Saturday, February 21, 2015

“Say, Mister, Could You Stake a Fellow American to a Meal?”

By Paul Kupperberg

I wrote this piece in September 2013 (slightly altered in this iteration), a kind of apology/plea for understanding as I kept coming to people with my hand out, asking them to support (i.e. spend money) Crazy 8 Press, the prose publishing endeavor with which I am involved (along with fellow Neo contributors Bob Greenberger and Michael Jan Friedman, and four other authors). Now, on top of Crazy 8 and a currently ongoing Kickstarter campaign for a new anthology, Pangaea, we can add Charlton Neo (in general) and Paul Kupperberg's Secret Romances (specifically), plus the Neo/ComicArt Patreon sustaining supporter campaign, and the Pix-C Weekly Web Comic site, and all of a sudden, I seemed to be in deep "sell" mode!

As has been widely discussed for several years now, the publishing industry has undergone a seismic shift in how it functions. The big publishing houses are all absorbing one another, these behemoths having adopted the Hollywood mentality of relying on blockbuster bestsellers over a wider and more diverse catalog of titles, and brick and mortar retail outlets are getting harder to find...and those that still exist are slowly giving over display space previously used for books for Kindle displays and to sell toys, games, and other specialty items. Mainstream comics, now almost exclusively the domain of superheroes, have never before been more reflective of their corporate roots, while the indie comics publishers take satisfaction in sales of only a few thousand copies.

Guys like me and my friends and colleagues involved in Charlton Neo and Crazy 8 Press never expected we would have to become our own publishers in order to be able to publish the work we wanted to create the way we created it, but circumstances have kind of forced our hands. And, believe me, none of us want to spend as much time as we're forced to badgering you nice people just to take a look at our wares, much less lay out your hard earned cash to buy it! We'd really rather be hunkered down in our little dens, writing and drawing and leaving the marketing to our publishers...except nowadays, we are our publishers...

“Say, Mister, Could You Stake a Fellow American to a Meal?”

That’s the line Humphrey Bogart (as down on his luck gold prospector Fred C. Dobbs) uses on the Man in the White Suit (played by director John Houston) he keeps accosting for a handout in the 1948 film classic, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Down and out in Mexico, Bogie inadvertently hits up the same guy for money, until, on his third trip to that same well, the Man in the White Suit says, “Such impudence never came my way. Early this afternoon I gave you money...while I was having my shoes polished I gave you more money...now you put the bite on me again. Do me a favor, will ya? Go occasionally to somebody else -- it's beginning to get tiresome.”

Bogie is humbly apologetic: “I never knowed it was you. I never looked at your face--I just looked at your hands and the money you gave me. Beg pardon, mister, I promise I'll never put the bite on you again,” and the Man generously lays one last peso on him--“This is the very last you get from me. Just to make sure you don't forget your promise, here's another peso"...the peso Dobbs uses to buy the lottery ticket that provides him and fellow prospectors Howard and Curtin with their grubstake.

These days, I feel a lot like Fred C. Dobbs. I keep coming up to you, over and over again, hat in hand, asking you for a couple of pesos...or, in my case, to buy my books/comic books and the books/comic books of my fellow writers involved in our own humble little attempt at mining gold out of the cold, hard mountains we call Crazy 8 Press and Charlton. But unlike Fred C. Dobbs, I’m trying awfully hard not to take advantage of your good will and generosity...and, also unlike the hapless prospector, if you do decide to drop that peso in my cup, you’re getting something in return beyond the warm glow of a good deed done: I hope you’ll find that you’ve exchanged your hard-earned cash for a damned good read, either by me or by fellow Crazy 8 inmates, Michael Jan Friedman, Aaron Rosenberg, Bob Greenberger, Russ Colchamiro, Glenn Hauman, Peter David, and Howard Weinstein, and fellow Neophytes Roger McKenzie, Mort Todd, and too many great and generous creators to list here.

Charlton Neo creators and Crazy 8 authors don’t take our readers for granted, of that I can assure you. I’ve been a writer in the public eye for almost four decades, during which I’ve attended I don’t know how many scores of conventions and book fairs, probably in the hundreds if I bothered to count, and never once has my reaction to a reader or fan who has approached me with something I’ve written to be signed or a hand to shake been anything but a grateful “thank you!” Just this past weekend, I was a guest at the Baltimore Comic-Con where one hyper-apologetic fan stopped me in my wanderings around the convention floor to tell me how much he’d enjoyed my work over the years, repeating how he hated to bother me, but would I mind signing his book...?

What I said to him was the honest truth: He had nothing to apologize for and not only was it not a bother, but I was happy and honored to do it. I know how I feel when I get to meet someone whose work I admire. I also know how it feels to have an admirer tell me what my work has meant to them. It is, quite simply, a win-win situation: One of us has met someone we admire; the other has had the satisfaction of hearing that what we’ve written has touched that reader.

Because without our readers, we’re just a bunch of weirdos hunched over our word processors and drawing boards in the basement, talking to no one.

So even if you don’t have a peso to spare at the moment but you’ve ever enjoyed anything I (or Mike or Aaron or Bob or Russ or the rest of us) have written, or if one of our stories has touched you or made a difference in your world, you can still do a solid for a fellow American by helping us spread the word about Charlton Neo, Pix-C, and Crazy 8 Press.

Share our blogs and websitex. Follow us on social media. Talk about us on Twitter; re-Tweet our Tweets. Mention us on Facebook, “Like” the our Facebook pages, “Share” the posts of Neo and Crazy 8 creators, or do whatever it is you do on Tumblr or whatever form of social media you kids are on these days. Tell your friends. Hell, tell your enemies!

And if you’re flush and can support us with your dollars to buy our books and comics, print or digital editions, let people know what you’ve read and what you think of it. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or better yet, write a quick review on Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com, or post it on your own blog or website. What’s better than a recommendation of a good read from a friend?

We’d like your money, sure, but we’re just as grateful for your moral support and your efforts at word of mouth to spread the word. Support us with the knowledge that the advantage of your support accrues not to some faceless behemoth of a corporate publisher but directly to the creators themselves!

Fred C. Dobbs may not have looked his benefactor in the face, but know full well that the Charlton and Crazy 8 creators do and appreciate everything you do for us, whether it’s buying our books or posting a link to our website. It takes a lot of time, energy, and sweat to write a book or create a comic book, and just as much to see it through to publication. Which reminds me of one last quote from Sierra Madre, this one spoken by grizzled old prospector Howard (Walter Houston):
A thousand men, say, go searchin' for gold. After six months, one of them's lucky: one out of a thousand. His find represents not only his own labor, but that of nine hundred and ninety-nine others to boot. That's six thousand months, five hundred years, scramblin' over a mountain, goin' hungry and thirsty. An ounce of gold, mister, is worth what it is because of the human labor that went into the findin' and the gettin' of it.” 

So, yeah, even if you’ve already handed over a peso or two (or three or four!) to me, I’ll be back in your face soon enough, asking for a handout...but in return, I’ll try my damnedest to entertain you. As will the rest of the Charlton Neo and Crazy 8 gangs, so I hope you’ll forgive our impudence.
© Paul Kupperberg

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