In the wake of LPC's announcement that it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection (see 'LPC Group Files Chapter 11'), ICv2 was able to contact most of the comic book publishers that LPC represents to the book trade. The publishers that LPC handles range in size from large companies with diverse product lines to up and coming independents that specialize in 'alternative' titles, but the companies contacted were nearly universal in their praise of the way in which LPC had been able to increase sales and penetration into a marketplace that until fairly recently, had been highly resistant to carrying graphic novels. Most of the publishers are reacting cautiously and hope that LPC will be able to restructure and continue operations, since that represents the publishers' best hope of being paid in full.
Dark Horse Comics Publisher Mike Richardson issued a statement that noted that Dark Horse has a 'brokerage' arrangement with LPC and that LPC 'owns no Dark Horse Stock or receivables.' Richardson also expressed some optimism about LPC's future, 'We believe this is a one-time hit to LPC's cash flow and additional financing will be secured by LPC to ensure continuity in staffing and shipments. For these reasons we are maintaining a business as usual attitude for the foreseeable future.'
Michael Martens, Dark Horse's Vice President of Sales and Marketing, told ICv2 that sales through LPC were a growing part of the publisher's business. 'Direct market orders on the Star Wars Episode II trade paperback were only 12% of what LPC sold (though the Direct Market also sells the comic book adaptation). We still sell the majority of our books in the Direct Market but on these media titles, we really see much better orders coming from the book trade. We are real pleased with what LPC has done over our previous distributor.'
When asked if Dark Horse is examining any other options for the future, Martens replied, 'Absolutely. Right now we are being very supportive of LPC because we honestly think that their cash flow is positive. We are very pleased with the books they have sold for us and we are willing to ride it out and see if LPC can get the short term financing necessary to move on. On the other hand we are covering all the bases. We're talking to a few people about distribution and we will look at any offer from anybody who is interested in distributing us.'
Dark Horse is in a critical period with LPC, since the run-up to Star Wars: Episode II is an important event for bookstore sales of Dark Horse Star Wars trade paperbacks.
Image's Jim Valentino told ICv2 that he was 'ecstatic' at the way LPC had sold its books. 'We've had wonderful penetration and really great response,' he said. Valentino noted that it '...is really hard to assess the situation at this time. We don't have all the information and I don't believe in moving in panic. I want information before I make a decision one way or the other and we really don't have enough at this point. We're sitting tight with cautious optimism.'
Although many in the industry may not realize it, Tokyopop is undoubtedly one of LPC's most important publishers thanks to Sailor Moon (which LPC's Robert Boyd told ICv2 was actually the best-selling graphic novel series of them all, see 'Sailor Moon Graphic Novels Top Bookstore Sales') and the other manga titles in the publisher's burgeoning line. In the current situation of course, big sales could mean big problems if LPC can't right the ship. A spokesperson for Tokyopop told ICv2 that Tokyopop had no comment regarding LPC at this time. Timing is also a critical issue for Tokyopop, which is in the midst of a major expansion of its manga line in a new format (see 'Manga Left to Right, Will It Fly').
Thanks to stellar sales of its From Hell graphic novel (another media tie-in), Top Shelf hopes to collect almost $80,000 from LPC, a major amount of money for an independent publisher. When the actions taken by LPC's bank caused a $20,000 check to Top Shelf to bounce, Top Shelf's Chris Staros sent out an e-mail appeal for help. When contacted by ICv2 late on Wednesday Staros was extremely pleased by the response to his plea, 'It's an amazing story how much people have rallied. Some key efforts by a few people have really produced results and saved our ass. We are going to be able to keep on going.'
When asked whether Top Shelf would keep working with LPC, Staros said, 'Yeah, my plan is to stay with them, for now anyway. David Wilk, the president of LPC, has assured me they are going to keep operating, that they plan on paying their publishers, and that the rug was pulled out from under them. I don't bear them any ill will in this thing. It just so happens a tree fell on me yesterday and knocked me dead. I got up this morning and said we've got 30 days to fix this thing, it just might be that we got it fixed in 24 hours thanks to the comic community. I am just so grateful. But with LPC I think that if all the publishers pull out right now, it's just going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, LPC will have to close their doors. There's a lot more money out there that is owed to the publishers, if we can keep LPC going then we stand a good chance of getting paid. It's a gamble, but I think they have a chance of restructuring and moving forward so I am willing to support that and keep shipping them my new titles as they come out, and hope they recover. The truth is that a few years ago they were the one book trade distributor that would take the small press guys and help put them in the book trade, and they've been very beneficial to us the past three years. I think LPC's intentions are good and the people are good and we've just got to stick by them.'
Drawn & Quarterly
Chris Oliveros of Drawn & Quarterly was the one publisher interviewed by ICv2 that seemed to be leaning toward leaving LPC. Like Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly epitomizes the small press publisher, whose elegant creations, including the superb Drawn & Quarterly anthology have a style and seriousness that gives them an appeal both among the most progressive elements in Direct Market and in the book trade. The potential losses in revenue are of course much more damaging to small press publishers who have fewer resources to cover an unexpected drop in income. And for LPC, Drawn and Quarterly is probably not a major source of revenue.
Joe Nozemack of Oni Press told ICv2 that he was adopting a 'wait and see attitude.' Oni's sales come primarily from the Direct Market so the company's exposure via LPC is not as crucial as it might be for other publishers.
Like Crossgen, which recently signed with LPC, Humanoids has not actually shipped them any books, but Humanoids Dave Olbrich told ICv2 that LPC had been chosen because it was by far the company's best option for selling its books into the book trade, so that he hopes that the situation can be worked out.
Comics OneLike Tokyopop, Comics One specializes in manga titles. Sales Manager Nicole Curry told ICv2: 'during the last four months, LPC has had very good sales with our books, especially through some of the bigger chains like Borders and Walden Books. If LPC does go down, this is going to hurt us quite a bit.' But like most of the publishers interviewed for this article, Comics One is going to wait and hope that LPC will find the financing it needs and be able to continue to represent them to the bookstores.