Hello! And welcome to Liveblogging The Previews. My name is Christopher Butcher, and I’m a comics retailer, managing The Beguiling in Toronto, Canada. At The Beguiling we do a significant portion of our ordering of new comics and graphic novels through Diamond Comics Distributors’ monthly PREVIEWS catalogue, a 400+ page beast. That order is due this Tuesday, December 1st, by 11:59pm, and as of today I haven’t really so much as opened the thing up. What follows are my time-stamped reactions to the catalogue, as they occur. Keep refreshing this page to see the insanity that is sure to follow.
3:37pm: Cover. This month our cover options are “Sexy Blue Chick” from the comic book adaptation of the video game “Mass Effect”, or heavily shadowed and poorly drawn Superman characters in, and I’m not fucking with you here, “a new era of excitement!” from Dan DiDio and Philip Tan. Poor month for PREVIEWS covers when sexy blue lesbian alien based on a video game is the less embarrassing comic book cover, artistically.
3:42pm: Dark Horse: Congratulations to the fine folks at DH for putting back into print BLACKSAD, the only furry comic most “normal” comic fans aren’t embarrassed to have on their bookshelves. Sexy jungle-cat Blacksad P.I. is tracking down murders and kidnappers and the like, getting into trouble, and having sex with sexy cat ladies. It’s 1930s and 40s pulp noir streaming through the hand of an extraordinarily talented Disney animator. It’s beautiful, it’s sexy, it is hard-boiled kitty cats. DH’s edition collects all three Blacksad stories released to date in one hardcover. Previously the first two stories were available from iBooks and those out-of-print volumes were fetching 60 and 70 bucks a pop on the aftermarket, so this will probably do quite well upon release.
3:49pm: The new BPRD series starts up with KING OF FEAR #1 and the return of Guy Davis. Meanwhile, the most recent Hellboy Arc gets a collection in HELLBOY VOLUME 9: THE WILD HUNT . Artist Duncan Fegredo is an amazing match for this series, the pages are just gorgeous and it’s selling more-or-less as well as anything Mignola drew.
3:55pm: On page 41 we’ve got Rafael Grampa’s MESMO DELIVERY, in a brand new edition from Dark Horse, and at a reduced price of just $10. Here’s the problem: We sold a BUTLOAD of the AdHouse edition of this. So I’m not quite sure how many to order of this new edition… I mean it’s gorgeous, has a terrifying little story, and I do think moving from Adhouse to DH will raise its profile. Do I just order a lot, or another BUTLOAD? It’s so tough doing the Previews some months.
3:58pm: Pages 42 and 43 bring us two interesting new books. SHINJUKU is an original project by Yoshitaka Amano and someone named “Mink” join forces to release an original prose project in the vein of Amano and Gaiaman’s SANDMAN: DREAM HUNTERS, with a story and over 100 original paintings to go along with it. It’ll be interesting to see Amano tackle more contemporary images, as his primary art style seems ideally suited to historical works. Speaking of, Dark Horse releases OKIMONO KIMONO, an art book collecting the intricate kimono designs and art of CLAMP member Mokona. It’s coming in a little small for an artbook at the Tokyopop trim size, but that also means we get it for just $12.99.
4:16pm: DC Comics: We get a skip-month for Blackest Night as the creative team catches up, but hey, we get the oversized anniversary issue GREEN LANTERN #50 (page 57). But the biggest and weirdest news of the month are the Blackest Night “Rebirth” books, featuring additional issues of cancelled (dead) series like Catwoman, Phantom Stranger, and James Robinson’s Starman. That’s actually one of the most clever tie-ins I’ve ever heard of, good on you DC.
4:30pm: Grant Morrison’s BATMAN AND ROBIN returns after a skip-month with #7, and Morrison’s SEAGUY collaborator Cameron Stewart in tow. I think more-or-less everyone is happy to see anyone other than Phillip Tan on the book (we seriously had returns), and the promo art I’ve seen from Stewart looks really sharp. Here’s hoping for a return to form!
4:50pm: Gary Frank draws a kind of a terrifying Superman, even without the Christopher Reeve Death Mask:
I wouldn’t want to be locked in a room with his Adam Strange either.
5:02pm: Man, whole lotta nothing in the mainstream DCU section. Nice cover on Wonder Woman #40, murder of crows, that whole thing. But… yeah. Anyway. Quick dinner break and then I’ll be back.
5:16pm: The collected editions section is looking pretty good this month, with the too-long-awaited All Star Superman Volume 2 finally getting a softcover. A new printing of the second HITMAN book, and a trade paperback collecting all of the ‘origins’ backups from 52 and COUNTDOWN, the best part of either of those series (though 52 has its fans).
Actually, let me expand on the first part of this: I’m kind of sick of DC’s and Marvel’s hardcover programs. While I appreciate the short-term $$$ that comes from charging an extra $10 for a hardcover on a book, I think they’re really hurting long-term sales. I know that the whole superhero section of the industry seems to be predicated on short-term thinking, but I think that if it was about giving consumers choice simultaneous releases would be the way to go. This is a bit of a bigger problem than I have time to give it right now, but DC and Marvel mandating hardcover exclusives for 4-6 months means that their biggest, newest, ‘hottest’ storylines remain considerably more inaccessible until well after the heat has entirely dissipated on the series. The Justice Society relaunch is the hardest-hit series I can think of, but Green Lantern and Spider-Man and Runaways from Marvel are also suffering, from my POV, for having long gaps between HC and SC collections. Maybe if I’ve got time I’ll follow it up with a longer post.
5:31pm: Speaking of, the 4th and final PLANETARY collection is solicited this issue. HC only. For MARCH. Talk about striking while the iron is cooled, the cord is wrapped up, and the whole thing’s been put back in the closet. Soooo unfortunate.
5:34pm: What If Alan Moore WAS Swamp Thing? Check out Astro City: The Dark Age Book 4 #1.
Meanwhile, over on page 105 we have the next book in DC’s little hardcover crime line, THE BRONX HILL by Peter Milligan and old-timey Vertigo artist (can we say that? are they old enough?) James Romberger, whose last work I can remember is the excellent Seven Miles a Second. Actually, heh, DC has this thing where when they’re mentioning artist credits they include other DC credits in allcaps, and work for other publishers as italics. So author Peter Milligan is Peter Milligan (GREEK STREET, HUMAN TARGET), and James Romberger is James Romberger (Seven miles a Second). Funny thing is, DC Vertigo were the publishers of Seven Miles a Second, at least initially. It’s the graphic biography of gay artist David Wojnarowicz, and Vertigo pub’d it in 1996. I know a new edition was planned but so far as I can tell it never came out. So there’s a history lesson for whomever writes the Previews solicitations at DC: Look, it’s a book you published!
Edit: Mystery solved! See the 8:15pm entry.
5:55pm: There we go, it’s a new creator-owned series from Grant Morrison. JOE THE BARBARIAN #1 sees Morrison team with relative newcomer Sean Murphy to do a pretty-looking mini-series about a boy who falls into his childhood fantasy world. The preview looks good, and the price is hard to beat: It’s just a dollar! I think we’re going to give the first issue away for free, too… really build up a readership for this one, and give people a reason to come to the comic shop every month. It’s somewhat tough, particularly when Morrison’s fans have largely converted to collected editions, to get them in regularly to see all the great new stuff that’s come out. I think we can make a pretty-good go of it with a new #1. Fingers crossed!
6:14pm: Speaking of Vertigo, Daytripper by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon continues to have lovely understated painted covers, it kind of makes everything else on the solicit pages look obscene by comparison. But that’s art for you.
6:21pm: We’ve got a very rare thing from DC, a bind-up. That’s a publishing industry term for taking 2 or more books and putting them under one cover… Most comic book trade paperbacks are essentially bind-ups, but with THE LOSERS VOL 1 & 2 TP ($19.99, January 27) we’ve got the first two collections in one book. Usually when this happens, one retail outlet has agreed to order a lot of copies of a book if they can get it in a more shelf-friendly format. With THE LOSERS film dropping in April, this inexpensive new collection will hopefully lead new people to the series.
Quite honestly, I kind of wish most of DC’s backlist would get bind-ups like this, and that they’d stop re-releasing things like HITMAN or whatever by story-arc… One trade on the shelf, one book to keep in stock instead of two. Make my job a lot easier.
6:30pm: Just gonna pretend DC Direct doesn’t exist. Moving on…
6:36pm: Image Comics! And on page 132 we’ve got ORC STAIN #1, the new ongoing series from WONTON SOUP (Oni) creator James Stokoe. It’s a full-colour Orc-straveganza, a fantasy epic for the console video game generation with a one-eyed orc character who’s kinda like Karnak from The Inhumans. Really nice art on this one, and apparently it’s an ongoing series! I am very-much inclined to support this one with strong orders, and with Brandon Graham’s KING CITY also appearing monthly it should be an easy book to cross-promote. Check out an article and promo art from the series at http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=23260.
6:44pm: Okay, 3 things:
1. I’m actually pretty cool about comics that have their heroes covered in cum. You know, live and let live. Granted, those comics tend to come from CLASS COMICS and not Image, but different strokes and all that. It’s just that they don’t usually get a full-page in previews. Surely one of those retailers in the bible belt that’s bemoaning the state of comics, surely one of them has been wounded by this? Has anyone called the CBLDF yet?
2. Look at those legs. Ugggh. At least the character’s left leg has the excuse of ‘foreshortening”. But the right leg? The section from the knee to the foor is 2/3s the length of his massive thighs… He’d look ridiculous standing up. I thought they had a talented artist doing the layouts for McFarlane?Actually while I’m at it that right hand seems to have three or four joints on the thumb. Though I’ve only read the first issue, so perhaps that is one of Haunt’s powers.
3. HELP. Seriously, if you saw a dude in this outfit and covered in cum in this alley, would you help him? I don’t think I would, and I’m the open-minded sort. I’d definitely call the cops though.
7:39pm: Just had to take a short work-break there, sorry. In the interim, I realize that I needed to give props to Image Comics for having the single-best section in the catalogue. Clean design, nice colours, a layout of info that makes sense (for a change). Important projects in front, graphic novels (alphabetical!) in the middle, single-issue comics in the back (alphabetical!). Easy as hell to find stuff month-to-month. Bravo, Image Comics! Your Previews section is magnificent.
8:15pm: And Calvin Reid, former editor of the Reed Publishing graphic novel line, popped up on Twitter to say that yes, it was his imprint that was going to put David Wojnarowicz’s Seven Miles a Second back into print:
@calreid: I think I Can answer. Reid & Reed planned a new revised edition of Seven Miles A Second, which was completed but has never been published. Reed pulled the plug on the imprint before we could pub. The new edition has about 20 new pages. I hope someone publishes it.
I think Seven Miles a Second is one of the great comics memoirs and an important record of David W. & of a seminal time in NY.
I hope so too, Calvin. The magic of instant communication!
8:20pm: Marvel. Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic’s “Marvel Women Variant” is a nice piece of art. Or at least, it makes an impression.
Whoa, looks like the folks at PETA got their hands on Siege Embedded #1:
Look, I’m all for the ethical treatment of animals, but I think throwing fake blood at our nation’s heroes is a step too far.
8:36pm: Let I Get This Straight: Captain America Reborn is now six issues, AND it’s finishing AFTER the books in which Cap actually returns to the Marvel Universe? Man, it’s a good thing no one who works for Marvel is ever accountable for their actions. Cuz, haha, I mean, this makes the Civil War problems look quaint in comparison. I kinda wanna work for Marvel now. Seems like a pretty good gig.
8:42pm: I notice the solicit text for Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #6 contains the following: “Join rockstars Brian Michael Bendis and David Lafuente as we swing into the final chapter of this thrilling arc!” I just wanna say that if I started calling Bendis “rockstar” to his face, he’d take a swing at me before the end of the first day. In fact I invite everyone who knows him to only address him as “rockstar” from now on.
8:46pm: No, wait, this solicit text is better: Spider-Man The Clone Saga #5: “MAXIMUM CLONAGE! It’s Hoo-Ha Time as MJ goes into labor…” Well holy shit. Whoda thunk it would ever be vagina-time in a Marvel comic? Just goes to show.
8:50pm: Huh, apparently Marvel’s launching a movie-continuity Iron man comic. 2 issues only. Weird. I kind of assume this is just to fill out a trade paperback somewhere?
8:54pm: Including the back-up story in Incredible Hercules this month, there are going to be THREE Agents Of Atlas books on the stands in November. Agents of Atlas vs. Avengers, Marvel Boy: The Uranian, and the back-up story. Not bad for a book that was more-or-less cancelled a few months back. Oh shit, AND they’re in Thunderbolts #140. 4 Atlas books.
9:02pm: Nothing really jumped out at me from Marvel’s collected editions. So let’s stop this here for now, and we’ll pick up with the back-half of the catalog some time this weekend… Monday at the latest.
The fine folks at SLG Publishing (known back-in-the-day as Slave Labor Graphics) are having a pretty solid sale right now—40% off their whole web store at http://slgcomic.com/—to help them through some rough economic times. Things aren’t DOOMy or anything, just a sort of a “hey look over here if you’ve got some money to spend”. I was considering telling you about 5 great books from the SLG catalogue that I own, and that you should buy them, but then I thought “My readers are givers, and what with the holidays right around the corner, I’m certain that they’d much rather have a list of recommendations for what to buy for Other People.” And since I have been enjoying and selling (and enjoying selling) SLG products for the better part of 15 years, I thought “Gift Guide!” and so here we are!
But this is no ordinary gift guide.
You see, SLG publishes a wide range of stuff, much of it difficult and strange and unique, and since everyone has a couple of people on their shopping list that are impossible to buy for, the comics and products manufactured by the fine folks at SLG would work wonderfully as gifts… for the difficult, strange, and unique people on your list. (Note: books are also appropriate for folks that do not match the stated criteria.) And with no further ado we present:
5 GREAT GIFTS FROM SLG PUBLISHING FOR DIFFICULT-TO-BUY-FOR-PEOPLE
For The Guy That Makes Inappropriate Jokes At Inappropriate Times…
FUN WITH MILK & CHEESE VOLUME 1
By Evan Dorkin.
Reg: $11.95. SALE: $7.17
I’ve been running Evan Dorkin’s awesome DORK comic strips here at Comics212 for the past few months and while I can’t speak for you guys, it’s been lovely waking up every morning (or so) to see a new Evan Dorkin strip on the site. So while I’ve been recommending DORK for the past few months, let me instead make a recommendation for MILK AND CHEESE, Dorkin’s most famous creations. Dairy Products Gone Bad, they are sociopathic, anthropomorphic bits of food, that Dorkin uses to both satirize society and to just draw vicious, unapologetic insanity. We’ve all met that person who says the most profoundly tasteless thing at exactly the wrong time, and an angry carton of milk and an angry wedge of cheese forcing an old woman into her coffin and beating a senior citizen with his own cane because they were forced to wait behind old people in a line one time? That is the comic for that person. Misanthropy!
For Your Friend’s Teenage Daughter Whom No One Understands And Is Possibly A Lesbian…
By Andi Watson and Simon Gane.
Reg: $10.95. SALE: 6.57
PARIS is a wonderful book, a sensual, energetic, surprising work that reflects its titular setting. A restless young aristocrat and a talented young painter both find themselves in the city of lights, and after a chance encounter with a portrait painting session, they can’t stop thinking about one another. Did I mention that they’re both young women? A couple of major plot twists and Romeo & Juliet allusions conspire to keep the two young ladies apart, but thankfully (for a change) it’s not about the love that dare not speak its name, but instead about the class divide. Ooh la la! PARIS is beautifully drawn, with cute characters and an expressive line. It’s a bit “Classic British Farce”, a bit “Backpacking Across Europe”, a bit “Hollywood”, but really it’s just a wonderful little book, to make you feel good about falling in love.
For recent “Cool” young parents, to remind them not to move to the suburbs…
I FEEL SICK #1 & #2 and SPOOKY SQUEAK TOY
By Jhonen Vasquez, w/ Rikki Simmons
Reg: $17.85. SALE: $14.69
Jhonen Vasquez is the creator of cult-fav comics JOHNNY THE HOMICIDAL MANIAC and SQUEE, but he’s probably best-know around the world as the creative mastermind behind the incredibly popular Invader Zim television series for Nickelodeon. My favourite of his comics efforts is this two issue mini-series. It’s about the nature of creativity, and compromising artistic ideals for comfort and commercial success, and the struggle therein. It is surprisingly, hilariously good, and poignant, and could only have been written by someone who had a difficult birthing process with a creative property at a multinational corporation… like say Nickelodeon? Anyway, it’s edgy as all hell (even almost 10 years after its initial release), with great art and lovely colours by Rikki Simmons (the voice of Gir on Zim).
Bonus: Appearing in the comic itself is a little skull-faced squeak toy, called SPOOKY: THE THING WHAT SQUEAKS. It is pretty adorable, and it squeaks, and it’s pretty ‘cool’ as far as baby toys go. SLG’s store seems to be out of stock right now, but the toy has been ‘in print’ for years and many retailers should still have it in stock. We do at The Beguiling, for example… :)
For anyone you know that works in I.T., graphic design, or really any computer-related field…
NIL graphic novel
By James Turner
Reg: $12.95. SALE: $7.77
Drawn entirely in vector-based illustration tool Adobe Illustrator, NIL has a stark, complex, ‘designy’ look that is wholly unique in comics. The visuals of the world in this graphic novel are fully-realized, creating an engrossing place to get lost in. And? It’s a really good story too. NIL is a satire, an extension of nihilist chic taken to an absurd and therefore amusing degree. It’s about a man who’s job it is to quell outbreaks of hope or belief in a nihilist society, and anyone who’s ever heard “Can you make the logo bigger?” or uttered the phrase “Have you checked to make sure it’s plugged in?” will sure understand and appreciate the dark, dark humour. And it’s Canadian too, so double-excellent.
For someone you know likes Superhero comics but you have no other idea what they like or read, like none, and you want to get something that they almost-assuredly haven’t read AND is really good AND reflects your personality as the gift-giver…
By Jim Rugg and Brian Maresca
Reg $14.95. NOW: $8.97!
So here’s the deal: The protagonist of this book is a homeless 12 year old girl who rides a skateboard and kicks ass. In the first chapter she fights like a hundred ninjas. In the second she fights Spanish Conquistadors and Ireland’s first man in space, “Cosmick”. In the third: Satan. It only gets bigger from there. Seriously, this is the work of a dude who’s taken in a LOT of pop culture over the years, and is letting it flow back out of his mind, through his pen, onto the page. It’s visually inventive, more sophisticated than you might imagine, and has all of the stuff in it that nerds like. The new edition even has shiny paper! One of my favourite comics of the past few years, and aside from being incredibly pink, any die-hard superhero fan who gets this one is going to love it.
Bonus: Free Comics for you to read…
SLG loves getting folks to read its comics, so it has all kinds of freebies that you can throw in whenever you place an order on their website. I personally recommend the beautifully-illustrated BOMBABY graphic novel by Antony Mazzotta, which is FREE, or the totally f’d up sci-fi graphic novel VAISTRON by Andrew Dabb and Boussourir. Grab one of everything from their FREEBIES SECTION, it’s all at least interesting and a bunch of it is really good!
- Agnes Quill, by Dave Roman and friends – Spooky stories about a spunky girl detective.
- Bill and Ted’s Most Excellent Adventures Volume 1 & 2, by Evan Dorkin – We’re almost ready for 90s nostalgia, get ahead of the curve with these surprisingly awesome comic books (they’re seriously great).
- Farewell, Georgia, by Ben Towle – Tall tales and modern myth from down south.
- H’eofigendlic Lodrung: A Collection of Stories by FSc – A fantastically talented Singaporean cartoonist working in a “goth” style, with wonderful results. Collects almost everything she’s ever drawn.
- Milk & Cheese Vinyl Toys – based on the violent dairy products above. Only for hardcore fans, but for hardcore fans, they’re only $35.97, down from $69.95!
- Rare Creature, by Kelley/Ken Seda – A pretty, quiet, short graphic novel about strange and quiet kids. Very ahead of its time.
- Skaggy The Lost, by Igor Baranko – A very funny story about an incompetent, high-energy Viking who ‘discovers’ Incan gold. Hilarious, great euro-style art. Underappreciated gem.
- The War At Ellsmere, by Faith Erin Hicks – A ‘Mean Girls’-esque boarding school drama about a school with secrets to hide.
- Wonderland, by Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew – Beautifully illustrated side-story to Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland. A lovely full colour hardcover book.
- Zombies Calling, by Faith Erin Hicks – Zombies, fun art, a satire of the college experience.
Now this sale might not extend much past the next few hours (check your shopping cart to see the discounts), but these books are great year ’round. I recommend picking them up from the SLG store, or from your local comics retailer (when available), and you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
(Header photo by Chuck Rozanski/Mile High Comics. Stolen from here.)
I work for The Beguiling, and make about 95% of the blog posts at Beguiling.com. They’re not often terribly in-depth, but we do get a lot of neat stuff that doesn’t show up through normal retail channels, and it might be a neat addition to your daily reading. I’ll even occasionally recommend books and things.
Shown: A collection of early-aughts shoujo manga anthologies (top) and Claire Wendling’s new sketchbook Daisies (bottom).
The talk-back section at industry-watching website ICv2 has been abuzz over the past week about the contentious issue of how few ‘all ages’ comics there are. Some retailers take time out to decry mainstream superhero comics as being too violent and over-the-top for young readers, and anything actually aimed at children as being “too kiddy”, meaning that it’s for the youngest kids while ignoring grown-ups who might want to introduce their kids to the material in the first place. The issue of location also cropped-up, with retailers in the bible-belt complaining that what flies as all-ages in one store might not in another (which while in general is perfectly accurate as a statement, I just can’t think of how that applies to the comic books under discussion today… anything labeled ‘all ages’ in comics is generally entirely kid-safe).
At The Beguiling where I work, we’re notorious for carrying challenging, risqué, and adult material. It’s how we built our name. But we also do a solid business in comics for children, in all kinds of formats. We work with school and public libraries to develop age-appropriate collections, and we have kids of all ages in here all the time. I’m also personally quite fortunate to have worked with all kinds of experts in reading material for children. One of those people is Mr. Scott Robins, a children’s publishing industry professional and blogger at Good Comics For Kids currently studying to be a librarian here in Ontario. He ran a blog called “All Ages” for a little while, talking about comics for kids, and this was how he capped off his very first post back in 2004:
“Have you ever looked at the word ‘shoe’ so many times that it just doesn’t look right anymore? I’ve called my blog “All Ages” to hopefully do just that — diffuse its meaning and steal that term away from everyone who uses it. Considering that every aspect of children’s publishing is so extremely focused when it comes to AUDIENCE–who the book is for, there’s very little use to the term ‘all ages.’ It’s totally noncommittal. I know this issue will come up again and again but I just wanted to put it out there to get the ball rolling.” – Scott Robins
So Scott thinks that, right out of the gate, the term ‘All Ages’ is a farce—it means nothing. I’m going to agree with him here, as it’s a term most often used within the comics industry (full of hucksters at the best of times) to try and sell the same product to as wide a range of people as possible, specifically college-aged and grown men who still read superhero comics. That and in circus tents, where ringmasters bellow “Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of All Ages!” hoping to engage that special part of the brain and heart that retains its childlike capacity for wonder. It’s a nice thought, but really it’s designed to put asses in the seats and keep them there. It’s a con, that term, and the idea of it is at best outmodded. I would love to order 10,000 copies of the same comic or book every month, instead of 10,000 copies of varying quantities of different books–it would make my life much, much easier. But that isn’t the industry we’re in, we’re in one of micro-niches, trying to hold the tide against the internet which is an industry of nano-niches; information and media customized down to the individual and their specific mood at any given time. Anyone who wants ‘all ages’ anything may as well go looking for a unicorn–all ages never existed. Arguing otherwise is naive.
Let’s instead use the term “Family”, as in “Family Entertainment”, or products and media designed for kids and parents to participate in together. I like the idea of that. I mean, I’m totally cool with material being designed explicitly for children as well, and for ‘children’ as an audience to be subdivided between babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, kindergardeners, early-readers, etc. etc. Go to a bookstore some time, look at how they divide the books into 2 year age gaps until you get to be 11 or 12. That’s the reality of contemporary media. But there is a market for family material. Sitcoms, movies, board games (family game night!), broadcast sports, those sorts of media that are participatory, shared experiences. One-to-many, instead of one-to-one. Books, generally, aren’t like any of those things. Oh sure, there’s reading aloud to kids, which is something that generally tends to disappear after the second or third grade. For the most part, reading, and especially reading comics, has been a solitary pursuit, not a family one. Comic books have not historically or even recently (through the 70s and 80s) been a ‘family’ product; comic books were a niche product with an age- and gender-targeted audience, that happened to bleed up and down and sideways a little.
In the 70s and 80s, according to retailer Joe Field of Flying Colours, “more comic titles used to be accessible to a much wider audience of all ages without having to write down to younger readers and without having to be over-the-top for older readers.” This is a true statement, and a balanced one I think–but I think you need to consider the time period as well. It’s worth noting though that looking backwards from the mid-80s, there was considerably more of a mono-culture in North America–far fewer entertainment options in general, fewer genres of popular music for example. There was music that was played on the radio and music that wasn’t, often with clear divisions down age, gender, or even racial lines… Some of the retailer and reader proponents of the idea of All Ages lived not just through the 70s and 80s, but the 50s and 60s too. Entertainment has become both more diverse and more complex–complex in delivery if not in content–since the birth of comics in the 30s, and the rebirth of superheroes in the Silver Age. It’s a different time.
Many of the retailers at ICv2 in favour of ‘all ages’ comics attack the violent over-the-top superhero comics of today for being for adults, even though they’re not particularly ‘adult’. I’d agree with that, because honestly most commercial comics are crap anyway, there’s nothing particularly literate or adult about most of them. But the thing that can’t be argued is their complexity, complexity often in lieu of any real literary or artistic merit. If there’s a lot going on in the story, even if it’s all awful, it must be adult! If there’re a lot of lines on the page, even if the work is awful, it must be accomplished! If it’s a 50-part crossover it must be literary! What we’ve had in superhero comics, and this matches most entertainment, is an increase in complexity. And flat-out, that sort of complexity is what’s demanded by readers of superhero books. They clearly don’t care if a work is mature, or literate, or even good, but Goddamnit if it isn’t complex, if it’s simple or straightforward or (Lord help’em) FUN, then that sucker is going to get cancelled as quickly as humanly possible. ‘Fun’ comics aren’t mature or literate or sophisticated; ‘sophisticated’ things are respected; comics crave respect from the world at large; divorced, hero’s wife kills her best friend and we all cry about it. No one is as defensive about their chosen hobby as superhero readers, and anything that lends them legitimacy is defended… vigorously.
Which brings us to the next generation of superhero readers, what this is really all about. Because this whole kerfuffle isn’t about ‘comics for kids’ or ‘all ages material’ or any of that. If a mom brought her daughter into the store and wanted the comics she read as kids, which might be Archies, Romances, etc., we’d have no trouble grabbing something appropriate off of the stands. Archie still publishes, there and dozens of new romance manga out every month. There are lots and lots of books and comics coming out for kids, all the time, even if you live in the bible belt. This is about certain readers, and certain retailers, wanting to introduce very specific comics to young kids. The language hints at it:
“When a man walks into our comic store with his 8 to 10 year-old kid and wants to buy some comics like those he read as a kid–Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, Fantastic Four, etc.–we have a real problem. We have no new comics to sell him. The kid line of comics from Marvel and DC may be for kids, but they aren’t like the comics in the 60s and 70s and 80s that anybody could read. They’re aimed directly at young, little kids. Meanwhile, the regular comic lines contain material that simply isn’t appropriate for kids that age.” - Rembert Parker “Reader Copies”
(As an aside: Rembert is bending the truth more than a little. Read my description of “Marvel Adventures” below.)
Now let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. I’ve seen this happen myself, and with both moms and dads and daughters and sons, when it comes to getting kids some comics. Sometimes it’s because the parent liked comics as a kid and wants to share that with their children, sometimes it’s because the teacher told them it’ll get them reading. Sometimes it’s just to keep them quiet on a long car ride or plane trip. But the only time I’ve ever encountered someone who wants to buy their kid a comic exactly like they read as a kid? Die-hard superhero fans. It’s that defensiveness again, not only are superhero comics awesome and modern mythology and whatever, but they’re the only comics that they want their kid reading. I’ve seen some pretty appalling behaviour too, parents outright refusing to buy a young reader something they’re actually interested in (Simpsons, Disney, NARUTO) because the parent used to Looooove Spider-Man as a kid and hey you liked the movie didn’t you champ remember we saw all three come on get a Spider-Man comic. It’s upsetting, but it’s how they choose to raise their kid and that’s fine, I’m not going to be paying their therapy bills.
If my dad had tried to introduce comics to me this way, by the by, I probably wouldn’t be here blogging this right now. If he had tried to foist THOR (the comic he liked as a kid) on me at 8 years old, I can guarantee that I would’ve hated it. I didn’t like superhero comics at all until into my teens, and at 8 years old it was TRANSFORMERS & G.I. JOE that brought me to comics, and I saw them on the newsstand, and I knew them because I saw them on TV and I had the toys. My brother didn’t like my comics either, he wasn’t that much of a fan of Transformers of the Joes. He did, however, like Archie’s TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES comics, because he saw them on TV, and had the toys. We’re only 3 years different in age, but it’s a big enough generation gap that he had stuff that was just for him, and he loved it. 3 years apart, not 20 or 30.
So let’s really, really narrow this discussion about “all ages” comics to what it really is: Superhero Fans Want To Buy Superhero Comics For Their Kids That Are Simultaneously Exactly What They Read As Kids AND All New At The Same Time. They want all the comics on the stands to be ‘safe’ for children, while still engaging them on an adult level like all of the other media targeted at adults. They want the stuff they read as kids and teenagers in the 70s and 80s (or hell, the 60s) to be the same as what’s published today for their kids. They will accept no substitutions, and most importantly they need it to be CANON. That’s right, even if the Superhero comics meet every other criteria, they can’t take place in their own “universe” or be the “for kids” version (even if it’s for ‘all ages’), it has to be part of the 616 or DCU continuity or else it isn’t ‘real’. Superhero fans want validation for their tastes and interests, just like the OCD football dad who couldn’t make it to the NFL and is going to live out his dreams in his son. Exactly the same sentiment, but without a million dollar paycheck at the end of ‘reading superhero comics’, so waaaay less pressure.
And that’s what Retailers, older retailers in particular, want to sell them. Because it’s what they read, and it’s what they know, and they have the same nostalgic feelings for and biases towards that material.
Again, I’m sympathetic. I want to sell more of the same product to the most possible people, rather than fewer copies of different products to those same people. It’s just good business sense. I also think it’s nothing short of ridiculous that “Captain America” and “Spider-Man” are titles intended for people in their 30s and older. Really, it’s insane. “Captain America”. Say that out loud. It’s a great read, but it’s also an international espionage book with dark art and weird mind-rape stories intended for an audience of 30+ year olds. But? That’s the industry. That’s the complexity demanded by the readers of those books, of the accumulated 50 or 60 or 70 years of history of these characters. Any and all attempts at simplifying the stories, making them less violent, less intense, less convoluted, more accessible, all of it is met with howls of outrage from long-term fans. If their problem isn’t that they’re doing it (de-marrying Peter Parker), it’s how they did it (de-marrying Peter Parker) or why they did it (de-marrying Peter Parker). The current audience for superhero books is getting Exactly What They Want from superhero books; sales have been more-or-less consistent or on the upswing for going-on 5 years now. You can argue that they’re “narrowcasting” but they’re making a hell of a lot of money doing it.
So, ultimately, all of the furor and despair is for nothing: These retailers are, by and large, trying to service a clientèle that is, if not unserviceable, then almost not worth bothering with. Selling nostalgia is possible even profitable. Validating that nostalgia is much harder. I understand that it’s tough when that love and nostalgia is why you got into business in the first place, to turn around and put the business before your personal preferences. It’s something I struggle with myself all the time. But let me reitterate: It’s not real, and these isolated and unreasonable customers aren’t worth the aggravation. There are lots of good comics for _actual_ kids out there, and they come in more formats than floppy comic books. There are far, far fewer comics for grown-ups trying to remember exactly what their own childhoods were like. Do the simple business math.
That said, I’d like to address the specific comments made by Michael Tierney of “Collector’s Edition” Comics in Arkansas, as his concerns differ slightly from the main thrust of this article, but I think they further illuminate a lot of the issues at hand:
“I’m glad that Jay has success with the current mix of content, and with “dozens and dozens” of All Ages titles. Chances are that some of those “dozens” of books aren’t considered appropriate in every market. There’s probably a big difference between the Bible Belt, where Buddy and myself operate, and other markets with different demographics… The fact is, in my market All Ages titles massively outsell Mature Readers Only titles. While there are Mature Audience books aplenty, they just don’t sell for me. This is why having more All Ages material is so important to me, and others in similar markets. It’s what we can sell. But we’re only getting “dozens” of them. And that isn’t growing our businesses… And please, let no one confuse All Ages with Kiddie Books. Kiddie Books simply don’t sell for anyone. No reader likes to be talked down to. All Ages simply means “accessible to All Ages, and entertaining to All Ages.”" - Michael Tierney
First off, if the challenges you face as a retailer are that the type of product that you are selling is by-and-large too extreme for your conservative community, then you have a much deeper and more fundamental problem with your business model than you may think. If you can’t grow your business because the product you sell is unsuitable to your community, diversify, or get into another line of business, for your own sake.
Secondly, I don’t need to tell you any of this as you’ve been in business for many years, but it needs to be said: Marvel Comics has been publishing a line of comics called “Marvel Adventures” (previously Marvel Age) for the better part of 5 years now. These are specifically “all ages” comics in the exact method you’ve demanded, which is to say comics intended for every age. Not written for kids, but written to be continuity-light, fun books with good art and solid stories. The only thing they aren’t is “in continuity”, and the only person that should matter to? An established fan, not a new reader coming into the shop for the first time. These comics sell exceptionally poorly, less than 10,000 copies a piece through the Direct Market. A year ago this time there were four books in this line–now there are two. Honestly? They’re good books with almost-no-audience in periodical format, but we do gangbusters on the sales for the digest collections. Conversely, the top selling Superhero comic books in the industry right now are about evil aliens violating corpses, and bringing those corpses back to life in order to kill more people. It may be that the tastes of the market for the product you’re selling don’t match up with the specific interests of your community. It may be that the number of books that you’re demanding is untenable, and the number of books that fit your criteria that currently exist is all that the market will bear. It may be that The Hulk ripping Wolverine in two was put right onto the cover of a graphic novel this year, because that is what readers of The Hulk and Wolverine want to read, and not the Hulk vs. Wolverine ‘dust-ups’ of the 70s and 80s.
Thirdly, your poor attitude of describing books you don’t like as “Kiddie Books” is probably doing more to hinder the sales of those books than any perceived lack of merit in the content. “Kiddie” books are some of our best sellers, in collected formats. I would strongly recommend that you as a retailer, and other retailers that share your feelings, really look at how your own biases and prejudices about some comics colour the way you sell them–or don’t sell them, as the case may be.
Finally, I really do sympathize with your desire for more salable product, and to grow your business; I think most retailers want to be making more sales, making more money, and growing their investment. I also understand the need to vent, particularly when given a convenient target to vent at, like an off-handed comment that you might be out of touch with the industry because of your complaints. I like to vent, I like to pick easy targets. But realistically, you haven’t presented any evidence whatsoever that what you’re asking for as a retailer from publishers like Marvel and DC (and let’s be honest with ourselves, you really only care about Marvel and DC with this rant) would work. Books like the ones you are asking for tend to get cancelled. Publishing more of those isn’t going to do anyone any favours.
So, that’s my piece said. Let’s stop asking for All Ages books, because they aren’t ‘real’ and the ones that are? No one wants them. Making more existing books “kid friendly”? Well the industry doesn’t seem to be responding to that either. Let’s let those few parents so drowned in their own nostalgia that they can’t see past the end of their comic collection, let’s let them go, and hope that their kids get into comics through the net, at school, at public libraries, through their friends, and then come back to comic book stores and buy the stuff that they might ACTUALLY want to read. I see it happen every day and I’m happy to do it. Just like I’m happy to work with and sell to the parents who truly love comics, and want to share the joys of reading and the medium with their own kids–even if it isn’t exactly the same thing that they want to read themselves.
Edited slightly at 11:15pm, for clarity.
I figure everyone is at least as OCD as me, and would love to be able to read as many of the spines on the books in that Jinbocho manga bookshop post as possible. So I’ve decided to upload the hi-res, unedited photos from that day to flickr. I think they’re only 3mp, but that’s still 5 times as big as on the blog here.
See the set at http://www.flickr.com/photos/comics212/sets/72157622846202868/.
Edit: Did you know? If you have an unpaid Flickr account it limits the display-size of your photos to 1024×768? I did not. Anyway, just got myself a pro account, and the original-sized photos are showing up now, at like 3600×2700 or so. Enjoy!