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...)



Sid said...

(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)

And as we can see in my above post, FP do not use there position of power in the comic industry with any sense of responsibility. Has Spidey taught them nothing?

The main problem with comic shops is most people who work in them don't care about the medium, just about getting there Marvel and DC comics at discount and not having to work in a convenience store.

Sam said...

There's nothing inherently WRONG with just wanting to get your comics at discount. And actually, I think that a lot of the broader technical problems at FP are being solved at the larger stores (the racking system still needs work in the main London shop, but things are spaced out better, and there are more friendly dedicated comics staff there).

It just seems a shame that, despite having the kind of niche market they do, and the footfall that they can really exploit, they hang on to the sense that nobody, really, is terribly welcome there.

Sure, diversify into DVD and CCG and books and anything else that you like. Sure, go corporate and create an air of corporate professionalism (ala, say, Starbucks or something). But don't hang on to the superiority and nastiness that characterises the often unfounded (at least in the UK) stereotype of the Comic Book Guy.

Sid said...

But the absolute worst thing about the London FP, and the thing we have passed straight over here, is that they seem to be ashamed of the fact they are a comic shop. You could easily spend 15 minutes walking around that store looking at overpriced Star Wars figures and Transformers and leave without ever venturing downstairs into their comic section.

And don't get me started on back issues...