This month marks the tenth anniversary of the first book published by About Comics. Issue 0 of The Factor collected shorter works by writer Nat Gertler previously printed in Negative Burn, and was followed by four all new issues. The Eisner-nominated miniseries told the story of one superhero through the eyes of those whose lives he affected, all the while keeping the central character himself behind the scenes. And it’s fitting that this was the first work released by Gertler’s new publishing company. For ten years he’s been the company’s owner and only full-time employee. He’s assembled and edited comics and prose collections, discovered old properties to re-publish, organized international comics events, dealt with all the publishing and promoting details, and, when time permitted, written comics himself. Not bad for a one-man publishing outfit.
Gertler started writing comics in the late 1980s, but he wasn’t satisfied with the material he was writing at the time. “I was pitching to companies stories I wasn’t interested in. If I took that time and earned money with it, I could publish on my own”. So Gertler took non-writing jobs and eventually used that income to self-publish The Factor. Gertler’s choice of the name About Comics for his new company reflected his interest in publishing not only comics themselves, but also material that discussed the medium, examining how comics were made and how they could be made.
About Comics titles haven’t followed any one theme, leaving Gertler open to publishing any good idea he comes across. “A lot of publishers are only looking to do something that fits into what they’re already doing,” Gertler noted, and his willingness to not be tied to any one style has “been an advantage for me”.
Several of About Comics’ bestsellers have been works Gertler has rediscovered and republished, including several books of little known early comics work by Peanuts' Charles Schulz. He sees these reprints as a good fit for a smaller publishing company, because he doesn’t have to “pay for original material to be created, and it comes with some reputation”. He admits there’s less of an upside, too. “Reprints aren’t a way to get huge sales, but they’re a way to get easy, more reliable sales”.
To that end, About Comics is planning About Infinity, a new imprint due in summer 2009 of reprinted science fiction and fantasy works targeting fans of the genre who might never have picked up a comic book before. Titles include Fusion, a shared universe anthology by a number of sci-fi writers and artists originally printed by Eclipse Comics; The Weasel Patrol, an insert comic attached to Fusion written by Ken Macklin and drawn by Lela Dowling; and The Misadventures of Prince Ivan, a fantasy comic written by Diane Duane with art by Sherlock which was originally published by Epic Comics. Prince Ivan will also include a new story written for the About Comics edition.
Part of the motivation for the line is simply Gertler’s own interests. He has a standing policy on anything About Comics publishes: “In order for me to do a product, it has to be something that I’ll like. I have to have a personal enthusiasm so I can hopefully convey that enthusiasm to others”. But another reason is About's past success with genre specific works . The re-publication of a graphic novel adaptation of Alice in Wonderland with art by Lela Dowling paid off when libraries discovered the book. Their steady purchases have made it one of the company’s most consistent sellers, and if the About Infinity line catches on with fans outside the typical audience for comic books Gertler could have a similar success on his hands.
About Comics’ other area of success has been printing books that appeal to readers with an interest in making their own comic books. One of Gertler’s achievements with his company has been the popularization of 24-Hour Comics Day, an annual event that now includes comics creators in over twenty countries participating in the creation of over 10,000 comic pages every year.
About Comics has published three collections of highlights of these events. One of its bestsellers has been an anthology of 24-hour comics written by top comics talent. To further encourage the kind of creative effort he’s appealed to with 24 hour comics day, Gertler is taking it a step further by printing full size blank comic books with cardstock covers. It’s more of a risk than doing a reprint, but it also carries more of an upside. “If it fails, it’s not a hard failure,” remarks Gertler. “If it succeeds, I can follow up on it and keep selling them”. Gertler’s always prided himself on seizing ideas that seem obvious only in retrospect. The best example is Panel One, a collection of comic scripts by noted writers that's another About Comics’ bestsellers. Gertler published the book because he’d gotten “tired of waiting for somebody else to put it out”. He hopes the blank comics are another idea people have been out there waiting for someone to publish, and if it catches on with aspiring artists and writers it could create impressive repeat sales for the company.
Nat Gertler enjoys what About Comics has given him the chance to do for the past ten years. “I don’t have the urge to be a boss, I don’t have the urge to tell people what to do. If things go well I’m doing fine, if things don’t go well, I’m only dragging myself down”.