But…it’s my only line!

twitter But...its my only line!0facebook But...its my only line!0google But...its my only line!0pinterest But...its my only line!0tumblr But...its my only line!reddit But...its my only line!0stumbleupon But...its my only line!0email But...its my only line!

howard2v1 But...its my only line!Over the last few days, quite a few stories have been making the rounds that seemed to foretell the death of the pamphlet as a viable form of storytelling. First there was SLG’s Jennifer De Guzman’s blunt declaration that they are not looking to publish new series:

Another tip, but it’s not on the list since it’s not a particular prejudice of mine, just a reflection of the current state of the market: Don’t tell us about “issues.” We’re just not very interested in series right now. If you take a look at what we are currently publishing, there are only two creator-owned comics still being published as a series–Nightmares and Fairy Tales (which is ending at issue #23) and Rex Libris.


Next came the stunning news that Love and Rockets would no longer be published as a comics periodical, but was becoming a big thick annual for Volume 3.

“This new format will allow the Bros. to present longer stories without having to chop them down into bite-size pieces,” said Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth. “In today’s graphic novel-oriented world, readers (and cartoonists) are increasingly impatient with this sort of serialization, especially in the case of L&R where, because of the split nature of the book, each artist has only 15 pages.”


Throw in retailer carping about delays in Marvel’s new Spider-man story, general bitching about DC’s Countdown-centric offerings, and you have a picture of the pamphlet in decline, right?

Well, not so fast. This month’s sales numbers from ICv2 showed that pamphlet sales were up 20% from last year at this time.

Based on sales of the Top 300 comics, comic sales by Diamond to comic stores in October were up 20% over October 2006. Graphic novels (based on sales of the Top 100) were up a more modest 6%, bringing the total growth rate for the month to 17% vs. October 2006.


The first link attributed this not to a couple of blockbusters at the top of the chart, but core strength in the middle:

For example, Kong, King of Skull Island #0, the #300 title in October 2007, sold more than twice as many copies as the second month sales of Civil War: X-Men #3, the #300 title in October, 2006. In fact, you had to go up 64 ranks, to the #236 title in 2006, to match the sales of the 2007 title. The growth rate halfway up the list, at #150, was not as rapid, but was still a whopping 63%. The effect did not disappear until around the 25th title, where the 2006 title was above the 2007 title.


What the fuck! Comics have been doing Pilates!


So what’s going on? The usual pundits were flummoxed and floundered to explain what had happened. Dirk rarely has anything good to say about mainstream comics, and this was no exception:

More importantly, though, is the lack of overhyped, universe-spanning miniseries — World War Hulk simply hasn’t inspired the cross-promotional sales boost that Marvel enjoyed during its Civil War campaign this time last year.


Which might be plausible except for all the DC tie-ins and mini series on the list.

200711200241 But...its my only line!Tom went round and round with an approach to detection more reminiscent of Columbo than CSI :

But really, at that point, I’m sort of making stuff up.


[We suggest reading both entries rather than relying on our own interpretations.]

So what’s our floundering answer? We’re as surprised as anyone given that only a few weeks ago we were talking with some respected retailers who assured us that the market was softening, and DC’s future, in particular looks chaotic and unfocused.

The answer is two-fold. #1, as much as a lot of people hate to admit it, all the mid-level stunting at both Marvel and DC has an audience, and all the bitching and whining on message boards is just that — the people who enjoy this stuff tend to buy it, read it and not post on message boards.

#2 — the solid middle ground for genre-oriented pamphlets has been gaining strength in recent years. (Remember, the actual numbers we’re dealing with are a few thousand copies at most — that’s all it take to move up the middle of the charts.) Dark Horse is getting solid numbers on Conan, and Star Wars, spectacular numbers on Buffy. Dynamite has several books staying level, variant covers or no. IDW’s licensed books are doing okay. Even Avatar sold over 10K of a Warren Ellis book. (How much variant covers had to do with that, I’ll let Marc-Oliver explain.) This shift obviously isn’t helping Fantagraphics or SLG sell series, but (and this is going to get some big brackbats thrown at me but I’ll say it any way) their best cartoonists aren’t really interested in regular periodicals any more. Love and Rockets might have been the last indie titan to come out on anything like a regular basis.

But there are other factors. The sales uptick could also be explained by the increase in actual comics shops that’s been taking place over the last couple of years or so, but we’d have to get more hard numbers from Diamond to really back that up.

Our final suspicion is just that the “I want it Wednesday Brigade” has surprising tenacity. New Comic Book Day is a social event for people, a break from the work week. Personally, The Beat is no more caught up in this idea than we are in reading comics in .cbz format, but anyone who denies that it exists is foolish. The very extent of “Wednesday review blogging” is proof of this.

Which doesn’t mean that graphic novels and webcomics aren’t our preferred medium of choice for the future. Maybe this was a one time fluke. Or maybe the market is opening up a bit to genre material that isn’t published by Marvel and DC. Developing.

Comments

  1. arch 14 says:

    Maybe I’m wrong…but wouldn’t those Civil: War X-Men numbers be re-order numbers? If so, that doesn’t seem like much of a comparison. Now I suppose it could still be compared to similar comics that are nearby it in the list, so perhaps this point is moot.

  2. Since I’ve been reading more comics blogs I’ve been thinking more about comics, too. I’m worried that if the monthly pamphlet goes so to will continuity and universes. I’ve realized that I really, really like continuity, for all it’s faults. I’ll be very sad if it goes.

  3. Pilates? Like hell!

    Comics have been decathlon training! Punching meat! Running up and down those granite steps! Chugging eggs and protein shakes! Dropping and giving us 50 push-ups at our slightest whim!

  4. Sean B says:

    With the rise in sales for GN and increased traffic on the web (incl torrent downloads), all this seems to suggest more people are reading comics, and they’re simply choosing their favorite way to do so. How this translates into economic vitality is for more brainier folks than I. However, it does seem that we may be in the midst of a sort-of mini multi-format boom that is giving readers more choice of format which is, in turn, giving comics more readers.
    And, just curious, are manga sales still as strong as they were two-three years ago? I see alot more shelf space devoted to manga when I step into Borders, but is that particular boom still going strong?

  5. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Considering Columbo’s always right, I’m taking that as a compliment.

  6. Maybe comics sales will continue to increase amongst comics fans as people continue to come to there senses and realize that thenet is a great tool (for news and casual research ) but no way to spend your free time. As pointed out people didn’t see this coming, because they were paying to much attention to all the on line arguing, and there’s a hole group of people who just don’t want anything to do with the internet. Some one suggested to me that I spend some more time reading something on paper, rather then chatting on the web, and I’ve been having so much more fun. In fact, I think I’m going to go read some back issues, I traded for at the last LA Shrine show, right now. Have a good day, everybody.

  7. Short Answer: Content content content. If content is good, pamphlets will survive.

    Long Answer: How likely does anyone think it is that creators are going to just stop creating serialized comics? Sure the graphic novel has arrived, thanks to the legitimate media *coughs sarcastically* and everyone is worried this means obviously sales of pamphlets have decreased, because people who read comics are like energy in the universe: there is a finite number of them. So any gains in one format over another must indicate the other is decreasing, right? It’s like when rap came along and killed rock, or when bubble-gum pop destroyed all hope for mankind.

    Obviously there can be no increase in readers, no new creators, no new markets opening up as creators are adding new, interesting ideas to the market. Obviously once someone does a GN all hope of them ever creating a pamphlet dies, and all new creators only make GNs, so once Bendis dies that will be it for pamplets.

    It wasn’t the publishers or the markets that created this wonderous new phenomenon of GNs, they just opened channels. Its the creators, the writers, artists, and writer/artists who are sitting around, thinking up weird, crazy, awesome shit, and they are ones who pushed until the bubble burst. Now everyone is talking about no more pamphlets, but that’s just dumb. I’m working my ass off to make it, writing both GNs and pamphlets, and I know a lot of other people doing the same, because it is exciting as hell to have so many options for telling a story. As long as our stories are weird, crazy, and awesome, people are going to read them.

  8. Well, the “pamphlet is dead” folks always tended to ignore or cough away the fact that unit pamphlet sales through Diamond have been growing for years. During much of that, the most notable growth was coming at the top of the charts, and the sheer number of titles and increasing reliance on color has made it hard to be profitable, but the overall sales were there.

  9. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I’ve never ignored that, and have many time compared #50s and #100s on my own time, particularly going back 2002 or so.

    I know Nat’s not saying I’m a pamphlet is dead guy, and I’m not, but I may have been cast into that role for the sake of this thread.

    My gut feeling is that we’re missing something somewhere, on both sides of things, because the widespread anecdotal evidence isn’t matching the general trend as suggested by the estimates. What that missing thing might be, I don’t know yet.

  10. “the widespread anecdotal evidence isn’t matching the general trend as suggested by the estimates.”

    Yeah, I’d be inclined to second that opinion. Maybe I’m just not running in the the right circles, but I really don’t know _anyone_ who’s still actively seeking out the comic book versions of stuff that they know will later be collected as an actual book that can sit on a bookshelf.

  11. It’s easy to dismiss comic magazines as pamphlets when there’s very little else between the covers other than 22 pages of strip and ads. There are many artists who work for the Big Two who won’t look at their work in serial format because of the placement and intrusion of the ads. Of course twenty years ago there were just as many ads, but there was nowhere else to read a comic strip. In those days we also had letters pages and editorial features, engaging cover copy and title pages that worked to grab a reader’s interest. It seems to me that creators themselves are looking forward to the collections and tailoring their efforts toward that end. I think that when the individual issue is the end in itself, it’s more likely to engage readers and become worthy of collection.

    Collections don’t guarantee success anyway. Trades have become the new singles — readers are checking out new series in paperback form and make their decision to follow a series based on the first five or six issues collected in the first volume of the series. If you really want to see how successfully trades fair, check out the “Used and New” section on Amazon and check out the quantity and prices of books that are being re-sold by readers. Old copies of trades like PREACHER and THE WALKING DEAD are always selling for $6 or more… unwanted trades are generally available for $4 or less.

    Amazon has become the new back issue market — buying

  12. Alan Coil says:

    Heidi, by reporting this, you have thrown a large bucket of cold water on my 2 dogs Doom and Gloom.

    :(

  13. OOPS — trades or hardcovers are seen as less of a gamble than buying the individual issues — if you don’t like a trade, you can sell it yourself as “Used like New” and generally lose less than you would trading it in at a store. I’ve even seen runs of “pamphlets” sold this way on Amazon by some enterprising individuals.

  14. I dunno… the quality (or lack thereof) of the material in comic books aside, they’re just a pain in the ass in a way that a book isn’t. Comic books are priced as if they’re meant to be held on to, (as opposed to, say, a newspaper, which is cheap and designed to be pitched when done) but actually holding onto them (comics) is a real annoyance. Sure, there will always be folks who like to get comics and put them in those little plastic bags, but most casual readers I know are just not interested in that. And, as Richard points out, if you don’t want to hold on to a book, you can sell it or trade it with a minimum of fuss.

  15. The Beat says:

    Ben, I think some of us are missing the point. Just as there are people who ENJOY reading comics online, there are people who ENJOY going to the comics shop every Wednesday and enjoying a serial thrill.

    The biggest question is whether this number is growing, shrinking, or just staying the same.

  16. The sales of pamphlets in the market in general might be increasing, but for some reason we’re not benefiting from it at all. We’ve never been in the middle of the top 300 — we’re at the bottom if we’re there at all, and I guess improving sales of pamphlets don’t benefit the bottom. Is anyone looking at where the modest growth in graphic novel sales is taking place?

    It certainly isn’t “dumb,” as the touchingly idealistic Bill put it, to stop losing money for ourselves and our creators and move to a format that actually sells (albeit modestly, as always). Ben Towle knows about that first-hand. We made the mistake of publishing Midnight Sun as a series when it really is entirely better suited to being a graphic novel (which we are publishing it as now, after having to cancel the series after three issues). It’s kind of heartbreaking to see a series die a slow death, numbers constantly slipping lower and lower until you have to put your hat in your hands and deliver the bad news to the family, so I’m glad to be free of that particular worry.

    I agree with Tom. Something is going on here that we haven’t quantified. I believe it has to do with multi-dimensional beings. Or quarks.

  17. “Ben, I think some of us are missing the point.”

    Point taken. I got a bit off-track…

    I do think, though, that figuring out what’s going on with Tom’s “missing something,” is worth digging into, as it’s got a lot to do with where the art form as a whole is going, particularly as it pertains to whether or not the actual numbers really support the claim, often speculated about, that a “casual readership” of comics is emerging largely as a result of (and reflection of) a shift toward book publishing.

  18. The Beat says:

    Tom may be right about the “something” but I think it’s a bit more quantifiable.

    Jennifer, to put it in concrete terms, do you think that if you put out a JTHM comic on a regular basis — say bi monthly, but REGULARLY– that it would consistently chart in the top 300? Or a bi-monthly book by Evan Dorkin? These books might need to come out for a year on a regular, consistent basis before retailers began to support them — as they do WALKING DEAD and BUFFY — but if the creator was there, I think the sales would eventually be there.

    This didn’t work for LOVE AND ROCKETS, however. Why? I think Gilbert was right and the stories don’t really give themselves to 32 page increments. Even the OLD L&R was 48 pages…and it came out pretty much every other month for years and years.

    The Superhero publishers are committed to getting books to the store every week. Even a book widely derided as late– “One more delay” which will cost retailers thousands and thousands of dollars — will still only be a couple of months late.

    I think the “something” us graphic novel readers are ignoring is the addictive nature of the weekly comics trip. It should be no surprise to people who believe in the medium that greatly increased media visibility — the much yearned for
    “Milk Board” of old — and a plethora of talented creators in every sector of the industry, should lead to more readers. That’s a no brainer.

    Now, does this mean I think all the stunts at Marvel and DC are healthy in the long run? Not really. Civil War and 52 may have had more story value than initially expected, but good creators on liked characters whose sales went up month after month would still be the healthiest trend of all for the superhero industry, and that doesn’t have much traction in the marketplace.

  19. In some private conversations we’ve been discussing an increasing disconnect between the Big Two and Second Two (Image, DH) on the one hand, and everyone else on the other. The “middle” we’ve been discussing here is, of course, dominated by those four publishers.

    Could it be that the growing strength of this “middle” is really drawing from a “bottom” (all the rest of us) that is dropping out of pamphlets altogether? (Fantagraphics, SLG, Lightspeed, etc. etc.)

  20. Torsten Adair says:

    Part of going to a store or a convention is to browse and discover something new. I can read buzz and possibly browse online, but it’s much easier to do it in a store.
    I work for B&N. I’m building a library collection. I’m buying GNs, but i’ll buy issues if it’s interesting.
    I’ve got so much stuff to read, I can wait for the trade of Sinestro, or 52, or True Story Swear To God. But that doesn’t mean I won’t read a comicbook.
    Can someone post monthly totals for the entire Top 300 so that we can compare totals? Would Diamond be so kind to give an aggregate total?

  21. michael says:

    I’ll always buy my comics on Wednesdays and in single issue format. Webcomic and GN format only will be the death of my participation in this hobby.

    I think it is a very difficult business decision to make, but I think SLG is making a mistake by limiting themselves to move to GN only. Maybe if some of their previous creators had gone on to become bigger successess and grateful to SLG for their bump into fame, maybe then they would not be so hard pressed…

  22. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Heidi, when I say there’s something going on that I haven’t figured out yet, I’m speaking to my own curiosity about the last year’s worth of asserted growth at various points down the DM estimates against the last year’s worth of horror stories about the bottom falling out of the sales of certain comics.

    All that stuff about Love and Rockets and alt-titles not coming out regularly has been discussed on every message board by nearly everyone who’s ever bought a comic. Does anyone not know that people like serial comics? It’s just not to the point. Love and Rockets hasn’t been bi-monthly since the winter of 1988-1989. Either they’ve made this latest format decision via Entmoot or there are newer factors at work. Dork! was basically an annual. To suggest that Dork! would work if it were bi-monthly is sort of like saying it would work if it were digest-sized, about teenage ninjas and drawn by Masashi Kishimoto. The key isn’t that Dork! couldn’t be made to work but that it works less well now despite remaining much the same. Why?

    That’s not to poop on broader issues. It’s clear there are some macro-influences at work, and that there are some slow bleed issues about alt-comix in general that have made it more and more hostile for those kind of comics as the years went on. For one thing, without enough of those kinds of comics saturating the market, there comes a tipping point where people like me stopped going to the comics shops because there’s not three or four comics of the kind we like to buy.

    But that happened to a lot of those buyers in like ’97 to ’99. That’s why the L&R thing, while hugely symbolic, probably isn’t exactly informative as to why there’s a mid-list boost 2006 to 2007 despite some people openly complaining the market completely dropped out on them. I’m still waiting for something a bit more specific to explain this specific circumstance, or at least a compelling reason why the general wave of activity would focus in this way at this time.

  23. Tom Spurgeon says:

    In brief, why are we to believe that the effective delivery of serial comics has suddenly become important to that many more people right now as opposed to a year before that, three years before that, and so on?

  24. The Beat says:

    Maybe….more people like comics.

  25. Well, the names Jhonen Vasquez, Roman Dirge and Evan Dorkin can support a project no matter what format it’s in. We’ll still do whatever they their sleeve as floppies if that’s the format the project done calls for. Lenore and Dork are published on an irregular schedule but retailers still support them. For those guys, a project doesn’t have to be regularly scheduled for it to do well (though who knows how much better it would do if it were bi-monthly or even quarterly). Once a year, once every other year, whatever — retailers still support the titles, so a regular series would mostly likely land in the top 300 every month.

    But Jhonen, Roman and Evan aren’t going to do regularly scheduled books–or at least “All signs point to ‘no.'” We can’t hang our hat (I like hat metaphors today) on a situation that does not and is not likely to exist. We have to make decisions that are best for the new creators whose work we want to support, who don’t have that name power yet and probably never will to the same extent as someone like Jhonen, who could spit on a piece of paper, scan it, print the same image it on 24 pages with nonsensical dialogue and still sell near 10,000 copies.

    Is that it, then? That the direct market will only support pamphlets from small publishers that have “names” attached to them? It’s tough to make a new name now. Even names that don’t have the same “icon” level but once made a project do quite respectably, Serena Valentino, for example, aren’t enough to keep sales afloat. It could be a changing in tastes and perception of what kind of books Serena does, though Nightmares and Fairy Tales is by no means a “goth” comic in the stereotyped view of such things.

    I honestly don’t know why people think this is such a big deal. Look at publishers like Oni and Top Shelf. How many series do they publish? Is anyone calling their move to graphic novels “a mistake”? Oni has been quietly moving to a mostly-graphic-novel lineup for years. Why should SLG be uphold the pamphlet form in the indie comics world when it’s dragging us down? That would be the mistake, michaels of this world.

    While I’m at it, michael: Several creators we worked with first *have* gone to work on larger projects … projects that are graphic novels. So is DC Minx making a mistake, too? They seem to think the audience for creators like Aaron Alexovich prefer graphic novels. (Aaron is returning to working on his title with us, Serenity Rose, which will mostly likely be published as a graphic novel.)

    The more I look at our sales figures, the more I realize that the direct market alone cannot support our books. For some of our trade and graphic novel titles, nearly half the sales come from book stores. Bookstores bought more than twice as many copies of The Clarence Principle as the direct market. Bookstores do not buy pamphlets. However, comic book stores *do* buy graphic novels. The graphic novel is a format you can sell to two markets instead of just one. I have an MFA, not an MBA, so perhaps my business sense is wonky, but that seems like a good choice to make to me.

    And who knows, perhaps things will change.

    Wow, that was long. I really should get back to reading this script. Last time I say something that people find quote-worthy!

  26. Maybe. Maybe retailers are just ordering more. Those are Diamond-side sales, and not over the counter sales, yes? If retailers are selling more, let’s pay attention.

    And has anyone done a comparison to see if additional comics outlets are being created or is it just a deepening of the ones that are already existing?

  27. The key isn’t that Dork! couldn’t be made to work but that it works less well now despite remaining much the same. Why?

    It doesn’t work less well now, though, not really. In the post that Heidi linked to, added an edit it to make clear that we’re continuing to publish irregularly scheduled floppies like Lenore and Dork and that I was referring to new regularly scheduled series when I said we’re not really looking to publish them anymore.

    The people who read something like Buffy or Gargoyles will buy floppies. They’re fans and readers in a different way from Scott Pilgrim or Love and Rockets fans and readers, who probably would be willing to wait for the trade because they prefer that format. Why? There are the obvious differences in story style and the fact that, as you pointed out, Tom, people who read the latter aren’t going to find a lot they like at comic book stores. Now, is this a matter of publishers moving away from comic book stores just … ‘cuz … or is it because the direct market doesn’t really cater to the latter kind of reader, thus causing publishers to move to a model that is wider than concentrating on selling that market?

  28. “Webcomic and GN format only will be the death of my participation in this hobby.”

    Perhaps that’s the real rub here as far as this divide goes… Comics for me, and for most of the folks I interact with, isn’t a hobby. It’s a pleasurable activity, even a passion like reading prose novels, or being interested in modern art, as opposed to a hobby, like collecting pogs or building ships in bottles. I think if comics is something that you derive pleasure from in _that_ sense, then the rituals that to some of us seem like a pain in the butt (going to a comics shop, putting the books in little mylar bags after you’ve read them) is all part of the fun. While it’s not necessarily my bag, if more people are indeed buying more monthlies, I say good for them–and comics in general, I suppose.

  29. Maybe people just like them?

  30. Aaron Nowack says:

    Maybe. Maybe retailers are just ordering more. Those are Diamond-side sales, and not over the counter sales, yes? If retailers are selling more, let’s pay attention.

    The likely reason to explain retailers ordering more is that they expect to sell more.

    Anecdotally, two years ago I bought one or two trades a year, a year ago I bought a couple trades a month; now I’m buying 3-5 trades and roughly thirty pamphlets a month. So new readers do exist.

  31. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Suggesting that more people like them is cute but misses the point by a wide, wide margin, because the article isn’t asking us to interpret an overall boost figure. We’re talking about what causes midlisters and sub-midlisters to grow, especially in the light of what’s anecdotally keeping other midlister and sub-midlisters from sharing in that growth. Or at least we should be talking about that. That’s what the ICv2.com article was about, not overall growth. I mean, we can talk about anything, I guess. But the article was about strength down the list. I swear.

    IcV2.com’s top 25 estimates are actually down about 175,000 collectively between 2006 and 2007. If things were as simple as more people liking serials, or retailers expect to sell more serial comics, one would guess those numbers would be up, too.

    *****

    Jennifer, I’m not suggesting Dork would stop being a floppy, but that’s not the standard I’m using in his particular case. I’ll leave it at that, though, for obvious reasons.

  32. The Beat says:

    Tom, I have no idea what you are talking about.

    Let’s just wait for Marc Oliver and Paul to come along, shall we?

  33. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I was talking about the specific thesis advanced by the article. You were talking about Love and Rockets publishing bi-monthly back when Reagan was president.

    You’re right, though, there’s too much ground to be made up between us. As I admit freely, I don’t have the answers here. I apologize, and withdraw.

  34. The Beat says:

    Hey, we’re only kicking some ideas around.

    To be honest, I have no idea how often Love and Rockets comes out. I know when I was cleaning out my apartment recently I found more comics with covers by Gilbert Hernandez than any other cartoonist. Beto, at least, could maintain a bi-monthly schedule, I think.

    But, just to make myself clear, I have no wish for Evan Dorkin, Jhonen Vasquez, Roman Dirge, Gilbert, Jaime or Mario Hernandez or anyone else to chain themselves to a drawing board or an outmoded sales cycle.

    It seems even from the above discussion, that in addition to the Superhero/Indie divide, we now have the pamphlet/collection divide and the paper/pixel divide. Quickly, Robin, to the Venn diagrams!

  35. Lordie, I hate the word “Pamplet” when it comes to describing a comicbook. It’s so demeaning.

    And as far as “chaining ourselves to the the drawing board for an outmoded sales cycle” – it’s called wanting to get paid every month, and not twice a year.

  36. This is educated guesswork, but here’s how the market seems to break down in late 2007, to me:

    Superhero readers are divided between those who prefer trade paperbacks and a still-strong contingent of readers who follow single issues month to month. From the continuing sales of singles, I assume that those readers are not bothered by the common net complaints of extended plot threads or lack of “enough content” per issue. They still like buying their comics every week and following continued stories as they come out.

    Indy comics readers, in contrast, have largely abandoned the single-issue format. They prefer a larger chunk of work and are willing to pay for it. For most indy publishers, including (I’m hearing) Slave Labor, singles are no longer worth the expense to publish.

    There are, of course, exceptions on both sides, particularly for long-established creators with an existing following. It’s definitely true that if fans really want to read a new comic — any new comic — they’ll follow it to the format it’s published in.

    And along those lines: I seem to be the only one, but the new LOVE & ROCKETS format mystifies me. I understand the impulse to try something that fits the material better, but this strikes me as combining the high price of a trade paperback with the short shelf-life (and lack of bookstore salability) of a single issue. Sam Henderson tried something similar a few years ago with, I recall, disastrous results. ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY works, but that’s a real art object. And I say this as someone who will buy it — I’d buy LOVE & ROCKETS if it was stencilled on the side of shipping containers.

  37. There are enough opinions here to keep a lively debate going, but are they likely to arrive any sort of consensus? Message boards are like maypoles. We all go ’round and ’round, but we never really get anywhere.
    Jennifer de Guzman, of course, is from SLG, and thus once represented Patty-Cake, a book that they could never get decent numbers on, try as they might. I am now effectively out of the game, after ten years of publishing. I remain grateful to SLG for keeping my book going long after other publishers would have bailed. Thank you, guys. I actually made it to ten. Many books I enjoyed reading weren’t so fortunate. But the fact remains, public and retail support was never enough.
    Who can explain why there is a faithful audience for anything and everything one creator does (say, for example, Jhonen Vasquez) and only fickle, fair weather friends for a Scott Roberts? Who are these fans who say they love a book, and then stop buying it? Who were the people giving it better numbers last year who all went away and let it sink lower and lower? And if they say they’re waiting for the trade, and then the trade doesn’t sell either, then what? SLG/Amaze-Ink put out four Patty-Cake trades, including one in color. Sales weren’t there.
    I heard it all from the pundits and prophets. “People don’t want superheros and crossovers anymore.” Well, apparently they do. “People don’t want gimmicky ‘Big Events”. Oops, guess they do. “The market is hungry for all ages, kid friendly material. People want it.” Oh? They do? They just don’t actually want to buy it, though.
    A consistently well reviewed book, nominated several times for major awards was kept alive because a publisher believed in it, but it just wouldn’t sell. Why? Here’s why.
    There are no rules, people. Stop trying to pinpoint them, they aren’t there.
    There are trends, but trends change. The comics business has spend the last several decades trying simultaneously to hang itself and save itself. It hasn’t kicked out the chair just yet, and it remains torn.
    Yes, we all want to find a reason, spot a pattern, create a solution. But the comics industry has become a living illustration of the philosophy that “stuff just happens.” None of us knows what we’re doing. We’re just trying. If we knew, we’d have to be real idiots to be in this mess.
    But here’s a clue. If you like a book, buy it once in a while. You just might help keep it coming.

  38. Good lord, Scott. “Pamphlet” is a publishing term referring to the way is something is bound (or rather *not* bound but saddle-stitched). It is not indicative of quality or content any more than “paperback” is.

  39. Paperback? How insulting! They prefer to be called “Flexible-covered Americans.”

  40. Always wondered where the words paperback and hardback originated. What are the fronts, then? Metal? Feathers? Why are we so specific about the back??
    I have to admit that I’ve never been a fan of the term “Graphic Novel.” Sounds like it’s apologizing for being, or pretending not to be, comics. Of course, if you read the history of Will Eisner’s use of it, when he was marketing A CONTACT WITH GOD, you can understand his hesitancy. There was a strong ambivilence in the traditonal book market then toward anything considered comics. So we’ve come a long way in that regard.
    As for ‘pamphlet’, I suppose that’s a problem of conotation rather than definition. Jennifer is right technically, but some people may associate the word pamphlet with free handouts, simply through learned association.

  41. I know I’m no typist, but I must learn to proofread myself more carefully. At least one mispelling or missing word per comment so far. Sigh.

  42. Marcus Lusk says:

    Scott Roberts:”Jennifer is right technically, but some people may associate the word pamphlet with free handouts, simply through learned association. ”

    Precisely. And “floppies” doesn’t work either.
    I wonder why “singles” hasn’t really stuck? Nothing undignified about that.
    45’s and CD singles usually represent a larger body of work (an album) that is either already available or soon to be available.

    Perhaps manga-format anthologies are one solution, for publishers big and small. Both with continuing series *and* fairly self-contained excerpts from upcoming graphic novel releases.

    I feel one things for sure, though: This medium is going to vary rapidly convert to a model that is primarily consumed electronically. I don’t think printed comics (even “singles”) will be obsolete, but their existence is going to depend greatly on how widely received web comics are.

    Not that long ago, countless people reached first and foremost for the Sunday Funnies. Family members bickered over who got to read them first.
    Comics were truly mainstream.

    That day can come again, in this new medium.

  43. Maybe some of what’s missing here is that by examining only the Top 300 we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg and trying to guess what’s under the water. Not only are we not considering the comics under the Diamond 300 thresh hold, we aren’t seeing how many and which readers are buying which books in a non-stapled version (in our iceberg metaphor we’ll refer to this as how much ice is lost from the tip due to condensation).

    It’s amazing that in many ways comics seems to have a visibility and respectability that I don’t think has existed since maybe the 60s at least (unless you count when Rob Liefeld was in a jeans commercial and Marvel actually ran a TV ad for a comic with a cartoon crossover- DAN CLOWES WAS ON THE SIMPSONS, PEOPLE!!!), and yet so many seem to be stuck in a state of perpetual gloom about “the industry” that they can’t see how GREAT things are. Obviously, given history that’s an understandable defense mechanism- whenever things are good in comics they usually fall apart quickly thereafter, but I see the recent period as a time of amazing diversity and seeding of new areas of growth so that I think much of this is sustainable and can actually continue to grow for some while longer. However, I think Spurgeon is right when he worries about how well this growth and revenue seems to “trickle down” to less-well-known creators.

    As a nobody creator I’d love it if more of that stuff seemed to be coming my way but I think what we’re seeing in comics is a great example of the long tail which sees comics at an apex with sales increasing, but with more creators having greater exposure to a mass audience the guys who aren’t on top are stuck fighting for the small amount of people able to find them amid the noise of our mass media culture.

    There have never been as many great comics to buy as there are now. I seem to have a harder time every week deciding what to spend my paltry amount of disposable income on. In order to buy Get a Life I have to put back Klezmer and so on. How many Absolute, Essential, and Complete volumes come out in a month now- as many as once came out in a year or decade? Where there was once 300 cartoonists doing work worth watching there seems to be 3,000 and some days more like 30,000. Who can buy all the stuff worth buying (not to mention all the time spent reading Scans Daily, free web comics, blogs, etc.)? Who can even remember all the great comics that are out? I think in many ways the amount of amazing new talent (and re-discovery of old talent ala Fletcher Hanks) has been great and helped create the new rich diversity comics has but also makes it harder for that new talent to stand out in the way Los Bros and Peter Bagge could 20 years ago.

  44. Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.

Speak Your Mind

*