Pamphlet vs Book, round 12

A few ruminations on the Fate of the Pamphlet:

• Chris Butcher catches the same Chris Oliveros quote that we did and has some thoughts on it:

I’m just like ranting here, but yeah. It’s really, really hard for a graphic novelist to lock themselves up for a year or two, with little-to-no feedback and an ever-dwindling advance, and crank out a book. Back in the old days, the serialization of Louis Riel or Berlin or Optic Nerve provided feedback, interaction, and occasionally periodic injections of cash, all of which made it just a little bit easier to be a graphic novelist. Er, comic book artist. Cartoonist? Illustrator? What did people call themselves in 1996? I was still in highschool.

• At Rocket Bomber, Matt Blind has a long essay examining why the business model has to change:

Times were different then. Not Simpler, not Better, just Different. And while I went through puberty and slowly figured out first that girls were different, and then that girls were fantastic, and then that girls just don’t like me much, the Direct Market for Comic Books was also maturing and comic shops as an entity came into their own, crashed, came back — and even today soldier on.

The ‘drugstores’ of American legend are gone — subsummed into a morass of embedded pharmacies in supermarkets (and Wal-Marts) and 24-hour convenience stores that just happen to also employ pharmacists. Unless you live on Manhattan or within cell-phone-tower range of the exact center of your local Metropolitan Statistical Area you likely have no idea what a ‘newsstand’ even is (or was). Today, if not found on the checkout aisle at the grocer, magazines are bought at the local big box bookstore (as a concept, themselves not even two decades old yet) and comics are bought at a Local Comic Shop, if you bother, or collected into graphic novels which are readily available online and occasionally found on a front-of-store display at BigBoxBooks for an impulse buy. The landscape has changed.

Comments

  1. chris7crows says:

    I’m sympathetic to Butcher’s thoughts on “graphic novelists” (or whatever we choose to call them), but how is this substantially different from normal novelists? Most mid-list writers will need around a year to produce a completed work, will receive no feedback or interaction during that time, and if/when published, will receive an advance in the neighborhood of $10-20K. That’s why pretty much every novelist — with the usual notable exceptions — has to hold down a day job in addition to writing.

    So…yeah. That’s not a lot of fun, which is why most people who want to become a writer quickly make other plans once they figure out they’re probably not going to be the next Tom Clancy or J.K. Rowling overnight. But I don’t really see it as a useful argument as to why transitioning from pamphlets to OGNs would somehow be a uniquely difficult burden for the graphic novelist to carry.

  2. It takes considerably more time to draw a comic page than it does to write a page of a novel…or ten, or twenty pages of a novel. If you’re doing it right, at least.

  3. chris7crows says:

    Sure, but currently the schedule for a semi-monthly pamphlet would require drawing ~20 pages a month anyways. I’m a writer, not an artist, so there may be a qualitative difference, but I’m not clear why the relentless monthly schedule is any more kind to the artistic process then spending the year or so required to create a complete work. The negatives that Chris Butcher mentions are exactly the same ones you face as a novelist, with the exception that there’s no alternative market (except possibly the web) for serializing long form fiction.

  4. Steven R. Stahl says:

    “It takes considerably more time to draw a comic page than it does to write a page of a novel…or ten, or twenty pages of a novel.”

    That raises questions about the most efficient (cost efficient) ways of telling stories. The reason a prose story works is that readers don’t need to have characters and settings described repeatedly. They match strings of dialogue to the defined characters, visualize the characters and settings internally as needed, and the story progresses. If a comics-format story has a lot of dialogue, but the characters aren’t doing anything significant physically, the settings aren’t changing, etc., the effort put into the artwork is wasted. Prose would be a much more efficient way of telling that particular story.

    SRS

  5. Writing 1 page of a comic script does not take as much time as drawing 1 page of a comic, I will grant you, but writing one page of a novel can take as much if not more time as the art on one page of a comic, if you are doing it right. Most writers I know do not lay pristine golden text down on the first go. Sure, Kerouac may have written the first draft of On The Road in 17 days, but he spent 2 years editing afterwards. Flaubert spent 5 years working on Madame Bovary.

    Writers and artists face many of the same challenges, and always with longer works there is the logistical problems of “how the fuck do I feed myself while I finish this.”

  6. michael says:

    They are two different things, I don’t know why people have to always say that, ‘it’s one OR the other!’

    The writing, the scripting, the art, it’s all different for each form. And each can be appreciated in their own way. Just having one or the other would suck!!

  7. Alan Coil says:

    Writing versus drawing–most artists can only do approximately 20-25 pages per month, yet most writers can do 4-8 times that. And this is for the graphic medium of comics books/graphic novels, not prose novels. The two are dis-similar.

  8. Steven R. Stahl says:

    BTW, the comic book format is excellent for providing information and instructions, as the U.S. military has demonstrated. I’d probably prefer reading a comic book to viewing a corporate training video on any workplace topic a person could name.

    The idea, though, that color comic book stories have to be serialized for economic reasons minimizes the inconvenience and costs to the consumer of obtaining the story, makes assumptions about packaging and distributing stories, and shapes the contents of the stories. There’s no reason to read a serialized story instead of a complete story that’s just as entertaining. And, if a serialized story isn’t completed, the customer winds up with practically nothing for his money and time.

    SRS

  9. Steven,

    The economic realities that underlie comic serialization simply aren’t giong away. The upfront investment for the average graphic novel is significantly greater than that of the average novel. The timeframe involved in the creation of the former is also considerably longer, thus tying up that investment capital for a much longer period of time.

    Some books benefit creatively from serialization (“Watchmen” is a great example of a longform work that gains a great deal by being sliced into concrete chapters), while some most clearly do not. Nonetheless, the economic argument remains compelling enough in all cases for the practice to continue for most into the indefinite future.

    You’re well within your rights to not buy a serialized book. Heck, I went “trade-only” years ago as I found pamphlet comics to be an overpriced and undesirable alternative to trade paperback collections. Nonetheless, some form of serialization (preferably with a much better price point and greater consumer convenience) will continue to be the norm.

  10. Steven R. Stahl says:

    There are varied problems with the serial approach to storytelling. One is filler. I’m sure that readers have seen it: conversations or fights drawn out unnecessarily, splash pages used unnecessarily, even repeatedly, just so the creators can reach the required page count for the issue. The worst case I’m aware of is YOUNG AVENGERS #12, in which Heinberg apparently ran out of plot material partway through the issue, used multiple splash pages, and failed to supply a real ending, because his characters had nowhere to go. Bendis uses filler routinely in his “Avengers” series, in the form of splash pages and “fights” consisting of individual heroes commenting on the proceedings instead of actually battling opponents. A novel might have a sagging middle, but the plot will progress and the ending is always in sight or can be flipped to, whereas when the serialized issues are collected into a TPB, the reader will be faced with multiple instances of filler — essentially wasted pages that he shouldn’t have to pay for.

    For years, people complained about comics not having stories in genres besides superhero fiction, but, aside from the absence of qualified genre writers wanting to work in that format, the necessity for serialization would make the complaints pointless. Why pay for comics having serialized romance, SF, or mystery stories, when the art doesn’t enhance the stories and complete prose stories are available for less money?

    Superhero stories are generally written and promoted on the basis of what happens to the characters in any given story, rather than on the artistic merits or its abstract virtues. Readers’ attachments to the characters enable them, perhaps, to put up with the disadvantages of serialization, especially when there’s nowhere else to go to get new stories about one’s favorite character.

    As a format, comics have always sat uneasily between video entertainment and prose. The popularity of novelizations shows that consumers can switch from one format to the other easily. I’d prefer that stories featuring my favorite characters be done in the prose format, rather than comics; prose would be more favorable to character exploration. The effects of serialization combined with page count requirements will always affect comics storytelling negatively.

    SRS

  11. Steven,

    “I’d prefer that stories featuring my favorite characters be done in the prose format, rather than comics; prose would be more favorable to character exploration.”

    So you prefer prose? That’s fine, but I would guess the people reading this blog might differ.

    “The effects of serialization combined with page count requirements will always affect comics storytelling negatively.”

    Hmmm….”always” is a mighty big word. I’m sure we could find some serialized stories–prose or comics–that might actually work because of serialization. “Love and Rockets” was serialized in an oversized pamphlet. I think that worked fairly well.

    Is serialization that evil? I mean, didn’t Dickens write in a serial format?

  12. Ironically, I’ve recently been buying more singles than ever (and I’ve been “waiting for the trade” for the past 10+ years for the most part).

    Though a lot of this probably has to do with my LCS having a “Kids Club” so that my six-year old gets a free kids comic every time. I’ve remembered what fun it is to actually read an issue (even with ads). Though most of the singles I’m buying are kid-oriented, I must admit (Kunkel’s Shazam, Brave & the Bold, Muppet Show, The Incredibles, along with Top 10 and Agents of Atlas).

    I’m sure I’m the exception that proves the rule, but I wonder if there might be an under-tapped market of comics reading dads with young kids. I wanna read stuff with my six-year old, which unfortunately does mean I’m not picking up most mainstream superhero books (though I will buy almost everything Brubaker writes).

  13. Steven R. Stahl says:

    The biggest problem with commercialized serial fiction (comics) is that, after some length of time, the emphasis shifts from exploring the character(s) and telling good stories to just continuing the series for the sake of the trademark, marketing potential, etc., and doing whatever it takes for that to happen. No comics character is deep enough to support hundreds of stories. If the character isn’t burned out by repetition, he’s changed by a writer who thinks he has a new angle, but is really doing a different character with the same name and appearance.

    SRS

  14. Steven,

    “No comics character is deep enough to support hundreds of stories.”

    Not even Scrooge McDuck?

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