About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Monday, October 29, 2012

funny book round-up

So I did some work today, at least one project wring St. Martin's about an author was taken care of, but it's hard to concentrate, especially because I'm getting over a big that's making me a little more tired than usual, which isn't good for doing work reading.  So I've read a few weeks of comics.  You can find a collection of links to my blog posts on the DC "0" issues in September here:

http://brilligblogger.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-new-52-weeks-later.html



Disappointments:  Issue #1 of Team 7 did not live up to the theoretical promise of the 0 issue, and since the Teen Titans looks to be crossing over with Team 7 and is very of and off, I may stop with Teen Titans.  The dark side of crossovers, they are as or more likely to make me stop buying something as to add it.  

Crossover Goodness:  The Batman books are looking in very good shape going into the Joker's return in a "Death of the Family" crossover.  I tried Detective #13 with a new creative team and liked it enough to buy the next issue. This one was a little muddy with the art, but it was interesting art, and an interesting script with Scarecrow, a classic Bat villian.  Just in general, the Batman books have done a really good job of using old Batman villains since the New 52 relaunch.  Firestorm and others have pretty much ignored earlier villains.  Flash has been using the old villains, but not in a way that I like, and I decided not to buy issue #13, if I did it would be a disappointment.  Getting back directly to Batman, #13 which starts the crossover was very good.  Nightwing #13 was good.  Batgirl #13 was good.  The Batman books are, to me, in the best place they've been for a long, long, long time.

New and Bereft:  A Madame X one-shot, part of this series to introduce non-DCU characters that DC purchased over the years into the DCU, didn't do it for me.  Nor did DC Universe #13 Presents Black Lightning and Blue Devil, the first in an arc.

Pleasant Surprise:  Fury of Firestorm #13 with new writer Dan Jurgens and artist Ray McCarthy shows signs of being a nice second year re-book for the series, that I may like more than generally I did the past year's worth of books.

Staying Strong:  The "2nd" issues i.e., Phantom Stranger #1 and Sword & Sorcery W/Amethyst #1 after last month's 0 issues were both good enough for me to commit to issue #2.  Does everyone in Amethyst have to have the same color hair?  It's less clear where Phantom Stranger is going than Amethyst, but it's nice to be comparing quality of new issues in a new series.  And Talon #1 also has the series on good footing, though I'm not sure there's enough there to make an ongoing series of this.  Well, I think we can let 'em show us what they've got.

Steady as She Goes:  Superboy and Superman #1 were good enough.  The "H'el on Earth" Superman crossover isn't looking to be something so good that it will get me buying Supergirl, but it looks OK that I won't stop buying things I'm buying now.  Saucer Country #8 begins to move the series forward after a couple issues of consolidating and reviewing, and continues to be an excellent new Vertigo series for 2012 which I'd recommend to anyone.

Bongo:  One Shot Wonder Maggie #1 was about what you'd expect for a Maggie book, no more.  Simpsons #195 was a very good issue.  Marge exiles Homer to the back yard as a tornado is coming, Homer ends up in a geodesic dome, the dome ends up amidst a LARP/Ren Faire kind of thing, then with Civil War reenactors, then here and there, leading Homer to think he is traveling through time.  This is a "don't ask questions" issue, just sit back and enjoy the ride and it's quite delightful.  Bart Simpson #76 starts off with a fun high school fundraiser when Bart, has a mediocre Daedalus retelling in the middle, and then an OK haunted house on the highway thing that's nicely illustrated but with no surprises in the script.

Pengdom House

I'm not a big fan of pontificating too much about things with too much uncertainty, and believe it or not there are a lot of uncertainties about Random House's acquisition of Penguin that make it a mistake for people to get too far ahead of themselves.

The first major uncertainty is government regulation.  In both the US and UK, the merger will give the combined company large market share in the publishing industry.  Will there be any divestitures required?  My guess is we're not looking at a lot, because 25% market share with four other decent-sized competitors is hardly a dominant market position.  But will the government look more closely at any particular categories?  As an example in sf/fantasy, the merged company would control Ace, Roc, Del Rey, and distribute DAW.  Which would be quite a dominant market share.  Our Bookscan account doesn't offer market share data, but it's out there, if anyone who reads this post has any light to shed on their position in certain genres it would be very interesting.

And the second uncertainty?  Well, quite frankly, not even the people at Random House know what they're doing with the new toy.  The people at the highest levels of Bertelsmann have crunched numbers and found a price that makes sense, but they haven't formed the committees that actually make everything come together.  Obviously the people at Random House like the Random House contract, but that doesn't mean there isn't going to be a committee to decide who actually has the better language on rights reversions, or termination in the event of non-delivery of a manuscript, or a gazillion other things.  There hasn't been a committee formed to see who has the better royalty statement format, and how you get the computers to talk to one another to eventually consolidate the systems.  I'm told on hearsay that Penguin has a 99-year lease that would go for at least another 80 years on its office space, and Random House has some kind of fancy condominium arrangement I think for its office space, and there hasn't been a committee formed to decide if they want to keep the offices separate or move people here or there or come to an arrangement with a new developer for 99 years of space in some new building.

We do know that Random House gives more editorial autonomy than in other large publishing companies, and I see no reason why they'd change that practice.  What this means is that they are happier to let the different editorial divisions compete for books than at other companies, so at least until we get to a situation where Ace and Del Rey both want the same book, or Viking and Crown want the same book, they'll let people go at it.  S&S is much pickier about needing to know if/who else in the conglomerate is also looking at something.

We do know that this won't be like when Penguin purchased Berkley 20 years ago, and then let the Berkley people come in and run things because they were very well managed.  I can't see Bertelsmann looking at Penguin and thinking "oh, let's buy them for their management expertise!"  Bertelsmann has been running book businesses for many many decades.

For JABberwocky, selfishly:

We like our Penguin contract more than our Random House contract, but I don't dislike our Random House contract, and I think over time as Peter Brett becomes a more prominent author for Random House and we're now selling Brandon Sanderson to Random/Delacorte with his Steelheart series, there's a likely move to be able to make our Random House contract better over time.    If you told me we had to move all of our Penguin authors to Macmillan boilerplate moving forward, I wouldn't be thrilled.  And as I mentioned above, who knows whose contract we'll actually get moving forward.

We do a lot of business with Penguin, too much in some ways, because I hate to have too many eggs in one basket.  Having Peter Brett become a breakout author for Random House and Brandon Sanderson the same with Tor has given me a lot more comfort than six or eight years ago, now we're going to have a very big Pengdom House basket and the Tor basket looking that much smaller.

When I started in the business, Penguin was this very strange conglomerate that did all sorts of things that the other big conglomerates were smart enough not to do, examples of this would be that Penguin would do big three-book deals, and dole out half the advance on signing, and all the rest on delivery of the manuscript.  Over time, bean-counters started to crack down on some of these things.  Penguin payout is more like other payouts.  The agita when I tried to suggest a client should get his Penguin delivery advance for a book he hadn't finished revisions on last year, oy!  Still, Penguin I would say is a somewhat less corporate place than Random House is.

I do most of my business at Penguin with their Berkley imprint, and Berkley has been an amazingly stable company.  I've been doing business with Ginjer Buchanan and Susan Allison for about as long as I've been in the business, and they've been working with the same people atop of them for as long as more.  I can tell you exactly when I read that Susan Allison would be taking over Ace, and that was in 1981 when I was still in high school and Jim Baen announced in the final issue of his Destinies "bookazine" that he was going off to get a Jim Baen Presents imprint at Tor and would be turning the reins over to Susan.  That's an amazing run.  They keep losing excellent junior people because the downside of good stable management is that you eventually run out of promotions and new titles to hand out to ambitious people.  I've also got to say, Susan's had a long run because she's razor sharp and deserves it.

Del Rey has been an amazingly unstable company, to be blunt.  When I started in the business, and when Random House was still an "independent' publishing company, if you can use that term for an arm of the Newhouse's Advance Communications conglomerate, it was still run by Judy and Lester del Rey.  Can we even keep track of how many people have been running Del Rey since it hasn't been the del Reys?  For many years, I had this impression that Del Rey was an imprint with a lot of senior people and not a lot of less senior people, "too many chiefs and not enough Indians."  I don't think that any more, Scott Shannon seems to have found the right people balance for the Del Rey and Spectra imprints.  But it's come with a huge human cost to people working at the companies.  The designated heir to the del Reys, Owen Locke, departed.   Editors like Jim Minz and Liz Scheier came in and out way too quickly, too quickly for their departures to be based on any profit & loss report card for things they'd purchased.  The consolidation of Del Rey and Bantam Spectra led to other departures.  This is hardly a full list of people to be in and out of Del Rey and Spectra, my apologies to all the many people I am not specifically naming (yes, Steve, that means you).  Elizabeth Moon has had five editors in ten years with Del Rey, it would have been much more difficult to "achieve" that "feat" at the Penguin sf imprints.

If I get a little queasy thinking on some of the less stable aspects of the Random House corporate structure weighing on Berkley, I think I'm excited at seeing Penguin benefit from some of the digitial stuff that Random House is up to.  Peter Brett and I had a marketing meeting on plans for The Daylight War in September, my general experience with publisher marketing plans is that they can spend a lot of time coming up with six pages that say "we will send out review copies and galleys" or, today, "review copies, galleys, and we'll do shit on Facebook."  The Del Rey plan here looked and felt different, leveraging different things like Suvudu that Random House has invested in over the years, with an awful lot of dedicated digital marketing people, with a lot of coordination and involvement with the editorial and other people at Del Rey.  I might be over-stating the import of this, because all the big publishers will do a lot of things for an author like Peter V. Brett that they see heading to bestseller lists that they don't do generally, but I'm not sure I am.  I felt like the plan was using more things that are actually embedded in what Random House is doing and has been doing, and that they went beyond what I see from other publishers for other of our bestselling authors.

I hope Random House will switch to Penguin's royalty reporting.  Random House has updated their royalty statements the way the TSA updates airport security, grafting layer after layer after layer on to what they were doing when I started in the business, it looks prettier in some ways but you have to keep flipping back and forth between pages to properly read, and they do not routinely provide across-the-board the information on copies shipped and returned the last six months, which is what you actually need, while providing a few lines of information on the total sales of the 1993 edition of your book that hasn't been in print or selling since 1996.   Penguin needs to do a little better job of purging sheets of paper on old inactive ISBNs from their reports, but otherwise they provide statements that are a model of clarity.   Information on copies shipped and returned is found easily, and there's summary information telling you that information in a big picture way before and during the current period and then in total following.

So this isn't the answer to all of your questions, not even the publisher knows the answer to all of its questions.

Just in a big picture way, what does this mean?  Well, I'm never fond of mergers that reduce competition for my authors, reduce the number of markets that I can sell authors to (especially because there are plenty of good books that don't find a market when they should, every time a new publisher starts up they are often buying books other people rejected and finding success with some of them), increase the clout of the people at the other end of the bargaining table.  However, the fact that I don't like it when these things happen doesn't keep them from happening, the question is how you deal with what actually comes out the other side, and right now we have no way of knowing anything about that in much detail.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

touting that horn again

Back in 2011 I did a blog post about some controversy I didn't entirely understand regarding Harlequin's broad efforts to add in or update e-book royalties on some older contracts.  One of the things I discussed was Harlequin's ability to play around some with e-book royalties by self-dealing with various of their international subsidiaries.  And now, lo and behold, Publishers Weekly reports on a lawsuit about just that...

This comes not long after Google and publishers announced a settlement of a lawsuit on pretty much the exact terms I'd suggested might be nice.

My stopped clock has now been right its two times in a day, but maybe it will be right again anyway!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bouchercon

The World Science Fiction Comvention is always exhilarating and exhausting for me.

Bouchercon is a little different. Named for the mystery fiction critic Anthony Boucher, it is the World Fantasy of the mystery genre in that it is a heavy networking convention, a busy bar scene for the professionals, but without the membership cap, and more fans, and people who actually go to panels.  It isn't near as exhilarating for me as a WorldCon, but I also have fewer clients, so there's a little less scheduling pressure.  And while there's a strong bar scene at night, there aren't the room parties and hospitality suites that are such an important part of the scene, social and business and fannish all in one, at the major sf conventions, so it doesn't require as much after hours time.

So I had clients to see and award ceremonies to attend, I was also able to use the weekend to see some of Cleveland and really, most importantly, to recharge the batteries a bit after an exhausting September with so many long days in the office that I didn't have energy at night to dig into the reading pile.

So, seeing Cleveland:

I saw my first game at Progressive Field, the baseball stadium formerly known as Jacobs Field, the home of the Cleveland Indians.  I'd gotten tickets on Stubhub when there was still a chance the Indians could make a wild card run, possibly the best seats I've ever had for a ballgame in the third row behind home plate.  Expensive for Cleveland, but a bargain by NYC standards where you can pay $100 for a bleacher seat at Citi Field.  In retrospect I overpaid because the Indians collapsed, fired their manager the week before, weren't in it, and they were playing the Chicago White Sox who had just been eliminated from the AL Central race.  The ballpark fits in nicely at the edge of downtown. It was nice, but with three levels of suites even the first row of the upper deck looked awfully high up and I'm not sure how happy I'd be seeing a game from there.  I got to see the Chicago White Sox hit 5 homers, several of them quite impressive, including Dan Johnson becoming only the 15th White Sox player and 4th visiting player in Jacobs Field history to hit 3 homers in a game.  Paul Konerko needed 2 hits to tie Frank Thomas for #3 on the all-time White Sox hit list but got only one.  Ketchup, Mustard and Onion all seemed to be cheating in the footrace.  All in all, it was a nice evening.

On a free afternoon, I visited my 136th and 137th Whole Foods Markets, in the rich eastern suburbs.  It was a gorgeous fall day, and the two stores were located around 4.5 miles away from one another, providing a nice excuse to have a very pleasant stroll on a very nice day.  The Whole Foods at Cedar Center is very, very nice.  The one in Chagrin is a a former Wild Oats location, a little bit smaller, but pleasant enough.  And in the same mall as an outlet of Malley's Chocolates.  I got some "good luck" boxes for my award nominated clients, and some to save for when everyone is back in the office next week.

And after the convention was over, I walked down Euclid Ave. in the rain out to University Circle where Case Western is located along with many of the major Cleveland cultural institutions, with a detour to Shaker Square, the second oldest planned outdoor shopping area in the country, or so the sign said.  It's a nice area, the cultural insitutions set in a parklike setting, a very attractive Little Italy tucked alone one end.  The day would have been nicer if it wasn't raining, but I felt as if I'd really gotten my feet on the ground in the city.

I only needed a couple spare hours to walk 1.5 miles out to West Side Market, which is nicer than Lexington Market in Baltimore but maybe not quite as nice or diverse as Philly's Reading Terminal Market.  The bakeries were "enh," but there were lots and lots of fresh fruit vendors and meat vendors and cheese vendors and etc. etc.  The market is celebrating its centennial this year.

Cleveland was one of the very first cities in the world to build a train line out to its airport.  This was quite nice, $2.25 for a quick ride from the airport to the heart of downtown.  There are a couple other light rail lines heading out to the rich eastern suburbs.  Cleveland is also one of the cities that is using BRT, or Bus Rapid Transit, as a substitute for light rail. The "Health Line" runs several miles from downtown past the Playhouse Square theatre district, Cleveland State University, and then to the Cleveland Clinic, the Case Western University Hospitals, the Stokes Hospitals, etc. etc., thus having its name.  BRT uses fancy looking buses, limited stops, prepaid boarding that allows all door exit/entry, dedicated bus lanes, and other features, to make it an attractive alternative to standard bus service.  In a big city like New York, you've got to have subways that can avoid traffic.  The problem with BRT for really high density locations is that none of these things change the fact that you're stuck in traffic with all the other traffic, this is why LA really needs to have the so-called "subway to the sea" running under Wilshire Blvd., instead of the Metro Rapid lines that sit in Wilshire Blvd., even in the DC suburbs I don't think BRT would work as a substitute for the "purple line" because there's too much traffic too much of the time on the East-West Highway for anything that's going to share the traffic lanes to be really appealing.  But on the I-270 corridor in suburban DC, or in someplace like Cleveland where you can have traffic but not absolute killer traffic, BRT probably is a cost-effective substiture for laying rails.

But there's plenty not to like about Cleveland.

Everyone at Bouchercon got to go to to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Thursday night for the opening ceremonies courtesy of Amazon's Thomas & Mercer mystery pubilshing imprint.  I wasn't impressed with the Hall of Fame.  It didn't have an actual Hall of Fame with information on all of the inductees, the Hall area had glass inscribed signatures of all the inductees and plaques on the newest class, but not on everyone.  The exhibits didn't do much for me at all.  I've listened to plenty of rock and roll in my life, I'd expected to like this more, I was disappointed not to find much to like at all in the museum.

Like other cities, every bit of Cleveland is carved into a district, the Warehouse District and the Flats and the Gateway and Playhouse Square and Midtown and Fairfax and University Circule and Civic Center and this district and that district.  But let's say that the renaissance of Cleveland is still a work in progress.

Bouchercon was being held in the heart of downtown, the Civic Center/Tower Center Districts.  Tower Center is the tallest buidling in Cleveland, above a rail crossroads.  With some hotels and a cheesy mall and a movie theatre and a casino, there's some life here.  But, the only restaurants in the mall were food court, Houlihan's, Morton's, and Planet Hollywood.  In fact, the restaurant options are very limited.  A small restaurant row on E. 4th St.  Lots of sports bars near the baseball stadium and arena.  The Warehouse District has some eateries.  Further afield, you could find a handful of places in the Playhouse Square district.  But honestly, just not a lot of "there" there.  And downtown living was concentrated almost entirely in the Warehouse District which is full of renovated old warehouse buildings that now house yuppie lofts with a few new builds, and then there's the Flats district on both sides of the river with a lot of housing on the river's west bank.

On the other hand, the downtown area also didn't give this sense that you can get in parts of Philly or Baltimore that you'll go one block from the fancy museum and find yourself in a combat zone.  And the Playhouse Square district is full of many beautiful theatres, all in active use, believably the second biggest concentration of active theatrest outside of NY. And the cultural institutions out in University Circle are among the nicest cultural campuses you're going to find.

And the architecture!

The arcade where the Hyatt is, it's the most beautiful old shopping arcade, stunningly gorgeous.  And there are the Colonial Shops across the street. And you can peek in beautiful old office building after glorious old department store and spectacularly restored theatre, place after place after place of incredible beauty.  This is an asset that you don't have in a lot of other downtowns.

The convention itself...

The opening ceremonies at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame could have been better done.  If the program book had said "Hall open at 7, ceremony starts at 8," maybe there woudln't have been this flood of people arriving right at 7 when the doors weren't even open, so that it took until 7:45 for the line to finally die down, with the earliest arrivals sitting for an hour waiting for the ceremony to begin when they could have been visiting the galleries.  And there wasn't any official announcement or indication that there were going to be awards presented at the opening ceremonies.

The dealers room didn't have a Larry Smith or anyone selling a wide mix of new releases.  Mostly used/rare dealers selling mostly books by Bouchercon attendees.

Announcing raffle winner after raffle winner after raffle winner after raffle winner before the presentation of the Anthony Awards wasn't such a good idea.

There was some weird architecture to the hotel, with a new ballroom attached to the old original ballrooms in the hotel, which was erected in 1918.  Some oddities, like of the Grand Ballroom was sectioned into A and B parts, getting from A to B meant taking the stairs down a level and walking to another escalator up.  On the other hand the ballroom had a beautiful balcony seating area.

But by and large, people were having a good time.  The panels were well-attended.

And really, I can't complain too much about a convention where a client of mine wins two different awards!

Charlaine Harris hadn't been optimistic going in about her chances of winning in the Non-Fiction/Related categories for either the Macavity or Anthony Awards for her Sookie Stackhouse Companion.  Understandably so, in a way, you think of these awards as going to major important works of non-fiction, this isn't a category where I'd want to be competing for an Anthony against a Pulitzer-winning author like Michael Dirda of the Washington Post.  Add to that, we were all very close to the Companion, which had been a lot harder to put together than had been anticipated going in.

So were were all surprised and delighted on Thursday night when Charlaine and The Sookie Stackhouse Companion were announced as the winners of the Macavaity.  With the one surprising win, we had to think more seriously that maybe there would be an Anthony Award in our futures as well, but still, I think we were all still a bit surprised to come up with a double victory when the Anthony winners were announced on Saturday.

It's a little strange to say about an award in a non-fiction category, but I do think part of the success of the Companion is because it has a great novella by Charlaine, "Small Town Wedding," that is certainly the best piece of Sookie Stackhouse short fiction, if not one of the best pieces of Sookie fiction, period.  And when you add to that all of the excellent non-fiction in the Companion, the timetables and concordance and interviews and recipes, it is a potent brew.

I had lunch with Charlaine Harris and her personal assistant Paula Woldan at the Chocolate Bar, an interesting idea for a restaurant in a nice setting at the century-old Arcade shoppng area, but not actually a nice restaurant.  My alfredo badly needed pepper, the cupcakes were like fresh-from-freezer Sara Lee.

Another lunch was with Joe Clifford Faust at Skyline Chili, an Ohio institution where they serve chile atop spaghetti and then top it all with generous handfuls of shredded cheddar.  I think I prefer the New York equivalent of chili mac, where chili and macaroni and cheese reside on the same plate.  Afterwards we went to a comic book store in Parma that had been around for an impressive 28 years.

Jeri Westerson and Toni Kelner were the other current JABberwocky clients at the convention.

Jeri has ten award nominations for her first four Crispin Guest novels and was up again here.  I don't think we were surprised that she didn't win, but her Crispin Guest books are awfully good, and it would mean so much to me to see her win one of these some year.  Jeri travelled far afield to go to a library event and a bookstore event.

Toni is launching a new mystery series under a pseuodonym that promises to be a lot of fun, and she continues to help Charlaine edit wonderful paranormal anthologies, the most recent of which is An Apple for the Creature.

I had drinks with Rochelle Staub, a muliple award nominated author for Who Do, Voodoo.  We look forward to having Rochelle on our client list!

There were multiple publisher cocktail parties or receptions, so I had my full of cheese cubes and chicken tenders.

So that's a quick glimpse at Bouchercon.  I've got to tell you, there are worse jobs I can have than this one.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Bond, James Bond

My client Jeff Gelb is a longtime fan of all sorts of pop culture things, and was kind enough to put some thoughts to paper on the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond film Dr. No:


Dr. No was released 50 years ago! Hard to believe!
So I was thinking about the tremendous effect Ian Fleming's creation has had on so many areas of popular culture (and my life) these past 50 years. I devoured all the Bond paperbacks in high school, and then read at least 100 Bond wanna-be spy novels (many of which I still own!). Spy novels are still immensely popular, from the works of Robert Ludlum to Daniel Silva (I'm a big Silva fan). Even Jack Reacher arguably could be called a distant cousin to James Bond.
Comic books ran rampant with spies for awhile, including Nick Fury and SHIELD, now popular in the Avengers movie and coming soon to your TV set.
Meanwhile, TV shows in the '60s gave us The Man from UNCLE, I Spy, Wild West, The Avengers, and so many others, continuing to recent shows like 24.
The movie studios flooded the '60s market with Bond imitators, mostly terrible, but some decent ones as well. That trend continues to this day, with the Bourne movies, Taken, Mission Impossible, and others.
And the music! The Bond films gave us the groundbreaking soundtrack work of genius John Barry, and some themes that have become standards, including "Goldfinger" and "Live and Let Die".
And the fun continues! The trailer for Skyfall looks amazing, and Adele's theme honors the grand John Barry tradition. I can't wait to see the movie!
So here's to Ian Fleming, a genius whose unique character has made billions of fans, and billions of dollars, and created so many jobs for so many people worldwide for so long. Here's to the next 50 years and beyond!


Joshua may do some Bond thoughts of his own, in the meantime you can sample the Hot Blood anthologies edited by Jeff Gelb and Michael Garrett which are available as JABberwocky ebooks.

Bragging Rights

Some time back I did a blog post about the controversial and eventually overturned settlement between Google, the Authors Guild, the major publishers and others about the Google project to scan zillions of books and make them available.

Read that post here.  http://brilligblogger.blogspot.com/2009/04/google-settlement.html

This week, the major publishers settled their case with Google, you can read the Google press release about that settlement here. http://googlepress.blogspot.com/2012/10/publishers-and-google-reach-agreement.html

Just to say, I called this one.

The main part of the settlement here is that the publishers get Google's file for their use.

Which is exactly what I said was missing from the larger agreement.

If they had done that same thing three years ago for the broad settlement, our ebook program would have long ago had a lot more books, our clients would have been making a lot more money all along the way.  Instead, the Authors Guikd is still spending how much money on who knows what in the case, while the publishers and Google have now recognized where the fairness is.  Let Google do what it wants in search, so long as it lets you do what you want to sell your book.

Redistribution

I didn't watch the debate because I was watching Indians, but if I understand this part of it correctly...

Mitt Romney said he doesn't have plans for a $5 Trillion tax cut because he intends to find that amount of money elsewhere in the budget so it doesn't raise the deficit, and this cannot be considered a tax cut.

He intends to have the government take five trillion dollars from some people to give five trillion dollars to other people

Isn't that redistribution??

Yes, Redistribution

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Now, from a Republicsn standpoint maybe not because money people don't pay in taxes is always your money that you get to keep so how can it be redistribution to just let you keep your five trillion dollars.

But, if you are one of the people who will lose a tax loophole and pay more of your money in taxes than you are now, won't that look like the government took Five Trillion to redistribute it elsewhere?

If you benefit from a government program whether it is having a job with Amtrak or on Sesame Street that will no longer exist, won't it look like redistribution.

If Governor Romeny's plan isn't an outright tax cut, it has to be a Five Trillion Dollar redistribution.  Wouldn't you like him to let you know, now, if some of that five trillion he intends to redistribute is yours?

Funny Book Round-Up

Besides all the New 52 books, what else has been in my funny book pile in recent weeks...

Phantom Lady and Doll Man, a 4-issue mini-series by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and artists Cat Staggs and Tom Derenick.  If I'd gotten around to reading the first issue, I wouldn't have read the second.  It looks really nice, but it didn't cohere.  It seems to be bits and pieces of a story instead of a story, a Zan and Jayna of a comic book.

I always buy some Bongo.  Bart Simpson #75 was an OK issue of this title.

American Vampire has a great story arc going on, The Blacklist.  I think this is the third arc I'm into since I started reading this DC/Vertigo title, and this might be the best of the three. There's some great artwork by Rafael Albuquerque, Scott Snyder is doing some excellent work.  I don't know why I didn't cotton to this series when it started, but I'm totally into it now.

I had two issues of The New Deadwardians.  This is an excellent Vertigo mini-series. Since I started reading Sweet Tooth and American Vampire in recent months after not taking to them at the start of their runs, and have been enjoying New Deadwardians and Saucer Country from their 2012 launches, I am back in the game with Vertigo after a bit of a drought following the end f DMZ. Deadwardians is a zombie vampire detective yarn set in London and thereabouts, written by Dan Abnett and very will illustrated by I.N.J Culbard.  The writing is stylized, clipped Victorian, but never annoyingly so.  The issues often end with classic cliffhangers.  It is a true graphic novel with both the words and pictures of importance, take a look at the pull back on page 3 of issue #6, the dialogue says "I'm starting to get the willies," the picture tells us why.  Sometimes, kind of lime Aquaman, there isn't much dialogue.  But unlike Ivan Reis in Aquaman, there's something about the art that makes me linger.  And that's without a lot of heavy line work. I have really been loking this mini-series which ends with the October on sale issue.  I would definitely suggest checking it out once it is collected, or seeing if you can find the run on Comixology or such. 

I got three annuals, Superman, Detective Comics starring Batman, and Flash at the end of August, I shouldn't have gotten any of them.  They all had interesting aspects.  Superman had a little different art for the character, almost more of a charcoal feel, but then it also had the Daemonites whom I want to see expunged from the DC Universe.  Detective had lots of classic bat villains but not much of a story.  Flash started off strong, almost maybe like a lead in to the 0 issue which had Flash's dad, but then veered all over and ended up nowhere.  Or worse.  Promising a Gorilla Grodd story line for issue #13.  Grodd is a classic character that's was great for the camper days of Julius Schwartz editing Flash or when Cary Bates was writing the character decades ago.  He doesn't work as a serious part of modern comics mythology but everyone wants to use him, it must be seen as fun to write or draw gorillas. More for the creators than the readers, if you ask me.

Back in Bongo land, the Simpsons have a spinoff book One Shot Wonders that allows background characters to have a come all to themselves.  The latest is for Little Homer, and it wasn't great bit gave me a nonstop smile.  The young Homer has to figure out what to do with a gravy boat genie, listens to a bedtime story about a boy who never bathes, becomes a model.  A smile, not a guffaw, but good enough.

I buy The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror as a triumph of hope over experience, but happily this year had some nice things in it.  The best, Homer takes the family to the cabin where Duff Beer was invented, and of course, you know what happens when you go to a cabin in the woods.  Another tale features Bartman, and was as enjoyable a potpourri of Batman villains as the Detective Annual.

And finally The Simpsons #194.  This is one of the most consistent books I have purchased for an extended period, and this issue is solid.  It is kind of Homer mashed up with Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Lisa at gym class and other things in that typical stream of conscious with a purpose Simpsons kind of a way.

Leaving Bongo behind...  Sweet Tooth #37 is a very solid issue full of portent and I tribute as this Vertigo title heads toward a planned ending, perhaps without the strong sense in Y: The Last Man and even a little in DMZ that things were being stretched or milked a bit I. the final year.

As noted above, Saucer Country is one of the new wave of Vertigo books I've been digging.  Issues #6 and the newest #7 have been giving alternate histories of alien invasion in #6 and now of science and the space program vis a vis extraterrestrials.  They've been interesting and intriguing. But what I would like is a bit of a summarization when we've finished these to re-ground us in which characters are which.  Much as I have been liking the series I was starting to have trouble with the who's who, and now taking a break from the ongoing story for the revisionist history of these past two issues will make it that mich harder to get back into things when the series renews its forward march.

And finally...  Looker is a one-shot in a "National Comics" series DC is doing to re-introduce some older characters, this one from Batman and the Outsiders, a long-ago team up character.  This revitalization doesn't entirely work.  The script by Ian Edginton is interesting, but not quite clear enough, I read it and don't have a handle on who the character is.

So I am caught up on funny books, more or less, for the first time in several weeks, save that a new batch of books came out yesterday.  But still, caught up.  Which is a nice feeling.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The New 52 Weeks Later, Pt 4

Wherein we come to the end of our exploration of the new DC Universe after its first 13 months of existence...

I thought Birds of Prey started off strong and then went off track pretty quickly.  The 0 issue by Duane Swierczynski, Romano Molenaar and Vicente Cifuentes will probably be my last.  It didn't interest me, hard to say why, but it didn't.  Nor did Superman #0 by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort. Here, at least I know why.  The art wasn't my style.  And more to the point, I know there that I have zero interest in having another retelling of the Krypton side of Superman's origin.  Been there, done that, got it it one in the opening 20 minutes of Superman: The Movie in 1977.  And for all the reboots of Superman since from John Byrne's in the mid-1980s and onward, it is what it is.  While I'm not likely to  continue with the book with this art team, it's possible there are other story-lines, perhaps with other art teams, that I'll decide to try.  The Flash was another back story that didn't interest me story-wise, but there's been enough good work done on this book over the past year by writer Francis Manapul, with art in this issue by Brian Buccellato, that I'll certainly be back next issue.  And while the story here didn't interest me much, it was at least well done, creatively thought out, and very nice to look at.  Just not for me.  And finally, we come to Voodoo.  Another of those books with the Daemonites.  And this, well, there was some interesting stuff in the script, and the art wasn't bad, but I just don't find myself digging anything with the Daemonites, and as this issue got more and more caught up in advancing hte current continuity I got less and less interested.  And yet, there's also some pull to this and to Grifter, some primal element with the characters and settings and situations, that keeps wanting these to work for me, that makes me keep wanting to give second and twenty-second chances to these books.  I should stop, yet part of me isn't sure that I will.

What did work for me?

Talon, with a script by James Tynion IV based on a plot by he and Scott Snyder, and art by Guillem March, was fantastic.  I purchased this without even looking inside because of Scott Snyder's involvement.  I started to ask myself why, because the Talons from the Night of the Owls story-line in Batman and the other Batman books, are the bad guys.  And I don't much dig anti-hero comic books. Which this kind of isn't.  Our lead character is Calvin Rose, a Talon gone bad (gone good?), escaped from the bad guys and trying to stay a step ahead.  I'm totally caught up in the character.  I liked the art. I'm just totally in for this one.

This was a good issue of Aquaman, a book that I've warmed to a lot less than others. Writer Geoff Johns takes Aquaman back to Atlantis.  The art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado is good, my problem with the art in Aquaman isn't with the art itself as with the script, which too often requires the art to be elongated fight scenes that serve to chew up pages, not so much of that here.  Of course, the first issue of Aquaman a year ago was solid, the big question now is what level the book will maintain moving forward.

It's always interesting to see how a writer can be good one place and not so good the other, while I didn't enjoy Scott Lobdell doing the umpteenth Krypton story that I've read, I liked what he did in Teen Titans #0 quite a bit, bringing us a fresh take on the origin of Robin, Red Robin.  Familiar yet fresh, giving real emotional weight both to Tim Drake and to Bruce Wayne/Batman.  Three inkers over Tyler Kirkham pencils.  Of course, Teen Titans is another New 52 title that started off really strong but kind of faltered over the course of Year 1, so as with Aquaman the question is what level they can maintai going forward.

And finally, Firestorm #0 by Joe Harris, Yildiray Cinar and Marlo Alquiza.  I probably purchased more issues of Firestorm over the last year than the should have.  For old time's sake, I guess.  I really cottoned to Firestorm when he was introduced in 1978, I was distressed and dismayed when the series disappeared as part of the DC Implosion after the first five issues.  I wrote lots of letters urging for the series to return.  And I was oh so happy in 1981 when it was announced that he would.  This is something like the 4th Firestorm comic book.  This issue #0 does a nice job of rebooting the story after it got very fight-heavy and honestly very boring with fights.  Joe Harris took over halfway through the first year, so is it his fault it got fight heavy or was he stuck with a storyline he had to finish out?  It will have a chance to fail out, and I hope it will not.

In summation...

When I commented on the second month of the New 52 here (including links to all my original New 52 posts from a year ago) I've got to give DC an excellent passing grade.

I purchased 24 New 52 "0" issues in September 2012.  I purchased around 20 New 52 "#2" issues in October 2011.  Even allowing for around a half dozen of these 0 issues that I purchased due to the 0 issue marketing gimmick to see what we going on etc., the fact is that most of the books that I got an issue #2 of were still doing something good enough that I was back a year later, though I might not have purchased every issue of every single book over that year.  And should I count it against DC that they came up with a marketing gimmick that gave me a starting point to feel I could give a comic book a test run?  I don't think I should, one of the largest problems in the industry was that it was to self-referential that you couldn't ever get back into something easily once you left.  You give credit, not blame, when people recognize a problem and try and come up with a solution to it.

There are still some question marks.  DC hasn't yet done a big company wide crossover with the New 52.  They've done focused crossovers that haven't all worked for me, but it's been 50/50 with some crossovers like Night of the Owls getting me to sample books I might not have otherwise and others that have had me skipping a book I might otherwise have purchased.  Pre New-52, those odds were way lower that a crossover would get me to buy a book rather than drop one.

With all the focus on the New 52, there were some other good DC superhero books over the past year. My list would include The Huntress mini-series and The Ray mini-series, especially.

And finally, the 0 issues had what I, at least, considered to be excellent first issues for Amethyst in Sword of Sorcery, for Talon, The Phantom Stranger, and for Team 7.  If the biggest question a year ago was whether the New 52 was just a quick-lived quick-flaring gimmick or something real, the answer is clear that it was and is something real.  A lot of the New 52 books have seen diminished sales over the past year, which you'd kind of expect as you get further out from all the bright lights of the launch.  But on balance, the company is selling more copies of more books.  And a lot of them to people like me, to lapsed superhero fans whom DC was able to bring back into the fold.

My next comics post will be on the books I've gotten over the last month that haven't been part of the New 52.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Messaging & Politics

So it's That Time of the Year, that biennial season when you can turn to CSPAN at off-hours or streaming on their website with oodles and oodles of political debates.

And it's that time when I am perennially reminded how good the Republican Party is.  Not on ideas or policies, there are very few of those that I agree with, but their messaging is always so much better and so much more consistent.  You watch a handful of debates, you'll see the Republicans trotting out their well-tested talking points.  And you'll see the Democrats -- well, you never know what you'll see the Democrats doing.  Do Democratic strategists watch debates?  Can't they figure out after the first few what the Republican message is and start to get some counterpoints out by the time debate season is into its third or fourth weeks?  Will Democrats ever realize that you can get only so far trying to distance yourself from your party or your President, that one of the great Republican successes of the past four years is their unity, the single-minded purpose of their opposition to the President, their ability to get everyone to switch gears and oppose things they favored two days ago?  Why do I want to trust the Democrats to do anything when they go years and decades not getting their political messaging together?

Several election cycles back, it was clear that the Democrats were doomed when they couldn't seem to figure out any way to sell the estate tax, when week after week in debate after debate they were utterly flummoxed by the Republican message on repealing the death tax.

So of course, it's pointless to look at debates and try and figure out the main message the Democrats are trying to get across, but we can see some of the main Republican themes.

I'm seeing a lot of focus on entitlement programs this year.

Argument #1 is a very nice line, that we need to do something about Social Security and Medicare, and if younger people like myself or my employees will just realize that something needs to be done, if we're willing to recognize that these programs will have to look different in the future than they do today, that we can leave things the way they are for our grandparents.  This is a very powerful argument, and the mainstream media isn't picking up on it or talking about it very much.  It's an argument that is directly contrary to a shibboleth in the commentariat that nobody asks for sacrifice from the American people.  Well, stop, look, what's that sound, one of the main Republican talking points this year is a direct appeal to sacrifice.  This is politics, the argument isn't being made in detailed specifis on the sacrifices that will be needed, but the idea that one generation can make things right for another with a little bit of sacrifice is being made very clearly.

Argument #2 is related, that we need to "fix" Social Security and Medicare.

Now, if I'm a a Democratic political strategist, I'd have a little bit of a hard time finding the right counter to Argument #1.  But what about Argument #2?  There's no Democratic strategist who can get the candidates saying "yeah, haven't we all seen the movie where the bad guy says 'I need to you to fix this for me,' and we all know even though it's never said what the fix is supposed to be?  

Also on the messaging front, the 47% remark Mitt Romney made does seem to have done a lot more severe damage to his presidential hopes than the "legitimate rape" comment to Todd Akin's Senate race in Missouri.  Why do some Republicans think, and maybe correctly, that Akin could still win with the right support, while Romney's remarks have clearly hurt not just his campaign but had some downwind effect on Senate races as well ??

Agree or disagree with the statements, or with the positions they lead to, Akin's actual position isn't really different from the Republican party's platform.  He takes a different approach than others might to get to that position, but when you get down to it, his comment will cost him votes mostly from people who disagree with his reasoning.  If you disagree with the position itself, you probably weren't voting for him anyway.  Since his position is reflective of the party platform, he has a valid argument now when he campaigns against the political bosses who are running from him.  Which helps to limit losses from that group of "position yes, reasoning no" people.

The problem with Romney's remark about the 47% is that he doesn't seem to realize that a lot of the wonderful political messaging the Republican party has, see Argument #1 and Argument #2 above, see turning the estate tax into a death tax, is designed to get votes from the 47%.  From seniors on Social Security who don't pay income tax, and might be willing to have Social Security and Medicare fixed or saved so long as it's more the other guy's burden than theirs.  So leave aside all of the agreeing or disagreeing with the statement, it costs votes from people on his side.

That's when the gaffe can become a really huge problem, when it will cost you votes among people who were planning to vote for you on a position basis, not because they already disagreed with the position, or who wish you wouldn't say things like that in public, but with people who were on your side of the ledger and now wonder if/why they should be.

And downwind, it's a lot harder for the Republican candidates for the House and Senate to disavow Romney's positions.  If there are people on the Republican side of the ledger who start to question if that's the side to be on, you can't do what you just did with Todd Akin and kind of disavow the person while keeping with the policy.

Personal preference aside, Bob Kerrey doesn't deserve to win his Senate race in Nebraska.  He was saying yes, we need to fix or repair or mend Social Security or Medicare, only with less passion and less articulately than his opponent, Deb Fischer.  Who clearly considers these to be winning issues for her.  So if both candidates support the same policy, you've got to vote for the better advocate.  Isn't there a Democratic strategist somewhere who can supply Kerrey with words that he can say with enthusiasm and passion that don't try quite so hard to cede the main issue in the campaign to his opponent.