22 December 2009

Alex Ness on Hatter M

I apologize for my absence. What the world pours stuff upon me that I cannot avoid I tend to shut down. My mother is in poor health, my friend died of lung and brain cancer, I learned that two projects that were promised by the publisher to come out in July were now not coming out at all. I have been sick with diverticulitis, and all my work has been creatively aimed as it is as least, a release of emotions.

People asked me, upon reading my latest works why I’ve begun to be or am negative or pessimistic about comic books. Here is a quick answer, one that deserves being explained but not beaten to death. I’ve been depressed. Over many things, but, amongst them, comics. I have tried to work in comics, and, what I write and am interested in, is not the same as the interests of publishers, and perhaps the readers of comics. I’ve had works get through some hoops, but, frankly, they aren’t like anything most publishers have seen or publish, and with the market being in such woes, they aren’t likely to be published. I am not bitter, mind you, I think being published would be nice but isn’t my end all goal in life, plus I’ve been published. So I am not trying to be negative but, I think I am trying to understand the market, and system and the readers, just for my own peace of mind.

I plan to cover a number of books in review, which won’t be as painfully wrought. Also there will be some interviews to focus on talents in the world of comics. Any publishers are welcome to send product for review, but I am trying to aim at first two volumes of a collected series. And perhaps, if after doing that there are more books in the series and a publisher sends them sure, I will consider them too.


REVIEWS

Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars Volume 1
by Frank Beddor, Liz Cavalier, and Ben Templesmith

Hatter M: Mad With Wonder Volume 2
by Frank Beddor, Liz Cavalier, and Sami Makkonen

This series is part of a broader story told in Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars books. The world considered is on the surface the world of Alice in Wonderland, of Lewis Carroll, but Beddor has argued/discussed the fact that Lewis Carroll was mistaken, and told a story wrongly about a person, named Alice as a fantasy, and surreal even nonsensical place called Wonderland. Beddor suggests that Wonderland is real, that Alyss, spelled thusly escaped to this world, told her story, and Carroll tried to tell it, but presented it as fiction when in fact, it was an oral history. However that all plays out, Hatter M follows the story of Alyss, by extension but primarily through the eyes of her bodyguard. Following a coup d’etait Alyss, Queen of Wonderland is chased into exile with her bodyguard Hatter Madigan. He is equipped for battle, with a suit of weaponry, and expertise in combat. And the two become separated, while escaping from the evil new Queen’s rage.

In Volume One Hatter Madigan arrives on our historic Earth separated Alyss Heart, crown princess of Wonderland. Travels through the historic past lead him to France, as part of a 13 year exile and journey, Hatter Madigan tries desperately to find and protect Alyss. His hat takes a life of its own through out. The reader learns that the only hope we see, is the “white imagination” that powers Wonderland is a clue to how to help find Alyss, in the largely dark and violent world of the 19th century. Volume Two, takes Hatter M to the American Civil war, and the world in chaos from the conflict. Deeply tragic, and without ability to utilize his best warrior’s instinct, Hatter M is soon driven to madness, and his namesake, the mad hatter becomes reality.

Throughout the first book you marvel at the ability of Ben Templesmith, and you wonder how much of the wonder and beauty, however dark, is all the majesty of his artistic talent and genius. The story, however important as an ancillary work to the Looking Glass Wars, doesn’t take a lot of form until the near end of book one. With book two and artist Sami Makkonen you can see more of Beddor’s story, and the art, while different, is nonetheless still brilliant. And I have to say, as someone who has read the book series that this is a chapter of, the story is both important and well done.

As any creative work must succeed upon its own merits, do these two books entertain and offer a complete work to enjoy? That is, could a person unfamiliar with the book series enjoy these? Yes, but admittedly, I think less so. However, the books are really enjoyable, so go read them too.

LEARN MORE AT:

The Looking Glass Wars homepage, Another view of the Looking Glass world, Watch Frank Beddor discuss Alice/AlyssMy review of the books the series is drawn from

I do have a mailing address for the publishers interested in sending hard copy review products

Alex Ness
Box 142
Rockford MN
55373-0142

Alex Ness is a writer, a poet, and reader. You can find links to all his work: here

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07 October 2009

The Cownt: An Interview with Writer Michael May

Michael May has written about comics, read comics and written comics for more than a decade; he is one of my best friends, he is a wonderful person, and has an anthology coming out of his character The Cownt. Enjoy this interview, order his book. Please note, all creative work, images and writings are copyright the respective creative talents...

Alex Ness: Who is The Cownt, how was he born, who created him, and Got Milk?

Michael May: I'm actually not a big fan of milk unless there's lots of chocolate in it or it's covering a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles. Which I guess is really the same thing.

The Cownt is a vampire cow. There's a longish story to his creation that I talk about on a text page in the book, but the short version is that my brother-in-law and I were bored one night and started coming up with goofy characters for an imaginary comic. The Cownt was always our favorite of them. We never seriously thought there'd ever be a real comic about him (and at the time neither of us knew about Howard the Duck's Hellcow), but he's sort of the idea that wouldn't die. Which is appropriate, I guess.


What happened to bring The Cownt to the fore? Why now, what publisher is doing this?

I've played with the idea of a Cownt comic a couple of times over the last few years, but never all that seriously. Gavin Spence and I contributed a Cownt story to the Steve Niles fan anthology Tales from the Inner Sanctum, but that's as far as we got. Mostly because I was never sure what tone to take with him. The Inner Sanctum story was a parody, but I get bored by parody pretty quickly, so Gav and I let the Cownt sit for a while as I tried to figure it out.

Then last year Jessica Hickman and I were sitting next to each other at FallCon, the bigger of the two Twin Cities comics conventions, and I was passing out free Cownt prints that Gav had made. Jess has always been a big fan of The Cownt, so we started making cow jokes and talking about how there really did need to be a comic. By the end of the show, we had a plan.

The first printing of the first issue is a small, self-published run. There's another, smaller Twin Cities convention in the Spring and at that show fans started asking me when the comic would be ready. Without thinking hard about it I blurted out, "FallCon!" Not even considering that -- even if we got the comic done by then - there would be no time to find a publisher for it. But I made the promise and I'm sticking to it. The book's ready for FallCon. What happens after that, I'm not sure yet. We'd love to find a real publisher for this first issue, but if that's not possible then it'll go POD and we'll pitch the second issue.

Tell us a synopsis of the stories you tell in your latest book?

There are three stories, each written by me and drawn by a different artist. The first one is The Cownt's origin. The second answers the question everyone always asks: If The Cownt's a boy, why does he have an udder? The third story introduces The Cownt to his first vampire hunter: a farm girl named Penny.

Who are the artists on the book?

Gav was the first real artist to ever draw The Cownt, so having him do the origin story was an easy decision. There was no way I was going to do the book without Jess though, because it truly wouldn't exist without her encouragement. So she's doing the vampire hunter story.

The third artist is Paul Taylor who does an amazing webcomic called Wapsi Square. One of the recurring themes in Wapsi Square is body-image, so once Paul came on board I knew that he was the guy to answer the question about The Cownt's udder and how The Cownt feels about it.



I have written many things, but I cannot even conceive of writing comedy. How do you write comedy?


With a lot of help. A bunch of the humor is visual, so Gav, Jess, and Paul carry that load. But coming up with the other gags was collaborative too. A lot of great ideas came out of just sitting around with friends and making each other laugh with horrible puns and awkward scenarios that we could put The Cownt in. There's stuff in there that I came up with all on my lonesome, but even when I was writing that I'd be thinking about the brainstorming sessions and trying to recapture that fun in whatever I was writing.

What ages is this book for, and, is it dark humor, silly, ...?

That's what I had such a hard time figuring out for a few years. I knew I didn't want to do parody, so I thought about doing almost a straight horror book, but starring this silly cow. Then I thought about making it super kid-friendly with a lot of inspiration from the old Harvey comics I grew up with. Ultimately, it was Jess who pointed out to me that 95% of the The Cownt's fans are grown-ups, so I scrapped that idea and suddenly the book was easy to write.

It's certainly not dark humor, but it's not over-the-top silly either. If pressed, I'd have to define it as "clandestinely naughty." There's nothing overtly offensive in it - there's not even any swearing - but depending on how deeply you want to read it and how dirty your mind is already, there's some possibly squirm-worthy subtext. That all goes over my seven-year-old's head though, so he loves it purely for the visual humor.

Where can we get this book?

We're debuting our EXTREMELY limited first printing at FallCon. If we don't sell out there, I'll fill orders through my site while we figure out where to go next. A lot will depend on how the pitching goes, but folks can tune in to either my site or THE COWNT'S Facebook page to keep up with that progress.

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28 September 2009

Tough Talk: An Interview With Erik Larsen

I met Writer/Artist Erik Larsen as one of the first people I contacted when I began writing about comics in 2002. I didn't know he'd be publisher of Image Comics shortly thereafter. But as such I've enjoyed knowing him and hearing his honest, sometimes brutally so, responses about the industry. As I've begun considering how the market is in comics, I immediately thought to interview Erik, his views are from the front-line, they are straightforwardly given, and, I think offer insight to the world from a number of valuable perspectives, that of Publisher, Creative talent, Reader, and, I believe, advocate of the medium.

Alex Ness: Is the Direct market for distribution of comics dead, and, was the former model better in any respects, that of the news stand distribution? What distribution model will likely be the one of the future, if there is a future?

Erik Larsen: It's not dead -- it's just very limited and very small. It does work but it works on a small scale and we'd all like it to work better than it does.

That newsstand model clearly worked for a lot of people for a lot of years. The problem with returns is, however, that there's an enormous amount of waste and an enormous amount of risk. Many companies have gone belly up by jumping into the newsstand game. Unfortunately, there's no flip, pat answer that works here. Clearly we, as an industry, are not creating the kinds of books that consumers want. At least -- not all of the time. Our books are difficult to find, impenetrable to all but the hardcore fans and expensive. Which is not to say that bringing down the cover price is a cure all -- it's not. You can price dog crap at 5¢ a ton but that still won't compel people to buy dog crap. The books need to be books that people want to read and other than the few gimmicks that reach the mainstream media -- Obama in this book or the death of famous guy in that book -- we're NOT getting the stuff out there. And even those novelty comics aren't getting read. How many people bought and read that Spider-Man book with Obama in it? How many read it and decided that they'd like to become Spider-Man readers? Based on their sales -- I'd say not a whole hell of a lot.

The problem with those big books that cracked into the news cycle is that, largely, they have been lousy comics. The Death of Superman was a lousy comic book -- especially as one to transform a non-reader into a reader. Comics are all splashes now? Comics are in black plastic bags? Comics are jacked up to $20 on the day they're released by greedy retailers? Comics are issue-long slugfests with no discernible plots? Not the kind of thing which would be likely to have readers coming back for more.

I completely agree with the fact that the event comics that got noticed were unsuitable to build new readers, that they were meant to be must haves for the already buying comic collectors, and that they were, in large part, nowhere near the best that comics have to offer. So how do you get the mainstream press to notice good comics, how do you get people to realize that popular or event oriented works aren't necessarily what is best in the market, and how do you convince kids to go out and find a comic store?

That's the big question that we've all been struggling with, isn't it? Believe me -- If I had the answer I'd be doing it. The two big project that were of relative high quality did get out there -- Watchmen sold, and continues to sell, a shit-load of copies. Dark Knight Returns has sold a lot of copies as well. The thing is -- there really isn't a book out there which is grabbing readers by the balls the way those two books did. Frank Miller took Daredevil from a bimonthly title, verging on cancellation to Marvel's best-selling title. We don't have that now. We don't have a buzz book that has everybody talking. And that's the real problem. Until we get comics that people want -- people won't want comics.

What was/is the most destructive trend in comics that contributed to their downturn as a product, if not artistically?

Gimmick covers and inflated prices and endless crossover alienated casual readers. Impenetrable story lines with interlocking continuity hasn't helped. But a lot of it is visual -- comics are dark, realistic and uninviting to the casual reader. Kids don't feel that comics are for them. Everybody is trying to do Watchmen and failing. But it's really hard to break out and try something else. This is working -- to a modest degree -- how do we know that stand alone comics with exciting art will attract new readers? Better do THREE of what we're already doing instead...

As a publisher you were in a place to approve new projects, to allow new kinds of works to enter the market. Do you feel you succeeded or failed in bringing new readers to the market through those comics?

Failed. I know that these books had an audience and that the numbers went way up during my time as publisher but I don't believe for a second that readers came in off the street because of what we were doing. We just did a better job of making books that the existing audience wanted. Unfortunately, that's the nature of Image Comics. We can only publish the books that we're pitched. As the publisher, I can't get everybody to do all-ages comics. And saying to, say, the Luna brothers -- "Hey, guys--what do you say to making GIRLS for all-ages?" would seriously hamper their creative process.

Is the loss of young readers, kids, the harbinger of death I seem to feel it is, and, how do you angle your product to appeal both to ongoing readers, and to create and interest new readers? What isn't being done well enough?

Everything. The problem is that we forgot to make books for all ages. That was the key to success for Marvel and DC for generations and now we've got comics for older readers or kids but few comics for everybody. I find it to be a pretty disturbing trend that there was a second MAD magazine aimed at KIDS--as though MAD was inaccessible to younger readers. The fact that Marvel has a line of Marvel superhero comics for kids is horrible. They're telling their audience that some of their books are for young readers and some are NOT for young readers and both young and old books emphasize the fact that they aren't for everybody.

That, and the physical look of the product is not uniformly good. Most comics look gray and muddy and unattractive. The art is dense and cluttered. If I was a kid and you gave me a stack of new comics--I'm really not sure what I'd find in there that I'd want to read.

What was/is the most destructive trend creatively that contributed to the downturn of the comic market readership?

Continuity. I, as a reader -- can't comprehend most comics from Marvel or DC. If I can't -- and I've been reading this stuff for over 30 years -- how can they expect anybody else to be able to read it? When Jim Shooter was running Marvel there was a lot of bitching -- and he had some stupid rules along with his sensible ones -- but the sensible ones led to comics that were extremely accessible. I hadn't read many issues of Thor prior to Walt Simonson's Thor but I could immediately grasp what was going on. When attempting to read most books these days -- I'm just lost.

I agree, again, the Continuity is one of the many things that contributes poorly to the market. But, then, are you suggesting that the Big Two continuity issues don't send new readers to new products and different ones?

I can't say with any degree of certainty what goes on with every potential reader. I do think that when you have something like a big-budget movie on the screen and ads all over the place that there's an opportunity to grab readers that most of us don't have. When a potential reader comes in looking to try out Iron Man and the Iron Man comic they're presented with isn't something that makes them want to continue reading -- I'm not convinced that they're going to look over and see what else is on the shelf. It may be that it starts and stops with that one dip in the pool. And I should say here that I'm picking Iron Man out of the clear blue sky as an example. I have no idea if the book is worth reading these days or not.

Is what you are saying more to say that the average reader coming in starts with the Big Two, but only after being a fan moves to try new and different publisher products?

I think, for the most part, that's how things work. Readers often start with familiar titles from the Big Two and branch out from there. But I don't think Marvel and DC are attracting a lot of new readers--for the most part they're just servicing an existing, aging market. Not all readers are the same, of course. Some just see a cover in a store window and that compels them to come in off the street and try something out.

How does the internet contribute to the problems, how does it offer a solution to them?

It doesn't help. I think in many ways it makes matters worse. writers pander to the fans instead of trying to make thinks accessible to new readers. Books become in-jokes for old fans. That, and it provides a way to download comics for free, which can't help but impact sales in a negative fashion.

So web comics and online retailers don't expand the market?

Not in significant numbers. I don't think you can look at the numbers across the board and say that with the advent of computers readership has increased. Reality tells a different story. These people are, if anything, reading comics exclusively on their computers and not spending money on physical comic books.

If we are transitioning to a more paperless world, regarding products of entertainment, doesn't online seem to be a must have in order to succeed?

It would certainly seem that way. But at this point I don't see a lot of success stories. We're in the Napster stage when it comes to comic books--we don't have an iTunes yet. People are simply stealing everything.

Shouldn't there be an effort to create a new model that recognizes the patterns of today but with an appreciation for the past? I love the smell of paper when I go into a comic store, or used book store, I hate many webcomics, and don't download, and won't read stuff on the web, so I am not, NOT saying I am one of the new kinds of readers, I am saying that the market shouldn't focus on me, but my ten year old son, (who btw loves many of the Image Comics he has read) who is in many ways more tech literate than me. And for the record, my best friend refers to me constantly as an "effing Luddite," so...

I'm pretty much in your boat. I read a few comics on computer because that's how I see them first -- I get the Luna brothers books sent to me via email and I get Kirkman's comics the same way. I read them in that form and the printed comics are something of a formality. At that point they're books I've already read. I do agree that it's something we need to work on but like I said -- until an iTunes emerges we're stuck with Napster and none of us are seeing a dime from this. But everybody is on this. It's on everybody's mind and I've seen several promising apps for comics.

But I sure as hell hope that printed comics don't go away.

I personally don't believe comics will die, and believe that the market is just going through a transformation, do you agree with that? Or is the outlook much more bleak?

I don't think we've done any damage that isn't reversible. But it's going to take some serious effort to make things work. It can be done--but I think it may have to come from somewhere outside of the "big two" who seem to be determined to go head-to-head in their monthly market share pissing contest. What they're doing is extremely unhealthy for the market. I think more books like Bone and Scott Pilgrim will make a difference. Another Spider-Man title isn't likely to do much of anything in regard to the mainstream.

How do you change mentalities? If comics are to break out of the doldrums that seem to exist, you have to change things, don't you?

I really think it comes down to the product itself. Times have shown that when there's a book that people want--that book will sell. There's a lot of product out there but it really doesn't seem as though the authors have a lot to say and to a large degree, I blame the powers that be. I don't think that the suits understand how some creators can get emotionally invested in the books they're working on and why that is a GOOD thing.

Joe Quesada, for example, never stayed on any book for any great length of time--including ones he created--and has spent most of his career jumping from book to book, jockeying for position and trying to get his name in the news. Joe spent his time promoting Joe. He didn't seem to care what book he was on as long as people paid attention to it. The idea that anybody would deliberately choose to stay on one title for an extended period of time was foreign to him. These days creators don't get the chance to do what Miller did on Daredevil or Byrne did on the Fantastic Four or Simonson did on Thor, taking an existing book and make it their own. Sure, a few writers do but largely artists are shuffled from one book to another and it's really difficult to build any kind of momentum when things keep getting shuffled around. If Miller's run on Daredevil had been a six to twelve issue arc and he was bounced over to Spider-Man or the Hulk we might have been spared the introduction of Elektra and the compelling saga that followed.

John Byrne had the rug pulled out from under him on X-Men: The Hidden Years and Quesada didn't seem to understand why Byrne would object to that. He was offering John more work, after all -- a chance to do a new book and get a new #1 and get his name back out there -- why would John possibly object to that? But with a number of creators -- they want to be able to call a book their own and build something. That's lost these days.

One can look at present day Marvel and see Joe's vision in action as creators shuffle from title to title and few stick with anything for long. It's all a big chess board. Keep things moving -- make sure you can grab a headline and and a story. John Byrne doing a book for ten years isn't a story. John Byrne doing a new book? That's a story! And DC is the same, to a lesser extent. The end result is, as you might expect, that creators can't afford to get emotionally attached to the work they do and what that does is nip long term plans in the bud and make for books that are emotionally detached and somewhat heartless. The editorially driven events are there, sure -- things are happening -- but those events are not the same as the kind of thing that leads to a genuine phenomena like Miller's Daredevil, Claremont's X-Men or Simonson's Thor. Without that emotional investment -- it's just work -- it's just more product and that's what we have a lot of these days from the Big Two: product.

I agree that the best books are not the most popular, but, as a creative talent don't you agree that,the market is in many ways models what has been sold before, following the path that revenue streams create?

Retailers can't help but order books based on past performances. That is one of the pitfalls of the direct market. If Image was really excited about an upcoming Savage Dragon story, say, we really have few options available in order to get more books in the hands of more readers. We have to depend on retailers ordering the comics.

How does Savage Dragon fit into the success stories of the market, how does it fail? What is upcoming for you in the creative arena?

It's a success to the extent that it's still being published and still providing me with an income. But I'm not kidding myself -- in the grand scheme of things it's a footnote at best. I'm still working on the book and on Image United as well as a handful of other projects. I'm still here. And actually -- Image United is one of those projects with the potential to reach out to readers. For older Image fans it's a must buy and it's getting all kinds of media attention, starting with a full page news item in the New York Times. I imagine there'll be some kind of a trickle down effect in regard to Savage Dragon.

I'm okay with that.

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23 September 2009

Comic Empire Building


Asked by a non-comics reading friend what I thought about Disney acquiring Marvel Comics, I was accosted as being perhaps coy in my response. But I wasn’t. I said, ‘Marvel has a great stable of characters, of course Disney would like to acquire them.’ I wasn’t hiding my thoughts behind words. I am correct in them. But, ... there is, in fact, more to consider. Disney is acquiring a great stable of characters, true, but Marvel is now in the hands of marketing genius. Is that a good thing for Marvel? If money is a good thing, yes. Probably a very good thing. But I do not think money is going to improve the works of Marvel, instead, I believe the intellectual properties of Marvel will be treated with the same “care” as other Disney properties... which is, whatever it takes to make money from them. That isn’t in itself a bad thing. As before, when I spoke of the effect upon the industry of the Direct Market, I say bless them, if that is what they desire.

Becoming a fixture in American or world consumer culture, as toys, or cartoons, or movies, or toothbrushes or children’s books... is meaningless outside of monetary reward. So I need to ask, how many Disney movies or books or product in general are anything but regurgitative vomit? They also bowdlerize what they adapt. In their stories they also make into nice what was historically mean. They also create happy falsism in their false morality tales taken from classics and rewritten for modern audiences. I expect Marvel to be inhaled by Disney, and poured back to the readers and consumers from a Disney perspective. Don’t read this as angry, I still have all the great Marvel stories I’ve enjoyed in the past, still like all the creative people I liked before who have worked at Marvel. I just think this is another step, even a big one, towards the consumption of comics as a creative medium, and transforming the medium into a monetized ghetto in order to test market ideas.

Alex Ness is a writer, a poet, and reader. You can find links to all his work: here

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15 September 2009

Thoughts about the impact of the Direct Market upon Comics, for me

I remember buying my first comic; well, no, I don’t really. I remember remembering it. But it was a rather horrible Superman comic. Later purchases include the ever-awesome Turok Son of Stone, Underdog, and more. I was 7 years old, or so, my brother was older, had been buying Batman comics (He had been a Batman the television series with Adam West fan, and was always to this day a fan)... so I had a mentor who encouraged my habit. Although we never really shared the same taste, it was fun on a hot summer afternoon to sit in our bedroom, have the fan going, and read comics. I remember buying my first comic from a comic store, I remember buying my first trade paperback, and I remember thinking, comics deserve such a store. But, however awesome that was, with every step forward comic books make, there is always a step or two back it seems.

For three decades or so Direct Market distribution meant that customers were going to no longer go to the grocery store, drug store or newsstand, necessarily for their comics, but often, a store with a purpose and aim to sell comics. The comic store existed prior to the direct market, but in far, far fewer numbers. With the Direct Market comics were not nearly as returnable, as the newsstand, but the numbers ordered could reflect a far more accurate measure of sales, and far more immediate return for the publisher. And for retailers, the burden had shifted in ordering, from the publisher sharing the risk, to the risk of loss being nearly solely by the retailer. In the era of Direct Market, publishers were forced by top name talents and the threat of organizing of labor, to give royalties, to pay health benefits, and such, to the highest creatives upon the their corporate ladder.

And comic fans watched as the Direct Market meant new formats of comics, more publishers, and more of what they apparently wanted. Mini-series, prestige formats, trade paperback collections, and more, poured out of the publishers realizing the new system allowed them to create systems of further profits by reprints. In the past a reprint usually meant a comic wouldn’t sell, now they were gathering runs, and calling it a book. Graphic novels came out at the very beginning of the system, where original works often painted or made with higher quality paper, and fans followed them even with higher costs. Various aspects of the market changed in other ways, better printing methods, better paper, better visibility in popular mediums, all served the comic publishers well. But the system was forced to change, and didn’t. Readerships shrunk in time, the higher cost of production and better production methods limited the number of children readers and focused the bigger sales upon people who had not traditionally been accounted for, the young adult male with money.

Collectiblity had never been as much a part of the market as with the coming of the Direct market. Due to retailers now having to foot so much of the burden, there was an incentive to buy and price comics so that extras, formerly sent back to the publishers for credit, now, were bagged and boarded for possible future sale. Which is all fine. But it far more encouraged a collector mentality towards comics than a reader mentality. A comic shared allows the world to have fun, a comic bought, never read and bagged and boarded does nothing but possibly become an eBay sale item, or a forgotten relic of a forgotten age of comics. A number of speculator bumps changed and crashed the market, but in a number of respects, those were blips on the radar screen rather than the reality. For the most part, rather than due to speculator rush, or the move to comic stores, the prices and change in corporate vision, readers left the market in droves, children were priced out of the markets. There were still dedicated and smaller numbers of readers, and two other groups were left, much larger groups, investors who read what they bought, and investors who did not read what they bought.

Those who invest and collect do not, and did not, hurt the market. But, publishers following the revenue streams, realized what they had, and catered to them. This is the issue, publishers following the profit, as businesses do, rather than cater to the arts or literature communities, meant that the highest quality of work, making no money would be seen as a negative thing, rather than an artistic success.

The changing audience meant something beyond the money adults have versus those children rarely do have, it meant a maturation of story content, and eventually a form of ratings that are akin to the film industry’s. The comic books became increasingly more violent, and increasingly more adult in other ways. This isn’t saying bad ways, simply, that a medium once dismissed as being for children, had, by the demographics of who had money, and what that group would buy, became a place where adult male fantasies of power, and sexual prowess were featured, if not prominently, very much so active and beneath the surface.

Altogether, the changes weren’t a bad thing, for the influx of new opportunities led to greater product, wonderful stories, creative talents having more freedom to create, and more. But, the change from a reader world to a collector world meant something that is bad. The more a comic is read, the better comics become. The reason being is, it grows new, young readers. Comics that are meant to be cash cows for the publisher, and perhaps creatives, are not necessarily poor in quality, but the impact it has upon the market is to encourage poor product in exchange for greater profits. I wish every publisher could make a great profit, I mean, why not, it isn’t a bad thing, I wish others well. But I believe that the market we have in current is directly leading to the demise of the comic book medium. The market is now fueled by events, rather than quality of story, the stories are directly managed by editorial staffs at the major publishers, and they release product of questionable value and worth, time and time again in order to harvest profit. Readers no longer demand products to have quality, because most of the people who simply read comics, either specialize and read only what they know is good, or, have left for books, or movies, or video games, or television. The high cost of comics, combined with the newly questionable merit of the works, plus the option for entertainment elsewhere is going to cause a massive change in comics, for the reader, retailer, and of course, the publishers.

Money is a fine thing. I hope everyone makes it, and makes enough of it to make good comics. The artist and creative community are justified in their work by the buyer, making their work, something the buyer now owns. But the pursuit of that interest, of profit, meant that every new project would be based upon likely returns, rather than artistic merit. The collectors would have their books, the publishers their profits, but the point of a medium is to create memorable works. I remember a lot of what I read in the 1980s, more so than anything since. I am not a stodgy old fart saying I must have my old comics back, I have them, they still sit in my shelves and boxes. I am saying that comics are no longer about the art, or quality, however much they might possess that. Comics are about making money, and the Direct Market will die, because readers buy far more comics, in far greater numbers, than 28 year old males buying super heroes and villains, and never caring beyond that fantasy.

I have worked at five comic book shops in my life, I love comics, I even like the shops, and frankly, if the world of comics goes solely to TPBs and iPhone applications, it is a sad thing. But if that is where the money takes the industry, that is where it will go.

Alex Ness is a writer, a poet, and reader. You can find links to all his work: here

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12 September 2009

Data Sheet: Alex Ness

NAME: Alex Ness
BIRTHPLACE: Saint Louis Park, Minnesota, Methodist Hospital

AMBITIONS: To be a great poet, great writer, and a great father

TURN-ONS:
Beauty

TURNOFFS: Ugliness

GREAT COMICS: Doom Patrol by Grant Morrison, Animal Man by Jamie Delano, Scout by Timothy Truman,

FAMILY LIFE: Beautiful wife, incredible son, two cats.

FAVORITE FOOD: Sushi, Irish Whiskey

WHAT I LIKE IN COMICS: Beautiful art, brilliant writing

WHAT I DISLIKE IN COMICS: Collectors who do not read, pin up minded art, writing for the lowest common denominator, Publishers who value regurgitation over new

FAVORITE CREATORS: Jack Kirby, Moebius, Timothy Truman, Grant Morrison, Mike Grell

FAVORITE MUSICIANS: Billy Corgan, Marvin Gaye, Joe Strummer

IDEAL EVENING: Sushi dinner, adult time with wife, and cuddles with kid and cats

FAVORITE MOVIES: Seven Samurai, Amadeus, Excalibur, Last Man Standing

FAVORITE WRITERS: Ernest Hemingway, Lord Dunsany, William Carlos Williams, Robert E. Howard, Yukio Mishima

FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVELS: MAUS, FROM HELL, WILDERNESS, KINGS IN DISGUISE

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