Monday, August 09, 2010

Year in Fear: Take Two

A newly minted friend on Facebook posted a “Year in Fear,” the calendar for horror fans that I conceived and which featured artwork from my friend Steve Bissette.

I realize I’ve blogged about this doomed project before in 2008, but this posting is more detailed. I’m in a revelatory mood.

I split an advance of $1,250 with Steve from Tundra Publishing – the now legendary experiment in something to do with creator rights publishing – and thought at the time that were going to make big money.

How could we go wrong? Every way possible.

The tale of the “Year in Fear” should be one taught to anyone entering into a business or to any creative type dreaming of a new project.

In 1988, I met Steve Bissette at a party conducted by a mutual friend. Steve is one of most charming guys you could meet and we quickly struck up a friendship. About a year, year and a half later I came up with the idea of a calendar for horror fans and asked Steve if he would like to come aboard. He said yes and when he was invited to be one of the first creators invited into the Tundra inner circle by Kevin Eastman, the calendar was going to become a reality.

I had known Peter Laird, half of the Ninja Turtle creative team since my days at UMass. We were never friends, but fellow comic book fans at a time when we sort of stuck out like sore thumbs.

I had staged the first museum exhibition of the Mirage Studio crew at the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke where I worked. I think, without digging through old papers, that was 1987.

Anyway, I was known a bit by both Kevin and Peter.

Mark Martin, a fabulous designer and artist with whom I subsequently became friends for 20 years, designed the calendar. Mark and I no longer talk – I don’t why, ask him – but I have to give him his due. He designed a great looking portfolio for Steve’s work.

But it was a crappy calendar. More on that in a minute.

By the way, what made all of this more painful was a friend at the time was trying to do his own calendar that was surprisingly similar to mine that was going to be published by Peter laird. I remember him telling me something along the lines of “It’s not personal. It’s business.

The thing was over-sized and was in black, white and blue. I thought that all we had to do was solicit it through the comic book distributors and the fans would grab it.

After all Steve was and still is a pretty hot commodity.

Lesson number one: don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

This was the early days still of comic fandom and frankly what people bought was the ancillary items – they didn’t exist as they do today. They bought comic books. A calendar was a fairly foreign item in shops in 1990 and 1991.

We solicited orders in the summer – just in time for the fall calendar season and got back orders for 125.

There were 1,000 of these in the Tundra warehouse.

Well, Tundra was full of cousins, brothers-in-law and long-time friends of Kevin’s and some of them formed a brain trust. I was on their shit list as I had actually come up with a promotion item to give away to stores that the fans did want – a shot glass for Steve’s “Taboo Especial.” We made a profit on a give-away and I was toast. I had shown up these guys.

One of them said not to worry; he could get Costco to buy the entire stock. He had connections. He didn’t sell any.

Lesson two: Don’t trust someone’s brother-in-law.

So then I took it upon myself to get them sold. I spoke with a regional card shop chain whose management couldn’t understand the idea behind the calendar and then I decided to go large and went to Atlantic City to the open vendor day at Spencer’s Gifts.

The buyer was a great guy who had gone to college in Springfield and who patiently explained to me just why this product was nearly unsellable. First, I was too late. Calendars are ordered in the spring of the year. Second, it was too big. Third, where was the hole?

The hole? On crap, we don’t have a hole so it could be hung in the store and hung by the customer.

We had done EVERYTHING wrong.

Lesson three and the most important one of all: do your homework.

I went home only to hear the Tundra braintrust wanted us to autograph the stock so they could be used as give-aways for Tundra UK. Steve and I dutifully signed hundreds of them.

Then we discovered they were going to be tossed. We rescued a bunch.

We had a couple of months left, so I worked out a fulfillment deal with Fangoria magazine. They ran an ad for the things and we spilt the money.

After that we were stuck with a bunch of them. They sat in our basements.

Soon after, I had bought, along with Patrick Duquette, the animation magazine Animato! That’s a cautionary tale as well, which I’ll also tell one day.

We started working conventions ands eventually Patrick lost a taste for it, so I’d split a table with Steve. We realized of we cut the calendar bits of the plates; we would have nifty little prints. We sold them for $3 with Steve’s autograph and that is how we made money on our calendars.

Of course we pissed every dollar we made at shows by buying other things at shows.

I still have a few of them in my basement. I keep one at my office at work as a reminder of the importance of market research before launching a product.

Postscript: You know I was trying to find a graphic for this posting and I realized that some things I could have scanned, I’ve thrown out. Tundra was a bad very scene and sometimes I just want to purge.

© 2010 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

No comments: