Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Harper, McGuinty announce $50M comics industry bailout package
From today's Globe and Mail:
:: Posted by BK @ 4/01/2009 12:01:00 AM
Sean Craig, Brad Mackay, Globe and Mail Update
March 31, 2009
OTTAWA/TORONTO ---Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty have announced a $50-million aid package for Canada's struggling comic book industry.
They said Canada's bailout, which they called a "short term loan," is proportionate to the operations of Canadian retailers and publishers, which are estimated to be about 20 per cent of North American production.
The two leaders announced the package on Tuesday morning at a joint press conference in Toronto.
Ontario will contribute about $10 million to the package and Ottawa will provide $40 million.
Harper told reporters the aid package "is not a blank cheque" and that he wants to see comic book stores, distributors, publishers, and cartoonists work together to restructure their operations.
"All stakeholders are going have to be part of the solution," Harper said.
The aid package will also:
-give loan access to small retailers, start-up publishers and more established publishers and other businesses that are part of the general comic book industry
-give additional tax breaks to those directly involved in the production of comics in Canada, including cartoonists, writers, artists, and inkers (but not colourists, letterers or editors)
-create a Federal program for archiving and accessing webcomics and make their production subject to funding from the new technologies branch of Telefilm Canada
In the U.S., Marvel, Darkhorse and Fantagraphics had said they need credit and loans as they restructure their companies.
Meanwhile, DC has said it does not need immediate help, but had asked for a line of credit.
Harper said the aid package was part of a "holistic approach" to save an industry that helps provide hundreds of thousands of jobs to Canadians.
He said governments need to act, especially in the wake of the financial sector economic crisis. The publishing, and especially the comics industry, has been particularly hard hit by the credit crunch, which affected their producers' access to loans and their consumers discretionary purchasing power.
A comics industry failure would have ripple affects well beyond Ontario, the centre of Canada's comics producing and consumption sector, Harper said.
"This is a huge problem that faces the Ontario economy and the Canadian economy by extension and it is critical that we work together," he said.
McGuinty said the economic crisis has created the need for bold action.
"These are extraordinary circumstances that require extraordinary measures," he said.
Today's announcement came on the heels of the proposed US $500 million in aid to comics publishers and retailers that U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Friday.
Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton said the loan package should suffice for now, but it would have been more useful had it been handed down earlier.
As credit has tightened, it has become harder for every part of the industry to function, said Hampton.
Displaying an understanding of the specifics of the market, he added that everyone from "the Wednesday crowd" to the publishers and distributors themselves, need access to credit in order to keep the industry running.
"We saw that happening months ago," he said.
If the money had been handed down at that time, "it would have made an even bigger difference," Hampton said.
Comics industry analyst Jeet Heer estimated that the combined loan packages from Canada and the U.S. would help keep the struggling North American comics industry afloat only for the next quarter or so.
"It probably only buys them three months or four months where they can get their ducks in order ... and hopefully come up with a plan to get everything straightened out so that they can survive," he told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday evening.
Diamond Distributors Canadian spokesperson Max Douglas said the Canadian response will provide a "great sigh of relief" across the industry, noting that the loans will help his company complete a transition it began in 2005. He said Diamond is moving towards creating more streamlined distribution systems, using solar-powered robots, and moving away from "that same old adolescent superhero crap we've been pushing for decades."
Douglas added that the bailouts show a "great signal of stability" for the industry.
Drawn and Quarterly publisher Chris Oliveros told The Globe the aid package is good for Ontario, Quebec and the country.
He said he's pleased that the bailout includes commitments by the government to develop young talent at the same time that it makes it possible to translate "even more painfully arty, twee, puzzling and metaphysically troubling graphic novels by cartoonists from Iceland, Slovenia, and, of course, France."
"I think the commitment of maintaining levels of quality and accessibility for emerging producers in Canada at the existing level is a fairly good commitment," said Douglas.
"As long as we maintain our share in the Canadian market, which is part of this loan, I think we'll be part of the future investment and will continue to work with the companies."
Oliveros indicated that D+Q's plans are to continue production at the current level.
"Our plans for the Fall publishing season right at the moment are to see us continue on at that (20 per cent) level, and this type of support, as we work out the details, will give us the ability to continue on roughly at that level," he said. Oliveros added that one side-benefit of the bailout is a contract D+Q has signed with the Prime Minister to publish a graphic novel history of hockey, written by Harper and illustrated by artist Chester Brown. "It's sort of a libertarian-family values-law-and-order take on Canada's favourite past-time."
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff criticized the deal, noting that he has a new book coming out as well that he thinks would benefit from a graphic treatment. "It's sort of a literary justification for torture and the War in Afghanistan," he added. "I think maybe Julie Doucet or Michel Rabagliati would be good choices as illustrators."
Meanwhile, Douglas took issue with critics of his monopoly-like distributor who have said they make too much money -- some quoting the questionable figure of more than $1 billion per year, which has never filtered down to Canadian tax coffers and has been debunked by some industry analysts.
He said "that based on our estimates" Canadian consumers are as comics crazy any other North American or foreign comics market.
"It's a little bit frustrating to concentrate on distributors," he said.
He also reminded critics that only two years ago, Canadians were paying almost twice as much as their U.S. neighbours for the same comics and graphic novels, not to mention action figures and Buffy the Vampire Slayer limited edition dvds and Battlestar Galactica scale models.
He said he wants Ottawa to "concentrate on the root cause of the problem. We still think the root cause of the problem is too much manga and art comics" he said.
Peter Birkemoe, owner of The Beguiling in Toronto, called the Canadian aid package "good news for cartoonists and their families."
But he also said he was concerned that Harper told reporters that "everyone" will have to make concessions.
"Labour costs are not the problem," he told The Globe.
But Birkemoe noted that the current industry leadership will have to decide how to proceed to help make the Canadian comics industry economically viable in the years ahead.
A spokesman for Warner Brothers, which owns DC Comics, said, "There will be job losses ... it's something that is going to happen. We kind of hoped the Watchmen movie would help get us through this, but response has bee tepid: it kinda sucked and everyone was really freaked out by that giant blue penis."
But he added, it's better to have some job losses rather than "not having the industry at all. We are just going to have to reprint more Siegel and Shuster and Jack Kirby comics since we don't have to pay royalties for those."
Heer said it was inevitable that cartoonists would have to make concessions, no matter how painful they might be.
"If they don't make serious concessions, then Marvel, DC, Darkhorse, and even Fantagraphics and D+Q will continue to lose market share to manga, video games, and porn and they'll lose their jobs anyway," he said.
He said it is likely cartoonists will be asked to make concessions on selected perk benefits -- such as food and shelter -- before they are asked to increase page production.
Labels: dollar, graphic novels, Ottawa, publishing, Toronto, trade
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