Author Steve Niles has been around slinging ink longer than a lot of people think. He has also seen the industry from both sides and from the corporate versus indie perspective. Since he just made another major move in his life and career in leaving Southern California behind and heading to Texas I thought it would be a good time to talk with him about his history in the publishing and film business.
When you did the Clive Barker portfolio in the late '80s / early '90s you were doing graphic novels. Were those your first graphic novels?
Those were the first ones I did, yeah. That first awful thing was "Bad Moon" followed by "Fly in my Eye". I did all of those through Arcane. Then after "Fly in my Eye" is when I got the rights to Clive's stuff. At that point I realized I was in way too deep. I had "I Am Legend," half the rights to the "Books of Blood" and about forty bucks in my bank account and was living in my sister's basement.
What do I do now?
Yeah, it was like "This company isn't doing very well." So I wound up teaming with Eclipse. I would just focus on packaging books for them. That's how "Legend" and the Clive Barker came about.
So the first non-adaptation was the "Spawn"?
No, doing "Cal McDonald." I was doing "Cal" for Dark Horse.
He was your roots.
Yeah. I had been writing the prose and the stories, little things here and there all over the place. Mostly adapting and not really writing stuff. Then McFarlane was the first time somebody just said, "Go do what you want. Go write whatever." and it was "Medieval Spawn." Then "Hell-Spawn" and regular "Spawn." I was up to my eyeballs in "Spawn" for a few years there.
Between that time and now you've seen the industry change in many ways.
Boy, have I.
Good and bad. Bad in terms of corporate control? Good in the rise of some of the independent stuff? What are your feelings about the changes in the industry?
That's the thing. How many layers of problems from distribution to digital.
There are so many new problems we are dealing with right now. The one thing that has happened that I'm happy with is sort of everything getting so corporate. DC and Marvel have become sort of...we all know the bottom line and that's it. It is all about the bottom line. Fans come dead last.
But what that's kind of done is force guys like me to have to figure out how to do it ourselves. I feel that there are actually more interesting comic books coming out as a result. We're just all struggling a lot more. We have the same problem we share with you as an author which is this piracy problem. Every single thing we put out is pirated the day it comes out. So we're selling 10,000 of things that are being pirated at 80,000.
But how many of those 80,000 would actually buy it if was wasn't available for free via pirating? Certainly not all of them.
I don't think 80,000.
I had dinner with Max Brooks last night. The bad news is that everybody is stealing our work. The good news is we have an amazing readership. A lot more people are reading comics.
People like Cory Doctorow believe in putting their work out there for free along with the paid version just to build that audience.
Absolutely. That's how I....Here's how I think. If it's going to be free let me be the one to give it away. Some dude in Poland masturbating and scanning my books doesn't deserve to get the credit for our hard work.
So what about the other problem of comic book stores trying to pick and choose their way through it and who can't afford to carry every independent comic? Whereas if it comes out with a Marvel label or DC label it is automatically vetted to a degree.
Exactly. I feel like Marvel and DC are flooding the market with their special editions which, honestly, is just their latest trick to try and corner the market. I think people forget. They think it is a healthy competition. No, it's not. They would like us to all be dead and not exist.
Kind of that Amazon feel?
It's exactly the same as Amazon. One of the big things that I've been really pushing for is fans need to know what they want and they need to know in advance. One of the things I push really heavily on is pre-ordering. Tell the retailer that you want it. It's not going to do any good when the book is out and whine that your bookstore didn't order it if you could have been there three months ago and told them to order it.
You've seen the Diamond Catalogue. By the time you get past Dark Horse, IDW, Marvel, and DC almost everybody's budget is gone. They have to carry those. I don't blame them for that. I do "Super Monster versus the X-Men" and they know they can sell that. That's a good title by the way. But "Super Monster" hasn't a track record yet.
You can relate to this. I think we all thought our jobs were going to get easier as we got older. We'll just turn in our scripts and get paid but no. You know what? We've got to be out there selling again, gotta hand-sell our books. Almost to the point of where we’re calling retailers.
For me personally I want to break outside the comic market. I want to do art fairs and book festivals. I want to try to find new readers. I don’t think people realize, because they see movies like The Avengers making a billion dollars, that the top comic last year, which I think was "The Walking Dead" #100, sold 300,000 copies. That was blockbuster. I’d say 100,000 of those were double buy with people buying multiple issues. So we’re looking at a market right now where the top number, for "Avengers" and "Batman" and "Spider-man" all included is 200,000. That’s a very small amount to be wrestling over.
At this point in time what is the top number for an indy?
10,000 probably. 10,000 is a success now. Remember when I did "M" back in the ‘80s? Dean Molany called me saying, “I don’t know how we’re going to do this as we’ve only received orders for 70,000.” Because 100,000 used to be...that’s what we were shooting for. I don’t think people realized it.
When you and I did the "Dark Delicacies" anthology comic the first issue was under 5,000 and it was cancelled because that wasn’t enough. Nowadays we would have kept rolling.
There are comics out there that only have 2,000 print runs. It’s crazy to me.
But those wouldn’t be released by a corporate brand publisher, right?
Vertigo. Vertigo Comics was notorious for putting things out with really low print runs. Because they have the balls to actually put out something a little different I think that’s great.
But being Vertigo/DC they have the backing if they have a failure.
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Steve Niles can be found on Facebook and so can Del Howison.