By Bruce Lidl
The Sacramento Wizard World convention was an opportunity for comic fans in Northern California to gather and celebrate their passions with other fans and celebrities. It was also a chance for Jimmie Robinson, a veteran Bay Area comic book creator (and frequent commentator at The Beat) to meet his readers and spread the word about his on-going all-ages Image series, Five Weapons. I was curious to get a creator’s insight about this new convention, but we ended up chatting about a variety of topics, so I decided to make a separate article in its own right. As a long-time participant and observer in the comics industry, Jimmie has a great perspective on what is really happening right now, and he was very generous of his time to speak with me on the show floor.
Robinson was quite positive about the Wizard show, the staff, and the vibe around the convention center. Everybody was seemingly happy with the turnout and the enthusiasm of the attendees, especially the local downtown merchants. I was curious to hear how his convention schedule played into his work-time and income, and whether he was seeing the kinds of returns on paid sketches, commissions and appearance fees that some artist superstars like George Perez have experienced. According to Robinson, conventions, even well attended ones like Sacramento Wizard, are not “real money makers” for him, as he still has to pay his expenses, including travel and lodging. The worst thing about conventions for Robinson is not the expense, though, it is the time taken away from his work of actually making comics, something he much prefers to do if possible. In general, he limits himself these days to shows he and his team (wife Gail and dog Eli) can drive to, including the Reno Wizard show and possibly San Diego. For him, conventions remain all about “spreading the word” about his books, particularly Five Weapons, his current title from Image/Shadowline, an all-ages tale of the one pacifist student enrolled at a school for assassins (broken up into 5 weapon-themed houses, kind of a killers’ Hogwarts). He emphasized just how “tough” a sell an all-ages title can be. Currently at issue #7, in the second five issue story arc of the title, he has a commitment from Image to publish a third story arc, taking him through issue #15. Depending on how these story arc sell, he hopes to publish at least through #20, which would complete the initial narrative he conceived for the title.
Robinson was “very appreciative of the huge support” he’s received from Jim Valentino and the Shadowline imprint at Image, particularly with a book that may not be the most marketable. And he “regretted” not being at the January ImageExpo, where the homogeneity of the creators on exhibit was negatively received online. Robinson had only complimentary things to say about his experiences with Image.
While Robinson appreciates the personal outreach opportunities conventions give comic creators, he is also “very enthusiastic” about the growth of digital comics, both from a sales perspective but also from a creative viewpoint. Digital sales of his older Bomb Queen title have been “very good” and he has seen bumps in sales of older issues when new ones come out and re-ignite interest. He is also an outspoken fan of comiXology’s Guided View reading enhancement, although he does struggle somewhat with making sure that his books look good when they are going to be converted to the new format. The process of conversion is quite “mysterious” to Robinson, and he does not have any insight at all into who actually does the work at comiXology, but he’s “very conscious” when he is drawing of what kind of panel layouts work best with the new technology.
His one major criticism of the current digital comics trend is the lack of transparency into the data generated by digital sales, as any data he does get from comiXology is basically limited to royalty statements and is usually “way old, usually from two quarters behind.” He is eager to see if he is able to get quicker and more detailed information from the shift at Image to selling directly and without DRM (Five Weapons #1 is available right now for free in either PDF, EPUB, CBR or CBZ formats). Robinson is “completely for” Image’s move to drop DRM and is generally really excited to see his work available in as many formats as possible. As someone who first heard Scott McCloud talking up online comics way back in the mid-90s, Robinson knows first hand how far the industry has come in expanding distribution avenues for new creators to attract readers. He echoed the message oft repeated today, that the challenge is no longer to “break into comics but to stay in comics!”
It was a pleasure chatting with Robinson and getting his expert viewpoint on a comics industry that offers both unprecedented opportunities and daunting challenges for even well-established creators like himself. And check out Five Weapons and see how good all-age titles really are these days!