(Note to those of you reading this on FilthyOrphanWordpress. this is a 1st draft of a piece I’m considering sending in to be published by BleedingCool.com. Feedback much appreciated, Ta.)
The last year at the shop has been for quite a large part, sorting out stock that we had sitting in reserve. Big things are happening with the space we have, which has made it possible to start rifling through the boxes of unsorted comic back up stock. And someone has been given the enviable task of arranging and bagging most of Marvel, DC and all of the major independent comic companies output for the last 30 years. Guess which lucky funnybook fan that would be?
Which has put me in the horrible place of absolutely, utterly dreading comic conventions. San Diego, NYCC, Emerald City. I’ve come to fear them all! To lurk over Twitter with a resigned lump in my throat as I watch the real-time announcements from various panels, knowing at any minute, SOMEONE’S going to say it:
‘Pleased to announce a NEW PUNISHER 1!’
‘…Events from this crossover will lead directly to Green Lantern Corps 1’
‘Straight out of Ultimatum, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN AND THE ULTIMATES!’
And as I write this, the last of the explanations of those Marvel one-word ads have been released. New Punisher, New Captain Marvel, New Elektra, New Black Widow, Heck, even New New (Nu?) Warriors. (Not actually called that, but I wouldn’t put anything past a company that’d actually put out a comic called Ultimate Comics Ultimates.) Obviously, in light of Journey Into Mystery ‘s sad cancellation a few months back, Marvel expanding their female-led superhero comics output is a great thing, and it’s worth remembering that one purchase of a comic from a shop or Comixology is worth a million Outraged Of The Internet Tweets demanding to know why Certain Book X has been cancelled. The answer is ALWAYS, ALWAYS ‘Because it was no longer profitable for the company to continue publishing the comic, whether you enjoyed reading it or not.’ No one wants to publish anything that only lasts a couple of years but was well liked online. It makes everyone involved look bad, for one thing. If you would like Marvel (and by osmosis, DC) to put out more female-led comics, then I suggest you being the process of letting your local shop know that you’d be interested in pre-ordering these comics with the same degree of fever that you did the DC 3D covers.
If Mid-Town Comics or every branch of Forbidden Planet get 200 regular customers telling them they all want copies of Phil Noto’s Black Widow, they’re going to want significantly more than 201 copies from Marvel when it comes to sending off their Previews Order. There’s no reason why Captain Marvel 1 by Kelly Sue Deconnick couldn’t be as hot and as in consistent demand next year as a Walking Dead or an Afterlife With Archie is now. Following that law of Cause And Effect, if DC see that Marvel is doing really well with intelligently written and classily drawn female led superhero comics, DC will jump on that bandwagon. Nobody gets rich by ignoring popular market trends. As Stan Lee once famously said, ‘YOU are our real editors.’ So Edit. Pre-Order. Turn comics into what you want to buy.
Don’t Tweet About It, Do It, as The Pink Fairies might have sung, if Twitter had been about when they were recording music.
So, If I’m so pro these books being published what’s my problem?
My problem is, it literally took me a day to sort out our Punisher stock. Just The Punisher. Not because I’m particularly bad at my job, but because since 1986, there have been no less than SEVEN Punisher issue 1’s. That’s not including Punisher: War Zone, Punisher: War Journal, Punisher: Max or any other number of one-shots, minis or even a comic that describes the guns Frank uses to shoot whoever’s got on his nerves this week. Tempting as it is to just dump the unsorted lot in a longbox marked ‘Homicidal Fantasies For Alex Jones Fans In Comic Form’ and be done with it, part of being good at back issues is making sure all of your stock runs in the correct chronological order. Which means working out which of the seven series of Punisher the 300 odd comics I’m looking at belongs to, bagging, boarding and pricing them and then putting them out. Then doing the same thing with War Zone, Max, War Journal, 2099, etc.
Which I’ll concede is my job. However, it’s not made any simpler by the fact unlike British Comics, Manga or even TV Shows, American Mainstream Comics don’t have a cover displayed volume number next to the issue in question. I can probably guess by looking at the price and the art style which volume of Punisher I’m looking at when asked, but ‘Why isn’t this thing that claims to be the 1st issue not actually the beginning of this story’ doesn’t come into question when buying, say, Lone Wolf & Cub or Breaking Bad boxsets. Even old British mainstay, The Eagle had the decency to just change volume number each year.
If this was just the Punisher, I’d write it off as a peculiar idiosyncrasy of the comics publishing world, but We’re up to the third volume of Uncanny X-Men, at least, now. Hulk is currently on it’s 4th relaunch. Captain America is equally up to Seven issue 1’s. It’s surprising how many younger readers aren’t entirely sure why there are so many comics called Avengers#1 or that putting ‘New Or Other interchangeable Adjective Here’ means that it’s different in some way. I’m not even going to get into the headache that DC have caused by stop-starting things like Batman:The Dark Knight, Batman Odyessy or Batman Inc thanks to the New 52.
Realise that ALL of these comics are Avengers 1, And these aren’t even all the comics that are called Avengers 1. Then understand why this industry can be perceived as ‘obtuse’ to someone who’s just watched the Avengers cartoon with their kid and wants to get them a comic that is Avengers 1. Buying a comic based on the biggest movie franchise should not require this degree of understanding of the history of the field. This is not ‘cute little quirks of the industry’. This is the kind of short-term quick profit thinking that keeps the medium small and unfathomable to ‘civvies’. When the trend for Comics being used as source material for real money entertainment ends, we’ll have alienated a huge amount of potential new readers for not having a degree in the understanding of why comics want to replicate television’s notions of ‘Seasons’ and thus just not know where to start reading from.
Honestly, I’m not quite sure what the solution is at this point, as there’s no way of changing the information on already printed comics. There is, however, the temptation to find the twitter address of whichever bright spark decided that what the world needed was ANOTHER Wolverine 1 and getting them to explain ‘Comics Publishing Works And Why It Only Makes Sense Within The Comics Field And Even Then, Not Really 101’ to our confused customers.
All of them. One at a time.
(Just as an aside, i have enough guile and experience to know better than to go looking at the comments section of any entertainment based website, If you want to talk to me about stuff I’ve said, i can be found on Twitter here. And you should probably follow this, too. Because Reasons.)