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Sunday Brunch: 5/9/10

This week’s episode of Sunday Brunch is like buying a gallon of skim milk instead of a quart of whole. So you get all the fatty comments from me cut off, but a whole lot of comics nutrients. Something like that, anyway.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: If Batman was a flower, what flower would Batman be?

ITEM! Scott Wegener shares some commissions with we, the people. The one that counts is this:

Robo vs Adolf

Nothing screams “comics!” more than socking Hitler in the jaw.

RANDOM THOUGHT! It would be neat if Vinyl Underground was resurrected for a Vertigo Crime graphic novel. Alas, alack.

ITEM! Rugg on Afrodisiac:

But I think with comics we’ve entered an area of licensed property, intellectual property, where a character becomes something besides a literary character. Like Batman, if you were to compile, and they have as Chip Kidd has put together Superman and Batman books. You get to see “this is Superman in 1938” and “this is Superman in a television serial from the 1950’s” and you see all of these different versions of Superman. And it’s not about “oh, that’s a believable character”, it’s more like we all have a version of Superman in our head. We make the character real and three dimensional and fleshed out, not by he’s well written and we understand his motivation but by “oh, I had a toy of him when I was a kid or saw the cartoon or someone else saw the movie” and it becomes this idea that millions of people have a slightly different image of him in their head.

That was kind of how we approached the character with Afrodisiac. That was kind of the character we wanted to create. It wasn’t so much that “this is a role model” or “this is a character study”, this is a character of the equivalent of Batman and Spider-Man.

ITEM! The lads behind the Sixth Gun:

Basically, The Sixth Gun is an epic dark fantasy set in the old west. The story revolves around “The Six”?a set of magical pistols that surfaced during the Civil War. Each of the weapons possessed a unique, terrible power. The Sixth Gun was the most powerful of the lot, and it vanished at the end of the War. Now it has resurfaced in the hands of an innocent girl.

ITEM! Alan Kistler provides a  retrospective of the Mighty Thor’s various costumes and looks throughout the years over at the ‘Rama Blog. Watch out for those ’90s outfits! Kirby’s classic look is probably the best, but Alan leaves out my favorite– the masked Eric Masterson Thor look.

OBLIGATORY CHRIS SIMS DEPT: It’s not all kicks and giggles with Chris this week.

Haunted Vagwolf

Quiet, you.

What I do want to link to is Sims, with serious face on, writing about the Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling, the notalgia-fueled re-whitewashing of DC’s superhero line. Worth your time.

ITEM! Also worth your time: MGK ragging on bad comics.

But on top of this being about Roy Harper, whom you don’t care about much when you think about it for more than two seconds, it’s a terrible series because it seems to be designed to remind everybody that superheroes, as a concept, are really quite stupid. We all know that superheroes are a stupid concept and they don’t work if you think about them for two seconds. When Roy screams out that the entire idea of kid sidekicks just endangers kids or that Donna Troy abandoned her kids to go “whore around in space with Kyle Rayner” all it does is remind me that I am reading a comical book about people in tights fighting crime and how none of that actually makes sense. It’s like if I was reading Lord of the Rings and Sam suddenly started whining about why hobbits shouldn’t have hair on the tops of their feet. It makes the entire comic feel like a judgement on the reader for enjoying the genre, for crissake, and it’s something DC in particular just keeps doing again and again and again, and when it’s not this particular thing, it’s something else about how I don’t like comics in the right way and every time it happens I want to read DC comics less and less.

ITEM! Spurgeon and Hibbs, mano-a-mano!

SPURGEON: If you were brought into the discussion of an on-line initiative for Marvel or DC that needed to launch full-bore in June 2011, can you name three things that you might suggest that would mitigate the damage or ameliorate losses to the traditional Direct Market?

HIBBS: Sure. The very first thing I would say is don’t under-price your digital comics in relation to the print comics. You don’t want people to think the print product is terrible value… more than they do naturally.

SPURGEON: [laughs]

HIBBS: If you were to go day and date on a brand-new book — day and date is obviously releasing your product in the print channel and on-line at the same time — if you price the print product at $3.99 and the digital product at $.99, you’re not providing a compelling bargain there. Two, I would always keep at least a six month gap between print and digital. I think that digital for the most part is going to be a replacement for the newsstand rather than a channel all to itself. I think people buying stuff at a newsstand don’t necessarily care as much if the comics are today’s comics. If you look at a company like DC that has 75 years of things to be selling you, selling you this week’s comics would be at the bottom of my list. You have 75 years of comics. For the guy that hasn’t read a Batman comic in years it doesn’t matter whether it’s this week’s Batman or not. In my opinion. I would keep the same kind of a gap between the print product and the digital comic that I would keep between the serial product and the collected product. I think that there are a number of things that serialization does that are incredibly helpful and incredibly unique to our business. I don’t think we should be doing anything that will harm the serialization at all. As a point of hard-won faith in my heart, we should be doing whatever we can to preserver serialization. And to encourage more serialization.

I would try in all cases to try and lead the digital consumer to a physical store. I would work with retailers to work with the tools that are there to help them bring consumers into their stores. Whether it’s having nice photos on a comic shop locator service, or encouraging them to produce videos, there’s a whole suite of things you could be doing in there that I think a whole lot of brick and mortar stores either don’t have the talent to do or the understanding of why they should want to do that. I would differentiate between the digital product and the print product. I would have more things you can only get in the print version, even more so in the serial version. An example might be the kind of things that Ed Brubaker puts into Criminal, these text pieces about pulp movies and things in the back. When the book gets collected, they’re not including that material. I would also give things in the digital that you can only get in that fashion. For Marvel and DC, the assembly-line comics, you might look at presenting different stages of production in the digital comic. I would differentiate between them strongly, not only to give unique value, but also — and God forbid me saying this — you might have people double dipping.

ITEM! Colin Smith on Spider-Man and stuff. Anyone who quotes from Jones and Jacobs is somebody I respect, even if I don’t entirely agree with his views on Spider-Man. But that (disagreeing with people about Spider-Man) is why the internet was created (also: porn)!

One of the reasons why all the attempts to replicate the success of “Spider-Man” in the almost 60 years of the character’s existence is that the cloners have mis-identified the “irreducible minimum” of the character. They’ve seen Peter Parker’s qualities of fortitude and self-doubt, klutziness and boyish charm, intellect and humour, shyness and determination, and taken some or many of them to create a Daredevil, a Blue Beetle, a Gravity or whomever. And the grafts have never entirely taken, because it isn’t those qualities that powered the success and appeal of the early Spider-Man. Those qualities enhanced the metaphorical power of the strip, but they aren’t the essence of the strip. Spider-Man was still a fascinating character when he was an apparent mix of petulance and arrogance, and Peter Parker was still “our Peter” even before his self-doubt and despair started to be tempered by a measure of self-confidence and social recognition and humour.

Because at the heart of Spider-Man’s revolutionary appeal in the early ’60s was the fact that this was a comic-book about entering puberty. Pretty much every aspect of the strip locked together to produce a kaleidoscopic portrayal of the horrors and promise of adolescence, and even those elements of the strip which served the metaphor less precisely, such as the many and inventive super-villains, were informed by it and strengthened it in return. (Another argument about what makes Spider-Man “special” has always been the appeal of his distinctive rogues gallery. Again, I’m convinced that Spider-Man would have been successful with anybody’s rogue’s gallery, though the one he has undoubtedly been a significant advantage to his success.)

And so, any attempt to isolate the personal qualities which supposedly defined Peter Parker and Spider-Man particularly in the first few years of his existence, and which are assumed to be essential to that character’s success, miss the point. For to replicate those qualities while failing to maintain the central metaphor of adolescence is the equivalent of deciding that “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is all about the guitar solo, or “I Feel Fine” the feedback, or “Tomorrow Never Knows” the tape-loops. And the world is full of brilliant guitar parts, masters of feedback and excellent manipulators of technology that can replicate something of the force of the last track on “Revolver”. But the truth is, all those songs would have been remarkable without their arrangements. The arrangements add value, they polish and enhance the melodies and lyrics, but they’re not on their own why the Beatles were so preeminently excellent.

REMAKE/REMODEL: Zap Comix! Felipe Sobreiro is a madman:

Zap Comix RR

DOCTOR WHO DEPT: “The Vampires of Venice” Written by Toby Whithouse

Doctor on the throne

There was a period, in the 1970s, when Doctor Who went through a “gothic horror” phase, thanks to Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe, in which the Fourth Doctor stalked around monster-ridden castles, giant-rat-dwelling sewers, creepy lighthouses, or mummy-infested country homes. All of it invoked those classic Hammer Horror pictures, with spooky Christopher Lee and capital-R Romantic overtones. This episode of Who does much the same, featuring a Venice plagued by plague fears, a castle with tunnels and catacombs, and, of course, the titular fanged beasties of lore. The one-liners are Buffy, but the atmosphere, that’s Hammer and Hinchcliffe. The atmosphere is the best part of this episode, evident in every nook and cranny of production; it’s in the lighting, the set dressing, and the costumes. It’s almost decadent.

Episode Six is usually where the mid-season filler stops by, but this is a solid little episode that moves the character and plot arcs of the season along. There is also a goat.

More next week. (Not more goats. Well, maybe.)

20 Comments

Paul Newman's Eyes

May 9, 2010 at 11:05 am

Wow. That Spurgeon/Hibbs discussion is fascinating, but his discussion of how to deal with online seems like a recipe to kill digital comics before they’re even born. Which, given he has nothing invested in them and everything invested in his brick-and-mortar comic shop, makes sense.
Just on the three recommendations he has makes:
Pricing digital the same as paper is just insane. The digital version costs less to make, market and distribute, and it has a lower value to the customer, due to its lack of resale value, probable ties to one device, and any DRM put on it. To price the two the same is just offensive price gouging.
Releasing the digital material on a six month delay can just about be justified, although again it is working from an assumption that paper comics are something worth saving, which is a textbook example of begging the question. But he neglects the fact that if they are released on that delay, they are competing with collections, not single issues, and the pricing needs to be adjusted to reflect that. Spurgeon would have me paying $24 for stuff that I can buy in a $10 collection. That is insane.
Finally, special material for digital comics is something that may well work, but again, only if they are released same-day. Once they are competing with collections, they are fighting against something that usually has that material anyway.

If Marvel or DC addresses digital comics the way they should – looking at how they can expand the market overall, even if that means damaging print – the end result will surely be same day releases, with graduated pricing as books get older, but always roughly 20% under the paper versions, be that a monthly or a collection. Without that, it can never be more than a novelty. It may earn them some cash, and it definitely won’t hurt paper sales, but they’re turning down a risky million for a safe dime.

Batman = venus flytrap?

It could be that Spider-Man succeeded merely because he was the first of the angst-ridden teenage heroes. Or maybe it’s the timelessness of his origin: an orphan raised by elderly relatives, the get-rich wrestling scheme, the burglar. It’s like a Depression-era story (well, except for the radioactive spider part), or something out of Dickens.

Venus Flytrap was my first thought, too. Maybe Batman could be a black-eyed susan. He does give out more than his share of black eyes.

Why not give consumers a break on digital comics if they buy floppies? For example…you buy the latest miniseries at the LCS and you are given or buy a download code (for minimal price) to get the digital version? Without buying the floppies you pay a higher premium.

The Sims article on race and legacy heroes was great. DC should really take note, especially when their Brave and the Bold cartoon ( which reaches a wider audience than any of their comics, and is better than 90% of their output ) almost universally favors the minority characters as the heirs to the legacies ( Jaime as Blue Beetle, Ryan as the Atom, Jason as the visible Firestorm, etc. )

Hibbs has always been antagonistic toward anything digital so it’s no surprise that his digital comics solution is to handicap them.

Tom Fitzpatrick

May 9, 2010 at 1:19 pm

A black-orchid, perhaps?

Ironically, stuff like The Rise of Arsenal is intended to make us take superheroes seriously.

Or possibly not us. Possibly it’s the guys who made fun of Johns, Didio, et. al. for reading superhero comics back in high school.

“HIBBS: I don’t know if that’s possible, but there are certainly stores that open up on different kinds of models. For example, there are stores that are focused differently. Out here, Mission: Comics & Art in San Francisco is much more of a gallery kind of model. The periodicals may or may not be as important a part of his business. So you can find different models. But I think you have a harder road to hoe there, because you’re working against the expectation of what a comic store should be. Does that make sense?”

This quote also strikes me as behind the times.

Mike Loughlin

May 9, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Batman is nightshade, specifically bittersweet nightshade.

I’d say Batman is an Anagallis foemina — the Blue Pimpernel.

Bat-MANDRAKE & any resemblance to Tim Drake is purely coincidental….or is it?

If you’re going to do digital comics, and do them right, you have to compete with the product that’s out on the market already. You have to take on Minutemen/DCP head to head, and that won’t be easy. Releasing comics one at a time, even at a buck a pop, on a DRM-friendly platform like Adobe, is still questionably competitive in the marketplace against the small RAM footprint of CDisplay.
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I’m pretty much convinced that a subscription model is the only viable solution for frontlist comics. Put all Marvel’s solicits for June in a single file, marry it not to a resource heavy viewer like Acrobat but something closer to a simple picture viewer with a DRM – friendly shell, and charge $15. More than that and I think folks start thinking about how much their comic bill is, and start looking for cheaper solutions. But at $15, maybe if budgets are tight, they drop that MMO they’re no longer playing rather han their comic sub.
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I hate the idea of digital comics; I’m a confirmed print guy and think that we need to look at getting comics in front of kids more, not less by sticking it in the same pipe as every other damned piece of data in the world. But for grife’s sake, pussyfooting into the medium won’t help, and you can only take down HTMLcomics so many times. The consumer resistance price point these days is below $20: you can pretty much talk folks into paying nicely for things if they’re shelling out less than that amount. Any more and they start wondering if it’s a good deal. And the convenience and quality of scans are high enough that publishers need to be compelling in their offering to appeal to consumers.
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Hell, drive the traffic the the stores by putting them IN stores, in addition to downloads. Same week delivery as the last batch of solicits on the disk. Fifty comics, $15 at the register. Release floods of old books the same way and put hundreds of disks in the marketplace. Indies can band together or can try to get away with a $0.99 price point. I really don’t think you can lake folks right now into paying much more, and the huge numbers of crossovers mean you might as well sell all of a month’s books at once.
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Ah, well, gotta go sell my dead trees.

Batman is catnip. Why do you think Selina Kyle likes him?

That sixth Gun thing looks good, but is it supposed to be a riff on the Lord of the Rings? I haven’t even read any Tolkien before, and that was the first thing i thought of.

I think the question might be is protecting the Direct Market still in the publishers’ interests? It might be in the short term, but probably not in the long term. The Direct Market has pretty much served to shrink down the market to a relatively few hardcore fans who are by and large the exact same people who were buying comics in 1985. Yes, new readers have come on, but far more have dropped off.

Floppies are simply a terrible value for the casual fan. This has lead to the attitude that they are little more than a loss leader designed to generate licensing dollars.

Batman is Night Blooming Cereus.

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