Liberty Project – On Demand

LibProjCoverI’ve been meaning to mention this for a while, but THE LIBERTY PROJECT, my first creator-owned book, is now available in a spiffy new print-on-demand edition, and if you’re so inclined, you can get it right here:

The Liberty Project

For those who may not have heard of THE LIBERTY PROJECT, it’s a series I did with artist/co-creator James W. Fry III, inker Doug Hazlewood and others, back in the late 1980s. It’s about a quartet of young, super-powered criminals given a chance to pay their debt to society by doing community service as superheroes—a process that goes rather less than smoothly, considering. It’s the first series where I really got to explore my obsession with reforming villains, redemption and so on, and as such it plants the seeds or what became THUNDERBOLTS, various arcs of ASTRO CITY, and even stuff I haven’t had a chance to write yet.

It didn’t sell well, to say the least. We did the book for Eclipse, back at a time when superhero comics either got published by Marvel or DC, or very few readers gave ’em a shot. And certainly, a book by creators barely anyone had heard of before wasn’t really going to push the needle on that front. We lasted eight issues plus a TOTAL ECLIPSE crossover special (plus, years later, when Neil Vokes and I did JACK KIRBY’S TEENAGENTS for Topps, they guest-starred for an issue and a bit), but we had a lot of fun, and readers keep asking if we’ll ever bring them back. Also, to my surprise, of all the projects I’ve created, it’s near the top in terms of getting the most interest from TV and movie folks, so who knows, maybe someday these guys will hit the screen (big or small), and James and I will be flabbergasted but delighted.

Anyway, the color repro material for the series was lost, sold or destroyed long ago, when Eclipse went bankrupt, but a decade or so back Nat Gertler at About Comics put together a very nice black-and-white trade paperback of the series, collecting the entire Eclipse run, and it’s been nice to have the material out there and available for new readers to discover.

Now Nat’s reworked the book a little, and he explains why:

“The reason for switching to print on demand wasn’t that we’d run out of copies, but because we’d run into a problematic sales loop. While the collection enjoyed a healthy run of sales, after a decade on the market sales had slowed  enough that Diamond, who were distributing the book to the book market as well as to comic shops, didn’t want to keep copies in stock. Instead, they take orders, and when enough orders have built up, they order copies from the publisher. At this point in the book’s lifecycle, most of the orders come from Amazon, and when Amazon runs out of copies and sees there are none waiting at the distributor warehouse, they start showing on the book’s page that any order for the book will be filled not in days, but in weeks, even in months. That sort of delay discourages customers, which means that Amazon is ordering fewer copies, which means it takes longer if ever for Diamond to have enough orders to then order from the publisher. So while the book was still in print, it effectively fell out of distribution. By moving the book to print-on-demand, suddenly the book is always immediately available on Amazon; you order a copy, they’ll print it and ship it out, and that’s true whether we’re selling a copy every minute or a copy every year.”

We were very happy with the previous edition—like Nat said, it’s sold nicely over the years, before it got stuck in the distribution thing—so we haven’t changed it much. A sharper-looking logo, slightly-differently-sized pages to accommodate the needs and aesthetics of the POD setup, but other than that it’s the same book.

Will they ever return? Well, it’s something James and I talk about every now and then, and we’re actually working on a thing right now in which they make a brief appearance. So it’s well within the realm of possibility. And in the meantime, it’s nice to have the material readily available again, via technologies that didn’t exist back when we created these guys.

This is one of the (many) things I like about creator ownership. The LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN mini-series I wrote back then, to pick an example, only exists—and is only ever likely to exist—in back-issue form, unless someday DC decides it’s worth digging up and republishing. But the stuff I co-own and control, it can live on, as long as readers are interested enough to want to pick it up.

I can’t say it’ll make any of us rich. But then, neither did THE LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN. But it’s nice to have the stories out there, for those who care to read them…

H.I.T. Squad

The Liberty Project was my earliest take on super-crooks redeeming themselves as heroes, inspired by the era of Avengers that featured Captain America and the what-us-villains-that-was-yesterday lineup of Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. The Thunderbolts were the third try.
This was the second, an unsuccessful series pitch I did with Karl Kesel. The “H.I.T.” stood for “Heroes In Training,” and the picture explains the concept about as well as I ever could. Art by Karl, from a rough and inadequate sketch by me; click on it for a closer look. The guy at the top had nothing to do with the Shi’Ar, but was an Amerind mutant (I think), who had such natural talent that he was cocky and didn’t feel he needed to train, which would have been an ongoing source of irritation for Hawkeye.
There was another never-sold series I cooked up about a criminal trying to go straight, Sirocco. But that was inspired by the TV show Alias Smith & Jones more than anything from comics. What can I say? I like redemption stories.