t believe any of your statements factually dispute any of the claims made in Casey’s column. If I am wrong, we are happy to make any corrections that may be necessary (earlier today we deleted the reference to the book “looking slopped together,” even though that is arguably more opinion than fact).

    Of course, if you or anyone else would like to argue against Casey’s essay about what he sees as the insidious nature of Amazon’s POD program, and why he doesn’t believe it should be endorsed by the Small Press Expo, we hope you will do so.

  15. Susan says:

    Ah the classic “technically we didn’t say anything factually incorrect” argument. Never mind that this article recommended trashing out of protest a book that an independent publisher, editor, artists and writers spent a great deal of time and care putting together. Never mind that it calls out all this effort as not innovative in a strange random dig. And never mind that it refers to the work as merely re-published webcomics (which it is not and leads me to believe that all this critique was made by someone who hasn’t actually read the work derided) demonstrates its lack of value and worth and an example of how Amazon sucks even in choosing what of their books they distribute to highlight.

    No.

    Factually all of this was only implied. Strongly implied. But still. Just implied.

    But tone and context matters. And as much as this was a hit piece against Amazon (which, honestly, that I can get behind) it was a hit piece against the artistic work that you guys took as a symbol of Amazon. It’s very unlikely for anyone reading this to divorce the description of evil described about Amazon with the book. The true lack of empathy towards a small publisher needing a platform, a platform that is, true, quite evil, is quite mind bogglingly . . . mean.

    And, sure, you’re allowed to be mean. Factually you are allowed to be mean. But then others are allowed to call you out on it and find it distasteful and, quite frankly, distracting from the real subject at hand.

    Obviously you have made your point and you are sticking to it. But anyone with any reading ability can see that this piece does not merely argue against the insidious nature of Amazon’s POD program (which again, fair point), it also very obviously and clearly is vicious towards an independently published work and quite literally tells people to throw it in the trash. Because of its association with Amazon. Not because of the work itself. And let’s be honest, there are very very very few writers/artists who alas don’t have an association with Amazon (as an example: https://www.amazon.com/Comics-Journal-303-Vol/dp/1683961714 ).

  16. Tim Hodler says:

    Susan: Thanks for writing. Of course people are allowed to disagree with RJ and to point out their problems with his essay. That’s why I invited people to do so in my last comment! The only reason I said anything at all is because a few people have been calling the story inaccurate on social media, mostly by insinuating the story makes claims that it does not in fact make. I believe it’s important to make clear the substantive accuracy of the piece (which even you seem to concede).

    Obviously opinions on RJ’s interpretations of those facts will differ, and I hope more people will weigh in.

  17. Susan says:

    I do not agree with the point implied in this piece at all: That this work is a symbol of amazon and deserves to be trashed.

    Obviously you missed that point so I’ll repeat: telling people to trash a work created by an independent publisher because it has an affiliation with Amazon as distributor (just like The Comics Journal does as well) is wrong.

  18. Thank you kindly for removing some of the more offensive language, it is appreciated. It still calls for my publication to be thrown in the trash, which is irresponsible to post on a site with a much larger following than my press has. Despite my logo being prominently displayed in the corner of the poster, a poster next to the headline calling it a plague, the article does not mention my press as being the owner. By erasure, it insinuates comiXology is the sole force behind this which is grossly inaccurate.
    An editor at your website has offered to review my book independently of its distribution, but I’m understandably scared to do so after this. Thanks for those who came to my defense, I do appreciate it and thank you.
    Let’s close the book on this and remember the point of Hit Reblog is not to be a plague but to increase awareness of appropriate author credits for online cartoonists.

  19. Erik Nebel says:

    i love this article, and i’m enjoying the discussion it provoked.

    at the heart of the issue at hand is a concern for the future of comics.

    i’ve been involved with the comics community long enough to know that the community itself plays a major hand in shaping the kinds of comics that are being produced and unleashed into the world.

    right now, the comics community is heading in a horrible horrible horrible direction. the fact that this discussion is happening is heartening. i’m relieved to know that some people are worried about the potential disaster looming closely in our future, as described in the article.

  20. > “I’ve held a comiXology Originals comic in my hand and can assuredly attest that Amazon’s cookie-cutter mechanisms and printing knowhow cannot replicate the electricity of Lale Westvind, the human touch of Eleanor Davis, or the vulnerability of Xia Gordon.”

    Hit Reblog is published by Bedside Press, who owns its content and compensated artists (like myself) for consenting to appear. Is a book’s *distributor* now responsible for electricity, human touch or vulnerability?

    > “They won’t include things that make small press books unique, like the patch on the cover of Noel Freibert’s Spine, or the all-black-everything pages of Mirror Mirror II, or the amusing bells and whistles that adorn all Perfectly Acceptable Press publications.”

    I have self-published my own books using both offset printing and print-on-demand for almost two decades. I’ve printed books in Canada, China and the US. No POD service offers fabric appliqué, foil stamping, etc. What POD allowed me to do was *print books.*

    The books I printed via offset rarely had these bells and whistles either: while I’m a fan of them, they’re costly. I realize this is an opinion piece but this is incredibly subjective. What this columnist implies as an indicator of creativity and quality could also be seen as gimmicky.

    > “Amazon wants to be your printer, distributor, and, most likely, publisher and editor.”

    Printer, sure, and distributor certainly. Editor, no. Amazon wants to move units. Wouldn’t it be in their best interest to print anything a cartoonist sent in, and avoid editing altogether?

    Solo creators like me are submitting books for print, not some faceless go-between that drains the life from the comics. Amazon’s business practices are ugly. But I have no doubt that there are already Createspace books on the SPX floor. When I attended SPX, I only had POD books to sell (at the time I used Lulu). The columnist may have POD titles at home and not even realize it (!!!).

    > “Will artists have to order and pay for their own books to be printed on demand to sell at shows?”

    Friend, this is already me and most cartoonists I know. At least with POD I don’t have to order 1,000+ copies at a time!

    > “What will happen when Amazon starts messing with your set prices?”

    You stop using them? There’s no publishing contract to uphold. I’m not trying to say Amazon is some champion of small press. But if the pricing changes so it’s no longer good for you, you get out of there.

    > “I hope that cartoonists… create more weirdo zines that spit in the face of everything Amazon represents.”

    But aren’t weirdo zines also self-published? Do they need to be stapled/Xeroxed to be valid?

    I think the flaw in this article is that it’s conflating a new technology with the destruction of an art form. I remember this argument from the end of the 20th Century, when I started posting my comics online. Newspaper cartoonists insisted that the web would ruin What Comics Were.

    I don’t ever want to see “Amazon Presents SPX Powered By Createspace.” Amazon/Createspace may be a service you’ll want to avoid for personal or ethical reasons. But print-on-demand as a technology is not ruining comics. We’re better off having POD as an option. Lulu has been good to me in the past. I’ve heard of Ka-Blam but haven’t used them myself.

    While I doubt Amazon wants to become an editor, this article would have benefited enormously from having one.

  21. Yes, ‘let’s close the book on this’ because clearly since those critiquing the makers of this book are forced to be associated with the same corporate entity, there’s no worthwhile discussion to be had! Voluntary work/promotion for a destructive mega corporation and forced compliance are the same! Close the book!!!

  22. Milton says:

    Austin-
    How is it forced compliance? How are you forced to be associated? You’re choosing to attend SPX, right? If you don’t like it just don’t go. Don’t attend or table. Hell, start your own show and keep it pure! Isn’t SPX just a brand now anyways?mi

  23. No, I’m saying that pointing out that TCJ/Fanta is in no position to antagonize Amazon/Comixology because they are ‘distributed’ by Amazon is a bad argument. Because Amazon has destroyed the bookstore market, almost all publishers are ‘forced’ to work with them. Those that are freely volunteering to promote Amazon/Comixology are doing something completely different and it deserves to be critiqued, especially by those who have experience with the deeply negative aspects of working with Amazon. If a bully backs you into a corner, you might be one of the best people to point out their danger.

    I’ve never bought table space at SPX and haven’t attended the show in almost a decade, the table prices are too high. If the show, which is fun and cool and does so much great stuff, is going to be so closely aligned with Amazon in the future, I don’t see why many cartoonists would continue to go and make it happen. Amazon is only going to continue to make itself an antagonist to artists, a comic with cute cartoon characters on the cover is not where this ends.

  24. Milton says:

    I agree with some of that, for sure. I would also say that the publisher of this comic, and other POD publishers, feel like they’re in a similar position as Fanta/TCJ and use the platform because it’s one of the more effective ways to publish and get into a larger market. Forgiving the one while demonizing the other is pretty bad as well.

  25. Austin English says:

    Except one is promoting the exact force that makes things so difficult, while the other is forced to go along with it.

  26. Milton says:

    Valid. Putting the comixology stamp on the book is pretty shameless. As a person who uses POD, I would never let a stamp like that be on my work. I can kind of see why someone would, though. It’s along the SE ones as a punk band going from self promotion to signing with a major label. It’s a sell-out, for sure, but if that’s their goal than that’s their goal. Just don’t toss all other POD into the garbage heap because of it.

  27. Kim O'Connor says:

    I hate this op-ed even though I agree with a lot of it. This is an important issue that deserved much more careful consideration.

    That said: while I can understand why Hope Nicholson wouldn’t want to see copies of Hit Reblog in the trash at SPX, I can’t see how Casey telling people to put them there is in any way an action against her small press. Materially, it is an action against Comixology/Amazon, the entity that is (I presume) paying for the cost of printing the copies of the book that are being given away for free. I would further presume that Comixiology Originals is paying Hope for that privilege.

    I also think it’s weird to be indigent about anyone mistaking Comixology Originals for the publisher when their logo is the only one that’s on the cover. Is the Bedside Press log on the cover? It doesn’t seem to be, so far as I can tell, though I know it’s included here.

    So far as I can tell Bedside Press isn’t funding the giveaway, or selling copies of the book for money at the event. For these reasons I find Hope’s comments disingenuous. I’m not criticizing her decision to work with Amazon, but turning this op-ed into an attack on small press or whatever is self-serving and gross.

  28. Nancy says:

    How is comiXology Original on the cover any different than the other indie creators who have BOOM! or Marvel, or whatever publisher’s logo on the comics they’re selling? Why does comiXology Original get scorn but none of the others? There’s no one way to do comics yet the elitist attitude on display here would make one think otherwise.

    I was at SPX today and all I saw were happy attendees buying up all sorts of comics and maybe grabbing one for free that has the works of a lot of talented people in it. I’ve been reading the comic on my way home and there’s a lot of creators I have never heard of that now I’m going to check out. Amazon destroying comics? They just introduced me to a bunch for free!

    This doesn’t look like people destroying comics to me it looks like folks removing the gate that TCJ and their parent Fantagraphics want to uphold https://twitter.com/comiXology/status/1041011991710580737

  29. Leon says:

    If flyers saying “buy more books on amazon” were being passed out at the door I’d feel the same as getting palmed a copy of Hit Reblog, let’s not dance around the issue, Hit Reblog, whatever it’s content is being used as an advertisement for Amazon. I also find it unsettling that someone would consider themselves “small press” when the name Comixology Original is stamped all over their book. Since when was the name of a printer and distributor listed above the artist and publisher?

  30. Milton says:

    Every Free Comic Book Day is essentially this, right? Marvel is owned by Disney (a highly reprehensible corporation that treats its employees like slaves) and DC is owned by Warner Brothers (a highly reprehensible corporation that championed the death of net neutrality). All this and there’s a box on every cover tied to it that says PREVIEWS in giant letters, as a big ad for Diamond Distribution (which arguably choked off and dragged the direct market to its slow death). This happens EVERY YEAR. Comics as an industry is chock full of whores.

  31. Austin English says:

    Nancy: what do you mean ‘indie’ creators who have Marvel printed on their comic? If Marvel is printed on your comic, it is not independent, and there’s a reason Marvel doesn’t exhibit at SPX: they are a giant corporation. The Small Press Expo is supposed to be a place where approaches different than Marvel are meant to thrive or have a venue for commerce without competing against Marvel’s offerings. Marvel and Amazon own the world of media, they have unlimited $$$ to spread awareness of their products, they are not barred entry to any corner of the world…to say that it’s ‘elitist’ to question why Amazon needs to advertise itself at SPX is confusing at best, as Amazon actively destroys the venues where the artists at SPX can sell their work (bookstores, comic shops).

    Also, ‘why does comixology get scorn and none of the others?’

    This publication devoted decades of scorn towards Marvel, for their reprehensible treatment of their artists.

  32. Austin English says:

    Small press work is not elitist…the people that run Amazon and Marvel are, LITERALLY, the elite!

  33. I am essentially in agreement with Kim on her points – I think that RJ could have written a better, more thoughtful and nuanced essay, but I agree with most of his points.

    Specifically, RJ Casey is the previous publisher of Yeti Press a micropress for comics. I think his perspective as a previous publisher would have been a valuable addition to this essay. I think that much of his opinion comes from doing that work, but it would have been nice to see that evidenced here.

  34. Milton says:

    I have to ask, maybe just to be devil’s advocate-do people feel the same way about Fantagraphic’s partnership with Disney? Disney could be seen as just as bad, if not worse, than Amazon for both treatment of workers and treatment of creatives working for them. Fantagraphics brings that IP into shows like SPX and directly feeds money to the House of Mouse through licensing fees and the like. Would this be considered an equal evil?

  35. Kim O'Connor says:

    There’s a lot of drift in these comments about who has the right to cast stones or whatever… You can demand ideological purity for someone to even open their mouth or you can try to look at these issues honestly.

    Bedside Press & co. marching into these comments trying to pretend like Casey’s op-ed is some sort of elitist attack on small press is dishonest, self-serving, and reprehensible. Hope Nicholson complaining about “erasure” when she effectively erased her own involvement by opting to put the Comixology Originals logo on the front (and leaving off her own logo) and making the book part of that company’s free giveaway is absurd. Her assertion that Casey observing that HIT REBLOG looks shitty (not just in terms of its production values, but also in terms of actual content) is “attacking a Canadian small press” is…I don’t even know the word for that. Delusional, maybe? Regurgitating web comics into the most insipid possible versions of themselves may be lucrative, which is not nothing. But demanding unearned respect for the artistic integrity of that project is just a joke.

  36. Milton says:

    Kim-
    The main drive of this op-ed is about the negative effects of allowing a predatory corporation into a small press show. At no time was there a consideration for the content or quality of materials distributed. It could be said that things like Fantagraphics allowing their Disney licensed material into SPX could be considered a gateway that allowed this sort of thing to happen. Disney has their logo all over those books and Fantagraphics has even given out books for FCBD with those properties. If Fantagraphics wants to put forth a criticism of a small press partnering with a large, unethical corporation then they should honestly consider their own involvement with a large, unethical corporation and how they act to further the reach of that corporation. You know what they say about glass houses and all that.

  37. Alex Hoffman says:

    @Milton: Why do you assume RJ speaks for Fantagraphics and not as an invested comics writer, former publisher, and critic? You keep trying to shoehorn a presumption that RJ is the company mouthpiece into the conversation, but it’s not even worth Kim’s time to directly respond to. You’re like that awful Matt Bors comic on repeat.

  38. Milton says:

    Because he is. He’s an editor for Fanta writing an inflammatory screed against an independent publisher for working with a horrible company. He’s actually in the exact same situation. It’s not that I told you so bullshit. How is one criticism legit while the other is not?

  39. All the hysterical warning by Mr. Casey is tiresome. Not to worry, the visionary cartoonist who is determined to make risograph limited edition minicomics will not be swayed by Dark Lord Bezos.

    But let’s get real. I witnessed the real world at SPX this year and it was made up of a wide spectrum of people with a myriad of interests, hopes, and aspirations. ComiXology was there. Fantagraphics was there. And so on down the line.

    There were a lot of young people. And they don’t need to be clobbered over the head by anyone. Maybe they could make use of some sort of POD to help them along the way. Then they move on with their lives. They self-publish something that will only ever get read by a limited number of readers and without Amazon being involved one bit. Big Etc.

    People have lives to lead and those lives can be messy and full of distractions and stuff to figure out. Young people have dreams. And young people are smarter than you think. Maybe a lot of them are dazzled by the big hypothetical of being picked up by a big publisher or working at some big shiny animation studio where they get to think they’re a big shot. Career options. That is part of the reason many flocked to see Rebecca Sugar. That’s okay too.

    We have such a limited time on this planet. Be good to each other. Try to communicate in a honest way. That’s all I’ve got for now. No risograph printers were hurt in the making of these comments.

  40. Milton says:

    I guess what is really, truly bothering me about this is the fact that both The Comics Journal and it’s parent company Fantagraphics would host an article by one of their editors with such an ivory tower treatment of the issue. These are well respected institutions in independent comics with ties incredibly similar to that of the subject of the opinion piece. Not one thing was said about the corporate ties of the writer’s employers or addressing how these relationships contribute to and exacerbate the exact same problems as the subject of the piece, even after spending so many words criticizing such a small publication that would have gone mostly unnoticed without said criticisms. It could even be said that the writer’s employers have brought more money and attention to Amazon and Disney with their business ties than the subject of the article ever could. From that point of view it’s hypocritical and, to a certain degree, unethical of the writer to voice his opinions in the way he did in this op-ed while holding the positions he holds, his previous experience be damned. I would place this level of scrutiny on any media outlet and I would hope others would, too. Call it annoying but it’s true. RJ is an editor at Fantagraphics and The Comics Journal now. He’s their mouthpiece as long as he puts words up here.

  41. Nancy says:

    Austin – There’s many indie/small press creators that are at SPX who have done work for Marvel, Image, DC, BOOM! and bring those works to sell along with their own self-published work. This has been going on for years and it’s been amazing to watch folks who were at SPX five six years ago now doing work for those publishers. There seems to be no issue with that among TCJ, the focus on a small press publisher having “comixology originals” on the cover is dishonest, especially when the site’s owner is Fantagraphics who has published works by Disney who actually has done damage to creators when it comes to intellectual property rights.

    On top of the numerous indie comics I purchased this weekend, I also was able to get a few Marvel issues I was missing and previous years have bought original art that was published by BOOM!. This is no different than any of that and shame on this site for thinking there is.

  42. “Will artists have to order and pay for their own books to be printed on demand to sell at shows?”

    Like a good chunk of us do, you mean? Because we don’t have a publisher or enough money to make a 500-1000 copies print run of our books?

    Don’t be a silly goose and pay attention to the dribble that comes out of your mouth next time.

  43. I think some people are misinterpreting RJ’s question, “Will artists have to order and pay for their own books to be printed on demand to sell at shows?”

    He’s saying that, if Amazon took over SPX, would they force exhibitors to only sell comics that are printed-on-demand by Amazon to promote Amazon’s service?

    Maybe if your comics are printed by Amazon you get a cheaper table rate?

    It doesn’t seem impossible to me. Amazon does love to take over a market and push aside most small competition…

  44. Matt Seneca says:

    If your response to an alarm being sounded against an Unequivocally Bad Thing is sitting around and waiting for a different one sounded by someone you deem to be 100% ideologically pure, you’re gonna be waiting a long time. maybe the comics industry will still exist by then, maybe not! Seems to be of secondary concern to some.

  45. Milton says:

    I don’t expect you to be 100% ideologically pure if you own and admit that you’re not. This piece comes off as a hypocritical and elitist hit piece to some because of that. Amazon is a danger but so is hiding your part of its march into the industry.

  46. Hmmm…I exhibited at SPX this weekend as I have every year since 2010 and didn’t see the first sign of any of this Amazon taint, including not even seeing the free comics anthology that was apparently given away. It was only after reading this piece that I became aware that Amazon had some tangential connection to the show. I had to go back to the printed SPX program to find a tiny box tucked in the corner of one page mentioning Comixology’s sponsoring (i.e., paying the tab) for the Ignatz Award ceremony or some such. From reading this article and the comments thread, you would have thought Amazon had bought and run the whole show. I’ve been either attending or exhibiting at SPX since 1999, and I saw no difference in the show at all this year compared to the recent past. I’m a big fan of Fantagraphics and absolutely no fan of Amazon–I hate them for most all of the reasons cited here–but I think the proverbial molehill has been magnified into a mountain by this piece and the comments that followed.

  47. In the introduction to the article, Tim Hodler writes “Today on the site, new co-editor of the print TCJ RJ Casey writes in to state his unhappiness with comiXology’s plans to exhibit at this weekend’s Small Press Expo”, so it doesn’t seem like Fantagraphics is doing a very good job of hiding RJ Casey’s role, Milton.

  48. Milton says:

    I wasn’t talking about hiding RJ’s role, Lars. I was talking about the lack of transparency on Fantagraphics (his employers) and their use of Comixology and Amazon to distribute their books, including the new print edition of The Comics Journal.

  49. Adam says:

    A lot of people seems to be missing or intentionally obscuring the point that Amazon’s partnership on Hit Reblog is a pretty textbook example of how they can use their POD service to engage in price dumping. Even more so when you think about how it was promoted by the show itself.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumping_(pricing_policy)

    Everyone else at SPX had to pay outrageous table fees, for travel and printing costs, and price their works accordingly. And this is the structure set and enforced by SPX’s organizers. For them to then turn around, take money from Amazon, and allow a book to be anti-competitively dumped on the show seems, if not corrupt, at least telling about their lack of commitment to creating a market that serves all artists equally, let alone “independent” comics. No artists or publisher can compete within a two-tiered system of fees and hard-scrabble booth sales for some exhibitors and massive corporate subsidies and institutional backing/exemptions for others.

  50. Any publisher has to deal with Amazon and Comixology (unless they’re small niche companies), and Fantagraphics isn’t exactly keeping that a secret either, as far as I can tell? That this should somehow bar them from publishing an opinion piece that points out how problematic it is for a publisher to go into bed with The Beast to this extent is just mind-boggling to me.

    Hit Reblog was used as a promotional tool for Comixology at a small press event. I hope the publisher was well paid by Amazon for this, but the publication is still an ad for Amazon.

  51. Adam says:

    Milton-

    There’s no moral equivalency because Fantagraphics isn’t being subsidized from Amazon. They have to compete in the market that’s been left in the wake of Amazon like everyone else, but they’re not taking money from them and have explicitly said they will not play along with their POD scheme.

    You can harp on this point all you want, but all it exposes is your lack of critical thinking about the difference in circumstances.

  52. Nancy:

    Youre saying these three things are the same

    1. Fanta publishing editions of Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson’s work that focus on their biography and their artistic achievements, artists who Disney DID NOT CREDIT, now in editions that are devoted to treating these artists with dignity.
    2. Artists selling comp copies of work they did for a large publisher at their table alongside original art.
    3. An agreeement to advertise and promote a service from a predatory company that makes the financial life of artists and publishers alike much harder.

    The first are good things for artists, the third is not. That’s why one thing is being focused on and the others are not.

  53. Ian Harker says:

    RJ’s point about POD killing off handmade comics by introducing the consumeristic values of corporations like Amazon has some validity if only indirectly. SPX has changed drastically and you’re absolutely seeing a drop off in handmade comics and craft/art comics. This is because those comics are being outcompeted for dollars by people selling mostly merch and other trash consumeristic content as opposed to comics. The culture of SPX and standard of quality on the show floor has devolved out of control and is completely out of sync with their own professed standards of quality as spelled out in the Ignatz nominations. Luckily there are still shows like CAB that are closely curated to feature the best comics being made. It’s been an open secret for years that SPX is spiraling into nerdy alt-consumerism for years but this year really felt like the corner was completely turned. I’m sure this comes of like an “Old” but CAB and other art-centric festivals are full of young interesting artists making worthwhile works with out the obnoxious banners, pins, t-shirts and whatever junk Amazon will happily provide for you as easy as possible.

  54. Milton says:

    Adam-
    I could honestly say the same to you on the lack of critical thought on the issue. Yes, like every other publisher, they have to utilize Amazon or Comixology to distribute and make a profit. What I’m saying is that they’re down in the shit with the rest of us, not above on some moral high ground. One would expect some clarity if a news organization had ties to a corporation that they have a business relationship with. I would have much more respect for this story if this was made clear.
    As far as the Disney properties- it’s one point of view to say that they’re honoring forgotten artists and showcasing important work. That would be the side of a cartoonist or artist. The other side, the side of the layman, is that this helps service IP’s that sell everything from shampoo to streaming video services. Do you think a 12 year old in Barnes and Noble gives two shits about Carl Barks? They just want a Mickey Mouse book. Just like they want they’ll want the toys and underoos. Disney wouldn’t have signed the agreement if they didn’t think it would help them move units and spread their own vast, evil empire. That situation is VERY MUCH equivalent.

  55. Joe Procopio says:

    Adam, you said:

    “Everyone else at SPX had to pay outrageous table fees…”

    First of all, the table fees are far from outrageous, especially for an event of this caliber and pedigree. Second, no, not everyone pays table fees. It’s an inconvenient fact, but I know that Fantagraphics itself is “subsidized” to attend this show. My point being that this is all a little more complicated and nuanced than you seem to suggest and perhaps understand.

    Again, I hate Amazon and love Fantagraphics, but Amazon didn’t have a table or displace anybody from the show, and outside of a pile of free Comixology comics (which weren’t going to compete with any other exhibitor’s wares at the show, and which I frankly didn’t see a single copy of), Amazon had zero presence at SPX.

    It’s worth remembering that SPX is a nonprofit, whose founding members still maintain a stake in the show. Amazon can’t “colonize” it or buy it (like it has so many other things). The show is self-sustaining without any sponsors, but if some sponsor wants to throw money at the show, allowing them to fly in and put up speakers like Roz Chast and Jules Feiffer, and only ask to dump some free comics with their logo outside one of the events, then take the money.

  56. Leon says:

    Before anyone says ANYTHING critical about Amazon, you’re gonna need to post your PRIME status and ordering history. If you EVER watched the Disney channel, GTFO. Amazon’s POD program was crafted with the utmost intent of helping young artists achieve their goals. I can’t wait to sign up for Comixology Unlimited at my local zine fair. I know SPX has a lottery system for tabling, fingers crossed that indie underdog Walmart will get to exhibit next year.

  57. Milton says:

    Yup, why vet a media outlets or criticize them for being hypocritical or admitting to adding to the problem being adressed! Let them put forth an alarmist opinion column while ignoring profits made from utilizing the same system that is being called out! Corporations are people too!

  58. Have we reached the meta part in the comments section yet?

    It all makes me nostalgic. Ever since Fantagraphics started publishing comics themselves, whenever the Comics Journal publishes a piece where somebody gives a negative take on a comic published by someone else, or a piece where somebody criticises something in the industry, you’d be sure to find somebody in the letters pages calling Fantagraphics hypocrites (because Fantagraphics once published a comic that wasn’t good, or used Diamond as a distributor), which then makes the piece invalid, somehow. (I never figured out how.)

    35 years later, nothing’s changed, which is … fun?

  59. Nancy says:

    Austin – at no point in this entire article, or the comments below, has the case been made that Amazon makes any creator’s life more difficult. It’s all opinion and speculation. This wouldn’t pass muster in any debate class at all. Provide actual examples of an indie creator being hurt by Amazon. You can’t. It hasn’t happened.

  60. Nancy says:

    And if Fantagraphics has an issue with Amazon’s sponsorship of some elements or another publisher doing print on demand (something many of the creators attending are doing), they can not attend next year. Honestly they won’t be missed. Those tables can go to other indie creators, there’s a list of people who want to exhibit.

  61. Austin English says:

    Nancy: i’ve worked in bookstores, including as a buyer, for a decade. Comic and bookstores used to do robust enough huisness to supoort large zine and mini comic sections, which provided income to local and established artists of all kinds. As amazon has decimated the book buisness (something i’d be suprised to see you dispute) that is rarer and rarer. Yes, zines and minis thrive in certain stores, but the culture of small press or underground work existing in a bookstore is dwindling. Less bookstores in general, less chances taken. For artists, shows like SPX are the replacement! And now, of course, after desteoying the book industry, Amazon is making its presence known at small press shows.

    Amazon sells books at deep discounts, meaning they make publishers settle for less $$. This means a worse situation for all involved, especially artists. You can say ‘they [artists and publishers] dont need to participate’ but because Amazon has cut the bookstore buisness in half, publishers are forced to work with them. Shows like SPX become more and more essential for selling books and PAYING artists.

    Your response to a publisher saying they are uncomfortable with the idea of Amazon having an increased presence at SPX is that that publisher should not attend. But is it possible that they are sounding an alarm, hoping that Amazon doesn’tdestroy the few non bookstore related delivery systems available to artists? Isn’t the specter of amazon being a distributor, publisher and retailer concerning?

  62. Austin English says:

    If you want a personal example, how’s this: my publisher sells my book on Amazon. They are paid much less by Amazon then by a bookstore. Less bookstore clients because of Amazon means less money for the publisher to use on/pay their artists reliably. This situation is true, in varyjng degrees, of basically any artist in comics or person who makes books (or media, since amazon is involved in it all these days) of any kind.

  63. Austin English says:

    Actual authors being hurt by amazons third party sellers practice, one of their lesser known horrible scams.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/12/opinion/book-publishing-amazon-sales.html

    https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/third-party-sellers-can-now-win-the-buy-box-on-amazon_us_590b309be4b05279d4edc31f

    Amazons treatment of independent authors
    https://www.mhpbooks.com/amazon-kills-70-royalties-for-authors-who-wont-play-ball-on-pricing/

    Most of these articles assume a knowledge of amazons horrible practices leading up to the ebook/3rd party/independent author problems explored within. Here’s a good overview of the transgressions that brought us to where we are now

    https://www.thenation.com/article/amazon-effect/

  64. Jake says:

    Ian writes “This is because those comics are being outcompeted for dollars by people selling mostly merch and other trash consumeristic content as opposed to comics”

    The first SPX I went to was the last one in the Holliday Inn, 2004 I think, and even then there were a lot of people selling non-comics related stuff, like the guy who had nothing but video game characters painted on little pieces of wood.

  65. Russ Maheras says:

    While there are exceptions, in my lifetime, to squeeze out every penny of profit, distributors generally try to strong-arm and screw-over both publishers and retailers, and publishers generally try to strong-arm and screw-over creators. It’s a jungle out there, and anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling themselves.

    This basically gives creators trying to survive a career creating comics three choices:

    (1) Self-publish, retain ownership, fight the wolves every step of the way to eke out enough money to survive, and hope you hit the lottery like Eastman and Laird.

    (2.) Work for a publisher as a freelancer or a salaried employee on other people’s “toys,” let those other people worry about dealing with the wolves, and while you can walk away whenever you want to, you’ll have nothing to show for your years employed except lines on a resume and, hopefully, a steady paycheck.

    (3.) A hybrid approach, where, for a considerable chunk whatever pie there may be, you partner with a publisher, and while they deal with the wolves, you retain ownership and whatever dough is left over. The latter works fine if a work is considerably popular, but if it isn’t, creators will find out quickly such an arrangement will eventually lead to the poorhouse.

    There is, however, a fourth option, and it’s the option I chose in 1978: Get, and keep, a decent-paying, unrelated day job, and create/self-publish whenever you feel like it. It won’t matter a whit if your publication loses money. Hell, you can GIVE all of your books away! And, if your personal/professional life gets so complicated you want to go on a creative hiatus for a year or more, you can do so with no adverse effects. You won’t starve, or lose a place to live.

    Best of all, you can create whatever you feel like, with ZERO market pressure, and retain ownership. If, for shits and grins, you want to draw a strip with binary code in balloons instead of words, you can do so. You can ignore zombies or whatever genre happens to be hot, and wander down artistic rat-holes that no one has explored before – just to amuse yourself! If THAT’S not artistic freedom, I don’t know what is! Of course, if you get lucky, and pioneer a new trend that takes off, you can always quit your day job if the cash flow becomes a torrent.

    No wolves. No fuss. No muss.

  66. Oliver C says:

    The fourth option is what works for me as well, Russ. It might have taken 6 years from laying out the first page to physical copies of the first issue, but the comic is mine (and my friends’).

  67. Russ Maheras says:

    Haha! A person after my own heart. I have published eight issues of my fanzine in 44 years — 1974 (issues #1 and #2), 1987 (#3), 1988 (#4), 1989 (#5), 1990 (#6), 1999 (#7), and 2003 (#8). There may be a #9 eventually, but then again, there may not. I drew almost nothing for the past 18 months with no financial ill effects. A few weeks ago, I started drawing again because I had a few things I was motivated about working on. One of them was a Ditko “Marvel Monster” tribute back cover I drew for the October issue of the amateur press association (APA), “Cartoon Loonacy,” which I’ve been a member of for more than nine years. I also decided to catch up on drawing my personal “artist proof” cards for the three Topps trading card series I drew original art sketch cards for in 2015: “Star Wars: High-Tek,” “Mars Attacks: Invasion,” and “Mars Attacks: Occupation.” I’ve completed 12 such personal color cards so far, and have about a dozen more blanks left. With the holidays coming, I may cut back again on drawing, and if I do, it will have zero impact on my livelihood — which is just the way I like it.

  68. Alex A. says:

    Russ:
    Why does the day job in option 4 need to be “unrelated”? Can’t the person who’s chosen option 2, “salaried employee on other people’s toys” go home and create/self publish their own comics with zero market pressure just like you? Does the person who chooses option 4 likewise have “nothing to show for your years employed”, or only the people who’ve chosen option 2?

  69. Russ Maheras says:

    It doesn’t have to be, but I’ve found there are not many freelancer art jobs these days that offer steady employment. Most involve piecework gigs where the artist is constantly hustling from job to job. So, realistically, odds are steady employment will be unrelated. If one can get lucky and get a steady art gig, great. But it’s not likely.

    And there’s this consideration. After spending 8-12 hours a day drawing at work, are you really going to be energized to draw for pleasure when you get home? In my case, drawing is a form of escape – a release from day-to-day stress and anxiety. In addition, I don’t like being forced to draw stuff I’m not interested in drawing. If I’m a corporate graphic artist, I could be drawing widgets all day – if I can even find such a position in today’s job market. Most in-house graphic arts positions have been eliminated and contracted out on an as needed basis – in many cases overseas, where the talent is far cheaper.

    Another thing to consider is how many full-time drawing gigs do you know of where you get medical, dental, paid holidays, paid vacation, a guaranteed 40-hour workweek, and a retirement plan/401k? Again, there are a few out there, but not many. Other benefits offered may also include paid sick leave, maternity leave, stock options, and tuition assistance.

    No, I recommend an unrelated day job with as many benefits as one can wrangle. But that’s just me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *