How much content should you get for $2.99?

Back in the old days of the mid 2000s, comic fans could pick up any standard comic book issue for $2.99. It was the nailed-down price, and for that money they’d get 22 pages. Since those halcyon days wilted, however, more and more we find that we’re paying $3.99 for fewer pages than that. What kind of price should we put on a comic?

cont4 How much content should you get for $2.99?

Comics are thought of as a quantifiable product far more than any other medium. Fans plonk down a certain amount of money and they expect to receive a certain amount of product for that price. Whereas films can run from a tight 90 minutes to an expansive three/four hours, or novels can have any number of pages, fans are very certain of one thing only – if they pay $2.99, they should get AT LEAST 20 pages.

But what should be on those pages, if so? Near the end of Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers run, the comic went to $3.99 an issue, albeit with an ‘oral history’ back-up at the end of each story. Yet Brian Michael Bendis is hardly afraid of putting dialogue onto a page – his comics are wordy, filled with word balloons, and feature a lot of back-and-forth dialogue. So did Marvel really need to add in that back-up story to convince people that they were still getting a comparable amount of content for the money they were paying. Yet Bendis’ Avengers run also came up to criticism that, despite the abundance of dialogue in his later comics, the story was thin and slow-moving.

cont How much content should you get for $2.99?

The page above, from his run on Daredevil, is a case in point. There’s a lot of dialogue in those panels, even though the content of those word bubbles could easily have been condensed into a much less verbose sequence. Would you say that having 20 pages of wordy comics matches 22 pages of more direct dialogue? Sales remained strong on Avengers throughout Bendis’ run, even as the prices rose, so it seems a solid majority of people would say so.

If readers feel like they aren’t getting the right amount of content in their comics, they’ll start dropping comics. What interests me most about the idea of page content is that the page count surely isn’t the correct way to judge the quantity of content in a comic – after all, 2000AD tell their stories five pages at a time, and they seem to be in finer creative form than ever before. Decompression and compression in comics are becoming a valuable arbiter in just how much bang people get for their 2 and 99 hundredths of a buck.

Splash pages, once considered to be saved only for the biggest events, now get thrown into comics at a moment’s notice. It provides an arguably easier and shorter working time for an artist, and fills up a page in one go – saving writers from having to overextend sequences later. It also makes for great pin-up shots which distract readers from the fact there’s no written content on a page.

cont How much content should you get for $2.99?

 A short while back I dropped Batwoman after buying an issue which contained a pair of two-page splash sequences one after another, which were almost entirely wordless – that was a fifth of the comic, something I just paid for, which I could flick past in two seconds. Amy Reeder’s artwork is lovely, but it’s also lovely when telling a sequential story with PANELS. Why not let her show that off?

Which brings up another point – are we paying more for the writing, or for the artwork? After visiting ELCAF earlier this year, I was surprised to see a number of creators selling sketch books and pin-up collections for extraordinary prices. There was no attempt at story. This was simply a collection of images of women, all shapes, all sizes, all expressions, one after another. And people pored over those images.

Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Warriors series used to give several pages up to diagrams and schedules, explaining bits of non-essential backstory for completists to put together. Lists of secret bases and who operated them, or details of how the various terrorist organisations navigate each other. The content here didn’t tell a story, but I could sit over it for a long time (if I so chose) and gather all the information into my head.

cont2 How much content should you get for $2.99?

The function of design in comics isn’t really considered very often, but it can tell the difference between a comic which is wasting your time and a comic which is offering something distinct.

The Pizza Dog issue of Hawkeye springs to mind here. It tells a story which only briefly has any importance to the overall narrative of the Hawkeye series. Barring the final page, the issue puts everything into the hands of David Aja and Chris Eliopoulos, the designers. Fraction’s script wasn’t any leaner for having no dialogue in it – this was a comic where every page was thought over and planned carefully, offering content and concept on every page. Even though there were barely any speech bubbles, there was a still a narrative voice guiding readers through the issue, and the artwork and design made sure that the pages weren’t blank glamour. They were content.

cont3 How much content should you get for $2.99?

When I read the double-page splashes in Batwoman, the only function they served was to show to the reader that the heroine was wearing bulletproof armour – a service which could have been explained in a single panel. But instead we had four pages of lovely-looking artwork which served no real purpose to the narrative. Even the slight sequences in Hawkeye #11 still allowed for some memorable detail, so I felt like I was getting value for money with it. Batwoman, however…

The question also remains as to which of the pages we’re even paying for. Marvel has a recap page in each issue; DC have a two-page advertisement at the end of theirs. When I pick up a copy of, say, The Flash, am I paying for the Channel 52 pages as well as the story pages? I don’t get any use out of them, but I do find the recap pages phenomenally helpful. Am I willing to include the recap page as a 21st page for a comic?

If you look away from the big two, you can find some crazy prices. People can ask $3.99 for a four-page flick-book, whilst Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples offer 30-odd pages for a dollar less. When I buy Saga, am I thinking that this offers me ten more pages than DC/Marvel would – or am I thinking that Marvel/DC offer me ten less pages than Image have? Are these bonus pages, or are the big two shortchanging me? And at the same time, does that hypothetically mean I’m more forgiving if Saga chooses to have a greater number of splash pages per issue? I’m already getting a higher number of pages, so it doesn’t matter so much if there are more splashes – the percentage of splashes is lower.

cont5 How much content should you get for $2.99?

The question of content – physical, artistic or narrative – is important. And it’s utterly subjective. Two DC comics I read recently from their ‘Trinity of Sin’ branding offered similar page counts but different reading lengths. Pandora was filled with references and details I didn’t find interesting, but Phantom Stranger referenced a lot of things I found fascinating, and spent time looking into at a later date. Objectively they’re the same price and same length, but subjectively I found one had a greater amount of content than t’other, and gave me a longer read.

Which makes the opening question of this article extremely frustrating! For all that I might complain that Batwoman offered me four wasted pages, other people will take more value from those four pages of Amy Reeder than I could take from four pages of dialogue and narrative progression. As we move more to the digital realm and projects like Kickstarter, Thrillbent or Monkeybrain change the price point of comics altogether, the question of content is becoming even more nebulous and impossible than it was before.

What do you think? What content are you seeking? And how much are you willing to spend on a 22-page issue?

Comments

  1. Comics offer the worst bang for the buck in modern entertainment. I’ve basically given up on monthly comics altogether in favor of trades for specific arcs that appeal to me. I re-read my early 80’s comics and it’s amazing to see just how long they are and how much the content has dwindled today.

  2. This problem with pricing versus content has bothered me for a long time. Bendis for example wasn’t too wordy on the new Ultimate Spider-Man and I couldn’t justify paying $4 for 20 pages that moved the storyline ever so slowly and with many dialogue-free panels. Saga at $3 can tell a story with words and pictures unlike many on the market. It’s a bargain for such quality. Snyder on Batman is worth the $4 because i liken the content as a 4-course meal and not a snack. A lot of exposition, dialogue, and action in an almost literary sense in 22-26 pages. I do not understand however paying $4 for Peanuts, Adventure Time, or My Little Pony for my kids. I’d rather get them complete novels for a few dollars. It’s all subjective to what you get in return for your money. I’d say most $4 comics are overpriced.

  3. Interesting question/article.

    Personally, I tend to not buy anything outside of ComiXology’s $0.99 sales these days. So anything more expensive than that starts to look like too much (although it depends on the material – I just preordered the massive Zenith HC and I will often buy up issues of something where I’ve got the first parts for $0.99 because I want to read them … but even then it’s usually at below cover price) and I also have *zero* interest in any backmatter, pencil art, script pages, etc. So any increase of price because of non-story content will push me further away.

  4. Thomas Wayne says:

    FROM THE TEXT ABOVE :
    The page above, from his run on Daredevil, is a case in point. There’s a lot of dialogue in those panels, even though the content of those word bubbles could easily have been condensed into a much less verbose sequence. Would you say that having 20 pages of wordy comics matches 22 pages of more direct dialogue?

    The amount of dialogue really doesn’t matter….is the story worth reading? Is it being told well? The number of words on the page really doesn’t matter…its all about visuals and the pacing of the story.

    FROM THE ABOVE TEXT:
    Splash pages, once considered to be saved only for the biggest events, now get thrown into comics at a moment’s notice. It provides an arguably easier and shorter working time for an artist, and fills up a page in one go – saving writers from having to overextend sequences later. It also makes for great pin-up shots which distract readers from the fact there’s no written content on a page.

    No written content??? SO WHAT??? It’s a comic…its supposed to be VISUALLY COOL above all else…if it wasn’t we would all just read novels and stories in regular print. Comics have always been and will always be about the visuals. The costumes, the characters, the action, the art….words have little to no meaning in a well told visual story. Alfred Hitchcock once said that if you are watching a movie and the director has done his job right you could turn the sound off (turn off the dialogue balloons) and the you should be able to follow the story with no problem.

    FROM THE ABOVE TEXT:
    A short while back I dropped Batwoman after buying an issue which contained a pair of two-page splash sequences one after another, which were almost entirely wordless – that was a fifth of the comic, something I just paid for, which I could flick past in two seconds. Amy Reeder’s artwork is lovely, but it’s also lovely when telling a sequential story with PANELS. Why not let her show that off?

    First of all…you dropped a book based on the fact that it had a pair of two page splash sequences??? And you call yourself a comics fan…shame on you…in my opinion there are only 3 reasons to drop a comic (in this order) 1. Shitty storytelling….2. Shitty art….3. lack of finances.

    Now, back to the splash page art….maybe I am in the minority…but I LOVE SPLASH PAGES…the more the merrier…big bold art. That’s what comics are all about. Look at the covers…and that’s what sells a book a good portion of the time…you don’t have 8 to 10 tiny images on the cover….you have a big bold statement…the idea that comics have to have lots of words and lots of panels to make them a better value for your $3 bucks is way off. As long as the story is great and the art is great I am there every time.
    Which brings me back to the Wordy Mr. Bendis….his runs on Avengers, Daredevil, Powers, whatever are all popular and well received because he is a damn fine writer and he tells a good story. The idea that they are well received because somehow he is giving people their money’s worth by having as many words as possible appear on the page is complete nonsense.

  5. Thomas Wayne says:

    I’ve always felt that they should up the price and up the pages – give us books for $5.99 with 44 or 54 pages in it.

    Or do just the opposite, stay at 22 to 25 pages but drop the price considerably. They would probably sell a helluva lot more books this way.

    Imagine if book were suddenly 1.99 again. How many more would you be willing to buy per month to at least give it a try? 2? 5? 12?

    I won’t pretend to know production costs on the average print run of a 20 to 30 thousand per month comic, but my guess is if you lowered the price considerably the print run would go up considerable. Now, is the increase in order enough to justify the price reduction? Only one way to find out….

  6. Thomas Wayne says:

    Oh, and before I catch shit from some of you for saying “shame on you” to Mr. Steve Morris for dropping Batwoman…it was meant in jest…all in fun. I can’t believe he dropped a book for that reason, but my faked outrage was meant in a good hearted ribbing kind of way.

  7. I did a statistical analysis years ago on how the number of words and panels per page in the average comic book had declined from the 1960s to the 2000s. One penny bought you 400 words in a 1964 issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (our test book); in 2004, it bought you SIX. The time to read an issue, based on average reading speed, dropped from 19 minutes to seven minutes an issue.

    And as I put in the article at the time, caveats apply: yes, yes, yes, there’s not necessarily a correlation between the word count of a comic book and its quality. Where there IS a demonstrated correlation is in how long it takes to read the book — and to the extent that time spent figures into a given reader’s calculations of entertainment value, that will be factor.

    There are absolutely creators who can tell wonderful stories with two or three panels per page and with fewer than a thousand printed words in an issue. Unless the average creator hits that standard, though, making ALL comics like that is putting the entertainment value calculations readers make at risk.

  8. This is ridiculous. It’s like comparing movies based on runtime.

  9. I want a good story with beautiful art like everyone else. Now when it comes to splash pages i feel they should display as much info as possible. ether something of major importance or something so epic and jaw dropping you can’t stop looking at it. But hey i’m a big NEXT WAVE fan and their last issue had like 5 splash pages in a row. I don’t think they were very important but they had a lot going on, and I LOVE THEM. hmmm? heh brain fart. For 2.99 we should get 30 pages if not that story better condensed beautifully with no filler and the splash page better be “LUKE I’M YOUR PAPA TYPE JAZZ.” BYE!

  10. Measuring content is a losing battle. Once you start doing that it’s time to admit that the story just isn’t working for you.

    Still, I agree with the underlying sentiment that there are some books out there that are just not satisfying on a monthly basis.

  11. >>This is ridiculous. It’s like comparing movies based on runtime.

    I don’t know that anyone has ever complained about a good movie running too long, but I have regularly seen people complain when they run too short. When the same price is charged for similar products, expectations are set. Whether those expectations are reasonable or not is an individual judgment.

    One of my favorite films runs 1:20, and wouldn’t have been made any better by running 2:00. But I think a lot of customers wouldn’t give the random Hollywood offering the benefit of the doubt at 1:20, either, and that’s what this is about: balancing artistic expression with consumer expectations at the price we’ve set.

  12. As a budding small publisher, this is the stuff I’ve been thinking about for a while now.

    As of right now, Big & Tall Tales as 2.5 offerings for readers. The first 1.5 are webcomics, and the material is offered completely free of charge. (#1 is Hunter Black which currently updates a page every Tuesday and Friday, the .5 is the webcomic Planet Pantheon, which was updating weekly until we lost our artist…and is so on indefinite hiatus.) We do get a VERY little bit of ad revenue, and we offer posters for sale…which almost no one buys.

    This might seem irrelevant to the larger point, but the truth is, if we posted more frequently…and thus offered MORE PAGES, we’d be making more money, and probably attracting more readers. But our day jobs don’t allow for that at the moment.

    The other Big & Tall Tales offering is Rocket Queen and The Wrench, which is a 22-page comic being offered exclusively on Comixology. So yeah, it’s digital only. For the foreseeable future, we’re offering our digital only comics at $0.99. We have to overcome the facts that very few people have heard of us, and that our digital comics, Rocket Queen and our next project, are All-Ages offerings. We think/hope that parents won’t blink at the idea of spending $0.99 for something for their kids to read on the tablet or phone.

    As far as how much content goes into each issue, as the writer of both books, I struggle with that with every script. I think that readers want SOME splash pages, so I try to include splash page-worthy moments. I guess that’s the crux of the Batwoman issue mentioned above, the question of whether those moments were actually “splash page-worthy.” I’ve certainly worked in comics and been told that I HAD to include a splash page in the first three pages.

    I also struggle to make sure that there is ENOUGH content, that the reader is getting their money’s worth. The fact the the comic is $0.99 isn’t an excuse, good comics are good comics regardless of cover price. People tend to be cool with whatever they paid IF they enjoy the comic…even though they’ll tolerate less if the comic is cheap (or free).

  13. I like splash pages a lot if used effectively. The argument that they provide less information is kinda flawed, especially if the writer/artist takes the time to design a great image. Looking through the history of art, Painters could fit entire allegories and books from The Bible into one image, so its possible to convey dense amounts of writing if the conceptual design is there.

    So really i think the heart of the question comes down to how are creators using images and words to give us story information. Is there a lot of fluff and eye candy or does it move us forward in significant steps?

  14. (And Roger Ebert did say that “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is too short.” My question is simply whether you could keep charging 10 bucks if ALL movies were short — or four dollars if all comics were art portfolios. It would entirely depend on the art, I think we’d say — but it would also put a pretty heavy burden on that art. The right words, used judiciously, should carry some of the load.)

  15. Just to point out, at no point here do I say that I hate splash pages. I make a generalisation that a splash page might be easier than a six/seven panel page – I’m not an artist, all I can make are hopeful generalisations and then learn if somebody corrects me on them.

    In this case, I made a false assumption, which people have made me aware via their twitter response – in future, I’ll make sure not to make that assumption again.

    Now – I do however point out a particular comic which featured one double-page splash of Batwoman jumping in the way of bullets – the one seen above – and then ANOTHER double-page splash of Batwoman watching the bullets bounce off her chest, because she’s wearing body armour. Four pages, just to tell us that Batwoman’s suit is, indeed, bullet-proof. For me, that feels like a waste of pages, so I chose to drop the comic.

  16. “What content are you seeking?”
    I am looking for a full story or a full chapter of a story. I don’t want interviews, pencil sketches or promotion of the characters. Just the story.

    “And how much are you willing to spend on a 22-page issue?”
    Truthfully, I picture $1.99 being the magic price for a 32 page comic book.
    Digital price should be .99
    Okay, many people will think I’m nuts. We’ve heard all the arguments as to why I need to spend $4 to read 22 pages. But we are talking about my hard earned money here, and if you want it, you have to earn it from me the same way: provide value.
    I can buy a pocket novel for $10, a movie ticket for about $12. A 32 page comic? $2
    Thanks for asking:)

  17. joe c says:

    “How can you charge so much for caviar?? I can get dozens of extra large chicken eggs at that price!”

  18. Every time comics went up in price for the last decade or more we were told it was because of the cost of paper and the cost of gas to transport them to the retailer. Now those two costs are eliminated with digital comics and the books still cost the same as those in the shops. That’s what gets me cost wise, paying for an expense than doesn’t exist. I get that companies want to be fair to retailers but Angry Birds costs $20 at WalMart or EB games in a hard copy form. If they charged that for a digital download it might be more fair but it would be a terrible business decision, the same one comics are making now.

  19. Synsidar says:

    Information density is a useful tool to use in evaluating a comics story, since it uses the number of pages, panels, and words in a given comics story, but doesn’t give any one count exaggerated importance. Unnecessary splash pages are wasted space largely because of the dearth of information. Looking at the artwork tells a person nothing.

    Bendis was notorious in his Avengers issues for having characters yak at each other for pages, have them fight a bit to no consequence, and then have the storyline’s plot advance, slightly, on the last page. The information density of such an issue was so low as to be a cheat.

    Comics artwork isn’t fine art; it’s commercial art, and is valuable when used to tell a story effectively. Splash pages are fine when they’re used at climactic moments to make points effectively, or to convey information about multiple items and concepts, but when they’re used ineffectively, the wasted effort is pretty obvious.

    SRS

  20. Doctor Timebomb says:

    “After visiting ELCAF earlier this year, I was surprised to see a number of creators selling sketch books and pin-up collections for extraordinary prices. There was no attempt at story. This was simply a collection of images of women, all shapes, all sizes, all expressions, one after another.”

    Uh…that’s a weird turn for the article to take.

  21. jaroslav hasek says:

    how about free comics with an ad ever other page, or taking up half a screen? or with product placement?

    that used to be the standard business model of periodicals. it works for this “free” blog. why not comics?

  22. Silly but True says:

    Interesting, because at the time each was a special gimmick in their own right, but two of my most favorite, memorable stories of yesteryear are:

    G.I.Joe #21, Hama’s “Silent Interlude.” The issue that featured no word, because Snake-Eyes can’t speak (and he was fighting ninjas). It was told in sequential panels, and was GREAT storytelling.

    Thor vs. The World Serpent (issue unknown): The entire issue was given in splash pages. This was the first (second?) Ragnarok that pulped Thor, around the time of his crazy helmeted days from Hela’s scar. At the time, it was a great epic feel, befitting a change in eras for the character.

    And darn it, to this day, the Alpha Flight ass’t ed. Month issue with Snowbird in a blizzard, isn’t memorable too. It was ONLY word balloons (haha, because Snowbird wears a white costume, and it was a blizzard — get it?)

    When done sparingly, the worst gimmicks can still be compelling.

  23. Josh Aitken says:

    I was just thinking about this last week. I was reading the few Marvel books I get and thinking that I’m paying the same for 20 pages as I am for 22-24 pages of Image and Darkhorse stuff, and the Marvel books are full of non-comic advertising. Right now the best bang for the buck that I’m reading is the Batman Beyond series @ $3.99 for 40 pages and Titan’s A1 @ $3.99 for 30 pages.

    I’m more than happy to spend money on a good comic, but lately I have been having trouble justifying 3.99 for a 20 page comic from a premier publisher, especially when it is full of ads that I assume bring them in some decent money.

  24. Torsten Adair says:

    Do I reread the comic or graphic novel?
    Does it make me think afterwards? Or at least entertain me?
    Do I look forward to the next installment?
    Having read the comic, would I buy the trade collection?

    I buy comics rarely. But I do not worry about the cost, as there is usually a strong interest in the comic(s) I’ve purchased.


    In Germany, Panini publishes collections of “new” comics.
    GREEN LANTERN 14 52 pages 8,00 € ($10.25)
    That issue reprints: Green Lantern 13, Green Lantern Corps 13

    Or you can compare trades:
    SUPERGIRL PAPERBACK 1
    US-Supergirl 1-7
    164 pages, 29,00 € ($37) (The U.S. edition: $15)

    Many comics shops in Germany sell American comics, as many Germans are fluent in English. Even with shipping duties, I suspect those imports are cheaper than the official German editions.

    Oh, and for the record:
    Micky Maus Magazin 52 pages (including a toy, stickers, or other extras! This week, the Duck family tree, plus an electronic whoopee cushion (“furzkissen”)!) PLUS! Collect “Taler” coins from certain issues, and exchange them for premiums (notebook, coffee cup, towel, messenger bag, watch, helicopter)! Heilige bimbam!
    € 3,20 ($4!) in Germany, 3,50 in Austria, 3,70 in BeNeLux, 4,20 ($5.35) Europe

    Now, granted, the comics are royalty-free. But there’s also a lot of original content in each weekly issue (think “Disney Adventures Magazine”, but comics-sized), plus the extras.

    God, I wish Egmont would start printing comics in the U.S….

  25. Torsten Adair says:

    @Josh
    Gone are the days of general advertising in comics.
    The print runs are too low, the audience too old, for effective advertising.

    Most of the ads (aside from the covers) are house ads, or licensees of Marvel/DC. Marvel Mart is long gone, as are the novelty houses and entrepreneurial companies once seen in 1970s comics.

  26. “Or do just the opposite, stay at 22 to 25 pages but drop the price considerably. They would probably sell a helluva lot more books this way.”

    Tried, over and over. Lowering the price of floppies has never increased sales enough to make up for the lost per-unit profit. In may cases, it has harmed sales, either by giving the book the stench of being “cheap”, or from retailers not stocking an item that also makes them less money.

  27. I would happily spend over $3.99 on an 18-page silent comic about bunny rabbits

  28. This increase from 10 cents to 12 cents an issue is shameful profit grabbing of the most blatant kind. Worst of all, it strikes at those with the least ability to handle this arbitrary and pernicious usury: THE CHILDRENS

    Boycott BOTH National and Timely until they restore the price point all Americans know in their hearts is right: 10 cents for 64 pages

  29. Heidi MacDonald says:

    FOUND! Steve Morris’s dream comic!

  30. I’m looking at the number of Jason comics that I have, and Moebius, Shaun Tan, Thomas Ott… just from those alone, I don’t think word density, panel density, or page numbers really reflect how much they are worth in entertainment. Obviously these are graphic novels and so have worth as an object too, but perhaps that’s where the problem lies.

    Comics were initially supposed to be disposable. Then we got collections which made them more redundant once the collection was bought.

    However artists and writers also used to be drastically underpaid, and the audience was much greater. Now we have an ever dwindling market paying more and more to keep the industry afloat, while graphic novels and collections still pull in the real money.

    Have tpb and HC prices gone up in accordance with the prices of monthly comics? Is it cheaper to get the tpb/HC or the same amount? If the monthly comics add up to more than the collection, that doesn’t seem like a great incentive for people to keep supporting books before they are cancelled.

    Personally, I’m loathe to pay more for a comic than the usual £2.99 unless it’s something really great that I can’t wait for. Especially if it’s creator owned, like Saga. If it’s a title/writer/artist I’m not familiar with, chances are not great I’ll pick it up at a more expensive price. Regardless of how many pages are within.

  31. Tad Stones says:

    When you buy a comic, you are buying entertainment. That includes story, art, dialogue and the less noted, mood, character study, humor, and graphic design.

    It may also include sketches, crossword puzzles, mazes, interviews, etc. So you need to ask is the given package of entertainment worth the price. Answers will always differ.

    But the notion that plot movement = value is a weird one to me. Bendis writing the dialogue of two characters in an alley or five Avengers around a table makes for a lot of entertainment. Would people be happier with story outlines, just the story beats laid out on an illustrated graph? It’s the journey not the destination, although the best works make both satisfying.

  32. We just rereleased KNIGHT WATCHMAN: GRAVEYARD SHIFT as a trade collecting all 4 issues and some bonus content for $8.99 on Amazon (we don’t sell through Diamond). Amazon is also currently offering it for 10% off ($8.09). That’s a big book for a small price – which should be the model that publishers adhere to… As Warren Ellis said, “We want to give you a nice slab of culture.” For me personally, I would love to get a weekly anthology sized tabloid like the LA WEEKLY with lots of comics and lots of ads … all for free.

  33. “The function of design in comics isn’t really considered very often, but it can tell the difference between a comic which is wasting your time and a comic which is offering something distinct.”

    This has always baffled me about comics, maybe because I’m a designer, but most comics not only ignore design principles they seem to be oblivious to them. Odd since design can greatly improve the clarity and beauty of a printed page.

  34. Peter Hohman says:

    I think the probably with a lot of modern comics is that the writers are creating stories which would be well-paced and dramatically told if they only took up 14 to 15 pages. Unfortunately, they need to fill 20 pages and the stories aren’t exciting or even entertaining anymore even if the art is pretty. I’d happily pay $4 today for a book that hit all the right beats in 17 pages like a lot of the 1970s Marvel comics did and managed to tell an exciting, engrossing story (i.e. Steve Gerber’s Defenders). I would probably pay 3 bucks for a 10-page story by David Mazzucchelli, because I would feel confident that he would tell a good, exciting, engrossing, and beautiful story in those 10 pages. Unfortunately, Scott Snyder’s Batman just isn’t worth my coin even though it has many pages because he just isn’t pacing his stories well at all (I’m only picking on Snyder here because I think that he’s capable of good writing, but his Batman stuff has just been tedious).

  35. Wow! People are all over the place in this one.

  36. Whenever this conversation comes up, it’s interesting to see what people consider and not consider to be “content” as well as how they quantify it. I’m not going to say I agree with it all, but I will say this: as a comics reader, my answer to “how much content should you get for $2.99?” is “100 to 675 pages.”

    See, if you find yourself breaking down page counts and levels of scripting to determine if you’re getting your money’s worth, the answer is to simply read Japanese comics. The equivalent of a trade paperback collection for manga runs about $6-$10. Usually about six chapters and over 200 pages. $2.99 therefore gets you about half of that: 100 pages.

    But a subscription to Weekly Shonen Jump costs $20 a year for about 50 or so issues that are each about 150-270 pages long. Most are over 200 pages. The latest issue, for instance, is 224 pages long with 10 different titles in it. Each chapter on average therefore corresponds to the length of a single comic issue: 20-30 pages. Doing the math, it works out to something like $0.40 for what’d be the equivalent of 8-10 “issues” of “content” that’d otherwise be sold for $2.99-$3.99 each.

    But let’s be generous and assume “oh yeah? Well, I’m not interested in even half of what’s in that thing.” No problem. That happens to be the case for me at the moment (I’m mostly behind on things, in reality there’s only one I flat-out won’t read). If you read only 3 or 4 chapters (equivalent to reading four $2.99-$3.99 priced single issues), that’s about 90 pages of content you’re getting for your 40 cents. In other words, it takes roughly 675 pages to hit the $2.99 mark.

    Of course, only one of those titles is entirely in full-color. The rest are either in black-and-white or only have some color splash pages every few chapters. Ask yourself: does that diminish the “content” value of the book? If so, isn’t one of the most popular comics in America The Walking Dead, which is in black-and-white?

    I do understand that “manga” is basically a dirty word referring to content consumed by “THOSE people” such that for whatever reason it never seems to really “count” whenever anyone’s discussing “comics.” But it does explain why the only time I even consider purchasing US comics is when they’re 99 cents per issue/chapter or less. That price point makes my $2.99 amount to about 60-90 pages, but for now that’s restricted to the realms of limited-time ComiXology sales.

  37. REF: Steve Flack says: “This is ridiculous. It’s like comparing movies based on runtime.”

    Nope. A movie is edited, hours and hours of sections cutted to fit a standard. It doesn’t really take more money to make a 3hours movie than a 1h30. When you take into account the price, it does take way more money to make a 40p comics than a 20p one. So it’s fair question to know if you had “enough for your money”.

    So far, Marvel offers really the worst bargain: 4$ for
    – a cheap cover of the same paper than the inside;
    – constantly double shipping titles, making the price to follow a serie jump to 8$ per month!
    – adds putt in the middle of the story (worse of all, often, it’s in-house adds!!)
    – ugly AR reds signs on the artwork
    – 20p of story

    For the same price, you can have a monthly regular serie on better paper, with a nice cover, no adds, for 4$ at Boom or IDW for exemple, and sometimes for 3$.

    So far, I stopped buying marvel comic spriced at 4€. (thak god Hawkeye, Avengers Arena and Foes of SM are priced at 2.99$.
    At DC, for the same price than Marvel, you have TWICE more story with some of the digital titles (Batman Beyond/univers)!

  38. The 20 page count on the DC comics is really hurting them. They insist on about 3 splash pages per comic, which tend to be repetitive in the hands of lesser artists, and jettison sub plots and supporting characters to squeeze in “action” pages. The problem is a book like Superman can’t last too long without the Daily Planet cast or the Kent farm–otherwise, Superman is this young alien with little personality wandering from fist fight to fist fight. It doesn’t help that nothing looks real in many of his books. They just don’t have value if you can’t relate to the characters or their world.

  39. Heidi MacDonald says:

    Steve, you just reinvented something I started calling “The Satisfying CHunk Theory” some 20 years ago. Basically the price must provide a satisfying chunk of story for the money. There is no hard and fast rule for panel to price ratio – sometimes I buy a $7 handmade sil screened mini comic with no words and I think it’s awesome, sometimes I pay $20 for a book and it sucks.

    But generally speaking, there must be enough forward motion or otherwise satisfying creativity on display to give the reader a feeling that money was well spent.

    I find the meandering deconstruction of many contemporary comics unsatisfying…and I get most of them for free!

  40. Johnny Memeonic says:

    I was under the impression that artists did more splash pages these days because the original art for them sells better and for more money than nine panel grid style pages.

  41. I’d like to see comics be $2.99 with at least 20 pages of story artwork. Not including recap pages, letters pages, or “blank” story pages, those should always be in addition to the medium. A better cover stock would be nicer as well. I don’t care about digital codes, digital bonus content, or anything else. These are additive things that shouldn’t cost anything to the consumer.

    I’d also like the practice of not being able to order a specific cover to stop. I like to be able to choose a specific cover, and not burden my retailer with having to order 4 copies in hope of randomly getting the cover I want when I am the only one buying that comic. If your comic has 4 covers, each one should be able to be ordered seperately.

  42. Hmmm…”How much content for 2.99$ ?”. It’s look funny for others, but in Russia 24-pages USA-printed comic-book costs around 10$!!! 2.99$ – unreal price for my country. Recently (9 month ago) in Russia open fan-publishing groups, who work with some DC and Dark Horse licensed, but low-cost quality pages, no ads and small amount of printing issues (~4000 copies), which price 5$…24-pages Russian language, really bad quality of paper compare with usa-printed, 2years waiting for issue-series – that’s cost 5$ for us! And… “How much content for 2.99$ ?” It’s unreal price, because i was born in country, where’s superheroes like superman or Thor and comic-books – just for kids….it’s terrible!

  43. >> whilst Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples offer 30-odd pages for a dollar less. >>

    Did you count the pages in SAGA, or are you just guessing?

    If I recall correctly, no issue of SAGE has had “30-odd pages.” SAGA 1 was 44 pages of story (a terrific bargain), while all the other issues have been 22. Still a good deal, and a wonderful book. But aside from #1, it doesn’t really fit the argument that you’re getting a lot more pages so it’s fine that there are lots of splashes.

    There are two more pages per issue than most Marvel/DC titles. But the pages are used so well you feel like you’re getting great value for your money. That’s the real bonus. Not the math of proportion of splash pages to pages overall.

    kdb

  44. Bryan L says:

    I personally subscribe to Heidi’s “satisfying chunk” theory. If there is a significant amount of story each issue, I’ll pay. If not, I drop the book. I don’t read most of Bendis’ output for exactly that reason. It’s not worth the cost. Now when I can pick up trades of his work at significant discounts, I will. But not single issues at the current price points. And I don’t pay full price for the trades, where I will for other writers.

    I use Bendis as an example because he’s the first writer to drive me away from specific monthly books for this particular reason, but it happens with others, too. I do believe Bendis has other strengths and I don’t hate him, so don’t willfully misinterpret what I’m saying. The second I don’t feel like I’m getting that satisfying chunk, I’m out. And my weekly comic spend has dropped precipitously as a result, to half or a third of what it used to be.

  45. Synsidar says:

    But the notion that plot movement = value is a weird one to me. Bendis writing the dialogue of two characters in an alley or five Avengers around a table makes for a lot of entertainment.

    Interesting to whom and to how many? Following that reasoning, a story could consist of nothing but a couple of guys sitting in a bar talking about Kate Upton, race cars, or the writer’s favorite pro sports teams. If the reader’s interests happened to match the writer’s: “Yay! What a terrific story!”

    Traditionally, stories are designed to appeal to mass audiences, with the appeal of the story narrowing as the subject becomes more specialized, the grade level of the writing increases, etc. A strong plot might not be essential, but for many readers, a strong plot increases the reader’s involvement in the story, as he worries about characters’ fates and tries to anticipate plot developments. A reader doesn’t stay up later than he should to finish a book because the characters’ conversations are mildly entertaining; he stays up because he’s caught up in the story and wants to experience its ending.

    The “sagging middle” problem in storytelling isn’t limited to novels; it happens in superhero comics too, but writers use splash pages, pointless conversations (Bendis) and inconsequential fights (e.g., Avengers vs. Bendis’s Dark Avengers) to try to conceal the sag. A fan of Spider-Man or another hero might not find a sagging middle or the absence of a plot a problem; a few good laugh lines or a couple of pages of intense scenes might make the issue worth the price for him. Someone who isn’t a fan of the hero won’t have the same reaction.

    A reader doesn’t have to be a fan of a particular writer to get so engrossed in a story that he can’t stop reading. It’s a matter of the creators’ storytelling skills and the reader willing to become immersed in the suspenseful situation they create. No idle conversation can cause that level of involvement in the story.

    SRS

  46. Silly but True says:

    “Satisfying Chunk” is spot on for me. They’ve already been identified: Möbius, or even Sergio Arragones, can offer tremendously dense detail in their art. For them,”pic’s worth a thousand words” is lowballing to the point of being disrespectful. Aragones’s most iconic Groo is a dim-witted man of few words, but the stories are classic because the humor is top-notch and the storylines, witty (credit probably also to Evanier/ Sakai).

    Speech vs satisfaction? I loathe – absolutely hate Bendis’ speech, his Peter Parker’s most of all. However, I weathered through his Avengers’ runs, because I’ve always loved that team book, and let it not be said that I’m a fair weather fan. I’m glad I stuck it through, because I’ve got great art and stories despite the horrid, unbelievable banter.

  47. This is another tangent, but I wonder if there’s ever been any analysis on the standard discount enjoyed by a regular comics reader. That is: how many people actually pay $4 for a $4 cover price? Making up a fact here: but I figure cover price started being dictated more by the Direct Market reader (as opposed to newstand market) at about $1? I’m assuming DM regular consumers get a discount from their shops? So I wonder what that amounts to, on average. I’ve never seen a shop who doesn’t offer at least 10% to pull list customers. Quite a few in high-overhead NYC shops offer 20%. Online retailers go much steeper. Amazon (now talking TPB, obviously) seems to start at 30% or more. Because of the Direct Market, most readers are regulars. Is the average Wednesday sale deducting 15%? That would make a $3.99 comic $3.39. I don’t know if that makes a difference to every buyer, but it’s a significant amount as well as a point that’s never raised in the “is a comic worth $4″ discussions.

    Re: Movies: I don’t know about real inflation, but for the 25+ years I’ve been reading comics, the cost ratio has always been about 4 comics: 1 movie ticket. That still holds true ($14.50 for a ticket in Manhattan).

  48. Synsidar says:

    Speech vs satisfaction? I loathe – absolutely hate Bendis’ speech, his Peter Parker’s most of all. However, I weathered through his Avengers’ runs, because I’ve always loved that team book, and let it not be said that I’m a fair weather fan. I’m glad I stuck it through, because I’ve got great art and stories despite the horrid, unbelievable banter.

    Great in what ways? The major reason for the banter was, apparently, that he didn’t have story material that would advance the plot. How can a story be great if the plot material that should be there isn’t?

    Decades ago, if a writer on a team book had some trouble filling page space, he could use some space for developing subplots. Several could be going on at the same time, so he could switch between them as needed, and a reader would generally finish an issue satisfied. Claremont was infamous on his X-books for leaving situations unfinished or undeveloped, but at least there wasn’t a shortage of material.

    The limit on page space could be an asset, in that the best writers could demonstrate their skills, while worse writers faded away. That doesn’t happen in superhero comics, because so many readers care less about satisfying stories than about seeing their favorite characters. The performance bar is barely above the ground.

    SRS

  49. Brandon, my local shop offers a 10% discount for advance orders (pull). Another shop offers 10% ONLY when you pull 10 titles a month. And 20% if you pull 20 titles a month. This seems low.
    But even though I saw a pattern to this formula, I didn’t bother asking what discount I would get if I pulled 100 titles a month. The answer was just never going to be what I wanted to hear.

  50. Al@: Why stop there?! Push it to 101+ and they’ll start paying you!

  51. Silly but True says:

    @Synsidar

    Great in the event- and meta- stories of the characters and groups I love. Had I sat out Avengers (including the Bendis-driven multi-comic events) for the entirety of Bendis’ run, simply because I hate the way he makes characters talk, I would most definitely be the worse because of it for the things I love. Certainly you can imagine weathering some bad runs within something you may like overall? Bend is’ speech will be forgettable, but situations and storylines he pushed (when they existed) are relevant to the characters as much as those before him. I hope to see Invasions’ Skrull gods in the future. I like the Illuminati. I like the resurgence of his favorite, Power Man, in his stories. I liked the human perspective of baby Power Man in the Avengers mansion. His comics gave me likable possibilities along with his pointless banter; overall his run was a satisfying chunk to me.

  52. Silly but True says:

    To put another way. I daresay I couldn’t repeat verbatim the exact speech of my favorite comic, though I can describe in detail the art. Bendis’ speech will truly be forgettable, so the fact that I disliked it doesn’t weigh so heavily for me. He did have good story and creative contributions that I will remember him for; hence the reason I continued buying a book I like.

  53. Synsidar says:

    Certainly you can imagine weathering some bad runs within something you may like overall?

    No, I can’t. To me, that’s an example of over-identification with a character. A writer can’t {shouldn’t) rely on that; he has to write a story for people who are new to him and his character and are looking for good stories.

    Recall how Bendis ended his AVENGERS run, by bringing back the Wasp, having the Vision pieced back together, etc.? By doing that, he made his entire Avengers runs ignorable, because there were very few lasting developments. Soap operas have that problem; if you could watch The Young and the Restless in 1993, come back 20 years later, and still find Eric Braeden as Victor Newman, with the same enemies and same love interests that he had 20 years ago, what did anyone miss by not watching 20 years of programs? Nothing.

    The major reason people get caught up in stories and stay up late to read them is that the endings provide finality, whether characters’ fates are pleasing or awful. Superhero comics don’t provide that involvement or that suspense. If you were a fan of Englehart’s Vision, what Byrne did to him was terrible, but that didn’t mean that seeing Harras restore the Vision to a red-skinned body, etc. was pleasing. Harras was just doing repair work that shouldn’t have been needed.

    Practically any comics superhero could be written to finality, in a story with an ending that would generally quell any desire by readers to see him again. It’s just a matter of defining him as a character fully and making that definition convincing to readers.

    SRS

  54. Silly but True says:

    I suppose we disagree. Sometimes, the trip is worth as much – or more than – the destination.

    Imagine a comics world where Marvel Man’s original run was his final? No Moore/Gaiman, arguably his current most popular stories? Was Captain America’s story final prior to Avengers #4? Jean Grey”s prior to X-Factor? Where’s that line drawn? I don’t see how anyone can rationally draw it. The next good chapter is just a creative person away.

    Just because the trope of the medium is that nothing lasts forever unless your Captain Marvel, doesn’t mean you can’t have compelling stories.

  55. Comic book costs are preposterous. It’s similar to health care and college tuition in its defiance of overall inflation rates and common sense. Let’s face it, we’re paying for comics being a niche market and not a mass market.

    Let’s take July 1993 as a baseline. A 22-page comic was $1.25. Using a web inflation calculator, that same comic today should be about $2.40, about the price we were paying in 2003. If we use July 1983 as a baseline, it’s too depressing to get into, and I want to avoid the whole “newsprint” vs “glossy” argument. (Just for fun, comics are roughly 540% more expensive (comparing a 7/82 Detective Comics to a 7/13).

    I guess it makes sense for them to put higher sellers at $3.99, but I am less likely to start a new series at that cover price. In those cases I hold off for the trade, but then usually forget to buy the trade when it comes out.

    I’ll say this, I’m a Bendis fan who would be buying all his X-books if they were $2.99. So far I haven’t read any of them. As for the wordy Bendis arguments, read the mostly wordless, multi-splash page New Avengers #16 in about 3 minutes and tell me you don’t feel cheated.

  56. “And how much are you willing to spend on a 22-page issue?”

    $2.99

    — MrJM

  57. Saipman says:

    When a single comic costs more than a gallon of gasoline, the odds of me buying it approach zero.

  58. Synsidar says:

    I suppose we disagree. Sometimes, the trip is worth as much – or more than – the destination.

    You can’t just assume that the trip is worth taking. Bendis’s SECRET INVASION event was crippled by plot holes, for example. Dr. Strange never used his Eye of Agamotto to identify impersonators; the Skrull impersonators, as written by Bendis, had green blood. Plots can demand attention to details and knowledge of various subjects, in addition to command of techniques; that’s why a story with a strong plot can be so engrossing. If a writer is weak at plotting stories, he’s likely to look for excuses to avoid providing plots, or to regurgitate them. Being a creative genre fiction writer means knowing what other writers have done, not copying them, and especially not copying them ineptly.

    SRS

  59. Silly but True says:

    Sure I can. Especially when faced with a FIFTY year old title, that by Bendis’ entrance to it had 500 issues under its belt, published by a company 3/4 of a century old, and by an Eisner-award-winners.

    It’s not like the expectations were entirely unknown to me.

  60. Silly but True says:

    And while I’m not going to go far on a limb here, because Marvel’s anti-detection MacGuffin was absurd (no one can detect THESE Skulls, well, because we say so), but I will add an entire portion of the story — one front to the Secret Invasion — involved the Skull GODS; people on equal footing with Agamotto himself (itself?). So that hole’s not as large as it’s often purported. And also, that plot was one of the more (most?) Enjoyable aspects. So it’s an argument that has little merit to my enjoyment of it.

  61. Synsidar says:

    but I will add an entire portion of the story — one front to the Secret Invasion — involved the Skull GODS; people on equal footing with Agamotto himself (itself?). So that hole’s not as large as it’s often purported.

    Agamotto, one of the Vishanti, was worshiped by sentient beings across the universe; the Skrull gods were comparable to humans’ Thor. So they were not similar at all.

    The larger point is that a strong plot provides an incentive to read a story, to keep reading until the end, and to read a writer’s other stories, whatever characters he uses, whatever lengths the stories are. A plot with obvious holes can cause a reader to stop reading a story, just as a viewer might walk out on a movie, and to avoid the writer thereafter. Strong characters support a story, but they don’t make a story unless a reader identifies strongly with one–and that supply of readers is limited. No story writes itself. If a writer ever says that a story writes itself, he’s very likely recycling material he’s read.

    SRS

  62. Silly but True says:

    I’m quite sure we’ve not gotten a full story of the relationships between intergalactic deities of the Marvel universe.

    Further, I see an over-reliance on one MacGuffin (the Eye) versus another (SI’s Skrulls’ anti-detection) to be an exercise in absurdity.

    Certainly, I wish to see more of the Skrulls’ pantheon, along with other alien gods, perhaps in future stories.

    But to blindly assume Agamotto’s artifacts work in all cases, even in the face of divine warfare amongst gods, seems to me to be the very thing you rail against.

    Certainly comics’ depiction of true divinity (see Morrison’s Final Crisis take on New Gods), doesn’t usually work out so well for the medium.

    But, in the case of SI, and the god/magic subplots specifically, I think they were a bright spot of the story. That includes the Hercules issues and Ex caliber and M13. Could I have sat out Bendis’ main issues? Sure. But, I’m glad, even in hindsight, to have followed it for the context.

  63. Synsidar says:

    But to blindly assume Agamotto’s artifacts work in all cases, even in the face of divine warfare amongst gods, seems to me to be the very thing you rail against.

    No, it isn’t. Look them up. Agamotto is a metaphysical concept; gods like Thor can be cloned. And in the case of SECRET INVASION, Agamotto’s Eye was a glaringly obvious plot hole from the start. Readers suggested that maybe the Eye was switched for a fake when Bendis had the Illuminati captured by the Skrulls–nope. When a plot hole is so obvious, the writer is supposed to restructure the story to eliminate it, not hope readers will find reasons to dismiss it.

    SRS

  64. Silly but True says:

    They already generally addressed it through a blanket MacGuffin that these Skulls would be different – non detectable. It’s already a stupid declaration to begin with, that rendered moot many preexisting Marvel detection methods. To single out the Eye, amongst a very long list of now-powerless methods is just being overly critical on that point. I would add especially in the face of divine and magical aspects of the storyline, which did not necessarily nerd to have been introduced.

    Would I love a “Books of Vishanti” anthology? Sure. Could we learn that on some far off planet are blind alien worshippers of Agamotto, who entreat this deity to obscure all sight since that’s the way they view the world, and this works opposing to the way Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme uses the Eye. And the Vishanti is all the weaker because opposing followers are drawing it too thin? But at some point I learned I like a lot of things that might not be commercially viable. Religion in comics is already a touchy subject. I just don’t know how successful stories on intergalactic alien religions would be.

    I see the “god squad” / Excaliber aspects of SI to be a worthy attempt to do as you describe, rather than write it off as an anal retentive exercise in identifying specific plot holes in an already absurd foundational element of SI’s suspension of disbelief.

    But, I’d pay 2.99 for 22 pages of a Vishanti anthology or a “Books of Magic” type of story for the Marvel universe. Maybe even 4.99 for 40 pages of it. That would probably give me sufficient enjoyment.

  65. I think the biggest thing I took away from this article and the comments is that there’s going to be a Zenith HC!

  66. Kind of a related post. He really likes the original Fantastic Four. http://zak-site.com/Great-American-Novel/great_value_comics.html

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