Checker Book Publishing Group
|Industry||Publishers of Comics Reprints|
|Founded||2000 by Mark Thompson, Ben Rangel & Paul Dubuc|
|Mark Thompson, Publisher
Jason Drury, Art Director
Sylvia Maye, Associate Editor/Publicity Dir.
Checker Book Publishing Group was an independent publisher of comics reprints, from newspaper strips to modern out-of-print titles and collections from defunct publishers. However, as of 2012, Checker BPG itself seems to be defunct.
- 1 History
- 2 Published works
- 3 Further reviews and criticism
- 4 Customer complaints
- 5 Coming Soon
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Based in Miamisburg near Dayton, Ohio, CheckerBPG was established in 2000 by Mark Thompson, Paul Dubuc and Ben Rangel in order to bring back into print "dormant, unpublished, and under-published serial comics and cartooning."
CheckerBPG's publisher, Mark Thompson, (b. 1967/68) graduated from Miami University with a business degree, and worked for a newspaper before starting his first comics company - Checker Comics - in 1997. Based in the Oregon District, Checker Comics published original works including Danger Ranger and Mutator before becoming one of many victim of the collapse of the comics speculator bubble in the late-1990s.
Checker Book Publishing was incorporated in 2001, and set to work collecting individual comics' content into single collections, which are printed at an outside press, but shipped in-house after difficulties with outside distribution. Over the next five years, Checker published 43 titles. Sales between 2003 and 2004 doubled as Checker's output increased. Between 2004 and 2005, two of Checker's co-founders departed the company, and in 2010, Thompson decided to team up with Josh Blaylock of Devils Due Publishing to create Devil's Due Digital Inc.
Reprints & rights
While Thompson was setting up CheckerBPG, he compiled "a wish list of 900 comic books and strips and began contacting people who owned the rights." Investigating the works of Winsor McCay at the Cincinnati Public Library where McCay worked (as well as in New York), Thompson expected to obtain hard-to-reprint microfilm artwork, but instead discovered that the library owned bound original print copies. Where original artwork is unavailable (as is the case with much of CheckerBPGs output), print copies are the next-best thing, and Thompson and his employees were (and are) able to scan the artwork, and spend - on average - a month removing signs of aging before taking around three months to actually compile and print each of their volumes.
As well as publishing over a dozen volumes showcasing the works of Little Nemo in Slumberland-creator Winsor McCay, Thompson was also able to negotiate with Ohio-native Milton Caniff's nephew and executor Harry Guyton for the rights to Caniff's Steve Canyon. Typically, Checker is able to negotiate based on a "cash advance and a percentage of sales" approaching "the industry standard of 5 percent".
Other reprint rights of older material secured by Checker include Dick Tracy, Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon, the Gold Key Star Trek comics, and Johnny Hart's B.C. as well as works by Theodor Seuss Geisel. Ultimately, Thompson hopes to branch out from straight reprints to again form imprints to publish original works, possibly "catering to the Christian and alternative-comic markets."
Star Trek Vol. 3 CheckerBPG was set up to fill a perceived gap in the market, since Thompson felt that "[t]he large book publishing houses do not completely understand comics, and the majority of comics publishers are not well versed in the complexities of the book trade". He therefore set out to bring comics back into print, with "high production standards" and "worldwide distribution", to better appeal to a wider audience.
Citing a combined experience of "15 years of book publicity and promotional experience" in the fields of marketing and PR, Checker aims to consistently maintain a high profile in print and online advertising, running adverts in such noted comics and book sources as Wizard, Comics Buyer's Guide, Comics Retailer, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and Previews.
Checker claims to be able to produce high quality work from a variety of source materials - integral when trying to put together hundred-year-old newspaper strips, but also important when such recent comics as Supreme: The Return turned out to missing "computer files and negatives". Checker prides itself on being able to "work from older digital files, film, and even printed material", building digital files and, in many cases, restoring the original artwork for quality reproduction. Checker also promises to provide copies of the digital files they create to the original rights holders for the sake of posterity.
CheckerBPG is represented in the US be distributor Midpoint Trade Books, (who also deal with WaRP Graphics' ElfQuest collections), which deals on their behalf with bookstores such as Barnes & Noble, Borders and Books-A-Million, while Diamond Book Distributors, FM International and Cold Cut Distribution deal with comicshop distribution, and some independent booksellers and libraries. In Great Britain, Europe and "the former British Empire" (including Australasia), Checker is represented by Turnaround Publisher Services, while Canada is stocked with Checker titles by Hushion House Publishing (who also represent graphic novel publisher NBM). Checker's in-house distribution network sells to Amazon.com, Buy.com and the Science Fiction Book Club, and also withholds foreign language rights to its licenced titles. Recently, Italian rights to Clive Barker's Hellraiser were awarded to "Lexy Production of Terni, Italy".
CheckerBPG launched with its November, 2001 release of Chuck Dixon's Alien Legion: Force Nomad, which Thompson called "the perfect title to launch [with]", highlighting Checker's intentions to "go back and rescue worthy comic book properties which lived and died in the era before the graphic novel format had taken hold, and to keep them available to the public in a durable, good-looking, complete format." Other early titles included Clive Barker's Hellraiser and his Eisner Award-nominated anthology Tapping the Vein. Thompson also managed to negotiate the reprint rights to Topps Comics' X-Files comics, as well as a couple of volumes of Alan Moore's Awesome Comics work: two volumes of his Supreme, as well as the ultimately aborted Universe-relaunching mini-series Judgment Day.
CheckerBPG's status in reprinting archive and long-out-of-print material began in November, 2003 with their first collection of Winsor McCay's Early Works, Max Allan Collins' Dick Tracy work, and the first volume of Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon (1947). By Summer, 2007, eight volumes of each were in print. Further volumes of McCay's works - including Dream Of The Rarebit Fiend and his Editorial Works have also seen print, alongside the first (of two) collection of his Little Nemo in Slumberland strips. (See below.)
When Chester Gould retired from writing and drawing the Dick Tracy newspaper strip in late 1977, it fell to crime writer Max Allan Collins to take up the writing reins (with Gould's assistant Rick Fletcher on art until his death in 1983, when Dick Locher took over) until 1993.
CheckerBPG released their first "of several" volume of Collins' Tracy works in November 2003 as Dick Tracy: The Collins Casefiles Volume 1, and a second and third volume followed within a year. Reprinted in the 'regular' trade paperback format, Checker's volumes print three daily strips per page, with the Sunday strips (in the first volume) "chopped up", losing the logo and "Rogues Gallery" headers (some of these were subsequently included as separate extras in Volume 2).
- Volume 1 (Nov 2003) collects Max Allan Collin's Tracy-writing debut, covering the rough period of January–December 1978.
- Volume 2 (May 2004) collects the Dick Tracy strips originally published during 1979.
- Volume 3 (Nov 2004) collects the strips from January 6, 1980 to January 17, 1981.
Checker's Press Release announcing Volume 3 claimed that the first two volumes had "met with across-the-board positive response, from critics to consumers", quoting favourable reviews from Suspended Animation and Booklist.
Although re-stating their intention that: "Strips from 1978–1989 [are] to see reprint in multiple volumes," no further volumes have been solicited or released. This could simply mean that subsequent volumes are on indefinite hold while Checker focuses its efforts elsewhere.
Between June 2004 and January 2007, Checker reprinted in seven volumes the complete Flash Gordon Sunday strips of Alex Raymond. These strips had been previously collected in colour by Kitchen Sink Press, but had been out-of-print for several years.
- Volume 1 (Jun 2004) collects Raymond's earliest Sunday Strips starting from the first, printed on January 7, 1934.
- Volume 2 (Aug 2004) collects strips from 1935 and 1936.
- Volume 3 (Mar 2005) collects the pages printed between October 25, 1936 and August 1, 1937.
- Volume 4 (Oct 2005) collects strips printed between 1938 and 1940.
- Volume 5 (Nov 2005) collects "The Ice Kingdom of Mongo", "Power Men of Mongo", and "The Fall of Ming"; 1940 to 1941.
- Volume 6 (Dec 2006) collects the pages printed from August 1941 to May 1943.
- Volume 7 (Jan 2007) collects the final strips from mid-1943, until the final Raymond issue from February 1945.
Little Nemo in Slumberland
In Summer 2007, Checker announced a two-volume hardback edition of Winsor McCay's landmark strip Little Nemo in Slumberland, claiming it to "provide the most comprehensive collection of the series ever produced". Volume 1, collecting the strips published between 1905 and 1909 was solicited as being in full color, while Volume 2 (scheduled for Winter, 2007) was to contain a mixture of color and black & white strips, due to difficulties in obtaining source materials. In an August, 2007 interview with Newsarama's Michael Lorah, Checker Publisher Mark Thompson noted that, while there have been several attempts to collect Little Nemo (from multiple publishers), the series has never been collected in its entirety. The strip initially appeared in the New York Herald on October 15, 1905, and ran until April 23, 1911 before switching to the New York American a week later, and finishing in 1913, before enjoying a brief resurgence from 1924 to 1927. Thompson assured Lorah that Checker intended to collect everything ("The 1920s series is going to be collected comprehensively"), including a rare McCay precursor which ran in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1903, entitled Tales of the Jungle Imps.
At the time, Thompson noted that the second volume would not contain full color, since Checker only had access to "approximately 60-75% of [the strips] in full color, and the remainder are in black and white". However, Volume 2 failed to see print by its scheduled date(s), and on 10 December 2007, an "open letter" from Thompson was released to various websites. It read in part:
Checker['s]... initial plans [for Little Nemo] included a significant amount of original newspapers we have been acquiring over the past two years... However, in our marketing and press release we warned fans that due to the rarity of this material, this edition was originally planned to contain black and white versions of some of the late Winsor McCay Little Nemo run from 1924-1926... Well, as luck would have it, just prior to print dates earlier in the fall we discovered the final pieces we needed to accomplish the collection of the entire 1924–1926 periods in color. This has extended the production by a few months, but we hope you understand.
CheckerBPG does not only publish old works, nor does it focus solely on newspaper reprints. In addition to producing a collection of Johnny Hart's B.C. and two volumes of early works by Theodor Seuss Geisel, Checker have also published (and re-published) works from defunct companies such as Awesome Comics, Epic Comics, Gold Key Comics, Malibu Comics and Topps Comics.
These include the highly acclaimed, but previously un-collected, Supreme work produced by legendary comics-creator Alan Moore for Rob Liefeld; three volumes of Clive Barker's Hellraiser anthology (featuring work by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean, Mike Mignola, Alex Ross, Larry Wachowski and others); three volumes each of Epic's Alien Legion and Topps' X-Files and five volumes of Gold Key's Star Trek comics as well as Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones' The Trouble With Girls.
In his overview of books featuring to work of Winsor McCay for the hundredth anniversary of Little Nemo, Taylor Jessen of Animation World Magazine damns Checker's McCay volumes with faint praise, calling the Winsor McCay Early Works series "abundant but erratically curated." Much of such criticism is due to the lack of 'good' art sources - relying on glorified photocopies of hundred-year-old newspapers rarely produces perfect artwork - that Checker has to deal with when producing such volumes.
Not everyone is critical, either. Newsarama poster "DuncanHines" is critical of the "crap image quality" of Checker's Supreme volumes, but writes that "their other reprints of Winsor McCay's early work, and their Early Works of Dr Seuss HCs are beautiful!"
Similar problems have been encountered with Checker's reprints of Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon Sunday strips. Artist and Librarian Derik A. Badman's review of the first three volumes praised Checker's decision to reprint in "rather large-sized hardcovers (unlike their microscopic reprints of Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon) on glossy paper". He reserves his disappointment for "the quality of reproduction [which he finds] occasionally muddy and often off register." He does not blame Checker, although his assumption that "finding originals or cleaning up the art would be extensive and costly", - and therefore did not occur - seems slightly at odds with Checker's own claims (albeit in direct reference to the works of McCay) to spend around four months cleaning and compiling each book they publish, and their website's assertion that they utilise "only the highest quality specifications and materials on press, and proprietary pre-press techniques... using high end technology combined with experienced designers to accomplish the meticulous restoration that each project demands."
Ironically, since Thompson has gone on record as stating that, while, during the course of Checker's processes "Black-and-white comics can be colorized", he "likes to remain faithful to how they originally appeared"—Badman writes:
[H]aving seen some of Raymond's art in black and white, I almost wish for a black and white reproduction to better show off his art. His careful use of spot blacks (often eschewing them altogether) means his uncolored ink work sits rather lightly on the page, but without the color one can clearly see the line work and how subtly it creates shape and depth.
The formats chosen by Checker in which to present their output have come in for some criticism. From relatively insignificant comments that, for example, the Flash Gordon volumes are an unhelpful size and shape to be easily stored on a bookcase (although that format suits the source material), to more pointed criticisms of the sizing of the strips collected in Checker's Dick Tracy and Steve Canyon volumes.
Christopher Mills, reviewing the first Dick Tracy volume for "Guns in the Gutters" generally praises the "decent reproduction of the original strips", but notes that Checker "place only three dailies on each page, when there's clearly room for more" (doubly odd when one considers that the comparable Steve Canyon volumes reprint four per page) and that "the Sunday strips are chopped up" to fit the format, losing "the logo and Rogues Gallery headers." (These parts of the strips, removed to allow them to fit the book format, were, in Volume 2, included as an 'extra' feature.)
On the flipside of that strips-per-page argument, Checker's collections of Caniff's Steve Canyon have received criticism for putting more strips on the page. Newsarama poster "Comic-reader" writes that "the format for the Steve Canyon reprints is wrong. It should have been landscape to allow the strips to be reprinted at a larger size. The dailies are often quite small." Newsarama's "DJ Sloofus" agrees, stating that "[one] can barely even read the Canyon reprints", as Checker is "cramming way too much copy on each page."
Johanna Draper Carlson, of "Comics Worth Reading" writes:
Putting four daily strips on a page means they’re reproduced at roughly the same size of today's strips. That can make text-heavy panels hard to read, and some of the art detail is lost at the smaller size.
She does however say that "the small reproduction size does allow for a lot of content" to be collected in each volume, making the books "a substantial read".
While I'm happy this material is seeing print, I have many of the same problems with this volume that I had on the previous one, Supreme: The Story of the Year.
For starts, the reproduction of the interior art is horrendous.
He mitigated his criticism, by pointing out that Thompson and Checker were working from "poor jpegs... so I [Veitch] know what he [Thompson] was up against and I'm sure he did the best he could, but the final product looks muddy, dark and just plain lousy."
...as if he actually had much of anything to do with the work inside the book.
[Liefeld]'s contribution was as publisher (one who was often late with payments) cover artist and inker of about three pages worth of figures... In perpetuating the illusion that [he] was creatively involved in SUPREME to any great degree, CHECKER slights the efforts of GIL KANE, JIM STARLIN, IAN CHURCHILL and myself who actually drew full stories for the book.
Veitch also notes that "the book's biggest failing is that the final issue of the story was never produced", and notes archly that Checker's tome "takes care of that little problem by ignoring it completely and just tacking "The End" on the last story". In summary Veitch concludes that the "volumes are sloppy, to say the least, but unless you want to hunt down the back issues, they are the only game in town". In addition, he notes that "[t]here are no royalties being paid to the creators for either of the SUPREME reprint volumes."
Further reviews and criticism
|This article relies too much on references to primary sources. (September 2008)|
In addition to some disappointment regarding the format and layout of some of their newspaper strip reprints, some of Checker's titles have drawn criticism directed towards the company's stated "High Quality Standards". In particular, critics have focused on art reproduction quality, citing, for example, a "faded" look in some of the Dick Tracy volumes where ink appears not to have been accurately applied, or the aforementioned "quality of reproduction", on Flash Gordon Volume 1, which is said to be "occasionally muddy and often off register" - some reviewers going so far as to allege more generally that "the quality of Checker's reproductions is very poor."
Indeed, Publishers Weekly's review of Flash Gordon, Volume 1 went so far as to note that "[t]he reproduction quality is fairly rough... panels and colors are frequently muddy and blurry." This statement, however, demonstrated the diligence with which Checker treats its output, as evidenced by Mark Thompson's personal swift rebuttal of the PW comment, writing that Publishers Weekly had necessarily only had access to an advance "Review Copy", subsequent to which:
- "Checker... chose to delay the publication of the collection and revamp the book format and design to better reflect its original published format. The end book is something wholly different than what we provided to the editorial staff at Publishers Weekly."
Indeed, the book-as-published was well-received, with subsequent reviews writing, for example, that the volume featured pages of a "high quality", while "the images are large and the colors are amazing," others note that future volumes improve upon the printing quality also. Ink 19's review of Volume 4, for example, notes that by this point, the color is "clean but subdued", and the "high quality strips" are mirrored by being printed in "quality books".
Checker Book Publishing Group currently has an F rating from the Better Business Bureau. Cited reasons for this rating include a "failure to respond to 4 complaints filed against [the] business" and "3 serious complaints filed against [the] business". The BBB defines a serious complaint as one that indicates "a significant ethical failure by the business" or "a material failure with regard to the business’ products/services that resulted in significant consumer injury".
According to Checker, many of these complaints are due to the split from Diamond Comic Distribution Inc., in which Diamond had shown a rapidly deteriorating capability to process inbound projects and publications which resulted in nothing less than a complete inability to sell Checker product.
A collection of Richard F. Outcault's Yellow Kid (often referred to as one of, if not the earliest comic strips published) is said to be forthcoming, and volumes reprinting work originally produced for now-defunct comics company CrossGen are likely to ultimately see print from Checker.
After CrossGen filed for bankruptcy in 2004, Disney (already interested in licencing some properties) acquired CrossGen's assets, and began to slowly decide how best to exploit their new properties. In December 2006, it was announced that "Checker Book Publishing Group and Walt Disney Publishing have announced a licensing agreement under which Checker will reprint original Crossgen Comics Company material", focusing particularly on the uncollected issues of Sojourn, Sigil, Way of the Rat and Scion. These were to be produced using the original CrossGen digital files for better reproduction, and around half the original nine solicited were released as of January, 2008, after Thompson told Newsarama in July, 2007 that "pre-orders have been good through Diamond", but that Checker was "a bit behind on the release schedule we originally announced".
Focusing on the uncollected issues, Checker's collections do not start at the beginning of the various series', starting at between Volume 3 and Volume 6, and following directly from the previously-published volumes released by CrossGen. Thompson stated that Checker was (as of July 2007) "strongly considering more collections and we will probably approach [Disney] with a proposal", qualifying this two weeks later as hopefully ultimately producing "catch up" "omnibus collections that have issues collected in one place [to] compliment [the] new volumes for storyline completeness."
Thompsons goal, as in all of Checker's work, is to "re-establish a trade schedule of the optimum material Crossgen produced so it is not lost to the ages".
- Ben Rangel at ZoomInfo.com. Accessed February 11, 2008
- James Hannah (12 December 2003). "Publishers dusting off old-time comics characters". The Augusta Chronicle. Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-02-10.[dead link]
- The CheckerBPG Mission. Accessed February 11, 2008
- Checker's "Core Expertise". Accessed February 11, 2008
- Checker Press Release. Accessed February 11, 2008
- Checker's "High Quality Standards". Accessed February 11, 2008
- Checker's "Reproduction Techniques". Accessed February 11, 2008
- Checker's "Foreign Rights: America". Accessed February 11, 2008
- Checker's "Foreign Rights: Europe". Accessed February 11, 2008
- Checker's "Foreign Rights 2: Canada". Accessed February 11, 2008
- Checker's "Foreign Rights 2: Foreign Language". Accessed February 11, 2008
- Foot-Sloggers.com Alien Legion collection information. Accessed February 10, 2008
- Diamond Book Distributors Clients list. Accessed February 10, 2008
- Checker's Steve Canyon 1954 (Vol. 8). Accessed February 11, 2008
- Max Allan Collins at Thrilling Detective. Accessed February 11, 2008
- Guns in the Gutters review of The Collins Casefiles Vol. 1 by Christopher Mills. Accessed February 11, 2008
- Dick Tracy: The Collins Casefiles Volume 3 Press Release. Accessed February 11, 2008
- Checker's Little Nemo.. Volume 2. Accessed February 11, 2008
- Michael Lorah interviews Mark Thompson about Little Nemo and the Yellow Kid. Accessed February 11, 2008
- Little Nemo 2 Update 12/10/07. Accessed February 11, 2008
- Checker's "Graphic Novels". Accessed February 11, 2008
- Taylor Jessen (9 November 2005). "A Most Rare Vision: The Many Dreams of Winsor McCay". Animation World Magazine. Retrieved 2008-02-11.
- DuncanHines comment on Michael Lorah's interview with Mark Thompson about Little Nemo and the Yellow Kid. Comment dated 08-28-2007. Accessed February 11, 2008
- Derik Badman's review of Checker's Flash Gordon. Accessed February 11, 2008
- (Amazon.com review of Volume 1 by Dave "babytoxie", noting the "somewhat awkward... format" as "oblong editions don't store easily on the bookshelf.") Accessed February 11, 2008
- Comic-reader and DJ Sloofus commenting on Michael Lorah's interview with Mark Thompson about Little Nemo and the Yellow Kid. Comments dated 08-28-2007. Accessed February 11, 2008
- Johanna Draper Carlson, reviewing "Milton Caniff's Steve Canyon". January 21, 2006. Accessed February 11, 2008
- Rick Veitch: News and Views - "Checker releases 'Supreme, The Return'!" June 7th, 2003. Accessed February 11, 2008.
- (Amazon.com review of Volume 1 by Dave "babytoxie", noting "a couple of pages where the ink did not apply as heavily, resulting in several slightly faded strips."). Accessed February 11, 2008
- Dave Knott responding to Jennifer M. Contino's "Checking in with Checker Books" article on Comicon.com, 04-12-2004. Accessed February 12, 2008
- Publishers Weekly Editorial review of Flash Gordon, Volume 1. Accessed March 17, 2008
- Mark Thompson's Review-rebuttal of Flash Gordon Volume 1, February 23, 2004. Accessed March 16
- Flash Gordon Volume 1, reviewed by 'DT', July 10, 2006. Accessed March 17, 2008
- Derik Badman's review of Checker's Flash Gordon. Accessed March 17, 2008
- Carl F Gauze's Ink19 review of Flash Gordon Volume 4. Accessed March 17, 2008
- BBB Review of Checker Book Publishing Group in Dayton, OH. Accessed March 24, 2010.
- BBB Ratings Overview. Accessed March 24, 2010.
- "Checker explains separation from Diamond Distribution". Retrieved 20 June 2011.
- Staff writer (29 December 2006). "Looking back on 2006". Dayton Business Journal. Retrieved 2008-02-10.
- CHECKER: Crossgen material collected by Checker Book Publishing 12/19/06. Accessed February 11, 2008.
- Chris Arrant: "Mark Thompson on Checker's CrossGen reprints" 07-17-2007. Accessed February 11, 2008
- Chris Arrant: "Mark Thompson on Checker's CrossGen reprints UPDATE" 07-31-2007. Accessed February 11, 2008
- Checker Book Publishing Group at the Comic Book DB