Underground Independent Small Press Comic Fight Club
28 July 2003
The bulk of comic distribution is controlled through one distributor, Diamond Distribution, who ship from America. This situation came about primarily when DC Comics decided to sell exclusively through Diamond. Several other major publishers followed suit, leading to the collapse and sale of the other distributors in the field. Given that Diamond effectively acts as a monopoly the Department of Justice in the US considered whether to further investigate the situation, but decided not to.
There are other companies which distribute books and suchlike to comic retailers, but these are only a small percentage of the market. If someone writes, draws, and publishes a comic in the hope of getting it sold in comic shops across the country, their best bet is to be accepted by Diamond. The other option is to trawl across the country, town by town, shop by shop, asking each manager to possibly have a look at this comic - would you take five? Sale or return, fine - and then move on. It's exhausting and demoralising, and eventually unprofitable.
In addition, many comic shops are small crowded places. The men (and it's nearly always men) who open and manage them are frequently fanboys who cram the place full of Hawkman, Aquaman, Batman, Superman, Venom, Wolverine, Human Torch, Catwoman, Batgirl, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, The Truth, The Thing, The Punisher and (recently) Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid on Earth.
There is very very little space for the alternative press, least of all for new, laser-printed, hand-stapled comics which no-one has heard of and which will take five months to sell. Even in the event of the manager of Fantasy Planet agreeing to "try" a few issues of Falling Masonry or Jet Loss, the final resting place of your baby is likely to be in a spinner rack by the back issues or mouldering away under a backlog of 2000 AD's.
Hardcore fanboys, the men (again) who provide the bulk of the financial support for a comic shop are also unlikely to look too far beyond their own interests in making purchases. Those who read and collect the key Batman books (eg Batman:Gotham Knights, Batman Adventures, Gotham Central, Arkham Asylum etc) are unlikely to be interested in a new miniseries from the X-men canon (eg. Wolverine/Doop, Namor), and vice versa - ain't no chance that they'll be buying your take on consumerism, boy bands and fat metabolism, sunshine. This isn't about supporting your local, up and coming authors - this is about £1.50 that could be better put towards a copy of "Previews".
There is another way.
* * *
We don't have the pit directly under the shop that I work in. Many retailers do, but that's bloody stupid although unsurprising. Discretion is not a prized value in an industry where men wear tights and women do battle in high heels and half of their dˇcolletage hanging out.
Tickets are on the door only. I know the faces, and I take all credit cards and driving licences on the door where we hold them until the end of the night. Other clubs may have slacker security but we can't afford to. We are one of the best. There are some nights that I've been to in New York, Melbourne, Montreal, where I've left thinking "Wow - I can't wait to buy that tomorrow", and that's what many first-timers say of us. It's the highest compliment, both for us and the publishers.
I am resplendent in scarlet tonight, a show-stopper. Being one of the comparitavely few women in comic retail means that I could wear a sackcloth and still be deemed fuckable (these are the hands that unload and bag "New Mutants", foil variant cover...) but I enjoy making an effort. The winner of the last fight is the publisher of T---- S----, a reasonably popular zine with enclosed CD and maps. Blood is slicked through his hair and his jaw is swollen. I barely recognise the loser's face as he is carried through.
The next fight is an unusual one. In the blue corner is Colin, one of the boys behind U---- C----. His booklet, which we already stock, is clenched between his teeth. He is not fighting for the honour to be sold in the shop, as his opponent Joe is; rather, he is fighting for shelf space. If he wins, U---- C---- will continued to be stocked by us in a prominent position. If Joe wins, we will use some of this shelf space to stock his work instead. If they face each other in a further fight it is possible that U---- C----'s books will not be sold in East Sussex in the near future. Joe has the advantage of height and weight, Colin of speed and agility.
Joe writes and co-publishes J---- E----. This is his first fight. He has wisely left his glasses with the artist of J---- E----, Neil, at the side of the sawdust rink. He holds his copy of his book tightly in his right fist and crouches, gorilla-like, in the red corner. Even from here I can tell that he is controlling his breathing.
Tony blows the whistle. Joe and Colin circle each other briefly before Colin lunges in with a savage right hook at Joe, and then they are both down. It is hard to see what is happening though the whirls of sawdust that are flurried into the air. The first spurt of blood (from whom?) brings a roar from the crowd as does a solid bone-breaking crunch some minutes later. Some of the dust clears and I see that neither man has relinquished their titles (drop the comics and forfeit the fight, no matter how bloodied and drooling your opponent is).
Joe has clearly taken a beating, his eyes are purpled and swollen and there is blood running down his neck and back, yet it is he who is astride Colin, pounding his face in with blow after blow. Colin's arms are pinned down and his trunk muscles are not enough to through Joe off. After what seems like an eternity of beating, Colin's legs stop twitching and his eyes roll back in his head. Joe is victorious.
Tomorrow, J--- E--- will be placed in prime position on the front counter and Tony, Jon, Steve and I will recommend it to all of our customers. Copies may also be bought for distribution by any other impressed shop managers who attended tonight; from my position I can see Neil handing over stacks to the owners of P--- 45 in Nottingham. Customers who saw the fight are likely to both buy copies and recommend it to their friends.
Joe is helped from the ring; it is clear that his right ankle is broken but the endorphin high that he is riding has blocked that out. Tony pries the copy of J---- E---- from his fist, red-spattered, soaked in sweat. Tonight I will frame it to specification and tomorrow, in the first post, it will be sent over to America, to Diamond.