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  • The Value of Comics

    I just read Tom Spurgeon’s excellent and positive piece on the state of comics (yes, I said Spurgeon). It’s a response to Steven Grant’s recent column which managed to hit a lot of nerves with the word dreary- agree with him or not, you must admit he has that good writer’s skill of choosing power words that set beehives a-buzzing.

    I am also optimistic in the face of Recession. Though I share studiomate Colleen Coover’s gripe wherein reviewers often review comics in the style of Consumer Reports more than a straight review on the works own merits, I get that readers are very conscious of the time and money equation. But you have to consider some things- reading comics isn’t passive like watching TV or movies, we can’t control the speed you read it at (well, to an extent, and I’ll get back to that). Realize also that sometimes you’re getting as big a dose of story in some 22 page comics as you do in a half-hour or hour of episodic TV- but you didn’t also get 22 minutes of commercials- you flipped past those ads and your time is yours! Get in your entertainment and have time left over to go have a life (I’m only half joking, by the way). Yes you can also play a shooter or driving game for hundreds of hours, but if you’re comparing the two like they’re the same thing, I have nothing to say to you. And yes, that blockbuster movie only cost you three times as much as the comic, but at best you’re going to have to wait a year for a sequel to that if ever, and next month, our stories will be return for you to jump back in. Also, they won’t go away for the Summer.

    Obviously I’m only talking about monthlies and not even touching all the excellent stand-alone works, that again, require Active rather than Passive viewing. One of those is just way better for you, but I risk lapsing into my Everyone Watches Too Much Effing TV rant. Instead I’ll get back to that control-of-time point I mentioned. You’ll notice in 2009 that many of the books I work on, in particular Agents of Atlas and Mysterius The Unfathomable, will require you to slow down your reading speed. These books are packed fairly dense with information, and that’s not just wordiness. Many times the artist will be conveying information that adds far more to what is being said or narrated, often contrary to the image. This isn’t really because we’re trying to cram value into the books, that’s just a nice side effect, but because that method of storytelling works well with them.

    Still, I’m mentioning it for those who are going to be careful about what they add or subtract from their purchases. I can’t do that with all books- for example the X-Men First Class miniseries FINALS will feel more airy than those books, but that’s the kind of style that works best for that book and engaging newer and younger readers. It would be a mistake to try to make all monthlies super dense, and just because you can do it, doesn’t make it good. But if you do read some title simply because you’ve always read it… if you’re not enjoying it, please switch to something else. Believe me, in this day and age, there IS a book somewhere that will make you feel like whatever it is you keep going back to your old standby for and missing.

    It won’t be long before price points aren’t a giant concern. We’ll be reading our serial books very cheaply on some electronic paper reader, and then the ones that we got the most out of we’ll pick up in collected book form. That will be a huge shot in the arm for comics. It will likely force more comics shops to morph more into bookstores full of graphic novels and trades, but I think retailers will benefit too. Depending on the interface, we may even have more layout options to work with- I’m not going to get into things like sound, because I don’t care about such aspects (yet).

    I also am big on creating extra experience bits that connect to the books, as is starting to happen over at this site before the book has even hit. Look for another one there Wednesday. Obviously I’m probably going to do things like that mostly with books where I have more province, such as ownership or more of a hand in creating. Still, if we’re going to have to talk about comics at times in terms of value, I’m going to mention it. I’m not too proud!

    Comments

    Comment from Jonathan McNally
    Time: December 8, 2008, 1:45 pm

    I was already interested in Agents and Mysterius and now I’ve additional dimension of interest. Looking forward to the slow reads, sir.

    Comment from Pedro Bouça
    Time: December 8, 2008, 6:50 pm

    By the way, does anyone know if the Marvel Two-in-One book (which reprints X-Men First Class and MA Avengers) was cancelled? It vanished from Marvel solicitations…

    Best,
    Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

    Comment from Colleen Coover
    Time: December 8, 2008, 9:32 pm

    I just hope that the new E-paper we’ll all be reading on won’t need backlighting.The last thing I read on a computer screen of any length was that Newsweek 7-part “How He Did It” article about the presidential campaign, and I thought my eyes were gonna explode out of my head by the time I finished it.

    I was going to deny that I “gripe”. But I do. I do gripe.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: December 9, 2008, 8:26 am

    Pedro, I don’t know. Those books get moved around a lot, I’ll ask.

    Comment from odessasteps magazine
    Time: December 9, 2008, 6:00 pm

    I think dreary is a good word, since it seems to describe at least what appears to be the “tone” of many Big Two books. Both big mega-crossovers deal with, on some level, “the bad guys winning.” In one, the big evil god has conquered the world and enslaved most of humanity (until the good guys rally). In the other, the bad guys are defeated by another bad guy, who is then put in charge of everything (I’m not reading SI, but I assume that’s a watered-down version of the climax).

    I never usually complain about the price of comics, and I buy mainstream and indy books and the latter has always had higher-than-average price points. I figure I’m buying them for good, so I can read them as many times as I want, as opposed to paying $x to see a 2-hour movie and then it’s gone forever (or at least until I buy the tape or DVD).

    However, it seems to be of late that while the comics pile has stayed relatively stable, the reading/enjoyment time has shrunk. I get bi-weekly shipments of books and I’m surprised recently how quickly I go through them. I don’t know if that’s my attention span or “compressed storytelling” or what. But it does make me question the entertainment/dollar ratio.

    All that said, Parker, your books are generally chock full of goodness and are dense in that good kind of way. And that includes the books “meant for kids,” which are often more meaty than some of the regular Big Two books.

    Comment from Parker
    Time: December 9, 2008, 6:16 pm

    Thanks MC!