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December 2, 2013


Dan Nadel Announces End To PictureBox, Inc.

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imageIn a statement today at his site, Dan Nadel officially announced the end of PictureBox, Inc., his longtime and currently thriving publishing company featuring comics, art books, and books related to music. There will be no more books published by the company. Nadel plans to liquidate as much backstock as possible through a holiday sale starting today, and then maintain backorders and backstock for as long as it's necessary to fulfill those obligations.

The closure ends a thirteen-year run by Nadel as a publisher. Before becoming PictureBox Inc. in 2004, Nadel was publishing a full slate under his own name, including the well-regarded publication The Ganzfeld.

PictureBox was a major force within alternative comics for nearly the entirety of its existence. Among the cartoonists published there were CF, Lauren Weinstein, Frank Santoro, Yuichi Yokoyama, Renee French, Ben Jones, Paper Rad, Mat Brinkman, Gengoroh Tagame, Sammy Harkham, Anya Davidson, Brian Chippendale, Julie Doucet, Blutch, Brandon Graham, Jonny Negron, Matthew Thurber and Gary Panter. Non-cartoonists published through the company include Jesse Pearson, Richard Kern, Nicole Rudick, and of course the band Wilco, the subjects and participants of The Wilco Book, which launched Nadel as a publisher and book-packager in 2004 to great success. It should enjoy a significant legacy as a publisher of comics with a fine arts imprimatur including in broad terms the aesthetic that came to prominence via the Providence-based art collective Fort Thunder, as a company that worked closely with a targeted distributor, and for advancing the cause of non-rigidly commercial manga.

The publisher shared in the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Graphic Novel, 2012 for Everything Together by its author Sammy Harkham. It won the Grammy for Best Packaging Design for the Wilco Album A Ghost Is Born and Nadel won an NEA Design Innovation award for The Ganzfeld. PictureBox works were nominated for a couple of Eisners according to Nadel, and one Ignatz.

While the company was primarily known for books, it also published the comic book series Cold Heat, some works in tabloid form, and the oversized but not-bearing-a-spine Goddess Of War. It also facilitated the on-line publication of certain works from its core artists.

Nadel also frequently distributed related material through the PictureBox Inc. web site.

The official final book to be published by Picturebooks is Infomaniacs, by Matthew Thurber. "That's a good one to end on," Nadel told CR.

Nadel told CR that the decision was personal rather than professional, and that the idea of closing the company was instigated by him for reasons related to the course of his life rather than forced by business concerns. According to the writer, editor and designer, PictureBox was a viable concern right up to the end, and could have been continued at its current level of success in perpetuity. He was the company's only full-time employee: art direction was freelanced and the artists that worked for PictureBox did so through standard publishing contracts. It did allow for Nadel's living in New York City, and, he stressed, could have continued.

What Nadel couldn't guarantee, and which had become a major concern having recently become a father, is insulation from the ups and downs of publishing: that he could somehow always make it so that that every book would work, that he could somehow avoid one or two books that might take a heavy chunk of his personal savings when they failed to meet sales expectations. This was further complicated by the changing state of publishing as print continues to feel the effects of a growing market for digital and the impact that new methods of production and new priorities had on those devoted to print. While Nadel claimed a fantastic relationship with his book distributor and a solid one with the shows he regularly attended, including TCAF and SPX in terms of sales at those shows, his penetration into the bulk of North American comic shops was limited due to the nature of the material he published.

imageRather than take on a business partner or a co-publisher or even a devoted money-manager at the urging of some of his friends and those he published -- at least according to what some of them told CR they suggested as a possible course of action -- and rather than change the way in which he selected work, Nadel decided to end PictureBox while in all but those terms of financial certainty worked the way he wanted it to. Nadel will have published over 20 books in 2013, some perhaps due to the fact that he wanted to get as many of his planned projects out the door as possible before the closure. Only one book, a Paul Pope art book called The Road To Battling Boy and planned for early 2014, made it to a formal announcement and on-line bookseller phase and was subsequently canceled.

Nadel has transitioned to this point with what he claims is the full support those he publishes; certainly this publication could not find a dissenting, angry voice upset with Nadel's conduct in this last stage of his publishing company's existence. News of PictureBox's imminent closure had been an item of discussion within alt-comics circles as long ago as the week before Small Press Expo. Nadel kept the closure away from industry news sources in the hopes of maintaining a sense of continuity through his Fall plans. He had originally wanted to announce the day after Comic Arts Brooklyn, and then pushed that back to today to continue some work on behalf of a book or two.

Nadel has also working behind the scenes with the cartoonists and with his fellow publishers to find as many homes for planned publishing projects as is possible for him to find. Those publishers have been reluctant to speak on the record about what projects they may pursue or even which one they've already landed, so that should become part of the regular publicity cycle company to company. My understanding, though, is that this won't be a 100 percent industry assumption of planned books, and that some are still looking for a home that might provide some of the things they enjoyed about their working relationship with Nadel. It should be worth noting how the overall publishing landscape changes with PictureBox's demise.

In addition to the Pope book, it's expected that Sammy Harkham, CF and Frank Santoro had books in rough-stage planning with the publisher. An anthology follow-up to The Passion Of Gengoroh Tagame called Massive had been discussed but not to the point of being listed, and is currently orphaned. Ryan Holmberg's Ten-Cent Line was designed to continue past its initial pair of books with PictureBox; a statement to CR about the publisher's demise indicates that line has not found a new home as of yet.

CR spoke briefly to the alternative-comic book publishers Fantagraphics and D+Q. "I haven't lined up anything proper but I've spoken to a few folks and am certainly interested in most of what Dan published," Eric Reynolds, Associate Publisher at Fantagraphics, told CR when asked of the possibility that a specific planned project of two might end up at that publisher. Drawn And Quarterly declined to respond at this time to a similar inquiry.

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imageThe comics critic Joe McCulloch, whose time writing about the art form roughly parallel's the existence of Nadel's publishing house and who currently writes for Nadel at TCJ.com, spoke to CR about the company's legacy in terms of his overall impression of Nadel's artistic efforts rather than a list of books. "I find it very difficult to qualify my feelings about PictureBox with necessities like continuum; certainly they were not the first outlet to work vigorously toward an appreciation of certain vagrant strains of comics art. Highwater is an obvious predecessor for its embrace of Fort Thunder artists, 'noise' comics, design-conscious packaging, vigorous distillations of youthful superhero iconography down to pleasurable marks on paper, panel-by-panel -- all 'PictureBox things,' per our limited collective memory.

"But PictureBox was not just publishing; it was Dan and his artists, and the conversation they promulgated. It was Art Out of Time -- which they didn’t even publish -- and Comics Comics, and Frank Santoro setting up his longboxes at the show table, and Dan annotating the treasures he'd disinter from the Joe Koch warehouse, and all of these things that would seem to inform the books PictureBox would publish -- and if they didn't, the books and the treasures and the conversation would somehow, nonetheless, interrelate. There are not many publishers in as small a field as comics that cannot benefit, somehow, from this -- so logically, so obviously that to behave like PictureBox did is not to 'behave' at all, because that would construe as an affirmative choice, instead of being in the way a thing is being if it is breathing and blinking and lifting leg to a mallet's touch. It is bravura, but hardly non sequitur, to imagine that PictureBox was born for Tumblr so eagerly that it suffered three years' wait for contemporaneity, huffing and wheezing, to catch itself up.

"That it is now gone, as a publishing concern, is painful and awful and a considerable loss, but its imprint on the rhetoric of comics has guaranteed its legacy, which too will eventually fade into subtext and assumption and received wisdom, yes, but you can't say that of most things ostensibly dead and gone."

****

A limited bibliography for PictureBox Inc. reveals its diverse publishing slate and certain cartoonists' names that repeat.

2013

* Blow Your Head: A Diplo Zine: Volume Two: New York, Shane McCauley and Diplo
* Coming Together, Coming Apart, Lumi Tan and Julia Chiang
* Contact High, Jesse Pearson and Richard Kern
* DNA Failure: British Weapon Comics, Jon Chandler, Leon Sadler and Stefan Sadler
* Drawings, Chris Martin
* Dyes, Naomi Fry and Sam Moyer
* Gold Pollen and Other Stories, Seiichi Hayashi and Ryan Holmberg
* Infomaniacs, Matthew Thurber
* In the Good Name of the Company: Artworks and ephemera produced by or in tandem with the Colby Printing Company... Jan Tumlir, Chris Michlig and Brian Roettinger
* Last of the Mohicans, Shigeru Sugiura and Ryan Holmberg
* Men's Group: The Video, David Kramer, Nicole Rudick, Daniel Nadel and Ben Jones
* Mere, C.F.
* Nudity Today, Jesse Pearson
* Paintings, Ross Simonini, Glenn O'Brien, Monica Ramirez-Montagut and Eddie Martinez
* Pompeii, Frank Santoro
* School Spirits, Anya Davidson
* So Long, Silver Screen, Edward Gauvin and Blutch
* Sun Ra & Ayé Aton: Space, Interiors and Exteriors 1972, John Corbett and Glenn Ligon
* The Mysterious Underground Men, Osamu Tezuka and Ryan Holmberg
* Walrus: Brandon Graham's All Bum Album, Brandon Graham
* Wes Lang, James Frey and Wes Lang
* World Map Room, Yuichi Yokoyama
* The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: Master of Gay Erotic Manga, Anne Ishii, Chip Kidd, Graham Kolbeins, Edmund White and Gengoroh Tagame

2012

* Blow Your Head: A Diplo Zine: Volume One: Dancehall, Shane McCauley and Diplo
* De Profundis, James Jarvis
* Everything Together: Collected Stories, Sammy Harkham
* Interiors, Michael Ned Holte, Jonas Wood, Ana Vejzovic Sharp
* Kramers Ergot 8, Sammy Harkham, Gary Panter, Ben Jones and C.F.
* Negron, Jonny Negron
* Sara Greenberger Rafferty: Remote, Claire Barliant and Sara Rafferty
* Yield to Temptation, Todd Reas James

2011

* 1 800 Mice, Matthew Thurber
* Cockfighter, Charles Willeford and Jesse Pearson
* Color Engineering, Yuichi Yokoyama
* Garden, Yuichi Yokoyama
* Odd Future: Golf Wang, Nick Weidenfeld, Michael Schmelling and Odd Future
* Sediment, C.F.
* Return of the Repressed: Destroy All Monsters 1973-1977, Nicole Rudick, Mike Kelley, Daniel Nadel and Cary Loren

2010

* Cold Heat, Frank Santoro and Ben Jones
* H Day, Renee French
* heads, 44, Mat Brinkman
* If 'n Oof, Brian Chippendale
* I Was Looking for a Street, Charles Willeford and Luc Sante
* My New New York Diary Julie Doucet and Michel Gondry
* Powr Mastrs Vol. 3, CF

2009

* Cold Heat Special #6 Frank Santoro and Ben Jones
* Cold Heat Special #9 Lane Milburn, Frank Santoro and Ben Jones
* Multiforce, Mat Brinkman
* NADA Catalogue, NADA Art Fair
* Sports Book, Jonas Wood

2008

* Cola Madnes, Gary Panter
* Crazy Town, Paul Gondry
* Eddie Martinez & Chuck Webster, Geoffrey Young, Joao Ribas, Eddie Martinez and Chuck Webster
* For the Love of Vinyl: The Album Art of Hipgnosis, Storm Thorgerson, Aubrey Powell, Paula Scher and Peter Blake
* Gary Panter, Gary Panter
* Goddess of War, Lauren Weinstein
* Mail Order Monsters, Kathy Grayson
* Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby, Takashi Nemoto
* MYTHTYM, Trinie Dalton
* New Painting & Drawing, Ben Jones
* Overspray: Riding High with the Kings of California Airbrush Art, Norman Hathaway and Mike Salisbury
* Powr Mastrs Vol. 2, C.F.
* Prospect.1 New Orleans, Barbara Bloemink, Lolis Elie, Claire Tancons and Dan Cameron
* The Magnificent Excess of Snoop Dogg, Nick Stillman, Lisa Ruyter and Katherine Bernhardt
* Travel Yuichi Yokoyama
* You'll Like This Film Because You're In It, Michel Gondry

2007

* 1-800-Mice #1, Matthew Thurber
* Cartoon Workshop Pig Tales Digest, Paper Rad
* Some Kinda Vocation, Cheryl Dunn
* Maggots, Brian Chippendale
* Powr Mastrs Vol. 1, CF
* Real Fun: Polaroids from the Independent Music Landscape, Ashod Simonian
* Storeyville, Frank Santoro
* Wipe that Clock Off Your Face, Taylor McKimens, Joe Grillo, Brian Belott and Donald Baechler
* Yuichi Yokoyama: New Engineering, Yuichi Yokoyama

2006

* Cold Heat #1, Ben Jones and Frank Santoro
* Elle-Humour by Julie Doucet
* Gore, Jason Rothenberg and Black Dice
* Me a Mound, Trenton Doyle Hancock
* Ninja, Brian Chippendale
* Nog a Dod: Prehistoric Canadian Psychedoolia Marc Bell
* The Trenton Doyle Handbook Vol. 1, Trenton Doyle

2005

* Free Radicals, Mat Brinkman, Christopher Forgues, Josh Simmons and Fiona Smyth
* Paper Rad, B.J. And Da Dogs, Ben Jones and Paper Rad

2004

* The Wilco Book, Michael Schmelling, Fred Tomaselli and Wilco

Nadel also published two magazine series:

2006-2008
* Comics Comics

2000-2008
* The Ganzfeld

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Contacted by CR, a small number of the cartoonists with whom Nadel has worked and a few of his peers in publishing provided their reactions to the news of PictureBox's closure and its legacy in terms of alternative comics publishing.

Anne Koyama
"I'm very sad to hear this news.

"I love Dan's line, people may not remember that in when I started the company, I had intended Koyama Press to be more of an art book publisher but due partially to the closing in 2009 of two of the only art book stores in Toronto, I shifted to more comics.

"From Ben Jones and Yuichi Yokoyama to Sammy Harkham to the black and white zines, I can always find interesting work at PictureBox. Artists such as Anya Davidson and Johnny Negron getting a voice there is wonderful too.

"In my limited experience, I find people don't 'get it' when you try to do more than one thing. In my case, doing the odd art book, zine, print, installation as well as the comics elicits a sort of puzzled reaction. I've never understood this, I think you can have a cohesive line with a very diverse catalog. I have wondered sometimes whether PictureBox suffered from that reaction, too.

"Of all of the comic publishers out there, I feel a bit of a kinship to Dan's company because we seem to have somewhat similar interests when it comes to art stuff. I certainly don't mean to compare the companies as he has so many 'heavy hitters' in comics, but Dan's sensibility is not foreign to me.

"I have emptied my wallet more than once at Dan's table. I'm not looking forward to the void that is left once the press is gone."

imageFrank Santoro, Pompeii, Storeyville and Cold Heat
"Dan's run as a publisher was like the most amazing kick off return for a touchdown that I've ever seen. The line was like the Pittsburgh Steelers in the late 1970s. A real force. I thought of Mat Brinkman as Jack Lambert. I thought of myself as Franco Harris. Dan is Chuck Noll.

"Dan is a great hands-off publisher who knows how to get what he wants out of his artists. He can be tough, though. Like with what kind of books he wants to make and how he wrangles personalities. I think that toughness is necessary. I admire that about him.

"I'm going to ponder what's next. Take some time off. Maybe I'll move to France."

Sammy Harkham, Everything Together and Kramers Ergot 8
"Dan is great to work with, thorough and present and accountable all through the process, from conception of the idea to selling the product. His line is unequaled as far as I'm concerned, one of the most exciting publishing houses in the World. It was a great honor to publish with them. PictureBox created an awesome context within the wider world of culture for comics and for marginalized works in general to exist in. Nadel is a real professional, and while it is sad to see him move on, I appreciate what he did for comics as a publisher, and am excited to see what he does next. Nothing lasts.

"I currently don't have a publisher. When I have a project ready, I guess l'll figure something out. The industry depresses me."

Tom Devlin, Drawn And Quarterly
"Is it funny or sad that it never seems like a total shock when a small publisher (especially what is essentially a one man operation) shuts down. I hate to see any publisher that I like shut down but I am very sympathetic to why one would cease operation. I think anyone who has started publishing comics in the past ten years has pretty much picked the most artistically rich time and the worst economic time to do so. PictureBox's comics line was certainly closest to my own personal interests in comics (Fort Thunder, classic and modern Japanese comics) so I will miss that. Certainly no other comics or art publisher is going to be as agressive in smearing the lines between comics and fine art as Dan was with PictureBox.

"Dan's taste is impeccable and he searched deep into comics to find some great stuff that I really can't imagine anyone else publishing. I loved being woken up and puzzled by his art books choices alongside his comic choices. Nobody is going to replace that. I hope Dan continues to package comic stuff and return to criticism though because as that guy he's been indispensable to how any of us read comics in the modern era. Dan has always had this sideline as a critic and I think he's been one of the most valuable in the most recent comics era. His interest in revisiting a lot of ignored genre work from the early and mid-20th century being a particularly important part of how we read comics today."

Anne Ishii, The Passion Of Gengoroh Tagame
"It was awesome working with a sleep-deprived stay-at-home dad with the loudest most annoying dog on earth and no staff. But seriously, Dan is a consummate editor, who is in love with his artists and good art, with a healthy sense for staying in the background or stepping up as necessary. I'm super duper bummed he can't keep up PictureBox, for more than personal reasons."

imageRyan Holmberg, The Ten-Cent Line
"Dan was great. Patient. Open. Supportive. Punctual. Pliable! Then firm when it was important. Those were my first books, so I thank him deeply for helping me getting started and working out some rookie stupidity.

"Of course, I was totally heartbroken when I found out. We had built up the idea for two series, and then the project was aborted after its first steps. Between Ten-Cent Manga and Alternative Manga Masters, the goal was to get many of the classics of manga history out in quality English editions.

"While Dan and I had spoken agreements for the next two books in the Ten-Cent line, only one contracted book got cancelled, which was the second volume in the Alternative Manga line. That is being picked up by another publisher (cannot say who just yet), so the Alternative Manga line will continue in another form.

"I am not so hopeful about the Ten-Cent line, since the idea is unconventional, even if major artists were to be part of it. And that, for me, is the real bummer about PictureBox stopping. Dan's adventurism might have landed him in financial trouble, but it also meant he was willing to do interesting books that otherwise would not get published. Also, in the Ten-Cent line, we were planning on doing some books that were kind of in the public domain but not really -- Dan was willing to explore that grey zone without legal assurances... I am not sure any other publisher would do that, which means some truly special books will probably now never see the light of day. No one will ever know what they missed out on, but let me tell you that PictureBox stopping is really a set-back for manga publishing in general.

"But if another publisher is out there and liked the Mohicans and Mysterious Underground Men books, I am ready to go."

Eric Reynolds, Fantagraphics Books
"I really admire Dan and what he built, and how he positioned his books more to the greater art world than just the comic book world. He has great taste and he's a great writer and editor. Picturebox was and is a noble endeavor."

Lauren Weinstein, The Goddess Of War
"It was way too easy working with Dan on The Goddess Of War. He gladly agreed to print a large format soft-cover-book that was a mixture of sci-fi fantasy and military history that was written by a woman who had no precedent for that kind of work. He paid for a press sheet so I could pick the right pantone. He dealt with all my neuroses about finishing the book and really got behind it. It makes me sad that Picturebox is going to end, because Dan did this for so many people, like Gary Panter, Ben Jones, and CF who have become incredibly influential cartoonists. I wish a big pot of money would fall from the sky to help him out. I hope he can find some other publishing outlet, because who else is going to wholeheartedly support the deeply weird shit?"

*****

Dan Nadel has recently taken a full-time position with ARTBOOK/D.A.P. as their "Key Account Sales Director." This was Nadel's distributor while at PictureBox. He starts December 9th. "I know and love the company." A book he coauthored with Norman Hathaway, Dorothy and Otis Shepard: Designing the American Dream is due from HarperCollins in Fall 2014. That same season he will curate an exhibition at the RISD Museum of Art: "What Nerve! Alternative Figures in American Art 1960-present," which he told CR will feature "Forcefield, Jack Kirby, Gary Panter, the Hairy Who, Destroy All Monsters and others."

Nadel also promised to keep his hand in with comics as a writer about the art form and as co-editor of the TCJ.com web site, a position he holds with Timothy Hodler. Nadel accepted that position in 2010 and started work there in 2011 after closing down the Comics Comics web site. He told CR that ending PictureBox should free him up to write more frequently and perhaps even more freely for the web site.

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