Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I Hate Comics: A Love Story - Article The First

First post - time to make it shine...

Now, I don't think every post is going to be as streamlined as what follows - I daresay I can guarantee it. We're going to be having all sorts of discussions here, formal and informal, but what comes next happens to be more on the formal side. It's an article I was asked to write for yet-to-begin blogzine and it just so happens that said article inspired me to get up off of my ass and start singing for all you loverly folks.

The article focuses on a hot-button topic today in comics: Floppy vs. Trade.

Happy reading.




As the first in what will hopefully be a semi-regular (if not, dare I say it, REGULAR) series of articles, I feel it’s probably prudent to lay out a mission statement - a code of conduct, if not a code of ethics, which will likely dominate the series, columns, or whatever this eventually mutates into, for the foreseeable future. That statement is a simple one:

I hate comics.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step towards recovery and it’s also the hardest. It’s like a band-aid though – you just have to rip it off and deal with the searing pain of leg hair that may never grow back being evacuated from its decades-long home. You’ve just shared in my hair-yanking agonizing admittance to something which has plagued my subconscious mind for years. We’re in this together now so I expect you to stick it out. You’re my support group for overcoming this detriment, this shortfall in my life, and maybe together we can rehabilitate my mind and release me into the wild. Through these columns and musings we’re going to explore what it is that brought me to comics in the first place, and maybe you too, as well as what’s almost got that fire lit in me again and what’s happening to the industry as it evolves, shifts, and becomes something ALL NEW AND ALL DIFFERENT yet again in the wake of slowing floppy sales and the advent of the digital era.

With any mission statement there must always be a disclaimer and this one is no different. I don’t HATE comics in the traditional sense, not truly anyway. It’s just that of late there hasn’t been much that’s gotten me excited about them. Not in the way excitement used to brew, every Tuesday night being longer than the rest (even longer than the Sunday night with the inevitability of school the next day), frothing and shaking with avid anticipation of New Book Wednesday. I want that back as much as I want to spend my life making comics. The medium offered me so much growing up that I feel indebted to it, and it’s a debt I intend to repay with interest.

I’m now a published comic writer, continuing to make my way into the industry with my chisel and spoon, sneaking dirt out into the courtyard during free time so the warden doesn’t see me escaping my retail cell. It’s a slow process, as anybody on the ground floor will tell you. It also gives you an entirely different view of how things work and today, I want to talk about part of that: floppy comics vs. collected editions.

We began AWAKENING with Archaia Studios Press (MOUSE GUARD, et al) in August of '07 as a bi-monthly release and experienced the slow decline in sales across the three issues which came out, a common and unavoidable phenomenon that all books must endure. That, plus our now year-long delay between issues due to the restructuring of the company, just recently completed, has resulted in us deciding to release the series as two hardcover volumes rather than 10-issues.

For indie books, unless you've already established a pedigree of some kind for yourself, it's just impossible to compete with the big guns in this day and age. Retailers have to play a safe bet, and with banners across a combined total of more than 40 or 50 issues (plus 10 based on a particularly popular space opera, a couple of movie tie-ins...) per month from the big two proclaiming them to be part of either a line or company-wide crossover, shelf space just can't be wasted on a new guy or a book that doesn't have a tried and true sales history. While some larger comic stores (Midtown Comics and so on) have the space and the opportunity to showcase all sorts of books, the average shop wouldn't be making a sound economic decision, especially in these financially unsure times, supporting a book with a guaranteed smaller audience over that of the definite 50 - 100 copy seller. And hey, I'm guilty of contributing to those sales too. I grew up a Marvel guy and even dabbled in DC for a time and I'll always love picking up those books, even when I’m not crazy about everything in them. Going to the shop these days may not have me shivering with glee but there’s a certain sense of warm nostalgia in seeing those old reliable standards waiting for me in their four-color glory. I do this fully aware of the fact that I'm contributing to a machine which kept my book out of others hands. Why? Because I love the medium and most of those stories, those line and company-wide behemoths, are fun and enjoyable and worthy of the space they're given.

MOST of those stories.

On the other hand, asking a retailer to order one or two copies of a hardcover or trade isn't taking away from those monthly sales. A spined book takes up less space than a faced-out floppy on the rack, and very likely a retailer worth his salt will know at least one customer who he can promote the book to and get a $15 - $20 sale out of the deal. Hell, maybe they even know TWO customers who prefer collected editions and like to read, say, Eagle Award nominated existential horror with critically acclaimed mixed media art.

What?! The first volume is coming out soon - I've gotta make a living here!

Then they just nabbed $40 gross in one swoop and they didn't sacrifice anything of their guaranteed sales off the floppy rack. If nothing else, if a retailer doesn't actively try to sell the trade but orders it in the hopes somebody will stumble across it on the trade shelves, it will offer an alternative to the average shopper if they've been Secretly Finally Invaded out. Or, better for the retailer, it represents an add-on sale to a customers purchase. It also opens up the lucrative avenues of book trade sales (Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, etc.) where indie books have a better shot of finding a niche for themselves.

Digital, on the other hand, is just not for me. Maybe my generation will be the last great hold out (what’s a kid of the early 80’s now? Generation Y?) but I need to hold a book, get that freshly printed smell, or in the case of an older book, that musty-I’ve-Got-History waft from the pages, and have a tactile interaction with something. I support the movement, anything that promotes the comic medium to a larger audience, but I don’t think it’ll ever replace printed comics entirely, anymore than I think Kindle or any other e-book phenomenon will replace the heft of a book in your hands. Web and digital comics offer a great marketing opportunity and low cost for creators/publishers and can even be a great proving ground for creators who, for one reason or another, just don’t get picked up right away by a publisher. Hell, I’ve got friends who practically make their living off of web comics and more power to them for it. For me though, I’ve just got to have it on a shelf, or in a long box, or on the nightstand, or where all great reading gets done, the bathroom, to truly immerse myself in the work and get the most out of it.

Personally, I loved writing a floppy book - and I plan to try more in the future once it's more fiscally viable for me, either through success with the trade/hardcover releases of my other books or some other means. For now though, I say let Marvel and DC have that ground and continue to draw people into comics as they have for generations.

Then let retailers show them to the REALLY cool stuff on the trade shelves.



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