RIP Claypool

At the end of last year, Claypool Comics was having some problems. They’d been warned by Diamond that if sales didn’t improve, their titles would be dropped from Previews, which would pretty much kill the company.

Now, it appears that their promotional efforts, which included a Free Comic Book Day comic, didn’t raise their sales enough, because they’re shutting down their print publications. Here’s the press release:

After almost fourteen years and more than 300 issues — one of the longest runs in the history of independent comics — publisher Claypool Comics is telling the world of print, “Thank you and farewell.” After ELVIRA, MISTRESS OF THE DARK #166 (shipping in February 2007), SOULSEARCHERS AND COMPANY #82 (also shipping in February), and DEADBEATS #82 (shipping in March), Claypool will cut back its line to DEADBEATS alone and put new adventures of that series’ vampire-haunted world on the Internet. Claypool’s trade-paperback comics collections (under the Boffin Books imprint) and back issues will remain available as long as supplies last.

Claypool’s shift from paper to bytes comes after a long struggle for sales. In November, 2005, Diamond Comics Distributors — the major distributor of comic books in the United States — gave Claypool some alarming news: Claypool wasn’t selling enough comics to meet Diamond’s guidelines for profitable distribution. Diamond and Claypool teamed up for a string of promotional efforts, including free comics for retailers, plus various flyers and posters. Claypool’s sales rose, but not far or fast enough. In July of 2006, after discussions with Diamond executives, Claypool publisher Ed Via and editor Richard Howell decided to publish DEADBEATS exclusively on the World Wide Web. The other titles will cease publication indefinitely.

Diamond has graciously guaranteed that the Claypool line will be allowed to finish out its run with enough time to bring both SOULSEARCHERS and DEADBEATS to exciting story resolutions, ensuring that long-time readers won’t be disappointed. ELVIRA — starring the famous video hostess in tales by Kurt Busiek, Paul Dini (in his first comics work), Steve Leialoha, Jim Mooney, Dave Cockrum, John Heebink, Neil Vokes, Mike Manley, and many others — will spend its final issues continuing its tradition of short story arcs and single-issue tales. To emphasize the momentousness of the event, the final issues of each series will feature “Countdown to the End” cover bullets.

SOULSEARCHERS — created by Howell and best-selling writer Peter David, with art by (among others) Amanda Conner, Dave Cockrum, Joe Staton, and Jim Mooney — features a team of comedically-inept supernatural investigators. Currently, the Soulsearchers are banned from operating their business in their home town of Mystic Grove, Connecticut; nevertheless, they’re tracking down a mysterious, mystical nexus that has been appearing at various places within the town limits.

DEADBEATS, the title moving online, features a gang of passionate vampires and the mortals who try to destroy them. Created, written, and penciled by Howell and inked by Ricardo Villagran, the book features a combination of horror and romance reminiscent of the classic television series Dark Shadows, with enough lusty eroticism to satisfy even the most dedicated Anne Rice fan. The cast of DEADBEATS is battling against an imminent doom predicted from the future, which will destroy almost everyone in Mystic Grove, human and vampire alike, and leave the town a place of despair and desolation. Readers can find new DEADBEATS adventures at the Claypool website (, beginning early in 2007.

To facilitate the reformatting of DEADBEATS series and preparing the way for new readers, Claypool will be publishing an additional BEST OF DEADBEATS (exact title TBA) trade paperback collection in February 2007, reprinting the series’ most important issues. This volume will also feature new material and will be the perfect introduction to the DEADBEATS continuity.

Howell and Via founded Claypool in 1992. They began with SOULSEARCHERS, ELVIRA, and DEADBEATS, as well as the twelve-issue miniseries PHANTOM OF FEAR CITY by Steve Englehart and a variety of artists, including fan-favorite George Perez. The company’s focus on the supernatural anticipated such modern hits as Walking Dead, Fear Agent, and Hellboy.

Claypool’s Richard Howell says, “We’ve been working with Diamond to get our comics out to more stores in more quantity, but ultimately we had to surrender to reality: There’s too much competing product out there for the customer base, the retail base, and the distribution chain — and we’re a small, black-and-white line of offbeat, almost uncategorizable comics. Based on the commitment and intensity of our fans, we’re convinced that our books fulfill a need in the marketplace. We’re just not reaching enough of those readers — or reaching them consistently enough — in their current format. Moving DEADBEATS to the Internet will allow us to reach more levels of the potential readership, lower our overhead, and open new routes towards bringing Claypool-style narrative sensibility to those who’d value it.”

Diamond Vice President for Purchasing Bill Schanes adds, “We’d like to thank everyone at Claypool for all their efforts over the years and wish them the best of success with their future endeavors.”

Claypool Comics wants to extend its warmest wishes and gratitude to the many writers, artists, retailers, fans, and others who have helped Claypool over the company’s fourteen-year odyssey. Their loyalty and support have made Claypool one of the most respected publishers in comics, and Claypool’s staff hopes that they will continue to follow DEADBEATS online.

I don’t want to kick the corpse, but given that they’re announcing how they’re going to be using the internet exclusively, I find it sad that their website is currently announcing an event from April as happening soon. Maybe next year (they’re taking five months to get the website ready?) their updates will be more timely.

You’ve gotta love the black humor in putting “Countdown to the End” markers on their covers — that’s a great way to convince people to drop titles even faster.

Update: I didn’t realize this on my first read-through, but the last issues will appear in February 2007, which means they’ll be offered in December of this year, which means they’re announcing this five months early. I wonder if they got a guarantee from Diamond that they’ll be allowed to last that long? I ask because retailers who were giving them a chance may quit ordering before then, creating a downward spiral of sales.

8 Responses to “RIP Claypool”

  1. Chris Says:

    Well, I’m glad they’re adding another logo to their covers at least.

  2. Rachel Says:

    That is very sad.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Chris, I bow to the master of snark.

  4. Jer Says:

    I would think that Claypool would be at the point where retailers aren’t buying more than filling their pre-orders and maybe a couple for the wall. I could, of course, be wrong, but it would seem that the writing has been on the wall for Claypool for a long, long time.

    At least they’re going out with class — letting everyone know this far in advance that they’re winding down is a good move, for both the creators on the books and those fans that they have. A lot better than insisting nothing is wrong until the day after they lock their doors and turn out the lights, at least.

  5. Johanna Says:

    I find the wall doubtful myself, Jer. I suspect many retailers did more than order the titles for confirmed customers.

    Recent jumping-on point stunt aside, Claypool never seemed very friendly to new readers. They were a set of long-running series with few collections (and none recent) that looked, stylistically, as though they were a couple of decades old, even though they had a fairly good creator lineup.

    But I don’t want to bash them when they’re down. I do find it interesting that most of the recent “going to the web instead of print” announcements made sure readers were aware that eventual print collections would be available for purchase. This one didn’t.

  6. Matthew High Says:

    I am just stuck thinking of the old Monty Python “bring out your dead” skit, with Claypool plaintively crying, “Er, we’re not quite dead yet” to Diamond rolling around with a wheelbarrow. I’ve had the feeling that Claypool has actually been “dead” as a comics publisher since last year, when Diamond gave them a reality check. At that time, Claypool’s comic book sales were already *way* below what Diamond considered the cutoff point (I think I worked out that Elvira was only reaching around 40-50% of the minimum, and the other books lower than that). That’s just waaaaay too much ground to make up, for a bunch of comic books that have ossified sales patterns.

    One could argue it was a problem with content, or a problem with promotion. One could argue it was a problem with the cover styles, or that customers just aren’t interested in the stories themselves.

    While I’m sure Claypool’s demise is complex and is due to many problems, I would argue instead that the main problem with Claypool was with *format*. They realized far, far too late that the 32-page staplebound format is essentially a dead medium for indy comics publishers. And, well, it has been dead for several years now.

    Claypool obstinately REFUSED to publish any trade paperback collections at all. I think there were four or five trades they published, about a decade ago, and that’s it. Want to read Elvira? There’s one or two trade paperbacks, but then you hafta go back and pick up 150+ individual comic book issues, some of which are a decade old and could never be found in local comic book stores.

    Working for a distributor, I’ve seen how comic book issue sales for indy and small-press titles have dwindled down to almost nothing. Even long-running titles with built-in fan bases (like, say Gold Digger) are a hard sell in staplebound format. In fact, I could pinpoint exactly when the switchover occurred — just by looking back at stats. In 2000, 1/3 of our sales were in trade paperbacks, 2/3 were in comic books. The following year, those stats switched (almost exactly), and trade paperback sales haven’t looked back. I haven’t run the stats in a while, but these days I would probably estimate that TPBs outsell comic book issues through us at a ratio somewhere between 10-1 and 20-1. Anything in a staplebound format is a tough, tough sell these days, if you’re a small publisher.

    Claypool missed the trade paperback parade…or, for some inexplicable reason, they chose to defy it. Who knows why — I’m sure plenty of retailers chastised them for not producing trade paperback collections. If, say, three years ago they started publishing a trade paperback a month (Elvira one month, Deadbeats the next, Soulsearchers the next, then repeat), by now they would have a big library of trades for sale. Not a bunch of comics with a one-month window of sales, but evergreens that keep selling year-after-year. Plus, they would have opened a door to a much larger marketplace — the mass market and bookstores — where trade paperbacks outsell the direct market several times over.

    So, people can argue Claypool failed for various reasons, but I would argue it was because they didn’t change their format to suit the times. At least, that’s my opinion.

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