My friend, publisher Nat Gertler, recently announced he was selling a new run of blank comics. That’s not a title as much as it is a description: they’re blank comic books that you fill with your art. Intrigued, I asked him for some more information.
Okay, first off, tell our readers a bit about yourself.
In comics, I wear a lot of different hats. I’ve been writing comics for about 25 years, and I’ve had work published by DC, Image, Archie, and a lot of other folks. I’ve been a publisher for about 15 years now, my About Comics line has done mostly reprints, usually material that had never been collected before, whether it be creators better known for other works like Kurt Busiek and Gail Simone or just series I like that had never been collected, like The Weasel Patrol and Fusion. And I’ve done a lot of things for the comics creator scene: I founded 24 Hour Comics Day, published the collection of comic book scripts Panel One, co-wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel with Steve Lieber, stuff like that. And then there’s the whole “Peanuts specialist” side of me; I run a blog for Peanuts book collectors, written three books about Peanuts for mainstream book publishers, written stories for the Boom!’s comic book series, published collections of Schulz’s non-Peanuts work, and so on.
And among other things you publish, you put out The Blank Comic Book. Is that what it sounds like?
It’s exactly what it sounds like: a comic book-sized book of blank paper, 24 blank interior pages, white cardstock covers, not a lick of printing on the entire thing. No art, no title, no price, no UPC. You can’t even tell which is the front cover and which is the back.
Do people actually buy those?
Yes, they do. In fact, The Blank Comic Book is by some measures the best-selling thing I’ve ever published. I do a new production run–can’t call ’em “print runs,” there’s no printing–once or twice a year, and retailers preorder them by the caseload, $115 postpaid for 150 copies. (That’s where I’m at now; if anyone wants to preorder a caseload, I need orders by July 25 and they’ll arrive mid August. I’ve got a web page with more details.) Then between production-runs, I sell smaller sets, 10 copies or 50 copies, via mail order.
Some folks like using them to get artists to draw “sketch covers” without having to get a special expensive comic for that. Some folks use it for their own art projects. But my biggest sales are to folks who use them with kids–at schools, at camps, or a lot of comic shops that either give presentations at schools or bring kids into the shop. Give a kid one of these, and it very quickly turns into a non-blank comic.
As an example of what this has become, there’s a retailer in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a shop called Fanfare, who just preordered 3 cases from this new run. That’s 450 copies they’re getting in August. I checked with them, and there’s no other August-shipping book they’re ordering that many copies of. And this is of the fifth non-printing.
What gave you the idea to do Blank Comics?
It was something that I sort of wish I had, for a couple of reasons, and I find that’s a good basis for a publishing project. If there’s something I want, odds are good that I’m not the only one. Blank things had appealed to me before–as best as I can tell, I was the second publisher to do sketch variant covers. And The Blank went very quickly from “here’s something I want to publish” to being solicited at Diamond, because all I needed was a printer’s price quote. Maybe it was good that I didn’t take time to think it over and decide that maybe it wasn’t a good idea.
When we distributed through Diamond, we had to have them bagged in sets of 5, with a drop-in showing the title, price, UPC, and that was a lot of the cost. Selling them direct-to-retailer or direct-to-customer in bulk works out a lot better.
What’s the most interesting feedback you’ve received?
There’s one reaction I get repeatedly–I’ve seen it online and I’ve seen it in person. And that’s someone who first hears of these and says “that is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.” (And believe me, I understand that instinct!) Then they pause, or they respond to their own post, and say “but you know what that would be good for?” and they start talking about something that one could do with just such an item.
Once I have you, I have to ask–what’s your favorite Peanuts story?
If you’re talking about the work of Charles Schulz, you’re speaking of something that I have so much love for, and, if I have to pick a favorite, the answer is likely to change day to day and hour to hour. But I have a real soft spot for Linus as he was portrayed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, as a prodigy who could do amazing things, doing amazing sand castle work or building towering houses of cards, things like that. So at the moment my answer will be that run of strips where he’s blowing up balloons and his blowing them up wrong, ending up with a perfectly rectangular, cubic balloon.
That’s actually one of my favorites too!
But there’s another answer to this question. A couple months back, I gave a talk about how comics are made to my son’s kindergarten class. Among other things, I gave each of the kids one of The Blank Comic Books. And my son, who knew that I was in the midst of working on a book about Snoopy, spent that day in school filling up his copy with his own comic about Snoopy, because he thought that would help me out. I don’t think there’s any way that even the masterful work of Charles Schulz could mean as much to me as that unlicensed, off-model tale drawn by a 5-year-old.