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Geeks With Books
by Rick Klaw

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Weird Business at Amazon
Review of Weird Business
Graphic novels
Publishers Weekly article on selling graphic novels in bookstores
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
Joe R. Lansdale
Mojo Press

The Secret History of Weird Business
Part IV: Ahead of the Curve

Watchmen US cover
Watchmen UK cover
Dark Knight Returns
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.

1 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.

2 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.

3 Which Barnes & Noble emulated when they acquired the chain in the early 90s. They still keep graphic novels near science fiction.

Hotter Than the Sun Itself | Blackbird | The Hard Part | Ahead of the Curve

Copyright © 2007 Rick Klaw

Since the demise of Mojo Press, Rick Klaw produced four years of his popular monthly column "Geeks With Books", and supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including Moving Pictures, The Austin Chronicle, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, and Cross Plains Universe. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century, where this essay originally appeared in a slightly different form.

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