Milton Griepp Interview

Milton Griepp at the 2010 C2E2

Milton Griepp at the 2010 C2E2

Originally published in May of 2004. This is another one of my comic business type interviews. One of the most significant events to happen in the comics industry was Marvel buying Heroes World and exclusively distributing their comics through them. That started a chain reaction leading to Diamond having a virtual monopoly on comic book distribution to the direct market. Milton Griepp had a unique view of those events that I don’t think anybody else had asked him about.


Milton Griepp Interview

Milton Griepp has been in the comics industry for 30 years as a publisher, distributor, retailer and consultant. He once ran the largest direct distribution comic book company Capital City Distribution. He was involved with the Internet retail company and is currently running, a pop culture industry news Website. Along the way he has also done lots of consulting on the comic book industry. In this interview we go through his career and he gives us his analysis of the comic book industry. He also examines the effect other media are having on comics and whether manga’s popularity will last.


Jamie: Let’s take it from the beginning. I’m sure that like most in this industry you started as a reader. What kind of comic books got you hooked?

Milton Griepp: The first comic I remember reading was a Carl Barks Disney comic and I continued to read those. I also read a lot of DCs. Superboy, The Legion and Superman were probably the three things I read the most. I inherited a collection from my cousin that was mostly 50’s comics, including a lot of DC’s, and I continued buying those until the 60’s. In his collection were things like the Fox and Crow and other funny animal stuff that I read. When I got to college, I started reading Marvels and I also read a lot of undergrounds which were coming out in great numbers at that time.


Jamie: When about did you get involved in the business end of comics?

Milton Griepp: From a friend in high school. When we were in college he started a business advertising in shopper papers in northern Wisconsin, buying collections, and taking them to conventions and selling them there or selling them though the Comic Buyers Guide. I started going to shows with him in the early 70s, about 72 and 73, and working behind the table with him was my first exposure to comics as a retailer.


Jamie: When did you move into distribution?

Milton Griepp: That experience in the comics business got me a job in 1976 with a company called Wisconsin Independent News Distributors which carried some magazines and books and had a comic department. I was hired for the comic department. So that was my first distribution experience. The territory was fairly limited: mostly Wisconsin, a little of Illinois, a little bit of Minnesota. Then they went out of business and their business got absorbed by a company called Big Rapids Distribution Company, which at one time became the largest direct distributor in the late 70s. I worked for them, also out of Wisconsin.


Jamie: I understand you and John Davis teamed up to form Capital City (Distribution). When about did that happen?

Milton Griepp: I hired John at WIND and we also worked together at Big Rapids. When Big Rapids went out of business, John talked me into starting a business that would handle just comics. Both Big Rapids and Wisconsin Independent News Distributors had comics as a small part of the company, along with book and magazine distribution. So the idea that was different was to do something that specialized in comics. That was in the early 1980s.


Jamie: I understand at one point a group of smaller distributors all combined to take Capital to a national distributor?

Milton Griepp: I don’t know where you got that impression.


Jamie: That never happened?

Milton Griepp: That never happened, but we did do some small acquisitions. Our first location outside of Wisconsin was–we bought a little company called North Eastern Ohio News, which was primarily a comics distributor, based in the Cleveland area. We did some other small acquisitions over the years but most of our growth was by sales efforts one store at a time.


Jamie: I understand Capital was #2 going up to #1 competing against Diamond most of the way . . . Were you surprised when Marvel decided to pull out, buy Heroes World and distribute exclusively through them?

Milton Griepp: Just to set the stage, Capital was #1 until Diamond bought Bud Plant. Diamond was #2 and Bud Plant was #3 and the combination of those two companies made them larger than we were. So we were #2 at the time Marvel did their deal with Heroes World.

I guess in one sense it wasn’t a surprise, as Marvel had been making noises about being dissatisfied with the direct distribution system for a couple of years, primarily because they didn’t think they were getting their due as the largest publisher. But primarily I was surprised, because I didn’t think anybody would do anything that stupid.


Jamie: At that time, what did you think would happen to the comic industry?

Milton Griepp: Well, it was a very dynamic situation. We really didn’t know what to expect, so we ran the business on several tracks trying to prepare for different contingencies. There was a lot of damage done to the business during that period. Heroes World was really incapable of distributing Marvels nationally, so that was happening. Also, at the same time, the market was declining rapidly after a period of explosive growth during the early 90’s. And other publishers were maneuvering, deciding what they were going to do in the wake of Marvel’s decision. So it was an unpredictable situation, and it required a number of contingency plans for different eventualities.


Jamie: Looking back, do you wish you had tried harder to get DC to go exclusive with Capital instead of Diamond, with some other deal you could have made them?

Milton Griepp: Well, DC came to us and other companies and said they were thinking about going with a single company for their distributor as Marvel had. And we did pitch them hard to go with Capital; we couldn’t have tried any harder to do that. We were also trying to convince them not to go with a single distributor, and we felt they could have taken a leadership position with the retailers and distributors and united the rest of the industry against the model that Marvel was developing with the single distributor model. It would have gotten a lot of good will and a lot of support and I believe that would have been a very viable and successful action for them.

In the end I see DC’s choice as the most conservative option, which is not surprising as DC is part of a large company and that creates a tendency towards conservatism. The first instance of conservatism was that they followed what Marvel had done (Marvel was #1, DC was #2) and they followed to a single distributor. The second conservative choice was picking Diamond, as they were larger than we were, and so it represented less risk of losing business to choose Diamond than it did to choose Capital. So they took the two low-risk decisions and that led them to Diamond.


Jamie: How do you think the exclusive agreements between publishers and distributors have affected the industry?

Milton Griepp: Well, it’s brought stability and I think that’s had both positive and negative affects. On the positive side, considering the circumstances (this is very important), publishers had a reliable way to reach the market and through a very profitable company that always pays its bills. Given the volatility in what was happening to the smaller distributors at the time, that was a good thing for publishers and ultimately the industry.

It was also good for retailers because they were experiencing the same upheaval in terms of where and how they got their products. So after the transition period when Diamond took over the Capital stores after they bought Capital City, that led to a very reliable system of distribution for retailers. That was a good thing.

On the negative side, the fact that there were fewer viewpoints at the distribution level slowed innovation to some degree. I don’t know how much of that effect there was, but you have to assume that a number of companies all working in that field with a variety of viewpoints would have led to faster change and more innovation.


Jamie: After Diamond bought out Capital, did they offer you a position there?

Milton Griepp: They didn’t and I really didn’t expect one. I was a CEO and they didn’t need a CEO and they didn’t need a COO. They had Steve Geppi as the CEO and a very capable COO with Chuck Parker. They didn’t really have a position that fit my skills so I didn’t expect an offer and didn’t receive one.


Jamie: After that you started working with What was that experience like?

Milton Griepp: Actually that was a while after the Capital sale, and both before and after that I did some consulting in the field.

Well, the NextPlanetOver experience was a unique time and place. It was in San Francisco, and at a venture-funded Internet company at the peak of the dot com boom. That was a really interesting time and place to be geographically, from a business history point of view, and from a technological innovation point of view. It was a really interesting thing to see.

I’d seen a lot of bubbles before in the pop culture products business, you know especially when there is a resale market involved. Like the black and white comics–there was a bubble and then everybody produces them, then there’s too many and then the market collapses. I hadn’t seen a capital bubble of this type, which was that the cost of capital was very low and the money was flowing into all kinds of Internet businesses. So that was new to see, and although there were some negative outcomes, the experience was very positive. I learned a lot about private equity, learned a lot about technology and the Internet.

Capital was a very technologically progressive company; even in the early 90s we were doing order uploads and using electronic communication with our customers. But this was on a different level, because we were on the real cutting edge, at that time, of the development of e-commerce technology. So we sold off the company at the end and that was a negative, but the experience of being there at that time and place and how much I learned was very positive, on balance.


Jamie: There was controversy at that time, particularly when they were being located at the same warehouse Diamond was shipping comics from. What did you think about that at the time?

Milton Griepp: Well, it wasn’t really located at the same place. Diamond was doing order fulfillment for NextPlanetOver. NextPlanetOver bought merchandise from Diamond and rather than Diamond doing one big shipment to NextPlanetOver they shipped it directly to NextPlanetOver’s customers. That was a very efficient system in that it gave NextPlanetOver access to a large inventory and allowed the company to offer that to its customers without being in possession before it was being purchased.

It was on the original model that Amazon was built on–an inventory-less model where the product was offered, then acquired from a wholesaler at the time of sale. So from a business point of view I think it made a lot of sense. There was some controversy from the reaction from retailers thinking NextPlanetOver had a special deal that was going to hurt them. But ultimately there was very little threat to brick and mortar retailers from that arrangement. The controversy boomed and then tailed off. It wasn’t unexpected and ultimately didn’t affect our business.


Jamie: Out of the whole ordeal what did you learn about trying to sell comic books online?

Milton Griepp: I wouldn’t really call it an ordeal. There were certainly parts of it that were an ordeal, but over-all there were also some positive things about it.

From my first involvement in the company, I wanted it focused not on selling comic books online (periodicals), but on selling graphic novels, toys, apparel–selling the things that customers bought other than comics. Comics are really too cheap to sell through a traditional shopping cart model where you are selling, at that time, a two dollar product one at a time. It just wasn’t an efficient model and ultimately we did change the orientation of the product mix to emphasize the other product lines that Diamond also offered.

The subscription service model that’s been around for many years works well for selling periodical comics via mail order or via the Internet. Selling one at a time is just not a terribly efficient model, which was what I thought going in and that was proven by the results. We did re-orient the mix to focus on some of the higher-priced items and I’d say that was the upshot of the learning experience there–that selling comics like backlist in an “off-the-rack” situation was not a viable business model, but I do think, as other businesses have proven since, selling graphic novels, toys, and the higher-priced stuff works fine.


Jamie: During that time you were also doing some consulting work. Were there any clients in particular you could name that you worked with?

Milton Griepp: Well, I’ll talk a bit about the categories I’ve worked with. I worked with publishers, I worked with retailers, toy companies, international consulting firms, educational firms, educational institutions, investment firms. My clients generally prefer that I advise them without revealing their identities.


Jamie: When coming up with, why did you decide to go as a Website instead of as a printed magazine?

Milton Griepp: I had just come out of a Web business, and I learned a lot about it, so I had this knowledge base on how to do it. It seemed inexpensive to start a Website as a result of improving technology at the time. When we started NextPlanetOver, for example, the code for the content area had to be all written from scratch. By the time I started ICv2, things like the search function could be acquired relatively inexpensively instead of writing it from scratch. That learning experience of how to develop the Website relatively inexpensively allowed saving a non- trivial amount of money.

The reason I wanted to do it on the Web was to use that knowledge, and I felt the Web was a superior way of delivering news. Obviously it’s faster and more accessible; also it involves the ability to interact with the user, which does not exist in print. I also believed I could develop an audience at a lower cost on the Web than in print so it was a classic business model-driven decision.


Jamie: Last year did a printed magazine called the ICv2 Retailers Guide to Graphic Novels. How successful was that?

Milton Griepp: Actually we’ve done a number of magazines; I think the number is over 10, in three categories. We do the ICv2 Retailers Guide to Anime and Manga, the ICv2 Retailers Guide to Graphic Novels, and the ICv2 Retailers Guide to Games.

I started pitching the first magazine at San Diego a year and a half ago and was really surprised at the response, which was that advertisers that were resistant to the idea of advertising online were receptive to the idea of advertising in a magazine. I think it’s just a matter of preference that people have established over the years with certain types of media. So that was a big response on the advertisers’ side.

On the content side, the magazine was also a good fit with our online content. The online content is very fast; we publish daily, with shorter articles, primarily news. The print medium allowed us to take a longer view of things, do more analysis, more features, more in-depth reporting. I think the two media, online and print, are complementary and we really like the way they fit together. I think both are important to how ICv2 serves its audience and advertisers. So online was a good place to start and print was a good place to expand to.


Jamie: Despite doing well in bookstores, many comic book retailers are having a hard time selling manga. What do you think retailers have to do to move manga like the bookstores do?

Milton Griepp: Well, I want to push back on the idea that comic stores are having a lot of difficulty selling manga. Obviously they are selling a lot more manga than they were a few years ago and I think that’s going to continue. The thing is, some comic stores are a lot better than others at manga, and I think it’s a matter of how they merchandise the manga line, also what their clientele base is like, and how they retail to their clientele.

The reason bookstores have grown much faster than comic book stores have over the last few years is that bookstores have a larger female audience and a lot of the manga content is directed at female consumers. So a comic store that focuses on superheroes or action adventure material that has a primarily male audience is going to miss out on a lot of manga sales because there is a lot of material that doesn’t appeal to that action adventure audience.

On the other hand, I have seen some comic stores do a very good job with manga. In fact, the best manga stores I’ve seen are comic stores that carry far greater variety than the best bookstores. They also have better product knowledge at the counter than the best bookstores. So I think that comic stores can be extremely successful with manga, it’s just a matter of how they merchandise it, who their clientele is and how they reach out to their clientele–a store that is friendly for consumers of both sexes and all ages (as the manga audience in bookstores is a little bit younger than the typical comic book store audience). So comic stores can reach that audience, but historically comic stores have been a male-supported distribution channel and that presents barriers in some stores.


Jamie: has been tracking sales numbers for quite some time. Are there any particular tends you’ve noticed that others in the industry should know?

Milton Griepp: Well, first of all there has been a change a little over a year ago in how Diamond puts out their numbers, how they calculate indexes, and that has affected our ability to do year-to-year comparisons. Between 2000 and 2002, we were able to do year-to-year comparisons which were extremely useful, because it tracked what was happening in comic stores in that period, which was the first growth that had happened in about a decade. That was really a good thing to track.

Now we’re just getting to the end of the first year with Diamond and its new numbers. Once again, the first month we did comparisons for, the market was up and that was a good thing. In the long run, Diamond using actual numbers instead of pre-orders for their index is going to be very positive because it’s a much more accurate snapshot of the market.

In terms of overall trend analysis, by looking at the comic stores and other channels, the biggest growth is graphic novel sales in bookstores. The biggest thing happening there is that bookstores are replacing newsstand distribution, which collapsed for comics in the last five to ten years, as a feeder system into comic book stores. In other words, consumers are exposed to comics in book stores and if they want to find a broader range of titles they’ll end up in a comic store. Before, it used to be that happened from magazine-type outlets and newsstands, convenience stores, those kinds of outlets, where people pick up a comic book and then find their way to a comic store later. I think that’s a huge, huge shift in the comic business.

I mentioned earlier the fact that younger readers and female readers are finding comics in bookstores and that’s a hugely positive trend for the entire industry. Opening up the market to female readers to a greater degree doubles the available pool of consumers.

Getting younger kids reading comics is positive because it will hopefully build lifetime consumers. The comic market has been aging dramatically for the last 10 to 12 years, and this can reverse that trend. Those are really positive things happening in the comics business, the fact that the business in comic stores is also growing, those are positive things.

I think we’re seeing a greater impact of other media on comic sales, specifically movies and television. Obviously the Batman movie had a huge impact on Batman product sales in the late 80s and early 90s, but now there’s a whole plethora of media influences on comic sales just in the last few years. Smaller movies like Ghost World and American Splendor, something like Road to Perdition or From Hell and the mega-blockbusters like Spider-Man, Hulk, and X-men, those have all been really positive events for comic sales.

On television now, not only are there a number of cartoons being done based on American comics but the anime, which is tied to manga, are also popularizing those properties to a great degree. So movies and television are having a much greater impact than they had in the past, which is obviously a very positive thing for the comics business.

There is a bunch of positive trends sort of coalescing in the industry and it’s a good time for the comic business.


Jamie: I noticed that movies don’t seem to help the superhero comics quite as much as do the independent comics.

Milton Griepp: Spider-Man and Hulk moved a lot of product through all channels and it lifted Spider-Man graphic novels to the top of the charts. The bookstores moved a lot of Spider-Man product, as did the comic stores, so I think there is a connection. Recent Marvel movies have shown that. I think it doesn’t always work that way, The Punisher, for example. The early indication is it’s not moving product quite as well as Hellboy is. So I think it depends on the combination of the movie and the material.


Jamie: How do you see the comic book industry changing in the next 5 years?

Milton Griepp: I see the comic audience growing in a number of demographic groups, including adults that are interested in comics as literature. Certainly there is a pop culture aspect to them, but comics are being taken more seriously as real literature. This has been going on for a while, but for the last couple of years we’ve really accelerated that trend. And at the same time, we see the market for comics growing among younger readers, girls, and women. Comics being reviewed by book reviewers in the literary establishment also opens up an even larger, more serious reading audience of adults. So again we see multiple audiences in which the comics medium is growing. So I think those are very positive trends.

Another aspect that is unlike some previous growth trends of the comic business: none of this is being based on the after-market value, so the risk of collapse in the business due to a collapse of after-market values or overproduction or whatever just isn’t there in the same way as was there in earlier growth periods. That again is a very, very positive trend.


Jamie: So you don’t think manga is just a fad then? (laughs)

Milton Griepp: It’s been going on too long to be a fad. The Japanese stuff has been growing since the early 80s, so you can’t take a 25-year trend and say “It’s a fad.”


Jamie: yes . . .

Milton Griepp: Certainly there are times where it gets super-hot and then cools off. Pokemon was a huge phenomenon and it exploded, then there was space for a while and shrinks back a little bit, but I don’t think it’s a fad. I wrote something in 2000-2001 that said something to the effect that we’re witnessing a change in world culture, in the sense that more and more pop culture is coming from Asia. You can almost say that as American culture took over from British as the ruling popular culture, now we’re seeing a move towards Asian pop culture.

Hollywood is not going anywhere, American television is not going anywhere, American comics is not going anywhere; but there is a growing influence in all markets from Asian pop culture. Something like Kill Bill is ostensibly an American movie, but it’s got elements of Hong Kong action movies, little pieces of old American movies, there is anime in the first volume.

You can see the Asian influence growing in American pop culture in so many ways. So that’s another reason that I don’t think manga is just a fad.

Marc Fleury Interview

Originally published in June 1999. Most of my interviews had been with well known creators and editors. I learned of a local creator self publishing a comic and thought it would be interesting to get a different perspective. Marc provided that with hard numbers and harsh reality. To my knowledge, only 2 issues of his comic came out and nothing else after it.


An Interview With Marc Fleury
Marc Fleury is a familiar name for those of you who read the rec.arts.comics newsgroups. He recently started self-publish an all ages comic series called John & Cori. Marc was kind enough to tell us the nitty gritty details about both his comic book and self publishing.


Jamie: For those that don’t know, explain what your book John & Cori to us.

Marc Fleury: Well, let’s see. It’s a humor / adventure comic along the lines of classic Warner Brothers animation. It’s suitable for all ages, but a lot of the gags will go right over a kid’s head. It’s a little like Tintin meets Calvin and Hobbes. Or maybe the Monty Python version of Muppet Babies.


Jamie: I noticed in John & Cori #1, you added a prose story, and games for kids (colouring page and spot the difference panels). Why?

Marc Fleury: The target audience for the comic, really, is me. And I enjoy stuff like that. I think that there are a few people out there who have roughly the same interests and senses of humor as I do, so producing a book that *I* would enjoy seems like a reasonable idea.

The prose stories add a little more substance to the book, and the games are just for fun. I tried to make the games a little more interesting than those you see in, say, Archie, because those are pretty boring for us older “kids.” So John & Cori #1 has a game for kids, and a game for experienced puzzle solvers as well. (Nobody has solved the hard one, which is pretty much what I expected.)


Jamie: When did you meet up with artist Giorgio Giunta and what propelled the both of you to do your own comic book?

Marc Fleury: The series existed in my mind first. I was interested in publishing a comic, and this one seemed like a fun book to do, so I started looking around for artists. Giorgio was one of the people to send in samples. He had a style that worked well with the ideas I had for the book, and he is very dependable, so I signed him up for it.


Jamie: Will you be making John & Cori TPB’s?

Marc Fleury: The short answer is yes. The long answer is . . . I’m not sure that it’s possible to produce John & Cori at a profitable level in the direct market. I have a number of ideas for the future of the series, but most of them involve spreading outside of comic book stores. Right now, it looks like I’m going to repackage it as a children’s book. It will still be a comic, but squarebound, and distributed through stores instead of comic shops. The market is much bigger, and the interest in this kind of material, I think, is much higher.

So, yes, I’ll be doing trade paperbacks, but they won’t be collected editions (they’ll be originals) and they will mostly sell outside of the Direct Market.


Jamie: John & Cori is a very kid friendly comic, why did you opt to this instead of more mainstream type comics.

Marc Fleury: It’s just one of my interests. At any moment, I have a number of projects in development. At the time that I decided to take the plunge into publishing, John & Cori was the series I was most deeply into developing.

It seemed like a good idea, because the book was different than everything else out there I figured that I could fit into a niche that nobody else was taking. Unfortunately, it seems like the current comic book market is too small for such a strategy. The reason that those niches are unfilled is that the people who are interested in that material simply don’t read comics.

It’s a bit of a vicious circle. There aren’t enough all-ages comics being published. Those that do start up don’t sell very well, because not many kids buy comics anymore. And those kids don’t buy comics because there’s nothing being published that interests them.


Jamie: Will Abdo Entertainment be doing other titles? If so can you tell us about them?

Marc Fleury: Yep. One advantage is that I have many interests, so if something doesn’t work out, I have tons of stuff to fall back on. There’s a comic called On The Lamb that will be coming out through Abdo next year. It’s another odd little book, this time aimed at a slightly older audience — teens and up. It’s about Jesus. If Jesus was a teenager today. It’s a comedy.


Jamie: Do you plan on getting another artist for your other titles or will Giorgio be able to do them?

Marc Fleury: I’ll be working with others. I enjoy seeing my writing transformed by various artists, and I’d like to work with as many artists as possible. On The Lamb, though, will be illustrated by me. I used to write and draw a comic strip for a local entertainment magazine, and I’ve really missed that. So I decided it’s time to go back and draw my own stuff. I was just waiting for the right project — I can’t draw very well, so it has to be something where the humor carries the comic. I figure that I can draw as well as Sam Henderson or Matt Groening.


Jamie: What are your long term plans for Abdo Entertainment? Do you plan to build it up into a full fledged publishing company or are you hoping to make a reputation as a writer and get work in corporate comics.

Marc Fleury: Both. I’m still working and developing stuff for other publishers. And I also plan (in the long term) to publish the work of others through Abdo. If James Kochalka told me he had a comic for me, I’d publish it.

The company is more than just for publishing comics, though. That’s why it’s Abdo Entertainment and not Abdo Comics. I’m developing a store on the web, I have my Writing for Comics column, my brother and I are making short films (we won some dinky award at some dinky film festival last year), and there’s a bunch of other stuff that it’s too early to talk about. Basically, Abdo Entertainment is the company I set up to deal with all the entertainment-related, hopefully-profit-making stuff that I do. Right now, the main business it publishing John & Cori, but it’s growing.


Jamie: Where did you go to find out how to self publish a comic book?

Marc Fleury: Dave Sim’s columns started me off. I asked a few questions on the comics-pro mailing list. I got a book called How To Self-Publish Your Own Comic Book by Tony Caputo.

Actually, it’s pretty easy stuff. There’s not enough to fill a whole book, which is why Caputo’s book has a lot of information that most self-publishers will never use. Everything you need to know is on the web, and anything that’s not clear can be cleared up by asking about it in a relevant forum (the boards, the rec.arts.comics.misc newsgroup, or one of the mailing lists for comics creators).


Jamie: With the comic market is the shape that it is, why did you decide to do a comic book at all?

Marc Fleury: I’m insane.

Actually, I think this is a very exciting time for comics. I’m glad to be working in the industry right now, because the *real* mainstream is on the rise — comics designed to appeal to the general population. It’s going to take a lot of work, and even more sweat, but I think that the medium will come out of its funk in a few years. I’m thrilled to be a part of the transformation of the industry.


Jamie: I understand you had some difficulty getting Diamond Comics to distribute it. Can you tell us about that?

Marc Fleury: Oy. Way back in July of 1998, I printed up thousands of copies of John & Cori #0 — an 8-page promo comic — and mailed them out to hundreds of retailers. In big letters on the back cover, it says “Issue 1 comes out in OCTOBER from ABDO Entertainment”. At the same time, I sent out the solicitations to Diamond.

A little while later, I hear back from Diamond. They aren’t interested in carrying the book. I was stunned, and rather crushed. Not only were they saying that my work wasn’t good enough, but I had just wasted a couple of grand promoting a book that would, essentially, be unavailable to most retailers.

I then recontacted all the retailers that I had originally mailed out the promos to, and told them they could order from Abdo directly.

A few months go by, and then I get a call back from Diamond. It seems that they passed the book on to their retailer review board, and the retailers said they *did* want to carry the book. So Diamond was calling back to change their mind — they’d carry John & Cori after all. They ran it as a February release. Four months after I had announced it would come out. I have no doubt that the low orders on #1 are related to that delay. The retailers that I had contacted were told that the book was coming out in October, but Diamond forced me to ship the book 4 months later.


Jamie: I know you are using FM International to distribute John & Cori, how much does smaller distributors help overall sales?

Marc Fleury: For me, a lot. I did an informal survey of some other publishers, and sales through FMI are about 5-8% of those through Diamond. For John & Cori #1, FMI’s order was 35% of the size of Diamond’s. I’m selling seven times more comics than I should be through FMI. It doesn’t make sense. Until you take into account the screw-up with the initial release date through Diamond. It’s not that I’m selling seven times more than I should be through FMI, it’s that I’m selling seven times LESS than I should be through Diamond. I’m certain that, had Diamond been able to see the quality in John & Cori that their retailer review board obviously did, then they would have carried the book when it was first solicited, and the sales would have been seven times what they are now.

Now I have to scramble to bring up the sales before Diamond drops the book for selling poorly.


Jamie: You have made a webpage that gives previews and ordering info for your comic. I’ve always wondered how much does that help?

Marc Fleury: Although I have information posted on how to order direct, the real hope for the site is to give people a taste of the book, and then they can order it through their store. Unfortunately, I don’t have any real way to measure the site’s success on that level.


Jamie: Promotion and buzz is very important to getting retailers and readers to try your comic. What did you do to try and get the word out about your book?

Marc Fleury: I sent out those promo copies, which turned out to be a disaster. Although, I still think it’s a good way to get the word out (and I got a lot of positive feedback from that issue. I know that some people ordered #1 on the strength of the promo issue). I wish I had made sure that Diamond was carrying the book before printing up all those promotional copies.

Other than that, I try to mention it in relevant discussions on the internet. I would have liked to get out to some conventions, but it’ll have to wait until next year.


Jamie: Can you give us an idea of how much it costs to self publish a comic book and where those costs come in?

Marc Fleury: Printing is the big thing. You can shop around, but the best deal I found was Preney, in Windsor Ontario. The paper isn’t great, but I’ve never much cared about that. And they printed my #1 for 50 cents a copy, which includes shipping and taxes. (Those are Canadian cents for you Americans. About 35 cents US at the current exchange rate.)

Setting up your business is pretty cheap. Hiring the talent can be expensive, but if you want to avoid that cost, either draw it all yourself or agree that people only get paid if the book turns a profit. (Put it in writing, so that everyone is clear about what is being agreed to.)


Jamie: Can you also give us an idea of how much money one could expect to make by self publishing, and how that money comes in through distribution?

Marc Fleury: You sell the book to Diamond for 40% of the cover price. A $2.95 cover price pulls in $1.18 when you sell it to the distributor. If you figure that it costs a bare minimum of $1000 for 2000 copies after you add in all the incidentals, you see you need to sell 850 copies to make back your investment. Unfortunately, in this market, that’s not necessarily easy.


Jamie: What do you think is the biggest barrier in the comic industry for selling indy comics?

Marc Fleury: Retailers are afraid to try new products because they’re non-returnable.


Jamie: If you had to do this all over again what would you do differently?

Marc Fleury: A bunch of stuff. Luckily, I *am* doing it all over again, with my next series. I’ll be fixing the problems that have plagued my first attempt.

1) I’ll build the audience for the book before it gets released, by running a strip on the web for a few months.

2) I’ll make sure my distribution deals are in place before sending promo material and

3) I’ll cut down on my costs by drawing it myself.


Jamie: Has publishing your own comic changed your opinions about the comic industry?

Marc Fleury: It’s easier to publish a book than I thought it was, but it’s harder to make money at it than I thought it was.


Jamie: What advice can you give to people thinking about self publishing?

Marc Fleury: Ask yourself this: Is the publishing part as important to you as the creating part? If designing letters pages and indices, dealing with distributors and retailers, promoting your work and yourself, and handling orders and balancing the books doesn’t give you as much pleasure as writing and drawing comics, then self-publishing probably isn’t for you. You have to be both a creator and an entrepreneur.

That, and make sure you have at least $10,000 to risk.

Click here to learn more about JOHN & CORI [link disabled as it’s no longer active]


Chuck Rozanski Interview

This was originally published in April of 1999. Chuck was quite angry at Diamond Comics (the only major comic book distributor) and specifically Diamond’s owner Steve Geppi. He had legitimate reasons for this as they were in partnership with two online retailers and they appeared to have an unfair advantage over not only comic book stores but other online retailers too. Chuck called the US Department of Justice to have Diamond investigated for being a monopoly. The Department eventually sided in Diamonds favour and took no action against them. The online retailers involved are no longer in operation.

This interview was republished in print in Gauntlet Magazine #19. That magazine’s issue was about censorship and sadly, because I lived in Canada I wasn’t able to buy it the normal way through my comic shop. Canada border guards are very nitpicky when it comes to material coming over the border and tend to flag a lot of stuff that would be perfectly okay if a Canadian produced and sold it within the country.

Sadly this is still an ongoing issue even today. Diamond’s experience with the border guards is that one “problem” book will hold up the entire shipment coming into Canada, which is why they don’t ship anything that could be controversial. In fact the only other country Diamond wouldn’t ship this magazine to was China.

I did manage to get a copy of the magazine though, but I had to contact an understanding US retailer who mailed it to me directly, which meant paying extra for it.

An Interview With Chuck Rozanski

For those that don’t know Chuck Rozanski is, he the owner of Mile High Comics. Long time readers might remember their ads in Marvel Comics and in various industry magazines. He has been in the business of selling comics for decades and has an influential voice in the comic industry.

Below is a very eye opening interview where he discusses his opposition to recent Diamond Comics / Steve Geppi dealings with online super stores and the upcoming Also discussed are his near purchase of Marvel Comics publishing arm and his thoughts on other industry matters.


Jamie: You recently asked the Department of Justice to investigate Diamond Comic Distributors. For those that don’t know what is going on, can you explain what Diamond is doing to warrant this investigation?

Chuck Rozanski: My initial contact with the Justice Department was when they called me for my opinion on Steve Geppi’s acquisition of I told them that I considered his personal ownership of the leading Internet retailer of comics to be a direct conflict of interest with his other role as the owner of Diamond Comic Distributors, the sole-source supplier to the retail comics trade of Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse publications. But I told the investigators that I was negotiating with Steve Geppi personally to find ways to mitigate the conflicts involved with his ownership of

Unbeknownst to me, however, at the same time as I was trying to explain to Steve that he needed to find ways to utilize the huge Internet mailing list (400,000 addresses…) of help the Direct Market retailers dependent on Diamond, Diamond was secretly negotiating an arrangement with yet another Internet retailer, Next Planet Over, to enter into a deal by which Diamond would provide exclusive shipping from their Sparta warehouse. This arrangement allows Diamond to collect shipping and fulfillment fees for a period of two years from Next Planet Over, while denying this same opportunity for that same two-year period to any other Diamond accounts. It also allows Next Planet Over nearly immediate access to the huge Diamond Star System inventory backlist of trade paperbacks, toys, cards, etc. with minimal, or possibly no freight charges. The Diamond team also revealed, under intense questioning by retailers, that they were going to warehouse inventory in the Sparta warehouse for Next Planet Over, including back issue comics. The revelation that caught everyone by the most surprise, however, was Steve Geppi’s admission that he had an option to purchase equity in Next Planet Over. If exercised, that option would give him partial ownership of both major Internet retailers of comics product.

This information came out by accident at the annual DC Comics retailer meeting the weekend of March 12-14, and it’s sudden release caught the Diamond management team by surprise. They tried to convince the approximately 65 retailers in attendance that their secretly negotiated contract with Next Planet Over was no threat to other Diamond accounts, but were met with extreme skepticism. All the retailers with whom I had discussed the matter at the DC meeting were very concerned about the possible implications of Diamond/Steve Geppi making this bold intrusion into comics retailing. Given that he already owned the majority of stock in, Steve Geppi was viewed as now having a personal interest in gaining a percentage of the retail market for comics.

While I had already resolved at the meeting that I had to call the Justice Department (I promised them I would call them back if the situation with Steve Geppi changed…), I was given added impetus by Diamond’s announcement of March 17th that all retailers currently being serviced out of Diamond’s Sparta warehouse (including Mile High Comics) would be shifted to Diamond’s warehouse in Plattsburg, NY effective April 8th. The net effect of this shift (according to our Diamond customer service representative) is that it will now take seven days, instead of five, for Mile High Comics (and all other retailers formerly serviced out of Sparta) to receive a Star System reorder unless we are willing to shift from truck freight to UPS. Given that UPS shipping costs are significantly higher, we’ve just seen a degradation of our service. Meanwhile, Next Planet Over has nearly immediate access, and theoretically no freight costs. All this because they’re willing to pay Diamond a fee to ship for them.

According to Diamond, the shifting of accounts from Sparta to Plattsburg is being done to facilitate expansion of the Star System. But the fact that the displacement to Plattsburg comes right on the heels of the admission by the Diamond staff that they had a secret arrangement to give space in Sparta to Next Planet Over, makes this entire process highly questionable to many retailers. In any event, whether it was planned, or not, this move increases the already significant competitive advantage of Next Planet Over over the retailers who were displaced from Sparta. It was this combination of events that made me feel that petitioning the Justice Department for relief was the only option left.


Jamie: If Steve Geppi/Diamond Comics continues their plans with, what will their positions in the industry be like one or two years from now?

Chuck Rozanski: I have no way of knowing. Much depends on the negative feedback they receive from retailers, fans, and the Justice Department. I have already been told that they are changing the reality of some of the answers they gave to the retailers in Baltimore. I have to believe that they were expecting little, or no, reaction to the eventual announcement that they were taking fees for giving Next Planet Over competitive advantage over their captive retailers. The fact that comics retailers have taken to the Internet to inform the entire world of comics about how the Diamond team is altering the competitive environment of comics retailing, seems to have never occurred to them. What they do now completely depends on how much negative reaction they get…


Jamie: You have asked for other retailers to join you in getting Diamond investigated. How has the response been?

Chuck Rozanski: I’ve actually been working primarily on a very lengthy report to the Justice Department about the entire history of my interactions with Steve Geppi about Since I had been trying to reason with him for five months prior to the DC retailer meeting, this report is up to 22 single-spaced pages, and still growing. I actually have only sent my Justice Department letter to, and a couple other individuals. They have been spreading the word. I am now receiving e-mails from around the world faster than I can download and answer them… Once my report is finished, and I post it on our website, I am anticipating far greater response.

In terms of feedback, I have had 100% support. There are those who are (quite naturally) skeptical that we will win, but all those who have written me have praised me for taking this public stance in opposition of the Steve Geppi/ potential combination.


Jamie: Diamond has come out with a press release discussing the terms between them and, what was your reaction to the release and the information in it?

Chuck Rozanski: They’re working like crazy to “spin” this information now that they’ve been forced to reveal their secret dealings. If the press release you’re referring to is the one where they say that Steve Geppi “forgot” that he owns a small part of Next Planet Over, I would ask how anyone could believe such a statement? The retailers at the DC meeting asked Steve point blank if he owned any stock in NPO, and he swore he didn’t. Now they’re saying he does, but he didn’t contribute any funds.

So how did he get the stock? No one ever gave me stock for nothing…That’s just one of many inconsistencies in their press release. I think it’s safe to say that these guys are sweating the proverbial bullets.


Jamie: The press release says Diamond is exclusively fulfilling internet orders from, what does that do to others selling comics online, like Mile High Comics?

Chuck Rozanski: Since we specialize primarily in collectibles (back issue comics, toys, etc.), this will have less impact on Mile High Comics than others who sell more new, or Star System backlist. Those who have been selling Star System backlist are now at a huge competitive disadvantage, as they now have to either buy massive amounts of inventory and stock it at their in-house shipping site, or pay the huge expense of setting up a fulfillment point in Sparta. Otherwise Next Planet Over will have up to a seven-day advantage in filling orders for Star System Backlist. There is also the fact that they will have to pay freight, while Next Planet Over theoretically does not. And don’t forget that Next Planet Over will have a much greater likelihood of being able to discover when the Star System is running short on a desirable item. When we call in to Star, they tell us if an item is in stock, or not. But they never tell us how many are left… Even if Diamond sets up a “firewall,” it seems reasonable to assume that the managers of Next Planet Over will figure out how to get the information on what’s available on the other side of their same building.


Jamie: The press release also says will be buying comics from the comic companies and selling/shipping them to individual customers within 2 days. Does this not make them both a distributor and retailer?

Chuck Rozanski: Sure seems like it. This would very negatively impact our N.I.C.E. new comics subscription club. How can we compete with a distributor selling to consumers?


Jamie: had earlier announced they made deals to carry titles and online content from Abstract Studio (Strangers in Paradise), Oni Press, Slave Labor Graphics and Adhesive Comics. Will this not help those publishers?

Chuck Rozanski: Maybe. The industry currently receives most of its sales from about 3,000 independent retailers. If even just a few more of those retailers are forced out of business by these new practices, will the lost sales volume be made up by just one company? It could be that they end up with fewer sales, not more. Also, did these publishers realize who they were actually making a deal with when they agreed to give preferential treatment to Next Planet Over? These are all companies who pride themselves an being very retailer-friendly. What will they think as the truth reaches them? How will they explain their actions to retailers who have supported them for many years?


Jamie: You clearly feel betrayed by Diamond’s deal with, do you think you can trust Diamond or Steve Geppi again?

Chuck Rozanski: No.


Jamie: Exactly what would you like the Department of Justice do to Diamond Comics and Steve Geppi?

Chuck Rozanski: I am now a firm advocate that the exclusive relationships that Diamond has with any comics publishers must be voided. We trusted Diamond and Steve Geppi, and I feel they have betrayed that trust. I once advocated the exclusive relationships because I felt that maintaining stability in the world of comics was more important than fears of monopolization. I now fear Steve Geppi and Diamond far more than I fear chaos.


Jamie: What would Diamond have to do in order to convince you that they are no longer competing against retailers through

Chuck Rozanski: 1. Publish the contract between Diamond and Next Planet Over for everyone to see.

  1. Offer the same terms and services allowed Next Planet Over to anyretailer at the same cost
  1. Guarantee in writing that neither Steve Geppi, Diamond, or any member of the Diamond staff would ever take any equity position in a comics retailer ever again.
  1. Immediate divestiture by Steve Geppi of his personal stake in


Jamie: Do you think the industry would improve if Diamond Comics had competitors?

Chuck Rozanski: I think Diamond has done a pretty good job of shipping comics. But I would sleep better at night if I had an alternative to their service. Otherwise they are free to inflict deals upon us like the Next Planet Over deal, and we still have to buy from them.


Jamie: Is there any chance you would start a distribution company to compete with Diamond Comics? If not why?

Chuck Rozanski: No. My wife ran a distribution service (Alternate Realities) for ten years. She found that the economies of scale in distribution greatly favor those who operate near great masses of population. Since there are only about 8 million people living within 500 miles of Colorado, any distributorship I could set up would be highly inefficient compared with a distributorship based in one of the more populous states. Besides, I am proud to be a comics retailer. Making comics fans happy is what gets me up with a smile every morning. I don’t want to do anything else.


Jamie: At the recent Retailer Representative conference between Diamond and retailers, there seemed to be other complaints about Diamond policy. Can you tell us what they were?

Chuck Rozanski: Actually, no. That meeting was so intense, and I was involved in so many discussions about and Next Planet Over, that the rest of the meeting was a blur. I know that Rory Root from Comic Relief in Berkeley, and Mimi Cruz from Night Flight Comics in Salt Lake City briefly raised other issues, but I was distracted, so I don’t know what they were.


Jamie: How do you feel about DC Comics option to buy Diamond Distribution in three years?

Chuck Rozanski: It seems an unreasonable consolidation of the market. But I respect the individual members of the DC management team very much. After this situation with Steve Geppi, however, who I had considered a personal friend since 1977, I would like their assurances that any such deal would be reasonable to be put into writing.


Jamie: How has Mile High Comics remained successful in today’s market?

Chuck Rozanski: Internet, Internet, Internet. We run Internet auctions, we have six million back issues listed on our website, we send weekly e-mail specials, we cut deals with companies like Excite, and we post thousands of items on The Internet is now over half of our business, and all of our earnings. Without the sales we derive from the Internet, we would go out of business very quickly.


Jamie: Mile High Comics has an associate program for selling back issues, how much has that helped your company?

Chuck Rozanski: Not very much in terms of sales, but the goodwill has been great. Sharing revenues with anyone willing to send us a little business has been very pleasant. Even if we don’t generate many sales, we make lots of new friends.


Jamie: In terms of getting new comic readers, how do you think the industry proceed. Should we try to latch comic books to other stores or should we try to make comic shops like music and book stores?

Chuck Rozanski: My vision is entirely different. All of our stores are very profitable right now, as we have shifted over to selling more backlist and collectibles. I started selling comics in 1970, and in those days new comics were a tiny part of the business. I view the Direct Market boom period of 1986-1995 as being an aberration. The income from new comics was never intended to keep stores in business. New comics are (were) a way of getting collectors to visit your store. Selling new comics was a service you provided in order to sell them backlist. We’re now seeing a return to that more stable world, and retailers who have adjusted are doing very well. But this is bad news for the publishers, and for Diamond.


Jamie: Do you think putting comic books in book stores or other places would draw people to comic retailers?

Chuck Rozanski: It’s been tried, and didn’t work. I believe collectors like going to an environment where they can speak with individuals who share their same dreams and manias. That seldom happens in any book or record store.


Jamie: Some readers complain that comics are too expensive. Do you agree?

Chuck Rozanski: Yes! Ron Perelman wrecked this industry when he rammed through the yearly price increases after he took Marvel public. They took comics from being a cheap, disposable, impulse item to being (of necessity) a collectible. Once readers became (at least partially) investors, the industry collapsed. Comics should be a buck. But rebuilding sales volume to the point where that would again be feasible is such a herculean undertaking that I doubt it will ever happen. But it sure would be nice if one of the publishers were to take the economic risk of trying to work prices back down.


Jamie: Fans also complain that event story lines and gimmicks are hurting the industry, driving long time readers away in the long run. What is your opinion as a retailer?

Chuck Rozanski: Long-time fans complain. But publishers find that the “silent majority” buy more when those tactics are used. I think it might be a mistake to give too much credence to fans who know when, and how, to provide input. They’re good folks, but they are only one perspective.


Jamie: Mile High and Jim Shooter attempted to buy the publishing arm of Marvel Comics not that long ago. Exactly what were you two planning on doing with Marvel if you bought it?

Chuck Rozanski: I was supposed to be in charge of all marketing. I was going take Marvel on the Internet in a massive fashion, and use the Internet to drive more business into comics stores. I was also going to try and get top creators on reduced priced books. A tough job, but I was going to break the price cycle… Jim was going to run editorial, and his goal was to provide more stand-alone stories, plus make sure that the stories that were written were more understandable, and maintained the integrity of the Marvel Universe.


Jamie: Jim Shooter said you talked him into self publishing his Daring Comics line and using a limited print run of 5,500. Why the limited print run?

Chuck Rozanski: I knew that Jim could get only a limited amount of credit from Ronalds to print. I debated the issue with my staff here at Mile High Comics about how many of a new Jim Shooter book would absolutely, positively sell. I argued for 10,000, but was voted down. Everyone pointed out that the market is so bad these days, that even a Jim Shooter book (in Black & White) probably wouldn’t sell more than 6,000 copies. Well, that didn’t make economic sense. So I came up with the idea that we could have Jim sign 500 of them, and sell them for about $10 each (later raised to $17.95). If we sold a bunch in advance, and we gave Jim 90% of the gross from those signed issues, then the project was guaranteed breaking even. Since that was really the only goal of the first issue, that’s where the number came from. Some folks thought this was some scheme to drive up the price on the first issue, but it wasn’t. We just had to make sure that Jim generated enough income to pay the printer.