Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Very small footnote to Free

Today my assistant Lorraine is in the kitchen doing mysterious things to obtain beeswax from slumgum, and I am mostly on the phone copy-editing The Graveyard Book.

Anyway. Free books. I started thinking about times we've used this principle in paper books -- using the free thing to spread the author or the idea, and, if you ignore the five fingered discount (remember, in the UK you can add Terry Pratchett to the "four authors who are flying off the shelves and don't forget the graphic novels" list) then you still have things like Free Comic Book Day. And before there was ever Free Comic Book Day, there was Sandman 8.

It was 1989. I wrote Sandman #8, Mike Dringenberg drew it, and the editorial and marketing departments at DC Comics got enthusiastic about it. I went out and got three pages of quotes from fantasy and horror authors about Sandman, wrote a "The Story So Far". DC Comics overprinted Sandman #8 and sent each retailer an extra 25% above what they'd ordered, for free, and told them that they could do whatever they wanted with them.

Some stores simply sold them.

The smart stores gave them away. Some of the smart stores even went back to DC and asked for more. The stores that gave them away were the stores who, a year or so later, found it very easy to sell Sandman trade paperbacks to their customers. And then to sell Sandman hardcovers. And some of them are now selling the Absolute Sandmans.

(And a few people have written to let me know that ABSOLUTE SANDMAN Volume 3 is now up at Amazon, with the extra 5% discount for pre-ordering it bringing it to 42% off.)

Anyway. There weren't any grumbles that we were somehow devaluing other comics, or that this was Marxism in action, or that this was going to put comics retailers out of business or anything like that. It was about expanding the readership, about convincing people that it was safe to try something new.

(I just called Brian Hibbs at Comix Experience who put labels with his store's name and address on his free comics and then left them at barbers' shops and on buses and anywhere else he could, bookcrossing style -- he said he passed out about 400 copies of Sandman 8 and got 100 readers back, who bought every copy of Sandman, and the collected editions, and some of those people are buying Absolute Sandmans from him now -- and then he pointed out that it wasn't just Sandman that those people bought, but lots of them discovered comics and bought everything...)


Rachel McAdams says she would like to be Black Orchid on the screen -- I'd like to see that too. I didn't know what I was doing when I wrote Black Orchid, and it shows, but there's some dialogue I'm still really happy with, and a wilful attempt to avoid cliche that I'm still proud of. And Dave McKean created an entire school of realistic superhero art (one he's still apologising for). It was our first full-colour baby.

I wish her luck.


How does he come up with the cover images? Dave I mean. Does he just make it up out of his head like writing? Or is there a HarperCollins committee that says, "We would like a blue cover with a knife. And perhaps a black one with some no, more swirly please."

Can you ask him? And if he answers, can you post it?

Thanks Neil!


I can answer this -- I was there and watching it. The first cover Dave did was done to a Harpers request (they sent him a sketch of the kind of thing they wanted, and he painted that). With the more recent ones I posted, Dave had simply read the book (which I was still writing when he did the first one) and then sketched a bunch of potential covers and handed them in.

Hi Neil,

Can I ask what happened to the much more finished graveyard book cover that you posted a few weeks back? I have a feeling that Dave might be someone that hands in finished pieces on a whim sometimes, but had he just done that for promotion etc, or was it just an early version? I know what it is like to do covers several times, not just as roughs but also finished pieces, and I think the rough sketches you posted might be stronger than that one, but I just wondered...

-Joel Stewart

Well, it exists, and it might be used in promotion, or turn up in the back of the Subterranean Press Edition or as a colour Frontispiece to the Bloomsbury limited edition, but it probably won't be a book cover (unless there's a foreign publisher who wants it, I suppose).

It was done to order, but it really didn't reflect the book I wrote, which was why we went back to Dave and said, "you don't have to worry any longer about doing a book cover that looks like it's for young readers. Just do a book cover."

And yes, I think most of the ones he came back with are stronger than that was.

And yes, it's not at all unknown for Dave simply to do finished art and hand it in. On Sandman he did it after he was removed from the book, as we started The Doll's House. He was told that he was off Sandman so that he could concentrate on finishing Arkham Asylum -- he simply went home and did the next three Sandman covers and sent them off to DC...


Which reminds me -- it's been a very long time since I posted a link to -- there are some very wonderful Dave McKean screensavers and ecards and suchlike there...

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