by Nevs Coleman

FREE COMICS THAT AM GOOD! TELL YOUR FRIENDS!

Just before I kick off, I want to direct you all to the new anthology Aces Weekly. The most interesting comics anthology with some of the greatest comic creators to even touch pen to paper I’ve seen since Dark Horse Presents. Seven weekly comics featuring the likes of Phil Hester, David Lloyd, Mark Wheatley, Phil Elliott, Lew Stringer, John McCrea and a host of others. All for £7. How sweet a deal is that? You couldn’t even buy 3 Marvel comics for that price these days!

Every experiment from the last few years, from crossovers, to odd formats, to overpriced anthologies to region based magazines has failed, hasn’t it? All with an eye to try to get the readership  of comic readers up. With the notable exception of Mark Millar, who was smart enough to keep his creations for himself, and took the money he made and turned into CLiNT and Kapow! (The best things to have happened to UK comics for a very, very long time.) it’s just not happened. Dodgem Logic stopped being published. The customers have declined from year to year on all manner of Secret Infinity Final Invasion Crisises and some how, no matter how well Marvel or DC do at the box office, they just can’t translate that raised awareness into continual sales. Sadly, we’re also weeks away from The Dandy being cancelled.

Maybe this is just evolution at work. But the amount of wasted opportunities that happen in comics all the time bug me. Avengers Assemble was the biggest movie of the summer and intrigued kids are met with comic after comic full of men talking around a table. Surprisngly, they didn’t come back. The huge crowds that The New 52 generated aren’t there anymore. For that matter, when your own books are continually selling so badly that they keep getting cancelled, maybe you’re not exactly an ‘A-List Superstar yourself’. Right, Rob? The general awareness of the terrible treatment that The Kirbys have received is at it’s all time highest and then everyone just forgets a couple of months later to complain about the amount of covers for f Uncanny Avengers 1. But those are different problems. For now, I want to talk about the tie-in comic. More specifically, the video game tie-in comic.

If EVER there was one last gasp for comics to be recognised by a community just a smidgen bigger than the comics one, then the Video Game has to be one worth getting into. For everyone else’s best efforts (like Secret Invasion, Acme Novelty Library 19, Final Crisis, for instance.) the Gears Of War comic totally blew away everyone’s sales figures in 2008. Marvel tried their hardest by throwing the Daredevil/Spider-Woman team of Bendis & Maleev at their Halo titles, but editorial interference and an irregular shipping schedule pretty much killed the books dead.. Sure they did okay for comics numbers, but for a franchise that was one of the biggest things in the WORLD one year..bad. On the whole, retailers tend not to order too highly on game based tie-in comics. For two good reasons that combine into one, really:

1) Most Video Game based comics have been terrible. and therefore

2) They don’t sell.

Funny difference between Superhero comic fans and Video game comic readers:  If a book like Amazing Spider-Man or Batman have been around long enough that anything could be published in an issue of Legends Of the Dark Knight and a couple of thousand people will buy it anyway. It could be John Steinbeck & Ralph Steadman creating the book one month and The Chuckle Brothers the next and that core audience would still shell out their $2:99 regardless. I could bring up my theory about the average corporate comic fan having the critical faculties of a junkie again, but it seems unnecessary, really.

Video game fans on the other hand will have none of that. The amount of  attempts to cruise on the back of the license in the VideoGame comic have been silly. The psychology of  ‘They’ll buy the thing because of the brand name, just get anyone to hack it out and it’ll sell.’ hasn’t worked. Most people in the Western world have vaguely HEARD of Street Fighter, and the strength of that brand has carried over sales into no end of cross over product. But no one has managed to translate this into big comic sales. Not Malibu, not Image,  not UDON, And this is not as though Street Fighter fans are highly discerning intellectuals reading ‘Kenneth Smith. The Comic Journal’s Favourite Writer’ with a glass of port. Street Fighter makes people do this to their house. On Purpose.

But they will NOT buy bad comics. They’ve got no reason to. They don’t have that training that superhero fans do.

As a reformed comics addict (You can apply 12 Step Programmes to anything.), My tastes are now…esotertic, maybe, but I can certainly go through a new comic day and not care what’s in like I used to. I don’t need this stuff anymore. I am a massive video game nut, though, and a thing that’s come about in recent years is the promo comic. Promo comics are used to increase awareness of a game just as it’s about to drop. It’s a smart awareness booster (And as a storytelling medium, I will tell you that the post Victoria station sequence in Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is as shocking, as heartbreaking and as moving as anything I’d read in comics this century.) Some of the biggest games of recent times have employed this tactic.

‘I remember buying the Tomb Raider game, yes. Why would I want to buy this?’

Borderlands 2, Max Payne 3, Dead Island have all tried this. And their comics have all been absolutely terrible. I mean, Extreme Comics circa 1995 terrible. And I don’t understand why. Why not exploit the larger budget that would come from doing promotional pieces for a game and hire some really top-notch people to turn out some high quality material? Like my favourite Games Studio, Valve did?

‘Why, Yes, I AM Amazing. And also free. Hence the headline of this piece.’

I don’t need to add anything about the brilliance of Valve’s output here. Anyone who hasn’t yet played  Left4Dead,  Team Fortress, Half-Life 2 or Counter-Strike are people who I am very, very jealous of. If there;s one thing they do as well as games (Besides coming up with Steam.) is incredible promotional stuff. They could have been just happy turning out Portal as a filler for The Orange Box, but they took the reputation and goodwill they garnered from  fans who were equally mystified, awestruck and terrified by the creepiest, cleverest game they’d ever seen. Just say ‘the cake is a lie.‘ to the right people and watch them quiver. As a thank you for the support, Valve commissioned and then gave away the soundtrack to it’s aptly named sequel: Portal 2. That soundtrack can be found here.

In equally groundbreaking form, they turned out some of the most intelligent, hilariously, nightmarish & beautifully created comics this century has seen thus far. They’re set the bar for comics creators and Videogame developers and I imagine there isn’t someone out there in the world who asks the question ‘But..where is Half Life 3?’ every day.

So, here are those comics. Valve. I raise my glass to you people:

Left4Dead.

Portal 2.

Team Fortress 2

For those of you wanting them in physical form (Which looks like this.), Try any number of fine comic shops, such as the LOVELY people at Page 45. Tell em Nevs sent you. And slip em a copy of Nuts while you’re at it. They LOVE that.

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