Ellis Watch ’07: The New Low for Publishing?

April 22, 2007 at 8:13 pm (Ellis Watch)

So it’s back to the old tracking campaign for Warren Ellis’ website, folks! This time, it’s a tad different, as we’ll focus on how our Internet Jesus (as way too many call him) has been prepping for the release of a few new indie comics this summer, as well as his very first novel.



Let me start by mentioning that there’s a very interesting indie comic company called Avatar Press. Like most indie comic companies, including Dynamite Entertainment and IDW Publishing, Dark Horse, Avatar is kept afloat by publishing adaptations of movie and TV properties, since they are constant sellers which already have a fan base. Now, these companies do release original comic material themselves, and they are usually they’re creator owned projects instead of work where they pay artists and writers up front for their work.

Creator-owned basically means is that the creators of a given comic book (the writer and penciler, usually) the comic book retain the publication rights to the material, and in exchange don’t see turn around until the cost of publication and distribution has been reimbursed to the publisher in addition to a set amount for them to keep. This formula of creator-owned books is great because it fits into a stipulation for talent with exclusive contracts for one of the 2 big comic publishers (DC and Marvel Comics,) allowing them to publish material outside of their contracted company’s limits and cohesive story continuity. This control over written property came is coming in handy today, as writer Garth Ennis (of Preacher fame) and penciller Darick Robertson (of Transmetropolitan fame) are moving their canceled creator-owned DC series, The Boys, to Dynamite Entertainment this June.

It’s hard to say when a writer is exclusively signed, since they don’t always announce it, but many have them with the exception that they can only do creator owned works outside of the company, and not work for “the other guy”.

BACK TO THE POINT: Avatar is releasing a bunch of projects by Ellis in the coming months, and Ellis is using every way possible to let the people know about them. The above titles: Black Summer, Crecy and Doktor Sleepless are all examples of this. He’s sending out information on his newsletter (titled Bad Signal,) he’s doing interviews left and right and he’s talking about it a lot on his work blog. As it is the most recent project, DOKTOR SLEEPLESS is getting a lot of attention, and is about a doctor from the future or something…

The buildup is that Ellis is doing something i’ve rarely seen. He’s encouraging his avid readers, of which they are many, to take the below form and…

“Please print off, cut out, fill in and hand to your local comics store. DOKTOR SLEEPLESS #1 is released in July — exact shipping date will be given when I get it. ”

Interesting method of spreading the word, but i gotta admit i’d feel a might bit silly walking into my job with one of these forms and expecting to not look daft.

I understand that such works need to sell a ton in order to turn a profit all around, but you gotta admit it’s kinda funny when someone takes such strange steps in effort to ensure sales. If anyone can get away with it, it’s Ellis. At least he isn’t Brian Michael Bendis, who created a character called Ronin in the pages of Marvel’s New Avengers, then copied that same character to their re-imagined Ultimate universe. It’s one thing to remake a classic character  with new ideas, but it’s another to remake your own idea. That’s what we call, lame.



  1. Michael said,

    He created and issued the same kind of coupon for the Apparat Singles Group a couple years ago. The strategy, I believe, is one of the most logical ways to combat the exigencies of the direct market.

    Comic shops work on very low margins, they can only afford to order what they think will sell. What sells? Big character properties on big publishers with big marketing budgets. Ellis can’t afford to send DOCTOR SLEEPLESS cardboard cutouts to every comics shop to bring attention to shop owners and patrons. He can, however, issue this virtual coupon which can accomplish two things:

    1. First, in marketing it is always useful to give your audience a Next Action. So, I’m an Ellis fan and I’m excited about this book, but I can’t buy it yet. In the meantime I may forget about it. But now I can print out this funny coupon, which will help me acquire the book. So I print it out and put it in my wallet. This already is a good feeling for the audience member. I have successfully completed the first step in a process that will culminate in the purchase of a desired object. Also, every time I see this coupon in my wallet it will remind me of going to the comic store and of DOKTOR SLEEPLESS in general. When I fill out and deliver the coupon to the comic shop clerk I have forged more links in the chain leading to my purchase of this book. If the comic shop clerk chuckles at the coupon and we have a conversation about it, I’m even further invested, psychologically, in this series. The chances of me remembering to buy this book at launch are much higher than if I just saw the blog post and did nothing.

    2. It raises awareness of comic shop clerks and owners, specifically to the potential level of readers interest in this series. In politics, 100 letters sent to a congressperson’s office expressing an opinion usually means thousands more people share that opinion but didn’t have the gumption to send a letter. A comic shop owner who gets 10 of these coupons will order at least as many books to cover those people, but also more to cover the likelihood of people interested in the book but didn’t go out of their way to deliver a coupon for a single title. Also, it makes it easy for small comic shops who rarely order much outside of the flagship superhero titles to order the book. If I hand in this coupon, no-out-of-the-loop clerk will respond “what’s this now? I don’t know anything about that title”. And there’s no chance I’ll write the title down wrong, etc.

    And it’s a logical extension of the pull-box model at every comic shop I’ve ever patronized. So shop owners really have nothing new, here, except now they have an even easier way to log the subscription. And patrons don’t have to write out the title by hand, they feel a little hip at the counter, and are more likely to remember to come by and pick up the book at launch. Some trendoids may call this “viral marketing” but it’s really just “marketing.” Takeaway chotchkes and actions for audiences have a long and diverse history (remember the Ovaltine ring in “A Christmas Story”? How about “I want my MTV”?). Good for Ellis and Avatar, I hope they hit big with these books.

  2. Tano said,

    I agree with everything from the above post, but it also does one more thing. Coupons are very useful in retail because said retailer can track how effecient the ad is because when he gets one in hand he knows you saw that ad.

    When retailers are handed these coupons they will ultimately buy more, which sends it’s own message to the publisher. Also, the publisher will have the information that the coupons were used slowly trickle back to them.

    The ultimate benefit is to show the publisher just how powerful Warren’s web presence is, and also to help Warren correctly judge just how powerful his web presence is. Because, afterall, all of Internet Jesus’ web promotion for his work is a serious bargaining chip if he can demonstrate its value.

    Great writer can’t wait for all three. (And after blathering on about the value of coupons for so long, I think it should also be noted that the coupon was also kind of a joke. Humor in advertising!)

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  4. John M. said,

    What’s your point (original author)? Warren Ellis used his web presence to make me aware of an upcoming book, and nowmy shop (Dragon’s Tale in Neptune Beach, FL) has it in my pull. Did I physically take the coupon in? No, although I thought about it. I just felt sending Dave a quick email was more efficient and would give him time to order as I only make it to the shop every two weeks or so.
    Again, not sure what the original intent of the article was, beyond expressing envy that Ellis’ “web presence” is WAY stronger then yours.
    By the way,got to this little gem from an article in ellis’ rss feed on my Q.

  5. dave said,

    Like the poster above, I came here via a link from Ellis himself, and I’m still trying to work out what your point is.

    It may be worth pointing out that for decades every single comic on the UK newstand had a coupon pretty much exactly like that one somewhere inside, along with many of our magazines. When I saw that, it didn’t even occur to me to actually print it out, I just thought it was meant to be a joke. Ellis has been talking about 2000ad on the Engine a lot lately, and I took this as another reference to “the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic”…

  6. brockers said,

    Yeah as dave said…. Us brits used to get these coupons to ensure our Newsagent (shoppe to you) would reserve our next dose of ThrillPower (2000AD).

  7. EM said,

    I guess this is an example of that fabled razor-sharp American sense of irony at work, no?

  8. Miriam Anzovin said,

    The point of the original post was, I believe, to discuss an interesting marketing ploy by Ellis. As an avid comic reader myself, I have never seen such a coupon and was interested to hear about it. It is definately smirk-worthy that the coupon flatly states that if readers don’t get enough Ellis, their only other option is suicide. Um, ego much?
    And, EM, this is actually an example of someone (who, BTW, is a huge ellis fan) exploring the graphic novel industry and the immense sillyness that often surrounds it like a geek-out inducing miasma. Your above statement is a perfect example of the fabled auto-retort blog-poser: lack of anything pertinent or original to say, no?

  9. Tony B. said,

    Umm, the title of the post is “Ellis Watch ’07: The New Low for Publishing?”. This suggests that “Caleb” is not to discuss the marketing plooy that Ellis is using, but to bash it. As stated by previous comments he’s done this in the past a couple of times so if anything it would be an old low for publishing. The first comment from Michael lays out why this is actually a decent marketing ploy for comic creators putting stuff out from a small publisher. The Big Two have a lot more money to throw into the marketing machine, Ellis is just trying to do something to help promote a book coming out from a smaller publisher. We all need to make a buck anyway we can.

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