Monday, October 11, 2010

So apparently there was a comic book convention in New York City this weekend...

This past weekend was the New York Comic Con, the biggest and most exciting popular culture convention on the East Coast…according to the New York Comic Con website. I did not attend. But I did read about it on the Internet, and shouted things at the computer as I did, and took notes on my shouting, which I have rewritten as a blog post, as is my wont.

The biggest news of the convention, if we judge the importance of announcements based on how closely they seem to coincide with the things I complain about the most on the Internet, was DC’s announcement that they will be returning the price of all of their standard, serially-published, regular-sized comic book-comic books, and that Marvel was sort of following suit to some extent.

You’ve probably already read the details on DC’s pricing strategy elsewhere and, if not, you can read them at the link above. In summary though, they’re axing the $3.99 for 22-page features with eight-page “co-feature” format, meaning no more back-ups (I think that’s about eight titles now; some of the announced co-features have just started or been announced, which is a bit troubling in terms of timing), lowering the $3.99-for-22-page comics to $2.99-for-20 pages (As of January, there would have only been five of those) and making the standard comic book 20 pages instead of 22 pages.

Obviously, cheaper comics are better than more expensive comics, and as I’ve typed about ad nauseum, I simply will not pay $4 for 22-pages of comic book, which is a large part of the reason my pull-list has atrophied away and I’ve gradually moved closer and closer to trade-waiting rather than serial reading (which isn’t so bad for me, but can’t be good for the publishers and retailers, as trade-waiting sometimes translates into borrowing-trades-from-the-library, buying used ones at Half Price Books, ordering through Amazon or just plain never getting around to buying or reading the books at all).

Losing two pages is something of a bummer though, because it means that while the price of comics will be returning to “normal,” they will be losing some value, just less than they were losing by a 33% price increase (I wonder if readers would have been more into $3.25 22-page comics than $2.99 20-page ones?). I don’t think it will be that big a deal though, so long as we see less splash pages and two-or-three panel pages in each issue. I’ve always sort of rolled my eyes at splashes and double-page splashes, especially if it’s not to reveal either a knock-you-on-the-floor plot point or a George Perez-esque image that uses every square centimeter of page real estate, but now splash pages should be all but forbidden in DC comics.

One troubling aspect of the announcement is that it comes just weeks after DC expanded their $3.99-for-22-pages price point. So, for example, Batman Inc. #1, which doesn’t even ship until November, will cost $3.99-for-just-22-pages, as will December’s #2 and then, come January and issue #3, it will apparently drop in price to $2.99. DC really only started selling $3.99/22 comics in August with Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors and Time Masters: Vanishing Point, and announced an expansion of $3.99/22 comics in the August-released solicits for November-shipping comics.

So as of August they started publishing $3.99/22 comics and announcing more, and here in mid-October they’ve decided to abandon that plan, giving us only about a couple of months in which DC thought $3.99/22 comics were a good idea. I suppose that’s long enough that they crunched the numbers of orders and realized the market wasn’t supporting them to the extent that they were supporting Marvel’s $3.99/22 comics, but from the outside looking in, it seems like one more example of DC flailing behind-the-scenes, lurching violently from one direction to another, with sudden, 180-degree spins. I’ve gotten used to this perception in terms of story content and character development/franchise positioning, but it’s strange to see it on something as business-oriented as the price of the widgets they sell—especially given the rise of a new executive team over the past few years.

On the personal anecdote front, I wonder if the move isn’t a little too late. I would have put Batman Inc. on my pull-list if it was going for $3 a pop instead of $4…maybe I would have even done so if I knew they’d see a 33% price decrease in a few months time. But if I’m already missing the first two issues and have already planned on waiting for the trade…why not keep waiting for the trade? Those few months where DC flirted with the unsavory $3.99/22 format were just enough time for me to cull more books from my pull-list, and either break the habit or prepare to break the habit.

As with most anecdotes like this, it may just be me who took advantage of this jumping off point to actually jump off…but if I’m representative of any moderately sizable portion of DC’s current audience, then even a few months of thinking $3.99/22 books were a good way to go could have substantially negative consequences for the publisher.

Marvel’s announcement, meanwhile, was so vague that it’s hard to even work up a few paragraphs of reaction. They have certainly been selling books at the $3.99/22 price point for a lot longer—years, actually, starting with the Max books and gradually including more and more—and their best-selling books continued to sell just as (or, in some cases, almost as) well as before, but the argument could certainly be made that the rising cost hurt sales of the rest of their line (That is, a reader spending more following a couple of core Avengers titles could no longer afford to try out Hercules, Agents of Atlas, SWORD, Captain Britain, Doctor Voodoo and so on).

It sounds like that new series will start at $2.99 rather than $3.99, which may mean everything they’re currently selling at $3.99/22 will continue to sell at that price/page count, but if and when, say, a new Hercules series launches, it will be at the more new-reader-friendly $2.99/22. Makes sense, although, again, any franchises/concepts returning in newer, cheaper series will have suffered somewhat if they went through a $3.99/22 period.

For example, I recently noticed Ultimate Comics Spider-Man is now a $2.99 comic book*, but I quit reading during the $3.99/22 post-Ultimatum epilogue/miniseries, assuming I’d catch up in trade at some point, and never picked up the singles again (Nor have I actually bought any trades yet…superhero collections lack the urgency of serial singles, you know?). Or I was avidly, enthusiastically following Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente’s Hercules/Amadeus Cho comics through its various titles and iterations, but jumped off when the story moved into the $3.99/22 miniseries Prince of Power and, from there, into the $3.99/22 Chaos War miniseries/event/mini-line. If an All-New Incredible Hercules launches in April 2011 at $2.99, I’m already off the bandwagon and thinking about reading those Marvel comics in a different format; what incentive is there to go back to the serial, single issues?

Again, maybe it’s just me, and I’m not representative of the average Wednesday Crowd-member any more (The fact that I can’t imagine reading a Superman or Spider-Man comic on a digital device instead of in a paper comic and get sick to my stomach when I look at computer coloring and computer-aided photo-referenced art seems to indicate that I am not representative of the average Wednesday Crowd-member at all any more).

In other NYCC-related announcements…

DC’s Supergirl title will shortly be getting a new creative team, with writer Sterling Gates and artist Jamal Igle leaving after what was apparently only a 26-issue run, although it sure seemed like they were on the title forever. (Of course, that may be because the way creators hop on and off titles these days, a modern 26-issue run is the equivalent of a five-year run in the late eighties).

I never read any of their run (not that I remember), as I’d given up on this version of Supergirl a while ago, and was never so interested in the character that I felt compelled to check in each time her book got a new team. I do know from paying attention to super-comics and a portion of their fandom online that the Gates/Igle Supergirl seemed to be the first of several flailing attempts at a premise, personality and status quo for the character that seemed to stick (it lasted 26-issues instead of eight, for example) and that Supergirl fans generally seemed pretty into what they were doing.

After wondering how long Gates and Igle were on the title, I had two other thoughts about the announcement.

First, I wondered if they are being punished for low sales on the book (low in general, but not relative to the rest of DC’s line), or promoted for the apparently solid work they’ve done, and DC just hasn’t announced their next, presumably bigger book.

And second, I was surprised that writer Nick Spencer was named the new writer (with Bernard Chang his artist collaborator; that's Chang's Supergirl above, and you can see much more of it in October 20's Supergirl #57). Spencer is already writing an ongoing monthly for DC, the sure-to-not-be-a-hit THUNDER Agents revival that debuts in November, and the Jimmy Oslen back-up that just started running in the $3.99 Action Comics. (The very busy Spencer is also writing an interestingly titled War Machine book for Marvel called Iron Man 2.0 and an upcoming Image miniseries called Infinite Vacation).

DC is certainly confident in Spencer’s abilities and the market’s likelihood of embracing his work (confidence that Marvel and Image seem to share), but it’s somewhat surprising that they’d give him a second ongoing before the first even launched and his back-up series even really got going.

In other words, they don’t know how Nick Spencer-written DC Comics sell just yet, and I suppose that’s not really necessarily the only or most important factor DC would look at when deciding who should write what, but I assume it would be a factor (On the other hand, it may be moot because I’m pretty sure THUNDER Agents isn’t going to last a year, definitely not two, and that’ snot going to have a whole lot to do with Spencer. Likewise, it will be difficult to gauge his impact on Action sales, given he’s writing the second and shorter of the two segments of each issues).

Anyway, here’s hoping Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle do awesomely on something awesome next, and that Spencer and Chang knock Supergirl out of the park, maybe even attracting some of all the people who like and are interested in Supergirl as a character, concept or design in actually reading some issues of her comic book.

Strawberry Shortcake, Richie Rich and Godzilla will all be returning to comics. The first two will be coming from APE’s Kizoic imprint, the last from IDW, which seems to aggressively pursue licenses, and, from what I’ve seen at least, generally do pretty well by them.

I’d definitely be interested in at least the first issue of those Strawberry Shortcake and Richie Rich comics. The former seems like something that could make for a great all-ages, kid-friendly, girl-friendly book in the right hands (although I can’t stand the modern, New Look S.S…I like the old-school look of she and her friends much better, but then, I was a little kid when they were around, and used to play a weird combo of He-Man and Strawberry Shortcake with my sister, so my design preference may just be a form of cultural imprinting).

The Richie Rich series I’m more interested in just to see what they do with the character. Casper and some of his old Harvey Comics peers got rather dramatic updates in the recent Casper and The Spectrals (Did anyone read that? Was it any good?), and I wonder if Richie Rich is in for something similar. At the very least, I wonder if they’ll give the new design more defined ankles: (An aside: Tom Spurgeon doesn’t like the sound of the new direction at all)

It seems sort of pointless to announce these two series without so much as a bit of concept art to go with the announcement—media need images to illustrate their stories after all—and no word on the creative teams, but then, I’m not in PR. Maybe the idea is to trickle out info, and hope for coverage each time?

Godzilla at least had a cover image to go with it…a neat one by Goon artist Eric Powell (part of which is just above). I probably won’t be able to afford to read IDW’s Godzilla, as they price all their comics at $3.99, but I’d definitely be interested in checking out a trade at some point, particularly if they’ve got a good team on the book and it’s got a good buzz going by the time said trade is available.

Speaking of IDW, this actually sounds pretty awesome: A zombiepocalypse scenario launching in “IDW’s Zombies Vs. Robots universe” and crossing over into their G.I. Joe, Star Trek, Transformers and Ghostbusters books. From the details offered, it sounds like there may not be a whole lot of actual crossover content—like, I don’t know if Spock and Peter Venkman will be driving Optimus Prime’s truck form while Snake-Eyes fights zombies on the roof of the trailer—but it sounds pretty exciting in the way that crossovers can be really exciting.

Like, if the cool thing about the original Crisis on Infinite Earths was seeing all these characters from different worlds that had rarely if ever met sharing story space, this seems like that only multiplied, as these are characters from actual different worlds, not just different DC Comics worlds.

You know, if they would have switched out Star Trek for Star Wars or He-Man, this would be awfully close to capturing the sort of play I engaged in as a little boy, mixing and matching figures from various toy lines.

I don’t know enough about digital comics to be able to parse this announcement at all, but I was certainly impressed by the forcefulness of the subject line of the email I received containing the press release: “DARK HORSE COMICS LAUNCHES INDUSTRY-CHANGING DIGITAL COMICS PROGRAM!”

This Mega Man comic from Archie might be kind of neat. I tried out a volume of a Mega Man manga—Mega Man NT Warrior, I think it was—and didn’t care for it at all, but from what I remember of the first couple versions of the video game, it sure seemed to have the potential for a good comic book adaptation in it.

Archie Comics has done extremely well with licensed books before—I’m thinking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the ‘90s, or the still ongoing Sonic The Hedgehog comics—so this could turn out pretty good.

I hope this turns out a lot better than director Robert Rodriguez’s movie with one of his kids.

From Comic Book Resources' coverage of a DC Universe panel:
Levitz said that "Legion of Super-Heroes" #6 will introduce Legion Academy in a backup feature illustrated by Phil Jimenez. This group will then move over into "Adventure," and later get its own series. "Legion" #6 will also include a URL for fans to vote for Legion leader. "Then I get to write myself out of whatever ridiculous situation you put us in," he joked. "I think we'll be able to have results integrated very quickly into the book with how it's set up."
That doesn’t mean there are going to be three ongoing Legion of Super-Heroes books at the same time, does it? Because that would be completely insane.

Okay, this doesn't actually have anything to do with NYCC, but since this is a sort of scatter-shot post, it seems like a good time to slip in a brief commercial message. So—Don't forget to order your copy of My Pet Halfling, the debut, self-published comic by yours truly. Here's the official sales pitch and ordering instructions, if you missed that post. At 25 pages for $3.00, it's five more pages than your average DC Comic book will be in January of 2011, and only one cent more expensive! Or it's three pages more than your average Marvel comic book, and a whole 99 cents cheaper! Of course, it is black and white and written, drawn and lettered by me instead of professionals, but still! Buy a copy anyway!

*My comments section informs me that Ultimate Comics Spider-Man is actually still $3.99, and that the $2.99 price I saw listed in a batch of solicitations was actually a typo. So this example/anecdote isn't really true; please consider it a hypothetical one then.


Eyz said...

You guys have it pretty easy in America. Here in Europe our "francobelgium" comics/Bande dessinée are around 15-20 us dollars currently for ~40 pages worth of comic.
(it's not quite comic issues nor trade paperback but our local in-between format)

Eric Rupe said...

Actually, I'm pretty sure UCSM is staying at $4 and the $3 listed in the solicits in a mistake. I remember hearing/reading that somewhere and it makes more sense than Marvel dropping the price.

While three Legion books does sound insane, it sounds slightly less insane when taking into account the 20 odd Batman titles DC publishes a month.

Shriner said...

I believe the prices for Ultimate Spider-Man and Thunderbolts were incorrectly swapped in Previews. USM is sticking at the higher price.

And vote for Tellus! Or Quislet! Shake the Legion up!