(Hey, Internet. This is the rough draft for my next Bleeding Cool column. I’ll add bits as they will inevitably strike me at 3am or as I reread this and think ‘No, Shithead, you meant THIS, not THAT. Hit me with feedback if you feel inclined. Ta, Nevs.)
Dave Sim once said ‘A Comic Shop is like a bar for Drunks.’
I’m in the midst of trying to sort out my piles of assorted papers and writings from a while ago, seeing if there’s anything worth salvaging or if I just wasted a bunch of trees unnecessarily over the last couple of decades and found a diary entry from around the time I was helping out with a comic shop move that reads thusly.
‘Day 12. I think I have been in every day, but I can’t really remember. I have carried so many boxes of IDW Transformers comics that we’ll never sell, all I can hear is Orson Welles’s voice. I really need to stop going to the pub and then eating cheeseburgers after work whilst trying to read Previews. What the fuck are the Dark Avengers? Sorry, Diary, i can’t really focus as my flatmate is watching something called ‘The Wire’. X was going on about this in the pub the other night. Not going to sleep anyway.’
So I watched that episode my flatmate was watching. It was Episode 7. From Season 3. Within half an hour, I was hooked. On my next day off, i went to the library, rented out Season 1 of The Wire, trying to only watch an episode a night. By the end of the month, I had a day to myself and watched all of Season Five in one burst.
Basically my Role Model.
That’s an incredibly intricate show with a large cast of characters that should, by rights, be totally confusing to anyone jumping in at a random point. But I came in almost literally halfway through and was so taken by how good and more importantly, accessible the show was, I was, if you’ll pardon the vernacular, hooked. I’ve been thinking about The Wire a LOT whilst trying to work out why, in terms of comics, I’ve enjoyed 2013 more than I normally would. This year has been astounding for new comics. Literally every month of 2013 has brought something fun, enjoyable, clever, entertaining and interesting with it.
Image is properly living up to the promise I can’t imagine any of the founders had in mind when they were putting the concept together. Dark Horse and IDW continue to both put out new and engaging material on the back of selling people their childhood memories on a monthly basis. (Yes, yes, I’m sure this relaunch of G.I. Joe/Star Wars/Transformers/Conan etc is really good. I do believe you. Now please stop telling me about it.) Titan have just piled in and said ‘Here. We’re publishing comics now. Have some good stuff.
You’re welcome, Dave.
I think what I’m keen on is the sheer diversity of the material being offered. Spy Comics, Horror Comics, Westerns. Sex Comedies. Retelling Of Myths in an interesting fashion. Comics about Corruption, Betrayal. Love. EVERYTHING. Working in Comics has gone from feeling like I’m stacking shelves with the same old beans to being a joy to actually be able to recommend. I’ve been told off in the past for making comics sound more interesting than they actually are to customers as I’m pretty good at high concept pitch at this point. As Larry Stroman used to say, ‘Come near my table, I’m gonna sell you SOMETHING!’
If we’re going to survive as an industry, I imagine we’re going to have to take a hard look at what the face of this business is. And right now, that face is bent forward trying to suck it’s own penis.
One of the major issues, as it were, with attempting to get out of the little clique ghetto that comics is in And it is a ghetto. The best selling comic of 2012 was Walking Dead 100, boosted by it being a comic with a large TV audience, a Video game franchise and the fact that that issue had 8 different covers driving pre-orders up to qualify for variants.
Walking Dead is quoted as selling 300, 000 copies, and remember, that’s copies sold by Image to retailers, not copies bought by customers. (I rather suspect if there was a universal register for accounting for copies of comics bought by punters rather than businesses, we wouldn’t see quite so many self-back patting ‘Print run set by pre orders sells out to the the people who asked for how many copies they wanted in the 1st place.’ news updates.) The Walking Dead’s 300’000 number would have been grounds for instant cancellation a while back. In 2013, you know what sells better that the comic that is the very top of the comics publishing world?
A UK based magazine, Heritage Today is (And I quote) : ‘is the membership magazine of English Heritage, an organisation that aims to safeguard Britain’s historic environment, including buildings, monuments, gardens, cathedrals and village streets.’ Even by English standards, that’s a fairly esoteric niche magazine that is (probably) only of interest to Posh People In England and still outsells, again, the biggest selling comic of 2012 on a regular basis.
I quoted Dave Sim at the the beginning of this, because he’s spot on. We (as in the kind of people who read this website.) walk into a comic shop and we know what we’re looking. The latest crossovers, the newest indies, the most recent trades/graphic novels, fine, whatever. We’re trained to understand that information. Decades of New Comic Book Day habit, looking through here, Previews, Comixology, The Beat. etc. Now take away that knowledge. Try looking at a shelf full of this week’s comics as a total newcomer. How bad are most covers for conveying what the comic is actually about? Why is the anatomy so bad? There are at least five different titles there featuring Batman. It’s fairly obvious what Batman ’66 is but what makes Dark Knight different (and worth publishing) to Detective? If you can’t make that jump, look at the Manga section. You want to read a Manga, but where the fuck do you start?
That ‘Where do you START? ‘ feeling is a problem. Take any comic outside of it’s context of publisher to distrbuitor to retailer to punter. Give it to someone who doesn’t read comics on a regular basis, who doesn’t know that the current nickname for Spidey is Spock, that it’s a terrible thing that Steph Brown isn’t in her own comic or that the last good issue of Batwoman was probably the last good issue of Batwoman. How much explaining would you have to do before anyone would understand why Batman 24 is actually 23.1 and it doesn’t have Batman in it because very good reasons that only work in the context of this business?
And that’s why I thought about The Wire. It was entertaining and looked good enough to draw me in as a complete outsider midway through it’s run to invest in it, both with time and money until I’d seen the whole story. Could you honestly do that with this month’s New Avengers? Superman? Justice League America? All New X-Men?
I open up my Netflix, and it recommends a bunch of shows to me. I can tell roughly what they’re about because of the image, the font, the lighting. It’s really not rocket science. Is it unfair to compare comics to TV? Maybe. If this business is going to expand it’s readership beyond the Wednesday Junkies (Your money is a done deal, after all. You might walk off in disgust due to whatever happened in Superior Spidey, but you’ll replace it with something else. That $3:99 isn’t going onto anything else but a different comic. More on this next time.) then we have to ask of every single comic being published:’Does this issue make sense in the real world, or is it just more fan service?’
There’s nothing inherently wrong with fan service, it’s just…irrelevant. Like putting chocolate sprinkles on crack. If you’re into crack, you don’t care whether there are some sprinkles on there, because you’re still going to buy it. If you’re not, chocolate sprinkles aren’t going to change your mind. It’s very nice to a have a comic with a cover that lets you wobble Poison ivy about a bit, but does anything on that cover tell you what kind of story you’re going to be reading?
Are there any questions asking what this show is about?
Think Small. Stay Small.
(Gentle reminder that the last time I looked at the comments section of Bleeding Cool, some dude in Chicago offered to fight the entire Internet over Kevin Maguire’s dismissal from justice Legion 3000 or something, Wanna talk? Am I totally wrong? Hit me up on Twitter. Currently both reading and recommending the likes of Sex, It Came, The Mire, Velvet, The Bounce, Pretty Deadly, Occupy Comics, Grindhouse and probably my favourite title for a comic ever, Sex Criminals. )