Friday, November 11, 2011

The Comic Conundrum

I like to consider myself a fan of comics. Hell, I'd probably be illiterate without them. I, however, am not a fan of comics like I am of video games. By which I mean with video games I enjoy more than just the games but following the industry and keeping up with the various politics and drama that occurs within. Comics have never held that position of attention in my life. I think I know maybe four names from the realm of comics; Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Jim Lee, and Stan Lee. That's the creator of Superman, Batman, the guy currently heading up Batman, and the guy who shows up in all the Marvel movies.

 I'd probably mistake him for Hugh Hefner
if his name wasn't so catchy.

From my outside, casual perspective I see the comics industry as one with a flawed business model. A model that logically should have come crumbling down on them a long time ago. It's the reason I visit my local comic shop maybe twice a year at best, and why I only managed to pick up three issues from the first week of DC reboot releases.

Monthly issues, god fucking damn it how I hate those monthly issues. I have in my hands at the moment Action Comics #1 from the DC reboot. It would be a copy of Detective Comics #1 but in a moment of stupidity it never registered as "That's the Batman one you really really want." My lack of Batman aside, Action Comics #1 is 20 pages front and back making for a grand total of 40 pages. Eleven of those are ads, bringing us down to 29 actual pages of comic to read. That's pretty damn short in my book considering I read comics exponentially faster than I do novels. If I want the rest of the story I have to keep up with the issue releases and make sure I don't miss any. Then if what I understand about story arcs in the world of comics this bullshit is going to take upwards of six months to a year to play out, across multiple series, each with their own issues to keep track of and pay for. I'll be honest, that sounds like a god damn nightmare and something I frankly have no desire to mess with.

To be fair all the reboot titles are available digitally which is great, except I don't have a Kindle, or a Nook, or an iPad, and I don't exactly have the disposable cash to dish out just so I can have a lazy way to keep up with the monthly exploits of Batman. I could go the route of a service such as Blind Ferret Entertainment's "Comic Pull", but that's a magazine subscription in essence and mailmen tend to lose shit like that. I'm also supporting Ryan Sohmer's 4th Wall comic shop, which is good for him but not good Jeff who runs my local one. I like Sohmer's work, but I'd rather not support a store in Canada which I will most likely never set foot in. By now you're wondering, "Well why the fuck don't you just go buy from Jeff?" because Jeff is about 200 miles from my current global position and gas is expensive.

The point I'm trying to make is that the current system of issues in comics is a real pain in the ass to keep up with, regardless of conveniences. My current meager collection of comic based stories is made entirely up of what I think they call "trade issues". I'd look it up but I prefer to just call them "books" because that's basically what they are. I actually recently got finished with the trilogy of Book covering the Knightfall story arc. I grabbed the third one off my bed and a quick glance shows it's 303 pages long, with no ads. It's a compilation of nine issues from five different series. This is what I like, none of the bullshit of keeping up with issues and making a spider web diagram of what series connect to what part of the story.

You can see clearly that in issue 472 of Batman: Laundry Day
there's an explanation for your missing thong.

If I didn't run across the title pages for each issue I'd have no idea that this story was split up at all. Clearly the whole thing was created and planned out together so why in god's name separate it at all? I shelled out $60 for the whole trilogy. My grandaddy copy of The Lord of the Rings which includes all three books and a massive index cost me $20, and I'd still say I got my money's worth out of the $60 because I didn't have to participate in an f'ing scavenger hunt to have all the pieces to the story.

Oh wait, I'm sorry I still don't have all the pieces to the full Bane arc. Yeah, apparently in between books two and three Bruce goes through some mission to save his doctor and recovers from getting his back broken. How the hell was that not important to book three? Book two ended with Bruce in a wheel chair setting off to rescue his doctor, leaving senior psychopath in charge of Gotham. I'm pretty sure the missing arc also goes into detail about why Bane had it out for Batman in the first place. That all sounds like some pretty crucial story structure just cut right out. I just dropped $60 on what I thought was the whole Bane arc, do you think it's acceptable to just leave shit out?

I hear rumblings now and again about how the comics industry is really hard up for money thanks to their stubbornness to adapt in today's market of digital distribution. Though maybe digital distribution isn't the only thing they should be considering. Maybe the old guard business model of monthly issues and never ending overlapping spinoffs needs to go by the way side as well. I'll be so bold as to consider myself part of the demographic that likes comics but finds them far too impenetrable to ever get deep into, the casual comics fan if you will. They want to call them "graphic novels" then damn it release them in that thick novel form instead of the wimpy monthly issues. The development and release time can last just as long but the stories would be readily available for anyone to pick up without the hefty entry barrier brought about by the current system. I think they'd find that they would be selling more and that their core fan base grows exponentially.

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