Today on the People’s Guide to Publishing podcast, Joe and Elly answer a reader question. The reader has an idea and a draft outline of a graphic novel; what are their next steps in pursuing publication? We offer some advice, a few cautions, and encouragement for getting into the comics side of the publishing industry.
This project is a little different. Instead of promoting just one book, we’ve decided to give you six at once—six very different books that span our interests and eras.
The norm in publishing is to put out multiple books each season (of which, in this industry, there are three–Spring and Fall are the main ones, and then there’s a small Winter season right after the xmas holidaze). Usually the publisher picks one book from each season and puts all their resources behind it, gambling on making it a blockbuster. We’ve never done this, mostly because we haven’t had the money to gamble on promoting books in the traditional ways. Instead, we spread our best efforts equally around all the books and hope they all win.
So this project represents our (cough) brand, our business model, and a strong sampling of the topics, styles, interests, authors, and books that we care about deeply.
Sandor Ellix Katz’z Basic Fermentation is the blockbuster here… it’s a substantial new edition of the cute little zine-turned-book, Wild Fermentation, that has been winning hearts for years. We also have new editions of Cristy C. Road’s underground classic Indestructible and Dan Méndez Moore’s gripping comics journalism account of Six Days in Cincinnati. we’re putting a spine on Raleigh Briggs’s friendly, hand-written Fix Your Clothes, and we finally gave Kelli Refer’s Pedal, Stretch, Breathe an ISBN. And we have a brand-new book in the mix, too: The Prodigal Rogerson represents J. Hunter Bennett’s meticulous and spirited research into the mysterious disappearance (and reappearance) of the Circle Jerk’s original bassist and songwriter.
Like any good books, these ones are good for entertainment… and so much more. Fixing your clothes, your gut health with fermented food, your wounded sense of community and political rightness… books can provide all that and more, and that’s what gets us up in the morning and keeps us going day after day.
Read more about them over at Kickstarter, where you’ll also have a chance to get to live chat with some of the authors and the people who make Microcosm go!
You have a great intro in each book about its origin story. What’s the short version of the story of how these two works went from idea to zines to books.
The short version is basically me dealing with poverty and heartbreak through art. I couldn’t afford to eat and drawing these pictures of my idols comfort eating amused me and served as an almost type of therapy. Turning them into zines to sell made it so I could afford the luxuries of eating. Having those zines turn into cookbooks was the thanks of you dearies at Microcosm as well as Joshua Ploeg. It’s one of the few artistic projects of mine that went somewhere and actually had a happy ending. Usually my creations die in obscurity or my ideas go unnoticed. This has been a great change of pace.
The response to these books has been tremendous! Have you had any particularly funny, touching, hostile, or weird encounters as a result of the books (or zines)?
Hahha. For the most part, I have been really floored by the support. There have been a few Morrissey fans not so amused by it but I expected as much. Honestly, I was really worried about the timing of the Nick Cave one since these were made before he lost his son and I didn’t want anybody to get the wrong idea. Fortunately most people get that this all came from a humorous place of love.
You do a lot of music and video art. What are your other projects? What are you working on right now that you’re most excited about?
Right now I have a one woman band called Lacey Spacecake where I write and record all the songs, play the instruments, sing, and make the videos.
I’m also in a band called Bat Fancy. Unfortunately none of the members live in the same state so we are temporarily on a hiatus but here is a spooooooky Halloween video I made for us.
I’m also doing the art for my friend’s documentary about The Cure’s fans. She’s been working on the thing for 16 years.
Other than that, I do a lot of comedy videos and have a day in music segment (From Day To Zingg) every Tuesday for my buddy Kurt’s WFMU show. It’s never scripted and I usually say a lot of nonsense ranging from accusing Meatloaf of the assassination of JFK to telling people that if you play Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” backwards, it’s actually Peter Cetera’s recipe for grits.
But you can find most of my art, musings, videos, words, and projects on my website.
What’s next? We hope you’ll draw more rock icons eating…
Definitely more zines and definitely more rockstars consuming things. Currently I’m working on an “Adult Activity Book” with things like “YO MAMMA JOKES WITH JARVIS COCKER” and “HANGOVER CURES WITH THE CURE.” I’m also doing an illustrated guide to these bizarre weather reports I used to write in LA. What else? I’m trying to get a public access show in Queens where I play the part of a sad bear that asks artists and musicians really existential questions. It’s called “I CAN’T BEAR THIS.” I’m still looking for the perfect bear costume. There are worse problems to have.
(P.S. You can also watch an election video Automne made for Kickstarter right here! You too may find yourself supporting David Boowie and the Ghost Formerly Known as Prince on the 2016 ballot.)
We ask all of our interns to choose a book and review it for our blog. Usually, when tasked with this assignment, they head downstairs to the warehouse and deliberate for a half hour. Sometimes it takes them a few days to choose. Not Dylan. He immediately knew. Here’s his review, and an appropriately tough selfie with the book:
Tom Neely’s Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever is hilarious. The idea of taking two icons from the hardcore punk scene (which, at its height in the mid-80s, was taken over by macho assholes who made the scene about faux masculinity) and creating a fictional gay romance between them is just genius.
The thing I appreciated most about the book, however, is its constant references and jokes about not just The Misfits and Black Flag but about heavy metal and punk music in general. This is also, unfortunately, what limits the audience of the book, since your average reader probably doesn’t know who the hell King Diamond or Ian MacKaye are, but for people who do understand these references, they make reading this book all the more enjoyable.
I myself lost it when aliens brought zombies to life and announced that their prime directive was to “exterminate the whole fucking place,” as well as every time I noticed all the random 138s scattered about.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with reasonable knowledge about punk and metal music and culture.
One of our oldest, cutest, funniest books is Applicant. Originally a zine that made the transition to bookdom after it sold gazillions of copies to guffawing survivors of the academic industrial complex. Creator Jesse Reklaw found a pile of old applications in the trash behind a major university, complete with photos of the applicants. He paired these photos with choice, typed comments made by the evaluating committee. And ohhh it was painful. The only other thing I’ve seen quite like it is the sadly now-defunct “Nice Guys of OK Cupid” blog. But in this case, we relate to the derided applicants and are angry at the smug, faceless judges that once, long ago determined their fates.
Reklaw, who has a new book coming out soon, answered some questions over email many years after the fact.
1. Applicant is one of our earliest books, and it still holds up painfully, hilariously well. Did any of the applicants pictured ever contact you? Do you get guilty emails from interviewers wanting to confess their application commentary sins?
Man, I wish I’d get guilty, confessional emails! How do I arrange that? I have earnestly tried not to connect with anyone pictured in Applicant; because I am afraid of getting sued. In fact, I recycled all the original files and deleted the names of the people from my computer (maybe also because I know I am a born stalker, and I did not want the temptation around). I do know a woman who got her Ph.D. in neuroscience from one of the future professors pictured in that book; she said he was a good guy. But still.
2. You’ve done a bunch of different kinds of books… mostly comics. Do you have a favorite genre or type or style or topic?
Yes, comics is my main thing. Applicant was kind of a fluke for me, inspired by my interest in zine culture. I actually made the whole thing in the summer of 1998, after I dropped out of grad school. In some ways I think of Applicant as my Meta Masters Thesis: my critique of grad school culture and what was for me a better alternative (dumpster diving). I have always preferred personal, raw, independent voices in publishing. So regarding comics, I’ve read a lot of autobio, graphic novel memoirs, and diary comics. Lynda Barry and John Porcellino are two of my heroes. I also like well-crafted comics fiction, usually on the oddball side.
3. What have you read or seen recently that inspired you the most?
I realized a couple years ago that I have failed to read very much fiction by women, so this year I’m trying to correct that. I’ve been quite inspired by Virginia Woolf. I try to keep up with comics (“graphic novels”) too. Three recent favorites that come to mind are Beautiful Darkness by Kerascoët, By This Shall You Know Him by Jesse Jacobs, and Arsène Schrauwen by Olivier Schrauwen.
4. What are you working on right now that you’re most excited about?
I just finished making a travel diary / sketchbook / graphic novel called LOVF, that will be released from Fantagraphics Books in July this year. This book evolved from a notebook I had with me during a manic phase, and it’s dripping with intricate, intense, and confusing drawings. After I got better (?), I added a narrative so it kind of tells the story of my “vision quest” as a homeless crazy man. I’m excited and terrified to go on tour to promote this book.
Find Applicant here!
I stood slack-jawed as Nate Powell’s legendary band, Soophie Nun Squad, whooped and cinderblocked through a set at More Than Music Festival in 1998. His earnestness and zeal were a refreshing break from the increasingly common “we don’t put our band name on our record cover” genre of pretentious fashion punk that was increasingly bumming me out. I wrote Nate a fan letter in 1999 and Microcosm started to distribute his comics shortly thereafter. Nate and I shared the heart-on-sleeve DIY transparency of artistic youthful expression and in 2002 he booked Soophie to perform at my wedding. So Naturally, in 2006, when Nate expressed frustration that Soft Skull had again delayed the release of his third book, Sounds of Your Name, I agreed that Microcosm could publish it.
What I didn’t know about at the time is what Providence artist Mike Taylor refers to as “The Nate Powell Curse.” Taylor mentioned this to me casually when I was on tour in Providence later that year like the curse’s legend was as widespread as detergent samples and cereal box mascot lore. When we received the first 4,200 copies back from the printer, they were all were misprinted with the wrong line screen applied to each page and the cover, making every image appear grainy.
It was incredibly frustrating, costing Microcosm over $18,000 and drying up ten years of savings. It was also the physically largest book we had published and the boxes created a wall in the basement next to our office. But never fear, Nate Powell came to the rescue, creating an elaborate coupon scheme to sell off the first printing at half price with a redemption offer to purchase a corrected printing for $10. We joked that it would become the biggest punk scam of all time with bootleg coupons appearing in Kinko’s next to illicit free ice cream and Odwalla coupons. In reality fewer than 100 people ever took us up on it.
In a 2009 interview with me, Nate describes the situation thusly:
Nearly every comic I’ve had published in the last five years has been dead in the water—that is—it has some printing or distribution flaw or it’s overlooked by the publisher and immediately pulled out of print. Please Release by Top Shelf was the only exception. It came out perfectly. Sounds of Your Name took the curse to a whole new level—all 4,200 copies were horribly pixelated and non-returnable. They were sold at discount with an explanation and stuff, but the damage was done.
Slowly, new problems emerged. What is now called “metadata” became our newest, greatest foe as databases began warning buyers to avoid buying the book due to the misprint even after we had issued a new printing and a new edition with a new cover and ISBN. We had listed everything correctly but yet the data propagated incorrectly all over the Internet. It felt like banging my head against a brick wall once per month for about five years.
Again, from Nate’s 2009 interview with me:
I grew up believing I would never be able to make a living as a cartoonist, then fumbled a few chances to get on “the train” doing books for Vertigo or Dark Horse, and now I’m almost positive I’ll never be able to just draw for a living.
By the end of 2009, Nate had won the Eisner Award for “Best Graphic Novel” for his follow-up Swallow Me Whole. He was nominated for the LA Times Book Award as the first graphic novel since Maus. He had become a household name in comic stores.
None of us easily deterred, I met with Brett Warnock of Top Shelf who had since become Nate’s publisher. Brett suggested printing a postcard, offering a discount, and including a signed print to remind people about the book and get stores to stock it. Nate happily complied with creating a limited, full-color print and signing and numbering 200 of them. We launched the campaign and most buyers responded, asking if they could buy the book from Diamond Comics, the wholesalers who distributes to most comic stores.
I had to mail copies to Diamond three separate times before they were convinced that theSounds of Your Name books were properly printed. But by that point a year had passed and Diamond now took up the argument that fans weren’t interested in Nate’s early work.
Still, the availability for Sounds increased when Microcosm signed distribution deals with Independent Publisher’s Group and Turnaround UK in 2011. And Nate was making so many conference appearances that fans were clamoring for his “lost book.”
But even three years later when Nate was signed on as the artist for Freedom Rider and Congressman John Lewis’ March, we still could not convince stores to stock Sounds. Finally, in 2014 as Nate was featured in virtually every mainstream publication, was doing interviews on CNN, and became a New York Times bestselling author, Barnes & Noble bought several hundred copies of Sounds. Naturally, they ended up returning most of them over the following year.
So we’ve all clearly given the book our best effort but still excited fans of Nate’s are just discovering that it even exists every day. This story isn’t new or unique to this book by any means, but it’s been incredibly frustrating to witness it so closely and firsthand.
At long last, after ten years, we are finally letting the book go out of print for good, with the hopes of a new publisher repackaging parts of it with other odds and ends from Nate’s past sometime in 2018 or later.
It’s really been an honor to be a small part of Nate Powell’s story as his talent and work reach awe-inspiring levels, that he now rightfully earns his living from drawing comics, and as he receives more and more opportunities and achieves greater success than he even aspired to in 2009.