I HAVE A DREAM. And it Involves Elvira. And Skottie Young. And The Hero Initiative . Look, just read it, will you?
No, this isn’t the weirdest slash fiction ever.
Here are some concepts people LOVE: Elvira. Variant Covers, Buying Stuff To Do A Good Deed. And laughing at really, REALLY bad old comics. Like Mystery Science Theatre 3K but with bad colouring instead of terrible cinematography
There are a plethora of bad comics out there, many of them in the public domain. IDW reprinted quite a couple for their ‘What Were They Thinking.’ line. Lots, LOTS more can be found here, for your perusal, enjoyment and/or general mockery. Just bear the sheer amount of this material available in the back of your head for a couple of minutes.
So, there have been a few attempts at Elvira comics over the years. They’ve been ….ok, but the covers were usually the best thing about them, after that, they would descend into poorly written slapstick, and it would never read nor be as funny as the real thing. The mistake was that Elvira is her best when she’s either mocking the thing she’s watching OR she’s doing the Fourth Wall breaking thing in her own story. When she was written as part of a comic story, she didn’t have the chance to address the reader as well as she would in her films ‘Mistress Of The Dark’ or ‘Haunted Hills’ as she wasn’t doing her own act, but being written by people who didn’t quite get it. This style CAN be done well in comics, though. As proven by John Byrne’s groundbreaking run on She-Hulk run from the 90’s. Which at one point featured The Jen skipping naked as a result of an argument Byrne was having in the letters page. As Meta-Textual as comics could get back then without involving 3-D technology or Smell-O-Rama.
So here’s what I’m thinking:
An Elvira hosted ‘So Bad It’s Good’ Comics Anthology. The comic runs two or three of those clunkers from yesteryear, but each strip has a new two page bookend sequence where Elvira introduces and closes the story, and also pops in to the story via captions or a cut-away panel by the likes of Kaluta, Wrightson, Adam Hughes, Jason Pearson,Adam Warren, Tula Lotay, Adam Hughes, Kyle Baker, Amanda Connor, Hilary Barta, Becky Cloonan, Kevin Maguire, Jaime Hernandez, Tara McPherson, Adam Warren, Ty Templeton, : Gals and Guys who give good boob but also know how to draw their funny.
Stick in a reprint from the DC or Claypool days which can lead to new trade paperbacks of the older material they created. Then the comic finishes with an original short story by contemporary writers and artists, like a behind the scenes skit, interviews with comic characters or just some satirical commentary on the stories of the time. If this whole idea means at some point there would be an Elvira strip written by Alex DeCampi and drawn by Frank Cho, I would die happy. (more…)
So, like everyone else working in comics in the last couple of weeks, my newsfeed has been an absolute torrent of news. Fantastic Four, Secret Wars, A-Force, Convergence, all kinds of speculation to where all this is actually going and what the endgame is for both Marvel and DC once their big events end.
Looking at Marvel’s actions over the last couple of years and the line-up of the ongoing titles DC are launching during and post-Convergence, I think its fair to say that The Big Two have finally woken up. They’ve realised that there is an audience to try to draw in, rather than placating the Buys New Comics Weds Morning 36+ White Male demographics as they have been since the launch of the Direct Market. This HAS to be a good idea, because as things stand, we’re all on a train that makes a lot of noise but doesn’t run very well.
Let me digress here, because I get some grief for my continued belief that the Weds regulars are the thing that’s holding the medium back.
First off, I need to say ‘Thank You’ to that crowd. A genuine Thank You. Before the films, cartoons, Anime and such made the world of comics cool again, you were there without fail, every Thursday and then Wednesday, you kept the industry going through Wizard, through Image, the summer of 93. through Heroes World,, through Diamond becoming the exclusive distributor of comics, through no end of price rises, event books, The New 52, Marvel NOW! and everything else. Every person working in comics today owes you a debt of gratitude for sticking with the business when so many have left.
I do mean that, but I also mean this:
We are at crisis point with the state of modern comics. We;re edging closer with every month towards the standard issue of Batman or Avengers being $5 an issue. Print runs are at shockingly low numbers (Ignore the glitch that was Star Wars 1. A fair amount of that print run was Gamestop buying copies to generate their own variants and even if it wasn’t, what other comic on the horizon do YOU see breaking 1 Million copies in preorders?*.) and unless radical steps are taken, there can’t be a way to keep comics as we understand them going. The maths just won’t add up. Plus, both Time Warner and Disney own DC and Marvel, so if the sales figures get too bad, I have to imagine someone at Disney will say to whoever Marvel’s CEO would be ‘Look, we’ve let you do it your way, and it isn’t working. Now we’re doing this.’
The first step was finally accepting the internet is part of most people’s lives, and rather than letting the pirates get all the income of digital comics (Meaning neither publisher nor retailer saw any profit.), letting things like Comixology, Sequential, Dark Horse Digital and Marvel Unlimited happen. The next was bending the books away from standard playing to the guy who knows the difference between Azrael and Talon and creating more accessible, all ages,woman friendly content Things like Hawkeye, Batgirl, Young Avengers, Grayson, Harley Quinn, Captain Marvel, Journey Into Mystery. None of these books have sold particularly well, but they are selling to a different audience than the guys picking up all of the Original Sin crossovers, I’ve noticed.
Ultimately, as I’ve said many, many times before, a 45-year-old can appreciate an issue of Batman, but an issue of Batman should never, ever be written for a 45 year old’s appreciation. Which is where the difficult bit is going to come in.
For American Superhero comics (And by virtue, everything else, because I love Love & Rockets, The Goon, Stray Bullets and Sex Criminals very much, but you can’t run a shop on the profits of work like that alone, unless you’re very rich to start with.) to survive, there needs to be an understanding that the writers on those books need to stop writing to you, the afore-mentioned 45 year olds. You’ve had nearly fifty years of being catered to, but Batman has to be a tween book again. Not just Batman, either. Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Flash, Wolverine, Thor, the lot.
And you need to shut up and let it happen. No Gatekeeping. No more demanding that Cosplayers aren’t allowed to dress up as Female Green Goblin unless they know who Lefty Donovan is. This random influx of younger readers who love the material so much they actually dress up as Kate Bishop or Batgirl are the best hope for the survival of the industry. Please, please don’t drive them away because you resent that Batman isn’t written for you and your extensive knowledge of Joe Chill and The Drake family anymore. The truth is those comics should never have been written for you in the first place.
Kelly Sue DeConnick was quoted in a post over at Badassdigest explaining the hurdles with attempting to launch comics in today’s market. On the whole, I tend to agree with her assertion that the main problem is trying to sell radical ideas to a conservative audience, where things that aren’t WASP HeroGuy and his pals and gals (Or New WASP HeroGuy and his pals and gals, or Uncanny WASP HeroGuy and his pals and gals, etc) just don’t sell. I believe she received a bit of stick for essentially blaming the consumer base, but I can’t see who else there is to blame. Publishers respond to what sells and attempts to duplicate that formula, Diamond can only offer what publishers print to retailers who can only sell what their customers are willing to buy.
DeConnick also raises the rise of sales of Manga to young women in America, pointing out that it is actually easier for them to get into Manga, a translated medium than it is to start reading comics about characters they’ve seen in American made films. She points out how simple it is to walk into Barnes & Noble and get into One Piece, which is true. Even walking into any comic shop and picking up her own Captain Marvel isn’t very simple when you realise that there are seven different volumes with the same title, no two of the trades necessarily relate to each other, not all of them actually feature Carol Danvers and that’s without the whole Shazam! thing tied into the name, and as she rightly says, that’s assuming you’re dealing with a friendly & knowledgable member of Comics Retail who isn’t trying to shun any women from entering the clubhouse.
The problem with seeing Manga’s working model as a situation to aspire to is the main problem that The Direct Market gave us.
Comics are sold firm sale to retailers from Diamond. Waterstone’s or Barnes & Noble could take a chance of getting a full run of Ultimate Muscle in stock. A quick Wiki tells me that’s 29 books, and that’s a fairly short run for most popular Manga. If the books don’t sell. No big, they can just be returned to VizMedia and it becomes their problem.
If a comic shop tries that, it’s a firm investment of maybe $250. Once the shop has them, they can’t be sent back to Diamond. Take that risk and crap out too many times and that’s the end of your shop. Assuming the audience you would have had for those books don’t realise that you can read almost any popular Manga these days for free online and aren’t obligated to keep buying the books from you. (It literally took me two minutes to find a site that ran perfectly translated scans of Bakuman, and I didn’t know what I was doing or what the hot hub sites are for this material.)
So, some major problems there: The content is too expensive, it’s inaccessible to new readers and the comics aren’t written to the target audience, who aren’t willing to buy outside of their comfort zone anyway.
I have a couple of ideas on this:
First Off, Marvel and DC need to brand ALL their comics with volume numbers as fast as is humanly possible.
You don’t know much about comics, but you’ve just watched Daredevil on Netflix, and decide you quite like it, so you’re going to learn more about Matt Murdock. You go to a comic shop and the person there sells you Daredevil (Devil At Bay.) Volume 1 by Mark Waid. You take it home, read it, decide that’s quite good as well and go back to the shop. It’s a different and less helpful member of staff on duty, so you search the shelves to find Daredevil Volume 2 by Mark Waid. When you look, you find Daredevil: Volume 2 by Mark Waid, Daredevil Volume 2: West Case Scenario by Mark Waid and possibly also the hardcover called….Daredevil Volume 2. By Mark Waid.
You see the problem here, and that was a fairly simple example featuring a character who only has one title. Keeping up with the volumes of Avengers, New Avengers, Uncanny Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Avengers: A.I. and their multitude of relaunches is an absolute nightmare**. Customers come into the shop having seen the films, innocently asking ‘Got any Avengers books?’ and my heart sinks realising the two minutes of explanation this is going to take, made worse by the fact that there are no Avengers comics that are anything LIKE the film that made the franchise desirable to the outside world in the first place. (‘I realise you liked The Black Widow and Iron Man, but I can do you a comic where the Black Panther kills Namor instead? No?’)
I’m aware that Marvel have been attempting to emulate the season format from Television with their comics in recent years, but the thing is, if you put a DVD on sale that reads ‘Breaking Bad: Season Two.’ on the cover, that doesn’t hinder sales because people don’t buy them for their investment value. The comics and subsequent trades are too difficult for any new reader to get into, to the point of their giving up on the entire medium. Just take the books and add ‘Volume 7: Book 3’ or whatever to the spine and cover. It’s not difficult, and to bring up the Manga comparison again, you start reading Death Note with Volume 1. It’s quite simple to both buy and sell.
Make the first three issues of any new series returnable. And preferably cheaper than average.
There are no fixed commodities in comics. None. For every Amazing Spider-Man, there’s a Web Of Spider-Man, a Marvel Knights Spider-Man, Peter Parker, Spider-Man Unlimited, a Spectacular Spider-Man, a Sensational Spider-Man, an Avenging Spider-Man, Superior Spider-Man Team Up, Marvel Team Up, books designed to cash in on the popularity of a title. More often than not, it just doesn’t work, because of the refusal to believe that the creative team are responsible for the resurgence of interest in -Men, or Hulk or whatever, so there’s just the daft idea that the punters have suddenly decided they really like Batman, with Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb creating the content having nothing to do with the increased sales. (And you wonder why Image happened?) Just sticking the brand name ‘Avengers’ on a comic doesn’t guarantee high sales.
I, for one, am ecstatic at the risks being taken at the moment. A female Thor, A black Captain America, Ms Marvel, a rise in female-led books, more than ever before, but if they’re fed through the same filter, they’re going to die on the shelves and two years from now, we’ll just see more Avengers and Justice League spin-offs dominating the shelves.
What we need here is the ability to properly promote these books. More than a couple of unlettered pages in Previews and maybe an artist publishing a cover on their personal Tumblr. Say what you like about Image, but when soliciting new comics in Previews, each book gets a couple of pages of story art, the cover, a synopsis in the solicitation and also more content in their newsletter. That’s the best way of doing it, for my mind.
Compare this to DC, who’ll write flimsy ‘An all new start for The Flash as he buys a puppy. $3:99’ or Marvel either releasing as little information as possible so to avoid spoilers and returnable books or just writing snarky text to presumably amuse themselves. It’s all well good to keep the actual events of a comic from readers, but retailers need more to work with than that.
The thing is, we can only guess how well a new comic will sell until it actually hits the shelves, and for all the PR dick waving of Pre-Order Numbers and buying huge quantities of a print run for investment purposes, (Try selling a copy of Rob Liefeld’s X-Force 1 from 1990 today.) how the books sell from retailer to customer are what determines the book’s fate. Chucking comics at us with no preview material, high cover prices and the frankly arrogant assumption that the customers will buy it because it features someone from the Batman family leads to…well, where we are now. But if the new titles were solicited with decent preview material, a cheaper cover price to entice new readers to taking a chance and that 3 issue returnable window would mean retailers would order more copies and wouldn’t be taking such a gamble from their own income should the book tank (You can only lead a horse to water, and we’re a bit tired of paying out ourselves every time it doesn’t drink.)
So, ideally, if Marvel were to launch, say, a Black Cat comic by Terry Dodson and Kathryn Immonen comic spinning out of Secret Wars, the 1st and 2nd issue would cost $2:50, we’d have spoiler free preview material to show customers and we’d be able to see how well the book actually sold in shops and order subsequent issues based on that information, rather than having to do the ’40 for 1, 25 for 2, 15 for 3….Actually make it 30 for 1. People don’t buy female lead comics ‘ formula that can kill books before they even get started.
With cheaper access comics, featuring material written to the correct audiences and a back catalogue filing system that’s much easier to understand, the industry could start to flourish again, keeping the old material in print and embracing a young audience who are demonstrably keen to get into our business, but literally don’t know where to start.
Because if we don’t start thinking along these lines, nothing will change. The audiences will continue to decline, and the rest of us too stupidly devoted to funnybooks will end up paying for those who’ve left or never started in the first place. I’m 37, and I fully expect to see a regular issue of Amazing Spider-Man costing $10 before I die.
I hope, and pray, I’m wrong.
* Now wait and see Secret Wars get pre-orders of 1.5 Million just to prove me wrong…
**Or as a colleague put it last week: ‘Another Powers Issue 1. Huh, I guess it IS Tuesday.’
Last year I expressed some….dismay at the idea that DC thought they’d invented a new cash cow by publishing some variation on 3D stuff every September. I didn’t blame them as Villains Month was apparently DC’s best financial month since the New 52 started, but my fear was that editorial mandate would suggest that something would have to force this to happen on an annual basis. Bless them, DC tried their luck again this year. The Future’s End #0 was their big comic for Free Comic Book Day, featuring so many limbs being removed I suspected George Lucas was ghosi-writing it and I was fully expecting a repeat of last year’s crap, with people queuing outside shops to buy comics for no reason except they thought it’d be an investment opportunity. One that didn’t really pan out, did it?
Yeah, it was an investment thing, come on, don’t lie to me, man. DC put up some scare stories suggesting that the books might be allocated so they could be rare and suddenly my phone was 90% ‘Are you getting those 3D DCs in?’ Everyone thought they had another New Mutants 98 or Amazing Spider-Man 361 on their hands, especially given DC had said they were only printing so many of the enhanced covers because they were losing money on printing them. I had freelancers explaining to me that I should up the quantities on the ordering after I posted on Twitter that we didn’t like how they’d been solicited, so we’d be ordering low amounts and anyone interested ought to pre-order copies (Leaving open the question ‘Can I tell you how to stop writing comics that get cancelled, because 1 out of 3 DC books still being published isn’t a great percentage, is it? Don’t tell me my job and I won’t tell you yours.)
Long term….we were right. Although we were very conservative with our initial orders of Villain’s Month, they were offered o us by Diamond a few weeks later at a much reduced rate. We took a chance on literally a couple of copies each and they sat there, gathering dust. Then sometime around March or so, I heard DC would be trying their luck again with this stuff. ‘Future’s End’ an event starting from a weekly comic that would lead into the majority of their output featuring new 3D cover tech. They’d learned their lessons from last time and were so confident of how well this was going to do, they actually decided to solicit the comics without the creative teams in Previews, inviting us to keep up with websites so we could be as surprised as everyone to find out most of the teams were…the same people who wrote and drew the comic as last month (Oh, word to the wise. We’ve got better things to do than go chasing up vital information on how to order your product via some scavenger hunt. Save that crap for the Rubes and let us go on with the business of being a business, aye?)
And as we got closer to the first week of Future’s End, I noticed something.
No one seemed to care.
I’ve discussed before on how ordering works, the nature of cycle sheets and such. The other half of the equation is listening. Seeing which things people are saying they’re keen on reading, what they’re excited about. Social Media is essentially free Market Research for me and as much as I’m very good at pushing my tastes on people who trust my judgement (My trick is never assuming I know better than someone else what they’d like, and not talking to them like an unenlightened sub life-form because they like Hulk more than Habibi. Because it’s smart to learn from your own mistakes, but smarter still to learn from other people’s.) I also know enough not to block someone who just wants to pick up this week’s X-Men and leave by blabbing to them about Dark Horse Presents.
The long term effect of paying attention to people talking about comics on Twitter, Tumblr, etc, is that I know what is actually going to be popular and sell from the shelves regardless of what the publishing houses try to tell me. I’m not always right. and Lord knows there;s an extra 200 copies of Truth:Red White And Black in the world that didn’t need to be ordered. (Sorry, Paul.) but I saw enough that my guess in August has turned out to be a fact in September, one that I’m happy to report. That being:
DC: Future’s End has absolutely died on its arse. Tanked. Dropped A Bollock. No one cared 1st week of release. No queues around any shops. Nobody trying to sell pre-orders on eBay. Just this month’s DCs. Sitting on the shelves, ignored because people are saying ‘Hang on, why does this cost more than last month’s issue? Do I need this?’ I, for one, couldn’t be happier. To anticipate the usual subtweet backlash I get from writing this kind of thing, let me explain why a person who works in a comic shop would be happy that some comics aren’t selling:
I’m sick of publishing houses assuming that you’re stupid, if I’m honest with you. That they can pile out any Sub Wildstorm 1995 reject looking rubbish at a higher price because it happens to feature Batman and a 3D cover and assume you’ll buy it. That DC can presume to just replace J. H. Williams III on Batwoman because it doesn’t matter who’s drawing or writing the character, you’ll just buy the comic because DC is giving YOU the privilege of buying a Batwoman comic in the first place, True Believer. Obviously DC just have that magic touch when it comes to publishing female comic characters, which is why they have so many non Bat/Superman related women led titles out there….right? No, of course not. No matter how many PR friendly tweets DC want to send out about ‘dedication to the character’ and other meaningless bollocks, the success of Batwoman is due to Williams III. If DC want to pretend those HCs and comics sold due to the DC magic, but then they can explain why that magic isn’t working on World’s Finest, Catwoman or Supergirl.
You’re not stupid. You can see the difference in quality of an issue of Batwoman worked on by J.H. Williams III and one that isn’t, whether DC want to acknowledge that her popularity is entirely down to his work and efforts or not. You looked at the cover art of the Future’s End and said ‘No. This isn’t worth my money.’ You have the critical faculties to be discerning about your purchases and make decisions based on those judgements. You’re not a hive of walking ATMs that just need to be shown a picture of Nightwing to dispense cash at DC. I respect you for that.
What I don’t respect is the short-term thinking of various freelancers who have been shilling these covers at me, telling me how amazing they’re going to be, because the long-term effect of pushing comics solely based on the cover is that it’ll make the actual creative team irrelevant. As I said, DC didn’t even bother listing the creative teams on the Future’s End titles when they solicited them in Previews, and I’ve read a few things to suggest that not all the comics even had finalized creatives assigned when they announced this was happening.
Does this….bother anyone else? Because it would seem to me that if DC could have started selling comics in September 2013 quantities purely on their ability to conceive of a crossover event with shiny cover technology, then it doesn’t matter who’s writing or drawing the actual content. Every single creative talent working on a DC NU 52 book would be entirely interchangeable (and presumably a new, lower page rate could be paid, since it wouldn’t matter if Alex Ross or Jim Ross was drawing Action Comics this month.)
For any number of DC freelancers to try to convince me this process is a good idea is like, well, like those people working in W.H.Smith who encourage you to use the electronic self-service tills, making the human manned tills obsolete. so that actual human endeavour is replaced with technology that doesn’t need a living wage. You’re screwing yourself in the long-term to look good for your editors in the short-term. I’m sure DC and Marvel would love to be able to sell comics purely on the strength of their licenses and gimmicks alone It’s not been that long since Artists working for the Big Two, or D.C. Thompson, for that matter were told they couldn’t be credited for their work in the comics they were working on, as that would confuse readers. A nasty lie designed to destroy the chance of any talent getting a reputation that would allow them to negotiate higher page rates, return of original artwork and such.
Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, Frank Miller, Steven Bissette, Alan Moore, Will Eisner, Gary Groth. The Image Boys. Countless, Countless others. All men and women who risked their careers and reputations in order to make sure this generation of comic creators would be paid a fair rate and recognised for their efforts and creations. Don’t sell that out for this month’s gimmick. I’m talking to creators and customers alike here. Because the failure of Sin City 2 at the cinema wasn’t a victory against people whose opinions you don’t like in comics, it was a defeat for the idea that any comic creations can transcribe into cinema unless they’re owned by Disney or Time-Warner. Hollywood lives in fear of risk and it’ll be that bit harder for anything else to get made now that Sin City 2 is perceived as a failure.
If there’s an upshot from this, it’s that we seem to be back to promoting talent over gimmicks, and DC pushing the fact that they’ve had John Romita JR drawing Superman for the last couple of issues and the draw of Multiveristy is that Grant Morrison is writing are steps in the right direction. The direction that says Marvel and DC might own the toys, but they’re nothing without someone good to play with them. And with that in mind, (With kind permission of Cameron Stewart), here’s a look at the new Batgirl comic he and Babs Tarr have created. It starts with issue 35, shipping on the 8th of October 2014. I’m buying it because it’s by people whose work I like. I think that’s the only good reason to buy any comic.
Here’s a thing to bear in mind for every aspiring comic creator out there, and while I think about it, every publishing company, as well.
Everything not in Previews is a pain in the arse for your average Funnybook retailer.
For those of you who don’t know how Previews works: This is Previews. Make sense of this. As your job. Every month.
If you’re not mad enough to try and make sense of that for free. Previews is a monthly publication, roughly the size of the Argos catalogue listing all the products being offered by most of the heavyweight publishers to ship in two months time. We, as retailers, have to sit down with this thing and essentially gamble our continued existence on correctly ordering just enough copies of items to keep our customer base happy without overstocking (As most comics are non-returnable unless they’re very late, everything we’ve ordered, we’re stuck with, so if we can’t sell it, we’re lumbered with expensive and undesirable stock.) or understocking (If you don’t have enough of the desirable items of the month in stock on a regular basis, customers just tend to say ‘Well, if they’re not going to stock POP!/ DHP/Mars Attacks/Insert you chosen example of a comic that’s obviously understocked here, then I might as well going to the place up the road and pick up my other stuff there at the same time.)
Honestly, I can’t imagine how you settle down and try to make sense of Previews if you don’t ave a strong working knowledge in the history of adspeak, a study of Naomi Klein’s ‘No Logo’ and George Orwell’s ‘1984 ‘and the attitude ‘Okay, how are they going to try to get us to overorder ourselves into bankruptcy THIS month?’ If you are new to the Game, here’s some things that happen that you ought to be aware of.
(By the way, even if you don’t have a hand in the ordering process, I cannot recommend to new comic shop staff that they get into the habit of reading Previews on a regular basis enough. I know of at least one employer that seems to actively encourage their staff to be as ignorant of new comics as possible. This might sound like an easier job, but you’ll find down the line that your employer has left you with virtually no transferable skills beyond ‘Running a till’. You’re going to need more than that to survive. Trust me.)
I cannot say enough good things about this process. Every comic shop that’s still open today must have employed this technique or some variation of it in order to stay open, so here’s how it works.
You’ve just opened up a new comic shop. You set up your Diamond account .Tuesday evening comes around. You clear out the customers and this week’s new comics arrive. Let’s say, hypothetically, you order in 100 copies of the new issue of Amazing Spider-Man for the month of September. You stash aside 30 odd for standing orders and phone ins. 5 of those are variant covers, so you do whatever it is you do with variants. You’re left with 65 regular issues of Amazing Spider-Man that you put on the shelf. Fine, so far, so good.
The next step is what you do if you’re smart and want to stay alive.
Come Sunday, you take a spreadsheet that lists every comic that ships that week and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd weeks of the month. You sit there with your remaining copies of Amazing Spider-Man and count how many copies you have left. The following Sunday, you count and record that amount again. Then again the third week. The next week is the week the new issue should ship. Whatever number of copies you have on that third Sunday is the number you cut your order of Amazing Spider-Man by for your next order. (Barring whatever copies you want to keep for back issues, etc.) You repeat that process for every comic you stock that you order from Previews
And you IGNORE THE FUCK OUT OF ALL VARIANT/RATIO BASED INCENTIVES and stick to your numbers, regardless of whatever you’re offered in the next Previews. Holofoil 1 in 50, Die-Cut 1 in 30, 3D Lenticular 1 in 75. You’ll see all kinds of numbers going on eBay for all this stuff, and it’ll be easy to abuse your ordering system to go for the quick profit. Marvel and DC will LOVE you for ordering all that stock. But you’ll still be lumbered with a bunch of stock that looked amazing in Previews, on the websites, but now it’s taking up a lot of space in your shop. Did it all ship on time? Then it’s non-returnable. To get the 1 in 75 cover, you have to order 75 copies of the comic. It isn’t Marvel or DC’s problem whether you can make a profit on the other 74 copies you’ve just got in or not.
Comics doesn’t work like the newspaper or magazine industry. You don’t get to send your unsold copies back for credit. You have bought all of that stuff firm sale.I’ve literally seen shops go under because they focussed on short-term variant gain. I can guarantee you there are shops across the world who are still looking at their faded and yellowing Secret Invasion/Final Crisis variants gathering dust on the walls and wondering what they were thinking.
(Sure, there are some shops that seem to have variants all the time, and I’ll bet you Dollars to Doughnuts that every time the money that pays business rates, site bills, staff wages isn’t being generated by new comics sales and can afford to screw up their orders from month to month.
This is why whenever I see comic creators or shop staff saying ‘Oh, well, variants are just some fun, you know?’ it does my utter tits in. The way Archie does variants (They offered every cover to the Death Of Archie issues on a ‘Order as you like basis.) or Image’s efforts to make their 2nd and later printings as attractive as the original covers (particular shout-out to Sex Criminals, here.) is fine. The concentrated effort by publishers to try to make retailers ignore their own sales figures to artificially increase pre-order numbers is less funny and more, given how small the comics business is now and how many shops have gone under because they clearly didn’t know what they were doing before they opened up their copy of Previews.
That’s literally just one element of the thought process that goes into managing a comic shop, but actually, while we’re on the subject…
Tom, Jim, Axel, Dan. Let’s talk savvy for a minute here. Pretend the Rubes aren’t here. Hang on, I’ll find something for them to get outraged at…
Right, while they’re angry, look, we need to talk here. Here’s the thing. All of us who have the book? We’re old enough to have lived through at least three Infinite Crises or two Professor X deaths. We know the score with what you’re doing with your punters, and that’s fine. We could probably do without double-digit Captain America issue ones or such, but you probably don’t need us being quite so straight and explaining to punters why not every crossover is an essential purchase or telling them they can always find the Skottie Young variant covers on Google Images for free, so we’re balanced out, I reckon.
I get why you need to do the ‘Classified solicitations. I understand why you don’t want everyone to know who’s writing and drawing The Future’s End books, you don’t want the Gossip sites to blow your Third Act Reveal or anything. You want them to be surprised by the events. That’s fine, I dig you don’t wanna show your Aces until you’re playing the last hand. Just meet us halfway here.
Instead of running to the world’s media when you solicit a book two months before it hits the shops because it has some content that’ll get the real world interested for good reasons that could potentially expand the reading population, like the female Thor or having Sam Wilson be Captain America (Which has the little fat men in stained t-shirts who want to keep the Clubhouse Girl Free Because They Have The Cooties looking nervous at various marts I’ve been to, so keep it up.) How about this?
Get in touch with The View, The NY Post, whoever a couple of weeks before Final Cut Off Date. We’ll get a wave of people who want to buy the product as it’s coming out, rather than their hearing about it and then forgetting by the time said comic hits the shelves. Let us know what’s going on so we can give you more money! Realistically, we basically need a Retailer version of Previews so we can see, say, Wolverine #55 is going to feature the Death Of Sabretooth or such and will order more copies accordingly. If we just find out with the rest of the Rubes, we can’t prepare for it, you don’t print enough copies as we didn’t know to order more, customers can’t get them, nasty parasite scalpers end up with the copies and neither of us actually benefit from the effort. Just those lowlife schlubs who only care about any comic if they can sell it for more than cover price. And screw those guys. They made comics bad enough in the 90’s.
And after all, too much lead time can sometimes really backfire on you, right?
That’s just two elements of everyday life working in a comic shop when it comes to dealing with new stock. I’ve been lucky enough to work in shops that were very concerned with carrying stock outside the Diamond order, and as we learn to co-exist with Comixology and Amazon undercutting the price of new Hardcovers and Trade Paperbacks, specialising in something beyond the Wednesday shipment is going to be something we’re all going to learn very quickly or die, so we go into old British comics, Undergrounds, Toys, Manga, Small Press.
Most of this is easy. Undergrounds, Back Issues and such are offered as collections are easy enough to go through, Toys and Manga have their own catalogues and such. When dealing with private individuals though, things get…difficult. I’m not going to go into why too deeply, but I will say that talented artist of ‘ It Girl’ (available on Comixology here) the upcoming ‘Elsie Harris Works Here’ graphic novel and also appearing in my favourite comics related project of 2014, the Locust Moon produced Kickstarter project Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, Jessica Martin has perfected the ‘How To Make Retailer’s Lives Easier.’ booklet.
Jessica’s booklet is perfection because here’s the reality: With the best will in the world, I probably won’t remember your blog, or that I’ve got your card, or such. It isn’t malicious, more that it gets filed under ‘Things That Will Get Dealt With When All The Things To Do With The Shop Making Money Now Are Done.’ and will possibly be forgotten. For the record, and I think this needs restating, when we sit down to do the final numbers for Previews, we have the customer orders, the cycle sheets, anything we need to remember and then we’re in the process for a good three or four hours, usually arguing for quite a bit every time.
Every bit of information that isn’t on the table will be forgotten. If you solicit a comic but want us to go chasing the actual creative teams on your website three weeks later or plain refuse to tell us the actual content of the comic that you want us to pay non-returnable money for, you seriously run the risk of us saying ‘No, this just isn’t worth the trouble of ordering any more. Why not spend the money on publishers who are straight with us rather than turning our job into some kind of scavenger hunt?’ Don’t assume any title is beyond dropped from the shelves. What we need, ultimately, is simple information that gives a rough idea of what we’re getting for our money two months down the line. Jessica has fulfilled that brief perfectly.
What Jessica has done has created a high production value A5 booklet composed of 5 pages,(10 sides) In it, she lists what’she ‘s worked on previously, examples of what her comics look like, where to find her content, what’s she’s got coming up in the future and how to get hold of her if I want to order any of her stuff. And that is literally all I need. Ideally, what I’d have is a whole bunch of these from various comic creators who want to try to sell their work outside the main channels and I’d sift through them and order as and when needed. Simple. Do this. It’ll be worth the effort. This is how you stay both alive and relevant.
By the way, if you haven’t read ‘It Girl’, it’s well worth the effort of hunting down a copy. A touching tale of Clara’s life and a rather poetic ending. Jessica’s passion for the subject drives this period piece to be a debut that looks like the word of a studied veteran decades into their craft picking a vanity piece to work on, rather than the first time out of the gate. Jess’s artwork is somewhere between Guy Davis and Eddie Campbell on this project, and I see her as one more valuable contributor to the book that’ll probably bankrupt me this Christmas. Seriously, if you have a comic fan in your life, either they want Locust Moon’s ‘Little Nemo:Dream Another Dream’ or they don’t know it exists and they will love you for getting it for them.
Simple, intelligent. Hopefully, the future.
(Full inspiration for this column goes to Amy Brander, who writes as The Frog Queen. We were chatting about Batman comics and she said she was bored of the regular recommendations….)
I hope Milo Manara is spending the Marvel Money on Coke and Whores, myself.
Anyway. Holy Lists, Folks, its Batman. I thought since this is BatBirthday year, I’d highlight some Batman comics you might not be aware of, since Lord knows I’m sick of the usual LongHallowDarkKnightEarthOneYearOneDarkVictoryKillingJoke that get pulled out every time. There’s nothing wrong or bad about any of those comics, they just get a bit…well, familiarity breeds contempt, you know? So here was my criteria: Pick ten comics or runs that would be easily accessible to someone who’d only seen the movies or cartoons. No worrying about NU-52 stuff, crossovers, continuity glitches or such. You could open he comic armed with knowledge that there’s’ a rich bloke called Bruce who beats up people dressed as a bat after his parents were killed and lives in Gotham.
Oh, before we start. Let me make it clear this is an exercise in Taste, more than anything else and if you’ve been reading me for a while, you’ll know my enjoyment runs towards the esoteric and wrong. I’ve not read every Batman comic ever because life is short enough If you want to call me out on a factual error, like I’ve said Dave Gibbons drew Batman:Year One, that’s fine. If you want to go into ‘My taste is better than yours.’ then…No. That kind of viewpoint is the sort of thing that makes talking about comics not fun, but just another stream of fossilized academia or quasi-religious zealotry that demands one has read ALL of ‘Knightfall’, all the way through to Knightsend AND all the tie-ins before you’re allowed to talk about anything Gotham related. It’s BATMAN, For Zod’s Sake.
This run was such a massive relief for me. After years, literally, of Bane, Azrael, Bruce being tired all the time, general falling over by everyone, visions, five o’clock shadows, magic ninja spine fixing sequences and Tim Drake whining more than Lisa Simpson, Bruce beats up Azbats, gets a new costume (celebrated with an embossed cover where you could …touch Little Bats. If you wanted. Seemed fair. DC had put out Catwoman 1 a year or so previously with Embossed Selina Touching Options.)
The Moench’Jones run returns the set up to Bruce fighting a series of insane and amazing villains, essentially a tour de force of Kelley Jones’s amazing, Wrightson/Mignola art. Batman fights Monsters in a big brooding Gotham City free of outside continuity. This run not only has J.H. Williams III as pinch-hitter fill in artist, but also introduces us to Agent Chase, one of the more interesting characters DC created in the 90’s. Her ongoing only ran a few issues, but is well worth checking out, being the story of a Government Agency designed to keep tabs on Meta-Humans. If you want a Batman comic that’s outright fun, start here.
Really, I could have picked any of the Animated DC comics here. They’re such a world apart in terms of quality from the regular DC titles and have been from their inception back in the mid 90’s. I’d really have no problem if DC Editorial said ‘Okay, we;re using this approach for all of our DCU Books from now on.’ They follow the simple formula of clean, simple but clever artwork, stories working on multiple levels that can be read independently of any of the other books and have an awareness of the overall DC Continuity without ever being bogged down by it. I imagine doing a cartoon book is a much easier gig for a freelancer (and more fun when you don’t have to deal with wondering if you can use The Joker because he had his face torn off and is meant to be hiding in the sewer according to last month’s Detective.) which is why there’s been such a high quality of contributors doing stuff there over the years, and critics of Mark Millar are invited to check out Superman Adventures 41, which features an astounding tour through every aspect of Superman’s life in 22 one page stories drawn by…well, you’ll see.
Batman: Brave And The Bold was the peak of that. The cartoon is my favourite Batman thing that has happened in a very long time, with the possible exception of Lego Batman 2. It’s very, very silly and I have no idea if anyone beyond people who’ve spent far too long reading DC Comics are getting half the jokes in there (And if I ever meet the person who wrote the baseball short featuring Batman giving a pep talk that concludes ‘We have to do this. For…for Little Julius Schwartz and Frankie Miller!), I’ll buy them a drink. Batman: B&B is a fun run through the history of the DCU featuring all the good characters without having to worry about Flashpoints, Zero Hours or Crisises.
Also recommended: L’il Gotham.
Superman/Batman: World’s Funnest. (No, not the claymation thing.)
Heh, alright, this one breaks all my rules about being accessible, but I’m hoping a mention here will kickstart someone at DC to consider reprinting this. Here’s the pitch. Mr Myztyplk and Bat-Mite get into a row and try to one up each other tearing through the DC Multiverse. That’s it. Written by Evan Dorkin, this is an extended episode of Itchy & Scratchy. What makes it worth reading is the amount of utter…love poured into this. Evan’s frightening knowledge of the history of DC’s publishing os on full display as Myzty and Bat-Mite go through The Dark Knight Returns world (As drawn by Frank Miller). Kingdom Come (Art by Alex Ross) the Animated Universe (Bruce Timm pencils here.) and a fair amount of Universes drawn by Ty Templeton. Jaime Hernandez, Frank Cho, Doug Manhke, Phil Jiminez and Dave Gibbons all show up to provide pages also. It’s either as deranged an introduction to the DC Universe you could possibly wish for or a haunting realization of just how much you know about very silly comics featuring some daft superheroes.
This is just gorgeous.
Quite possibly overlooked when DC realised they were onto something with ‘Elseworlds’ and flooded the shelves with as many Elseworlds as we could handle, Batman/Houdini is one of the amazing Mark Chiarello’s very, very few forays into drawing interior covers. He’s one of those people who really ought to have had his own Solo book and I almost wish DC would stop Mark being an Art Editor and make him draw some more bloody comics instead.
Saying that, thanks to Mark, we did get Wednesday Comics, Solo and Batman: Black & White. The story of how he actually got Jim Lee to draw ‘Hush’ with Jeph Loeb is also worth finding out, although I’m not telling it here, as I suspect it might be a bit legal now. This particular prestige format Batman is daft, camp stuff. Somebody’s kidnapping kids and Batman teams up with Houdini to find out who;s doing it Written by Howard Chaykin whose attitude towards superhero comics drips from every line of dialogue Harry utters. I can only assume that this was written with a mindset that declared ‘Forget it. They’re all going to be looking at the art and it doesn’t matter what I write.’
A couple of years previous to this on shot being published, Alan Grant and Kevin O’Neill decided to bring back Bat-Mite in his 1st Post Crisis appearance. Bat-Mite shows up in Legends Of The Dark Knight 38 and harasses a junkie called Bob Overdog who blames a massacre on Bat-Mite’s actions. Given this is the proper super serious DCU where things like Bat-Mites, Arm Fall Off Boy or Supergirl having a relationship with a lad who turns into her horse just don’t happen there, nobody believes Bob, who goes to prison. As with most of Legends Of The Dark Knight stories, it was an entertaining story that no one had reason to think would go anywhere. After all, the only other LDK story that had impacted on the regular Bat-Books was ‘Venom’, and that didn’t really turn out too well for anyone.
Well, er…turns out we were all wrong. ‘Mitefall’ is a plain unreasonable parody of Knightfall and contemporary comic cliches featuring Bat-Mite. Either you’re going to laugh coffee out of your nose at this kind of thing or think it’s some kind of evil, spiteful dig at Batman. I think it’s both. That’s why I like it.
It was a toss-up between this and the first one, which features amazing Simon Bisley art, but Die Laughing (Painted by Glenn Fabry) added Victor Meldrew as a guest star, so that wins out instead.
Probably the most well-known on the list. While some of us had seen Mike coming a while back on his Cosmic Odyssey mini and, oddly, a fill in issue of X-Force. But nothing really prepared any of us for this. ‘Gotham By Gaslight’ was the first DC Elseworlds comic, a story of a Victorian era Gotham featuring Batman taking on Jack The Ripper. Mignola draws the hell out of this dark and lurid thriller. Not for the squeamish, but a great read nonetheless.
I can hear your inner monologue already.
So, let me stop it there by answering the two criticisms I always hear whenever I dare say I really, really like Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Strikes Back.
1) ‘It’s shit.‘
Yeah. The thing is, we haven’t quite reached the point where anyone’s subjective opinion is recognised as an absolute judgement just yet. Art isn’t a light bulb that can be deemed ‘on’ or ‘off’. I’ll accept that my tastes might not kick off your genitals, but to dismiss things that aren’t your cup of Black Forest Hot Chocolate as rubbish is to suggest every single thing ever created only has merit if it appeals you personally, which sounds incredibly arrogant to me. No two people are ever seeing the same thing, and one man’s trash is another’s treasure. I’d literally trade every X-Men related comic published this century (Alright, maybe not the first series of Wolverine and The X-Men.) to own a page of art from The Bulletproof Coffin. (Preferably one featuring Ramona, though.)
2) ‘I wasn’t expecting…this!
Really? Well, you weren’t paying attention, then.
The thing that made Dark Knight Returns so distinctive in the first place was how totally out of left field it was when it first appeared. Batman was a bit grim in his regular comics, but social commentary? Being old and drinking? An old Catwoman? Bats looking vulnerable? Punching Superman in the face? The idea that The U.S. Government would use Superman as a military deterrent? Holy Unheard Of In 1986, Old Chum! Sure, that kind of idea of how superheroes would touch upon Humanity had been touched on previously (Most strikingly and effectively in the early days of Miracleman.) but never in something as big a deal as Superhot Frank Miller doing Batman in a Prestige Format series.
If you’d not been paying attention to anything Frank had done since Dark Knight Returns, then I could see why you thought you were going to get more of the same, but it was obvious from things like ‘Tales To Offend’, ‘Hard Boiled’, ‘Spawn/Batman , ‘Give Me Liberty’ or the hallucinogen issue of ‘Sin City: Hell And Back.’ that his mindset had changed from the gritty to the ridiculous and he was more interested in the use of characters as symbols and avatars rather than depicting every last fold of Batman’s cape. Beyond that, I can never take people who see a thing with a preconception in their head of what it ‘should’ be too seriously. This seems to be the thought process of ‘I have this idea in my head of what this comic/film should be, and if it doesn’t match up to that, then it has FAILED ME!’
I love Dark Knight Strikes Back because it is clearly taking the piss out of everyone’s expectations. (Chucking away the Batman/Superman rematch people had waited over 20 years for in the first place was a hell of a start.)It’s also about what defines Bruce’s motivations beyond all the trappings of the Batman character, it’s hugely imaginative redesign of the DC Universe looks stunning. Frank got some flak for the change in his art style, but I like it because it’s representative of ideals. Concepts of heroism bursting through an amazing bombardment of noise and clutter. There’s a pretty good explanation for why the shift in his art in the much recommended (by me, anyway) Eisner/Miller.
Also, in the same way that Dark Knight Returns predicted the next few years of society and superhero comics, I have to say, considering there wasn’t a Twitter, an Instagram, a Buzzfeed or such when he put DK2 together, he didn’t do a bad job of predicting a total stimulation future, also, his explosion of colour isn’t too far off how comics look now (particularly Image, Dark Horse and IDW.) A great tale of Batman. Possibly better enjoyed after reading what you can of All Star Batman.
If there’s one thing that bugs me more than people presuming to be The GateKeepers Of Taste, it’s the last 40 years of listening to people attempt t justify liking comics. ‘Oh, it’s not “just” a comic, it’s really a book about The Holocaust told in…GRAPHIC NARRATIVE format!’, ‘Really, The X-Men are a metaphor for so many other things!’, ‘Ah, THIS! This issue of adoration And Nukes is finally, finally the one that shows Comix can be as deep or meaningful as anything in Books or Films!’
Which is essentially shorthand for ‘Look, I know most people think comics are odd, but please don’t think I’m..you know..one of them.’ And honestly, as a community, we need to get over the effects of the Batman TV Show From 1966 now, for two reasons:
1) I realise there was a bloody long period of stupid people assuming that ALL comics were exactly like the Batman TV Show. Yes, it was annoying. It was ignorant, it was also a daft assumption that doesn’t work when you use it on other mediums (‘Did you watch “Utopia”?’. ‘No. All television is like Eastenders.’) and it led to a deep-seated, self-esteem crippling shame across the comics industry that I still see to this day. That shame is what’s led to all this horrendously earnest effort to validfy the whole bloody medium. Green Lantern isn’t just a space copper fighting evil and governed by Blue Midgets In Red Dresses anymore, now he has to have a DUI because social relevance, innit? We’re just as capable of knocking out overpriced autobio nonsense or terrible forays into ‘Why Everyone Is Horrible Except Me Who Is Lovely!’ Of course having a whole wealth of adult and interesting material alongside yer ‘POW| BIFF!’ stuff, but there was never a need to make everything quite so bloody po-faced and grim. Watchmen was meant to be a comic that utilised the full possibilities of the format, not a model for how everyone was meant to approach the super-hero genre for the next thirty odd years.
Take some pride in your entertainment choices. Do I like the Adam West Batman? No, I bloody love it. It has a great theme tune! It has its own dance moves! Frank Gorshin portrays The Riddler like a kid who’s been given ALL the sugar! There are terrible puns! Cesar Romero wears Joker make-up over his moustache! How sexy are Catwoman and Batgirl? It’s daft FUN and Batman’s a big enough character that there can be an Adam West Batman, a Scott Snyder Batman, a Lego Batman, an Alan Moore Batman, a Grant Morrison on, etc, etc. It’s alright. It’s not blasphemy. You ran around your back garden with your towel around your neck singing The Batman theme tune as a kid, or even at the last comic con. It’s just fun, not a sacred text that Adam West and Burt Ward have blasphemed against, and besides….
2) Most other media isn’t any better..
Come on. It is. The problem with this whole ‘We need to validify comics as a legitimate art form’ nonsense is that you’re trying to appeal to people who consume total crap to start with. Do you seriously need to run your collection of The Metabarons or The Boondocks against a populace who made ‘Friends’ one of the most popular TV Shows ever made? Whose critical faculties apparently totally elude them whenever Justin Bieber farts out a new song? I’m writing this on Jack Kirby’s birthday, and the popular thing is the #ReadAComicInPublicDay hashtag, but really? Is that a thing where in 2014 we feel embarrassed to read the new Sex Criminals, Stray Bullets or Dark Horse Presents in front of people reading Dan Brown novels or pre-ordering tickets to see 22 Jump Street or whatever South Park knock off Seth MacFarlane is hacking out next? Am I being unfair? Hey, if comics is going to be judged by its worst habits, then I claim full right to shout ‘DALE WINTON, THO!’ whenever somebody tries to tell me how amazing TV is today. These are just my personal examples, obviously. Feel free to replace with your own symptoms of nullifying mediocrity.
Batman ’66 is simply how it sounds. It’s a comic based on the TV Show. It runs a new episode on three weeks of the month on Comixology, then those three digital bits are published in hard copy form on the final week of the month. There’s a running sub plot concerning Dr Harleen Quinnzel going on, but beyond that, every issue is like a Poptastic new episode that can be read on its own. It has that Mike Allred/Troy Nixey/Joe Quinones look to it that screams Warhol and The Archies and has featured literally the greatest sound effect pun about Russia ever. With the possible exception of Batman:Black And White, the greatest DC comic this decade.
With all this free publicity I’ve just given DC, it only seems fair to encourage people to check out Legends Of The Knight screening. It’s a film about various people who’ve used Batman as an inspiration to better their own lives, The screening is a fundraiser for both Refuge. and Action Duchenne.
That about wraps things up for this week. I don’t claim to be a Batman expert or anything and I’m sure there are dozens of Gotham related things I’ve never read. Hit me up with your suggestions in the comments.
I suppose this is the price you pay for having your standards formed by The Comics Journal as a teenager.
Understand that I was a proper Marvel Zombie as a kid. As much as I spent time as a kid in the library reading RAW, Mr A, Valerian, The Incal, A1, Love & Rockets and Tintin, I was also that kid who would bunk off Double P.E on a Wednesday afternoon to walk three miles from school to my closest comic shop to spend a week’s worth of saved lunch monies and bus fares so I could pick up your Spider-Man 1, your Generation X 1, even…..Wizard. I would not eat for two days so I could buy Spawn 1. Yup. Really.
And I wish I could remember exactly how it happened, but I ended up with a few copies of The Comics Journal. I suspect it may have been the issue with the sexy Michael Kaluta Shadow/Starstruck that caught my interest, knowing me as a 14-year-old. Sitting down and reading those magazines in the park one summer’s day was as transformative an experience as getting hold of the Anna Nicole Smith issue of Playboy, watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Rocky Horror Picture Show back to back when I was 13 or discovering Naomi Klein’s ‘No Logo’ as a student.
What The Journal did for me as a teenager, due mainly to the reviews and Gary Groth’s editorials, was make me realise that I was wasting my money on rubbish. Not only that, but by going in to a comic shop and funding the status quo of polybagged comics, crossover events, fake death comics and the like, I was helping to ensure that not only would modern comics be rubbish, but that they would stay rubbish. If I wanted to read good Spider-Man comics, I’d have to wait until someone I liked was working on it to buy it, rather than picking it up to see exactly what the deal was with Peter’s parents being alive*. It took a bit of hammering home for this delirious and often drunk teenager, but I finally realised, by way of Howard The Duck, that the person writing the comic was more important than the character featured in said comic and far more important than who was publishing it.
Howard The Duck was one of those comics that constantly featured in creator lists of ‘Things they liked.’ I’ve always got into things via word of mouth and recommendations by people I respect. When everyone I liked kept saying ‘Howard The Duck’, I gave in, I’d try to see what everyone was on about.
Except I screwed up and picked up the Playduck covered Howard The Duck magazine instead. I read it, thought it was alright and figured it was just one of those things where one influential person says they liked a thing, and everyone wants to seem cool and hip, so they say they like it as well. See: Peepshow (The comic AND The TV Show)
Students of Howard will know the mistake I made here. Howard The Duck magazine featured work by lots of Marvel regulars from the 70’s but not the person who made Howard who he is, Steve Gerber. A few years down the line, I managed to find the Essential Howard The Duck and understand why everyone I like liked the work so much. It;s a tour de force of social commentary, sensitivity, satire on the times and observations on modern times. Most of the points that Steve made about the world in the 70’s still hold up today.
That, and Beverly is somewhat #hubbah.
The thing is, for me, that having read the history of Marvel and DC, it’s quite difficult not to see their pantheon of characters as essentially a portfolio of legal manipulation and corporate swindling. I’d LIKE to sit down and just enjoy a run of Spider-Man or Superman, but I keep hearing the names ‘Steve Ditko’ or ‘Jerry Siegel’ in the back of my head as I work through the comics. Most of my friends are fairly aware of my stance on this, and probably find it slightly difficult to recommend things to me, as when they try to mention a particularly good run of The X-Men to me, I’m more than likely going to bring up the state of Dave Cockrum. Mainly because I think we shouldn’t really be allowed to forget that this stuff happened for the sake of being able to get one more movie added to the pile of Marvel Film output.
They do know I love Howard The Duck, though. So when I saw that he was going to featured in Marvel’s ‘Original Sin’, I tried to think of ways to tell them I probably wasn’t going to be interested.
How do I put this?….
MOST of Marvel & DC’s characters are just action figures that anyone can pick up, write and draw a fairly inoffensive story with and put down again., in my opinion They’ve been through so many convolutions and such that they’re fairly far removed from their original concept and background. There’s really not much that’s personal about them that couldn’t be replicated by any number of hacks needing to knock a mini=series to pad out this year’s crossover.
There are some works that almost seem to slip through the cracks, though. Some books that are so much the idiosyncracies of the creative team that one dreads the idea of anyone taking over the title in much the same way that you wouldn’t want anyone but Bill Watterson to work on Calvin & Hobbes, or have to read any Pogo that isn’t Walt Kelly. James Robinson’s Starman springs rapidly to mind, as does J.H Williams III run on Batwoman, Gillen & McKelvie’s Young Avengers (Although in my continuity, their Nov-Arr is a Skrull and The REAL Marvel Boy, i.e., the one Grant Morrison wrote, is still in Space Prison.) or Giffen and DeMatteis on Justice League.
Yeah, Marvel own the copyright to Howard The Duck. If they want, they can publish Ultimate Howard The Duck,, they can give him the Infinity Gauntlet, have Doctor Bong take over his body in Superior Howard, he can make terrible decisions but then reinstall his own mind with a back up brain USB or whatever, they CAN do all that. I realise This business is geared so that it really doesn’t want to recognise the fact that the people who work on the comics have more to do with their success than the concepts they’re publishing, otherwise ANYONE could be writing Batman next month and it’d still sell, right? Except that’s clearly not true and corporate response to, say, JMS writing a best-selling Spider-Man comic is obviously ‘Well, Spider-Man is back in vogue because the Four Moons Of Atlantis must be in alignment. Let’s knock out 5 Spidey mini-series ,that certainly won’t dilute the brand quality by not being as good at all.’
And, sure, the same can be done with Howard. Marvel own the copyright, but not the soul. It’s like Rob Liefeld doing Bone or literally anyone else writing besides Dave Sim writing Cerebus for all it matters to me, it won’t be Steve Gerber writing it. Some things transcend copyright law. And when you literally wait for a man to die before reprinting his defining work, you lose any say in the ethical bit of the argument.
Anyway, it isn’t the REAL Howard. Howard and Beverly ran away to the Image Universe in Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck 1 quite a few years ago. More on that here.
(I’m not sure if it’s necessary, but there could be some emotional triggers in this. Just so you’re warned.)
‘It used to be we had friends, now we have “Friends””. We used to have neighbours, now we have “Neighbours”.’
Mark E Smith. Taken from his autobiography ‘Renegade’.
Originally, this was going to be a short column, you understand? I was going to write something along the lines of this.
‘You know something, one of the things that has constantly embarrassed me about the Internet Comics Community is the lack of understanding that all notions of ‘You’re not writing what I want you to write!’ are totally,utterly irrelevant. The only people who are deciding what happens to Peter Parker are Dan Slott and Steven Wacker. What you see on the new comic shelves was written at least 2 months ago and plotted about six, probably. Complaining about the events in this week’s new comics is like moaning about the results of the F.A. Cup Final or Superbowl results. It’s happened. Whoever you’re annoyed about dying for whatever reason is Dead.
Do you write or edit for Marvel or DC? No? Then you might as well be shouting at rain for getting your hair wet rather than buying an umbrella and dealing with it.
I should qualify a bit, when I write things about the meaningless of death in comics crossovers or such, it’s done from a retailer level. I’m essentially compiling a list of things customers have said to me when they’re explaining why they’re cancelling their order for Avengers or Justice League. There isn’t a combination of things that can be done that’ll make me, personally, want to start buying all the X-Men books on a regular basis. I don’t have the money or the space in my house. I’d go for a run of something if it’s being done by someone I like, but my buying Uncanny Avengers is totally due to Rick Remender writing it. When he goes, I’m off. Too many ‘Downloaded a back-up personality moments and Life Model Decoys get out of jail free cards have made regular superhero comics something I don’t see any point in investing in.
I thought we here over in comics were …unique in that kind of reaction. People who are into films don’t fly off the handle when someone dies and take to the internet, threatening the writers and producers over social media and generally acting like children who’ve been told they have to clean their room. Then I saw the news about Brian from Family Guy dying via Facebook, where everyone went crazy. How dare Seth MacFarlane do this? Brian was my favourite! Where is the scoundrel? He didn’t ask us what he thought before he did this! Etc.
And I realised it’s not just us anymore. Everyone is nuts now. Go forth and moan about Green Lantern or Avengers Arena or whatever. We’ve managed to influence everyone into reacting to fiction like petulant children. Good job. Slow Handclap’
That was going to be it, except for a chat with Ned Hartley, talking about his new comic Punchface. Then I was going to send off the four other columns I’ve written in the last two weeks to Rich so he could run them weekly over December while I dealt with this whole ‘Christmas’ thing. But then I got to thinking : What links these concepts? What do Family Guy, Avengers, The X-Men, The Justice League, Spider-Man, The Simpsons, Coronation Street, Batman have in common?
They’re all about families. really All of them are about a group of people who interact on a regular basis and have to live with each other.
Also, importantly, they’re all broadcast or published on at least a weekly basis and are as much a part of your regular life as your job, your home, going to the pub to see your mates, putting out the bins, walking the dog, paying the bills. They’re what you do with your luxury time, also. So I imagine your brain associates seeing what Batman and his Pals and Gals did this week with putting on your slippers and sitting on the bed with a cup of tea. I don’t have any research beyond, oh, twenty years working behind a counter of a comic shop, but I suspect people don’t tend to get into things like the X-Men in their twenties or so. They become friends with the whole Marvel Universe when they’re young. People over twenty want to know what to know what Warren Ellis or Chris Ware have created. People under twenty will be popping in to find out what Batgirl is up to this week.
Once they’re in, they’re in, man. I can’t count how many conversations I’ve had with people who can justify all the reasons why they should stop buying so much Marvel or DC product. They’re far too expensive, they’re taking up too much space. There’s too little pay off and even the big crossovers don’t have a clear ending anymore, just set ups for the next big thing. They understand, in their head, that buying comics on a weekly basis can potentially be as damaging as any other kind of addiction. Heck, with booze or drugs, nobody’s telling you to partake. You have to make the effort to go to the pub or the off-license or ring your dealer. With comics, what you’ve bought now is never enough. Come back next week to see how Spidey defeats Venom. Spidey will also be appearing in Superior Spidey Team Up. Don’t forget to check out The Superior Foes Of Spider-Man! Have you tried these other great titles by the same writer? Too busy to pop to the shop? Don’t worry, just join Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited and you’ll never miss an issue, True Believer.
I did a lot of damage to my life with alcohol, but Jack Daniels never asked me for my credit card details.
But still, with all that information and understanding, most of those people are still here and I wonder if, to a lot of readers, an issue of X-Men isn’t just 24 pages of story, but the physical representation of a safe place. A way to hang out with some awesome, people who’re funnier, more attractive and more exotic than those duller, meaner, uglier people in the real world. A portal to a sexier world for a few bucks, and we’re all friends, here, aren’t we? And you know what the key thing is. Unlike real life, your comic families will never reject you.
Whatever Wolverine does to Da’aken or Dog, he’ll never hurt you. You can hang out at the Westchester School of Gifted Mutants, and they’ll never turn you away, because they understand you’re different, just like them. Batman will be happy to have you hang out in The Bat-Cave, because what Bruce Wayne does is look after young people, like Dick and Babs and Jason. You can tell Damian not to be so mean to Alfred and play with Ace The Bat Hound.
Peter Parker will always be your best friend. He’s not like the others. He’ll never go away.
I’m not writing the above with any degree of cynicism or sneering, and I understand that the tone I’m writing this in is not necessarily the one you’re hearing when you’re reading these words in your head. I get it. When I was 15 or 16, I would have given up everything to go live with the Giffen/Dematteis incarnation of the Justice League. I’d have hung out with Mr Miracle, cracked wise with Beetle & Booster, stolen J’onn Jones’s Oreos, punched Funky Flashman in the face. Everything. My childhood is…not a great thing and despite deaths, addictions, abuse and such, I’d still argue one of the most traumatic things that happened was the publication of Justice League America 60. Maybe more so, as it was the end of a safe place for me. The end of the Giffen/DeMattetis era where The League breaks up as one by one, all the members realise that this incarnation of the family is over and walk away. Even though it’s obviously for the best reasons, it is done.
I thought about that while I was making these notes, and how much more I knew about this business when I heard about the apparent glee that Dan Didio took in deciding to kill off Ted Kord in Countdown To Infinite Crisis. I knew that Beetle was only really cool when Keith and J.M. were writing him. I was old enough to know that DC had full right to do what they wanted with Ted, and I’d long left behind the notion that superhero comics mattered to me. I scoffed at the comic, saying that Max Lord had literally no reason to turn on the superheroes like he had, and the likes of Jim Gordon had more motivation to be angry at the consequences of Batman’s actions, given wat happened with Babs and Sarah Essen.
Deep down, though, there was a bit of me that thought ‘FUCK you, Didio, you hurt my friend and laughed about it.’ Sure, it’s irrational, and I suspect my moving on from the genre of superhero comics via having my illusions of The Marvel Bullpen and everyone working amicably to create good comics shattered rather harshly at various convention piss-ups meant that I wasn’t bothered enough by it to say anything. But you look at the way people react to the death of Peter Parker, Supergirl or Brian The Dog and you wonder if those reactions are more primal than they seem at first.
Because on one level, these events of fiction happened because someone wrote them down and they were published. On another, Peter Parker and his friends are real to some of you. You interact with them every week, and knowing they’ll be there to hang out with new stories to tell. When someone hurts your friend who provided a safe place you’ve known since you were a child, maybe you do become irrationally angry and react like a real person has died. I bet there are teenagers out there that feel Miss America and Kid Loki are far more real than members of their own family.
I’ve been thinking about this, and the way we, as in the people on the retail/publishing side interact with the punters a lot, lately. I’ve had people angry with me that I’ve dared take the piss out of The Legion Of Super-Heroes. I’ve listened to Indie types seem genuinely offended that someone would dare ask them about something as vulgar as Civil War, or Transformers fans get irate that they were talking to a customer about which incarnation of Optimus Prime was better and someone dared to bother to ask them where they could find a copy of Persepolis. I saw one retailer deride a customer for daring to ask what were good Marvel Comics published in the 90’s (They were ALL bad, because HE said so. So that’s how subjective taste works, I guess.) I’ve seen artists publicly complain that the readers aren’t getting what they meant by their drawings and it does remind me at times that maybe we’re acting a bit too much like Sex Workers taking the piss out of their johns for having to pay for sex or Drug Dealers laughing at their clients for being stupid enough to get addicted in the 1st place.
Is that on? I don’t know. If we’re this clever, why are we selling them (You aren’t going to get Jay-Z rich working in a comic shop.) or creating them instead of going into film posters or writing television (What was the circulation on your last comic again?) We’re here out of passion. The same emotion that drives the punter into the shop to buy stuff from us. It might not be articulated as verbosely from ‘their’ side, but it’s still a real thing. Imagine how fucked we’d be if all the customers ‘wised up’ to our level?
I believe we’ve reached a point where pop culture is, to a degree, both cult and drug in one. Where for some people, Batman is as real as Jesus Christ. Where even the rumour of a remake of a beloved film franchise will bring about the righteous indignation previously seen for things like Monty Python’s Life Of Brian or Scorsese’s Last Temptation Of Christ. Maybe (and this is a thing British writers, who grew up with 2000AD and short stories like Future Shocks rather than ongoing drop ins on regular groups like the Teen Titans or Power Pack should consider.) we can’t just assume to tell a Fundamentalistt Christian that Jesus is a twat and expect nothing to come from it. And maybe you don’t hurt someone’s friend and expect them to understand how clever you were to do so. Or is that emotionally stunted?
“Give me the child, and I will mould the man.”
“Give me the child for seven years,
and I will give you the man.”
“Give me the child until he is
seven and I care not who has him thereafter.”
“Give me the child till the age of seven
and I will show you the man.” – St. Ignatius of Loyola,
Stan Lee told us we’re all one big gang of Marvel Zombies back in the Sixties. Deep down, I wonder if we ever stopped believing him