Tuesday, March 13, 2007
I was taken aback by a recent posting made by British comics impresario, Terry Hooper, on the Yahoo! ANZAC Comics Group, bemoaning the closure of my website for The Panther comic book. To be honest, I didn't think many people would either notice (or particularly care) that I closed the site down, but Terry's comments made me realise that there might be a few people "out there" on the Internet who might be interested to know why I pulled the plug on my defunct comic book's website.
The short, and utterly mundane reason, was money. My domain name renewal (http://www.thepanthercomic.com/) and website hosting fees arrived (like all bills do) at the same time earlier this year. These arrived hot on the heels of being retrenched from my bookstore 'day job' (which occurred just before Christmas), and not long after my wife and I had just moved house - which is always an expensive process.
So, when confronted with the choice of paying several hundred dollars to maintain a website for a comic book which hasn't seen print for nearly 5 years, or using that money towards more constructive purposes (such as everyday survival)....well, it really wasn't much of a choice at all.
But there was a larger, and perhaps unspoken reason (to my mind, at least), behind my decision to pull the plug on The Panther comic website. Looking back, I think I kept the site going these last few years (albeit in a greatly truncated format), was that I still nursed the faint hope that I'd be able to relaunch The Panther comic book, if and when my personal finances permitted.
Believe me, no sooner had I cancelled my Panther comic book series in May 2002, I would often break out a notepad every few months, and try & come up with a financial formula that would allow me to continue self-publishing The Panther, even to the point where I could at least recover my production costs, let alone make a modest profit.
Yet no matter which way I crunched the numbers, I couldn't find a way to relaunch The Panther comic, without incurring an unreasonable financial burden. I still kept the site going, in the vain hope that I might stumble across that 'magic formula', and keep The Panther in print - somehow.
But I finally had to face reality and realise that, if I was going to shoulder the financial cost of relaunching The Panther comic book, there was no way I could make the sums "add up" in my favour. So, when those website bills landed in my mailbox earlier this year, it was the proverbial 'nail in the coffin' insofar as my own dreams of publishing The Panther once more.
While there was a pang of regret that came with letting this last vestige of my publishing venture vanish from the Internet, I certainly have no regrets about publishing The Panther comic book in the first place.
I was immensely proud of what I achieved, especially in light of my own meagre resources. I generated significant media publicity for the comic's launch, which translated into a very healthy 'sell-through' rate (i.e. the percentage of my debut issue's print run which was actually purchased by customers), and proved (on a modest scale, at least) that there was still a market for locally produced comic books in Australia.
My distributor, Gordon & Gotch, certainly thought so, as they actually increased their order for the subsequent issues - which is almost unheard of for most Australian comics sold through newsagencies.
Especially gratifying was the response I got from readers, ranging from young kids and teenagers, who sent in their drawings of The Panther, through to adult 'baby boomers' who remembered the original Panther comic book series from their own childhoods during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Perhaps the biggest 'fringe benefit' of the whole exercise was meeting Paul Wheelahan, creator of The Panther, with whom I formed a close friendship, united by our fondness for comics and other mutual passions, like classic American movies and Western novels. Paul was a staunch supporter of the project from the outset, and it simply wouldn't have happened without his support.
There many other people who helped make The Panther comic book a reality, such as my 'funk-mate' Trish Rode (my former layout artist on Netweek magazine) who physically put the magazine together; Darren Close (founder of the original OzComics.com site and creator of Killeroo), who designed the original Panther comic book website; Dillon Naylor, who created two lovely Panther poster designs for me; Greg Gates, who recreated The Panther logo and illustrated the first four covers of the series; and Cameron Swayle from Gordon & Gotch, who gave the comic the 'green light' to be sold through newsagencies (arguably the biggest hurdle facing any self-published Australian comic book).
Needless to say, none of this could've happened without the support (and patience!) of my wife Sophie, who attended more comic book conventions, and stuffed more envelopes with comics, than any husband has a right to expect. She gave me the encouragement to pursue my own crazy dream of being a comic book publisher - and I'd like to think that the experience helped give her the impetus to pursue her own ambitions to become a film producer.
Shane Foley appeared later in the piece, doing a gorgeous cover for issue #5 of The Panther. My greatest regret is that the comic didn't last longer, so I could showcase the beautiful illustrations he did for the planned (but never-published) sixth and seventh issues. (As a 'bonus', however, I've reproduced the 'alternative' - and unpublished - cover design Shane did for issue #5 of The Panther, which accompanies this blog installment.)
More importantly, Shane and I continued to work together over the intervening years on his epic fantasy comic strip, The Saga of Shakah-Rune, which I sold on his behalf to an Australian children's magazine called Krash. The series ran for nearly 2.5 years (itself a record for most locally produced strips appearing in Australian kids' magazines) and is in many ways a showcase for some of Shane's best work as writer and illustrator. I was immensely proud of the small part I played in helping get this great comic strip series before the wider audience that it deserved.
Looking back, that's not a bad legacy to leave behind for a comic book which rang for just five issues, back in 2001-2002. So, I don't feel too sad about taking down The Panther website, after all. But anyone interested in rediscovering this classic Australian comic book character should visit The Panther tribute website maintained by local fan and comic collector, David Studham.