The Secret History of Weird Business
Part IV: Ahead of the Curve
Initial reaction to the book was shock and confusion, but overwhelmingly positive. The only negative review I've seen was one reader
comment on Amazon. Every other review has been glowing. But this didn't stop booksellers and comic retailers from being confused. Since
it looked like a book, the comic shops said they couldn't sell it to comic book fans. Booksellers said that since it was a comic book,
not many book readers would be interested. Luckily, both parties were mostly wrong, but their prophecies turned out to be self-fulfilling.
The single biggest problem came from the comic shops. Shop owners couldn't understand why Weird Business didn't sell like monthly
comics. They were used to X-Men. Sell forty copies in about two weeks and never re-order. I had more than one shop owner
tell me that he only sold three copies of Weird Business in two weeks, so he had no intentions of reordering. (As any
bookseller will tell you, selling three copies of a $29.95 small press book is amazing.) Let's do the math here. Forty copies
of X-Men at $1.95 is $38.05. Three copies of Weird Business at $29.95 is $89.85. Others told me that
they only sold one a month for three months. Still more profit than most monthly comics. Retailers just couldn't accept the
fact that something could have a longer shelf life than only a few
weeks.1 Is it any wonder the comics industry went
into the toilet?
Bookstores have different problems. The mid-90s were a difficult time for graphic novels in bookstores. Book-length comics had
been available in most bookstores since the late 80s, but stores couldn't figure out how to market or sell them. When I started
working at Bookstop in 1987, Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns were kept in the humor section! Neither of them is
particularly funny. Maus, which many people claim isn't a comic book2, was kept in
Judaica. I convinced the
powers that be to create a "graphic novel" section and to put it at the beginning of science
fiction.3 They began
to sell better. Imagine that.
By the time Weird Business came out, most bookstores had a graphic novel section, but had little respect for or
understanding about how to sell them. Many felt that graphic novels were still primarily kiddie fare. Weird Business
confused them. It listed all these well known writers, but it also had pictures. And it clearly wasn't for children. So in
many stores it languished, hidden away from people who might be interested in the book. Even though Weird Business
did well, I think it would have done better in today's bookstores with more graphic novel-savvy booksellers. We were probably
a bit ahead of the curve.
Weird Business cemented my reputation as an editor. No one beyond the people involved thought we could actually
pull it off. To attempt such a massive project on our limited budget and lack of experience was foolhardy. The whole thing
could have just collapsed from under its own weight. The inexperience actually worked to our advantage -- from the moment
Ostrander and I came to an understanding at ArmadilloCon, never once did it occur to either of us that we wouldn't finish.
Most importantly at the time, it established the fledgling Mojo Press as a new player in the publishing business. If we could
pull this off, imagine what else we could accomplish. Suddenly, it seemed that everyone who was anyone in comics, horror, and
science fiction wanted to work with us. Sadly, Mojo Press is now gone. But for a few years in the 90s, Mojo Press flared like
the star it was and should have been.
Every now and again, I pull out a copy of Weird Business. I cringe at some of the stories, but mostly I feel proud. Not
only did we accomplish what many felt was impossible but we created a damn fine book as well. The legacy of Weird
Business will be felt for a long time. Not just by the people involved, but by publishing in general. Graphic novel
sales have either doubled or tripled (depending on who you believe) in bookstores since its release. Weird Business was one
of the first attempts to produce comics with the bookstores in mind. Also, several small presses have approached me to
thank Mojo Press for the inspiration.
Even with Joe R. Lansdale and Ben Ostrander at my side, helming Weird Business was one of the most challenging
accomplishments of my life. Without them or all the creators, none of this would have happened. And to think, it all started
with a conversation.
To be fair, there were a few comic shop retailers that did understand. Not surprisingly, when the comics industry
took a drastic downturn soon after, those shops were among the few to not only survive but thrive.
Of course it is. Just because something wins a Pulitzer doesn't mean it can't be a comic book as well. It is a fine
example of sequential storytelling.
Which Barnes & Noble emulated when they acquired the chain in the early 90s. They still keep graphic novels near science fiction.