Mongo chats with Peter Simeti

I have found Mr. Peter Simeti, Founder & Publisher of Alterna Comics to be one of the most approachable individuals in comics. Alterna’s approach to comics and support of creators is, in my humble opinion, a model for others to follow. When I was given the opportunity by Comic Crusaders to preview/review the 2016 IF Anthology I decided to test this approachability. As I expected, Peter was more than gracious and took the time to answer a few questions for our Capes and Crusaders.

For historical perspective, tell me a little about the birth and growth of Alterna Comics?
Alterna’s been around since 2006, with national distribution starting in 2008. In our first year, our myspace page was our site page (seems like ages ago) and it was pretty much just my own books on board. We experienced a lot of growing pains in those first two years, including breaking the cardinal rule of business – which is to not expand too fast. We put out too many titles early on and it almost cost the business once the credit crunch occurred but luckily we bounced back in a major way and restructured without having to file for bankruptcy and Alterna is now stable and thriving with our books read worldwide and with distribution at Diamond and more recently at IPG – one of the largest distributors of independent books and one that we highly recommend to all graphic novel publishers.
It is amazing for a publisher to make it 10 years, even more amazing for an indie publisher. How have you maintained the “indie focus” or identity of Alterna for a decade?
Thank you! All credit goes to the amazing creators at Alterna. I’ve been lucky to work with so many talented individuals over the years and I’m glad that many of them have made Alterna their home for multiple books and in some cases, all of their books.  I try to be as fair as I possibly can and for the most part, that includes taking an extremely small percentage (20%) of a book’s profits. Creators don’t have to wait until we recoup funds or anything like that, they immediately start accumulating royalties and reimbursements right off the bat.  This model isn’t perfect for all, as it also means that I personally get paid last. I generally make less than a few hundred dollars a year as publisher because Alterna is my business and I put  a lot of my own money back into the company to continue growing it. Don’t cry for me though, as my books do well and I make most of my living through artwork, lettering, and design services. I just don’t believe in taking some six figure salary when I can use those funds to grow Alterna and support the books here.
 
As far as Alterna’s “identity” goes, in the early years it really hurt us to publish books that were in a gray area.  In some ways it still hurts us because to certain sites and conventions, I’ve been told we’re “not indie enough” and in other cases we aren’t “mainstream enough”. I could go the licensed comics route but that’s not what I believe in. I believe in supporting and showcasing up and coming creators that are talented and for the most part, ignored.  I’m happy to see some of our creators graduate on to Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Boom, etc. – I know we’re not the biggest fish in the pond, if anything we’re far from it, so to see that Alterna was a stepping stone and gave them a chance when many others didn’t, that’s what this is all about. I’d love to keep all of our creators here but how could I hold it against a creator that is moving onward and upward? Hopefully as time goes by, Alterna will be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the bigger creator-owned publishers.
Last year the Anthology had a sci-fi focus, what lead to this year’s being focused on super-powers?
This one’s a simple answer! Haha… we had an online vote in 2014 and the top 3 votes were science fiction, then superheroes, then crime. So, no surprise here, 2017’s theme will be crime.
Can you give our readers some insight into the submission process for Alterna?
It’s a fairly simple process and in 99% of submissions, I can judge a submission by its cover and its first page but I enjoy seeing the first 8 pages so I can get a better idea of the story and see if the fundamentals are there (writing, art, lettering). Don’t believe in the old saying… people judge a book by its cover all of the time and as a publisher it’s important for us to do the same as well.  Especially in a visual medium like comics, a cover can make or break a book. It’s the initial hook for a potential reader and if you don’t stand out on any level with a unique or quality cover, you can guarantee that your book will be that much harder to sell.
Your digital catalog/magazine “Make Mine Indie” is required reading in my opinion. Can you give potential new readers some background on this program?
Make Mine INDIE was designed over the course of 5 years, even though it seems like it got thrown up overnight.  I didn’t want to step on any toes or make any false promises that the magazine/catalog is some kind of distributor – because it isn’t – I wanted to simply offer a better way to discover indie comics of ALL kinds and quality, without a filter. I wanted to provide a true level playing field because it’s been disappearing more and more every year.  The solicit fee to essentially advertise your comic to 4,000 readers (looking at a number closer to 15,000 for issue #2) is $5.  Five dollars for a full page color solicit with information on your book, creators, website, where to buy it, AND even a preview panel of what the book’s interior looks like. There’s nothing like that in Previews. Then it’s $5 for a full preview page of your comic, with 2 pages being the max. The fees directly impact how much we can advertise, as I only make about $100 from each issue and I spend roughly 100 hours putting the book together and curating it.  The more creators get on board, the more we can advertise and increase readers AND very real exposure which equals sales.  Eventually, I hope Make Mine INDIE can grow into a distribution on demand system, where we accept orders from stores and readers alike and then funnel those orders to comic creators.
The Chair is headed to the big screen in 2016, what is its current status and can we expect to see any other Alterna titles on the big or small screen?
Depending on how THE CHAIR performs, we might see a few other Alterna titles adapted. We are currently planning release dates, most likely in October, ideally for at least one theater in each state. From that point, we can hopefully grow. The crew did a fantastic job and there’s so many notable and memorable performances by the cast. The film also bears the sad distinction of being the last film Roddy Piper worked on; he was such a kind person and I’ll always cherish the conversations I had with him leading up to the film.  If you love Roddy (and who doesn’t?) the film is worth a view for him alone. But the performances by Bill Oberst Jr., Tim Muskatell, Naomi Grossman, Zach Galligan, Noah Hathaway, Ezra Buzzington, Derrick Damions, Jacob Banser, John Siciliano, and Kyle Hester are fantastic as well – just powerful, powerful stuff. Even Justice League Unlimited voice actors Kin Shriner and Susan Eisenberg have cameos in the film!  Anyone who’s seen it (online screener or Kickstarter backer) has loved it and we hope that continues. It’s not a film for everyone, but it’s a film that everyone should see.  🙂
What can we expect from Alterna as we close out 2016 and the 10 year anniversary? Perhaps a glimpse into what 2017 holds for fans?
A new edition of THE CHAIR just debuted on September 1st and looks like it’s quickly sold out. The rest of 2016 sees the Alterna AnniverSERIES Anthology make its debut in October (432 pages with the best of the best featured in the book!) and in November the 2016 IF Anthology hits store shelves (pre-order on Kickstarter as well: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/petersimeti/if-anthology-super-powers).  We also have digital comics debuting and continuing – Scrimshaw, The Re-Creation Project, Creators, Go West, Prospects, Corktown, I Holmes, Croak, The Dark, Raygun, and Mr. Crypt.  Next year will also see the printed editions of Trespasser, Scrimshaw, Croak, The Dark, and a few others. Exciting times all around that wouldn’t be possible without the creators and readers of these books.
One last question before we close.  Comic Crusaders has been hearing about the growing problem of sites/individuals pirating indie books.  Can you take a few moments and address this, especially how this can impact a publisher’s bottom line?
We’ve discovered that these pirated copies are getting thousands of views. Now, that doesn’t mean that if there wasn’t pirating that those views would equal sales. It would be ignorant and arrogant to assume that. It does affect our bottom line though but it’s difficult to measure. What worries me more is the breach of trust between reviewer and creator/publisher. Most people that are reading comics on these sites don’t necessarily mean any malice towards the creators. In fact, they most likely love the books and don’t see anything different than if they borrowed a library copy or shared a copy from a friend. The worst part about these sites, other than the obvious theft aspect, is the fact that they are also asking for donations to continue to illegally run these sites and host the stolen books. When everything is boiled down, it’s a personal responsibility issue of the individual – the reviewer that breaks the trust, the reader, the site runner, etc.. That’s what makes this situation so difficult. There will always be pirating on some level, I’m confident in that, because there always has been. But that doesn’t mean we have to stay silent about it.

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