Killing a Good Thing

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez has more information on how Image is treating its “Slimline” format (aka Fell/Casanova format, 24 pages for $1.99) — badly.

Shadowline, Image co-founder Jim Valentino’s personal imprint, has recently latched on to the format with their mini-series Sam Noir: Samurai Detective, but has taken a rather odd approach with it by…well, let Shadowline editor Kris Simon explain it:

Sam Noir 2 cover

Sam Noir is done in that format, as well as an upcoming March title called After the Cape. However, the $1.99 price tag won’t be implemented. Why, you ask? Because our creators won’t bring in numbers like Fell does, and we like them to actually make some money off their book! Plus, if a fan really wants to read a book, I don’t think a dollar will prevent them from doing so. We price them at $2.99, whereas the rest of our books are $3.50.

I’m not sure which part of this is more wrongheaded, the less for more approach, or the wishful thinking of “if a fan really wants to read a book…”

In an industry littered with failed attempts from the Big Two and self-publishers alike, the “if a fan…” approach is absolutely mind-boggling coming from someone not working off of venture capital, a trust fund or a long-term business plan. It’s not like Shadowline has a track record for launching successful titles, or standing by struggling ones, with several flaming out well before their time — ie: Blacklight, The Intimidators, Emissary — and by Brown’s own admission, they’re not expecting their creators to move enough copies to make a $1.99 cover price viable.

Further down the thread, she adds this little tidbit: “…all of our black and white titles are/will be 24 pages, for $2.99. Color books that are 32 pages are $3.50.” Why taint the fledgling Slimline format like this?

I second Guy’s thoughts. In my opinion, the format works because of the combination of factors: short page count with a dense story for a smaller price. I know retailers have complained that people would have bought the comics at “regular” price, but I’m not sure that applies to non-Warren Ellis books. Shadowline, in particular, seems to be, um, less than successful, with titles appearing and disappearing frequently and no one other than the creators who work on them talking about them that I’ve seen.

(Emissary looked very interesting, another take on the Icon concept of “how would Superman have been treated differently if he were black?”, but I didn’t bother because I suspected it would go quickly. If it had been a graphic novel I would have tried it.)

Saying “oh, we’re using the format… but we’re raising the price” means that you’re NOT using the format, and you’re only seizing at a current popular name to try and bring some heat to your ignorable line of comics. It also looks like they’re trying to camouflage bad news, that they’re having to cut page counts and remove color on their books because *they don’t sell*.

I hope that Image decides to maintain the Slimline brand by refusing to allow Shadowline to use the name, since they’re not following the guidelines, but since it belongs to one of the founders, I doubt that will happen.

(Odd bit of trivia: if you google Shadowline and Slimline, after you get a few comic-related posts, you wind up looking at links to women’s underwear.)

9 Responses to “Killing a Good Thing”

  1. Loren Says:

    Yeah, what dopey logic! The problem with the pricing on comics not in the big two is that they’re so damn expensive that you have to really know if you want to read it (big buzz and such). I allow a certain amount of my comic budget to check out new projects (for example, I was sucked in by Emissary which is cool), but I’d bet that I’m not the norm. I think people would more easily try something if they were lower priced.

  2. david brothers Says:

    For what it’s worth, Sam Noir is good enough that I don’t mind paying the three bucks for it. It’s the right mix of pastiche and genre-bending for me. It isn’t as good as Street Angel or Scurvy Dogs, but it is in the same realm.

    It is true that that reasoning is kinda dumb, though.

  3. Greg McElhatton Says:

    Absolutely agreed–if it’s not the $1.99/24 page format, it’s not the Slimline format. It’s just less pages, that’s all.

    But then again, Shadowline as an imprint is littered with disasterously bad comics and ideas.

  4. Nat Gertler Says:

    Well, I’m not going to agree with you on the use of the term “format” to include pricing… but if these books are in black-and-white, then they aren’t in the same format as Fell.

    However, I can’t blame them for not wanting to go the discount coer price route. Attempts to compete on the comics market by running at lower-than-typical cover prices have a very bad history. This is true going back at least as far as the short-lived Golden Age book Nickel Comics. The Eclipse bi-weeklies, the self-covered Disneys, the Beckett books, the 99 cent Marvels, and more all either died or gave up their discount status rather than being successful. I’ve talked to the head of one comics line where they tried a “discount” month, dropping the price of their comics to get people to sample them… and found that their unit orders went down for the month.
    (This is not to be confused with giving people value; there are definitely successes with giving people many more pages for a slightly higher price.)

  5. Alan Coil Says:

    It’s dumb enough to shoot yourself in the foot, but doubly so when you take aim first.

  6. Manny Trembley Says:

    Hey all, I just wanted to comment on a bit of mis-information.

    “It also looks like they’re trying to camouflage bad news, that they’re having to cut page counts and remove color on their books because *they don’t sell*. ”

    Our book, Sam Noir sold out (from Diamond) within a week of being put on shelves. All 3 issues. The choice to go B/W was our choice, Eric and I, and had nothing to do with hiding poor sales. (Just to be clear, we did not expect to sell out!)
    I also think the $2.99 price did help the sales. On top of that we had fewer ads. I don’t in any way believe Sam will ever compete with Fell. We are definetly no Warren Ellis/Ben Templesmith. I’m a big fan of Ellis’ work. We had a much better reception to our little book than we ever imagined and we look forward to seeing where Sam Noir goes. Ultimately, I’d appreciate it if people wouldn’t make blanket statements about an entire line of books. Shadowline books are not “all” failing. Every publisher has books that come and go. One’s that recieve excellent reviews (Emissary was well recieved and had good pre-orders), and others that are increasing pre-order numbers with each issue (Bomb Queen).
    Shadowline only publishes 5 books at any given time, so it’s easier to watch a smaller array of books demonstrate what happens throughout the entire comic industry. Not every book can be wildly successful. It’s just not possible
    The debate as to what is a “slimline” book? Well.
    Fell and Casanova are 16 pages of story/art and 24 total pages. Full color. Sam Noir/After the Cape are B/W (by design) 22 pages of story/art and a total of 24 pages. So, you get 6 more pages for a buck. Fell gives you 8 pages per dollar and Sam Noir gives 7.33 pages per dollar. :)
    I’m just being stupid now. Sorry. The main reason I came thorugh and commented was to make sure people didn’t just make blanket statements about books based on a comment via a forum.

    My apologies for taking up space on your site.


  7. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for coming by — I appreciate hearing your perspective.

    I’m glad your book sold out, but that doesn’t mean anything unless you’re willing to tell us how many were printed. Are we talking 2000? 5000? 10,000? more?

    If the choice to go B&W had nothing to do with sales, then why did you choose that? Artistic reasons? Cost? Something else?

    No apologies necessary to participate. You certainly know more about these specifics than I do. All I do is comment from a jaded outsider’s perspective, using the principle, “the most likely answer to the question ‘why did they?’ is ‘money’.”

  8. Manny Trembley Says:

    Selling out is something that is both good and bad. In our case it meant that retailers didn’t anticipate people wanting our book, so, pre-orders were ordered within a safe number. Then pre-orders came in and ate up all the reserve copies at Diamond.
    I am not allowed to give out actual numbers printed and sold. That is an Image stipulation. The numbers for issue 1 according to were 4300 (If I remember correctly). I can tell you that the numbers released through sites like ICV2 and CBGxtra are not accurate. The best gauge for us was that stores demanded re-orders and emptied the copies left at Diamond within 10 days of each issue hitting shelves.
    Using B/W as a medium was an artistic choice. Sam Noir is a detective story mixed with old style samurai narrative. Both genres are epitomized by their gritty noirish style. Thus grey scale seemed right. We knew full well that B/W comics don’t tend to sell as well (except Walking Dead, which sells better than almost any non-Marvel/DC book), but we stuck to this as our palette. It is a bonus for us that B/W books are cheaper to print. I won’t deny that benefit. :)

    Hope that helps.


  9. Manny Trembley Says:

    To address the “People do this for money” answer.
    Which is a valid response. I’d be liar if I didn’t say I hope to make decent/good money off comics.

    The fact is that I don’t make much at all off comics. My experience, as small as it is, is that you have to reach a certain point (number of copies sold) before you can start making GOOD money off comics. I don’t yet know what that magic number is. :) I work a day job and draw comics as a hobby. A hobby that could pay out, but a hobby nonetheless. So along with Sam Noir and pandaxpress! (our online webcomic), I do these things because I really enjoy sequential storytelling.

    The thing I appreciate about Shadowline and one of the things that seems to be in slight contention here is that they are trying to help me make “some” money for my efforts. And I assure you, even our “sold out” book doesn’t reap a whirlwind of financial gain. Especially when I factor in the hours dedicated to make these books.

    Now see me in 10 years if I ever sell 100k copies of each book and I roll up in diamond encrusted hummer because of the phat l00tz I am pocketing and maybe I’ll be singing a different tune. ( I kid.)

    Who knows.





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