by Nevs Coleman

Posts tagged “Marvel

Pogo Larsen Syndrome: On Hawkeye 1 & Howard The Duck 1.

 

HTD 1

 

So, one fallacy at the heart of corporate comics publishing is the belief that above all things, it’s the trademark that makes the sale. If Amazing Spider-Man starts selling well due to a change in the creative team, its nothing to do with that creative team, there must just be a random spark of interest in Spidey, and the best way to capitalise on this is to produce spin-off mini-series and one shots. Also not featuring any work by the creative team who get the book going up in sales in the first place, mind.

As any of you paying attention  over the last couple of decades may have noticed, this never, ever works. Batman will always sell a certain amount, but stick Jim Lee & Jeph Loeb on the book and watch those pre-orders quadruple. Ditto Morrison & Quitely on New X-Men, JMS & John Romita Jr on Amazing Spider-Man. You get the idea.

Then watch as somebody in corporate decides that they know best what sells the book. They start pissing in the water bottle to make it taste better or worse, find someone who isn’t good on the same wavelength to start emulating the superficial aspects of the popular thing. Watchmen, to the low-minded, is a comic with nine panel grid pages featuring graphic, brutal violence and super-heroes having problems in real life, so Green Lantern gets a DUI and starts beating up homophobes with his magic power ring to copy that. League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, using that theory,  is a comic that people enjoy because there’s a lot of what Will Elder called ‘Chicken Fat’ background detail.

Will Elder, breaking your eyes because he could.

Will Elder, breaking your eyes because he could.

Readers feel a bit better about themselves with LoeG because there’s a lot of in-jokes and references to be found if you examine the panels, and we all pat ourselves on the back when we recognise Steptoe & Son or Tharg, so Edge Of Spider-Verse is built around fangasming when we spot Spider-Prime in the background. Only the surface ideas are taken, under the mistaken belief that those elements are what’s appealing to the public. So it doesn’t matter if Grant Morrison leaves New X-Men for whatever reasons, because you can throw around the words ‘Quantum Physics’ a bit, continue the love affair between Scott & Emma, get in someone who draws a bit like Frank Quitely and even bring back Xorn as the readers liked him. J. H. Williams III leaves Batwoman over DC’s decision to remove the lesbian wedding angle at the 11th hour, but hire someone sympathetic to gay matters to write the book and an artist who can ‘do’ a Williams III riff if you squint a bit and the machine continues to produce the sausages.

‘Its the trademark, not the creator.’ 

Which brings us to what I’ve come to call ‘Pogo Larsen Syndrome’. A situation where neither side can look particularly good.

For younger readers, Pogo was a very beloved cartoon by Walt Kelly which started life in 1941 as a strip for Dell’s Animal Comics. It was a beautiful mish-mash of word play and political satire. The middle ground between George Herriman’s Krazy Kat and Berke Breathed’s Bloom County, if you like. Probably (sadly) most famous with comic fans today as being parodied in  issue 32 of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, (A story drawn by Shawn McManus simply titled ‘Pog’.) but at the time of publication, Pogo was huge. A quality cartoon strip running in over 500 newspapers across the world that was also part of the political conversation of the day. In a better world, Kelly’s writing would have seen him ranked alongside Mark Twain or Jonathan Swift as a top-notch satirist.

Eat it, Vonnegut

Eat it, Vonnegut!

But then time happened, and on October 18, 1973, Walt Kelly passed away. There’s more to this story, but the long and short of it is that the Kelly Family and associates continued to produce the strip under the title ‘Walt Kelly’s Pogo’.

To be blunt, it was not received with the same love. I have friends in this business who start to get angry at the mere mention of the non Walt Pogo strips. It looked the same, some of Walt’s inflections had been recreated, but without Kelly’s constant innovation and ability to react to the news as it happened, it was little more than a museum piece rather than a vital part of the global conversation and the true heir was and remains, to me at least, Berke Breathed’s Bloom County.  Which proves to me that you can put a hose on a dog’s nose, but it still ain’t an elephant.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a fan reaction that I can only, rather unfairly. call ‘Larsen Syndrome’ . Erik Larsen is the writer and artist of The Savage Dragon, an Image book I love because of the love of comics that exudes from every issue Larsen creates. Larsen is also the only original member of the Image Seven to simply get on with creating his own comic and see it through without jumping onto other projects or starting a toy line. He just wanted to create an ongoing Savage Dragon comic and issue 206 ships in May, making him the only real contender to Dave Sim’s record set for most issues of a comic created by one person published independently on a monthly basis. (Cerebus finished on issue 300. ) Also, he drew an awesome Venom. And that’s important to me.

'Oh, too late, Otto already did that! MOO HAHHAHA!

‘Oh, too late, Otto already did that on both counts! MOO HAHHAHA!

But Man, did Erik get a couple of unfortunate gigs in the 90s.

First, through burn out and having a million guest stars thrown at him on a bi-weekly schedule, Todd McFarlane, maybe one of the five most popular and influential artists to draw Amazing Spider-Man, quit drawing Amazing Spider-Man. Marvel teased Todd was up to something else but as far as Marvel fans were concerned, the sheer outrage of Colleen Doran infusing her fill-in on ASM with Ultra Girliness and THEN Marvel failing to find a way to chain Todd The God to the drawing desk of Spidey forever more. SOME poor sucker was going to be the whipping boy for these awful sins.

 

BUY....JEM..BUY...MY....LITTLE..PONY.....BUY BATGIRL....

Your desire to watch any film starring Jennifer Aniston has increased 68% since seeing this cover

Enter: New Amazing Spider-Man artist Erik Larsen, who was vilified in the Fan Press at the time for simply….not being Todd McFarlane. Nothing wrong with his anatomy, his composition, his perspective, he just wasn’t Todd The God. I think the readership only really forgave him for his NotToddness when Marvel announced they were publishing a new, adjective-less Spider-Man drawn (YAAAY!!!) and written (Um….Okay?) by Todd McFarlane. Which Todd stayed on for 15 issues. And then left. To be replaced by…..Oh, you can work it out….

Now, neither state of mind is very objective. It’s obviously massively cynical (and usually a mistake.) for any publisher to think they can replace the talent who create the content that makes the book connect with the fans with anyone who can ape their style and get the same results. On the other hand, the fandom hatred of anything involving change can be so short-sighted as to be staggering, whether it be the almost feral reaction to the idea that Thor could be a woman, Bill Sienkiewicz’s experimenting with various art styles on the pages of Moon Knight or New Mutants and being drubbed in the pages of Comic Buyers Guide for it,  Grant Morrison being ‘All weird and pretentious on “Doom Patrol” and I don’t get it so its bad.’, the ‘How Dare Peter Parker Not Be Spider-Man!’mob, the downright hilarious reaction to Milligan & Allred’s run on X-Force (common decency prevents me from taking photographs of the letters pages of those books, but they’re up there with the infamous ‘Man Of Action’ letter from Punisher 19 for sheer ‘Written With A Crayon Using Feet’ rage .) or any other number of things that turned out to be a good idea despite the crowing of people who hadn’t actually read all of the comics so didn’t really have an informed opinion to offer yet.

Which brings us, finally to All-New Hawkeye 1 and Howard The Duck 1

There’s no way of saying this that isn’t going to sound bitter, as the previous volume of Hawkeye was one of my favourite Marvel comics of the last decade  but All New Hawkeye 1 is out on the shelves way, way too soon. Aja & Fraction’s run hasn’t actually finished yet at time of my writing this, so there’s no way of not comparing the two series. I totally understand that Hawkeye is now a commodity due to the character’s newfound popularity and Marvel must be wanting to get a regular dose of Clint action out there, but a wiser choice of action might have been to have him pop in a series of cameos across various books for a few months to slowly build up the anticipation for ANH 1, which could probably have waited until after the dust settles with Secret Wars before publication.

In this debut issue, we catch up with Clint and Katie, attacking a Hydra outpost in modern times juxtaposed with memories of Clint’s childhood in a flashback sequence telling us a bit more about what motivated Clint to run off to the circus in the first place

As it stands…All New Hawkeye is…okay. Its alright. There are some nice touches, like the painted artwork used for Clint’s flashback sequences, and the modern stuff looks enough like Aja’s art on a superficial level that it won’t be too jarring for people who wanted more of the same but on a more regular schedule. Some panels seem designed with the hope of being reposted on Tumblr  as an exercise in coolness rather than reading as part of a flowing story. For me, though,  I’m with Gil Kane, the good is the enemy of the better, and the last thing my house and budget need is to start on one more competently produced super-hero comic. I’ll hold out hope that it develops its own unique style, voice and direction as it starts to dig its own path away from satisfying the readers who just wanted something that looked like Fraction & Aja’s book on a more frequent basis.

And then there’s Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones on Howard The Duck.

Okay, I’ll be straight with you. In my head, anyone who isn’t Steve Gerber writing Howard The Duck is tantamount to comics blasphemy to me. Like anyone else doing Calvin & Hobbes, or Gavin Rossdale fronting Nirvana, or The Manic Street Preachers replacing Richey Edwards with Shane Richie. It could be done, sure, but the levels of karmic damage such a thing incur would have set me off like the Westboro Baptist Church at Boy George’s funeral.

 

After I'd calmed down.

After I’d calmed down.

 

But then I saw Chip Zdarsky was writing it, and that stopped me in my tracks. I have a total crush on Chip, or his online persona at least. His ongoing romance with Appleby’s, the contribution to the letters page of my beloved Sex Criminals and his comic ‘Prison Funnies‘ gave me pause to think.

I decided, rather than going full on mental about it, to  that the adventures of Chip’s Howard were actually the further adventures of the clone released into the Marvel Universe from Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck 1.  That way, Gerber’s legacy would remain untarnished and a whole new bunch of fun could be garnered as long as nobody tried to contradict what Gerber had said since he’s not around to argue back anymore.

So, with that in mind, I popped it open and…..

It’s FUNNY!

Its actually properly funny. The story concerns Clo-Ward, as I’m dubbing him, taking on a case in his ‘job’ as a private detective to retrieve some stolen jewellery and running afowl of some of Marvel’s best and brightest (I’m not going to spoil the full cast, but I will say Chip writes the funniest Spider-Man since Rick Remender’s take on the wall crawler over on my favourite crossover event ever, Axis.) There’s an obvious question raised in the first issue that I can’t wait to see the resolution to, a script chock-loaded with brilliant gags, a ton of respectful nods to the history of the title, some beautiful art by Joe Quinones whose perfect grasp of design and body language feed back into the story, a new companion and a full mark out cliff-hanger setting up a concept everybody would have wanted if only they’d thought of it.

What makes a Howard The Duck 1 as revolutionary in 2015 as it was in 1976 is that Chip (I keep using his first name as if I know him, but the truth is my spellcheck is throwing up at his surname. Which is fair enough. It took me 6 years to teach it ‘Skrull’.) isn’t letting the shadow of Gerber’s work influence what he writes here. The character works in context of the story being written, rather than a preconception dragging HTD into being a period piece. This isn’t a karaoke misanthropy act but a Duck angry at the world WE live in, now. That’s worth far more than maybe Marvel realises, and I hope when Chip Z (hmm, got away with that one without the dreaded red underscore of Doom.) has said what he has to say with Howard, the book isn’t assimilated into Interchangeable Marvel Output Quota For March Fulfilled ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ….

Truly, Howard The Duck 1 by Chip & Joe is the Fifty Shades Of Grey to the Twilight that was Steve Gerber’s Howard The Duck 1.

(Thanks to John Lees for being another comics fan who doesn’t go to bed at any reasonable hour and provided feedback and suggestions on this review. The 1st collection of his series ‘And Then Emily Was Gone’, drawn by the astonishing Iain Laurie is out now to buy on amazon.com or if you can’t wait to read what I called one of the best books of 2014, pick it up on comixology now.)

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In Fear Of a $10 Comic.

chipp v

 

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.’


My reaction to the end of The Marvel Universe.

sw1

So, I’ve seen the same news everyone else has and here are my first impressions.

Well, having been reading Avengers and Avengers NOW and whatever the other ones that aren’t the beautiful Uncanny Avengers, this morning’s news about the end of The Marvel Universe doesn’t come as a shock. There wasn’t a way back from the Black Panther murdering Namor, or Pete’s deal with Mephisto that everyone at the Spider-Man team has been trying to rewrite ever since. Time and continuity in The Marvel Universe has been a fractured mess since Age Of Ultron, and the upcoming Secret War appears to be the get out clause needed to fix a number of stories that have contradicted each other since the beginning.

A number of things spring to mind here, not least of which being ‘How wise is it to launch comics like Silk or Spider-Gwen a few months before everything breaks down?’, but I don’t work at Marvel, so it could be that those titles will carry over post Secret Wars. I personally will be glad to see the back of The Ultimate Universe, a line that’s had no real meaning and suffered a number spike reboots that have read like nothing but professionally drawn fan fiction since Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch finished their run on The Ultimates 2.

A worry is that long-term Marvel readers have put up with a hell of a lot over the last few decades. High priced mini-series, crossovers with no real point, deaths and rebirths, snarky editorial teams throwing personal jabs at readers for not liking what’s been written (‘Brand New Day’ was particularly bad for this.), and this might be it for a few comic fans. I posted on Dan Didio’s wall a few days ago that the reaction from comic readers to The New 52 was that people who’d been buying every mainstream DC Comic out of habit (i.e, Not Vertigo, Wildstorm, and licensed books.) upped and cancelled their entire order for DC product and never came back. That was a loss of sales of roughly 50 comics per month from a number of customers which added up to the best part of a thousand pounds of lost income.

This morning, I’m not at work, so haven’t heard the reactions from the customers to this news yet, but I’m more than aware that many of them are to be blunt, sick of each year featuring two crossovers plus a number of spin-off books that they’ve felt compelled to buy and have been looking for a reason to stop. If, as suggested in the news piece, that this is the end of The Marvel Universe as we know it, then the inevitable Amazing Spider-Man 1, Captain America 1, Uncanny X-Men 1 etc might have to find a new audience., much like Batman 1, Action Comics 1 did.

Personally, I think there’s a lot of potential good here, but as DC proved with The New 52, you can’t put the old poison in a new glass and expect people to want to drink it, so here’s what can be done to potentially expand the comic market beyond the addicts and into the new generation of people interested in Marvel via the films:

1) Keep the ‘controversial’ changes.

With the exception of stupid people, nobody has a problem with Captain America being black, Spider-Man being Hispanic, Northstar being gay or Thor being a woman. There are things that need sorting out with Marvel’s line up of characters, but reconfiguring them so they’re all whitebread WASPS isn’t a thing that needs to happen Whatever else I’ve said about Marvel, I totally applaud their attempts to reach out to other demographics beyond ’45 Year Old White Man Who Thinks All Comics Should Written For His Tastes Alone.’ and speaking of that….

2) Decide who your audience is for your characters is once and for all and write for them.

As a customer, I can go into Toys R Us and buy a Deadpool Marvel Mash-Up action figure, a toy designed for children. I can also go into a comic shop and buy Deadpool Max, which features mental illness played for laughs, child abuse, a brief lecture on the history of the KKK and a good amount of other plot elements that are either unsuitable for anyone under 10 or will just plain bore them.

As a retailer, this trend of writing Marvel Super-Heroes to the older audience has been an absolute nightmare. There should not be a point where I have to remember if the issue of Avengers a child is buying is the one that features Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne having super-powered oral sex. Yes, it makes me laugh, but I shouldn’t be the target audience for characters that also appear in video games aimed at kids like Disney Infinity Marvel. You can’t have it both ways with branding franchises for kids, because parents don’t generally know the difference between Deadpool and Deadpool Max and there’s no reason for them to have to second guess you.

Either cancel all the toy lines/videogames/cartoon merchandising, or put out comics featuring those characters that anyone who’s got into them via Lego Marvel can read, which fits nicely into….

3) Bring Back Epic.

Or if not Epic, or Icon, or something akin to Vertigo, anyway.

The problem with the Direct Market taking control of how comics were ordered is that audience dictated the content. In an ideal world, Marvel’s flagship icons like Hulk, X-Men or Spider-Man would be a gateway comic that led people into the medium, much like Donald Duck or Archie. Once you’d been into them a few years, you’d realise that these aren’t stories in the way that Preacher or From Hell or Cerebus is a story with a beginning, middle and end and you’d graduate up to books that reflected your interests and concerns. That’s a fairly intelligent model that works in other mediums. You don’t quit watching Television because High School Confidential or Hannah Montana doesn’t appeal to you anymore, you just move onto different shows.

Sadly, in comics, what appears to have happened is that the readers of Marvel/DC superhero comics never wised up that they should have stopped playing with the kid’s toys, and moved onto more adult oriented fare, and instead (especially when the fans became pros.) made the kid’s stuff more adult in tone and content. So now Secret Invasion isn’t just a daft story about Skrulls invading the Earth, but rather an allegory for post 9-11 America and the inability to trust close friends for fear that they’re double agents working as terrorists.

Again, in an Avengers comic. The same Avengers who I can buy Lego figures of.

I’m not arguing that intelligent commentary on social issues can’t be done in comics, or even that superhero comics are incapable of tackling such topics, just that Marvel Superheroes aren’t the place to do long office scenes discussing the nature of perception vs reality or hostile corporate takeovers. These things are literally meant to be kid’s stuff.

So instead, create the ‘adult’ line. Bring in the creator owned deal that DC used to run with Vertigo. Sign up the likes of Minimum Wage, Sex Criminals, Grindhouse, offer to reprint Love & Rockets in colour for the first time. Be a PUBLISHER, rather than a vehicle to put out new Marvel Superhero product. A defined adult line would allow writers to express the concepts they’re interested in without having to jack the Spider-Man brand into conveying ideas it wasn’t designed for. and finally.

4) Sort out your pricing structure, once and for all.

So She-Hulk was $2:99  an issue without a downloadable digital copy, Amazing Spider-Man is  $3:99 an issue with the code, but Miracleman runs 16 pages an issue for $5 a pop without the code.

How but who but whuh?

I’ve argued the point about the price of modern comics before, but this is the most defining moment for the future of American comics, I think. (Where Marvel goes, everyone follows.) It is, or shouldn’t be, a secret that comic sales are down. They’ve been in a steady decline since the 70’s and the numbers on pre-orders that are touted as huge news stories today are the same numbers that would have had you fired for poor performance less that twenty years ago. (I think Star Wars is a massive glitch, not a turn around for the future of comics and I expect to see copies of Star Wars 1 in every collection I buy in for the rest of my career as everyone realises a million copies of anything can’t possibly be rare in a market that has less than a million readers.)

Every point I’ve made are occurrences that have been detrimental to the expansion of comics as a medium, whether it’s the content being too adult, too obtuse, too decompressed to the point that it takes 5 issues to tell a two-part story,and essentially a publisher treating their customers like drug addicts who will pick up their next fix regardless, but if there’s one thing I’ve seen standing order customers (That is, people who have an order to pick up an amount of comics from month to month without fail.) cancel their order over  more than anything else, it’s the constant price rises, the gradual jacking up the dollar cost of a comic every two or three years.

While profits mat have remained roughly the same, it’s only due to the price rises making up the deficit in reader, so essentially, those readers who carried on buying when others simply decided ‘No, this costs too much money now.’ are effectively being charged extra for their loyalty.

Obviously, that situation is suicide, and I fully expect to live to see the regular issue of Amazing Spider-Man costing $10. A step forward, and a show of confidence would be to re-price the new line at reasonable amounts. Nobody I know (who doesn’t work for Marvel, anyway.) thinks $4 is an acceptable price for one 24 page comic, and certainly not an amount that would lure younger readers (who I’d remind you again are meant to be the target audience for Amazing Spider-Man.) into getting into the medium. No one would believe Marvel are in danger of going under while they’re funded by Disney, so they could certainly afford perhaps $3 for a regular superhero comic, maybe with the option of another edition at $3:50 with a downloadable code

I’d say it’s long past time to stop playing to the adults who’ll buy X-Men no matter what’s done with the franchise, to stop appealing to the speculators who are and have never been of any benefit to the comics industry with this variant business and finally to stop letting adults who should know better to stop writing The Avengers as a pitch for an adult oriented sitcom.

It’s time to grow up and let the Kids back into their sandbox.


My Reaction To The Marvel Universe Ending.

 

 

sw1

So, I’ve seen the same news everyone else has and here are my first impressions.

Well, having been reading Avengers and Avengers NOW and whatever the other ones that aren’t the beautiful Uncanny Avengers, this morning’s news about the end of The Marvel Universe doesn’t come as a shock. There wasn’t a way back from the Black Panther murdering Namor, or Pete’s deal with Mephisto that everyone at the Spider-Man team has been trying to rewrite ever since. Time and continuity in The Marvel Universe has been a fractured mess since Age Of Ultron, and the upcoming Secret War appears to be the get out clause needed to fix a number of stories that have contradicted each other since the beginning.

A number of things spring to mind here, not least of which being ‘How wise is it to launch comics like Silk or Spider-Gwen a few months before everything breaks down?’, but I don’t work at Marvel, so it could be that those titles will carry over post Secret Wars. I personally will be glad to see the back of The Ultimate Universe, a line that’s had no real meaning and suffered a number spike reboots that have read like nothing but professionally drawn fan fiction since Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch finished their run on The Ultimates 2.

A worry is that long-term Marvel readers have put up with a hell of a lot over the last few decades. High priced mini-series, crossovers with no real point, deaths and rebirths, snarky editorial teams throwing personal jabs at readers for not liking what’s been written (‘Brand New Day’ was particularly bad for this.), and this might be it for a few comic fans. I posted on Dan Didio’s wall a few days ago that the reaction from comic readers to The New 52 was that people who’d been buying every mainstream DC Comic out of habit (i.e, Not Vertigo, Wildstorm, and licensed books.) upped and cancelled their entire order for DC product and never came back. That was a loss of sales of roughly 50 comics per month from a number of customers which added up to the best part of a thousand pounds of lost income.

This morning, I’m not at work, so haven’t heard the reactions from the customers to this news yet, but I’m more than aware that many of them are to be blunt, sick of each year featuring two crossovers plus a number of spin-off books that they’ve felt compelled to buy and have been looking for a reason to stop. If, as suggested in the news piece, that this is the end of The Marvel Universe as we know it, then the inevitable Amazing Spider-Man 1, Captain America 1, Uncanny X-Men 1 etc might have to find a new audience., much like Batman 1, Action Comics 1 did.

Personally, I think there’s a lot of potential good here, but as DC proved with The New 52, you can’t put the old poison in a new glass and expect people to want to drink it, so here’s what can be done to potentially expand the comic market beyond the addicts and into the new generation of people interested in Marvel via the films:

1) Keep the ‘controversial’ changes.

With the exception of stupid people, nobody has a problem with Captain America being black, Spider-Man being Hispanic, Northstar being gay or Thor being a woman. There are things that need sorting out with Marvel’s line up of characters, but reconfiguring them so they’re all whitebread WASPS isn’t a thing that needs to happen Whatever else I’ve said about Marvel, I totally applaud their attempts to reach out to other demographics beyond ’45 Year Old White Man Who Thinks All Comics Should Written For His Tastes Alone.’ and speaking of that….

2) Decide who your audience is for your characters is once and for all and write for them.

As a customer, I can go into Toys R Us and buy a Deadpool Marvel Mash-Up action figure, a toy designed for children. I can also go into a comic shop and buy Deadpool Max, which features mental illness played for laughs, child abuse, a brief lecture on the history of the KKK and a good amount of other plot elements that are either unsuitable for anyone under 10 or will just plain bore them.

As a retailer, this trend of writing Marvel Super-Heroes to the older audience has been an absolute nightmare. There should not be a point where I have to remember if the issue of Avengers a child is buying is the one that features Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne having super-powered oral sex. Yes, it makes me laugh, but I shouldn’t be the target audience for characters that also appear in video games aimed at kids like Disney Infinity Marvel. You can’t have it both ways with branding franchises for kids, because parents don’t generally know the difference between Deadpool and Deadpool Max and there’s no reason for them to have to second guess you.

Either cancel all the toy lines/videogames/cartoon merchandising, or put out comics featuring those characters that anyone who’s got into them via Lego Marvel can read, which fits nicely into….

3) Bring Back Epic.

Or if not Epic, or Icon, or something akin to Vertigo, anyway.

The problem with the Direct Market taking control of how comics were ordered is that audience dictated the content. In an ideal world, Marvel’s flagship icons like Hulk, X-Men or Spider-Man would be a gateway comic that led people into the medium, much like Donald Duck or Archie. Once you’d been into them a few years, you’d realise that these aren’t stories in the way that Preacher or From Hell or Cerebus is a story with a beginning, middle and end and you’d graduate up to books that reflected your interests and concerns. That’s a fairly intelligent model that works in other mediums. You don’t quit watching Television because High School Confidential or Hannah Montana doesn’t appeal to you anymore, you just move onto different shows.

Sadly, in comics, what appears to have happened is that the readers of Marvel/DC superhero comics never wised up that they should have stopped playing with the kid’s toys, and moved onto more adult oriented fare, and instead (especially when the fans became pros.) made the kid’s stuff more adult in tone and content. So now Secret Invasion isn’t just a daft story about Skrulls invading the Earth, but rather an allegory for post 9-11 America and the inability to trust close friends for fear that they’re double agents working as terrorists.

Again, in an Avengers comic. The same Avengers who I can buy Lego figures of.

I’m not arguing that intelligent commentary on social issues can’t be done in comics, or even that superhero comics are incapable of tackling such topics, just that Marvel Superheroes aren’t the place to do long office scenes discussing the nature of perception vs reality or hostile corporate takeovers. These things are literally meant to be kid’s stuff.

So instead, create the ‘adult’ line. Bring in the creator owned deal that DC used to run with Vertigo. Sign up the likes of Minimum Wage, Sex Criminals, Grindhouse, offer to reprint Love & Rockets in colour for the first time. Be a PUBLISHER, rather than a vehicle to put out new Marvel Superhero product. A defined adult line would allow writers to express the concepts they’re interested in without having to jack the Spider-Man brand into conveying ideas it wasn’t designed for. and finally.

4) Sort out your pricing structure, once and for all.

So She-Hulk was $2:99  an issue without a downloadable digital copy, Amazing Spider-Man is  $3:99 an issue with the code, but Miracleman runs 16 pages an issue for $5 a pop without the code.

How but who but whuh?

I’ve argued the point about the price of modern comics before, but this is the most defining moment for the future of American comics, I think. (Where Marvel goes, everyone follows.) It is, or shouldn’t be, a secret that comic sales are down. They’ve been in a steady decline since the 70’s and the numbers on pre-orders that are touted as huge news stories today are the same numbers that would have had you fired for poor performance less that twenty years ago. (I think Star Wars is a massive glitch, not a turn around for the future of comics and I expect to see copies of Star Wars 1 in every collection I buy in for the rest of my career as everyone realises a million copies of anything can’t possibly be rare in a market that has less than a million readers.)

Every point I’ve made are occurrences that have been detrimental to the expansion of comics as a medium, whether it’s the content being too adult, too obtuse, too decompressed to the point that it takes 5 issues to tell a two-part story,and essentially a publisher treating their customers like drug addicts who will pick up their next fix regardless, but if there’s one thing I’ve seen standing order customers (That is, people who have an order to pick up an amount of comics from month to month without fail.) cancel their order over  more than anything else, it’s the constant price rises, the gradual jacking up the dollar cost of a comic every two or three years.

While profits mat have remained roughly the same, it’s only due to the price rises making up the deficit in reader, so essentially, those readers who carried on buying when others simply decided ‘No, this costs too much money now.’ are effectively being charged extra for their loyalty.

Obviously, that situation is suicide, and I fully expect to live to see the regular issue of Amazing Spider-Man costing $10. A step forward, and a show of confidence would be to re-price the new line at reasonable amounts. Nobody I know (who doesn’t work for Marvel, anyway.) thinks $4 is an acceptable price for one 24 page comic, and certainly not an amount that would lure younger readers (who I’d remind you again are meant to be the target audience for Amazing Spider-Man.) into getting into the medium. No one would believe Marvel are in danger of going under while they’re funded by Disney, so they could certainly afford perhaps $3 for a regular superhero comic, maybe with the option of another edition at $3:50 with a downloadable code

I’d say it’s long past time to stop playing to the adults who’ll buy X-Men no matter what’s done with the franchise, to stop appealing to the speculators who are and have never been of any benefit to the comics industry with this variant business and finally to stop letting adults who should know better to stop writing The Avengers as a pitch for an adult oriented sitcom.

It’s time to grow up and let the Kids back into their sandbox.


Thor

tr 1

NeverBow

2 months ago

The question is when useless feminists can create their own shit. And to listen to a bag of garbage like whoopy. If women are strong like they claim. Prove it. Create your own. Oh I see, you can´t.’
(Comment copy/pasted from here. Yes, be scared.)
(This part of the piece is being written in my bedroom, Monday, the 29th of September. You’ll see why this is relevant later on.)

I have a confession to make.

I LOVE a good conspiracy theory. Love them. The more mental and unlikely, the better. I watch Alex Jones launch into tirades suggesting that the latest false flag is proof that the Obama Super-Elite Machine Squad are coming for his guns, and they will look something oddly like Darth Vader’s Stormtroopers and here’s some footage from Star Wars OH NO HERE ARE STORMTROOPERS COMING FOR GUNS NOW like I imagine your average Football fan watches the F.A. Cup Final when their team are playing. Something akin to ‘GO ON, MY SON, GET THE PLUG FOR THE SPECIAL FOOD CLEANSING FILTERS INTO YOUR MONOLOGUE! YESSSSS!!!!! BACK OF THE NETWORK!!!’

I think this started after what I now refer to as ‘My FunnyBook Vietnam;: Six or seven years spent in the West End of London. If you’re selling comics there on a regular basis, you’re going to be confronted with any number of theories…expounded by the most delightfully colourful patrons you’ll ever be likely to meet. There are three options here. You can run, screaming with fear back home to the safety of your duvet, a nice cup of Hot Chocolate and Netflix, you can have your heart bleed open at each tragic case of disenfranchised insanity let loose on the streets of Soho armed only with a pound and a theory…

But in the end you’ll only end up hating them as you realise there isn’t very much you can do about it. You can’t put up everyone, you don’t have that much spare change or that many sandwiches. They will be a constant reminder that your ;shoulds’ are nothing with actions to back it up, and you’ll hate them for making you realise how helpless you are to change very much. And just how little has to happen before you could be in the same position in a matter of weeks.

Or, of course, you pick Option 3. Become a Connoisseur Of The Theories. You realise there is no real safety, no security. Everything changes and the only real good you can do is try to engage someone and listen to what they have to say. As a smoker, I’d be outside the shop and pick up all kinds of intriguing conversation on the world. My favourite, however, was Triangle Head. So named because he wore, and possibly may even still wear a gold triangle on his head. I have no idea if it just fits over his ears or if he glues it on every day, but the great thing about him is that he has a new reason for the triangle literally every time you see him.

If there’s a thing I’ve missed about the West End, besides Madame Jojo’s, it’s that healthy vein of lunacy, laced with equal parts comedy and tragedy. I suspected I’d never really see it’s like again.

Until Marvel announced on ‘The View’ earlier this year that we’d be seeing a new Thor this autumn. The twist, as we all know by now, is that the new Thor would be a woman. I don’t know if there was something awkward in the phrasing or something, but my InBox was ablaze with variations of ‘OHMIGOSH, THOR IS….TRANSGENDER NOW? FOR REAL?’ IS THAT GOOD?I confess I do actually have days off from Comics News, and while I’m sure I probably get slightly more eclectic mail than many (Including all round good bloke and tremendous comics writer George Khoury messaging me out of the blue to say he was sending me a personalised print of Adam West for…some reason. That was amazing, but threw me a bit. Anyway, his history on Marvelman remains the best book on the Kimota saga, and is always worth picking up. Marvel really ought to reprint it.)

So, given the sheer volume of Transgender Thor questions I was getting, I looked this up. Okay. There’s going to be a new Thor. This Thor will be a woman. Seems reasonable. Use the brand name and it’s inherent automatic sales to try to reach out to a new and generally ignored audience: Women. Best case scenario, Thor sells the usual amounts and then picks up a pile of new female readers. Worst case: It tanks and we’re looking at ‘Thor: A Lass No More!’ (1 0f 8, 2 issues a week. $4:99) next year. Jack the brand name and subvert it with your evil agenda. No harm, no foul.

But if 2014 has taught me one thing, it’s that for every action, there is a mind fistingly stupid reaction to be found in the Comments Section. I had my fingers in front of my eyes when scouring The View’s news message board, but this one comment stunned even me with the astounding level of imagination, paranoia and speed of reaction time. It’s one of those things I wish I screen-grabbed for history, but either it was taken down or the original poster heard the world collectively laughing at him, so I’ll try as best as I can to recollect it from memory…..

SEE?!!11!, this is IT. The Marvel Writer’s wives have all been converted into SJWs and have threatened the boys by withholding sex unless they start infecting the Marvel comics with their Liberal Agenda. 1st a Latino Spider-Man NOW A FEMALE THOR!’

 

‘Like, that was IT, the final piece in the conspiracy that this guy was waiting for! Now Thor had become a woman, The SJW Hydra Creature would launch itself from the Marvel offices like a multi-titted screaming banshee surging from fanboy household to fanboy household, devouring all their Terry Dodson, Greg Land and Milo Manara Marvel comics and replacing them with the lost Amanda Connor/Alan Moore project: ‘Barbie: Fashion Beast’.

Anyway, I read Original Sin, I’m not proud of it, it’s just part of my job. I’m pretty good at knowing the goings on in the Marvel Universe but I had no bloody idea what was going on in this book. Shouting in space! Big Eyes! The Orb! Guilt! I assume ;Continuity Implants!; didn’t test well as a cross-over title, although the Daredevil books that tied in with OS are worth a read, at least. What’s relevant here, though, is that Evil Space Nick Fury whispers something to Thor, and suddenly the Odinson can’t hold Mjölnir anymore. Thor Is Not Worthy! We’re Not Worthy!

I’ve skipped reading issues of Thor since then, because I don’t want the knowledge of what’s come before in Thor to inform my experience of issue 1. I want to read this afresh and see how much sense this makes as a new reader, in the same way that the presumably thousands of new readers picking this up will see it tomorrow morning:

‘And this bit is LIVE FROM A COMIC SHOP IN LONDON ON TUESDAY NIGHT, THE 30TH OF SEPTEMBER, BECAUSE WE CAN’T SELL THEM YET, I’M NOT GOING TO SPOIL THEM BUT NOTHING STOPS ME FOR WRITING ABOUT THEM!…FILTHY NEVS LOOKS AT THOR 1

sy tr

 

By the Hoary Fucking Hosts, whoever designed that letters page wants a kick in the Volstaggs.

Anywaaaaay,,,,,

 

It’s..

 

Um…

 

It’s….

 

It’s REALLY, REALLY GOOD!

Thor 1 starts us off with your man having a sulk at Miljthingy whilst Makelith The Accursed leads a group of Frost Giants to attack Earth. The collective Asgardians have a chin wag over the fact that none of them seem to be capable of lifting the hammer anymore (There’s a rather large clue to as why that may be…) and Odin has a strop that’s made even better if you cast Brian Blessed in your head as the voice of Odin, as I have done over the odd periods of time when I’ve cared about reading Thor. (Admittedly the last time being sometime around either the Romita Jr or Simonson era.) Thor decides he’s probably done enough sulking and decides he really ought to do something about Makelith and after that…things get interesting in a way that would probably be a massive SPOILER  if I mentioned them here. We do get to see who the new Thor IS, though, I can tell you that much, I think. Makes perfect sense as well.

I liked this a lot, as I said earlier, I’ve been trying to avoid both reading comics featuring Thor and any of the sneak previews that have been around the Web so I’d come into this as cold as possible. It recaps exactly why Thor’s in this state without languishing too long in recap confusion Hell, and while there’s probably still a bit too much Shakespearian effect ‘Everyone Must State Their Point Of View Before We Can Move On To The Next Plot Point’ that Marvel have been suffering from for the last few years and  Makelith is one more graduate from the ‘Every villain needs to be a Smart Arse Rogue who gets better dialogue than the Hero’ School Of Modern Comic Writing.

The art, however, is the total tits! I haven’t seen Russell Dauterman’s art before now, but he is the star of the show here. He’s somewhere between Geof Darrow. Rafael Grampa and Darick Robertson and there’s a double page spread early on in the book that glued my socks on for fear of Frost Giants freezing my feet off.  He’s got natural timing, body language and expression down as much as he does the grand epic battle stuff.

Against my natural judgement of not recommending Marvel comics, I’d say this is one of the better new comics of Marvel trying out this ‘experimenting with female leads’in 2014 (And seriously, how fucked are we as a business that trying to represent half the population of the planet in 7 or 8 comics out of dozens has to be some kind of brave experiment!). So here you go. A very strong Marvel comic featuring a well written, strongly motivated female protagonists. Want more of this kind of thing? Buy this. Now.

 

‘Don’t Tweet About It, Do It’ (with apologies to The Pink Fairies.)

 

 


Think About The Future, Eckhart.

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.)

CYCLE SHEETS!

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.

Or not.)

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…

rjsr

Here. Redraw that.

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.

BUT:

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?

 

x statix di

 

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.

But seriously. You want this.

But seriously. You want this.

 

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.

jm

 

Simple, intelligent. Hopefully, the future.

 


Aside

City Limits

‘You don’t need anyone’s permission for anything.‘ – John Lydon

The thing is, I haven’t really cared about a comic film since Hellboy 2.

In fact, between you and me, I’d be inclined to say ..I don’t really like most comic movies very much. It’s not even an ‘Indy’ vs ‘Superhero’ thing. I thought ‘Ghost World’ was a shopping list of annoying behaviours for rich kids who like Wes Anderson to emulate, ‘Crumb’ put me off the man and his work in 90 minutes straight. ‘Scott Pilgrim’ is the best argument for God sending in The Locusts I’ve seen for quite a long time.

I DIDN'T CARE IF ANYONE IN A JOHN HUGHES FILM HAD SEX AND I DON'T CARE IF YOU DITHERING, SOLIPSISTIC IDIOTS DO, EITHER!

I DIDN’T CARE IF ANYONE IN A JOHN HUGHES FILM HAD SEX AND I DON’T CARE IF YOU DITHERING, SOLIPSISTIC IDIOTS DO, EITHER!

DC films haven’t done much for me with the exception of the one with Heath Ledger’s Joker in, although for the possibly slightly deranged reason that I think The Joker is spot on with his analysis of Humanity most of the time. No Superman film will ever top the sheer Gonzo insanity that is Superman 3, or my preferred title ‘What If Bizarro Was A Drunk And Richard Pryor Insisted On Upstaging Everyone For Literally No Reason Except Drugs. Also Starring Jim Broadbent, Because Reasons.’

You have no idea how much work it took to pick just one image from this film.

You have no idea how much work it took to pick just one image from this film.

 

And to be honest, I feel the same way as Female Led Super-Hero Franchise movies as Bill Hicks did about women priests. Sure, have them if it helps anything, but I’ll still be ignoring them. Give Black Canary, Sif, Storm, Wonder Woman, Black Widow, Batgirl, Elektra, Supergirl or She-Hulk a film all you like. Marvel Films are the same self congratulating,quagmire of fan-service and waiting about for some post credit rubbish that makes Cinema Staff’s more difficult nonsense that their comics have become.  I gave up on caring about which studio owns which franchise or whether you could really see Cap in the Hulk’s post credit sequence on Blu-Ray sometime around Robert Downey Jr’s hilarious monologue at the end of Iron Man 3.

To quote Evan Dorkin, ‘You see Rocket Raccoon. I see Bill Mantlo.’

No, beyond my love for absolutely terrible films (Hello, Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four, the Cap movie with J.D. Salinger’s kid in the lead, Boob Wire, Tank Girl and that amazing straight to TV Hulk film where Hulk fights a BEAR!), I’ve little interest in comics being translated to the big screen.  I don’t think the nature of episodic story-telling lhat comics employ really translates very well to 2 hour films. In the same way that you can’t really just pick this week’s Avengers comic and start reading from there, I think Marvel Films are rapidly creating that culture of ‘But where do I START with this lot?’ and given just how many characters are appearing in ‘Superman V Batman: Dawn Of Justice’, it looks like DC are going the same way (I’m already asking myself if ‘Man Of Steel’ happens in the same reality as ‘Arrow’ and ‘Gotham’)

‘Hellboy’, ‘American Splendor’ and ‘Sin City’ are different, though.

What the three films have in common is that they were all created with a guiding eye from the person who created each property. Harvey Pekar is in ‘American Splendor’, Mignola kept a close eye on ‘Hellboy’ all the way through two movies. Meanwhile, Frank Miller had to be convinced by Robert Rodriguez on a number of occasions that he even wanted to do a ‘Sin City’ movie. He’d had his experience with Hollywood via ‘Robocop 2’ and wanted nothing to do with the process of creating films, let alone giving up the rights to his beloved work.

So, yes, if I were to try to find something that would get me to the cinema, the chances it would both A) Need to be overseen by the person responsible for the original idea and B) Be about something I cared about  (*’Art School Confidential” wins for being a observation on a collective of people whilst popping a series of pretensions. “Ghost World” loses for being some snark about people not as cool or deep as Enid who then literally gets a bus to nowhere.)

Which, finally, brings us to Frank Miller, Sin City 2 and him being ‘problematic’ (Which, as far as I can work out, now means ‘Things We’d Like To Censor But Don’t Want To Appear Censorious’ ) as he doesn’t seem to fit in with Internet Comics Community Think 2014. at all. He has been deemed ‘offensive’ by a section of said Community for his portrayal of women, his unique dialogue, Dark Knight Strikes Back not being exactly what.they wanted and his comments on the Occupy movement and such like.

I can only assume Frank was restrained from writing 'Kiss THIS!; as the caption to this cover after seeing early reactions to All Star Batman.

I can only assume Frank was restrained from writing ‘Kiss THIS!’ as the caption to this cover after seeing early reactions to All Star Batman.

 

Personally, while I haven’t enjoyed everything Frank’s had a hand in over the last few years, I’ll credit him with the resurgence of DC via Dark Knight Returns, having the balls to be a very vocal part of the ‘Return Kirby’s Art’ campaign at a time when Marvel were trying to hush up The Kirbys with a disgusting document that would have silenced them talking about Jack’s contributions to Marvel in exchange for a mere and insulting 88 pages of artwork that could have been taken back at any time, making the work of Will Eisner cool and relevant again, explaining how much some unknown genre called ‘Manga’ had influenced his work at a time when no one really knew what it was, being one of the pioneers of being totally vocal about the behind the scenes scumbaggery going on at Marvel and DC at the time and a lot more, besides. His letter pages in Sin City were a monthly dissection of popular media thinking process and gleeful explanation of the utter bullshit those words contained.

Also, he read this out live in front of various Marvel members of Staff at a Retailer Meeting in 1994. If any of the vogue creators of today have half the balls to say anything like this at any live event where Marvel or DC Editors are present, I will grow my hair and beard for two years, shave it and donate the sponsorship money to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

And if none of that floats your boat, he’s one of three men who turned the Trade Paperback market into a thing that regularly generates money for the industry. Eisner was first with the format, and Sim was the first to think of putting out collections of previous comics to allow new readers to catch up with the newest issue, but Frank, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were the guys who blew the doors off the notion that Trade Paperbacks were a Collector’s Only Item. So if you’ve ever sold a trade paperback of anything, you can thank those guys.

I must confess at this point to being surprised that people being offended in 2014 by things they see in various media is a thing that is taken seriously.I thought we’d been through all this with ‘Huckleberry Finn’, with ‘Frankenchrist;,with ‘Evil Dead’, with ‘Cop Killer’, with Alison Bechdel, with ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’, with Omaha The Cat Dancer,  with ‘Howl’, with Robert Crumb, with Michael Diana, I thought we’d learned this simple truth:

Nothing has to conform to your notions of what is acceptable, and you are always free to change the channel.

I get why people might have been annoyed or upset at Elvis or The Sex Pistols. Back then, in the 60’s and 70’s, we lived in a much more mono-media culture. By the time Steve Jones called Bill Grundy a ‘dirty fucking rotter’, the UK didn’t have more than three channels and none of them were broadcasting 24 hours a day, so it might well have literally been ‘Watch Bill Grundy awkwardly hit on Siouxsie Sioux or nothing.’ I don’t agree that your kids will have their fragile psyches destroyed by Johnny Rotten being on telly for five seconds,

Never Forget

Never Forget

Here in 2014, we could stop creating new music, TV, comics and such for the next 50 years and you’d be hard pressed to run out of entertainment before you died. You have so many options of what you want to be presented with that I suspect we’re becoming a culture more concerned with finding out what’s coming next than we are with actually engaging with what we’ve purchased.  The idea that one man or woman’s point of view or art is so abhorrent that it needs forcibly shoving into exile until it learns to toe the unspoken line is both disgusting and laughable.

Sin City 2 is going to come out in the cinema. The poster featuring Eva Green has already had some problems with the MPAA, the trailer was banned from broadcast by ABC TV. I really want to be wrong here and hope that this is the end of the issues this film going to have. I suspect it isn’t. I’m not sure what could crop up this late in the day, since Sin City: A Dame To Kill For has been in print since at least 1995, so there aren’t any surprises in the story coming. Mind you, I’m talking about a community who seems to think it has a say in what George Martin chooses to write in ‘Game Of Thrones’ and as I genuinely don’t understand that mindset, who knows what’s to come?

Turns out guns are..less offensive than breasts? Um?

Turns out guns are..less offensive than breasts? Um?

Ultimately, you control your mouse, you handle your remote control. You choose what it is seen in your house. Please don’t presume to make those decisions for my household. You can argue that you think Frank’s fictional depiction of women is offensive or his writing isn’t what it was. That’s fine. For your home, Learn to live with the idea that not everything has to conform to your standards of what is decent, and I’ll keep quiet about the fact that I find the fact this generation of social media users not only seem utterly apathetic to how the people who created the big screen heroes were treated by Marvel so long as they get their hit of cinematic buzz, but actually focus on loving Marvel and it’s output to an almost reverential degree, to the point that critics of their films are treated like, well,

Heretics?

There are a lot of people whose resurrection would make the world a better place, Mary Whitehouse isn’t one of them.

Donate to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund here.

P.S. Who was it who created Elektra in the first place? And who was it who outright lied to him about letting her stay dead?

P.P.S. I LIKE ‘The Spirit’ film he directed, I’m guessing you don’t. That’s fine, I’ll never force you to watch it. That’s how this is meant to work.