Comic Culture

FULL EPISODE

Joshua Werner

Joshua Werner of Source Point Press discusses managing creative teams and navigating the pandemic.

AIRED: December 21, 2021 | 0:26:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

[music playing]

- Hello, and welcome to Comic Culture.

I'm Terence Dollard, a Professor in the Department

of Mass Communication at the University of North

Carolina at Pembroke.

My guest today is Joshua Werner.

He is the Chief Creative Officer for Source Point Press.

Joshua, welcome to Comic Culture.

- Hey.

Thank you so much for having me.

I'm happy to be here.

- So, Joshua, the title Chief Creative Officer,

I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what

that entails.

- So, here at Source Point Press, it entails a lot.

I wear a lot of hats.

But basically, to kind of sum it up,

I help guide projects from their initial conception, all the way

through to the finished product.

So, that means working with the creative teams

very closely through script phase, through the art phase.

Choosing a lot of the branding direction for the marketing,

and the appearance of things.

And also that includes handling the factories,

and working with the actual finished product as well.

And I have a lot of background in production

in general, which crosses over to our sister company.

So we have a gaming arm as well.

We make board games.

And I also manage all the production of those as well.

So, it's a lot.

It's a kind of a front facing and a behind the scenes job.

- So, this is interesting.

Because a lot of times, we'll talk with a writer,

or an editor, or an artist.

But it's very rare for me to get the chance

to speak to somebody who's doing a little bit of everything,

but is also on the other side.

So, I'm imagining it's got to be challenging to be

able to switch from I'm talking with the writer

about the direction that this series should go,

and I've got to make sure that the art is looking

the right way.

And then make sure that the printing is coming out

the correct way.

So, how do you juggle through those different

responsibilities, and give everyone

the attention that they need?

- That's probably my biggest struggle, is prioritizing.

I'm constantly switching gears throughout a single day.

I'm getting messages on a dozen platforms

about putting together review PDFs for websites

at the same time that I'm trying to help an artist solve

a creative problem on a page, or trying to explain to an artist

why this color palette isn't going to reproduce well

in print.

I'm constantly juggling back and forth.

And luckily, I have two production artists

who I work with, where I can delegate certain tasks so

that I can get back into the nitty gritty of some

of the more intense and detailed things.

And most of my creators have a good, healthy fear

of being late.

So, they're eager to please.

Because a big part of my job is project management

and keeping them on schedule, and that's really difficult.

I'm managing a lot of logistics in terms

of turnaround time for creation, turnaround time for printing,

shipping, delivery, and distribution.

So, I also work with Diamond Comic Distributors really

closely, as well as Simon and Schuster, who

are on very, very different schedules for book stores

versus comic book stores.

And we're trying to meet the same release date

and manage that production when we're getting purchase

orders at different times.

So, it's a lot of juggling.

But I write a lot of lists.

I have a notebook that is--

if I lose it, the whole company will go under.

I've gotten every single little thing written down

in this notebook, and I just plow through pages every day.

It's a fun job, because it is a creative job.

But it's definitely-- And it's good

that I know the technical side of things

because I can help better guide the creative side

to make sure that everything's going to reproduce well,

that it's going to reproduce on time,

that the end product is going to make somebody happy.

And luckily, I can jump in and tackle any problem

along the way if we need it.

So, for example, if we get stuck and we need somebody

to color a few pages to be able to meet

this deadline while the colorist is working on other ones,

I can do that.

I can jump in and color pages.

Sometimes I'll letter an entire book

if we don't have a letterer lined up on our schedule

that we need.

I can write as well.

If we have an in-house IP, or a license,

and we need somebody to guide something,

I can do script writing.

And I can jump in and handle covers.

I do a lot of our logos on our books as well.

So, when there's a hole in a missing piece,

no matter what the puzzle piece is,

I can fill it with myself if need be.

- So, it's interesting.

Because you mentioned filling in for a colourist or a letterer.

And these are sort of the underrated jobs,

but all very important to the way the book looks.

So, not being a letterer full time,

do you find it's more of a fun challenge

to take over, having to fill in at the last minute

to get that book lettered?

Or is it something like, oh, crap

I've got to do 22 pages of lettering,

and I hope it looks as good as the guy that normally does it.

- I think my biggest challenge is time.

So, I am capable of replicating a book and doing a lot.

I'm a good letterer.

But because it's not what I do regularly, I'm slow.

So, I find myself--

Like, I can't I can't nail the comic

as quickly as a normal letterer can kick it out.

But at the end, it's a good product.

But I tend to take longer deliberating on placements,

and style and things like that.

I take longer making sound effects

than our normal guys do.

Luckily, I only have to fill in once in a while.

I do do some cover arts.

When we need somebody to do something for a variant cover,

I'll jump in when I have time, things like that.

I do pinups and stuff.

So, I get to flex my own skills along the way, which

is how I started off.

I started off as a creator and I still get to kind of scratch

that itch from time to time.

Even though, really, what I'm doing now

is just kind of fathering other people's creative projects

and helping them get legs, and get out there in the world.

- You say that you were a creator

as you started your career.

And it's got to be, I guess, a challenge

to address a creator who you want

to have them do a job a certain way,

and maybe you can see something that they're

not quite getting right.

And it's got to be sort of very diplomatic on your part,

but maybe sometimes you've got to be a little bit firm.

So, how do you handle it when there's

a writer or an artist who's just maybe

a little bit off from what you know the book has to look like?

- This is such an interesting and difficult part of the job.

It's very-- Creative people are very sensitive people.

And I feel like, at times, my job

is equal parts bruising their ego and massaging it.

Sometimes to get the best results and in a timely manner,

I feel like part of my job is being a therapist for creators.

Because regular things in their daily lives,

including emotional issues that they might face,

affect their work.

It's not like a regular tedious job where you can just

go up and keep doing data entry all day,

no matter how your life is going.

No.

I mean, everything in their lives

affects the quality of their work.

Because it's a creative job.

And if you aren't feeling it, it's going to show.

So, I do a lot of talking and a lot

of late nights of conversation to be like, I am your friend,

but also you have to make this happen, you are obligated

and I'm going to remind you of that along the way.

And I'm going to keep you on task.

And sometimes that means I have to be the bad guy.

But in the end, when the book is out and it's in their hands,

they are so grateful and so thankful

for the entire process, every step of the way, even when it

got hard.

And they pushed through it.

And that hopefully I'm there for them in the way

that they need in any given moment,

whether that be something that they're thankful for or not

at the time.

But it's definitely a unique part of my job.

I definitely-- I have to kind of get in creator's heads

to be able to make sure that they don't just

give up on something, and remind them why they're doing this

and how much they love it too, and how good it's

going to feel when it's done.

And comics are really difficult. A lot of people

don't realize just how much heart and soul gets

poured into every single issue.

- It's interesting.

Because you mentioned that sometimes

you'll be speaking to someone late at night.

I know that a freelance artist, if they've got a month

to do 22 pages, they're probably going

to be working some odd hours.

They might be staying up all night.

They might be sitting by the coffee pot,

or have a couple of six packs of Red Bull

as they're doing their pages.

And if they need that polite kick in the butt from you

at 3:00 in the morning, is that part of your day too,

is to kind of match their schedule?

- Absolutely.

My job is definitely a seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

I have to just be available for everyone.

A lot of these creators that we work with, they do

have day jobs.

So, that means, even though I do a Monday through Friday week

so that I can be there with the factories and the printers

during their hours, the creators need me on the weekends,

because that's when they're diving in the deepest,

or late at night on any day of the week.

So, I need to be available for them too.

We work with a lot of factories overseas.

And they are on the opposite schedule.

So, sometimes at 2:00 in the morning,

it's 2:00 PM at the factory.

And I'll need to be there to answer questions

when something's on the press and about to go to print

and they have really pressing questions.

So, I need to keep my notifications on and my volume

up on my phone, and keep it right close to my head

while I sleep so that I can wake up and jump

into it at any moment.

It's difficult to have boundaries and figure out

when I have a private life, or when I'm off the clock.

It can be hard.

- I can imagine that it's got to be a struggle.

Because I know from my own experience working

in television, there are times when you're just

working an odd schedule.

And it's tough on the rest of your life.

And I'm imagining that--

You did say that it's tough to juggle everything.

So, when you do find the time to relax, how do you let everybody

know that, just keep going, the world's

not going to end if I'm gone for an afternoon,

or something like that.

- It can be hard.

I never want to leave people hanging so I always give them

some sort of response.

But as soon as I do, they're like, oh, you're there.

And they immediately start talking more.

I usually try to keep them at an arm's distance from my phone.

So, I'll say like, don't text me first.

We use Slack.

I'll say, you put it in the Slack channel,

it's appropriate for the subject.

I will get to that Slack channel as soon as possible.

If I don't respond, you can press again,

or try me on, I don't know, every social media site.

I have DMs everywhere.

You can try me at one of those just in case I missed it.

But then eventually it's going to come to a text message

if I'm an hour from responding.

And then I'll have to let them know, like, you have to wait.

It's going to be OK.

I'll get back to you as soon as possible.

I run.

I run at night.

So, a lot of times I'm quite literally

nowhere near a computer, or any of our files, or anything.

I'll be like, I am currently three miles from home,

without a vehicle.

So you are going to have to wait for at least the time it

takes me to physically run all the way back to my house.

And they get it.

They're like, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry.

I'm like, it's OK.

They just don't realize that they're not

the only person who does this to me on a daily basis.

It's happening all the time with other creators too.

- You mentioned Diamond Distributors before.

And in the pandemic, when the pandemic came in 2020,

Diamond had a hard time fulfilling orders to shops,

because obviously the whole world

was sort of shutting down.

So, how did you negotiate that difficult water to make sure

that you were able to keep the lights on,

and keep the books getting out and all

of that other stuff, when the distributor is having

a hard time doing the same?

- That's such a good question.

A lot happened last year during that time.

We were very concerned for the retailers themselves.

And we were also in a unique position, like all publishers.

Do we continue--

There was a couple of months where there was no Diamond

Distribution whatsoever.

And the question was, do we continue

to put out our monthly schedule and continue

to print the books, even if they weren't going to the Diamond

warehouse, and find other ways to get it to the comic book

stores, or do we halt all business and wait?

Without having any idea how long we'd be waiting.

That unfortunately wasn't an option for us.

We really had to keep moving.

Even if we didn't know if the sales were going to come,

we had to keep producing the products.

We were nervous about the idea of halting all production

so we kept going.

We got mixed reactions from the retailers themselves.

A lot of them were excited and happy,

and they were just finding ways to get the products from us, so

that they still had new books.

Because it was easier to work with us directly than a lot

of the other big publishers.

They would be just like, I don't have anything

to sell my customers this month, I need products.

I'm so glad you guys are making it, and making

it easy for me to get.

And then other retailers were not.

They were not excited about this.

And they felt like if they were in an area

where their store had to actually close,

they felt like they were being left out of the equation,

and that the comics world was going on without them when they

should have waited for them.

So, what we did was we put together

packages of over 2000 graphic novels,

and we shipped them to retailers free, as a gift.

As many retailers as we could.

We offered them up.

We offered them up in multiple Facebook groups

where all the retailers meet and talk.

It was a first come first serve thing.

And everybody was allowed to have up to two boxes

full of graphic novels.

And we shipped them all out.

And we let them sell them, give them away.

What we were really trying to do is

encourage retailers to try out sales

on Facebook Live, other avenues of encouraging curbside pickup.

We were saying, here is some free product

that you can show your customers and find a way

to get it in their hands.

We don't care if you give it away for free.

If you sell it, keep the money.

Whatever we did.

Whatever you wanted to do.

And simultaneously, we really upped our game

on our own website store to try to increase traffic.

And we put the last bit of money we had

into marketing that and making sure people were aware.

We offered up every customer and reminded them consistently

through social media to tag a comic book store that you

want to support in your order.

You're going to put it in your notes.

Just tell us the name and the city, and we'll do the rest.

And a percentage of whatever you purchase on our web store,

we will take that money and we will just

PayPal it to that store.

Regardless of the fact that they didn't sell it to you,

we will give them the exact same cut

that they normally would if they had bought it wholesale

and then sold it to you.

That way, you have the option to continue to support a shop even

if they're closed, if they're open,

it doesn't matter what state they're in.

If you want to give them part of this purchase,

you can support us and your shop at the same time.

We teamed up with paramedics.

At the time, there were a ton of paramedics that caught COVID,

because they were going to homes where people were having

difficulty breathing, everywhere,

and they were being exposed.

So, we shipped boxes and boxes of graphic novels

to paramedics who were in the hospital

or in quarantine, as a here's something to pass the time.

Thank you for being out there and putting your own self

at risk to help people through this time.

One of our factories--

For a brief moment, there was a big mask shortage as well.

And one of our factories that we make board games with, kindly

shipped us cases of N95s.

And I drove around to a lot of nursing homes

that had people who were very much at risk,

and had a major shortage.

They were literally having problems

finding masks for themselves while they're

around these people.

And these are people who don't live

there, they go home every day, they're in the world.

And then they have to come back to help these people.

And not knowing if they're transmitting something.

There was so many question marks in the air about COVID

at the time.

So, we were so grateful that we were

able to play a small part in helping as much as we could.

There's not a whole lot of comic book

publisher can do for the world at a time like that.

But we did everything we could.

And we got a lot of goodwill from it.

So, when the rebound happened, a lot of shops

that weren't previously carrying us, they stepped up and said,

you were trying to support me through this,

I'm going to start putting your books on the shelves.

And we gained a bit of a new following

too, with online sales that have continued through.

Even though a lot of stores are open again.

It's easier to support a shop.

We're still getting a healthy mix of both distribution sales

and web store sales.

We're very, very lucky that we managed

to survive that whole thing, and come out even stronger.

- It's interesting.

Because you're talking about working with retailers in a way

that I don't think many other publishers are thinking.

You are going to the customers and saying,

because you tagged us, we're going

to send money to the local comic shop

that they normally shop at.

And on the one hand, that's an incredibly giving move

on the part of Source Point.

But it's also--

It's got to be tough too, because you're

hurting during this time.

And that's money that you could have

used to make sure that your lights stay on,

but you're doing that to build that relationship.

And it's interesting to see that the retailers responded

in kind, by saying, well, now that you helped us,

we're going to try and help you.

So, when you're working with that sort of distribution

model, how do you reach out to the retailers

if you have a product that you want

them to be excited about during a more normal time of business?

- So, we have a retailer newsletter

where we will send PDFs of the comics that are coming up.

And we also just give them some ammo.

We're like, here is some stuff that you're not

going to see in the previous catalog about these books,

and maybe things you didn't know about it.

Or this is a new writer, but he came from a background in prose

and he's won awards there.

Things like that, that will catch your interesting,

and also helps them to sell the books

if they decide to carry them.

We try to arm them with knowledge.

And we're all really enthusiastic and excited

about our own products.

So, I think a lot of that rubs off.

On top of that, we also give them

opportunities for retailer exclusives

as much as we possibly can.

If there's a book that they think could do well

and that we're particularly excited about,

we will tell them, like, we're giving you a heads up.

Out of what's coming out in the next season,

this is trending to be the hot title.

And because of that, if you wanted to get in on it early,

we could start lining up exclusive variant covers

that only your store sells.

And we can try to get--

We have just enough time to get some to big name artists,

if you're interested in one.

And we will try to give you the best possible pricing that we

can get to help this.

And it's a give and take.

Because obviously our print run goes up,

we sell more books because of these variants.

But also it gives them something very cool and collectible

that they do really well with as a products.

And that height helps increase the regular store sales

as people continue to hear about it.

And those kind of partnerships have been really, really good

for us.

We try to do--

We try to think outside the box too.

If there is a particular retailer who's

really supportive and they want anything at all,

we're always open to talk about it.

I get them in touch with creators

who are willing to travel, or might live

in their area to do signings.

Facebook shows have become a big thing for comic book stores

during COVID.

And now that a lot of them are back

open again and have regular customers coming in,

they haven't stopped doing them.

Because they have realized that that community

that they've grown and developed is still

helping people who can't get to that shop.

So, that's sticking around.

And as they are now well into this,

they're looking for new ways to spice it up a little bit.

So, we will give interviews with retailers

who have these little miniature Facebook shows.

And say like, their book is coming out,

and I wanted to tell you about it.

It's going to be in our stores on Wednesday.

And here is the writer or artist themselves

to tell you more about it.

And we'll send them gift packages and promo stuff.

All they have to do is hit us up and start a dialogue.

- You are talking about stuff that is really a great way

to connect with retailers.

And how much of that is what you're doing,

and how much of that is what somebody else is doing

and maybe you're just kind of pitching in?

Because, again, it seems like you've just

got so many different things that you're

involved with that you might not be able to sleep,

is my concern.

- You're right.

Luckily-- So, I used to do--

On the comic book side, I used to do pretty much all

of that sort of outreach stuff.

Well, that's not true.

My editor in chief did a lot as well.

We would kind of both develop those relationships.

But I would be the one sending out newsletters, and PDFs,

and things like that.

We now have a very small marketing department

where I just give suggestions and sway things.

And be like, this is what you need to talk about this week,

this is what you want to push, this is the new book that's

hitting stores, or whatever.

And I provide him with some ammo and some assets, like artwork,

and blurbs, and some quotes from people about this title.

And he will write--

His name is Cam, our main marketing guy.

He'll write press releases now.

And he'll do the actual sending of everything, which is great.

And then he'll partner with our logistics guy, our COO,

to help develop programs that create

SOPs for how to handle and regularly manage

all of these different retailer outreach.

And then that retailer outreach also

extends over into customer outreach too.

They're two different worlds, but there's

a lot of similar content.

So, it can get very confusing.

Next thing you know, you send out a million press

releases to press sites, but you forgot the retailers,

to let them know what's going on,

or you forgot the end customer's newsletter, et cetera.

So, it takes a team.

There's about three of us that are constantly collaborating.

- When you have an interesting project

that you want to promote, that means

that you have creators that you are dealing with.

And I'm wondering, when you're putting together

an idea for a book, or someone comes to you,

are you looking for an established creator,

or are you looking to find that undiscovered gem who

has that great new idea and would be a perfect fit?

- We take all those things into account

really heavily when we go through our submissions.

We just did a meeting recently where

we went through 250 submissions, really intensively.

And we try to get a healthy balance.

But a big part of our mission here at Source Point

is to raise up voices that haven't been heard yet,

and give a platform to talented artists and writers who haven't

gotten published before.

So, we are the first time publisher

for a lot of creators.

And we tend to help them a little bit more.

We get more hands on with their products.

Just to make sure that they're prepping their pages right,

and that we end up having a very professional finished product.

And it's kind of like a learning course for them too.

We do a lot of partnerships where we find new talents.

For example, Comics Experience are a comic book school

that we partnered with for quite a long time

to give their graduates of certain courses

an outlet for publishing.

So, they'll say, we've got some great talent,

we've trained them well here at Comics Experience

so they know what they're doing, and they've created cool things

in their class.

And let's give them a place, a home.

And then from there--

That's a percentage of our releases.

Another percentage is giving more publishing opportunities

to creators who have done well for us in the past,

and who have created a good following with our readership.

We have awesome creators that we don't

want them to go anywhere else.

We love them.

They've become family.

So, they come to us first with all their new ideas.

And we talk about where we think it would fit in schedule,

or if we could do well with it.

If we have to let something go to someone else, we do.

We'll say, this is a great book, but you're probably

going to do better here with it than you would here.

We'll point in the direction of a friend's company

or something.

But for the most part, we try to keep them around.

And then we try to get some established professionals

to partner with new people.

So that a book will have some sort of legs.

Maybe one of them has a very big social media following,

and the other one doesn't.

Or one of them has put out award winning books,

and the other one doesn't.

And by getting them to work together and create something

new, it really kind of raises the boat

for a lot of the new creators.

And that's fun.

I love when we get to do that.

When we get to pair up some of our favorite people

and get them to work together.

- If the folks watching at home wanted

to find out more about Source Point,

where can they find you on the web?

- So you can go to the sourcepointpress.com,

where you'll find our website store,

and we have news articles there.

We're very active on Twitter at Source PT Press.

Instagram, Source Point Press.

Facebook, Source Point Press.

And I'm usually active myself, personally,

behind the scenes on all of those social media.

So, if you try to find me, you could just

find me at one of the Source Point places.

I'm probably the person responding on the other end.

Yeah, we have a lot of really big things happening this year,

behind the scenes.

A lot of big announcements.

A lot of cool partnerships.

I personally have a new series that I've

been writing in secret, and it's going to finally get announced

soon from a really cool IP.

So, come check us out.

- Well, Joshua, I want to thank you

so much for taking time out of your schedule

to talk with me today.

- Happy to.

- And I'd like to thank everyone at home

for watching Comic Culture.

We will see you again soon.

[music playing]

MAN: Comic Culture is a production

of the Department of Mass Communication at the University

of North Carolina at Pembroke.

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