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The Revolution will not be sold monthly, at least if it wants to survive
October 28, 2010 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Being a Manifesto Based on Talking About Comics with the Young People of Today, Sometimes in the Classroom, Usually Not, Occasionally Sober.
posted by nomadicink (39 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
As best I can determine, the majority of comics-loving people under 30 have at least a passing familiarity with the following

oh jesus christ i've never even heard of naruto and death note i am so damn old.
posted by Zed at 9:55 AM on October 28, 2010


i am so damn old.

According to most modern American popp culture, at 36, I'm nearly dead.
posted by Edison Carter at 9:57 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


way to misspell 'pop', asshat
posted by Edison Carter at 9:57 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, I wanted to rant about how this is a SLOE and who the hell is Shaenon K. Garrity and no superheroes are still in comics, and then I realized something...

I don't know anyone who reads comics and isn't approaching their 30s. I've never seen teenagers at the comic shop picking up anything except manga. And now I'm scared. I'm scared that she's right and Scott Pilgrim is, in fact, this generation's Watchmen and that in the evolution of the medium is not going where I want to it, nor where I think it should be headed. And I'm emotional about it. And I think the youth are driving it to become crap.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am a comic book conservative.

I'm scared.
posted by griphus at 9:57 AM on October 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


When it comes to serial stories, I don't have the patience or attention to wait three or five months between chapter dumps, I like my monthlies*.

*That's what I call them, shut up.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:59 AM on October 28, 2010


We youths are all buying trade paperbacks griphus.
posted by The Whelk at 10:01 AM on October 28, 2010


"Open the discussion to webcomics, and the audience fragments all the way down to the tip of the long tail; on the Internet, everyone is famous for fifteen people." That shit is copyrighted motherfucker!
posted by ND¢ at 10:02 AM on October 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


I don't have the patience or attention to wait three or five months between chapter dumps

Among other reasons, I wait for the trades because I don't have the patience to wait a month between chapters. Or the recall. Now where the hell did I leave my spectacles?
posted by Zed at 10:02 AM on October 28, 2010


Am I a youth? Oh dear god, I think I'm a youth!

Terrifying.
posted by Mizu at 10:05 AM on October 28, 2010


We youths are all buying trade paperbacks griphus.

Doesn't this stifle new books trying to break in, in the old system? Everyone says "I'll wait 'til the trade" and it's cancelled halfway through the run because no one bought it.
posted by griphus at 10:05 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


All my contracts are for completed books, no issues.
posted by The Whelk at 10:08 AM on October 28, 2010


That's why, griphus, they should publish them online in a lower resolution format to amass a following, and then publish the trades for devotees and to catch the browsers. This allows *more* new projects to "break in". Whether the online images are available for free or through subscription is another argument entirely.
posted by Mizu at 10:09 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


and who the hell is Shaenon K. Garrity

This is Shaenon K. Garrity, and also this. She's a better comics writer than most: funny, insightful, pleasantly geeky, tremendously clever. Her work is very much worth getting to know.

That being said, her day job (last I looked) involved editing manga imported for North American audiences, so I have to take "the future is manga!" statements with a minor grain of salt. I think the future is a bit of everything all mixed together.
posted by Shepherd at 10:09 AM on October 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Griphus, Garrity didn't say that Scott Pilgrim is this generation's Watchmen; she said that she's met kids who think that it is. Deep breaths now.

I guess I must be a comic book liberal since I agree with 8 1/2 of her points. For 5, I'm not sure there IS a comic book canon that can be winnowed down to only five titles, but the only ones on her list that I'd call incontrovertible are Calvin and Hobbes and Watchmen.

On 6, I think Garrity's arguing for mutual exclusiveness that doesn't exist. Superheroes are becoming more of a cross-medium genre, largely because of the DC/Marvel licensing factories, but that doesn't mean that superheroes are going to disappear from comics anytime soon. More likely, DC and Marvel will become less prominent and single-book or tightly controlled superhero universes will take over.
posted by bettafish at 10:11 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


All my contracts are for completed books, no issues.

Right, but floppies still exist and there's a market for them that's dying because of the completed book market. It's a bad thing, I believe, but that's because I have an emotional attachment to the old guard which is clearly not going to survive. And I am mad about that.

Griphus, Garrity didn't say that Scott Pilgrim is this generation's Watchmen; she said that she's met kids who think that it is.

I'm not sure I see the difference. There are plenty of people who don't agree that Watchmen is at the caliber that Watchmen is generally supposed to represent as a concept, rather than a work.

Anyway, I am walking out of this thread because I have clearly proved I am unable to discuss this issue in a detached manner.
posted by griphus at 10:15 AM on October 28, 2010


I don't think you're really predicting anything different from Gaerity's #6, bettafish... she's not saying that superheroes aren't in comics or won't continue to be, but that, in (young) reader perception, the equation of superheroes and comics is done with... superheroes aren't primarily about comics, and comics aren't primarily about superheroes, and that even as obviously superhero-ish a comic as The Umbrella Academy isn't perceived as being about superheroes.
posted by Zed at 10:19 AM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Can someone tell me when my four long boxes of mid 80s to early 90s comics will be worth something again? dontsayneverdontsayneverdontsaynever
posted by entropicamericana at 10:21 AM on October 28, 2010


I don't know anybody who reads any comics titles every month; they all wait for the trade. It makes me wonder why the comics companies even bother with the format of the monthly. Why not just hire writers to tell a story that's designed with the trade in mind?
posted by nushustu at 10:22 AM on October 28, 2010


I was going to drop in and say "Shaenon K. Garrity" is wonderful, but Shepard beat me to it. However, she is. If you like web comics, you should, at the very least, read Narbonic.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:23 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've almost never read comics in the actual monthly comic book format, I just read the trade paper back version. I've never had the patience to find a comic book store every month to buy the single issues at a time and I never wanted to risk missing an issue of series.
posted by octothorpe at 10:23 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't buy monthlies for the same reason I don't buy vinyl records; I have tendencies toward obsessive collecting, and it's a slippery slope from picking up Hellboy monthlies instead of waiting for the collections to giving $10 back-alley BJs so I can buy more Sandman back issues.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:29 AM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Huh. It's funny how many ways this article reads like it was written just for me. I'm just shy of 29 and used to read Batman religiously. I stopped buying Batman books about 5-6 years ago, because the routine storylines just got boring to me. The three comics I've purchased in that time? A manga series, Scott Pilgrim, and the Umbrella Academy.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:35 AM on October 28, 2010


A lot of this seems like it would only be a real revelation to someone who is addicted to the monthly floppy format, whose idea of a discussion about the nature, evolution and future of comics starts and ends with DC vs. Marvel, who will go on for endless run-on paragraphs about how a particular movie franchise "raped" and "murdered" their childhood for deviating from established comics canon, who has never bought a mini-comic and gets upset when someone suggests that Chris Ware is more important to the medium than Brian Bendis. These people were comics fandom for quite some time, and are having a hard time believing that they aren't so much anymore, even as sales figures for monthly books continue to creep downward and publishers rely on increasingly-threadbare gimmicks like big crossover events, multiple covers and expanding spin-offs of the few relatively successful books to keep sales going. "John V" in the comments section is a perfect example of this.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:38 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"John V" in the comments section is a perfect example of this.

Oh my. He's like the Tea Party of comics fandom.
posted by Zed at 10:43 AM on October 28, 2010


You know what could save traditional comics? More pouches.
posted by ND¢ at 10:48 AM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


It makes me wonder why the comics companies even bother with the format of the monthly.

I've wondered that, too. Just as an outsider, it appears like a pretty dire inability to accept that the market has changed; the companies have so much invested in the monthly format that they can't seem to move beyond it very easily. As a result, they seem to be catering to a smaller and smaller market who are really dedicated to the monthly format, at the expense of a potentially larger market who want novel-length stories delivered all in one go.

From time to time I've heard people claim that digital comics will be the salvation of the serialized format, because everyone will be able to subscribe to a particular series and then have the new "issues" arrive on their device automatically -- no going to a store, and no worrying about missing an issue. I am not totally convinced of this, but I suppose it could happen.

My suspicion is that although you might get more people to buy into a serialized format if it's digital and automatically delivered, you're still going to have more people who want to wait for a long story arc to be complete and then get it at once, than are going to be willing to subscribe to issues. (But I also used to think that complete-season DVD sales would eventually kill episodic, schedule-your-life-around-it TV, in favor of shows where the entire season is written, filmed and released at once and watched at your leisure ... and that certainly hasn't happened.)

If you made it clear to potential readers that the continuation of the series depends on subscriptions or issue sales (in other words, making it clear that waiting for a trade version might not be an option), you might do better, but something like that also seems like it could come off like hostage-taking and backfire.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:03 AM on October 28, 2010


I also used to think that complete-season DVD sales would eventually kill episodic, schedule-your-life-around-it TV, in favor of shows where the entire season is written, filmed and released at once and watched at your leisure ... and that certainly hasn't happened.

I used to fear that too, in that I really like what's happened with tv shows; I like the fact that characters can become complex, truly 3-d beings with 80 hours of story under their belts. I worried that dvd sales would screw up the format of the episodic series. But now I think that the only reason that dvd sales are as good as they are for a lot of these tv series is because there are a fair amount of people watching the shows live. That makes for a lot of good word-of-mouth. Contrast this with comics sales. I never read something because I overhear a couple of co-workers at the watercooler on Wednesday morning talking about the latest issue of (anything) that came out the day before. The reviews are almost always for the trades. So they're different beasts.
posted by nushustu at 11:14 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


American Comics seem to exist at the moment as a test lab for other media. Create an iconic character, get said character turned into a movie franchise. Jumping media is pretty fundamental to comics - Superman's wide popularity was partially due to his radio show (which brought us stuff like kryptonite and Jimmy Olsen), so it makes sense this would continue not only with superheroes, but with the current boom of comic-based capers (Red, The Losers, etc). I don't think they're supposed to be profit centers - just idea factories, which allows them to cling to outmoded delivery systems like the monthly issue.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:43 AM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Am I a youth? Oh dear god, I think I'm a youth!

Or a yute.
posted by mmrtnt at 11:45 AM on October 28, 2010


It makes me wonder why the comics companies even bother with the format of the monthly.

There are a few reasons.

It must of course be noted that they've been doing it for so long that the format is deeply entrenched in the whole way it's done, and abandoning that format would involve comic companies completely overhauling their entire business model. Not to say it can't ever happen, but it probably won't happen any time soon.

Okay, so. Why monthlies?

They represent less of an investment than trades do. If you hear good things about a comic, you can spend two bucks (or whatever they go for these days) on an issue to see if you like it, or you can spend sixteen for the whole thing. It's more of a gamble that way. It seems like business sense that you might make more money selling lots of a product for two bucks than you would selling fewer for sixteen, as well. But that's only a hypothesis.

Admittedly that's only one reason and probably the weakest one.

I've heard folks ask the same question before, and the data point which invariably gets overlooked is that it's not an either/or thing. There are aspects of trades vs. monthlies wherein either format relies on the other.

The first and most obvious one is that trades exist to collect monthlies and if no one buys the latter, the former won't exist. Okay, fine, but it doesn't really get into why one doesn't just release trades and rely on those.

Monthly comics have ads. It's those advertising dollars which allow comics companies to pay artists, writers, inkers and colorists as much as they do (which is not much unless you're one of a handful of people), and to pay editors as well. It also allows them to keep their cover price lower than it would be otherwise, since the money you pay at the register isn't the only money they're making on the comic (although, of course, by the time you pick it up at the shop and pay for it, they've already made their money on that issue - but you get the idea).

Trade paperbacks generally don't have ads. If they do, they're on the last page or two and they're for other comics by the same company. No money is exchanged for these to be run.

As far as inserting ads into trades, it'd be risky. Would it affect page count? Would folks expect the number of pages of actual content to remain the same? If so, would advertising dollars cover even the expense of their own extra pages? If not, would folks actually want to pay the same money for less content? Does the answer change if that amount is sixteen bucks? Twenty?

Let's say sixteen. They can charge sixteen for it because the actual issues have already made money both on sales and advertising, and the trades don't have a lot of the same associated costs. They now have a complete story they can put together and even if they have to give the creative team a cut, they don't have to pay them again for it. And even if they do, they won't have to pay the same amount.

So if they eliminate monthlies in favor of trades, they would have to change how they do the trades as well. Chances are they'd cost more, and/or they'd need to run ads, and they might have to have fewer pages of content. It's very possible that all three would need to happen. If that happened, then maybe it wouldn't seem like they were different enough from monthlies to bother switching entirely over to one, and in any event they'd lose readers.

Now, there are anthologies in Japan which do work on this model, and I'm not sure they need to run ads (they very well might, I have no idea). It's very different, though, since they're printed in black and white on much cheaper paper and you have to pay far fewer people to do manga than you would an American comic. In other words you would only have a shot at doing this by releasing comics of far lower quality (in almost every way) than your audiences have come to expect, and that's not really a winning strategy.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:52 AM on October 28, 2010


I don't think they're supposed to be profit centers - just idea factories, which allows them to cling to outmoded delivery systems like the monthly issue.

This is both thoroughly depressing, and entirely correct.

Although it's worth mentioning that most of what I said above and most of what was in the OP mostly applies to the heavyweights - Marvel, DC, Image, etc. A lot of what these companies are doing right now in terms of their print output is being done in the wake of the 1990s crash, which destroyed entire companies. Think of it kind of like film: A lot of the concerns which apply to major studios might not apply across the board. There are a fair number of smaller studios and creators who are doing quite all right for themselves, and I'd suppose that a lot of that has to do with not being saddled with all the big-business baggage.

So there's that, at least. Comics as a medium will be safe for a very long time, even though the most visible studios are likely headed towards some big changes somewhere down the road.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:01 PM on October 28, 2010


Cul de Sac I've seen like two or three times, but from that little exposure I have to agree it's great. It's amazing how to can look and see one strip and immediately know the whole thing will be awesome.

But it's important to realize that there are hundreds of people out there who could have made a newspaper strip that great. They're not because 1.the comics page is filled with ancient drek strips like Beetle Bailey and Snuffy Smith, and 2.syndicators are idiots. Cul de Sac's true genius is actually somehow managing to make it into newspapers.
posted by JHarris at 12:15 PM on October 28, 2010


Is there a Ron Thangar signal? That member can school us all on why there's monthlies (he's done it before, and I just don't feel like searching).

Basically, this article's a decent, succinct one that tells us a lot of stuff we already knew. I love comics, but I haven't bought monthlies in, well, probably around a decade. I just buy trades. I used to subscribe through the mail to X-men, but it's been some, what, fifteen years since I saw an ad in the back of a floppy to subscribe. That just doesn't happen.

I'll also say that floppies feel damn slight. There's almost never very much going on in any given one, they take about five minutes to read, and the ability to reread them is really low compared to a trade. They're just not how I read comics.

I'll also toss out the pure conjecture that at least some of this is because of the way that paper changed in the '90s. It's a lot slicker now, allowing much better colors and art, but it's also a lot more expensive. Which means fewer pages or higher prices. If I could get 64 pages for a buck, I'd buy that shit every couple of weeks. At $3 for 32? Can't do it. Especially because I just love so many goddamn comics that it's hard to go into a shop without dropping $30, and I can't do that once a month.

Finally, I have to say that I'm loving the libraries here in LA. The ones in Boston and Ann Arbor had decent comic collections, but the sort of crazy eccentric buying habits of branch libraries here in LA are loads of fun, even if it means I can't always find the thing I'm looking for (and why are all the third volumes always missing? One, two, four, five, six, that's what all the shelves look like!)
posted by klangklangston at 12:21 PM on October 28, 2010


I'll also toss out the pure conjecture that at least some of this is because of the way that paper changed in the '90s. It's a lot slicker now, allowing much better colors and art, but it's also a lot more expensive.

I've wondered about that, too.
posted by COBRA! at 12:23 PM on October 28, 2010


I went to the Cul de Sac strip page and started reading. It's awesome!
posted by JHarris at 12:27 PM on October 28, 2010


Interesting article, but I'd hesitate to classify it as right, wrong, or even occupying a spot on a spectrum between the two. Mostly it reads like a condensed Reinventing Comics.

1. Newspaper comics are dead.
Maybe. Likely, but only because the newspapers themselves are circling the drain. Considering that comic books started* as collections of newspaper comic strips, I'd be hesitant to dismiss them so quickly.

2 Monthly comic books are dead.
Well somebody's buying 'em. I isn't me, I'm old enough to be with the TPB crowd, but my understanding is that the recent rediscovery that comics aren't just for cannon-addled fanboys has proven pretty profitable. My local shop has a huge section set aside for the under-12 crowd, along side the Marvel/DC and indy sections. Honestly, it's better stocked that any store I've seen since 1995.

3. Format is infinitely mutable.
True, which is why I tend to think that rumors of the industry's demise has been and will continue to be greatly exaggerated.

4. The audience is infinitely fragmented.
My understanding is that the homogeneity of the comic book industry has only been true for about half of it's history. Before Wertham and the Comics Code Authority there was a comic for a each and every niche: detectives, romance, horror, sci-fi, true crime, and, yes, those people running around in tights too. But superheros were selected, post-Code, because they were safe, wholesome, and generally lacking in moral ambiguity.

The days of the CCA having that kind of pull are, thankfully, behind us, and the medium has flourished because of it.

7. Manga has changed the game.
"Manga" is hardly a monolithic entity, and ascribing a narrative voice to it makes about as much sense as saying comicbooks = superheros.

8. The line between fans and creators is razor-thin.
This, right here, is one of the best/worst things about comics, and I love it.


*according to the history I'm most familiar with.
posted by lekvar at 1:21 PM on October 28, 2010


2 Monthly comic books are dead.
Well somebody's buying 'em.

/raises hand.

I have to admit though, it's not exactly a young crowd I see in there every Wednesday on comics day.

You know what I'm seeing a lot of lately though? People discovering monthly comics digitally. If the monthly comic has a future I suspect it's there.

'course, if you're writing for the Comixology site you should probably know this.
posted by Artw at 5:07 PM on October 28, 2010


Yay for Shaenon getting onto Metafilter!

Anyway, I have to agree on the monthlies. I tried to keep up with monthlies for awhile by running over during lunch, but I never knew if they'd actually show up by the end of my lunchtime ("try back around 1." "I can't"), and man, it's just freaking easier to buy them all in one trade. Plus I don't lose copies out of order here and there nearly so much.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:38 PM on October 28, 2010


(For those feeling old -- both Naruto and Death Note, I believe, have anime adaptations which air in the U.S., in places like the late-night "Adult Swim" slots on the Cartoon Network, which may account for their current popularity/familiarity. In which case it's no more surprising than, say, the rise in name-recognition of Ghost World following that movie.)
posted by kyrademon at 1:29 AM on October 29, 2010


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