Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Working at Tundra was my "degree" in business. I learned so much there that I apply daily to the issues that have confronted me since that time.

Since I was a very little fish at the place I can't reveal as much as Steve Bissette has in numerous interviews, which, by the way, has earned him the permanent stink eye from a fair number of people.

Has I said in my previous post, Tundra was a grand experiment in allowing creators – in this case comic book creators – to control every aspect of the creation, marketing and distribution of a project. In some ways Tundra is the spiritual child of companies such as United Artists.

There were some people who actually said "no" to marketing and public relations efforts, while others wanted everything. Marketing costs were added to the expense of the project and literally could affect the profits. Hopefully marketing would pay for itself and produce more sales.

The shot glass for Steve's book did indeed cause hard feelings as I was an "outsider" who actually came up with a success. That damaged the precious little egos of the in-laws and relative crowd.

My lone creative project was done in collaboration with Bissette and was a calendar for horror fans that featured his art and my research on milestones in horror-dom. We had been toying with the idea about a year previous to Kevin Eastman founding the company. For those who don't know Eastman, he is half of the creative duo behind The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

"The Year in Fear" was an abject failure. We sold about 125 of them to the comic book market and we rescued a bunch of the trash pile, which were then converted to prints that Steve could sell at shows. Others I sold through Fangoria magazine without the assistance of any one at Tundra. I have one in my office at the 'paper as a constant reminder of what NOT to do.

This is what I learned:

If you start out on trying to create a product you have to research it if you no previous experience with it.
I just thought if we come out with it at the right time, it would sell. Silly me. The calendar industry is a beast onto itself with lengthy advance times for the creation and marketing of calendars.

Get everything in writing.
I don't remember a contract that spelled out everyone's involvement. We were all friends, right? Wrong.

Develop a real business plan and stick to it.

Don't trust anyone that they actually know what they are talking about without checking things yourself.
Ah, there was one guy – part of the in-law and friends of Kevin mob – that insisted he could get all of the print run into BJs or Costco. Pure fertilizer.

Look at your product as objectively as possible. Does it meet the conventions of the industry?
Our calendar didn't have a functional grid and it didn't have a hole. It was much larger than most calendars and would have required a "dump" – a cardboard display box. It was a freak – a beautiful freak – and I didn't learn this until I tried to sell it to Spenser's Gifts. A kind but firm buyer told me just how wrong the thing was.

Where and how you sell your product is very important.
The main source for the calendar was initially comic bookstores. When that proved to be the wrong market, the calendars were to be dumped. We took a load of them and I worked out a deal with Fangoria magazine to sell them through them on a fulfillment deal. I moved some more that way without anyone's help at Tundra. We then cut them into prints to sell at conventions. Did we make money on them? No, not really. Tundra, which fronted the money for the printing, didn't make anything either.

Ultimately what I learned is that creators could be a pretty stupid, trusting lot – at least I was and I've tried to be much more savvy about things since that time. When I did licensing work for my friend Richard Gordon (producer of such films as "Fiend Without a Face, "Haunted Strangler" and many more) everything was done in writing and I was much more prepared.

So as I enter any discussion for new ventures I try to ask the necessary questions and realize the potential for being screwed.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs


dogboy443 said...

Awesome Mike, I smell a tell-all-book here or at least a guidelines of what not too do in business book.


Marc said...

Hey! I never got a damn shotglass!

--Marc Arsenault