The big news of the week appears to be DC Comics dropping their participation in The Comics Code Authority, after nearly 60 years. Good fucking riddance to that awful, reductive, and incredibly harmful group. I fall very much into what I call the Frank Miller* camp–books should not have age warnings on them. At most they should have suggestions, and they certainly shouldn’t have some sort of archaic, overly-secretive group of busy-bodies setting up a rule of ‘standards’ for art to adhere to. Age recommendations should come from booksellers.
But I don’t doubt for a minute that dropping the code had nothing to do with Art and everything to do with The Bottom Line. Much like during the time period where Marvel dropped the comics code, DC is in a period of intense financial and creative adjustment. Marvel spun their move as edgy and creator-driven, DC’s spinning theirs as a move towards ‘accuracy’ in ratings by having different age criteria, but ultimately what it comes down to is: it costs money to be participate in the comics code authority. How much money, I’ve got no idea, they don’t publish those figures and last I heard it was next-to-impossible to join the CCA. But regardless of how much it costs, any amount of money is more than just coming up with your own system and not paying membership dues.
I might not have immediately thought of this as a cost-cutting maneuverer if it hadn’t been for some of their other recent, penny-ante cost-cutting behaviour; they’ve stopped shrink-wrapping their dust-jacketed hardcovers for one. In a move that is probably saving them about 25 cents per book, DC has decided to send all of its dust-jacketed hardcovers to market sans the shrinkwrap that has protected them for lo, these many years, in a move that will almost certainly see more damaged books. We had a damaged dust jacket on the Starman Omnibus Volume 6 this week actually, that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. It’s frustrating as a retailer to have that happen, for a dust-jacket, but many collectors are particular enough that a ding in a dust-jacket is unacceptable, and so the whole book is either more difficult to sell, or unsellable. Why did this happen? Well someone did the math and figured that the increase in damages would cost less than shrinkwrapping everything, and so a very nice thing that DC did went out the window, a tiny cost-cutting exercise on books that range in price from $30 to $60.
It’s a bummer.
I don’t really have much to say about their most loudly-touted cost-cutting manouver, reducing the price of their line to $2.99 a book (but with 20 pages of story content instead of 22), I think it’s a win-some/lose-some sort of decision that will attract certain customers while putting off others, who might already feel like the comic book format isn’t the best deal going.
Oh, and here’s a thing that hasn’t got much attention: They’re cancelling trade paperbacks. Here are a few recent ones:
DC COMICS CANCELS ORDERS ON AZRAEL: KILLER OF SAINTS TP
DC Comics has cancelled all orders on the AZRAEL: KILLER OF SAINTS TP (DEC100247). This title will not be published.
DC COMICS CANCELS ORDERS ON THE AUTHORITY: THE LOST YEAR BOOK TWO TP
DC Comics has cancelled all orders on THE AUTHORITY: THE LOST YEAR BOOK TWOTP (NOV100254). This title will not be published.
Which, I mean lets face it, those are two VERY low selling books, but time was DC would publish both of those books, despite the low sales, just because they solicited them and were following through on a promise to the customer. Now, they’re not publishing books that don’t sell well, it’s one of those things that’s both amazing and obvious at the same time.**
I’ve also heard rumblings that I cannot really talk about that DC is going back to press on fewer titles than ever right now. Basically if it’s not making a certain sales target, it doesn’t get reprinted, regardless of whether or not it’s volume 1 of a series of trades that are still coming out. So DC fans, if you want a trade paperback, I humbly suggest that you buy that trade paperback when you see it–those books might not be in print more-or-less indefinitely anymore.***
Which all puts into perspective a quote I read from either Alonso, Quesada, or Brevoort a few weeks back, just after the editorial shake-ups at Marvel that had people promoted all over the place. One of them, and I wish I could find that interview for you, basically repeated the truism that DC doesn’t have to make money at comics, they get all that big licensing money and so they don’t have to worry about sales and things and that’s why things are different at Marvel. Before the last few months I’d be inclined to believe that, but it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that the bottom line is starting to really matter at DC, as they pinch pennies, opt-out of membership dues, and decide to stop killing trees for books no one seems to want.
Good on them.
* I’m sure I’ll grow out of it.
** I’m all for publishing Art that doesn’t sell well but is of quality, literary or artistic. Sales are not the only barometer of quality, and I applaud those who believe in a work so strongly who decide that despite apathy of hostility from the marketplace that a piece of art must be seen: bravo. But publishing Azrael trades that no one wants makes the Lorax cry.
*** As an aside that doesn’t directly tie-into this essay, I will note that there are positive changes in DC’s Collected Editions dept. as well, including the fact that much-demanded-by-retailers graphic novels of SUGAR & SPIKE and FLEX MENTALLO have finally, finally been added to the publication schedule. Shake-ups all over, it seems.