Friday, June 24, 2005

More on Trades

It struck me that the last post seemed slightly condemnatory towards the Singles reader. That shouldn't be so: I wandered into GOSH yesterday, fully intending to pass by the new Astro City series in favour of waiting for the trade.

Yeah, I bought it. Idiot. I can see the same happening for the All Star line too. Weak Sam, just weak.

(Parenthetically, I picked up Dan Clowes' new book "Ice Haven", a lovely little package which reads like a dream - very enjoayable. But essentially, it's Eightball #22, a book that's over a year old. Felt a little conned, it having been advertised as his "New Book". But that's beside the point.)

The real-world situation that is most often used to mirror this is the one of films; Theatrical Release = Singles, DVD = Trade. But there's lots of problems with this comparison - the size of your TV not being the least of them - and it doesn't really make sense. The hardcore collector buys the singles first, with the Trade a more generally accessible reading format (through bookstores, like I mentioned below). But going to the movies is a general past-time. Buying huge numbers of DVDs is a slightly smaller industry (slightly, just slightly).

Better is to look at Literature. Best-selling authors are released in Hardback first, then get a softcover treatment providing the book makes its money back and gets favourable press. I'd say that's similar to comics, wouldn't you?

Except, there's still a leap to be made concerning buying episodes of a story vs. getting the whole thing in one package. If TV shows cost something to watch on Channel 4, I bet you'd get a lot of "DVD-Waiting" among fans of Desperate Housewives or Six Feet Under.

So what is the best way of looking at this in terms of a paradigm shift? Am I wrong to say that singles (and their consequence, the Direct Market) are what simultaneously keeps this industry going as well as strangling its growth? What will happen when the number of sales for the top 10 trades starts to resemble the number of sales for the top 10 single issues? That's what I predict - sales continue to drop on Ultimate Spider-Man, while sales of trades (within comic stores) continue to grow. They're going to get similar eventually, right?

If people don't want OGNs, will we ever get the "Straight To Trade" release?

(I'm so tired, it's so hot here in London, and nothing I've written seems to make any sense. Help me, please, won't you help me?)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Letter of the Blog

I recieved the following e-mail today. its nice to get stuff like this now and then, kind of makes running the old comic shop worthwhile, god knows the money doesn't.

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Alright mate, my names (deleted for obvious reasons). I came by the shop a few days ago and purchased "Batman: Dark Victory" and "War Games Act 2" and we discussed my poor choice of company to receive my monthlies from (Forbidden Planet)? Anyways just wanted to let you know I have cancelled my subscription with them (and I'm glad I did, they were very rude about it) and I would like to order my monthly titles from you instead. I would be happy to come into the store to pick up the issues as I plan on buying graphic novels pretty much every week anyway.


The list I would like to have kept aside is below; let me know if there are any problems etc:

(Deleted as its really not important, but all good stuff!)

I'll probably have more to add over time, but if you could start saving these for me from the June issues I would really appreciate it. Forbidden planet were always several months behind, so it was a bit of a nightmare to follow the stories.

Btw I just wanted to say I think your shop is fantastic! Excellent selection and very friendly staff (oh and good music, you can’t beat the police!). I’ve never been to a comic shop before without being watched like I’m about to steal something. It’s always a pleasure to come into your shop and discuss Batman etc with you. Your knowledge on the subject is so impressive. If you ever need any new employees, full or part time work, do let me know, as I would fly over like a shot for an interview and be willing to work for pennies. I have worked in many shops before (in fact right now I work at terrible tesco) but never a store where I would actually be able to discuss the items with confidence and interest (I stack fizzy drinks at the mo, there really isn’t much you can discuss on that ).

Anyways mate, let me know about the orders and price lists etc and thanks for reading,

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And how cool is that? the strange thing is, where he said "your knowledge on the subject is so impressive" he is actually talking about Glyn, the intellectually moribund owner of the store.

What I want to know is why is his FP store several months behind? They should recieve the comics on the Thursday following the American release.

The other cool thing that happened this week was that my store got a mention on Warren Ellis' Bad signal mass email. Is my hard work finally starting to pay off?

Monday, June 20, 2005

Playing Catchup

Hey guys. Hey Sid.

There's been this extended absence, from both this and my own LJ, for a variety of reasons. Partly it's my busy-ness, trying to keep a fairly intensive job from boiling over; partly getting next year sorted out, going back to school, organising funding etc; mostly it's because I've just not been able to think of anything particularly interesting to write up here.

But the availability of comics in bookshops is interesting.

The big shift-over from comics as a niche market - a fringe hobby requiring speciality stores - towards a mainstream entertainment - a viable artform both in terms of adaptation as well as a medium in itself - is most prounounced when you look at the way they are perceived as objects. Positive reviews and a healthy critical atmosphere are one thing, but IMO that only carries things so far.

People need to buy the fucking things.

And, due respect, there aren't enough good, friendly and welcoming comic shops at the moment to make that a viable point of sale for the new reader. (there are many that ARE, but not nearly enough - the most prominent nationally, Forbidden Planet, still retains the sense of Lunatic-Ville, despite the much cleaner atmosphere)

The presence of comics in bookstores is essential for the commercial survival of the medium in its current form - Superheroes are no longer niche in- and of-themselves. The Incredibles did great guns. Batman's getting fantastic press. Superman can be a mainstream hit off the back of the original 70s and 80s films, Smallville, as well as Bryan Singer (not to mention the character itself). Books like Jimmy Corrigan and Ghost World (which would be my addition to your list, Sid, along with maybe Barry Ween) get big attention in the broadsheets in the UK, as do the books of Joe Sacco, Robert Crumb and (obviously) Neil Gaiman. A significant Alan Moore push is only just around the corner.

But I quote Frank Miller, Will Eisner, Warren Ellis, Neil Gaimain, Scott McCloud and who knows who else when I say that the single issue is the major sticking point for the industry. And the responsibility, like so many problems with the current Direct Market, rests somewhere between the retailer and the customer.

There needs to be a market for the Original Graphic Novel. Serialising this stuff across 6 issues of Daredevil doesn't cut it, because it's perpetuating the fantasy of the monthly comic, and doing so BADLY. Publishers are losing readers with Writing For The Trade, reducing the market as a whole, which in turn depresses the chances of getting a trade for quality, marginal books with crossover potential (like Gotham Central) and so fewer titles make the leap from comic book shop to regular book shop.

Which is where the new readers come in.

But comic fans don't want OGNs. They want their singles.

We all need to buy more trades.

Yes, I know that doesn't work.

(and it was all going so well...)

Sam

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Essential Reading

Two weeks since a blog, I am slipping, I try to get one a week churned out, but to make up for it, here is a stupidly long blog.

So I was in Bicester a week past, getting more ink from Jon at Atomic Tattoos (01869 247536 plug plug), whilst there I had a peruse of the local toy and book stores, something I do in every town I visit. I popped into a small book shop as I usually find them not only more interesting than the multi-conglomorates, but they rarely have a coffee shop filled with pretentious students reading "The Da Vinci Code" in a bid to look interesting.

After a quick peruse, I asked at the counter where the Graphic Novel section was (always presume they have one, it makes them feel inadequate that way - make them think comic books in book stores is the standard because, damnit, it should be that way). They didn't have one. Apparently they had the Star Wars Episode 3 adaptation and that was it, according to the woman at the counter the had a GN section years ago but it died off and they discontinued it.

Lesser comic fans would have walked out, dismayed. But not I. I explained to the woman that I work in a comic shop and a big fan of the industry in general and that I was happy to help out by recommending a list of essential, preferably adult themed comic books (yes fine, kids may be the future of the industry, but adults are verifying the medium as literature). In my arrogance, I thought this would be a quick, 20 minute job. Bang together the Top 20 sellers and e-mail it over. I now realise what a big undertaking this is.

How do you summarise an entire medium into 20 books? Preacher and Transmetropolitan combined are 20 books. No, I need more. I need depth, and I need reasons. Remember, the people at the book store don't know comics, and whilst Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns may seem obvious to us comic readers, it may not be so obvious to them.

This is just scratching the surface here, there are many more GENRES that I haven't represented here, never mind individual titles. Many of my favourites I haven't listed here as I have tried to boil it down to Essential stock.

Just post your comments for any comics I may forget, audience participation needed.

Watchmen: Arguably the best selling comic of all time. The super hero genre dichotomised, and a real life arms race cautionary tale, as relevant now as it was 20 years ago during its first printing. Alan Moore / Dave Gibbons

Maus; A Survivors Tale: Still the only comic ever to win a Pulitzer prize award. This amazingly personal work deals with the Jewish struggle for survival in Nazi Occupied Poland, a real life narrative told to the author from his father. The genius touch is the use of animals as metaphors for people and races. Jews are portrayed here as Mice, Germans are Cats, French are frogs and so on. Art Spiegalman.

V for Vendetta: Coming out in November as a Motion Picture. A tale of totalitarian fascist dictatorship recommended for fans of Huxley, Bradbury and Orwell. "V" fights the system in his homage to Guy Fawkes by blowing up the Houses of Parliament in the opening pages of this brilliantly crafted tale of humanity. Alan Moore / David Lloyd.

Blankets: A semi-autobiographical remembrance of first love told beautifully over 500 pages, as one man tries to deal with love, family, loss of innocence and religion. Craig Thompson.

Jimmy Corrigan: A beautiful dichotomy of life's mundane aspects, peoples inability to express their true emotions to each other and one mans all out fear of living. A true masterpiece of a comic ground breaking in its combination of both word and image, and former Guardian book of the year. Mr F C Ware.

Bone: A prefect read fans of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings - of any age. Join the Bone cousins on their quest through a magical world on a voyage back to their hometown of Boneville. Featuring bugs, plagues of locusts and Dragons! Available in the complete black and white epic, or as separate colour versions. Jeff Smith.

Strangers In Paradise: Think romance comics are dead? Proving once more that super heroes are just one genre within a medium, Terry Moore appeals to both genders with this simple tale of young people in love.

Preacher: A 9 volume, mature readers saga. Not for the faint of heart or the easily offended, but if you've ever laughed at the cracks in religious ideology, this book is for you. Combining the kind of tough talking, no-nonsense action sequences from a Clint Eastwood movie (acting era) with the thought provoking ideas of a Tarantino flick. Join one man on a quest to find God and ask him the ultimate question: Why does he treat his creation so poorly? Garth Ennis / Steve Dillon.

Hellblazer: See the movie? Forget it. Before Ted "Theodore" Logan flipped his lighter to the annoyance of millions and before Preacher hit the comic stands; Garth Ennis wrote 45 odd issues of the bleak, poll-tax era, horror fantasy starring John Constantine; chain smoking, trash talking modern day mystic.
Also, check out the two volumes by Warren Ellis, one of the best comic writers in the industry.

A Contract With God: The first ever Graphic Novel by arguably the most important figure in the comic industry ever; Will Eisner. Before this, comics were written purely for the periodicals, this was the first comic that was decidedly packaged for book stores and long-term shelf life. A masterpiece of sequential story telling.

Kingdom Come: DC Comics meets the book of genesis, in this future tale of super-heroics gone wrong. An old man takes a walk through a prospective future, where the overpopulation of super-hero prodigies builds to the point of inevitable collapse. Mark Waid / Alex Ross.

Marvels: The Marvel Universe seen from the eyes of a young photographer upwards through the ages, examining the golden, silver and modern age Marvel icons. See the Marvel universe from a unique point of view, as one man deals with being a normal human sharing a city with Marvels. Kurt Busiek / Alex Ross.

Hellboy: If for no other than the speculation of casual fans who have heard of the movie, this book will sell. Mike Mignola's horror fantasy featuring the kind hearted red demon who likes nothing more than to explore haunted houses and punch Nazis.

Sin City: Clearing up at the box office and in the best comic shops (we sold out week of release). Frank Miller's creator owned crime noir set in a shared universe set a new standard for sequential story telling, and in a move similar to Alfred Hitchcock's directing, its not what you see that works best, its what you don't.

Pedro and Me: A very moving account of author Judd Winnick's friendship with HIV victim Pedro, detailing how they met, how he dealt with his friends departure and how he honoured his life's work after he passed.

Transmetropolitan: Future gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem goes on a Hunter S Thompson drug fuelled rampage in a totalitarian future, battling the corruption of politicians and bringing the truth to the people.

Neil Gaiman: Author of best selling novels "American Gods" and "Coraline" cut his craft in the world of comics with a wealth of material to choose from. The complete Sandman library (Vol.s 1-10), the Death tpbs, Black Orchid, Midnight Days, 1602 and the Last Temptation.

Swamp Thing: The work that made Alan Moores name. Teaming with a variety of artists, Alan Moore reset the standard not only for modern day horror, but for what could be achieved with sequential storytelling. This set for the standard for the entire Vertigo line of comics and introduced the character of John Constantine. Swamp Thing Vol. 1-7

Authority: Warren Ellis' deconstruction of the super hero genre continues in the groundbreaking Authority. In a world where no one can save themselves, this superhero team decide they can save the world, whether they want saving or not. With excellent characterisation and cutting dialogue, Authority changed the superhero landscape with an effect which is still visible today.

Batman: Must have reads (Batman as a prefix): The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, Arkham Asylum, Black and White, Long Halloween, The Killing Joke, Hush Vol. 1 and 2, Death in the Family.

Superman: Essential Supes stories: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, Man of Steel Vol. 1, Death of Superman, Return of Superman, World Without a Superman, Superman / Batman Vol. 1, Red Son.

Spiderman: Amazing Spiderman Vol. 1-8 (written by Babylon 5 creator JM Straczynski), Ultimate Spiderman Vol. 1-12.

X-Men: Ultimate X-Men vol. 1-10, Origin, New X-Men Vol. 1-7 (Grant Morrison), Days of Future Past, Weapon X.

Resource Books: Will Eisners Comics and Sequential Art. Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics

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Now, some people may wonder why I am helping out a book store, a place that some perceive to be the natural enemy of the Comic shop. Bollocks to that. I want people of all ages to be able to walk in to ANY book store and buy a Graphic novel. There will always be a place for the comic store as long as there are readers, but if there aren't any readers, they will be no need for a comic store.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Target 2005 - Franchise Execution...Commence

One year after the Transformers 20th anniversary, the toy line was celebrated with a patronising (even to kids) cartoon, a weakly supported toy line (Hasbro Loves Action Man first and foremost) and a bankrupt comic publisher.

Where can TF go from here?

Well, if you look to the East - carefully avoiding looking directly into that rising sun - you'd think that all is well and good with no less than 6, count 'em, SIX successful TF toy lines. The Cybertron Line, Robot Masters, Takara reissues, Beast Machines (currently airing in Jap for the first time), the awesome Binaltech and the E-Hobby variant line (and I am pretty sure I have missed one (god, I use brackets a lot)).
So what has gone wrong here? And can the future be any better?

The answer to the second question is yes.

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of Transformers: the Movie, arguably the crown jewels of the TF world, and the 10th anniversary of Beast Wars. And should see the launch of the live action Bruckheimer explosion fest. All in all it could be a great year for the original Robots in Disguise.
And what of the comic? IDW picking up the license can only be a good thing and it seems like they have the right idea, KISS.

Keep
It
Simple,
Stupid

It may as well be "Ultimate Transformers", as all the familiar themes and ideas will be there, but free from the constraints of one of the worst continuity tangles seen since before Crisis.
By making a cheap, easily accessible launch book, IDW should bring in all the fans of TF for a look. By avoiding brand saturation like Dreamwave didn't, there is no excuse for TF fans to not at least try the book, which will focus on a core identifiable group of Autobots and Decepticons. And by dropping IDW standard practice of the $4 price tag, all this will cost the same as the Dw titles ($3), but with the added benefit of having Simon Furman write the core Transformers title, for the first time since Marvels TF #80, way back in the day.
If we are really lucky, we might get a Beast Wars comic out of the deal too.

So what about the toy line? Well, sensible people will continue to import the Binaltech from Japan, theses die-cast versions piss on the American Alternators and are easily worth twice as much money for the detail put into them.
I will continue unabated in my quest to get all the Takara reissues (if only for the packaging) and the elusive E-hobby variant line and the occasional Robot Master.
But as far as the Hasbro line? As long as they keep producing line after line of hackneyed, cheap plastic, poor paint jobs repaints, I will continue to not buy them, or there inevitable repaints two months later. Or at least, not until I find them cheap :)

Until the movie, which will be hyped to shit, be really popular amongst annoying twats which will suddenly think TF's are cool and retro, saturate the market, kill everything that was fun about the original toyline, piss on everything I have ever cared about and then rape my girlfriend. But we have to stay positive.