Fantagraphics Makes a Virtue of Selling Direct

The Emperor's New Clothes by Jonah Kinigstein

Fantagraphics has announced a new “micro imprint”, Fantagraphics Underground Press, charmingly to be known as FU Press.

It will publish books they describe as “appealing to a smaller, more rarefied readership”, but reading between the lines, it’s a designation for works that won’t be offered to every comic shop through Diamond or other distributors. Instead, they’ll “print limited editions (between 100 and 500 copies), market them on our website, help arrange signings and convention appearances, and sell them at comic festivals and to a select few comics shops across North America.” So, convention exclusives, then, or direct through their web shop.

The projects do sound interesting. They’re described as “everything from a traditional digital-offset paperback to a hand-sewn jacketed softcover to an epic accordion book; as projects demand, we can utilize silkscreen or letterpress, or any combination, and create truly artisanal books… by relatively unknown cartoonists that [are] innovative, quirky, idiosyncratic, oddball, experimental, or downright crazy.” If there’s a focus on craft works, books that have to be seen to demonstrate the quality or uniqueness of their presentation, that’s another reason to limit them to selling by hand.

The Emperor's New Clothes by Jonah Kinigstein

They’re also looking at “work by established cartoonists that’s simply off-kilter or too obscure to sustain a mass market release, or archival work by significant cartoonists who have been overlooked and that might otherwise be short-shrifted due to the commercial demands of the traditional marketplace.” The first two FU books will debut at tomorrow’s Small Press Expo. No word on pricing.

Jonah Kinigstein’s The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Tower of Babel in the “Art” World is an 80-page oversized landscape-format softcover collecting Kinigstein’s political cartoons inveighing against the trends of abstract and modern art through the 20th century. Meticulously rendered in pen and ink in the tradition of George Townshend and James Gilray, the elaborate compositions skewer artists, curators, and critics.

Jason Karns’ Fukitor is an attack of a different kind: reprinted from the artist’s self-published zine, the book is a 144-page compilation of full-color comics that reside uneasily between a straight and satirical response to the violence, xenophobia, and sexual and racial stereotypes found in pop culture.

Future projects include portfolios of drawings by Richard Sala and Guy Colwell and a reprint of seminal underground/alternative cartoonist George Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again.

I remember, way back in the day, comic shop owners getting livid over publishers selling direct to customers at shows, with Fantagraphics often coming in for the lion’s share of the criticism. Now, with such diversity of product and a better understanding of different audiences and different venues, that attitude seems so quaint.

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