Another reader's guide, for you.

*Actual news: Speakeasy threshold - 1750 orders - creators cross it, or else they either pay up front for printing costs or accept a free ticket on the internet express and have future issues posted to the Speakeasy website without cost, in the hopes that foreign/media rights can be sold to a level where a collected edition of the work is viable. This is apparently intended as an augmentation of Speakeasy’s prior business model, which simply allowed creators to keep the profits or shoulder the debts of their books, whichever happens after sales and costs (Speakeasy’s fee, print fees, ad fees) collide. This puts Speakeasy creators in a position somewhat more akin to that of self-publishing (where obviously the creators shoulder a possible burden of debt) than usual. Contrast with Image, which shoulders losses for the creators.

Speakeasy creator Rich Johnston (The Flying Friar, an upcoming one-off) thinks it’s a good idea, an innovative application of current technology to minimize risk all around.

Speakeasy creator Matt Maxwell (Strangeways, an upcoming series) wonders if this might adversely affect retailer orders of upcoming Speakeasy series, knowing that books can go online-only (a different format, with different pacing) in short order, leaving the Direct Market high and dry.

Blogger Graeme McMillan tracks prior uses of such technological initiative, and suggests the inherent possibilities of publisher exploitation to the scheme - creators, after all, could theoretically just publish their own online comics if need be, but this set-up possibly retains for Speakeasy a cut of any media licensing rights.

From what I can gather, the chief benefit of publishing with a company like Speakeasy is, well, just that - they’re a company, they can exude a aura of strength and ‘going places’ through a strong line, they can marshal disparate forces under a common ‘brand’ to afford creators easier recognition in the still-wild jungles of the Direct Market, and they can offer creators discounted ad rates and streamlined access to printing and distribution. I expect the utilization of the Speakeasy ‘brand’ and the ad discounts would still act as benefits under a strongly online output, though it would sort of abrogate the concerns of the Direct Market, the environment that prompts a lot of strength-in-numbers thinking. Then again, it’s not like the internet is any less overloaded with stuff.

Meanwhile, message boards are ringing from within and without. Whispers emerge as to Speakeasy’s policies. Too much expansion at once? Too little organization?

Blogger Mark Fossen questions the very utility of the Speakeasy ‘brand.’ Indeed, he questions just about everything the publisher has done to ‘benefit’ creators. Is the value of the name really an albatross around creators’ necks? At what point does the streamlining of dealing with a publishing entity cease being a convenience and force one to consider that things are getting ugly, and now largely out of their control? I can’t say I read any of Speakeasy’s titles (heard nice things about Elk’s Run, and I’m definitely picking up Strangeways), but I have to wonder about the hospitability of the Direct Market - I see this situation as one of a piece with Diamond’s own revised thresholds, an acknowledgement of the oft inchoate organization of ordering independent comics, giving rise to necessarily stricter policies. My gut tells me that there is some value to the Speakeasy brand - I have seen some recognition of the name in stores and online. In the current environment, that might be better than shoving out on your own.

At least, at first. What of additional problems? What of getting lost in a wide line of titles? What of Maxwell’s ‘chilling effect’ of company policy on Direct Market orders? A publisher doesn’t just brand in positive ways - a negative outlook on a small company can poison all of its titles. And once you’re on the internet, well, how about that equalizing power? Is a company worth it? With the baggage it brings?

On the Engine, the comparison between Speakeasy and Image is made more clear by Image creator Warren Ellis. More questions are raised - shouldn’t Speakeasy purchase additional (presumably brand-centric) ads to bolster their expansion? Isn’t this part of their duties as a publisher? If not, shouldn’t it be? Ellis has some hard words for publishers that think it’s up to the creators to carry most of the burden of hype, and I have to say I agree - with the potential of a publisher becoming a rock, weighing down an entire line, there has to be reasonable effort made by the publisher to promote the line apart from pure creator initiative: it’s both good business practice, and responsibility (which are one and the same for profit-chasing enterprises, after all).

More as this develops.

*Thank goodness this is now online - a somewhat edited version of Jeet Heer’s introductory essay to the most recent Krazy Kat kollection, Krazy & Ignatz: 1935-1936: A Wild Warmth of Chromatic Gravy. It’s the first collection of the color Sundays; fittingly, the essay focuses on writer/artist George Herriman’s tangled racial background, and the attitudes toward race he expressed in his work. Mandatory reading.

*Pet Concerns Dept: Viz has apparently pushed the first volume of their renewed Golgo 13 manga initiative back to February, where it will now be debuting alongside the first book of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster as part of the launch of Viz’s new Viz Signature line; according to Publisher’s Weekly (which, unfortunately, seems unaware of Golgo 13’s three prior excursions into US release), the line will strive to present ‘classic’ and ‘literary’ comics. Still trying to sort out how this is any different from Viz’s (defunct?) Editor’s Choice line, which gave us Phoenix and the like; then again, we all know there’s nothing in comics quite like a good relaunch!