Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Comics Commentary


Lying in the Gutters yesterday had some buzz on the post-Jemas Marvel. While it is a rumor column, Johnson is on target or close to it fairly often.
In amongst the news is this tidbit:

"This is the thing. How will the new appointment affect Marvel? Most of the policies will remain, as will creative approaches. This is a change made by the same people who've been in the top spots for over a decade. Isaac Perlmutter is still reluctant to expand the publishing budget. The sales and marketing department is still suffering, it will still be business as usual.

As for creative freedom in the books, despite complaints about editorial interference, expect it to get a lot worse with mandates from the likes of Ike Perlmutter and Avid Arad coming down thick and fast with less of a filter."

The driving interest at Marvel today isn't the comics, that's for sure.

Also, today's Pipeline features Augie De Blieck ruminating on the move away from pamphlets and towards trades. Among the advantages for Augie is this little gem:

"There's a financial advantage to moving your reading to trades that you might not recognize today, also. Take a title that's on your list of iffier reads. Maybe you like it, but you're not looking forward to it every month. Maybe there was a recent creator change and you're unsure about the new team. Try switching to the trade. Wait six months or a year for the book to come out. When you see it on the store shelf, are you excited for it? If not, skip the trade and you've effectively dropped a marginal title from your reading list."

Making decisions about dropping titles is so hard! Thank god for trade paperbacks!

I am definitely biased towards books with spines that sit on shelves and can be read and reread easily, but I don't think the industry is going to wholesale ditch the pamphlet format any time soon, at least in the mainstream. Fans there are too entrenched in their buying habits and resistant to any sort of change, however beneficial it might be.

Augie also offers his take on the Jemas deal, including this note:

"I don't disagree with a number of things he said, particularly when it came to retailers. The problem is, insulting your customers isn't gong to win you many awards. The policy of not overprinting comics should have acted as a great wake up call to retailers to show them that many of their practices are misguided, and that their business habits need to be broken. Instead, the result of that decision was just a groundswell of sympathy for those shoddy practices."

Sometimes I have to wonder what comics industry De Blieck is looking at. I wonder just what business habits are the ones he thinks need to be broken. Not getting stuck with a ton of over-hyped, unsold, non-returnable books that you can't move? Ordering cautiously in an unstable market and uncertain economy? Trying to keep one's head above water?

What's broken is a distribution system that favors the big publishers at the expense of the retailers, who have to walk the tightrope of meeting the needs of an ever-shrinking customer base. Marvel's no overprint policy looked good for Marvel sales, as De Blieck points out. But how many of those books made it into the hands of readers and how many are rotting in back rooms because a retailer made a bad guess about the interest in a title?

DC's overprint policy doesn't encourage retailer shoddiness, it helps ensure retailer viability. At least until we get a better way of doing things.

And now, after two days of babbling about a company who puts out comics I don't read, I am declaring a Marvel moratorium. For the moment, anyway.

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