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News: Alternative Sends Up Yellow Flag
posted July 13, 2004

July 13 -- Alarmed by having to "delay, reschedule or cancel a number of books in the last number of months," Publisher Jeff Mason of Alternative Comics distributed a missive to comics fans and direct market retailers asking for additional purchasing consideration during a time when company coffers have dipped really low. According to the press release, Mason lost the working capital he used to have for company operations to the book distributor LPC Group when they went under in 2002. Mason reported that his original nest egg for publishing comics was about $50,000, and LPC still owes the company approximately $25,000. That company's collapse and the resulting financial shortfall are what led to immediate calls for help from publishers Top Shelf and Drawn and Quarterly. Fantagraphics Books made a similar plea in Spring 2003. Each call for assistance was helpful in raising money to keep those companies afloat.

Alternative Comics' please is slightly different in that he asks fans to use their local comic book retailer to purchase his books. As a one-man operation with a full-time career as an attorney, Mason says he lacks the manpower necessary to sell directly to even the most helpful fans of his books. Although the results of Mason's efforts will be more difficult to engage as a result, his desire to use retailers has already spread some goodwill in the direct market, where many shops felt left out of the direct solicitations made by companies in trouble past.

According to Mason, another reason he is going through the retailers instead of making a more direct plea is "I am trying to figure out a long term solution rather than a quick fix. In asking for people to buy from retailers rather than sell to them directly, my goal is to strengthen the direct sales process. I want to bolster readers buying from retailers, retailers buying from distributors, and distributors buying from us. There are more links in this chain than there would be if I just asked customers to send Alternative Comics some money for some books. In this outreach, I can't expect for 100% of retailers that sell Alternative Comics books from their inventory over the next few months to place re-orders equal to what they've sold. A book sitting on a retailer's shelf somewhere has already put money in the coffers of Alternative Comics because when that retailer bought it from their distributor, the distributor sent us a check. I really don't think it would be right for me to bypass the very same retailers that have supported me in the past." Mason hopes that with the word out, a retailer who moves some Alternative Comics backstock as a result of the plea will turn around and restock their inventory, and that his comics will be advance ordered on a more consistent basis. As for what would constitute a healthy short-term gain based on these factors, Mason speaks in terms of disruptions in the current line. "There are currently a handful of books in our publishing queue that Alternative Comics does not have the money to print," he told the Journal. "Alternative Comics would need an influx of approximately $7,500 rather quickly not to have to cancel any of the books currently in our queue."

Alternative Comics grew out of Indy Magazine, which Mason began publishing in 1993. He began his comics line in 1996, and has since become one of the leading publishers for second-generation alternative comics talent, with a line-up that includes cartoonists such as Dean Haspiel, Sam Henderson, Jon Lewis and Jen Sorensen. Their most recent books include Escalator by Brandon Graham, A Few Perfect Hours and Other Stories by Josh Neufeld, and Waterwise by Joel Orff.

Alternative has canceled one planned book already, Lauren Weinstein's The Goddess of War; and generally plans scaling back its publishing efforts from the five or six books it reported releasing in July 2004 to a more reasonable rate of one or two books a month in the near and extended future. "Yes, some of the books currently in the queue may be cancelled depending on whether or not Alternative Comics brings in enough cash in the short term. I am hopeful that there will not be any cancellations of anything solicited to be released after August 2004 -- but the strength of the advance orders for those books will be largely what determines that," Mason said. "I've learned that Alternative Comics cannot viably offer more than one or two books a month. A good portion of my cash flow crunch comes directly from me expanding Alternative Comics publication schedule too quickly over the last few years. Mason hopes the company is back on its feet in January 2005 to publish the anticipated hardcover book The Salon, by cartoonist Nick Bertozzi.