Friday, June 25, 2004

CrossGen's Start & End

The first I'd heard of CrossGen Comics was in a Wizard Magazine ad asking for submissions. I didn't really think much on it at the time except to think it was a strange name for a company.

As a DC Comics Chat Host I had the rare opportunity to talk with and even befriend a number of comic professionals. One or two of whom wound up taking CrossGen up on their submissions, which in a round about way led to my being aware of them. I do know I was surprised one day to find a note in my e-mail box one day from then CG PR Director Ian Feller.

Ian told me, paraphrasing as it has been over four years now, that he'd been told that I was an influential comic fan who could help them out. They wanted to start a grass roots movement among fandom, that would spread the word and get a buzz going for their books before they hit the stands.

He wanted me to give him a list of other fans, and their addresses, so they could send them surprise PR material in order that they would hopefully sing CG's praises on the internet as well.

I was of course a bit pleased that they would pick me out, yet a bit bemused at the stuff as well. It sort of showed a lack of understanding at how the online world of fandom at that time worked.

Yes we all talked online at various online forums together, and at times met each other at cons. Yet I can't say that I knew more than one or two on a personal level, and having their mailing address was far out of the question. I wasn't supposed to let any of them know why I would want the address either, so it was certainly an odd request.

Thinking on it now, the current comic blogosphere and its tight knit community would probably be closer to what CG had in mind back then. Still I did what I could, and got them a few names and addresses.

A month or so later I would receive the CrossGen Info packet, a very nice and professionally made package containing a divider and color glossy paper info on their Quad system, HQ, various launch books and most unique of all bio pages on every single staff member down to the singing receptionist out front.

I found myself, given recent events, a bit amused by their Mission Statement of the company which you see when you open the divider:

To set and maintain the industry standard for quality in comic book publication.

To deliver product in a timely and consistent manner.

To provide readers with a high quality, entertaining product that does not insult their intelligence.

To treat all employees with integrity, courtesy, dignity and respect.

To share the wealth with those who help create it.

To prove it can be done.

While looking over this stuff for the first time in a few years, I was reminded about things like the CrossGen money back guarantee. Where if a reader bought the CrossGen Chronicles #1 and the first three issues of any of their series, and didn't like them. That they could send them to CG along with a hand written note explaining why, and receive a full refund.

I was also surprised to be reminded how CG had sent out samplers to all of the retailers, had an primer in Wizard and had a sort of half issue that was only available through Another Universe. Which may have shown a bad precedent to begin your comic line with exclusive comics.

It was fun to read some of their old PR and interviews again as well, from a perspective of where these reporters are now. Included was a Matt Brady article for AU, a Randy Lander and Don MacPherson article from Psycomic and a strange article in Comic Retailer that probably has the nugget that shows what brings about CG's eventual downfall.

In it Alessi explains to retailers how he knows how comic fans tend to only follow a popular creative team or story idea for 6 to 12 issues and then depart. Yet that their goal from the framework he and the creators had devised was to not have that type of direction.

He seemed to believe that if you don't give readers a true ending, and just kept an ongoing narrative that the readers would have no reason to depart. I don't think I can agree with that, as I enjoy a story not the concept behind the story for the most part. And would think I would get tired of anything if it kept going on and on.

Yet there was also the minus that if something didn't work for you, then you knew it was no use to go back to it, because if the concept is bigger than the individual story or creators. Then it wasn't likely to change very much.

Still I was feeling pretty positive about CG, likely in part due to the way they seemed to go out of their way to make me feel as if I was a part of their beginnings. When I saw a contest to win a free trip to their HQ in Diamond's Previews by just writing to tell what books you were trying and why I entered.

I must say the accommodations that CrossGen had for me where first rate,as my hotel room was a suite (with a kitchen, walk in closet, etc.); plus, Thursday night writer Ron Marz and Ian Feller (their Media Relations guy) came by and took me to dinner at this really terrific seafood place in nearby Clearwater that was located right off the beach.

The next day was the visit to CG HQ with my retailer, who had a different flight in and as such didn't get into Tampa until late Thur. night, along for the tour. We where both amazed by the art collection on the wall with pieces from just about every major (and some not so) artist (Frazetta, Romita, Silke and numerous others) that has ever worked in the comic field. It took us 2 hours just to see all of it as they even had some of the art displayed in the bathrooms.

I must admit to wondering at the time whether CG would be up for a possible sexual harassment charges at the time. Given the plethora of art that had women in no clothes at all,and amount of non-creative staff they had. Yet that never came to be.

After we finished our tour and were introduced to everyone we were given free rein to roam the building and see and do whatever we wanted. The people working there were some of the nicest I have ever seen in any business situation. They seemed very enthusiastic and proud of their work and it really showed when they talked with us about it.

I never felt like we were intruding on them at all (even though they were all hard at work in order to meet deadlines) as they welcomed us openly whenever we happened to stop by were they where at and answer our questions and show us what they were working on.

I got to see preview copies of all of the #2 issues of CrossGen's books (and some artwork for #3s as well) except Meridian which was in production. The improvement in the quality of the art and storytelling from the #1s to the # 2s was amazing to see at the time.

SIGIL especially (being a book I had serious questions about the art after #1)seemed to have made the biggest improvement in storytelling ability. The art has a lot crisper style and tone that truly impressed me. I almost couldn't believe the same art team that did #1 had done the art for #2 upon seeing it.

The computers they use for their website and for coloring the comics are amazing as well. They were IBMs but according to them have more power than the ones the Disney Animation studios used at the time.

They showed us how they do the special effects and such using programs like Photoshop, which was interesting for someone like me who has always been intrigued by the computer coloring process.

For lunch we ate at a great Italian restaurant nearby with nearly all of the major people from the company there. Mark Alessi the owner of CrossGen really picked our brains for what we thought of the books, what could be done better and what could keep me as a fan (and my retailer as a retailer:) ) buying their comics.

Over lunch I asked them about their plans for expansion and Mark said they are working towards 7 regular titles.

Mark was a very interesting guy who was obviously very excited about what he was doing. He is also a very much a salesman and really sold his company to my retailer who at the time didn't really know much about the company.

For me it was the creators who won me over though. I've already talked about Ron and Ian but Barbara Kesel was a pleasure to talk with as well. She took my thoughts on the events of SIGIL #1 (the main female character's death which I didn't like especially) very well and explained to me what she wants to do in both of the titles she was working on at the time.

As I recall this was at the time that the FANDOM MERIDIAN#1 review controversy had started. Where Don MacPherson had taken exception to the display of the young girl's panties in the first issue. The creators there didn't seem to have much to say about the review though. They admitted to being taken by surprise by the reviewer's view on the book, as they just didn't expect anyone to interpret the book that way when they read it.

If I remember correctly they said they were teaming up with the magazine COSMOGIRL to get girls to send in a story idea for what they would like to see Sephie (lead character in MERDIAN) do in an issue. The best one would be flown to CrossGen HQ for a tour similar to the one I just had and they'd also get to co-write a story with Barbara Kesel that will be drawn and run in COSMOGIRL.

I wonder if anything ever happened with that?

I received a lot of free goodies while there were a beautiful SCION wind-breaker jacket, a CrossGen T-shirt, posters, and one of every comic they had produced so far signed by their respective creative teams.

Though they seemed to have expected me to be a large fellow by giving me 2XL sizes when I only wear a Large.

Overall I was truly impressed with CrossGen's approach to the way they worked and had a really positive feeling towards what they seemed to be trying to accomplish. Yeah I thought Alessi was a bit too fanboyish at times, especially with his talk before we left of "go out and spread the word" which had me rolling my eyes a bit.

Yet still I'd had a nice time, given that I hadn't ever been to Florida before then, and I admit it they'd sort of "bought" a lot of goodwill from me. Which sort of makes how things turn out sort of odd really.

I doubt there were many bigger fans of the company than I when they started out, as I said they'd built up a lot of goodwill. Yet as the series went on, what I saw as promise eventually became just missed opportunities. The books were not awful but they just didn't have the bite that would make me want to come back for more.

Then the bad PR started coming out slowly but surely with Alessi seeming too defensive of any negative criticism. Then the reports of employees being unfairly treated and leaving. And the eventual reports of non-payment to the people who gave up a lot to give Alessi and CG a try.

All of the positivity that things seemed to have when I visited during the first year seems lost now, as things have not gone as planned. Recently reports have come out that Alessi has filed for Bankruptcy in an attempt to save the company. Will it work? Who knows, if anything does come out of it the company and line will be drastically different than the way things began.

Whew this has been a weird week focusing on one company's line for such a long period of time. I must admit to some appreciation that I'm through so that I can look at a smaller picture again for a bit.

1 comment:

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