Wednesday, March 10, 2010

City... Pulp & The Eye: 1

Hello everyone!

I'm back with what is both a return to form and a change of pace for my Cream City Conversations series. Appropriately enough, I'm using the new tone of these pieces to introduce a relatively new publisher. This 'conversation' will be posted in parts. I hope breaking this article up in this manner will afford me the chance to deliver deeper insight to the process behind the literary force of comics. Enjoy!

AR: Hello. For the benefit of those who don't know you, please introduce yourself.

MM(Cue voice echo machine): I am known by many names; Aaron, Nathaniel, Ommus, A.N., even my given name (Mike), and sometimes by names that should ever be uttered to a sensitive human being like myself. But why I use a pen name is a long story best left for a night drinking Knob Creek with the fellas.

I am Editorial Director of Evileye Books, which publishes both graphic novels and prose fiction books. I also started a few years ago.

AR: I've taken the liberty of writing about, in the past. What was the inspiration behind that project?

MM: It wasn't so much inspiration as frustration. I'm a comics fanboy through and through. I enjoy all kinds of comics; capes, underground, noir, horror, comics lit—all of it. So I consume a great deal of media that talks about their creators and the stories themselves. The usual suspects. I won't name them here because they are good guys and have actually gotten better.

But for a while, I noticed there was very little news coverage, review or commentary about comics not published by the Big Two. When it was covered it was because there was some sort of connection to the bigger publishers, like when a Brian Michael Bendis puts out POWERS through Image, but writes for Marvel... that sort of thing.

I grew frustrated so I decided to launch a blog myself to talk about comics from everybody except the Big Two. For quite a few years the loyal five or six followers of the blog have kept me going.

But a lot has changed since then. The mainstream online comics news media are now doing a decent job of covering independent creators and titles, though I wish they would do more. As the media has changed, and my goals and interests have grown, is about to change as well.

AR: So, to summarize the mission of is to give mainstream style/quality coverage and reviews to independently published comics/graphic novels. Would that be a fair statement?

MM: Not at all. Its goal has never been to be a copycat of other sites... it has always been far too personal for that. And, anyway, there are many sites that provide news about comics, and do a great job at it—better than we ever could.

In that sense, we're not looking to compete. Think of the site as part of a larger conversation within the community of comics and their creators. We don't want to be the one that takes over a conversation at a party; we just want to add an interesting dimension to it, one that, when we started, was missing.

AR: Got it. And this part of the conversation would be the one sites like Sequential Tart, The Comics Journal, and the Daily Cross Hatch have also played a great role in in developing?

MM: Yes, and we can include the bigger comics news sites as well. Of late, they've been paying more attention to the indie segment, and they've done a decent job of covering it.

AR: I'm aware of the fact has enjoyed the support of well respected mainstays such as Jim Mahfood and Sam Hiti. How did those relationships develop? Do you think reaching out to well known indie mavericks has added street cred to and/or contributed to your success?

MM: You mention some great creators. I met Jim a few years ago at Wizard Chicago. I've never met Sam. In both cases, I approached them by email, asking first for help in providing masthead images for the launch of the site.

As for street cred, I'm afraid I don't think much about that. We like comics for their cultural, literary, aesthetic and entertainment value, and we talk about the ones we find intriguing without trying to talk about everything published or be the end-all site of comics. Hopefully, there are a few others out there that feel the same way.

AR: Definitely. You mentioned change is in store for Are there any details you can share with us?

MM:Two key events have come to pass that affect the original mission of

The first is that today there are many—and I mean many—websites that now cover non-mainstream comics very well. Some of this is due to the Hollywood effect of bringing attention to comics; some the bookstore effect of having graphic novels available to a broader consumer segment than the Direct Market. And some of it is due to the critical success of an emerging segment of comics, Comics Lit (books like the award-winning American-Born Chinese, Blankets, Footnotes in Gaza, and so many others). Our original goal of giving light to indie comics and their creators is still valid. But simply reviewing indie comics is no longer as unique as it used to be. As the comics conversation evolves from the almost embryonic stage of simply getting news out there, the challenge becomes how do we evolve our own contribution to the conversation?

AR: That is a very good point, and a grand task to take on. Cream City Conversations started from much of same frustration you mentioned earlier. We decided to spotlight creators in which we believed to take the conversation to the heart of who these people are. I think this insight is important... in much the same way the Abstract Expressionist and, to a larger degree, the Pop Art movements empowered gallery patrons.

You mentioned a second key event?

MM: The second event is the launch of Evileye Books, which takes my commitment to comics and prose fiction from being a hobby to a professional level. I've raised the bar for ourselves to produce work worth reading... that entertains... but also contributes to the tradition of the genres we publish. So, for example, when we got together with horror writer, Mike Oliveri to launch THE PACK novels and comics, we knew we wanted not just to publish werewolf or horror books. With the series we want to contribute to the popular mythos of werewolves by exploring areas that have never been touched upon. It's the same with the horror genre: we knew we didn't want to just publish slasher fiction. We want to experiment with the blending of genres to create something new, and hopefully interesting, which is why the prose book series of THE PACK is a mashup of the supernatural/noir mystery/thriller genres.

AR: Evileye Books. I was surprised to see a new publisher on the scene during trying economic times. What kinds of different things are you doing to promote longevity?

MM: Evileye Books has been in the making for twenty years. The problem has been timing and waiting for technology to catch up to the industry needs. Publishing has been broken for decades. But it's like the oil industry, it's engrained in our economy and the players are not to thrilled with the idea of killing their cash cows. So they "milk" the system until they absolutely have to change. The moment of change is here.

The key problem has always been the aggregate cost of issuing a book title because original content is expensive to produce (it begins to sound like a litany, doesn't it?). The second problem has been that, despite the number of bookstores filled with books, the distribution system is highly inefficient, in that it works well for new titles, but is not so great for backlist and specialty titles. That inefficiency adds to costs related to publishing a book.

When so much of the revenue of a cover price goes to pay for production and distribution, it's no wonder a writer's royalties have been so abysmal. But, you know, nature abhors a vacuum. So here come and the digital frontier of e-books and a new platform to read them on, and like Emeril likes to say, BAM! you have a new paradigm shift in the making. Evileye Books was launched because publishing is finally making sense again, for publishers, writers and readers.

AR: We'll tackle the impact of the Digital Age in our next segment.