What’s Next for AIT/PlanetLar? Are They Still Publishing Books?

With no publications released since 2008 and no website updates since summer 2010, it shouldn’t be surprising that rumors are once again going around about the status of indy-fave publisher AIT/Planet Lar.

(That’s also not new, since bloggers like me have been wondering how they’re surviving for the last five years. When I wrote about the company in 2008, the comment then from publisher Larry Young was “the whole thing has always ebbed and flowed. That’s just the nature of the business.”)

AIT/Planet Lar logo

AIT/Planet Lar was one of the first boutique comic publishers to concentrate primarily on graphic novels, and they benefited from a strong online presence (aided by Warren Ellis Forum participation) back in the early 2000s. But that’s longer ago now than we’d like to think about. Since then, Larry Young has been involved in Kickstart Comics, once of those new publishers set up to release material as a stepping stone to turning comics into movies.

When I interviewed Larry Young at the end of 2008, he mentioned three specific titles coming in 2009 that never arrived. Tony Lee’s Dodge and Twist, mentioned as in the works since 2007, has since become a prose novel, while Journal (art by Bevis Musson) is still creeping along, based on online comments.

The last of the three, then called Cupid, was by Dennis Hopeless and Kevin Mellon, and that’s what got me thinking about the publisher this week. Now renamed Lovestruck, the book was scheduled to release this coming summer, but Kevin Mellon posted last week at his blog

We were informed that the publisher is essentially shutting down shop for the time being and not releasing the book (or any of their other scheduled books this year). This is the reality of the comics world right now, there are so many factors in the publisher’s decision, it’s tough to be mad at any of them because they all make sense and are the same shitty things everyone is going through.

So Hopeless and I are re-grouping and figuring out what to do. The landscape of comics has changed drastically in the 3-4 years it’s taken to get Lovestruck done, so we’re not quite sure what will happen to this 180 page behemoth, but we’ll figure out something. The book is completely finished, so at least there’s that.

This got turned into the idea that AIT/Planet Lar was going out of business, which isn’t the case. In a response obtained by Hypergeek, Young agrees with Mellon that times are different now:

I assume you’re asking because I had to tell Dennis Hopeless and Kevin Mellon that we weren’t able to publish their book LOVESTRUCK, that we had agreed to in 2007. Well, I don’t mean to throw the lads under the bus, but they just finished a 96-page graphic novel, four years later, and the world’s different.

However, Young is short on specifics about plans for the company, instead pointing to their history and changing times perhaps making publishers unnecessary:

AiT/Planet Lar has always been about keeping quality books in print — and they still are in print and available from Diamond and Amazon and the like. You know we’ve always been creator-positive, and only contract graphic novels for five years; we don’t want to tie anybody down, and of course after five years of me thrashing the bushes on their behalf, they’ll be able to get higher-exposure deals elsewhere, and we sit back with big smiles as proud and happy parents. But the economy being such as it is now, certain business decisions Diamond has made vis-a-vis non-Big 4 publishers, all the attendant cash-flow issues, and with all the available new technologies available to creators, it just wouldn’t be fair to Hopeless and Mellon, so we wished them godspeed with LOVESTRUCK.

Of course I’m still interested and involved in comics (there’ll be a big announcement at San Diego), but as of now, comics needs a new model to make the economics work. Thirteen years ago, I had to build an entire publishing infrastructure to get my work and the work of my talented friends out there in front of an audience, but now a focussed creator can web-publish or use companies like blurb.com to print and fulfill direct to a reader. Honestly, a talented comic book creator starting out today doesn’t need publishers, distributors, or even retailers… they can use the Internet to create a commercial framework direct. It’s quite powerful. […]

We were designed to be a stepping-stone not only for extremely talented but under-seen creators, but also as a test-bed for new publishing and marketing models that have now become mainstream. So the continuing role of AiT to innovate content and business models is still active but changing. We haven’t closed up shop; we’re just taking a breather while getting ready for next-steps.

It remains to be seen what innovative new business model is next for the company — or whether they’ll continue with print books at all. It wouldn’t surprise me either way. I suppose the San Diego announcement will provide some hints, if it doesn’t get lost in a bunch of movie deals (many of which will never result in an actual film) and superhero event marketing. I know this sounds horrible, but I’m not sure what the difference is between a company being in business and out of business when they haven’t released anything in three years.

Mellon later apologized for his wording and mentioned that his book will be coming out from a different (unnamed) publisher later this year.

Update: (9/27/11) Turns out it’s Image Comics.

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