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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Beguiling's Peter Birkmoe on Kramers Ergot #7, and Some Final Thoughts -- There's not a better comic book store that I have ever been in than The Beguiling in Toronto. It's an inclusive, progressive shop that has exactly what I've always said a good comic book store should have, something to offer for every age, interest and gender. And I should have known that they would have an excellent plan for retailing an expensive artcomix hardcover, too. Here's Beguiling owner Peter Birkmoe's thoughts on Kramers Ergot #7 and its $125.00 price point.
While Iím reluctant to give out precise numbers on what we order on any item, I would say that our orders on this are going to be very high, both in high in terms of a anthology and high for something that expensive. We donít really operate on a preorder basis for item like this that the store supports, and by supports I mean items that we are ordering with the intention hand-selling, offering additional promotion for, and stocking for as long as the item is available. Preorders for us are for things we wouldnít stock unless specifically asked . . . Tarot, Witch of the Black Rose, Toys, etc. An anthology with new work by Sammy Harkham, Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Jamie Hernandez, Chris Ware, Carol Tyler, and Kim Deitch is not a preorders-only item for us at any price.

We have ordered every Kramers since the first issue, usually pretty deep, and have yet to regret it. Still having stock on now out of print books like that is one thing that helps our reputation as a great store. In all likelihood, we will have some sort of event for this book, further increasing what our initial order would normally be. There is no doubt that this is an expensive book, and out of the price range of many people, but for those that can find a way to afford it, it will be money well spent.

Amazon discounts like that have been around long enough that I would imagine it affects my sales on just about everything I sell, so it wonít affect my ordering on this one any differently than my normal ordering, and I canít say how great that effect is. I donít feel great about this, but one canít lose sleep over it.

Peter Birkemoe, The Beguiling
Thanks, Peter, for sharing your thoughts, and thanks as well to Christopher Butcher at The Beguiling for passing them along to me.

I'm not at all sure why this subject has resulted in such heated discussion over the past few days; when I first posted about the book and its price tag, I just wanted to explore my own reluctance to lay out $125.00 (or $100.00, after a retailer discount that was offered to me) for a book that seems aimed square at the market I have been a part of for most of my adult life -- artcomix readers with a taste for experiment and a willingness to pay a little extra for the sort of comics I crave.

Off the top of my head, I have in the past paid $40.00 for books of sketches by Chris Ware, and $50.00 for hardcovers reprinting Love and Rockets comics I already owned, and I never once questioned such expenditures or regretted them in any way. Last year I spent $100.00 on The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, but that's not artcomix. At least, not what we typically think of as artcomix. But I bought it, make no mistake, because of the art, by Steve Ditko. If a Volume Two were to be published with an equal number of pages of John Romita Sr. art, I wouldn't even think about buying it. To me Ditko's entire Spider-Man era is worth a hundred bucks. I like Romita's work to an extent, but not a $100.00 extent.

Sorry, there I go exploring my own spending habits and comics interests again, and that's kind of what started off this whole magilla. I do think its very important for all comics readers to think about what they buy and measure their own enjoyment of it -- if we all bought what we truly valued and stopped buying bad comics out of habit or to "keep the collection complete," we would have a better comic book industry in very short order, I think. There's not a superhero title I am a completist about, except maybe Street Angel, but even then, if Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca turned the title over to Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver, I would have to call it a day and occasionally re-read my old Rugg and Maruca issues. And how does collector completism figure into this?

Well, I have the last few volumes of Kramers Ergot, you see. I think I have either three or four of them on my bookshelf. And I decided some time ago that, like Love and Rockets and Eightball and some other artcomix titles, Kramers Ergot would be a title I would always support and always want to read, craving as I do "what's new and what's next" in comics.

Then that philosophy met the $125.00 price point of the new volume.

I got a funny email last night from an old internet pal, one of the most well-known comics bloggers and a guy I like a lot. He was having some well-earned fun with the idea that I, who have always subscribed to Tom Spurgeon's axiom "The only comics that are too expensive are shitty comics," had finally met a comic that was too expensive.

I don't think KE7 will be shitty comics. I don't think it costs $125.00 due to greed, or hubris, or cruelty. I hope it costs that much because it has to in order for the creators, editor and publisher to make a modest profit. I don't imagine anyone is getting rich off this book. I do agree with whoever it was at Johanna's blog that said something to the effect of, "it's like getting 96 art prints for 100 dollars." And I'm sure that is true. Except that if I could buy them individually, I seriously doubt I would want all 96. But of course, there is no a la carte option, nor should there be.

I have no doubt Kramers Ergot #7 will be great, progressive comics. A beautiful book that may expand the boundaries of what is possible within the artform of comics. And costs more that what I pay for a week's worth of groceries for a family of four.

I think an expense like that needs to be considered. Weighed. Thought about and pondered. And given my decades of support for artcomix as a medium of expression, I have to believe I am not the only one unsure if it's a wise expense. The economy hasn't even begun to sink to the levels it ultimately will settle at. I ask myself if I have the right, as a father and husband, to be so selfish as to spend $125.00 on fewer than 100 pages of comics. "But they're great comics," I could tell my wife, as she beats me to death with the tombstone-sized hardcover (I don't imagine more than one or two whacks would be needed).

Well, I've been told many times in the past few days that the book will be a huge success. It will be a huge success because people will want to read it. And I'm sure many will want to read it, whatever constitutes "many" in the realm of boutique artcomix hardcover aficionados. 500 readers? 2,500? As a longtime observer of this artform and industry, I can see the book selling fewer than a hundred copies. And I can see it selling thousands. It all depends on the zeitgeist and the marketing, probably much more so than it does on the quality of the work. Because, while I do not believe Kramers Ergot #7 will be shitty comics, neither have I yet been convinced that it, or any single anthology volume of any creative lineup or production quality, is worth $125.00 to me personally.

Maybe as we get closer to the date of the book's release, we'll know enough about the book that my mind will be changed. I'd love to be convinced that this is a must-buy book for me, and that I'll forever regret not spending $125.00 (or $100.00, as noted above, if I buy from the one retailer that offered me a discount) on it. As Peter Birkmoe's comments above prove, the way to make this book worth the pricetag is to make it an event, and I have no doubt that The Beguiling will be very successful in making a big thing out of this release.

But I don't know how many retailers will go to that trouble. The Beguiling can do it because it's the best comic book store in North America, if not the world. I have only set foot in two other shops (in 36 years of buying comics) that even come close to the savvy and expertise and sheer quality of The Beguiling. So maybe KE7 isn't for me or readers like me. Maybe it's for shops like The Beguiling or Modern Myths or Million Year Picnic, who have paved the way for the future of comics and presumably made a nice living doing so. Peter Birkmoe and his crew will make the book something to be celebrated, and I think that is very cool, and a very good thing for comics. I hope it helps make the book a big success in shops forward-looking enough to carry it and smart enough to market it right, to the people that can afford it. I hope Tom Spurgeon is right and that all these factors combine to make Kramers Ergot a monster hit.

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Blogger Nick said...

I normally would prefer people buy at their local comic retailer for their purchases, particularly for art comics. But considering how divisive this price point is, I might suggest those on the fence over budget issues buy from Amazon as it's at $78.75 currently.

14 August, 2008 14:09  
Blogger Jason Marcy said...

$125.00 is simply too steep for me for a mere 96 pages, even if they are oversized and the artists in question will likely cram a lot into their three page submission. I can buy a lot of comics for $125.00. I can pay a few bills for $125.00 for Christ's sake!
There's no way I'd ever be able to buy this without having some really spare cash around. Or maybe I'll get lucky and find it in a discount bin at the local book store like "In the Shadow of No Towers" for a mere eight bucks.
It's way to cool Indy for me, I guess. The only thing I use to console myself is the fact that a lot of Kramer's stuff to me has left little impact.

14 August, 2008 20:08  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

8 bucks is still too much for No Towers, I think.

And I agree on the hit to miss ratio on Kramers -- last night I reread all of vol. 5 and some of 6, and I seemed to be flipping pages about 50 percent of the time. The Kevin Huizenga-level talents are few and far between. I know a lot of people dig, say, Marc Bell? But his stuff leaves me cold. And Jay, Ron Rege was in vol. 5, so I know where you stand on that...

15 August, 2008 06:45  

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