For 27 years Fantagraphics Books has been publishing some of the most interesting and challenging comics in the history of the medium. In addition to the always readable (and often controversial) Comics Journal, the only regularly published American magazine that treats comic books like an art form, the Fantagraphics' list runs the gamut from great newspaper strip reprints, such as the classic Krazy Kat volumes, to collections of Underground classics like the estimable Complete Crumb Series, to the groundbreaking 'docu-comics' of Joe Sacco, and the best of the current alternative creators including Los Bros., Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge, Dave Cooper, Jim Woodring, and Rob Fingerman, to name just a few. Yesterday Fantagraphics broadcast an all points bulletin over the Internet asking comic book readers to come to aid of the beleaguered publisher, which has been hurt by the bankruptcy of its former book trade distributor, Seven Hills, which went out of business owing Fantagraphics some $70,000. Fantagraphics took out loans to cover the losses from Seven Hills, but now those loans are coming due, and the publisher's money is tied up in inventory. So, taking its cue from Top Shelf, another estimable publisher of graphic novels that was on the verge of bankruptcy when its book trade distributor went belly up (see 'Publishers React To LPC Bankruptcy'), Fantagraphics is appealing to comic readers to buy directly from the publisher via phone or Internet.
Top Shelf's desperation strategy of 'playing George Bailey on the Internet' worked as hardcore comic and graphic novel readers and retailers came forward and bought enough books to make up for a $20,000 check from LPC that bounced and put Top Shelf in financial jeopardy. But Top Shelf was a smaller company with less of a financial shortfall to overcome. On the plus side, Fantagraphics has a much bigger backlist that includes a wider range of material from classic Krazy Kat and Prince Valiant reprints to the recently published Rebel Visions, a new history of Underground Comix by Patrick Rosenkranz. Fantagraphics' current dilemma should at least provide some indication of the number of idealistic comic readers. We should soon find out whether it is or isn't 'A Wonderful Life' for the leading publisher of alternative comics and classic comic reprints, whether 27 years of publishing challenging, edgy, state-of-the-art comics as well as unjustly neglected classics earns a publisher any slack in a tough marketplace.
Retailers may well look askance at this new publisher survival tactic -- since they are cut out of the loop in spite of the fact that many of them have championed Fantagraphics titles over the years. But presumably retailers' orders of Fantagraphics books would also be appreciated, and frankly retailers will be better off in a world where Fantagraphics continues to publish titles such as the forthcoming third volume in the Krazy Kat series, as well as the 240-page Krigstein Comics anthology, Jim Woodring's The Frank Book, plus new titles from Gilbert Hernandez, R. Crumb and much more.