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Spurgeon interviews Hibbs

Brian Hibbs

Over at The Comics Reporter.

Tom pitched it to me as “Stump the Hibbs”, though he veered away from that pretty fast once we were talking.

I wish the first question hadn’t been The First question, because, upon reflection, I would have questioned the very basis of a Vertigo/Art comics split — selling comics to adults is selling comics to adults, and there’s a point where you have to Let The Market Decide. Still, it was The First question, and you’re still feeling each other out at that point…

I truly don’t understand why one would want to categorize things that tightly — and I don’t think those kinds of divisions make a lick of sense in 2010 (if they made any sense ever in the first place) — if someone can cogently explain the difference between, say, Peter Bagge’s OTHER LIVES and the latest HATE ANNUAL, which were released within weeks of each other this year, then maybe I’d get it. AFAIK, OTHER LIVES is “creator owned”, and, presumably, is given Peter what he feels is a “equal or better deal” that he’d get from another publisher, so who cares WHO the publisher actually IS? When was the last time you said “Y’know what I want to see? A Miramax movie”?

Anyway, go read, and feel free to comment here, since Tom doesn’t have a comments section. He usually reads here though, so good odds of having both of us see your comments….


18 Responses to “ Spurgeon interviews Hibbs ”

  1. Interesting interview—I learned a lot.

    I think your Peter Bagge example in this post is kind of misleading, though. ‘Other Lives’ is published by Vertigo, but it’s not what most of us mean when we talk about ‘Vertigo books.’ Vertigo’s broadening their range, and good on them for it, but I think we all understand that their bread and butter is still a particular spin on fantasy/horror/sci-fi, in periodical-to-trade format, with non-cartoony art. I’m sure you could name other exceptions, but that doesn’t change the general rule.

  2. Gabe — I just don’t see your definition of Vertigo at all. Daytripper. DMZ. Scalped. Northlanders. Unknown Soldier. Even Sweet Tooth. They don’t fit into the fantasy/horror/sci-fi camp as we usually think of them. And they are the Vertigo “mainstream.”

  3. I got the sense that first question wasn’t so much about a split between Vertigo/Art comics; rather, it’s about how you are perceived in some quarters of the marketplace, and that the split should be made in *your* case–that you proffer advice on “art” comics that are either only applicable (or only based) on your experience as a Vertigo retailer.

    I wasn’t so crazy about that last question, and not merely because I end up being one of the ones who ends up being gassed. People may (and do!) complain about how little content is being posted here but the vast majority is specifically generated for the site itself. Was the purpose of the question really supposed to be, “why are you bothering to give these people more of a chance to be seen?”

  4. Yes, that was exactly it, Jeff. “Why are you bothering to give these people more of a chance to be seen?”

    The actual reason is in the question. It’s an old-fashioned site — in my opinion — and I wanted to hear Brian’s reasons for doing it. That he went in the direction he did cracked me up, but it wasn’t what I expected. I expected him to say something about the mix of opinions. I respect his off-the-cuff honesty, though.

    I also don’t know that I totally accept your reasoning that this is a platform for those folks to be seen, not in the way that’s usually implied when someone says that, although if Douglas, Sean and/or Jog pipe in to say they’ve received a noticeable bump in traffic at their sites, I’ll withdraw that point.

    For what it’s worth, I like the old, few-contributor Savage Critics about ten times better than this broader version. I thought I received a more focused point of view when it was just a few voices, a perspective or at least an impression of a perspective that I don’t get from it now. I really felt like I was in the comics shop with Brian and a few of his regular customers. I also think most of the writers that were added have been doing B- to C- versions of their other work for here, when they bother to chime in at all.

    My opinion, though. In the interview, I wanted Brian’s opinion. “Why do you do that?” is something that almost always interests me.

    I disagree strongly on the idea that there isn’t a difference between Vertigo comics and alt-comics in the general swing of things. (That Fantagraphics publishes Prison Pit doesn’t make them a sci-fi company; that D&Q publishes Black Blizzard doesn’t make them a crime publisher; that Vertigo publishes Jeff Lemire and Peter Bagge doesn’t make Vertigo an alt-publisher. Plus I think the work of those people is nearly always different when publishing through Vertigo — not everyone’s work, but most people’s, even if you squint your eyes and swear it isn’t so.) But again, that’s me. In the interview, I was interested in Brian’s view on the questions asked in proportion to the issues raised.

    I also know there’s no convincing people of anything when they get defensive — but it’s fascinating when and why they do, which is one reason to ask questions like that.

  5. btw, one more note on the Vertigo thing. I don’t think they’re a horror publisher or whatever, even though I think that’s been their core. I think they’re a genre publisher, and therefore I don’t think it remarkable at all that they publish in a variety of genres with perhaps a bit more focus on what’s been successful in the past. I think D&Q and Fanta are set up very differently with (usually) a different result. I can’t imagine you’d provide five pages of Other Lives and five pages of Hate Annual and ask someone which one Pete did for Vertigo and which one Pete did for Fantagraphics and most Bagge fans couldn’t answer correctly. There are exceptions — Gilbert — but I think they prove the general rule.

    Also, a general request to please retire that ancient, weak-ass argument that “no one goes to a Miramax film.” Maybe that brand isn’t an effective one, but a whole lot of people certainly pay attention to HBO Dramas, or have an impression as to what Syfy Original Pictures or USA Network Original means in broad terms or gives extra consideration to a comedy that NBC places in their Thursday night line-up (although that’s a fading brand). Even my Mom places a greater emphasis on dramas that appeared on BBC and seeks them out and is more willing to try “Foyle’s War” than she is “The Closer,” and she’s nearly media-illiterate. When I was in my 20s I tried bands just because they were on certain labels, and I bought books that were released under certain imprints (that Black Lizard noir line, for example). Maybe most people don’t — maybe — but comics people aren’t most people!

  6. I don’t monitor my traffic on my site so I don’t know if blogging here helps in that regard, Tom, but my guess is it probably does. At any rate, judging from the comments I’ve gotten on my posts here, there’s a different audience from the one I have, and it’s nice to get in front of a different set of eyeballs now and then. I also like the idea of writing for Brian and being part of this group of writers.

  7. Tom’s right in that people pay attention to what company puts out what in every media. I listen to any music Stone’s Throw puts out because I trust the company to produce records. My cousin’s family goes to any and all Disney movies because they trust Disney to be family friends entertainment. Vertigo books seem to me to be a very focused kind of alt-comics. In my opinion, Sweet Tooth fits much more into what Vertigo publishes than any of the Essex County books do.

    Anyway, Brian – I disagree with a lot of what you say, but you didn’t say anything that was a product of faulty logic. So, my disagreement is of the sort where one person likes vanilla and the other likes chocolate.

    What I do want to talk about is something you said I agree with entirely – the benefits of street dates and scheduling correctly. I think both have to happen. It’s obviously not in the hands of direct market stores. But I think comics can only benefit from the same sort of treatment movies and music get.

  8. Thanks for the additional context, Tom, and I think your willingness to let the interview grow organically is a great strength.

    In the transcript, you say your “why” question is quite specifically “why do we need an omnibus site?” not “why do you do that?” so I appreciate the chance to understand how your larger outside-the-moment goals play outside inside the moment of the interview itself.

  9. Thanks for the kind words, Brian. Also: I liked the question about Ice Cream (and also, separately, the review for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which was a good one). As for the old site– maybe I’m mistaken or it’s not my place to say, but my understanding’s always been that the old site was changing anyways– not that the changes were caused by the change in format, but that the change in format was caused by the changes. I don’t know, though.

  10. I found joe, sean, abhay and errbuddy else through this site. Anyone who maintains a seperate site has gotten my pretty consistent attention from savage critics. I pretty much look at the posts here as a gracious and unrewarded lagniappe to any of my regular internet activity. I think graeme is doing me no less than a personal kindness by havving a new post each time I visit.

  11. Brian, do you think you could talk more about Bergen Comics’ expectations of what would sell vs. what has actually sold for them? I’m always interested in the experiences of new comic stores.

  12. OK, finally caught up from my Stupidly Long Weekend — I know in Internet Time I just left this for like 6 weeks, but bear with me!

    Tom: I guess that I just can’t say, in 21 years of selling comics, that I’ve ever heard an Adult Fan of the Medium ever once express an opinion on a cartoonist related to who is PUBLISHING them when they’re deciding on whether to make a purchase or not. Fans of Bagge are fans of BAGGE, and they’ll walk across the street in traffic (as it were) to find more work by him, be it DH, FBI, Vertigo or anyone else.

    That’s a little different from, say, the Arrested Marvel Fan who “just doesn’t like DC”, but even they’ll cross the street for, say, Jim Lee on BATMAN or something.

    Leaving Super-hero material out of it, I think it’s kind of crazy and probably a little dangerous to set up some sort of Vertigo/Alt dichotomy — comics is comics, and trying to assess some sort of Purity Test is Not Helpful.

    What’s, I guess, funny to me is that in the 80s/90s it used to be the “elitist” circle that tried to set up some sort of Superhero/Alt dichotomy, despite all of the evidence in my cycle sheets that said that this was in fact false (ie: MOST L&R readers ALSO bought capes-books), but now it has shifted to Vertigo/Alt? That’s really even sillier, and I guess I missed the memo on that.

    I’m sure there ARE elitists out there who do think and buy that way — but they’re not shopping in my store, at least…


    “S”: I think it would be better to direct that question to Tom & Amy instead of me — it was (from my side) a brief side question that I’m not sure I could answer with any specificity


  13. Thanks for the Pixar/Disney example, Nate. That’s probably the best one.

    Brian, we simply disagree and I don’t think your Bagge argument comports to reality. If you want to give me numbers to back up what you’re saying, I’ll listen, but I suspect — and forgive me if I’m wrong and there’s an alternate, convincing explanation — that you’re just feeling super-defensive to learn that people don’t take you seriously as an advocate on specific comics in part because they feel you don’t sell enough of them. But you know what? You had a chance to provide figures to dispel or confirm these suspicions. You decided not to do so.

    You can construct all sorts of anecdotal evidence about how everyone but Savage Critics customers shop in a benighted way and that the elitists are setting up some sort of false dichotomy — I think it’s ignorant, but it’s not my time — or whatever you’d like to say to kind of hash out the point further and make all sorts of approximation arguments, but you and I both know it’s beside the point.

    You were asked to show figures that would speak directly to concerns from industry people that you don’t sell enough of a certain kind of comic for people to take seriously your comments on them. You declined not to provide or even ballpark such figures. Asked to name books that you do sell well, you again declined to give figures and you named three books from big book publishers. And that’s definitely your right — but dude, people get to interpret that, too, Brian. And believe me, they did.

    BTW, fucking bite me that I’m trying to set up a purity test. Only in comics does someone become a nefarious, plotting elitist for suggesting that Muktuk Wolfsbreath might somehow be perceived differently than Unsupervised Existence. I think there are books that many folks see as alt-books and many folks see as indy books and, further, that there are books that many folks see as Vertigo books. (And I bet the vast majority of everyone reading this was able to parse that last sentence without falling off their chair due to cognitive dissonance setting in — because they are at least able to perceive comics that way, too.) That’s been my experience in 30 years of buying such comics and 26 of writing about them, whatever that’s good for (not much), but maybe I’m crazy. And that’s fine. Just don’t ascribe bizarre motives to me to further your point.

    BTW — best decision ever to abandon Stump The Brian after that first written-out question. You would have been a total basket case after question #3.

  14. Tom: I didn’t say *you* were trying to set up a Purity Test — but rather (from the question) “hardcore arts- and alt-comics circles” are trying to do so, and I think that’s a reasonable assessment.

    “Hardcore”-anything is usually pretty useless, in my worldview, and doesn’t match on-the-ground comics-selling-reality in most cases.

    Anyway I didn’t “decline to…ballpark” as you well know, you opted to cut that section! Which is perfectly 100% fine, but I gave you a para or more on relative rankings, which is the only way I’m willing to discuss such things in public forums.

    The problem with “absolute numbers” is that they don’t take into account things like format or price — we sold less copies of OTHER LIVES than the latest HATE ANNUAL, but would anyone anywhere expect otherwise given the difference in format and price? But the numbers aren’t SO disparate that anyone could prove one thing or another either way.

    As a percentage of my total sales, I’m confident that I sell more “alt” comics than 85% of my peers. I bet it’s actually much higher than that, but even I’m not that arrogant to assert without some sort of proof (which can’t possibly exist in any format available to me) (or even, to be honest, “hardcore arts- and alt-comics circles”)


  15. First of all, ascribing motives solely to people with whom you’re interacting at a secondary remove is even dopier than ascribing them to me, but I apologize for my mistake.

    Second of all, and this is much more important: You didn’t ballpark anything. You’re a liar for saying you did and a double liar for suggesting I cut such figures. That is so crushingly disappointing that someone with your stature in the industry and your history would flat lie like that.

    You provided sales rankings, which are a completely different beast — a completely useless beast to the criticism made which is specifically that you’re not moving units and this should be part of how your advocacy/advice/analysis on certain books is taken — and a lot of anecdotal evidence about where different books placed and why this was good. You NEVER provided ballpark sales figures. And you damn well know it. You even participated in e-mails with me where we we talked about ballpark figures VS. sales rankings. Shame on you, Brian, for trying to weasel out of this and suggest something you decided not to do all on your own and that you boast about as policy was something I did to you and then kept from people.

    I cut out a bunch of what I thought was basically hysterical shrieking that didn’t answer the question asked and brought the interview to a grinding halt. I then ran my decision back by you. I offered any other platform you wished. It apparently wasn’t important enough for you to seek any of those opportunities.

    If you’re going to complain about an interview, do it up front when contacted instead of holding your breath and then complaining days later when you’re feeling defensive on a comments thread. You still have my site any day you want for as many days as it takes to make any case you want to make. We can do a brand new interview about this subject if you want. But no, I’m not going to stop an interview dead so you can give me “sales rankings” on Fart Party because you feel hurt and defensive.

    If you didn’t accept this, if you thought I had a different motivation in cutting that stuff, you should have backed out, Brian, and made your case straight up and to my face. That’s a coward’s move to complain later that you were somehow done wrong, let alone to lie about me in doing so publicly.

    Some advice: if you don’t want people to suspect that your raw numbers suck, then provide some raw numbers or man up and accept the fact that some people are going to think you’re providing the kind of numbers you’re providing for a reason. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to feel bad about, let alone something to obsess over five days later.

    PS — I already asked you that question about the percentile, in the interview, so I have no idea why you think it’s a point that needs to be made now. Also, while being useless in other ways, sales rankings are also just as useless in showing differences in price points and format.

    PSS — No one on earth is suggesting that raw numbers are perfect, so bringing up these places where they aren’t quite perfect like it’s some sort of a trump card is kind of silly, Brian. It’s just there are places where having the raw numbers are better — analyzing the box office success of Kick-Ass requires attention to a bunch of factors, but I swear you’re at a better starting point with actual money figures instead of Kick-Ass’s box-office rankings. Another places where actual figures might be better? WHEN PEOPLE ARE QUESTIONING YOUR ACTUAL FIGURES. If you don’t want to discuss them in public, your prerogative. Also the prerogative of the people that hear this to interpret the way you respond and not feel as if they’ve heard a straight-up answer.

  16. “You didn’t ballpark anything. ”

    The definition for “ballpark” that I quickly find on the ‘net is “approximate range”; what else is relative sales rankings?

    Maybe this is a “po-tay-toe/ poh-tah-toe” kind of thing, I don’t know. But, short of giving actual hard numbers (which I’m unwilling to do), I don’t see any other way to “ballpark” things.

    Why am I not willing to give hard numbers? Because they’re meaningless in a vacuum. Let’s say I sold 20 copies of [whatever]. Is that a lot, is that a little? If I do a million dollars in gross annual sales that’s probably mildly unsuccessful; if I gross $100k/year, then that’s a metric ton.

    Maybe part of this is that I don’t accept, as a premise, that “alt” comics should be judged on a different scale than other “genres” — that’s certainly how the BookScan debate shifted in 2009 (not specifically by you): “Obviously ‘literate’ comics aren’t going to sell as well!”; huh, what? From my side of the counter, and, I imagine for virtually any retailer, comics are comics, and relative scaling (ie “sales rankings”) is the only meaningful way to measure success or failure of a particular work.

    “I then ran my decision back by you. I offered any other platform you wished. It apparently wasn’t important enough for you to seek any of those opportunities.”

    That’s correct, Tom — I didn’t think it was important enough to waste YOUR column inches with for what I see as essentially niggling points; it was your interview to shape and present as you saw fit. (and I’m very happy with it, actually) And I very much think that appending some sort of comment on TCR would have been the epitome of “defensive and hurt”. So, I opted instead to make a passing comment here instead (where, I suspect, it will be read by 1/10th or less of your audience!) (and if we get into the comments section of a week old thread, it is probably 1/10th of that!) (is anyone reading this other than Tom and myself at this stage? Don’t you have better things to do?)

    But, yes, I very much object to the premise of the question as framed: that there is any meaning or value in separating out the market into “alt” comics vs “vertigo comics”, that that is a meaningful or productive line of inquiry whatsoever because *I* think “comics are comics”, regardless of publisher. I ordered *exactly* the same number of copies of (say) OTHER LIVES as-published-by-Vertigo as I would have ordered in the alternative universe where it was published-by-FBI. I’m publisher-agnostic when it comes to ordering and stocking.

    [Sidebar that may obfuscate or enlighten, I don’t know: I just pulled D&Q 2009 releases, and I count 23 things released. Of those, I rack 3 on the manga rack, 4 I consider Kids comics, 2 on the “real life/reportage” racks, 8 on the “recommended reading” racks, and the final 6 on the “alternative” racks. Is D&Q an “alternative” publisher? With, at least, 9 of their 23 releases (40%) fitting into what I would call “genre” work, *I* don’t think that’s a meaningful characterization]

    But, and I think this is important, because I after-the-fact reject the premise doesn’t mean I’m ascribing any motivation to YOU for asking the question. No, rather, I think that “hardcore arts- and alt-comics circles” are proceeding from a false premise: that “arts- and alt-comics” are a special enough flower that should be looked at solely through their own prism. I don’t think that YOU represent “hardcore arts- and alt-comics circles” in any meaningful fashion, Tom — I think that you report on comics news and make comics-analysis from a remarkably egalitarian point-of-view.

    If I have a “criticism” of you here, it is that I think we’d be better off if you weren’t using charged words like “defensive” “hurt” “obsess” and whatever else, because that’s not how I’m feeling at all. I merely think the basic premise of that question is fairly stupid, as a guy who sells these things for a living.


  17. Sales rankings aren’t ballpark figures, and since we talked about the two as separate things I can’t believe you suddenly think this. Thank god we were never college roommates.

    “Hey Brian, how many beers do we have left in the fridge?”
    “I don’t want to say, Tom.”
    “Well, give me an approximate range.”
    “It’s #4 on my list of top ten things left in the fridge.”
    “What the fuck are you talking about?”

    So that’s pretty much a “po-TAH-toe” / “ba-NAN-na” situation, big guy.

    I find your defense of sales rankings as somehow superior as laughable, mostly because it’s not a mutually exclusive thing — you can qualify sales figures with all the things you think they lack, including sales rankings! But raw numbers are important, too, and they’re especially important, again WHEN PEOPLE ARE QUESTIONING YOUR RAW NUMBERS.

    If you reject the premise out of hand, there’s no need to write about it for five days, for pity’s sake. I just think you’re picking away at this until you find a way to win some argument, any argument. As Nate pointed out above, your previous position that no one sees Miramax films was a terrible argument, just laughable, because people obviously do make these distinctions. So you’ve moved on. You’ve worn me out, so maybe you’ve won. I still think a lot of people do see D&Q as a different kind of company than Vertigo and that it’s pretty close to high comedy to even type that sentence out. You sound to me like Stephen Colbert talking about race. But whatever, man. I guess it works for you.

    I envy you and Comix Experience your magical happy land where comics are just comics, free of the damning label of the funnybook elite.

    On a scale of 1 to 100 with 1 being “I hate you now” and 100 being “this was a blast” and 50 being “another day at the office I’d ballpark this comments thread experience as #37 on my overall chart of comments thread experiences.

  18. I’ll give it a 62.

    I like my magical happy land, too! It is magical. AND happy!


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