Flesk 2009-2019. How A 10 Year Plan Paid Off

James Walker, Katherine Chu, and John Fleskes in the Flesk office while packing our latest exclusive book, Pastoral by J.A.W. Cooper.

Hi all,

In January 2009 I was facing a major challenge. The Stock Market Crash was devastating to individuals and businesses. It was, hands down, the worst time to go into publishing full time. (During 2002-2008 I had a full-time day job when I launched, built and ran Flesk.) While scores of people were losing their jobs and as I watched neighbors around me lose their homes, I was determinated to go full time into publishing. When people were scared to spend, scared that they might lose their jobs, scared to lose their retirement—I was sitting at home working on the Al Williamson Flash Gordon book while putting a 10-year plan in place. I then began to follow it without question. Grit, determination, stubbornness—call it what you will. It was hard. It almost didn’t work. I came very close to losing the business. But it all worked out in the end. Here’s some insight into how it happened.

I’ll start with some background information. I tend to keep book projects under wraps for months, or even years, before they are ready for the printer. This allows me the opportunity to work at my leisure without any outside influences dictating my schedule.

It’s common practice for publishers to announce books anywhere from 8-12 months in advance of its street date to help ascertain the publics interest. This allows the publisher to determine the initial print run of the book. It’s a tried and true formula that is a historically good model to follow. This is especially necessary when working with titles that depend mostly upon the book trade for a successful sell-through. It’s also imperative if you are a new publisher. By garnering its initial demand while promoting the book months in advance you can best set yourself up for success. Or, this can be an opportunity to cancel a book if the interest looks weak, such as if I determine that the buying climate has changed.

I have a different approach to making and releasing books than most. I set my style into place in 2009. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing things like I do, but I have been very deliberate about creating an alternate and unique method that has proven successful for us. In 2008 I was acutely aware that the demand for tangible books, and the way that they would be sold, would be greatly affected by the mass adoption of the internet. There was also the possibility that tablets could replace, or greatly reduce, tangible book sales as e-books became more accessible. In addition, it was obvious that Amazon was changing how people bought books. Brick and mortar stores were closing because of the economy coming to a halt, but also due to the ease and accessibility of online shopping.

Huge discounts on books through Amazon contributed to publishers going into scramble-mode. When stores closed, there were less outlets for people to find our books, which meant lower print runs in a market where profit margins were already small. Lower print runs increased the per unit costs and cut back on the return of investment making it harder to recoup money and put it into future books. Another factor that came into play was it became tough to sell our own books on our website and at art shows since you could get it on Amazon at a 35-40% discount with free shipping. Adding to this, if you look at the 2008-2009 time period, there was a mass influx of returns that publishers received due to unsold stock. This increased inventory fees beyond the loss of funds from overprinting. Stores would order certain quantities in advance that set our print run. By the time we printed and delivered, those stores could be out of business, or they couldn’t sell what they had initially projected 4-6 months prior. All of those unsold books came right back to us instead of receiving a payment. It was brutal for everyone.

Another major shift in the 2000s was the lost ability for people to see the book in person and flip through its pages. This was historically the way people used to buy books. Now, people buy books more sight-unseen. Their purchase is based upon online reviews and the faith the “X” publisher, author or artist is desirable and has a good reputation. Additionally, people outside of the hardcore collectors at shows are more apt to buy items for delivery. That was not as common when I started publishing in 2002.

I’ve always been one to like challenges, to never ever make excuses, and to see what kind of positives can come out of change. I was determined to figure out a new business model that would allow us to thrive.

Ultimately, in January 2009, I believed, by creating consistently high-quality art books that people would want to hold in their hands was necessary to beat e-books. Also, creating a direct line of specialty books that could only be bought through us was necessary to beat Amazon. And finally, we needed a website with a proper shopping cart where people could place their orders direct from us while having good service and a reliable shipping system in place. I stopped wholesaling certain new titles as we launched our line of event exclusives. It only took a couple of years for them to become very popular for us.

Overall, I was excited. I knew that there was a big potential to be successful as a small publisher by doing things in a new way. The internet allowed for self-promotion through social media. Instead of paying $2000 for a full-page advertisement in a magazine, or spending thousands of dollars exhibiting at an event such as Book Expo in New York, now we could reach people directly in a one-on-one fashion. I loved where things were going and how technology was bringing us together.

I remember walking around at Book Expo in New York in the mid-to-late 2000s and realizing that the conventional way of doing things at the time was short-lived. It seemed so old-fashioned to me. I benefited from having no experience in the industry since I was not stuck looking at how things typically ran. Since I was small and a new publisher I could quickly adapt, see where the future was headed, and go after it.

To summarize quickly, in 2009 I put into place a new plan that would beat Amazon and beat e-books, while increasing a direct interaction between our collectors and ourselves. As I look back on the last 10 years, our direct sales exceed our distributor sales and we have a core group that supports us directly. The best part is that young people did not tire of tangible books. I’m incredible grateful at how things turned out for us.

How about the next 10 years? I noticed a new big shift start to develop four years ago. I started to put something new in place and am ramping up to grow along with where I predict things are going. I’ve already put things into place where I feel we will be ahead and thriving in this new world that is coming. It’s as exciting as it was for me in 2009. I’ve set some major goals for myself and for the company so that in the next decade it can hit the milestones that I foresee. I look forward to writing about it in detail in 10 years from now! I’ve never been one to boast or talk about what I’m doing. I enjoy the work and prefer to be recognized for what I’ve accomplished rather than tooting my own horn. Plus, I feel that talking too much jinxes’ things. I’ll just say for now that good things are coming.

Now, let’s touch upon 2019. Typical me, I’m going to be vague here. Besides the Ballpoint Beauties book by Frank Cho and Ambedo by Tran Nguyen (spring 2019 releases), then Spectrum 26 (fall 2019 release) we have three other books that are almost done, and three additional books that are in the early stages of production that I will publish this year. I’ll most likely be announcing two to three of these new titles in late-January. I’m working with our usual artists, along with some new ones. The only thing that I can guarantee is that we will put all our passion into these titles and do our very best to make 2019 the best ever for Flesk books. My commitment to the individual artists and this community is my focus. I’ll let the other publishers chase after the latest pop culture craze. For me, it has always been and always will be about the people.

I remain enthusiastic and grateful to be in this position to make books for you all to enjoy.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to sharing more goodness soon.

Enjoy,

John

Flesk Publications
Flesk Publications on Facebook
Spectrum Fantastic Art
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live on Facebook

Text copyright © 2018 John Fleskes. Photos and videos © 2018 John Fleskes / Flesk Publications. Artwork © 2018 its respective artists. All Rights reserved.

 

Happy Holidays!

Hi all,

The Flesk office is closed for three days. We’ll return on Thursday.

I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and the Happiest of Holidays.

I’ll try and take a lesson from Mocha here and take a little break, but knowing me I’ll fail miserably at it. I hope some of you are more successful than I will be!

Enjoy,

John

Flesk Publications
Flesk Publications on Facebook
Spectrum Fantastic Art
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live on Facebook

Text copyright © 2018 John Fleskes. Photos and videos © 2018 John Fleskes / Flesk Publications. Artwork © 2018 its respective artists. All Rights reserved.

New Gary Gianni Book Revealed Next Month!

Hi all,

The new Gary Gianni book will be revealed next month. This is one of my favorite ink pieces that will be included in the book, simply based upon Gary’s mastery of the ink line. It’s stunning!

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to work in three’s. We’re putting the final touches on this Gianni book, Frank Cho’s Ballpoint Beauties, and Ambedo by Tran Nguyen. Actually, there’s a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh new book that are well into the production stages as well. But the first three that I mentioned are the primary focus at the moment.

A lot of big news will be shared early in the new year!

Enjoy,

John

Flesk Publications
Flesk Publications on Facebook
Spectrum Fantastic Art
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live on Facebook

Text copyright © 2018 John Fleskes. Photos and videos © 2018 John Fleskes / Flesk Publications. Artwork © 2018 its respective artists. All Rights reserved.

Flesk Book Sale!

Hi all,

Heads up! The Flesk Book Sale is live!

Over the weekend I dug through the warehouse and pulled out overstock, titles that are out of print with only a case or two left, and dinged books to offer at huge discounts. There’s 12 books at only $10 each, then a bunch of book sets that run as low as $5 per book when you select the pack.

The sale ends on Friday, December 7th.

Follow the link to see what’s available!

https://www.fleskpublications.com/discounted-books

Enjoy,

John

Flesk Publications
Flesk Publications on Facebook
Spectrum Fantastic Art
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live on Facebook

Text copyright © 2018 John Fleskes. Photos and videos © 2018 John Fleskes / Flesk Publications. Artwork © 2018 its respective artists. All Rights reserved.

Spectrum 25 and 26: Behind the Scenes

Hi, all,

Spectrum 25: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art is Here!

We received our copies of Spectrum 25 a few weeks back. We packed the complimentary artists copies and shipped them right away. We also mailed the pre-orders at the same time.

The arrival of this book culminates a year-long process from the initial Spectrum Call for Entries that begins each year in mid-October. The deadline for artists or their representatives to submit their art falls toward the end of January each year. For Spectrum 26 this will be on Thursday, January 24, 2009.

In no particular order, here’s some behind the scenes details about how the Spectrum process works.

We typically receive a flood of entries, phone calls, and online and email inquiries during the final week prior to the deadline. Because of this, we are usually working full time confirming all of the entries for everyone for up to a week after the deadline. Kathy and I developed a process that lets us double check every entry to make sure that their information, payment, and artwork all aligns. I’m also checking to make sure that the art is clear and appears large on the computer screen. If I feel that the resolution of the digital file is too low, then we’ll reach out to the artist to get an improved file. I want everyone to have the best chance to be seen by the jury.

I made one change for Spectrum 26. This was to eliminate the option of sending in hard copy prints through the mail for the judges to review. We introduced the option to submit online for Spectrum 21. I felt it was important to provide a 5-year transition period to allow those who may have preferred to send in their works as prints to familiarize themselves with the online process. By Spectrum 25 we had such a small amount of print entries that I felt it was time to phase out that option.

I wrote a history of Spectrum that you can read in Spectrum 25. Originally, I wrote a more typical Year in Review essay. I ended up abandoning the initial direction that I took after realizing that I would enjoy documenting the humble origins of Spectrum instead, especially considering that this was its 25th anniversary.

The Call for Entries poster for Spectrum 25 utilized the talents of Spectrum Grand Master Scott Gustafson. Scott is one of only two artists who have been featured in every volume of Spectrum. (The other is Brom.) For the 25th anniversary I wanted to celebrate this occasion by highlighting Scott’s art. I don’t always consult with Arnie and Cathy Fenner when making decisions regarding the jury and call for entries poster artists, but for this occasion I wanted to make sure that I got their recommendations. They agreed that an artist who painted traditionally and who has been popular during the full tenure of Spectrum’s history would be an excellent choice.

I oftentimes make the jury selection over the course of a few days during June of each year. This timing directly corresponds with when I turn Spectrum into the printer on July 1st of each year. In that way I can include the names on the last page of the book where I promote the next volume. The first thing that I do to determine the candidates is to page through the most recent volume of Spectrum. Since I don’t want the jury to be limited to those who submitted to or have been in Spectrum before, I’ll pour through Facebook and Instagram postings by various artists and see who else grabs my attention. I typically spend 15 minutes a day on these two social media platforms to stay in tune with the general tone and direction of the art world. I want Spectrum to capture the most current picture of the industry, so it’s important that I invite those who I feel will embrace the most current and relevant art forms for the book. Spectrum must always be looking forward and embracing change, while also being respectful to those who came before. I want everyone to feel welcome from a new art student to a legend who has been in the business for 40 years. I aim to find a jury who welcomes all sensibilities and forms no judgments or biases.

Spectrum is a big job. The first half of the year is primarily focused on Spectrum, while the second half of the year leans more toward my Flesk book-making duties. I work on both year-round, but during these seasons I can get pulled more in one direction more than the other. When I work on Spectrum my focus is on the community as a whole. When I work on Flesk books my focus is on the individual artists who I am working with. It’s a good balance. The contrast between the two working methods keeps things fresh for me. I don’t really care much schedules or making plans too far in advance. I feel that I lose my creativity and whatever I’m working on at the time loses its spontaneity and looks too rigid if being organized takes precedence. While this method works for me, it’s very hard to teach, and if I’m working with someone who likes to write things down and cross off steps on a list we usually don’t function too well together. I see it as freedom, for others it may drive them insane and possibly make them anxious worrying about how things will get done. I am always confidant that what we need to get done will be wrapped up by the time it needs to be.

After the Call for Entries deadline passes and we have finished confirming all the entries we begin to prepare the Flesk office for the judging event. We cover the traveling costs of the judges and put them up for the weekend in Santa Cruz, California. We start with a dinner on the Santa Cruz Wharf that overlooks the ocean the night before the judging event. This gives the jury a chance to relax after their day of travel and allows them with the opportunity to get to know one another better.

The day of judging is a long day. The jury looks over all the entries anonymously. They do not know how the others vote. A majority vote, three or more picks, guarantees inclusion into the book. Then afterward, the jury gathers as a team and decides upon the silver and gold nominations and recipients for each of the eight categories.

The Spectrum 26 Call for Entries poster was done by Tyler Jacobson. I saw one of his pieces in a previous Spectrum that I loved. It has a lot of energy to it with a high fantasy feel. I inquired with Tyler if he was willing to make the new poster and only pointed out the piece that I liked as an example of the tone that I was looking for. I don’t like to art direct the artists for the poster, and usually do not see a preliminary of finished piece until it is turned in. I select people who are professionals and trust them to do the job.

The poster was designed by our very own Kathy Chu. Like with Tyler, I only gave her very minimal feedback regarding the tone, then trusted her to select a font and to do whatever she wanted. When I trust someone, I don’t look over their shoulder. I also like the idea that not everything is designed by me, nor is limited by my thinking. I like to stay fresh and that can only be done by welcoming the creativity of others into the mix.

As Spectrum 25 reaches the hands of fans and people throughout the industry I get to look at the Spectrum 26 entries as they arrive. We have a fabulous group who will be joining us for the judging event. They include Kei Acedera, Wesley Burt, Bobby Chiu, Edward Kinsella III, and Colin and Kristine Poole.

The Spectrum 26 Awards ceremony, which will be held on Saturday evening, March 30. The gala will be held at the historic Folly Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri, adjacent to the Kansas City Convention Center and will be open to all Planet Comicon and SFAL exhibitors, creators, guests and attendees. I hope you can join us!

Thanks for reading. Thank you to everyone who has supported Spectrum!

Enjoy,

John

Flesk Publications
Flesk Publications on Facebook
Spectrum Fantastic Art
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live on Facebook

Text copyright © 2018 John Fleskes. Photos and videos © 2018 John Fleskes / Flesk Publications. Artwork © 2018 its respective artists. All Rights reserved.

Pastoral by J.A.W. Cooper Shipping Update! New Flesk Book

Pastoral by J.A.W. Cooper update!

I received word from the shipper that the books will arrive at the docks on December 5th. Depending on processing and customs we should have the books about a week later. We’ll start shipping the books as soon as they arrive.

Here’s the link to learn more or to place your pre-order:

https://www.fleskpublications.com/jaw-cooper

Enjoy,

John

Flesk Publications
Flesk Publications on Facebook
Spectrum Fantastic Art
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live on Facebook

Text copyright © 2018 John Fleskes. Photos and videos © 2018 John Fleskes / Flesk Publications. Artwork © 2018 its respective artists. All Rights reserved.

Ballpoint Beauties by Frank Cho! Kickstarter Campaign Ends on Thursday, November 15th!

Frank Cho and I have partnered again to create his latest art book Ballpoint Beauties! This book is available as an affordable paperback and hardcover, and as a premium signed deluxe edition. Luxurious signed prints are also available. Enjoy the samples and details below.

We have a Kickstarter campaign running where you can pre-order the book. Everyone who makes a book or print pledge will receive an exclusive free postcard set.

You can see the full details by following this link:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/481703930/ballpoint-beauties-by-frank-cho

The campaign ends on Thursday, November 15th at 8:00pm PST.

Ballpoint Beauties is 120 pages at 9 x 12 inches and includes two gatefolds. This book has been Frank Cho’s most requested collection on social media over the past year. He has been making his personal ballpoint pen drawings purely for himself for over two decades. This is the first time that these rarely seen works have been captured into a dedicated volume. Compiled here are his favorites, many which are done recently specially for this book. Many pieces are shown in four stages that are accompanied by Frank’s commentary to reveal his process. He is completely self-taught which makes for a unique and educational experience.

Included within the book are visual guides for anatomy and body parts, plus a short interview where Frank discusses his working methods and answers the most common questions that he receives online. Also shown are comic covers for his creator owned property Skybourne, where he has incorporated ballpoint pen in a mixed media format to show you how to incorporate the ballpoint pen into commercial assignments.

Thanks to everyone who has supported this book!

Enjoy,

John

Flesk Publications
Flesk Publications on Facebook
Spectrum Fantastic Art
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live on Facebook

Text copyright © 2018 John Fleskes. Photos and videos © 2018 John Fleskes / Flesk Publications. Artwork © 2018 its respective artists. All Rights reserved.

The Spectrum 26 Call for Entries opens on October 15th!

Greetings!

The Spectrum 26 Call for Entries opens on October 15th! Join our mailing list to receive a poster.

Over the next two weeks we will be sharing Spectrum news daily on our Facebook and Instagram accounts. We will reveal who the Spectrum 26 jury is and the artist who made the latest call for entries poster. We will share videos that include a Spectrum 25 book flip through and interviews with the jury. The Spectrum 25 artist copies will arrive at our warehouse in the middle of October. More news will be coming about Spectrum Fantastic Art Live and the Spectrum 26 award ceremony that is happening next spring.

There are a few ways to stay updated. You can follow us on social media and join our email newsletter. Additionally, you can provide us with your mailing address and we will mail you a complimentary Spectrum Call for Entries poster (U.S. addresses only). If you are already on our list, but have moved, you can use this link to provide us with your most current address.
Here’s the link to sign up:

http://spectrumfantasticart.com/newsletter.php

We look forward to Spectrum 25 hitting the stores this fall. We hope you will enjoy it!

Thank you all for your support of Spectrum and Flesk!

All our best,

John and Kathy

Text and photos copyright © 2018 John Fleskes. Videos © 2018 Flesk Publications. Artwork © 2018 its respective artists. All Rights reserved.

New Frank Cho Ballpoint Beauties Book and Baltimore Comic Con

Frank Cho working on the cover art for Ballpoint Beauties.

I’m back in the office after a productive week spent in Baltimore, Maryland. I was on the east coast for two reasons; I was there to exhibit at Baltimore Comic-Con and to meet with Frank Cho to go over his next two books that I will be publishing.

(Apologies for these poor quality photos. I only had my phone with me on this trip.)

Detail from Frank Cho’s original art from his Savage Wolverine run.

I arrived on Wednesday evening (September 26th) at Frank Cho’s house when we immediately began working on his books. The first book is his Ballpoint Beauties title that collects his ballpoint drawings. We’re including step-by-step sections and he is writing some text for the book so that people can see how he works. The second book on Cho will be announced next year sometime. Frank is such a busy guy who is oftentimes stretched in multiple directions. Because of this I typically prefer to keep our projects together quiet until they are about 80% completed to make sure I am not introducing any stress into Frank’s schedule. At the moment, our full focus is on Ballpoint Beauties. However, I did get a large chunk of work done on the unannounced book during my visits to Frank’s house. I spent hours pouring through his originals and scanning material.

 

We will launch a Kickstarter campaign for his Ballpoint Beauties book on Tuesday, October 16th.

The Flesk booth at Baltimore Comic Con an hour before opening on the first day.

The Baltimore Comic Con was terrific this year. It generally is every year, but this one was especially successful. Richard and Wendy Pini had a booth directly across from us. Frank Cho was next to us and Mark Schultz was with us. Arthur Adams and Joyce Chin were just a few aisles away. Having all these artists present who I work with fueled the interest in their books. As a result, we sold almost all the books that we brought to the show.

 

Since this was only the second show where I exhibited this year, and the first where I sat behind the booth and worked, I found that it took me a full day to find my voice. I didn’t realize how out of practice I was when it comes to talking to different people all throughout the day. On Saturday we were totally slammed with people stopping by, and by Sunday I finally got into a pretty good groove when chatting with people who stopped by.

Richard and Wendy Pini’s booth directly across from ours.

Each day I enjoyed interacting with Richard and Wendy. Having dinners with various artists and con friends was also nice. I had lost my voice by Saturday evening and hardly spoke during dinner, but found it again for Sunday morning, fortunately.

Mark Schultz signing a copy of his Portfolio book.

I managed to walk the floor on Sunday. Baltimore Comic Con is a great show for me, primarily because the show organizers and volunteers treat us well, plus the attendees are well informed and sophisticated collectors who know their artists and writers. Additionally, they bring in legendary artists as guests who are a joy to meet. It’s truly a “comic” show and not one of those events that appropriates the name for alternative pop culture purposes.

Mark Schultz doing a Batman sketch for a young fan.

I was amazed at how many people stopped by who knew who we were and who visited simply to express how much they enjoy our books. I also appreciated the feedback about how much people like our Kickstarter campaigns. I had several people comment on how our cover prices are affordable. This is intentional on my part since I didn’t grow up with money and I’m sensitive to keeping the books as affordable as possible for the students and for the working man and woman.

Our Flesk booth an hour before closing on the last day of Baltimore Comic Con. We sold most of the books that we brought!

It was a productive week. I’m back to working on books and I look forward to continuing to bring you more titles for as long as you will support us. Thanks, as always.

Enjoy,

Text and photos copyright © 2018 John Fleskes. Videos © 2018 Flesk Publications. Artwork © 2018 its respective artists. All Rights reserved.

Ambedo: The Art of Tran Nguyen. New Book from Flesk Coming in 2019

I’m excited to share the news that I am working with Tran Nguyen on her first art book. This collection will contain her gallery work along with Tran’s book and editorial illustrations. Much of her decade-long career will be captured in this oversized hardcover.

I first learned about Tran’s work when she submitted her entries to Spectrum 21. Her paintings made an immediate impression on me. I noted how the Spectrum judges had the same reaction, especially when you note the amount of Spectrum nominations and awards she has received.

Later, when I first met Tran I was impressed during her acceptance speech during the Spectrum 21 Awards ceremony when receiving her gold award in the Editorial category. She spoke of her gratitude toward her parents and provided insight into the struggle that her family faced when coming to the U.S. from Vietnam. It was a touching acceptance speech that in just a few minutes showed how humble she is while also revealing the aesthetics behind her art. Arnie and Cathy Fenner and I felt that it was the most heartfelt speech of the evening.

Since then I continued to watch her growth. I’m amazed by her recent “The Flooded Hour II” series of paintings. I had the pleasure of getting to know Tran better during her visit to the Flesk offices during the Spectrum 25 judging event. Shortly afterward I inquired with Tran about the possibility of working with her to capture her career in a new book. I’m thrilled that she was interested and delighted to be able to publish and share her works in 2019. The release date will be announced in the coming months.

You can learn more about Tran at her website here: http://www.mynameistran.com/

Enjoy,

Text and photos copyright © 2018 John Fleskes. Videos © 2018 Flesk Publications. Artwork © 2018 its respective artists. All Rights reserved.