Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

January 7, 2009

When A Story Is A Non-Story But Still A Story: Smell Of Steve’s Planet Of Beer


With January and February sales generally representing a down period for the comic industry and with the delayed decision-making process that involves moving books around in a schedule months ahead of time, many folks that cover comics have been keeping a keen eye out for news of books from later on this Spring. In other words, if DC and Marvel have fewer books out in January that's one thing, but if they're keeping a lean schedule in May, that's quite another.

Therefore, it was with some degree of interest that I read a note received in a mass mailing from Brian Sendelbach, a cartoonist I like a lot who creates the Smell of Steve strip that exists both on-line and in a few alt-weeklies and on whose behalf Dark Horse announced they'd be releasing a print collection: Planet of Beer: A Smell of Steve Treasury. Here are the graphs of interest:
As just about everyone in the world doesn't know, I have a book coming out in March. It's called Planet of Beer: A Smell of Steve Treasury, and it's the distillation of many years' worth my weekly comic strip, Smell of Steve.

I'm pretty excited about the book. It's big, it's in full color, and it's the first time all these comic strips will be appearing in one place.

Only one wrinkle: Because of the usual Crappy Economy factors everyone's so familiar with now, Planet of Beer might not get published at all. The publisher, Dark Horse, claims that unless orders go up somewhat, they're going to pull the book.

Beyond the economy thing, it's been a challenge to market Planet of Beer. How do you describe comic strips that feature celebrities such as Nick Nolte and Sammy Hagar (as well as pop culture figures like Fonzie) in starring roles? How do you describe characters like President Carter & Kenny, Black Aquaman, and Bougle Gluce in a way that doesn't sound wacky and contrived? And how do you explain that Smell of Steve started off as a kind of conceptual art project, and ended up as, well... a different kind of conceptual art project?

Anyway, I'm a crappy salesman, and it's a crappy time to be selling anything. So this is no Planet of Beer hard-sell. I'm just letting you know that the book is available for pre-order here...
The rest of the letter gives you a place to pre-order the work; I'll share some of that information below.

The concern, of course, when you read something like this is that DHC might 1) be experiencing notably low pre-orders on a book which while it doesn't fit into its overt webcomics initiative is close enough that you might think sales would be better, 2) be putting one of its authors in a position to help in raising the level of pre-orders or not have the book published, and 3) be doing something similar with books whose creators don't happen to have me on their e-mail mass mailing list.

I asked Dark Horse for comment on both 1) this particular case and 2) if they're making similar requests of other authors concerning other books. Here's what I was given in response, which I'm told to ascribe to "a Dark Horse representative":
"While we were discussing the possibility of postponing the book's release to allow more time for pre-order, and we were encouraging Brian to do what he could on his part to get the word out, we have not yet come to the point where we were discussing the cancellation of the book. We are excited about Planet of Beer and will continue to stand behind it and all of our projects and creators both current and future."
Fair enough. Smoke, but no fire. There was enough initial confusion for there to be some left over, as I sent this along to Brian and received in return a statement from "a Smell of Steve representative":
I like Dark Horse. I've been very happy with my editor, and everybody who I've dealt with at Dark Horse.

I sent the e-mail in order to save my book as a direct response to information I received from Dark Horse regarding the possibility of Planet Of Beer not going to print.

Incidentally, I've been really surprised at the positive response. I feel like Sting in that "Message in a Bottle" song.
So there you have it. No financial Armageddon or book purge, just a struggling volume in a bad economy. I still think Spring publishing plans very much bear watching for signs of wider economic downturn influence, and will do so at every opportunity.

This leads me to a more important point: I really like the Smell of Steve material, and if any of you join me in liking this material or sometimes liking the things I like in general, I'm going to suggest you pre-order it and/or otherwise show support for one of the odder, more idiosyncratic comics of the last 20 years. Brian suggested this Amazon link. There's a petition out there I signed without reading but it involves a boycott and I wish I hadn't. You can probably find that if you want to. I would also direct you to the general web site for more comics, although actually, that's not fully up right now so here's Sendelbach's myspace page. If any retailers or people in position to support the work through press want to be put into contact with Brian and can't find something on the site and don't feel like working with Jacq Cohen at Dark Horse for some strange reason, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) And if you don't accept my word on these things, it seems as if the writer Warren Ellis likes it, too.
posted 7:20 am PST | Permalink

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